Perhaps the biggest lie rock and roll ever told us was that we were going to live forever. We never bothered to read the fine print on all those interplanetary fever dreams we were getting high on back in the eighties, because they were prescribed by modern day Gods whose mortality was a matter of personal irresponsibility. The way we saw it, as long as we didn’t veer too far outside the lines, the music was going to save us in the end.
Alan, the mysteriously private high school senior who lived three floors up from us in Howard Beach was testament to this. A studious kid, he always had a curious grimace that made him look as if he were trying to refute Einstein’s theory of relativity. He never engaged in small talk because he didn’t follow sports or listen to music. At all. Alan stood out, even in a neighborhood like mine. All those whispers went loud after Alan walked up to the roof one day in the middle of winter, balanced himself on the ledge, and jumped.
“I knew something was wrong with that guy . . ” Said my friend Danny. ” . . he didn’t even know who Van Halen was,”
Life could be a tragic fucking picture, so thank God there was Bowie. Because while I wasn’t aware that he wore those funky costumes because he was painfully shy, I knew it spoke to vulnerabilities. I related to the meaning of lyrics I didn’t fully understand yet because all that really mattered was the soul he shared.
Bowie scored all his number one hits within a ten year period from the mid seventies through the mid eighties. But his music career, which spanned six decades, possessed a reach well beyond those framed vinyl prizes. He provided rocket boosters to the punk music era and delivered up transcendent brilliance from his earliest days to his final ones.
By the mid eighties, I was under this influence and Forest Hills was a place I was getting to know a little more intimately thanks to a girl who was out of my league. If you lived in Howard Beach, there was a good chance your father worked in sanitation or construction, that luxury home was underwritten by nefarious means and he had a lawyer on retainer. If you lived in Forest Hills, there was a good chance your father worked in lower Manhattan, that luxury home was underwritten by nefarious means and he was that lawyer.
So when the girl from Forest Hills kicked me to the curb, I drove home in the middle of the night to lick my wounds. Which meant a bottle of something friendly, a pack of smokes and Bowie. My parents had gone to the shore with my little sister, so I fired up my turntable, stuck the needle in Hunky Dory and I pumped up the volume. And then I let the words deliver me to somewhere else.
I awoke at the crack of noon to the rotary phone kicking up a storm.
“It’s about fucking time you answered your phone. Come pick me up, I gotta get outta the house or I’m gonna kill my fatha!”
Shereen stood all of five foot two, with enough hairspray in her platinum blond hair to lay waste to the ozone. Every other word out of her mouth was fuck, and the other words . . not so great either.
“Bring that bottle I gave you . . .”
“I drank it,” I confessed.
“What the fuck? Well you’re getting me more, and I need cigarettes too. And do you mind if I hang out there tonight?”
As far as my love life was concerned, class was out of session and madness was prevailing upon me as she ministered to my angst most abundantly with words that shouted away my darkness. And when I read between her lines, it promised moonlight.
(The femme side of Rushmore is getting unveiled over at A Dalectable Life, so do yourself a favor and go read up on that flava.)