It was still Wednesday December 12, but no one really cared. The four of us were in line outside Crisler Arena, my three comrades listening to my stories as I continued to recount my European journey. Though we were already pretty high, Clark produced one of the “jays” from his pocket and we joined many of the other people in line who were engaged in the same concert preparation.
The oval indoor basketball arena, which seated over 12,000 was situated just east of the “Big House” (UofM’s biggest in the county college football stadium). The arena had been built in the mid 1960s, based on a growing interest in the University’s men’s basketball team after Cazzie Russell led that team to three straight Big Ten championships from 1964 to 1966. Several years later the arena was renamed after Herbert “Fritz” Crisler, the retiring Michigan athletic director, who had played a key role in championing the place being built. As my mom and dad explained it to me, he had been a famous and innovative Michigan football coach during the 1940s, whose greatest legacy to the game of football was to invent the concept of having a different set of players play defense and offense, transforming the game into its modern incarnation.
Certainly there was a great deal of overlap between this telling of my European odyssey to my friends and the telling, earlier today, for Mary Jane, Keith and my mom. All the places I went to, the means of transportation to get there, the things I saw and most of the stuff that happened to me. But now deliciously stoned, in the intimate circle of my closest friends, I wanted to share perhaps the more intense memories about my encounters with an array of intriguing people, mostly people roughly my age, and many of them young women. Despite all the amazing stuff I had seen, it was the personalities of all the people I had engaged with, in one way or another, that had made my trip the profound experience it had been. I wanted to be a compelling character of note to the people in my own life in the same way these people I had met had been so to me.
But there was still that shyness and need to carefully manage the way people perceived me to maintain my own tenuous self esteem. I told my friends the story of fellow backpacker Miranda, who fearlessly hitchhiked from New Zealand, across Australia, Indonesia, Burma, China and the Soviet Union to Western Europe where I met her in southern Germany. I told them that she was a “crusty character” and an “odd bird”, but not that she was self involved and parochial, an anglophile to a fault, dismissive of other cultures and the proper pronunciation of their languages. And not that she hit on me when we were having a meal together in a restaurant, and I timidly did not even have the common courtesy to politely decline, rather just pretending that her knee and foot were not rubbing against mine. I certainly did not want even my closest friends to see how I had been paralyzed by my timidity. But also I had come to admire Miranda enough that I did not want my friends to not admire her courage because she was so socially awkward and culturally tonedeaf. Maybe if I had been drunk as well as stoned, my inhibitions would have been lowered enough to spill all the Miranda beans, but I did not.
As to my travel partner Steve, who I had first met in Paris where we decided to hitch together to Spain, I did share that he had propositioned me in our shared hotel room in Granada, and that I had said no, but had continued to travel with him for another week or so until we decided to go our own ways. But I did not share with them that I had almost said yes, which would have revealed a more bisexual (that wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary) side of me. In the parlance of the day they might of called it “homosexual tendencies” if not something much worse. I really couldn’t deal with my sexuality at all with anyone else, even that main aspect that was into women, with these my closest friends. Truth be told, my feelings for the three of them were deep enough that those feelings were probably treading beyond platonic friendship. My friends were mostly quiet when I told the Steve story, though Clark did share that one of his male classmates had hit on him one day after class. All four of us knew people who were gay, or likely gay, but it was an age when it was mostly still pretty deep in the closet.
But I was brave enough, and felt safe enough with the three of them at that moment on that chilly evening in Ann Arbor, to share almost all of the stories of the rest of the bigger than life young women I had encountered. Fiery hippie Canadian Zo, who with her partner Randall gave Steve and I a ride across France to Spain in their iconic VW van, with the four of us sleeping together one night on a small mattress in the back, me cuddled up next to her. Big and boisterous Aussie Jen and her suave travel partner Sarah, who I met in Rome, saw again in Florence, and then saw giving each other a passionate kiss in the Venice youth hostel. The diminutive and alien exotic Kiwi Trix, who briefly took me under her wing on the train to Florence and so struck me with her steely modulated charisma. Gorgeous and sexy Swede Monika in Grindelwald, whose pluck and determination were even bigger than her awesome breasts, never cloistered in any sort of a bra. And her older, intellectual, almost stepsister Ragna, the consummate cardplayer with her deadpan croupier persona. Finally the smouldering, sexy, stoner Canadian Gwendolyn in Amsterdam, with whom I shared a whole bunch of killer hash, plus an exploration of Van Gogh’s paintings, and later came to my rescue at the BOAC office, when I was too stoned to function, but still had to get my plane ticket home.
