There are two kinds of songs that get stuck in your head... the ones that drive you crazy and the ones you just can't stop reveling in. For example, it is not hyperbole whatsoever to say that I've played the original version of The Who's "My Generation" over 1,000 in my head over the last 48 (!) years. The little variation that can ruin your day is getting a song stuck in your head and you cannot for the life of you remember who the artist is, what the title is.
In the past few weeks, I have known exactly what song I cannot get out of my head... and have no problem with it at all... "Fallin' Flyin'" by Jeff Bridges singing as Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart, a film that can legitimately be called a "Based on the life of..." movie, with Bad Blake a sort of stand in for Waylon Jennings, one of the most rawly charismatic Country stars of any era. A man with a history, Waylon gave up his seat to Ritchie Valens (or was it The Big Bopper?) on that plane when young Jennings was Buddy Holly's bass player. Yes. Waylon, along with Willie Nelson, spawned the highly successful Outlaw Era of commercial Country Music, a time when raw and authentic and drunk/drugged was how you did it now. And you looked like a biker gone slightly hippie cowboy. I generalize for purely sensationalistic effect.
That Crazy Heart song has the lyric hook...
"Funny how fallin' feels like flying'... for a little while..."
I write songs... over 120 are turning to dust in the Library of Congress, and maybe another dozen or so that I've written in the last 18 months after a 20+ year lay off. That line from "Fallin' Flyin'" is manna... something songwriters hope and pray for.
Speaking of falling feeling like flying, for a little while, in June of 1974, at the age of 21, I had a major personal eruption in my life.
My band, The Planets, had been the focus of a pilgrimage of A&R guys coming up to our insanely cramped, insanely loud rehearsal room, literally the vault where the notes were kept for The Manhattan Project at Columbia University's Prentis Hall on West 125th St, about half a mile west of The Apollo Theater and about 500 feet east of the Hudson River.
This parade of young A&R guys was courtesy of The Planets' manager, Bob Merlis, a beloved music biz man then and now. One night in April, to the band's great surprise and raging hormone delight, Bob showed up with a stunning blonde about 30 years old. Dressed all in high-end black with pale gold blond hair down to her chest, Barbara was a cross between Mary Travers and Charlotte Rampling. To get all anachronistic, a prettier naturally blond Chrissie Hynde. Her irises were bright golden-brown, almost shockingly so [When she was 18, she'd met then President John F. Kennedy during a tour of the White House. As he shook her hand, he exclaimed, "You have gold eyes!"]. Her haughty high cheekbones were pock-marked with old acne scars that somehow, for me, added an element of danger to her allure; she was flawed. I was instantly smitten or bitten or whatever you wanna call lust.
We Planets played a raucous snotty five-song set for her. She seemed to have genuinely liked it and after we finished, made a show of cracking several witty and even snide insider jokes about rock 'n' roll and record labels and how full of shit it all was. You know, one of the guys. She clearly stated that she loved our Slade-ed version of "These Boots Are Made For Walking"... and no one beat The Planets to that cover, by the way, our set closer by early 1973. And we were all very impressed with her.
I hitched a ride downtown with Bob so I could be in the continued company of this beautiful and hilariously caustic bon-mot-tossing SO-my-type Cheekbone-Queen as Merlis chauffeured her home. Oh, and... She was an A&R woman who liked my band, okay.
Within a month, she'd booked us into the big room at RCA Studios on W 44th St., long gone, but, a room where Elvis Presley and David Bowie recorded entire albums. Under her direction, with a company engineer, we cut two songs of mine and the "Boots" cover.
Within a week, her SVP of A&R told her to make a singles deal for our version of Nancy's "Boots". The band and Merlis would have nothing to do with what we considered such a meager offer, a huge mistake. But, the blond baroness, Barbara, had indeed put her money where her mouth was and a bond was formed.
