To celebrate the first paperback edition of author Jim Algie’s most recent novel, we present the fifth in a series of published excerpts. In this chapter the falling rock star, still grieving over the death of his musical hero Joey Ramone, invites his son Dee Dee for a father-and-son chat that goes off the rails.
Gesturing with the cigarette in his right hand and the can of Singha Beer in the other, like a drummer keeping time and adding accents, Dee Dee went on a diatribe, trashing all of his father’s old heroes. He called Keith Richards a “living zombie and washed-up loser”. He said Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen should both commit suicide if they really believed that life was as dark and hopeless as they claimed in their songs. He claimed that the Clash were hypocrites because they were rich kids who only pretended to be poor. Paul Westerberg and Tom Waits were has-beens and Nirvana was overrated. Bob Dylan hadn’t made a good album in four hundred years and Wilco were rednecks. PJ Harvey was a “dyke bitch who couldn’t rock anymore.”
Lek was about to interrupt his son when he remembered what his own mother had told him about reliving your life through your children.
Lek had been horrible to his older sister, a hippie chick and student activist who called herself “Daisy Radical”. When she was playing her folk and psychedelic albums in her room, he’d go down to the kitchen, grab a broom and smash the handle against the ceiling, trying to make the needle jump on the records and scratch them. In his room next door to hers he’d cup his hands around his mouth and scream parodies of the songs she loved, so that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” became “Bullshit Over a Bathtub Fart”. After one vicious argument he took a bunch of her albums by Joni Mitchell, Donovan, and Fleetwood Mac, and left them out in the sun so they were permanently warped.
Now it was Dee Dee’s turn to trash the old guard in the name of the new generation, and Lek would have to make another down payment on all the bad karma he had to pay back by sitting there listening to him vent and smoke.
“They should make another version of Jurassic Park about dinosaur bands and musicians like the Doors and the Sex Pistols, except call it Jurassic Rock. Hey look, there’s Hendrix using his big black dick to screw Jim Morrison in his eye socket, but watch out, here comes John Lennon and Sid Vicious from behind, like the butt pirates they are, to sodomize both of them with broom handles and then give them enemas with garden hoses until they explode like the huge sacks of bullshit that they are”.
For a father-and-son chat and evening-in this wasn’t quite what Lek had had in mind, but at least they were sitting across from each other on the matching black leather sofas and sort of talking and glancing at each other.
Lek had never had that opportunity with his own father, because senior officers did not fraternize with their subordinates in the army either on or off the base. And now it was almost thirty years too late to have that chat.
Had almost three decades gone by since his father died of a heart attack? Thirty years, how many weeks and days was that? It didn’t even seem like thirty seconds had passed since then. Lek had never come to terms with that aspect of aging. On the calendar, yes, the date and the year had changed. In his mind and heart, the past was ever present and no time had elapsed at all.
Dee Dee opened another beer. The sour look on his face told Lek he’d reached that point in the evening when the beers and the cigarettes start tasting bitter and all the recriminations had poisoned his mood.
As Lek went to stub out his cigarette he saw the grey ashes blown around the bowl by the cold breath of the air-conditioner, just as he’d seen them this afternoon in the studio when he was talking to Ric on the phone about Joey Ramone’s death.
Lek had been pondering that image all evening. What did it mean exactly? When he was working on lyrics, or trying to work out ideas in his head and notebook, he’d obsess over vignettes like that.
The scene was whispering to him…
In spite of all our best efforts and good intentions, our noble philosophies and humanitarian concerns, our grandest achievements in science, technology and the arts, our deep love for family and friends, this was what it all came down to: a pile of ashes in a bowl.
Was that what it meant?
Realizing that everyone shared the same fate didn’t have to be sad, though. It could be a lesson in humility. It could be a reminder that many of the best rock, punk, blues, and country songs married the most downcast lyrics to up tempo beats that galvanized the crowd to sing and dance and rise above their sorrows by celebrating them en masse instead of mourning them in private.
Staring down at the cigarette butts sticking up and out of the ashen sand, which looked like crooked tombstones in a neglected cemetery, Lek said, “Listen to me for a minute. I can understand why you must resent your mother and I, though of course she was a much better parent to you than I ever was. I was off on tour, or recording and rehearsing, or just writing songs by myself. I don’t know if I’m any more cut out to be a father now, but I’m giving it a shot anyway, and I’m not going to make it unless you try to be a little forgiving and tolerant and do your part too. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been in a good or happy place for a while, and Joey’s death, well, that just seemed to crystallize a lot of shit I’ve been thinking about and a lot of other deaths I’ve been grieving over lately. We expect our musical heroes to be like superheroes or immortals, but we’re fallible and mortal too, just as prone to making foolish mistakes and errors of judgment as anyone else. I don’t know what else to say… but it reminds me a little of the last big trip I took with your mother. She had a cool idea for making this documentary about the world’s most desolate places. So we found ourselves at Coffin Peak in Death Valley, which looks out over a huge lake of salt called the Devil’s Golf Course. It was late autumn and there weren’t any visitors around. I knew how Mee perceived the world, how she took her emotional cues from visual images, or found physical settings to convey different states of mind. I knew what she was trying to say, in her own sort of poetic filmmaker’s way, without making any big announcements, that we were finished, that our marriage was dead, and this was her way of documenting it. Yes, it was a very strange pilgrimage all right. Many couples go on honeymoons to celebrate the start of their marriages, but I don’t imagine too many go on artistic quests to mourn the end of theirs like we did. I guess…”
Lek’s phone beeped. Who the hell could that be at this hour?