I could tell that my three male comrades loved the stories of all these notable young women and took great vicarious pleasure in all the details I shared about each. And in that vicarious vane, there were the inevitable questions of whether I had the opportunity to hook up with any of them sexually. I think it was Jerry that broached the subject. I was comfortable saying disappointedly no, though not addressing my own timidity, but saying instead that the circumstances of youth hostels and traveling companions made it very difficult to have any sort of romantic or sexual encounters. I did share with them Monika’s sexual exploits in the shower stalls of the Grindelwald hostel, first in the men’s bathroom with Michael and then the next night in the Women’s with Beth. And that triggered one last story of taking the train down the mountain with Beth and her stories of the other young women she was pursuing romantically.
By the time I finished my tales, with all of my embellishments and animated gesticulation, the doors to the concert were opened and we filed in with the others. The stage was set in the middle of the floor of the oval arena, about a five foot rise from the arena floor, leaving a large area of floor without chairs in front of the stage. The stage was initially bare, except for mic stands, amps and a big drum kit in front of a twenty foot flat curtain that hid whatever was set up behind it, presumably for Alice’s show. Huge banks of speakers were on either side of the stage facing us. We quickly decided we would not take actual seats, but find places to sit on the floor as close to the stage as we could get, which ended up being maybe just ten feet away. The rest of the floor area around us quickly filled with older youth and young adult types like ourselves, including two young women in Stetsons and cowgirl getup to our left. Everybody up front was sitting for the moment.
People started lighting up joints and passing them all around the assembled group of maybe several hundred people on the floor in front of the stage. Clark pulled one from his pocket, fired it up, and sent it around with the others. Quickly the air was filled with the strong odor of burnt weed, and the four of us and everyone around us was very high, all hooked into the cannabis hive mind. The two women next to us took hits from flasks, presumably some sort of appropriate hard liquor they’d managed to smuggle in, though they also took drags from the joints and passed them along. Me and the one next to me, with her blonde pigtails coming out from either side under her big stetson, a couple of times passing lit jays to each other.
In one handoff we even engineered the roach finger shuffle exchange with each other, she holding the little remnant out to me between thumb and forefinger, me touching the tips of those two fingers with my own, her sliding back her forefinger as I pushed my thumb over hers, finally pushing back her thumb until the little roach was secure between my own digits. Just the littlest bit of physical and mental collaboration, the intentional and precise touching of fingertips together with their myriad of nerve receptors. To my mind, juiced with both THC and libidinal hormones, feeling her warm fingertip with its slightly rough texture and delicious moistness, was a wild moment of intimacy as if our entire bodies were connected energetically.
The lights finally went down and there was a strong buzz of noise from the crowd including hoots and howls. All of us sitting on the floor in front of the stage stood up, pretty much as one, as if all receiving the same silent queue. In the dark we could see the three members of the band in their shirts and jeans and cowboy hats find their spots on the stage, the two out front plugging in their guitars and the third climbing and negotiating his way up into the stool at the back of his big drum kit. There were a couple audible notes from the guitar and bass confirming their instruments were live, a couple practice chords plus a few random drum beats. The two band members with guitars looked at each other and nodded. The announcer’s voice boomed from the loudspeakers.
“Would you please welcome, from Texas, the fabulous Z… Z… Top!”
The band immediately launched into their first song, “Thunderbird”, and above the quick pace of their blues boogie the lyric was perfect for the situation…
Get high, everybody, get high.
Get high, everybody, get high.
Get high, everybody, get high.
Get high, everybody, get high.
Have you heard? What’s the word?
Presumably their homage to the cheap fortified wine. All of us stoned people now connected to the hive mind were swaying back and forth to the beat, howling and laughing at the so appropriate lyric. The lead guitarist grinned and winked at us, seemingly tapped into our hive. There was no thinking, just riding with the current of the music…
Juice, juice, juice
Really makes you loose loose, loose,
Really goes down so smooth,
Really puts you in the groove.
Have you heard? What’s the word?
