In this, the fourth and final excerpt from Jim Algie’s new book, we learn more about Edana, the Norwegian-born beauty who also happens to be the English teacher of our hero’s son. What will her passion, conviction, and intelligence—as well as obsession with genocide, extreme metal, and self-destruction—bring out in Lek, the former rock star turned pop producer, as he tries to restart his music career and deal with a mid-life catastrophe in the making.
By the time Dee Dee’s class ended he was sitting on the black leather sofa in the living room—under the chandelier strung with models of Japanese film monsters and Hello Kitty dangling from a noose—switching between a subscriber’s copy of The New York Times (Did that make him look stuffy?) and The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton (Was that too literary for her?).
As Dee Dee was showing her out, Lek said, “Hey professor, could I speak to you for a minute, please?”
“Sure.” She sat down on the other black leather couch to his right.
Lek offered her a cigarette. “I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help encouraging certain people to smoke. That way I’ll have a lot of cool company in the cancer ward.”
She laughed and took the Black Devil. Lek leaned over to light it for her. The shadow of the flame leapt into her eyes.
“What did you wanna speak to me about?”
“Oh, nothing much. I’m just curious about my son’s level of English. I don’t hear him speak all that much around the house.”
“He’s really good and his vocabulary is excellent. But he still has problems with the past tense and conditional clauses and phrasal verbs. Nothing we can’t sort out.”
“That’s good to hear. So… you said you’ve lived all over the world. If you don’t mind me asking, like where?”
“Well, it’s a long story, but when I was eighteen I moved to New York because my boyfriend played guitar in this industrial band called the Riot Act. Then I was teaching English in Prague for a year, and I worked as a rock critic and music writer in Amsterdam for a while, made jewelry in Osaka and traveled around Southeast Asia by myself for ten months. Then, when I was twenty-five, I was supposed to be the trophy wife for this corporate lawyer in LA. Like, he bought me a ten thousand dollar dress and I remember sitting in a five-star hotel, wearing the dress, really bored and waiting for him, when all I wanted to do was go out drinking with my friends in a scummy punk rock club. But you can’t wear a dress like that to clubs like those.”
Lek knew she was blunt, but he hadn’t expected this torrent of personal details.
Edana spilled some ashes on the glass coffee table, pulled a tissue out of her purse and wiped them up. He appreciated the effort.
“What happened to the marriage?”
“Long story short, my fiancé had this Persian cat that he really loved and one day she got out of the house and I couldn’t find her. So I looked all over the yard, on the street and—do you know who lived down the block in another mansion? Alice Cooper.”
Lek pushed his bangs back and grinned. “The king of shock rock. I used to worship Alice and still listen to his Greatest Hits album sometimes.”
“I think the cat got into Alice Cooper’s estate. But you know, I wasn’t going to ring his front gate and say, ‘Hi, Alice. Killer is a great album. By the way, have you seen our cat?’”
“Wise move. I suppose Alice was probably sacrificing the cat in a Satanic ritual.”
Edana’s laughter bubbled up into her eyes like champagne. “So I lost the cat and that was the end of our marriage plans. I guess he loved Cleocatra more than me.” In her smile he caught a glint of something cold that suggested the relationship didn’t mean that much to her in the first place. Was that it or was it just a trick of the light? Or was he misreading her completely?
Lek reached for another cigarette from Malaysia. The cloves perfumed the air and sweetened his lips. He looked at Edana. It was strange how she sat there with her thighs clamped together, her legs facing the coffee table, palms resting on either knee. Her head swiveled in his direction, but her body and hands didn’t move. She seemed so open yet her body language said exactly the opposite.
In a skinny hand with twig-thin fingers (no rings on any of them he noticed) Edana picked up her black leather purse and put it on the table. “I hope this doesn’t seem rude or unprofessional or anything.” She pulled a half-finished bottle of Thai sugarcane rum out of her purse. “But I’m finished working for the day and I don’t have any more classes until tomorrow afternoon. I’d never drink and work, you know. Could I have a glass, please? You can have some too if you want. Sorry it’s only the cheap stuff.”
Lek picked up the bottle. “Sure, I’ll get you a glass. Any cola, soda, or ice?”
“No, thanks. I always take my alcohol straight so that nothing dilutes the taste, and I don’t do sugar.”
Lek went into the kitchen. He poured some rum into a glass for her. Without even thinking about it, he poured a shot into another glass, added some coke and ice cubes, stirred it up with an index finger and put the finger in his mouth. It was his first taste of alcohol in more than five years.
His stomach buckled. He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. For a few dizzying seconds he thought he was going to throw up. This was wrong. He had to throw the drink down the drain.
One glass wouldn’t be too bad. It was mostly coke, hardly any rum in it. Lek picked up the two glasses and went back to the living room.
He handed the glass to Edana. She smiled at him for the thirtieth time—did she smile at everybody like this?—and said, “Cheers. I like your T-shirt. Cannibal Corpse is one of my favorite bands.”
Lek’s eyebrows reached for his hairline. “Really? You like death metal?” She had to be joking.
“Yeah-ahh, the Corpse rocks!” Now she sounded like a total LA girl. “I started listening to them when I was nine or ten. That’s one good thing about Norway. We have really good scenes for death metal and black metal. Is that what you play? Dee Dee said you’re a famous musician in Thailand.”
“I’ve sold about ten million albums here, I guess, and many more millions in pirated copies I didn’t sell, but I’ve had songwriter’s block, or just ran out of material and ideas quite a few years ago. To answer your question, no, my music was based more on sixties pop, seventies punk and hard rock, and Motown, country and rockabilly—mostly American and British folk influences—that I sort of patched together into my own sound. I only got into death metal when I was going through my first divorce and drinking a lot and doing too many drugs. I went to Cambodia for a while and thought I’d write some songs about the genocide and the Killing Fields that would be a lot heavier than—”
“Oh, I visited the Killing Fields at least ten times when I lived in Phnom Penh.”
Lek didn’t like being interrupted. He gave her a sharp glance intended as a warning sign. Edana didn’t seem to notice it and kept jabbering. Her eyes were glowing like blue candles on a birthday cake. Even so, her body didn’t move. Her thighs were still clamped together. Her voice got louder, but her hands remained on her knees. “Yeah, but you know where I wanna go now? They found this other secret prison that the Khmer Rouge had where about thirty thousand people were tortured and executed. That’s twice as many as Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh.”
“I’ve been there, the high school-turned-torture center, and tried and failed to write a decent song about it. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your interest in all of this?”
For once, Edana looked coy and evasive. She took another drink. Without asking she reached for one of his cigarettes. Were they already on such familiar terms?
Jim Algie’s new book, On the Night Joey Ramone Died, combines rock ‘n’punk history and debauchery, with doses of autobiography from his own musical career, in a pair of interlinked novellas that chart the highs and lows of a Thai rock star’s career as he approaches middle age, faces his own mortality and tries to balance his work and family life. The settings range from recording studios in Bangkok to gigs in New York and drug parties on tour, with scenes that details the difficulties of songwriting, keeping a band together and staying on top in a cutthroat business that causes many stars to come crashing down from the heights of fame to hit rock bottom in the gutters of infamy.
The book is now available from www.amazon.com in print or as an e-book.
Read Part III here.