by Ralph Greco, Jr.
There is never a good reason to court Loki. I had had enough of "wonderful" moments in my forty-five years to last me. Why I did go was why I always went when Anthony called; I loved him and I am forever stupid.
I rationalized the meeting: he hadn't been interviewed for close to ten years; his fans still bought his albums in droves; his rare appearances in the Northern California mountains where he lived were treated more reverently then an Elvis sighting; this little piece could possibly keep my too-young-to-be-editors editors off my back for at least another three months while I finally began the novel I have been threatening my ever dwindling readership with for the past vapid ten years. Besides, I was quite close to financially comfortable from the great scam Anthony and I had pulled on the American public back in the days when I was playing bass in his band, "Rewind the Grind".
I thought I owed him.
I found out I was wrong.
He owed me.
"The Mountain" as everyone called it, was a two hour drive into a fiery afternoon. I finally reached the entrance, hidden between impossibly dense trees and was exhaustively surprised when the big gray gates opened on my approach. Anthony knew I was coming, I had called from the airport, but the thought of my old buddy watching the road from an undisclosed close-circuit camera filled my mind with quite an incongruous picture to the trusting artist I had always known Anthony to be; from Don Juan to Charles Foster Kane in just ten years? This should have been my first indication of an anxiousness hiding a more sinister intention. But, as usual, my mind was somewhere else, specifically on negotiating the gravel runway-long expanse that was my buddie's driveway.
"Out in the middle of fucking no where, near no-one," I remembered Anthony repeating as we sped past Michigan State (or had it been Ohio State?) and into another night of jumpy sleep on the reefer reeking upholstery of our tour bus.
"Real long driveway, taking you a fucking year to get to the front door. Trees. Like a fucking forest for miles around."
Anthony would continue with his list, as he always did when a tour was souring his creative juices to the point where early retirement was actually being considered out loud. On those crusty nights, no-one would have believed anyone's exhausted homesick ramblings, but here now in front of me was Anthony's 'fucking' palace, just as he had described it; a secluded front door staring me right in the face when I finally reached the three story, blonde-brick house.
"Hey, what's up?" Anthony asked, throwing open the driver's side door.
I just managed to extricate myself from the high seat as Anthony wrapped his arms around me. I hadn't seen him approaching (I knew the front door of the house must have opened, or he had recently taken-up walking through walls) but as always, his tight embrace quelled all trepidation; his embrace and the fact that Anthony hadn't changed one bit.
Fine long black hair, a bit peppered at the sides and top, but still past his shoulder blades. Pinpoint blue eyes in a high cheekboned, olive complexion. A thin frame, maybe an inch taller then my five-nine height, but it did seem to fluctuate (we had performed 'line-ups' in front of stoned and weary crew members on almost every tour). And of course his hands. Long, sleek and seemingly whiter then the rest of this skin, gentle and almost swanlike. The conduit to all of my friend's wealth...and a good amount of his pain.
"Good to see you Ronnie," he said and repositioned his hug so he could squeeze me even tighter.
The last time we had hugged like this (and the last time I had seen Anthony) had been three years before when we were saying good-bye on a cold hillside in Ohio. Neither of us would wish to remember that cold morning now, I was sure.
"Let me help you with your stuff," he said, suddenly breaking from me.
With my bags in tow, Anthony and I jumped the four stone steps, walked through the open door and across the threshold.
I have been in many an opulent home. In my six years with the magazine I've had cause to visit many a celebrity (since I enjoyed a minor amount of fame in my youth it was decided early on that I was to take all 'those' assignments). Anthony's home was one of the nicest I had ever seen.
The decor was simple warm brown prints and pillows. Every couch or rug invited quiet, seeming to fill the house with mid-autumn smells. Ceilings were high enough to open onto the next level but not so high as to induce vertigo if one happened to look up at the simple track lighting. None of the seven rooms was too big or too small, most intimate and sporting a fireplace at their center. As I had expected, Anthony had books lining almost every available space in most of the downstairs rooms (even including two high shelves in the copper-potted kitchen) and trunks full of magazines and soft covers in the three bedrooms on the second floor. What expense the house warranted though came from its location more then from its expensive furnishings; the house was simply elegant, but the real 'marketability' of this place was in its seclusion.
