NOTE: Before we start, I just want to say that I based this story very, VERY loosely on biographical information about two great songwriters who used to work together in a band most folks have heard of. I took great liberties in telling this story, which, though based in part on their storied history together, is not in any way actually based on the gentlemen in question (both of whom are still alive as of this writing). So please, take this story in the spirit it is intended; a story of redemption for an aging rocker. In no uncertain terms must you regard this in any way as factual.
Thank you. Now, on with the show (and oh Lord, please Lord, don’t let the curtain fall).
Chapter 31: Here Is Here
Roger Bergeron sat quietly, eyes closed, arms resting on the arms of his authentic Le Corbusier black leather club chair.
On the antique end table beside it sat a tumbler full of very expensive forty-three year old single malt scotch. Less than seven hundred and fifty bottles of it were made. He’d bought it on a dare from his old song writing partner, Rik Baker, the day they dissolved their partnership. The deal was, if he ever changed his mind about things, he’d crack open this bottle of scotch and invite Rik over to have a drink, and they’d talk it over and see if there were enough good feelings left to have a reunion.
The funny thing was, the scotch was bottled in 1964, but he didn’t really think of it that way. ‘64 was the year he’d ‘turned pro’, heading off to London with his first band, The Highlights, featuring Rik on a Vox Continental and him on his first Rickenbacker 360; the one that got stolen after the Birmingham show in ‘72. They wrote hundreds of tunes together in hotels, bars and buses, on stage, back stage, in the loo, and in girls’ bedrooms between shags.
They’d written a song together on a piece of paper spread across the bare arse of a bird in Ohio who insisted she was eighteen, but turned out to be a few years shy of the mark when the sheriff came around looking for her the next morning. The song had never been a big hit, but he still played it whenever he was in Ohio, just in case she was in the audience, wondering if he remembered her. He didn’t, really. He just remembered she’d been very sweet and very pretty, and had a very round bottom for her age. He’d have forgotten her name entirely if they hadn’t titled it “Megan”. He was pretty sure that had been her name, anyway.
Rik had been his partner through a lot of shit: three bands, twenty-seven albums, two marriages apiece, and one comeback in the 90s.
But Roger had never really forgiven him for sleeping with Tess. He didn’t know why it had mattered so much to him, then or now. They’d shared more women than he’d had years with Tess, and she had already been looking for an excuse to leave by then. She’d never really forgiven him after the death of their son, Jason, when he served in Iraq. She was convinced their son wouldn’t have joined and died if Roger had stayed home with them more often when he was a boy. Roger had told her repeatedly that it was bullshit, even as she walked out the door. But in his heart of hearts, he didn’t know if she had been wrong or right.
Jay would have been forty-three years old today. Maybe that was what had Roger in such a foul mood. No friends. No wife. No family. No partner. No band.
He’d been on the wagon for a handful of years now, which had been part of what drove him and Rik apart. Rik was a heavy drinker, and liked to take a swing at you if you pissed him off after a few whiskeys. Fun guy, but a mean drunk.
Or was that himself he was thinking of?
He sipped the scotch. Strong, but smooth and dry, the way most single malts over fifteen tasted, but with a hint of vanilla. He realized he probably would never taste a scotch like this again. He hadn’t actually thought he would open the bottle. Never thought he’d taste it. He hadn’t really bought it for drinking. He’d thought there was still time.
On the finely polished arts and crafts table a couple short feet in front of him sat the remains of an open letter. Who sends letters anymore? Government offices, barristers, and old men like him. And Rik.
In this case, it was a letter from Rik, sent by his daughter, Aislynn. Cancer. Of course it was cancer. It was always fucking cancer these days. In this day, when people were still terrified of ebola and HIV and Lupus, old has-been rock stars like him always died of some form of cancer. Well, at least, that’s what the prognosis was. Rik had decided not to wait. Aislynn had added a note that he’d ended up drinking an obscene amount of that damned sambuca and getting up on his grand piano and dancing on it until he had a heart attack and fell off and cracked his skull open and broke his fool neck on those fucking hardwood floors he’d been so fussy about all those years ago.
So. No reunion, then. Roger hadn’t been thinking of one, actually. But with one thing and another, it might have been the thing to save him. He had sunken pretty deep into mortgage and credit debt, in recent years, financing his last three albums. They had been great albums. Sadly, they weren’t what kids bought anymore. His loyal audiences had continued to buy his albums pretty faithfully, but they were of course getting old and dying off, and fewer and fewer of those lovely young women with the nice round bottoms and the impossibly gravity-defying breasts, or even their spotty boyfriends, came to the shows or bought the albums any more.
People didn’t care about living rock stars any more. They revered the dead ones. They poured over their wikipedia pages, longer than an encyclopedia or magazine article, with twice as many misquotes and false attributions, but somehow more true, more real than the living, breathing artist themselves.
He didn’t receive emails from fans very often any more. He maintained a rather slow chat forum to discuss old albums. He had a Twitter account. His publicist also encouraged him to do things like Facebook and Instagram, but he didn’t enjoy shooting pictures of his flaccid prick for internet consumption, and since nothing else happened around here but him wanking to tastefully directed lesbian pornography, there really wasn’t anything else to post about.
