EXCERPTS FROM A NOVEL
by Frisky Moser
(The novel is the story of young guitar hero Jack Strat and his adventures joining, playing in, and leaving a 1970’s Detroit rock band.)
I got a call from Dave, a bass player who was a year ahead of me at school. He used to come by my house and we’d have a smoke and play.
He thought I was good and that we looked good together. Now he had a band, the Sterling Pearls, that had a small following and a band house. Dave spoke less than anyone I knew and had crazy eyes like a husky. He acted cool all of the time and when he complained he was funny, like a stand-up on TV. I didn’t know it but every time we played I was auditioning.
“You wanna jam with the band tonight?”
“Sure. What’s this about?”
“It’s about you playing with the band. Our guitar player quit. I’ll pick you up at four.”
I took a shower, blow-dried my hair and polished my guitar. I played for about an hour running through my riffs. I was feeling nervous. I did some push-ups. The house was too quiet, closing in on me. I went outside and waited in the yard. It helped. He arrived at four, a punctual man. I jumped in his banged-up peddle-pusher of a Beetle and started asking too many questions.
“You think I’ve got a shot? . . . the others don’t even know me . . . what if they don’t like me? . . . why’d the other guy quit anyway?”
“No, I mean like my mom’s really coming down on me about going back to school, getting a job, all sorts of shit.”
“Hey, do yourself a favor– when we get there don’t talk about your mom.”
We drove through town, windows down, catching all the green lights, listening to Bitches Brew. I’d been waiting for this day, a day like this for some time. Working and waiting.
Today I would have my chance.
“What kind of name is Jack Strat Jones? Sounds like a nursery rhyme,” said Clark the drummer.
“Well . . . I stole Strat off a dead guy from my neighborhood. I put it in the middle of mine. It’s also the guitar I play and then there’s that singer I didn’t want to be confused with. You can call me Jack or Strat if you like.”
He just looked at me and never mentioned it again. Strat Brown had lived a couple of doors down from me. I never knew him and don’t think I ever saw him but once or twice, coming and going. My brother spoke to him a few times and everyone had some idea of him but no real facts. He was handsome, cool and invisible and ran with a crowd that brought him home dead, having OD’d in the back of their van, from the Gooselake music festival in ’70. I found the myth of Strat Brown fascinating and loved his name.
There’s power in a name. Some names make the person and some people make the name but we all know the beauty of a mellifluous moniker. The silvery sound of Marilyn Monroe screamed glamor, something her birth name Norma Jeane Mortenson couldn’t. Now I wasn’t sure about a three-part name but I was having fun trying it on for size. No one called me Strat yet and maybe they never would. Maybe it was stupid but I liked how it sounded. I liked short tough names like Buzz, Mick, Jack, Max and now Strat. Someone told me it was short for Stratton but that was one syllable too many. I spent a lot of time thinking up cool names for bands too. You had to call yourselves something and I was always envious of the artists who could go by their own names like Elvis, Sinatra, Hendrix and Chuck Berry. It was clear who you were dealing with and it all came down to them. But great music could survive any name. If the Beatles had sucked you might have thought the name was silly. Instead it took on a religious aura like Jesus and you couldn’t imagine them called by any other.
I was given a tour of the house. A large, three-story Victorian painted yellow, with an attic and a soundproofed basement crammed full of gear with no room to move.
“The attic is where you go if you don’t live here and you’re with a girl,” said Chip the singer who looked like a cross between Iggy and Mama Cass.
“I don’t have a girl.”
All the guys lived there, even Paul the manager who was the oldest at 23 and the most elegant of the bunch with his tall, aristocratic bearing.
He looked pleased to make my acquaintance.
“Dave tells us you can really play so we’re all looking forward to hearing you make some noise. We’ve got gigs coming up that we’re already committed to, and we don’t have much time.”
“I’m a fast learner and I’ve got songs,” I said.
We went down and started jamming. They laid down their familiar grooves and I moved in and around them adding flourishes, trying to impress them. We all loved the same shit. We smoked weed and laughed and played and cheered each other on. I could tell it was working. I could see it on their faces. I had a job.