After the fifty-five cents tour (extra nickel for the imported beer I was offered-and damn well took) we sat opposite my friend's huge picture-window, spat through the litany of various family members' healths and slowed our talk to an easy silence in the waning sunlight.
"Didn't I tell you," Anthony asked, looking around the living room with wide-eyed emphasis. "I fucking told you I'd have it someday."
"Really cool. Really, really cool," I agreed. I felt a quick chill run through me and Anthony rose on my shudder to stoke the dying fire in the small fireplace to our left.
"All that shit we went through in England," he continued, his back facing me. "Benny's fucking killer publishing deal."
"You finally got the money from those assholes?" I asked, remembering that rainy night in London some fifteen years before, Anthony being 'escorted' out of the frosted-windowed building, swearing revenge over his shoulder.
"Built that entire section out back from it," Anthony said, leaving the hot poker and turning back to me.
"Got all my work-out stuff in there, " he finished, once again joining me on the couch. "Everything's where it should be now."
I let a full minute of silence pass as I pretended to be impressed. What was actually happening though was that I was fighting back another quick shudder. The room was toasty now, so I knew it couldn't be the cold that brought this odd shiver up my spine. It was quite like that feeling I felt only an hour before when I had pulled up to Anthony's front gate and it opened without me being announced. But this time I wasn't distracted by a long drive or tall trees.
With the addition of his new Great Britain publishing monies, Anthony would now have unlimited funds and the power to do with his music what he wished. This bode well for me as well, since I had a piece of the old "Rewind the Grind" pie, albeit a much smaller piece then Anthony. As I sat and mused, I couldn't then figure out what my old bud could possibly gain from an interview appearing in my rag-of-a-paper. Let's face it, Anthony was never the most cordial guy with the press and he had really little, to no care, for publicity. I mean, I was flattered that he had called...but why now? What could be his reas...
It hit me in the head so hard I had to halt a John F. Kennedy-lurch forward on that big cloth couch. It wasn't good press or an interview Anthony was seeking. He had asked to see me, because he wanted to see me! And if he wanted to see me, he wanted to see me for only one reason!
"What?" Anthony asked, no doubt noticing my bug-eyed realization.
"You can't be serious?" I exclaimed, turning to, and on, him. "Tell me you're not fucking serious!"
"You were always so damn quick Ronnie," he said and smiled his still blinding pearly whites. "Even quicker then me."
"You are absolutely out of your mind," I said, moving across the soft mauve cushions. I suddenly had the urge to be as far from him as possible; was insanity contagious?
"I think mountain air has eaten your brain!" I shouted.
"Look," he said and moved towards me across the deep pillows. Bastard, I thought, still not a wrinkle in his handsome face! "Just hear me out. We'll do the interview either way, but just hear me out."
Like I've mentioned, I thought I owed him. I sat back knowing damn well I shouldn't. But as I listened, Anthony convinced me, leaving no doubt in my mind, that the band needed to get back together.
With as much cash as we could manage to convince our parents out of, plus the small fortune I had been saving since working in the local hardware store all through highschool, we set out the summer of seventy four; four suburban Massachusetts' kids with more energy then talent or brains. In the early seventies you could work your way around the country with very little money (which we had) and a lot of sweat (which we gave) and hope like hell someone saw you and wanted to take a chance (which is what happened).
We were a good band. Not the best, not the worst, on the order of a cheaper "Black Crows" (if there actually can be such a thing!). With Carl on drums and his brother Billy on Fender Roads piano, me on bass and Anthony on guitar and lead vocals, we played...and played...and played. We had some connections for a few gigs around the east coast, but when we dipped below Maryland our 'connections' ran dry (as did our money) We started sleeping in the van and driving countless hours into the country to play for any money, no matter how little; very little romance in hindsight, believe me!
