Friday, December 17, 2021


Funny. Write a biography and people question how much of it is fiction. Write a novel and everyone wants to know what parts are real. You can’t win. I’ve often written about living on the fringe as a writer, about knowing people superficially, but, as well, I've had my share of close encounters. This one, I included in my fictional memoir, Jay and the Americans (Amazon):

—I saw Rickie Lee Jones at the Roxy. Tom Waits was in the audience, drunk. So was Chuck E. Weiss. Rickie, too, was drunk as a skunk, but the songs were funky, and if not they were beautiful. The show was over, the crowd dispersed. The curtain was drawn when Rickie pushed her way through. She said, “Where’s my hat? Where’s my fucking beret?” I was sitting at a table taking notes. She looked at me. “Jou take my hat? Hey, hey, where’s my fucking hat?”
Tom Waits came out from behind the curtain. In his gruff voice, he said, “You seen the lady’s hat?”
I looked around. A beret was on the table next to mine. I handed it to her. She said, “Well, thanks, then. I though’ you stole my hat.”—
After that, they knew me; or they knew of me. But early one morning, the sun peeking over the horizon, I got to talk with Rickie Lee. I wasn’t a Duke’s fan; Ben Frank’s was cleaner, better food, off-street parking. I shuffled in alone after a long night at the Roxy and the Rainbow; Max Ten and my friends had all gone home. Rickie was there with Waits in the back table, what was rightfully “our” booth, btw, though by then, she had a Grammy nomination and my claim to the real estate was null and void. Maybe Duke’s was no longer worthy.
I bumped into the waitress and knocked the checkbook out of her hand. I picked it up, and as I handed it back she said, “Sitting here?” I looked at Rickie Lee. She shrugged and moved over. Waits was across the table, a porkpie hat over his face, his legs stretched out into the aisle.
“Where’s your friends?”
“Duke’s, maybe. Home.”
“What’s your friend’s name, anyway? See him everywhere.”
“Max Ten. Maxwell Tenniel.” To the waitress, I said, “Pancake sandwich.”
“Coffee?” I nodded.
“I like that. You know, nicknames and shit.”
“I noticed. ‘Sal lives in a black vinyl pen.’”
“In New Jersey. Sal Bernardi. Have you met him?”
I shook my head. “Your songs are colorful, like the people in them.”
“Everybody real. Friends.” The waitress brought my breakfast and filled my coffee. Rickie said, “I know you, right?”
“You thought I stole your beret.”
“When?”
“At the Roxy.”
Waits took the hat from his face. “I remember you.” He licked his lips and put the hat back over his eyes.
“I used to live in Venice, you know? You don’t remember. You guys wouldn’t, you know, PLP with me*”
She laughed. “When was that?”
“Couple years.” I sipped my coffee. Then it was the journalist in me. “So, new album?”
“Working on it. Maybe I’ll borrow Max Ten.”
“Kinda wish you wouldn’t. What, you need more characters. Who you got?”
“Johnny the King. Eddie with the Crazy Eye. Cunt-Finger Louie.”
“Nice.”
“That one’s Sal’s. So, you using Max Ten? You writin’ a book?”
“Kinda.”
Waits sat up. He said, “Don’t ‘kinda’ write a book.” I can hear him in my mind.
Rickie looked at me and shrugged. She said, “Write a book.”
And there you have it, my impetus for my first novel. Thanks, Rickie.
*Not sure if PLP is a Rickie-ism or not. It means Public Leaning Post. Like a parking meter or the lamppost; an old friend you can lean on.

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