He hadn’t had a hit song in so long, he’d almost completely forgotten what it felt like. The rush of vindication. The certainty that you could do it again and again, building the signal between yourself and your audience until nothing could be heard but pure signal.
He took the iPhone out of his pocket and opened the Twitter app. Apps. There was an app for almost anything. There was even an app for searching the internet for suicide instructions, as it turned out. Who would have thought?
The instruction on how to buy, maintain and operate a military issue war-era rifle were pretty straightforward. He hadn’t actually needed to go out and buy one, or even order one. Fortunately, this was England, where heroes from the World Wars had brought home trophies from the war. The trick for him had been figuring out how to get the gun rehabilitated without tipping off the authorities, who took a dim view of firearms in Great Britain.
He hadn’t thought, when he started repairing the gun using internet videos, that he would eventually actually find a use for the thing. It had been his father’s, along with his old trunks and boots and memoirs from the war. As it so happened, he had also squirreled away a few firearms and a lovely Lee-Enfield Rifle No. 4 Mk. 1. Some of them were still in service, so finding parts hadn’t been terribly difficult, even for an amateur like himself.
If you’d asked him at the time, he probably simply would have said he was trying to commune with his late father, who had never really understood his obsession with music or his unwillingness to enter the military, as had been his family’s tradition for generations. It had been the first time in decades that men had not been required to report for National Service, and he had joined his first serious band, and wasn’t about to give up his dream of being the next George Harrison, the next Eric Clapton, the next Jimi Hendrix.
It had been 1969. He was going to be a great. By the late 60s, it was all starting to come together for him. The new band was called The Liquid Light Brigade, and they were incredible. He and Rik auditioned the band, and they started writing great songs together, and were set to be the next Cream, the next Led Zeppelin, the next
well, next, anyway.
And then the band fragmented. The manager had been a crook, and the band split right down the middle, with the drummer, singer and bassist leaving to form their own band under his management, and leaving him and Rik holding the bag, and carrying the debts as well. They folded the band and started over with a new drummer and bassist, taking turns handling the vocals themselves, which worked out better, since they were the songwriters.
That band had been called Balance, and they became everything the old band hadn’t been, including famous. The 70s was one long party. He’d almost forgotten how many songs they’d actually written, both together and apart. It must have been… seventy? Ninety? No! They’d recorded three albums in two years in 70 and 71 alone! Another album a year for the next eight years, including the double album in ’74.
And then the 80s. They’d almost fucking had it in the 80s, but they pulled out of it. Took a mountain of cocaine and no small amount of help from incoming and outgoing band members, but they’d made it out relatively unscathed.
But by the 90s, the jig was up. He and Rik had been fighting like rabid dogs at that point, and neither could agree anymore who had written what, and the lawyers were brought in and they quietly stopped working and dug into their separate camps. Took fifteen years of fucking lawyers and the heroin death of Peter Emmond, the bassist/vocalist who really brought them back to life in the late 70s while punk was laying their colleagues to waste, to make them see they were being assholes. But by then, it was too late. The damage done. Neither was writing in his weight class any more. The wives were gone. The children grown up. The lawyers were gone. But they just couldn’t stand to look at each other any more. So they bought the bottle, shook hands, and said goodbye.
Roger took the iPhone, looked at his twitter feed, and typed out “Going to see an old friend about a bottle of whisky he left behind. #RikBaker #WhiteBowmore” and hit enter.
He set the iPhone down on the end table beside him, picked up the glass of scotch, fired back the whole two fingers, nearly choked on the heat, squinted and slowly breathed in, and then reached to the left and got a firm grip on the Enfield rifle. He brought it around to rest between his legs, and was just about to lean forward when the familiar ping of a return tweet.
He decided to ignore it, but in a few more seconds, another ping came, and then another. That probably constituted the most tweets he’d had in weeks, so he figured he’d take one last look, just for the fuck of it.
“HippySteveDavies @BalanceRog Please, if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, stop.”
“HippySteveDavies @BalanceRog Are you still there? Please answer. My daughter needs your help.”
“HippySteveDavies @BalanceRog Please.”
Roger squinted. Frowned. Snarled for a moment. Fucking asshole thought he understood? Thought using his daughter was going to change his mind? He’d show the wanker a thing or two about playing with people’s emotions.
“BalanceRog @HippySteveDavies What’s the problem? If your daughter needs me, why doesn’t she…” he thought of writing something rude. But he decided it might be taking things too far, especially if… oh god, don’t let it be some sick kid. Fuck. He started rewriting the tweet.
“BalanceRog @HippySteveDavies How can I help?”
“HippySteveDavies @BalanceRog May I call you?”
Roger considered, and then figured, what the fuck difference did it make, if he got one last phone call before he offed himself? Fuck it.
“BalanceRog @HippySteveDavies Will DM you the number.”