Just like that the song was done. We all yelled in approval. Yeah, we were an Alice Cooper crowd, primed for shock rock and glam (except perhaps for the two young women in cowgirl getup next to us), but that song was real good.
The lead guitarist introduced his comrades, Dusty Hill on bass, Frank Beard on drums. Then Dusty at the mic introduced the lead guitarist, Billy Gibbons. Howls and hoots from the crowd and thank yous from the players on stage. Finally, with a knowing twinkle in his eye, a flippant, “What’s that smell?” from Billy, generating more howls and laughter from all of us. The three of them exchanged glances with each other, and then they were off into the rest of their set.
I was taken with the tightness of their blues sound, basic and raw, yet expertly crafted and delivered. And the bigness of the sound coming from just the three of them, only one six-string electric guitar and an electric bass. Also with Billy’s ability to somehow play chords and individual notes at pretty much the same time.
The pace of their set was uptempo, except for one slower song, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, with a more deliberate bluesy gospel feel…
Jesus just left Chicago
And he’s bound for New Orleans
Took a jump through Mississippi, muddy water turned to wine
Then out to California, through the forests and the pines
The lyrics seemed a little incongruous with their whole hard partying, crude sexual double entendre thing…
You might not see him in person, but he’ll see you just the same
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name
But after that little dose of religion, for whatever the fuck morsel of contrition, they were back to their “I’m a sinner” schtick with “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”…
If you see me walkin’ down the line
With my fav’right honky tonk in mind
Well, I’ll be here around suppertime
With my can of dinner and a bunch of fine
Beer drinkers and hell raisers, yeah
Uh-huh-huh, baby, don’t you want to come with me?
The young woman next to me was bouncing and flailing her arms and dancing to the music with a very fun to witness reckless abandon. Inspired by her, I got into the band’s boogie myself and started dancing around, and it felt a couple times like she and I were almost dancing together. Again, under the influence of all the weed, evoking that whole hive mind thing, we were all one boogieing bunch of happy amped up zombies, and the two young women had the alcohol as well to obliterate any remaining inhibitions. Jerry, Clark and Avi, on the other side of me were also moving to the music, but more restrained.
What made the band so much fun to watch amidst all this going on in front of them, was that Billy and Dusty at least, out on the front of the stage, were very aware of us in the audience, at least those of us who were standing and moving around just below and in front of them. Frank’s focus as the drummer seemed more on his comrades and managing the cadence of the song. The two women next to us were howling and whistling and had gotten the attention of the guys on stage who were winking and mugging at them and showing off generally. Dusty and Billy did this thing several times, sort of reminiscent of the R. Crumb “Keep on truckin’”. They would strut across the stage, playing their guitars, one just behind the other, leaning back and making deliberate big steps forward to the beat in unison. While they did they would mug at us as if to say “How ‘bout that ya’ll!”, all the time playing seemingly flawlessly their gritty sexualized riffs, like they were jerking off their guitars.
It all got a bit much with their song “Francine”, where the lyrics were essentially lusting after a thirteen year old young woman…
Got a girl, her name’s Francine
Finest thing you ever seen
And I love her, she’s all that I want
And I need her, she’s all that I need
If I ever caught her with Stevie P
I’d throw her back in the Penitentiary
And if I caught her with my mother’s son
I’ll call her daddy and get my gun
My Francine just turned thirteen
She’s my angelic teenage queen
And I love her, she’s all that I want
And I need her, she’s all that I need
I could here my mom and Mary Jane in my head saying, “Excuse me… I don’t think so!”
They did a cover of Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock”, full of all their mugging and strutting before ending the set with their big hit song “La Grange”. I recalled first hearing it played on an eight-track tape player in the car of a guy who had picked me up hitchhiking and then produced a joint that we shared. It was the quintessential driving down the highway song. The guy said the lyrics were about an infamous secret brothel, the Chicken Ranch, outside La Grange Texas that was recently uncovered and shut down by the police. (FYI… it was later the subject of the broadway musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.)