But being quasi-destitute somehow paid off. We really had nothing to loose so we went out there (wherever 'there' happened to be) every night, on those rickety, pitted stages, in front of faces we didn't know, and really played hard. Every so often, everything would click right for us. A rowdy Thursday night crowd would really dig the CCR covers or the few originals Anthony had managed to quickly teach us, and the owner of the establishment would sense a possible weekend bonanza in beer, cancel the bands he had planned and have us stay over. This was way before the days of well connected booking agents, especially in those backwater places, so anything could, and would, happen at the owner's discretion. We'd get in good with one beer guzzling guys and he'd call a buddy in the next town and soon we'd be rollin' in to play a two-nighter in another dive, catching a lumpy bed in the guy's upstairs loft and maybe a few quick tumbles with his daughter and her starved-for-attention friends.
We worked our way across the country that sweltering summer, through hang-overs, buzzing amps and a few cases of the crabs, and an odd thing happened...we got good. Not just bar-band good (which is a feat in itself) but real, playing-outdoor-venues good; which is exactly what happened to us on August 12th in South Carolina.
Somehow or other we had talked our way onto the bill of a monstrous outdoor music festival. We were second from the bottom on a bill that included some huge musical acts of the day (names long ago lost to the memory of history and histrionics). I thought we sounded okay, although what I remember most from being on stage was that incredible southern sun and an ungrounded buzz coming from my amp. I was much more interested in the beer cooler I had spied back-stage.
After our forty minute set, I ran backstage and literally dove for what I hoped would be the first of many beers. After chugging the first and dipping for my second, I managed to look over to my right and caught Carl talking with an older, brightly dressed couple. The blonde-haired woman I didn't know (although I would have liked to) but the guy looked vaguely familiar. He had that 'right-place-at-the-right-time' kind of look, and I noticed everyone who passed said hello to him. At that moment though I was a bit too busy with my beer to really care about Carl's new buddies. I chugged the second frosty bottle and dipped my hand into the slush for a third.
Carl was the kind of guy everybody liked to be around. A compact-bull, his chubby cheeks and big brown eyes magnetized everyone to this over-grown teddy bear who thundered the drums. So it wasn't unusual for Carl to be making friends. But then I saw Anthony walk over to the trio. A few seconds of talking, then Anthony looked up and across the gravel lot and waved me over. Carl went off to find his brother (or I assumed, as I watched him quickly lumber away) and in a minute the band was huddled with Ben and Angela Riant.
Mr. and Mrs. Riant were a husband and wife management and production team; one of the 'middle ' acts of that day's concert had recently benefited from the Riants' proven platinum production. Ben and Angela were big with a capitol BIG and we were impressed and more then interested when Benny and Ange (as we came to call them ) told us they wanted to record us.
The rest, as they say, and I have to admit, is history.
"Nothing beats those times mate," Anthony continued, finally breaking me from my remembrance.
I think it was the use of 'mate' that snapped me back. I hadn't heard that affectation in years, and it annoyed me as much right then as it had back on the tour air-o-bus in nineteen eighty one. "Rewind" had been on the road a good solid six years by then, cresting a wave that had started with our first Riant produced album, into our next and then our double live album in the year to beat all double live albums year, nineteen seventy seven. That's when "Rewind the Grind" really lost its way and Anthony had actually gone to live in England, where he learned to say stupid things like "mate".
"Everything beats those times," I spat back at my old friend, and added: "Mate."
"Every fucking moment..." I continued. "...I don't have to walk onto a smelly, bumpy-riding bus, or cramp onto a rubber-band powered jet and listen to Billy and Carl argue over a pong game is Heaven on Earth, man."
"What the hell do you want to relive all that shit for?" I finished and threw back the beer for a long gulp.
"First of all," Anthony started. "I got so much cash now, we can go first class all the way."
I stood up. I was going to need another beer if he was really going to get into this!
"You want another?" I asked, crossing the dark wood floor.
"I got a great guy to book us," Anthony continued, as I walked into his brightly lit kitchen and over to his industrial refrigerator.
"He's the best," he shouted into me.
As I stood reaching for another beer, it suddenly struck me that, not only was I actually listening to Anthony...I was actually listening to Anthony!
"You've thought this out," I said, coming back to the big room. "I mean, you've sat up here, in front of your satellite, wide-screen t.v. and put this together in your crafty little brain!"
"Gone one better" he offered, smiling. "Billy is in. And he knows a drummer."
