Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Night and Day: "The Music of Your Life"

I don’t remember how I was introduced to Clammy, and I don’t think we hit it off immediately. We eventually did, and we developed a close, formative friendship in our late teens. It was not necessarily a productive friendship in the short run, and I must say that it was a destructive friendship on the part of other people’s property.

We were punk rockers at the turn of the decade into the 1980s, and, as far as Portland, Maine went, we had the run of the joint. There was the amazing Downtown Lounge, which presented Lou Miami & The Kozmetix, some of the first Lyres shows, Pastiche, The Neighborhoods, La Peste, Mission of Burma, The Outlets, and many non-Boston bands like the Slickee Boys and The Rattlers.

There was a community among the DTL (as it was known) patrons, but there were schisms as well. Clammy and I traveled freely among the various tribes, but we sincerely allied with none but ourselves. Tim Warren, future founder of Crypt Records is a person that I met there as he played deejay, another brotherly person in my life. The DTL, however, was only open a couple nights a week, and Clammy and I were, the rest of the time, starved for beer and our own live entertainment. We did quite well on both counts.

Kids, if you are too young to get served booze, go to the homosexual bars. They will be pleased to see you there and will be friendly. I was old enough to drink, and Clammy wasn’t, but Clammy, his girlfriend, Adrianna, and I could always get a beer or a devastating Kitty Carlisle at a bar or discotheque in the then-burgeoning Portland gay scene. We also, Clammy and I, spent much time playing pinball in the suburbs where we lived. Clammy went to vocational school and had a friend whose mom was an ambulance attendant, and that friend would provide us with scores of unidentified pills. Adrianna’s dad was a doctor, so she had a Physician’s Desk Reference, and she would find out what we had. If a pill was tagged not to take with alcohol, we knew it was a good one and, of course, drank on it. I remember our finding the last of some Abbott depressant and wondering how to split the capsule. I dumped some out on the pinball machine to snort and gave the re-closed cap back to Clammy to eat. I rolled up a dollar bill and sniffed my half. It was like putting molten lava up my nose. I thought my face was going to fall off.

When we were “visiting,” we weren’t simply satisfied with making beer and alcohol vanish. You, personally, did not want to invite us to your home; although, many people did. Their homes became our homes as well, and we took many liberties with petty cash, medicine cabinets, recreation rooms, laundry areas and teenaged daughters. Strangely, I guess, we were affable enough to be invited back, time and again, to places we had wrecked.

On the street, we were no better behaved. In the winter, in Maine, one has to keep busy to keep from getting too cold; once Clammy and I started to “keep busy,” we kept it up throughout the rest of the year as well. People often did not lock their cars back then, and their coins for tolls became abundant beer money. FM converters became literal “hot” items for us. I remember someone hurrying out of their house after me one night; I ran, and a few blocks away I smacked into a telephone pole’s guy wire. I had a red stripe across my chest for a week. It was about 2am, and, as usual, I was wearing sunglasses.

I was also wearing an earplug connected to a transistor radio. In those days, in Maine, radio was abysmal, and there was no such thing as a Walkman. Clammy and I took to listening to an AM radio format called “The Music of Your Life,” hits from the 1920s through the 1950s. At home, we listened to Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedys, 999, and others, but out and about, it would be Rudy Vallee, Nat Cole, Jo Stafford, Frankie Laine, Vaughan Monroe, et alia. Portlanders still don’t know that a large amount of their early-1980s graffiti was sprayed to the tune of pre-war Frank Sinatra.

The “music of our life” was never so evocative as late one night when we, Clammy, Adrianna and I, decided to go for a clandestine swim in the Kiwanis pool. The entrance was shut, and we climbed the 9-foot fence to get in, stripped to our underwear and splashed and swam around. After about a half an hour, a carload of drunken rednecks pulled up with the same idea, but they saw us in there, and they changed their plan. They wanted to kick the shit out of us. You want to be the fish in the bowl, staring at the cat? There was a nine-foot chain link fence; the only place to escape was to climb out to where those loaded jackasses already were, and we were in our underwear. We had a radio playing, I’ll never forget, “The Jones Girl,” by the Mills Brothers. I didn’t want to die to that song. That carload of morons were so drunk that they couldn’t get up the fence. Thinking about it, I don’t know that they tried to climb it like we had, but they tried to lift it up to crawl under. I thought we had had it until one kid, holding the bottom of the fence up for his drunken buddy, let it slip out, putting a gash in the guy’s neck. They all gave up, staggering back to their car, cursing us and giving us the finger.

We three got into our clothes and climbed back over the fence. At the time, we all lived in an apartment downtown, and I suggested we stop into the Miss Portland Diner, a landmark, stainless steel railroad car affair. We walked there, went in and sat down in a booth. We waited a few minutes, and I looked around for someone. There was an ashtray with a lipstick-smeared butt at the end of the counter and yesterday’s Portland Press Herald. I went into the kitchen, and there was no one. Obviously, someone had forgotten to turn out the lights and lock the place up. I turned on the grill and turned on the radio in the kitchen. It was the Chordettes playing “Mister Sandman.” I found a butcher’s knife and got a platter of ham from the refrigerator. I walked back out behind Clammy and Adrianna; I put on my best Looney Tunes face, wielded the knife and screamed, “WHAT’LL YA HAVE?” I must have taken three years off each of their lives.

We had ham and eggs and roast pork, orange juice and buttered toast. I didn’t feel like making a whole urn full of coffee.
When we were done, I shut off the grill, did our dishes, and we turned out the lights as we left, but I took that meat cleaver, and I told Clammy and Adrianna I’d use it on any subsequent car full of rednecks. On purpose, I left the radio on to “The Music of Your Life.” As we left, I think the song playing was “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” by Tex Beneke and the Modernaires.

I have not heard from Adrianna in almost a quarter of a century. Clammy and I are back in touch, and we have a chuckle about our delinquent past. It is startling to see how little either of us has changed since we were teenagers. In many ways, we have grown, but I feel we have never grown up. I guess it’s like a bottle of cognac; it tastes really good when it’s eighteen years old, but can you really tell the difference when it’s forty?

The rock “n” roll element

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