In late June, Barbara took me to dinner, ostensibly to discuss where my band should go from here. Instead, as the bottle of wine she'd ordered arrived, she started grilling me on my personal life. I had broken up with my first-ever girlfriend and she and I were now trying to navigate "just friends"-ship. I poured my heart out about how tired of on-again-off-again I was. Barbara offered soothing agreement. The check came, paid with her RCA expense account, and we walked out into one of those fantastic late June evenings with the sky was still bright at 8:15pm. With obvious impulsiveness, Barbara turned to me and in a mannered offhand way asked me if I wanted to see her new Sony color TV. She's bought it just two days ago! Incredulous as it may seem, there was a time, far away in the past, where a Sony Trinitron color TV was significantly more awesome than any tablet or pod has ever been in this century. The point being, her invite wasn't as lame and desperate as it might sound today. Hell, it was almost legit.
We hailed a cab and as we got in, she deliberately brushed my inner thigh with the back of her hand, and I now knew what I was in for. My excitement was so keen it almost took on an out-of-body quality. I felt my knees starting to shake and twisted myself into what I hoped looked like a sophisticated slouch in order to hide my quivering. That I somehow managed to make small talk in that ride uptown...
It was now August 2nd, 1974. I was meeting (ahem) my girlfriend, RCA A&R woman, Barbara, and some of her friends at the Bottom Line for a Waylon Jennings show. Yes, for a New York City boy, I was Country before Country was cool.
Blame Buck Owen's lead guitarist, Don Rich, on the first season of Hee Haw. I had simply never seen or heard guitar playing like that in my life and he was using a Telecaster, just like the ones my parents had bought me for Christmas, 1966. I also lost my mind for Tammy Wynette that year, to this day, my favorite female vocalist. That face, that voice. And I even knew who Waylon Jennings was.
Anyway, I hadn't dressed for a Waylon gig. I was in a sartorial phase that mixed Led Zeppelin with New York Dolls, NYC and Brit Glam. Close to, but, not quite outright transvestitism; touch of Keef eyeliner, fingernails red, Tall Gals' women's pumps on my size 11 feet, satin cling-tight pants, a t-shirt splashed with sequins, a green 'n' red Saturn dyed in my hair (Hey, I was in The Planets!).
Informative Digression: Most of you have probably heard of the Bottom Line. Among the many stars who performed there, it was the New York City joint where Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Dire Straits, Tom Waits, along with dozens of others, got their launch -- a hugely important venue in New York City's music history. To get the full flavor of this story, I should describe the joint. The Bottom Line was much wider than deep, maybe 40 by 100. It sat about 500. The stage was about 4 feet high, wide and shallow. All the tables were set up like a family style restaurant. Long rows of perpendicularly (to the stage) lined up tables that held anywhere from 6 to 10 seats on either side, depending on where they were situated. The smaller 12 seat tables were down front. The longer 18 - 20 seat tables were behind the one parallel (to the stage) aisle that cut through the center of the club, the long way.
For reasons I can't recall, I've gotten to this Waylon gig late. The lights were starting to dim while I was still looking for Barbara who was holding a seat for me. I found her right down front, but with no empty seat for me. She shrugged sadly and apologetically, "We tried to save you a seat but management wouldn't let us." Totally my own fault. I, like the rest of club-hopping New York, was well aware that the guys who ran the Bottom Line were serious hard-asses and the waitresses were even tougher. The place was flat-out wall-to-wall sold out. I was screwed! Waylon's band was walking onstage. The house lights had gone out.
Suddenly, I heard a loud piercing hail-a-cab-in-the-movies whistle directly behind me. I turned around and discovered that I was standing directly in front of a 20 seat table that was entirely inhabited by actual Hell's Angels along with about a half-dozen of their mamas.
All the Hell's Angels were wearing shades, mostly mirrored. I gestured abject apologies for blocking their view and started to vamoose, but, the Angel who'd whistled, sitting at the only chair that faced the stage at the very back of this 20-seat table, gestured to me that he had the one last empty seat in the club, right next to him. "C'mon, bro...", he waved toward the empty chair.
I gulped and gestured a polite and wimpy "Thanks, but, no thanks". He languidly lifted his sunglasses to the top of his longhaired head so I could see his eyes. Oh man, this guy was granite shark cold. He again gestured to the empty seat with what I can only describe as a command!