Lead guitarist Billy Gibbons started the opening riff, everyone in the crowd that was familiar with it responded with shouts and howls. Then he growled out the lyric in his low voice…
Rumour spreadin’ ’round
In that Texas town
About that shack outside La Grange
[spoken] You know what I’m talkin’ about
Just let me know
If you wanna go
To that home out on the range
[spoken] They got a lot of nice girls there… Have mercy
When Billy growled out that last appeal, there seemed a whole lot of having and very little mercy. And once they had dispensed with the lyrics, Billy and Dusty went into some sort of ecstatic high gear, Billy launching into the song’s first guitar solo while Dusty pounded out the riff, strutting the stage in unison. Then the midpoint break in the song, Billy giving Dusty some sort of high sign and the tempo dropped, and Billy played through a series of scales. Then without bass or drums accompanying him, he reprised that signature opening riff of the song. The goosebumps flared on my forearms and I was close enough to see the fingers of his left hand dancing and pulling on the strings on the neck of his guitar while the pick between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand dug at those same strings down between the pickups. There was a general low appreciative applause and howl from the hive mind audience and the two young women to my left just went wild stepping in their cowboy boots, swinging their rear ends and throwing their arms in the air, do sa doing around each other.
Billy and Dusty of course saw them, and did their best to mimic their do sa do on the stage, to the two women’s stetson waving screams. You could see Billy break his groove for just a second and lose his fingering as he made sure he didn’t trip over the cord running from Dusty’s base to the amp, but he was quickly back into it, and did one final solo before the end of the song. Dusty stood front and center, legs planted on the stage though feet still two-stepping to the beat, the more physically imposing of the two. Billy, jerking off his guitar, kind of danced and meandered behind and around him. Then finally they were done.
We all clapped and yelled. Others in our hive mind hooted and the young woman next to me stuck her fingers in her mouth and issued forth a shrill whistle of approval. Dusty and Billy grinned, looking genuinely pleased, tickled even by the response to their set. I thought it was very endearing. They didn’t seem to have yet that practiced professional acknowledgement of the audience of more staid performers.
The young woman next to me with the blonde pigtails took off her big stetson and flung it like a frisbee up onto the stage at Billy. He saw it coming and mugged struggling to catch it, which he did. He took off his own hat and put hers on his head and kind of posed for her. She screamed, “Looks good Billy!” and he laughed and made a face at Dusty. Then he yelled out at her, “But darlin’, you look so hot in one of these!” And he flung his own hat out in her direction, though his aim was not as good as hers and the spinning stetson veered in our direction and Avi caught it. The young woman, stoned and drunk as she was, seemed crestfallen and looked over at Avi, fearing he would lay claim to the hat. But without a second thought Avi brought it over to her and you could see her body quiver with excitement, bouncing on the toes of her cowboy boots in anticipation. When he planted the hat between her pigtails she planted a big kiss on Avi’s mouth, then whirled to show her new trophy to her friend.
Avi turned to the three of us, all of our attention now on him. He looked stunned, but at least a grinning stunned. I’m sure we three comrades of his looked pretty much the same. I think we were all pretty jealous, I certainly was. Clark finally rose to the moment and asked, “You ever been kissed like that?”
Avi’s eyes were wide and he shook his head and chuckled nervously. The young woman with the pigtails was now avoiding looking at us, perhaps embarrassed at her spontaneous gesture.
The applause of the crowd finally crested, and being just the opening act, the band did not attempt any encore. Dusty and Billy unplugged their guitars and Frank climbed down from his big drum kit still holding his sticks in each hand. The three of them looked at each other and laughed and bowed in semi unison and then strode off the stage. A minute later the house lights came up, assaulting our overly dilated eyes, and all the roadies emerged from the darkness and struck the mics, chords, amps and drum kit in front of the big curtain. For the next fifteen minutes or so we could hear a lot of work going on behind the big curtain, including plugging in and testing instruments.
With what rational thought I could momentarily muster in my stoned delirium, it occurred to me, as a stage performer myself, that that had been quite the performance. Great pacing, skilled musicianship, a nice flow from song to song in their set, and what seemed like a very honest and intimate rapport with the audience, at least those of us up in front of the stage. But then maybe it was just the delirium, but I didn’t really care. I noted that the two women next to us were clinking their flasks together and taking another hit from them, the one with the pigtails who had kissed Avi obviously pleased with her new hat.