We were one week into rehearsing when a girl, maybe 19 and looking like Jane Fonda in “Klute,” walked into the living room and sat in front of a large mirror leaning against one of the walls. “Hi!” she says. She started putting on makeup, mostly working her lashes and lips, checking me out as I was sitting on the couch with my guitar in my lap. I could see her stealing glances at me in the mirror. We were alone. She acted like she owned the place.
“Hello! Who are you?“ I said.
“I’m Debbie, Dave’s brother’s girlfriend’s sister. You’re the new guitar player.” It wasn’t a question. She knew.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Cute, how old are you?”
“You look younger.”
She seemed deep and mysterious and horny and I wasn’t sure what to do next so I just kept fiddling.
Paul came in the room and said everyone was waiting downstairs for me. We played for an hour and Debbie sat on the basement stairs and listened. I played to her. She would leave and comeback and leave again. We finished and went up. Kenny was giving haircuts and asked if I wanted one. I didn’t. Debbie came out of the bathroom and said she did. I saw her in the mirror watching me watching her and we smiled. When he finished I was happy she looked the same and said so. She went out for a smoke and I followed.
“What are you doing after this?” she said.
“I don’t know. Hanging out I guess. We’ll probably play some more and then I’ll go home.”
“Why don’t you come visit me first. I live in walking distance from here. It’s still early.”
“Ah . . . alright but I can’t. . . .”
“Don’t say it just do it.”
She kissed me on the mouth and split. I couldn’t tell her I had to go home early so I didn’t.
It was that kind of evening when the warm air felt like food, like it was all you needed to live was to breathe. Your skin and muscles eased into a kind of horniness that made summer, this summer in particular, my time. I started my way there around nine o’clock.
The sun was beginning to set and I had all the nerves of a happy man.
Debbie had taken a room in the back of a house on a quiet street. She showed me her tiny place and then we smoked some weed. She gave me a shotgun and we kissed. She asked me to tie a delicate scarf around her neck. I thought she looked like a juicy piece of candy. There was a mattress on the floor with a book on it. A guitar stood in the corner. Nothing much else in the place. We walked into town and got some ice cream and talked. She was nice. She had eyes that sparkled. I told her I had to go and she said not yet and how I had to walk her home first. When we reached her door she said, “What’s the hurry. Come in for a while. It’ll be nice.”
I lied about having to get up early.
“You can get up early here.“ She took my hands and pulled me in.
“What time is it?” I said.
“I can stay one hour.”
She took everything off but her scarf and knelt down on the floor to put a record on. She was pale with unmarked skin and small breasts. She turned to me and pushed me on the bed. We made love and she laughed. She said I was good for my age. We did it again and she fell asleep. I laid next to her wide awake, anxious about having to go home. The sheets were soaked and I was uncomfortable. I tried to find a dry spot. It was already too late not to be in trouble so I took my chances and passed out.
When the sun came up I woke up. She had no drapes. The place looked different. I stared at a line of ants that were marching back and forth on the floor alongside the wall next to the mattress. They looked creepy. I hoped they wouldn’t climb on to the bed. I closed my eyes and waited for her to wake up but she didn’t so I fell back asleep.
The knocking started and we both woke up and wondered if anyone else who lived there would answer the door. The knocking kept coming and Debbie got up to check. I lay in bed naked, waiting.
“Who is it?” she said.
“IS MY SON IN THERE?”
“Holy shit it’s my mom.” I got up and dressed quickly.
“Tell him to come out now.”
“I think you have the wrong house . . . there’s no–”
“Please! I’m in no mood.”
She sounded worried and mad, a mother’s mixture.
“How did she know you were here?”
“I don’t know . . . I can’t believe this shit . . . listen, I’ll call you later. Sorry!”
Embarrassed, I marched out of the house straight into my mom’s car and argued half the way home.
“I’m in a band now. I can’t have my mom dragging me out of some girl’s house. I just fell asleep. Nothing bad is going on.”
“You should call me. I was worried sick.”
“How did you know where I was anyway?”
“I went to the band house and Paul told me.”
“OH GOD! Why’d you do that? Now I look like a total idiot.”
“I don’t care. I didn’t sleep all night. This has got to stop.”
“What are you talking about. I’m just getting started.”
We calmed down and negotiated and reached an agreement. I would call and let her know when and where. She deserved that.