Oh, shit! I hesitated about a second and, then, realizing I really had no choice, slowly started making my way back to the empty chair, with other Hell's Angels having to pull their chairs in to let me by. Their looks of incredulity and disgust were wide open.
The inviting Angel was clearly the main man, because he just held up his hand and they all simmered down but continued to glare at me as I sat down next to The Man. I was now sitting opposite one of the mamas, who was just stunning, looking like a sullen cross between Cindy Crawford and maybe Teri Hatcher. I clearly remember her fabulous face. Our eyes met, she smiled at me, I smiled at her. Her boyfriend Angel next to her saw this little exchange, leaned forward and growled at me, "What the fuck are you looking at?" I stammered apologies. The mama shrugged and decided she was better off ignoring me. I started breathing again.
Waylon had just started his first song. The band sounded absolutely wonderful. Blues loose, digging in! Waylon was nonchalantly sending out waves of Ultra Macho Charisma.
The head Angel next to me lit a joint, took a pull, and passed it to me first. I gestured that I appreciated the offer but... The head Angel put the joint under my nose, again, a command. I took it from him and, just to make sure I didn't offend him again, I made a small production out of taking a deeeep toke, and passed it to the Angel who had just wanted to kill me for digging his Mama.
As I was holding the smoke in, I became aware of the fact that my throat and all the way down to my lungs felt cold like I'd inhaled a menthol Newport or Kool...
Oh... My... God... I had just been dosed with pure angel dust (no pun intended here), a wicked, wicked drug I'd had a few times, but had permanently and vehemently given up years before. In fact, I hadn't had an angel dust experience since the day I'd caught Pete Townshend's guitar at The Metropolitan Opera House four years earlier. Yes.
Within 30 seconds, Waylon and his band were a mile away, two-dimensional, my visual perception shot to hell. If you have ever been dusted, you know what I'm talking about. One toke and I was completely blasted. Ripped to the point of feeling disconnected from the planet. I looked around the table and now at least four of the Hell's Angels, all of them now dusted, too, were no longer watching the show onstage; they were staring at me with just raw menace. I turned to look at my protector, the Big Boss Angel, and he was now looking at me the same way, like the novelty of me had worn off as the dust kicked in.
I stood up (very carefully). Boss Angel demanded, "Where the fuck you goin'?"
"I gotta pee. I'll be right back."
I squeezed past the other Hell's Angels and wobbled the motherfuck outta The Bottom Line.
But, I did really dig that one song I saw Waylon perform. I think.
Coda: Two nights later, Waylon was ending his three night engagement and Barbara and I were back, this time arriving together. Again, she had used her RCA creds (Waylon's label, too) to get seats just about under Waylon's mic stand, certainly no more than 20 feet from the man. On this Sunday evening, I'd dressed way down, eschewing my glam look entirely.
Having recovered from my Angels' dusting, I was feeling much more mellow having enjoyed my one chosen vice, reefer. Now, I was not one to go into the somewhat common realm of paranoia with marijuana. Yet, throughout Waylon's show, as I sat next to Barbara, her obvious date, I caught the star of the show giving me looks that had a hard sort of puzzlement/curiosity in them. Not a friendly look, for sure. What the fuck? I had to be imagining this, right? But, the stares kept-a comin'.
While nowhere near as disconcerting as being dosed with animal tranquilizer by actual Hell Angels, for the second time in 48 hours I was having weird shit go down at a Waylon Jennings gig.
Oh, and, yes, he and his band were brilliant. Just superbadass 100% roadhouse Telecaster/pedal steel/harmonica/growled vocals Country music with some real Texas blues band energy thrown in.
A few hours later, as we lay in each other's arms, Barbara coyly asked me if I'd noticed Waylon occasionally looking at me in what might have been an odd way.
Oh my God, I was not losing my mind after all.
"Yes! Wow! I caught him a whole bunch of times, Barbara. It was fucking weird."
Barbara took a deep breath...
"I was Waylon's last affair before he met Jessie Coulter. It only lasted two months and ended less than three months ago. He was checking out who I'd replaced him with, my sweet Binky."