“HippySteveDavies @BalanceRog No need. I have your mobile number. Meant to call before. My Jamie is very ill.”
Fuck, he thought. Sick kid. Probably his biggest fan. Old guy probably turned her on to his music a couple of years ago, and now it was all she was living for.
The problem for Roger was, he couldn’t stand to think of little kids suffering.
“BalanceRog @HippySteveDavies I’m waiting.”
Several agonizing seconds later, his mobile started vibrating. He thought about ignoring it, but visions of sick children danced in his head.
“Roger? This is Steve. Can we talk?”
“Sure. What can I help you with?”
“It’s my daughter. She needs your help.”
“What can I do for your daughter? I’m not precisely known for my healing powers.”
“No, it’s not like that. Not quite, anyway. See, my daughter Jamie is very ill, as I said, but I meant she’s not well in the head. She’s in the hospital right now. She tried to kill herself when she learned that Rik had died.”
Well, fuckadoodle. What could he say to that?
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Roger offered lamely. “I hope she’s alright now.”
“Well, she pulled through, but they have her under observation. The thing is, I saw her yesterday, and she told me to keep an eye on you. She told me about the bottle. She told me about the rifle. She told me things I couldn’t believe. And then I saw your tweet, and I realized she was right. It is true, isn’t it?”
Roger thought about lying, but realized he was in the wrong frame of mind for playing nice.
“The scotch is sitting beside me. The rifle is in front of me. I got the letter from Rik’s daughter. It’s been so long since I’ve seen either of them… she must be… going on twenty, I suppose.”
“Like my girl,“ Steve replied. “Jamie’s nineteen. She’s intelligent, sensitive. Beautiful. She’s talented. She plays cello like you wouldn’t believe. She’s a virtuoso. I guess I didn’t realize she was also suicidal until we had to take her to the hospital.”
Roger was confused, and starting to get upset.
“Please pardon my frankness, Steve, but what does your gifted daughter’s suicide attempt over Rik’s death have to do with me? She does know we haven’t exactly been close these past couple decades, right?”
“Oh, I get that. We used to tease each other about how much she revered you. And when Rik died and this happened, I thought I’d been wrong about her feelings for you all along. But when I saw her in the hospital, she seemed glad that she had failed, and that nothing bad had happened to you. It gave her the strength to pull through. She explained that she didn’t want to live to see that you’d killed yourself over this. I don’t want to sound ridiculous, and I know how it must sound, but my little girl seems to have fallen in love with you.”
“That’s… ridiculous. She doesn’t know me. She has no idea what kind of a man I am.”
“What? The girls? The wives? She knows all about that stuff. She has every book ever written about you guys. She knows your life stories verbatim.”
“Jamie Davies? Why have I never even heard of her?”
“No no, not Davies. She took her mother’s name, after Lena died. Jamie’s last name is De Witt.”
Roger thought hard for a few seconds.
“Wait! I do know that name! She’s a forumite. She’s a singer… wait, I have her EP here somewhere. I remember, she’s quite good. I even started a Soundcloud account for her. Wait, she’s got my email. We’ve talked. Why didn’t she just contact me herself?”
“I… it’s tricky being a father… knowing when to let go and trust the world with your child… She thinks… well, I know she loves you. I don’t think she believes you can love her the way she loves you.”
“That’s probably true,” Roger confessed. “I like her a lot, but I don’t really know her that well. She’s very sweet and quite gifted, as well, but I’m too old to fall in love with young girls, especially over the internet.”
“I think we both know that. But what I think is, she might pull through… you know, get her head together, if you’d come see her. Talk to her. Explain what’s been going on. Not to lie to her or anything. Just to reassure her that you’re not going to, you know, die.”
“Well, we all have to go sometime,” Roger sighed.
“True, but we don’t all have the luxury of sitting at home with a bottle of whisky and a gun.”
“Is that really fair, Steve?”
“No, it’s probably not, but I have my daughter to think about. Maybe you need someone to think about, too. Some of us have other people to live for. Do you have children?”
“I had a son, once. I might have others, but no one’s come forward… I’m not really father material. There really isn’t anybody like that in my life, Steve.”
“Let Jamie be a reason to live. I’m ready to share her with you, if you think you can do that.”
“I don’t…” Roger started to say, but Steve cut him off.
“Come see her. It would mean the world to her, and maybe you and I can sit and have a few drinks and talk about life and loves lost and see if we don’t have more in common than you might think. I don’t have any expensive scotch. Best I can do is a fifteen year old bottle of the Glen Livet, but I’m willing to crack it open if you’d care to join me.”
Roger sat quietly, trying to marshall his thoughts. He felt strange. Not quite maudlin. He felt… wet. He was crying. What the fuck? Why was he crying?
“Roger?” the iphone asked. “Are you still there?”
He put it back to his ear and said, “Yeah yeah. Still here. Listen, Steve, don’t worry about the scotch. I’ve got a pretty good bottle right here I can bring over for the occasion. What say you give me directions and we’ll go see how Jamie is doing?”
© 2014 Lee Edward McIlmoyle