I recalled the first and only one of two young woman I had passionately kissed in my entire life, just about exactly three years previously. Ironically not my girlfriend at the time, who I was too shy to kiss, but her cute best friend that I was sitting next to on the couch at a party at my girlfriend’s house. I was so embarrassed the next Monday in school that I avoided both of them, and that was the end of my three month long relationship with my girlfriend and single evening one with her best friend. Still it had been an awesome moment, our lips engaging, tongue tips touching, and tasting the sweet wetness of her mouth. Most recently I had gone eleven weeks in Europe without having another kiss. I thought about Miranda in Cochem and Ragna in Grindelwald, who both had hit on me, but I had not responded, and missed opportunities, with Ragna for presumably at least a kiss, and with Miranda possibly much much more.
All of us in front of the stage were sitting again. The joints fired up and being passed around, including between me and the young woman with the pigtails and now sporting Billy’s stetson, her personal “ZZ Top” as it were. I could hear the roadies behind the curtain doing their final setup for Alice. Finally they were done and the lights went out again and all the voices of the hive mind started to howl.
In the darkness a bass guitar started to lay down a riff. A lead guitar followed, wailing its way into a crescendo. A couple spotlights played across the twenty foot flat curtain which suddenly, in an explosion of sparks, fell to the ground with a crash and a mass of machine generated fog billowed forward over the front edge of the stage, engulfing all of us out in front. The smell of the oily fog triggered memories of plays I’d been in where we had used similar equipment. You could barely see the lead guitar and the bass player in black top hats and tailcoats on either side of the stage playing the opening notes of the first song, which I recognized as “Hello Hooray”.
Then every stagelight in the arena blazed on, and all of us whose pupils were extra dilated from the weed, were momentarily blinded. Alice appeared in the center of the stage in a white top hat, white tailcoat with no shirt underneath, white pants and spats, holding a glittering silver cane. His long straggly black hair framed the signature thick black eyeliner tracing out the shape of his eyes plus descending and ascending from the center of each eye to a point.
Let the show begin
I’ve been ready
Let the lights grow dim
I’ve been ready
Ready as this audience that’s coming here to dream
Loving every second, every moment, every scream
Alice strutted and pranced from one side of the stage to the other, twirling and gesticulating with his cane as he sang. I was immediately struck by his studied visage, so different than the more genuine mugging and grinning of the ZZ Top guys.
The song finished and before we could even applaud the public address system blared with an announcer’s voice, “Good evening my fellow Americans and all ships at sea, the candidate is taking the country by storm!” The band played the opening chords and notes of “Elected”. The crowd roared as Alice made his pitch…
I’m your top prime cut of meat, I’m your choice
I wanna be elected
I’m your yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce
I wanna be elected
Kids want a savior, don’t need a fake
I wanna be elected
We’re all gonna rock to the rules that I make
When they got to the chorus and its compelling bang bang riff, Alice growling out “Elected” over and over, I was totally in the groove, it being one of my favorite of his anthems. The two women next to us were dancing around each other in their stetsons, banging their butts together. I was dancing too, in a suddenly frenzied reverie with the chorus, heading somehow into their space, damn the shyness, based on no rational thought I could pinpoint. The two of them split and whirled around me, and I felt one of their rear ends brush against mine, soft flesh under tight jeans deliciously giving way. I didn’t attempt to look at either one of them in the eye, fearing it would blow out the hive mind, but kept track of their positions in my peripheral vision enough so not to crash into either one of them. I recalled my mom telling me about dancing with guys to Tommy Dorsey and other big bands when she was my age, bodies close, the closest they could get in that time and place to having sex.
The song ended and the band took a breath. We all yelled and pumped fists in the air as if it had been previously choreographed. The young woman with the pigtails and Billy’s hat turned her stoned gaze in my direction briefly and winked at me before turning away. I recalled sexy Gwendolyn in Amsterdam, always high that I could remember, and our moments alone together in the Van Gogh museum.
Then the big blaring discordant riff and all the crowd in their hive mind knew we were into his anthem “School’s Out”. I had been a sucker for big rock anthems since I first heard The Who’s stuttering “My Generation” and the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick belting out “Somebody to Love”. But Alice cranked them out with the best of them. With the first word of the first line the audience stoner hive mind was belting out the lyrics towards the stage, with as much gusto as Alice and his bandmates with their amplified voices were calling it out to to us…
Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin’ all that noise
‘Cause they found new toys
Well we can’t salute ya, can’t find a flag
If that don’t suit ya, that’s a drag
The song had been very significant for me, blaring out of radios everywhere in the spring of 1972, appropriately just before I graduated from high school, which seemed to me now so fucking long ago.
