People I Think About; Part II
Since I wasn’t interested in meeting anybody, I spent a lot of time sitting at a scarred cocktail table, staring at him. I really had no designs on him. He had women crawling all over him; women far more beautiful, worldly, and erm…blessed than I. I drank wine and smoked cigarettes and just enjoyed drinking in the sight of him as he crooned and warbled and growled and gyrated.
It turned out he was not oblivious to my interest. And one fine night, he made it known that he was interested back. I was stunned, to be honest. I didn’t consider myself to be in the same league with someone like him. Frankly, I assumed I was beneath his notice. I wasn’t blonde, buxom or leggy. I wasn’t flirtatious or uninhibited and I just didn’t know how to play all those come hither games.
There is a picture of the two of us on my 23rd birthday. In the photo, his arm is around me, and a microphone is pressed to his lips. He sang to me that night while I blushed. Looking at that picture, I wonder why I was so amazed that he was interested in me. I was HOT. And man, he should have been on his hands and knees begging for my attention. Why didn’t I know it?
Anyway, it turned out that he was a pompus ass. And married. I had never, ever seen hide nor hair of a wife or a wedding ring. Nobody ever talked about her. There wasn’t even the smallest whisper of a rumor regarding a little woman at home. But she was real, and she made me ashamed of myself.
He assumed I would be happy to be his little plaything for as long as he chose to grace me with his presence. I won’t lie. I considered it. I mean, he was FINE. And I have to admit, the idea of some presumably hot sex with no strings attached had a certain appeal after the devastating break up I had just been through.
But, when it came right down to it, I just couldn’t sacrifice my self respect. I told him thanks but no thanks and he told me I didn’t know what I was missing. In the end, I found that he disgusted me just a little.
He moved on to his next conquest and I continued to sit and smoke in silence; erecting a wall around me with frigid glares and hostile body language.
There was another singer, who occasionally filled in. He was cute and cuddly, with an earnestness that was hard to dislike. He was so young that he couldn’t even be in the club when he wasn’t performing. He would sit outside in his car between sets, strumming his guitar. We used to tease him about it unmercifully.
He was generally thought of as second fiddle to Headliner Guy. He was a good singer, but very, very green, and he lacked the showmanship that made Headliner Guy such a crowd pleaser.
Often, when he took the stage, girls went to the bathroom and guys went to play pool. But you know, he didn’t seem to notice. He was just so happy to be up there doing the thing he loved the most…it was written all over his smooth little baby face.
Shortly after my little encounter with Headliner Guy he got a record contract and resigned as lead singer. We all thought he was going places. He was so good, how could he not succeed? I thought, a little wistfully, about how cool it would have been to be by his side; to be his chosen one when fame and fortune found him.
It was a fleeing thought. I’m generally a pretty pragmatic person and I couldn’t lend any real credence to such flights of fancy.
By that time, Second Fiddle was old enough that some caveat allowed him to be on the premises as long as he didn’t drink. He was asked to replace Headliner Guy and accepted with what I’m sure, was a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation. I think he knew his limits as a performer. But he was determined to give it a try.
And slowly, very slowly, a transformation took place. He became more polished, both in poise and appearance. He matured and gained a presence that was undeniable. And pretty soon people began to realize that he was a better singer than Headliner Guy ever dreamed of being.
The crowd had been dazzled by Headliner Guy’s natural charisma and overt sexuality. He used his showmanship to cover up his vocal shortcomings. And it worked. But when he left that little club, he disappeared into osbscurity.
When Second Fiddle came along, people began to forget Headliner Guy, because Second Fiddle could sing a song in a way that pierced right through you. His voice was deep, and rich and pure, with a velvet quality and an experienced air that seemed far too worldly for someone his age.
He didn’t last very long.
Husband and I met and married and didn’t go back to the club very often. But we heard through a close friend with whom he’d had a short dalliance, that he had been snapped up by a record company after only a few months.
We saw him a couple of years after that, paying his dues by playing at the State Fair. He looked tired, but happy. He’d gotten married, and become a father. We asked him how he was doing, and he admitted that although fame was a pretty wild ride, and the money was nice, the happiest time of his life had been playing at that little hole in the wall honky tonk.
I haven’t thought about him for years.
I was recently going through my iTunes, gleaning songs for my “Melancholia” project, when I ran across his name. Husband and I dutifully bought every CD he put out, moved by a loyalty that was founded in nostalgia. Neither of us have listened to them for years, having abandoned our short lived country music phase. But when we went digital, we uploaded every single CD in our library out of some kind of misguided musical zealotry.
I’d forgotten what a beautiful voice he has. And the lyrics to some of his songs are pretty amazing when you consider how young he was when he wrote many of them.
I began listening, and every song brought back some kind of memory. But this one…this one got me. This one affected me now as a mother, more than it ever could have back when I actually knew him.
What a wise soul he was. And we never knew. We teased him, though kindly, never knowing how deeply he felt things.
Take a listen. Yes, it’s country music, but it’s not twangy twangy. It has heart, and something to say that I think we could all stand to hear.