Saturday, August 27, 2005

August, 1982

The turning point for the San Francisco line-up was our two week East Coast tour in August of 1982. The band had been living and essentially spinning its wheels in San Francisco for a little over a year and half. We had made no real in-roads with the club scene and no allies to speak of among the thousands of bands poised for stardom.

We weren’t punk, we weren’t arty, we had no sartorial sense and none of us had any use for hair care products. This was at a time when men were finding it essential to have perms, use mousse and, as I was to find out, lots of Aqua Net Extra Super Hold.

Our ‘manager’, for lack of a better term, was an English bloke named William who rented rehearsal space to us. He befriended the band and felt close enough to introduce us to his girlfriend, Bluh. Her name, I suppose, was actually Blair, but with his southern English accent it always came out something like “Bluh”. The introduction went something like this:
“Yes, and I’d like you to meet Bluh.”
“No, Bluh!”
and back and forth it went until we gave up. She had died-black hair hiding her eyes and was incapable of speech, so I guess it didn’t matter.

Once at a gig at Le Disque, at the end of Haight Street, William angrily pulled me over to a full length mirror and had me take a good look at myself. I was wearing white jeans that were perhaps too short at the cuff, red low top sneakers that, God forbid, were not Chuck Taylor’s, an un-ironed shirt under some crappy secondhand vest. My hair was over my ears (faux pas in the early 80s) and without discernable style. Then came the lecture:

“What are you trying to say, Phil? Look at yourself! Is this how a self-respecting rock star dresses? Bluh, come and take a look at this man! You’ve got to learn how to dress yourself! It’s a disgrace!”

By the time we arrived in Oswego in the summer of ’82, I was sporting a wicked brush cut, skin tight black twills and crisp ironed t-shirts in yellow, red and of course, black. I wore Converse hi-tops in red, purple, black and was cool enough to wear one color on one foot and a different color on the other. I felt I was returning to my hometown with full San Francisco New Wave creds. I had also learned how to thrash about and jump onto pool tables, jukeboxes, any nearby furniture with the best of them. After all, I had been taking in a steady diet of four bands, five shots of bourbon and one pack of Camel non-filters per night, Wednesday through Saturday each week. This was school…I had to learn something!

The two weeks in Oswego were magical, despite my superficial transformation into new wave icon being on display. Chuck and my sister, Jan, decided to get married. Edward, who had been more or less estranged from the family for several years, came for the occasion. He and I performed Aura Lee, a traditional English ballad that was the source material for Elvis' “Love Me Tender”. It was the first of two duets we ever played together.

We played exactly three gigs on our whirlwind "Upstate New York Tour 1982": Old City Hall in Oswego, followed by the Firehouse in Syracuse, and last, the Water Street Music Hall, right next door to the Old City Hall.

During the gig at WSMH, I accompanied Edward on “Old Man River”. By the time we did the number, the crowd was rowdy and drunk. At first, when Edward, who had positively no stage presence whatsoever, started singing in his low trained basso profundo, there were audible jeers and cat-calls from the audience. If it bothered him, it only made him bare down that much harder. By the time he unleashed his crushing forte on the final “but Old Man River, he just keeps rolling…aaaaAAAAAAA-LONG!” the crowd was going berserk. The applause was deafening. It was the one time our mutually exclusive worlds of classical and pop music converged and it was beautiful.

For me, that August brought back the past in the form of an old flame named Diana. I hadn’t seen her since I had left Oswego and there was a part of me that had hoped I never would. Our relationship was messy and about as painful as it could get, starting innocently enough with letters back and forth while I was in Paris in ’79. But there she was, among the small crowd at the Firehouse. During a break I approached her and we began to talk amiably although cautiously. By the time I left we had exchanged phone numbers.

I had a vivid dream that night that I saw her standing alone in the middle of a street in the strange twilight that always accompanies my dreams. I walked up to her and said “I willed you back into my existence” and pulled her face off. Behind her face was a black hole. Thus began the second chapter of what was to be, yet again, an ultimately excruciating and sorrowful connection.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

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