"He's fucking drilling kids teeth in Ohio!" I shouted. "His fucking wife would kill him!"
"He said he's got to do it for Carl," Anthony said and as usual, when Carls' name was mentioned, we observed a moment of silence.
"A different drummer?" I asked, trying desperately to latch onto anything negative. I sat back down and sipped my new beer.
"The time is right Ronnie."
Anthony was right, of course. "Rewind the Grind" had barely made it into the eighties; that yuppiefied, techno-pop decade had been no place for us. But the nineties, that could be a different story; what seems ludicrous in ten years can seem a dream with the passing of twenty. Hell, almost every other band I had loved, and we had played a festival with, had waited for history to rediscover them for one last go round. Why not us? The healthy royalty checks I received from our boxset proved interest was still there.
Jesus, was I really considering this?!
"You can't tell me that the magazine is your end-all-be-all," Anthony continued, touching on the one place I couldn't offer a defense.
"I get the magazine," he continued. "Your shit is the best stuff in it, but still..." he said to my bland, pleading stare.
"It's not all bad," I tried.
It was, I knew it. It had turned from such a revolutionary monthly to liberal pontificating disguising itself as investigative rock and roll journalism. Some great pictures though, I had to give 'um that, with the occasional interview from yours truly.
Could I leave it?
When was the bus leaving?
"You're dying there Ronnie. You know it, " Anthony said. "You're coasting at best. Time to jump in with both feet and get wet again."
"Nice metaphor," I said and took three gulps from the cold bottle. "But you ever hear the expression, 'You can't go home again'?"
"Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit," Anthony stood-up and yelled.
Well, there it was.
Anthony had a temper that he was ashamed of, but had made him legendary. It could take weeks, even months, I even think it took all of seventy-eight, but when Anthony exploded it was like a volcano. It added passionate yards to his songwriting and words to a review (I would have avoided writing about it only because he was my friend) but living with that volcano had been a tough nut for four guys locked together in a badly air-conditioned van rumbling across the U.S.
Did I need to put myself on the firing line for this type of aggravation all over again? Could Anthony possibly have enough money to keep himself that sedated, hire a full time shrink, or charter separate planes?
"Think about it," is all he managed after seething over me a full minute, while his open face colored red, then finally settled on pink.
I crossed his living room in the opposite direction he left it, opened a single glass door and came to stand, beer finished but still in hand, on his high back porch. The tall red mountains in my direct line of sight, the gold sun just beginning its descent, I was suddenly reminded of my less then spectacular downtown apartment.
I had hoarded (and continued to hoard) almost every cent that came in from our old record sales and the new three CD boxset. During renegotiations for our contract in nineteen eighty, Anthony had threatened the record company that there was no way he would write another song unless the other members of the band were given a bigger royalty on albums sold. I wasn't living like a king in my four room apartment, but I had benefited from that sixteen year-old threat. With enough cash stuffed away for month long vacations, or if the crunch finally came when the rag went completely liberal-banner-waving and I just couldn't take it anymore, I had some money to last me. Add this little nest-egg to what I could make if I did indeed go on tour...I knew I'd be able to afford my own 'fucking' palace next door to Anthony's if I wanted.
There was a soft breeze in the early night. I couldn't quite place the scent; I'd be damned if I knew anything about flowers, or animals or any other subtle nature shit...I was a city boy through and through. Whatever the hell the scent was, it was real nice, very soothing. Maybe it was the "warm smell of Colitas"; I remembered looking up that word when I had first heard it on "Hotel California" years ago. "Rewind the Grind" had played on a few festivals with "the Eagles". Hell, they were doing it again!
"Hey," Anthony said, suddenly behind me.
"Hey," I answered, not turning.
I was slowly remembering his stealth now, having seen it twice in the past two hours.
"Sorry man," he said, leaning his long arms on the railing next to me.
"I've been practicing this all week," he admitted and I turned to his small smile.
"You hate to practice," I said and we both laughed,.
"Yeah, well," he began, turned, and leaned his back on the railing. "I guess I just get carried away. I just really want to do this."
"Then do it man," I said, running the wet bottle between my fingers. "You don't need me."
