Sixth period, Journalism. The end of the school day. I signed up for the school newspaper for three reasons:
- I liked to write
- It wasn’t a straight class
- My buddy Hal the Drummer was there.
Hal was more than just there, he was the school newspaper. The rest of us were just jerking off.
I think I wrote one piece during the entire year, an interview with comic book artist Butch Guice. Somehow I found out where he lived and tracked down his phone number. I didn’t bother to write any questions, so the entire interview was me scrambling to make shit up and Butch politely responding. If you’ve seen the Saturday Night Live “Chris Farley Show” sketches you have the gist (“Remember, um, remember when you were the artist on Micronauts? That was awesome).
Butch wasn’t my only brush with fame that year. Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, the Depression-era 1,500 seater that hosted big-time wrestling and touring Broadway shows, booked a top forty band. They were from Los Angeles – the promised land — and they were touring in support of their single, which was a monster at the time even though the original version was two years old and featured in a stripper movie starring the Blue Lagoon guy.
You are an obsession
You’re my obsession
Who do you want me to be
To make you sleep with me?
A girl named Tina began waiting for me every day before and after class. She was cute in a poor chick from Some Kind Of Wonderful mixed with a rich chick from Pretty In Pink way. One afternoon she asked: “Hey, are you going to the Animotion show?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on. It will be fun,” she said. “My treat.”
Recently this sort of thing was happening more and more frequently. Since prom night I genuinely could give a fuck about any of it — the place, the people, the taunting. Sherri. My father.
A recruiter from an art school visited. I didn’t care. “You have talent,” she said. “Apply — I’m sure they’ll take you based on your portfolio.” She pointed to the wrinkled pile of doodles made in my quiet art class supply room. “What’s your SAT score?”
“I didn’t take it.”
“You have to have an SAT score, but you’ll get in based on this portfolio.”
I took it, but I didn’t give a fuck. No stress, no studying.
The girl from the stationery store across the mall from Camelot Music asked me out. All through dinner she talked. “I was in a bad accident and shattered my hip,” she said. “They had to do surgery to put it back together. You’ll see the scar later.” I didn’t care. She paid for dinner, and I never made a move to see that scar.
Several girls around the mall took me out. A thirty year-old woman took me bar hopping and then to the cemetery to show me where she did rails of coke off of a headstone with a dude from some local band. That one got my attention.
I didn’t know what the magic of it all was, but once that light switch inside of me switched to “I don’t give a fuck” I somehow began generating my own gravity. When they weren’t lurking in their boyfriends’ Camaros redneck girls would offer themselves to me along with the caveat “but don’t tell nobody.” The good little Christian girls, too. But don’t tell nobody.
Who do you want me to be
To make you sleep with me?
Answer: Someone who doesn’t give a fuck. Now turn that goddamned song off.
Not only was I going to see Animotion on Tina’s dime, but the band was doing an in-store appearance at my record store. This was big news in small town Spartanburg. We did the store up in Animotion promotional material, set up a table for autographs. Hundreds of people turned out to see what a real live celebrity looked like. We’d seen some on television and stage, but not free range.
Well, almost never. Somebody always seemed to be one degree removed from a Nantucket, Mother’s Finest, or Marshall Tucker sighting. A couple of athletes had roots in the Piedmont, too, as did Earl Owensby, the redneck Roger Corman.
Greenville’s Ye Olde Fireplace featured bandleader Charlie Spivak and his orchestra. As a ten year-old new to the area I was quite impressed by this, though I didn’t really care for big band music and had no idea who Charlie Spivak was. Still, if he was big enough for top billing at Ye Olde Fireplace he must’ve been big in his prime, I reasoned.
But Animotion was hot right now, so hundreds lined up in Westgate Mall for their brush with fame. Somehow I managed to pull duty near the autograph table, right next to lead singer Astrid Plane. She was cute and she was famous. If the thirty year-old coke head asked me out, why not her?
So I worked the line and she signed autographs for the disinterested throng shuffling past the table, and all the while I gave Astrid my best game, which consisted of smart-assed comments and Farley Show observations.
“Are you coming to the show tonight?” Astrid asked me once the crowd was gone.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“Here, come see me after the show,” she said, and she handed me a pair of backstage passes.
That evening I picked up Tina in the Quincymobile. Before we left for the show her mother came out to meet me. They both were giddy in a way that didn’t quite suit such an average show on an average night.
Our seats were just about in the center of the theater, maybe twenty rows back. The place was full of the same disinterested zombies who stood in line earlier for autographs. I even recognized a few faces, not the least of which was Hal the Drummer. A local DJ introduced Animotion and they took the stage in all their Melrose Avenue day-glo glory. Singers Bill Wadhams and Astrid swapped lines, the keyboard player tried to look cool, and nobody’s hair moved.
Neither did the crowd. Just like the line for the in-store at Camelot, the townsfolk contented themselves staring blank faced at the alien beings. The stage may as well have been a zoo enclosure.
I avoid letting anyone else’s feedback into these stories. Memory is an imprecise instrument but it’s all we have, and to a great extent I think how we choose to remember things is more important and real than perhaps the events themselves. But what happened next is so fantastic, so eighties teen movie, that I confirmed with several friends my memory of that night.
I felt horribly for the band, as poppy and day-glo as they were. Performing for a bunch of stiffs who can’t be bothered to get out of their seats and shake their flat white asses has to be demoralizing. Also, I was at a show, there was a beat, and fuck all y’all I’m going to dance.
And I’m not talking about standing and dancing in place. I danced my way down the aisle, arms flapping, trying to get the stiffs on their feet, and then I did my spazzy little white boy thing right in front of the stage. Hal the Drummer was right behind me. We danced alone for half a song, and then it was like the preacher dad in Footloose lost control of the townfolk. One by one the kids stood up and made their way to the front for an impromptu dance party.
The crush was too much for me. I climbed onto a small platform at stage right and kept dancing. The seats were almost empty, all the kids now in a sweaty, gyrating pile. Tina waved to me from the crowd, beaming pride and joy. At my feet some old fart was yelling for me to get down but I couldn’t hear him. Well, I could but this was my night now. That was my crowd he was standing in; this was my party.
After the show Tina and I went backstage. Astrid looked me up and down. “Hey, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on. Not like that! You were dressed differently at the record store.”
“They have a dress code,” I said.
She sat at a lighted dressing table. “I’m so tired,” she said. “Come rub my shoulders.”
“You looking for a groupie?”
“Why not? Why should the boys have all the fun?”
I rubbed her shoulders and we flirted while Tina stood and stared. After a few minutes the band signed shirts and records for us and we were on our way.
We drove straight back to Tina’s house and sat in the driveway for a moment, engine idling.
“Thanks for the ticket,” I said.
“It was cool hanging out with you.”
“You mean in the same building with me? Yeah, it was fun.” She stared at me, eyes wide, face tilted slightly forward, a half-smile on her lips.
“Well, see you Monday,” I said, and waited for her to get out.
I didn’t see Tina again for several months, until I passed her walking into the mall along with her mother. “Hey, how’s it going?” I said.
“What’s going on?”
“Wow, it’s great to see you.”
“We need to get going, Tina,” her mother said, and they were gone. I couldn’t see why they seemed so upset with me, but it’s hard to see much of anything with your head that far up your own ass.