For the chorus, with its pounding buh-buh-buh-bum martial drumbeat, all of us in the audience as one voice nearly drowned out the amplified voices of the band, and I could see Alice note that and stick his microphone out towards us…
School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces
And then continuing with the little nursery rhyme ditty woven into the song…
No more pencils no more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks
It hit me again at that point, in some off the beaten path corner of my mind that was not locked into the hive mind of the moment, what had occurred to me just yesterday (such a long time ago was yesterday) on the plane home from London. That the powers that be were no longer scripting my life each year, insisting that I report to school every September. Going forward I had to make it up for myself.
After the first few numbers, there was the first of several costume changes for the band. Alice strutted back into the spotlight in just a white tank top t-shirt and a pair of what looked like white underwear briefs, plus below them big wild leopard skin platform boots with six-inch heels that came up above his knees. His band members were in glittering silver skintight jumpsuits with their own array of similarly knee-length platform boots, but not in the leopard skin. He sang a series of songs off his latest album, “Muscle of Love”, which I had not heard before. About halfway through the title track, it hit me the song was about masturbating…
Well, I must have come to that crazy age
Where everything is hot
’cause I don’t know if the things I’m thinking
Are normal thoughts or not
I read Dad’s books like I did before
Now things are crystal clear
Lock the door in the bathroom now
I just can’t get caught in here
Holy muscle of love
I got a muscle of love
His show was more twisted broadway musical than straight up rock band performance like ZZ Top’s. Characters, costumes, props, sets, pyrotechnics, horn sections, and lots of staging. A fight scene with other band members during his West Side Story homage in “Guttercats vs the Jets”. Then a surreal one with giant toothbrushes and dental drills for “Achin’ to Get Me”. And a stunningly realistic beheading by a guillotine after “The Ballad of Dwight Fry”, his song from the point of view of a deranged patient in a mental asylum. Though I loved his homage to West Side Story, even in my stoned reverie most of his theatrics seemed a bit much, more sensationalistic than sublime.
But I was yanked back into Alice’s groove by another of his signature anthems, this one “No More Mister Nice Guy”, which, like “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen” I had loved and resonated with, since the first time I heard it’s opening verse. He sang it with his big live python coiling around his neck…
I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing
‘Til they got a hold of me
I opened doors for little old ladies
I helped the blind to see
Seemed like I never tired of these in your face calls to the older generation and their institutions, like school, to back off, that my generation had had enough and was resisting bigtime. I burned in my heart to challenge everything that existed as conventional practice, and resonated with others who were doing it (or at least singing about it). Despite that burning, most adults that met me would find me pretty deferential and harmless, me not wanting to challenge them directly.
But the song of the show that really moved me, bringing goosebumps to the flesh of my arms, was one off his latest album that I had not heard before. It was called “Big Apple Dreamin’”, about a young adult couple from small town America moving to the quintessential big city…
And subways and stations
At the United Nations
New York is waiting
For you and me, baby
Waiting to swallow us down
New York, we’re coming
To see what you’re made of
Are you as great as you sound
That was the song that got caught in my head and played over and over in my mind’s jukebox. I had a strong sense of precognition that my backpacking odyssey through Europe was not the last time I would throw myself in the deep end and venture to new realms. Though I loved my little Ann Arbor and even more diminutive family, I was not meant to be in proximity of either, that I was destined, or at least drawn, to swim in bigger ponds.
Another costume change and now Alice was in what looked like some sort of sexy black negligee with black panties, stockings and heels. Both he and David Bowie had their tantalizingly genderbending costumes and makeup, in this moment for Alice to sing one of his vampy love songs, “Be My Lover”…
She struts into the room well I don’t know her
But with a magnifying glance I just sort of looked her over
We had a drink or two well maybe three
And then suddenly she starts telling me her life story
It was quite the fantasy, but I had no idea how you got from seeing a stranger to having drinks with them, that whole pick up in a bar thing was totally beyond me. Anyway I did like the plucky young woman, taking charge of the encounter, and stating what she needed to make this thing between them work.