"Shit, Ronnie, I can't go on the road with two new guys," he said. "You sayin' no?"
"I don't know what I'm sayin'," I replied. "I really don't."
"It would be a blast man," he said, turning his head and full smile on me.
"I just feel," I began, searching the purpling sunset for the right words. "Shit, I don't know."
"I just feel," I said, stopping again to that incredible sky. "Like...like...I don't know. Like, such and old fart gettin' out there, wiggling my ass and all."
"Come inside," Anthony said. I followed him back into the house. He went to the kitchen, then met me on the couch seconds later with two new beers.
"A lot of guys on the road now are older then us," he said, passing me a cold bottle.
"Yeah, I know," I said. "I work for a music magazine, remember?"
"Yeah, so. Get with the program," he said and chuckled as I sipped.
"But all that bullshit again," I started. "Airports, hotel rooms, the..."
"First class all the way," Anthony interrupted.
"You're gonna have an answer for every objection," I said.
"I didn't just call you out of the blue," he admitted. "I mean, it's great to see you buddy, and I've been meaning to call, really. But I really wanted you up here to discuss this, face to face. I knew you'd never go for it over the phone."
"I would have hung-up," I countered.
"That's why I wanted to get you here, toss back a few, and really hash it against the walls."
"I don't know what you want me to say?" I said.
"Yes," he answered and smiled. "Just a simple, plain 'yes' would do."
Anthony reached across the deep cushions and touched me lightly on the shoulder.
"I love you man, you know that," he said, looking hard at me. "Whatever you choose is cool. I just want to give it all another chance and I want you with me."
He smiled, stood and then walked out from room. I watched him climb the short flight of wooden stairs that led to his second floor.
"I got to do some shit," he shouted from the upper landing. "Got myself addicted to the damn Internet. Got the guest room all laid out for ya."
I looked from those dark stairs, back into the big fluffy room, out that bay window, to the dark redwood extension that I knew held Anthony's home gym, back across the room to the pastel couch I was sitting on, up my legs and to the shaking beer bottle in my hand.
That was three times in one day I had gotten that 'feeling', that slight cold shiver.
It was time for me to leave.
"Rewind the Grind" enjoyed a moderately successful tour. They broke records in Europe and when they kept to playing five thousand seat theaters in America they thundered mightily across the states. Things went well, no surprises good or bad. Money was made, the boxsets' sales quadrupled and the checks kept pouring in.
I wrote about it all. Who better really? I even managed to catch the band twice. Once in LA and another time, late in the tour, when I managed an assignment in London. Neither time did I let Anthony know I was there. I knew he was just crazy enough to call me out of the audience and prod me on stage. I didn't need that kind of embarrassment. Besides, I was afraid I would have liked it all too much and would have wanted to kick that teenage bass player off the stage. Billy looked like he was having a grand time and I actually shed a few tears as he an Anthony laughed it up during a few of the extended jams.
I wasn't the least bit jealous, in fact, I really wished I would have been; that would have made it all easier to swallow. Easier to swallow then that feeling that I had had seven months earlier, when I sat in Anthony's living room and my hand had started shaking. The feeling that had caused me to shoot up from the couch, sprint out of the house, and floor the jeep all the way back to airport. The feeling that had come up and grabbed me by the back of the neck as I had looked around Anthony's house, through that magnificent sunset and across his deep-grained floor. The feeling that had suddenly come to me, forcing me to realize, in a flash of brilliance (the sunset's, not mine), why I couldn't go on that damn tour!
God knows there are lots of reasons for launching a world tour. Anthony's love for the past was an admirable motivation. But as I sat there in that comfy wood and stucco living room I noticed, really really noticed, that my old friend had very beautiful furniture. Big, expensive, dark-grained, but just furniture and whatever "Rewind the Grind" had been, was and would be to me, it was far from furniture. I was far from furniture.
So I owed Anthony nothing now (maybe I never had owed him anything). He had shown me, that despite the evidence of my eyes or actions, I really had no care to be furniture.
He had also shown me that I had no care to be a journalist anymore. So with the closing of "Rewind the Grind"'s tour, I decided I would put the close on my tenure at the magazine.
I looked forward to starting my novel, while sitting in my own chair.