The next day I sheepishly arrived to practice.
“Boy your mom’s intense,” said Paul. “She sort of freaked us out. We tried to say we didn’t know where you were but she shook us down. Hope everything’s okay. Can you still be in the band?”
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s cool. I Just have to let her know.”
“You mean if you tell her you’re spending the night with some girl getting laid she’ll be cool.“
I was trying to keep up. I knew what to do but I didn’t have the freedom to execute. I knew before I’d get started that I was going to run into trouble and that I would have to spend as much time figuring out how to get away with it as I would doing it.
Sometimes, when I’m not sure about who I am or what I’m doing, I think about the house on Cherrylawn I grew up in until about fourth grade. It was just south of Six Mile on the west side of Woodward behind Marygrove College. Occasionally I’d go with my brother in his car and pass by this house to see how it looked and if we might catch a glimpse of the people who lived in it. We would then continue to the end of the street and check out the playground where we spent time trying to swing as high as possible on the swing set. The older, stronger boys could swing all the way around which was the scariest thing I could imagine doing, so I never did.
I took Spot for a cruise to the old homestead on a pretty Saturday afternoon and parked across from the small, white stucco, two-story house with the tiny front porch and gabled roof. I sat there with the motor running, looking, thinking, when a black dude around thirty charged out of the front door and marched straight toward me.
“Can I help you with something?”
He acted annoyed and worried at the same time.
“I’m just looking at where I lived as a kid. I loved that house. We moved out of it in ’62.”
“Really . . . well you’re spookin’ my wife.”
“Hey I’m sorry man. . . . I just come by sometimes to see it and reminisce a bit. I usually just do a drive by but today I’m doing a lot of thinking, so I pulled over.”
“Thinking . . . about what?“
“You know. Life.”
I was sounding stupid but things were going well.
“You must have a lot of time on your hands brother. You want to come in or something . . . see it for the old times sake?”
He looked reasonable but I hesitated. He noticed.
“My wife and kids are in there. It’s cool.”
I took a chance, shut off the motor, got out and followed him toward the house.He reached out his hand and said, “I’m Buzzy.” I took it, shook it and said, “I’m Jack.”
He had a big hand attached to a big body that could have given Wesley a run for his money. He could have choked me out in that house and my life would have ended where it began. But I had no real fear of dying and if it were to happen I couldn’t think of a better place.
We walked through the door and found two little boys standing frozen in the entranceway, big-eyed and silent.
“Say hello to Jack. He used to live here.” They said nothing.
“What’s your names?“ I said.
They twisted and jumped onto the couch laughing and staring, saying nothing.
“They’re twins, Martin and Malcolm. They acting stupid right now but they’re pretty smart. Musical little buggers! My wife’s in the kitchen. You remember the way?“
I walked to the back of the house and found a pretty, slender, light-skinned black woman with a happy face standing where my mother once did. Very Weird!
“Meet my wife, Jasmine. Honey this is Jack. He used to live here.”
“No way . . . I would have straightened up if I knew we were having visitors.”
I hadn’t planned on dropping in either but here I was in the twilight zone: Total strangers who walked my walk, sat in my tub, cried, laughed, screamed, made love and ate in the same way my family did. I looked out past the dining room to the backyard.
“Every winter my father would turn the backyard into a hockey rink and we would play just about every day.”
“We don’t do hockey,” said Buzzy.
“Yeah, I guess not.”
The little guys just kept following me around, saying nothing. I wondered if maybe they’d never had a white person in their house before.
“You in a rock band?” said Martin, or was it Malcolm?
“Well, yes I am.”
I took in everything fast: glass doorknobs, the fireplace, the little window in the secret place next to the master bedroom and the french doors with the beveled window panes leading to the backyard porch. It had been 10 years. I didn’t stay long. Maybe 20-30 minutes. They were warm and friendly people and as I walked out the front door Buzzy told me I could come back if I needed another dose of thinking about things. I drove slowly down the street for another look at the swings, turned left and headed back home.
Frisky Moser was born Andrew Brucker in London, Ontario. At one year of age he moved to Detroit and grew up playing in bands. He lives with his wife in New York City where he has a successful career as a photographer. He still plays the guitar.
(Art: “Guitar and Clarinet” by Juan Gris.)