She says “baby if you wanna be my lover you better take me home
’cause it’s a long long way to paradise and I’m still on my own”
And then Alice’s bit of snarky narcissism, a verse which despite that, given my own tenuous self esteem, I always enjoyed…
Told her that I came from Detroit city
And I played guitar in a long haired rock and roll band
She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice
I said listen baby you really wouldn’t understand
And finally after more than an hour and a half of sound and spectacle, satirical gnarliness and sarcasm, his show finished, save for the obligatory encore, his first big hit anthem that of course spoke to my current chronological age, “I’m Eighteen”…
Lines form on my face and hands
Lines form from the ups and downs
I’m in the middle without any plans
I’m a boy and I’m a man
I’m eighteen and I don’t know what I want
I got it. Though you’re in some purgatory just on the cusp of adulthood, you’ve been through enough already that the wear and tear is just starting to show on your face.
I got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart
Took eighteen years to get this far
Don’t always know what I’m talkin’ about
Feels like I’m livin’ in the middle of doubt
I got that too. So much passion while so little sense of what to do about it. Still fucking dubious!
‘Cause I’m eighteen
I get confused every day
I just don’t know what to say
I gotta get away
Finally making a sort of peace with it all…
I’m a boy and I’m a man
I’m eighteen and I like it
The thing was done. Alice and his band left the stage with salutes to the crowd. Our reaction finally subsided, the house lights came up, again blinding all us dilated eye stoners, and the stage crew started to strike the very extensive set and equipment. The young woman with the pigtails and now Billy’s cowboy hat called out to and then waved to Avi to thank him again for his role in securing her trophy of the evening. Avi smiled sheepishly and nodded, raised his hand like it was all in a day’s work. He was shy, like the rest of us, none of us attempting to talk, even briefly, with the two of them, who we had shared the last three hours of music, marijuana and general reverie with.
We filed out of Crisler Arena with the rest of the stoned sheep into the cold night air, me leading the way for my little circle. It was just a bit below freezing, and felt good to breathe, fresh and crisp and relieving a little of the headachy fog in our blitzed brains. Again I had no idea what the time was, or really cared for that matter, but figured it had to be around midnight. I also just knew Clark was going to tease me about walking rather than driving, which he did.
“So Cooper”, he said with a chuckle, “Still happy that we came on foot rather than being in a warm car right now?”
If I had had any second thoughts I was determined not to share them and instead show my resolve to embrace my choices. Dubious Clubius was dead, I was in total Coopster mode, long live the Coopster!
“Clark… my recollection is that your car does not even have a working heater! And look at this traffic jam to get out. We should be home in twenty minutes after a nice walk through the woods.” And I strode out toward Main Street with the others tagging behind me, as “what me worry?” as Alfred E. Neuman or the Tarot Fool walking off the precipice. I continued to lead the way across Main down Pauline and through Fritz Park and Eberwhite Woods, though Jerry had to correct me when I took the wrong fork in the path at one point. At least for today I was the leader of my shy nerdy troop.
Clark did give me a ride home in his maligned VW Bug, where still in fact the heater did not work. He told me his girlfriend Grace said she knew me from third and fourth grade at Bach. The few times he had mentioned her name I had not made the connection. It seemed significant somehow that my childhood and youth were all weaving together in my post Europe young adulthood. As I exited the car, Clark called out his parting thought, which stuck with me.
“Cooper. I’m so glad you’re back. Ann Arbor is just not quite the same without you kid!”
I replied that it was good to be back and that I had had quite a long but great day, in a large part due to them arranging to get me that ticket to the concert.
I pondered his parting thought as I entered my house, my mom leaving a small lamp on in the sitting room as a night light for me. I tried my best to walk quietly up our creaky stairs and then past the room’s of my sleeping mom and brother and on down the hall to the end and what used to be my bedroom. My mom had left some of her papers neatly stacked on the table that served as her desk and had served as mine previously. Seeing that made me doubly determined that I would create a room for myself in the basement as soon as possible. My backpack was there, leaning against my yellow dresser, still as yet not unloaded.
It had been quite a day. I had resolved an important domestic issue with my mom that gave her an office and me a room I could call my own. I had reconnected with my mentor Mary Jane, and told my travel story to her, and had it illustrated by her son Keith and my mom. And I had reconnected with my circle of best friends, gotten really stoned and seen quite the concert, both opening and main acts. Maybe tomorrow morning I could unpack my pack and accept the fact that I was truly home.