A main character in my upcoming novel* has feeble short-term memory. His pockets spill over with scraps of paper covered in scribbled notes like tattoos on the leathery arms of an aging biker. A minor character fills her study with bound books chock-a-block with the lists of her daily life.

I’m not a list person, although I often write notes to myself. In the car. In the bathroom. But in a way maybe these notes are lists — things to remember, events by which to gauge time, yet not in list form.

My book deals with memory, history, and the chronology of a life whose gaps are filled by the most unlikely sources.

I’ve always seemed to chronicle my life by the music I was listening to at the time. I’m very aural. Aural Retentive, you could say. Live music shows were always fun (and cheap years ago) and something stupid would usually happen. Sometimes, magic happened.

This partial list isn’t about the highlights of my life, but rather the pleasant diversions along the thread of time stretching across my adult life.

And it’s the first list that came to mind. Looking back on it, I realize I smoked a shitload of pot in those days.

Oddly enough, I wrote this just before reading Greg Olear’s wildly entertaining Star Track post featuring the most perspicacious list I’ve read in ages. Read it if you haven’t (after you read this one!) — the man is a masterful writer. He’s Totally Killer, but everyone here knows that.

1980s

Aerosmith – First show ever. My friend Tony and I “score” pot from his older brother, and smoking it is like inhaling burnt Scotch tape. No high, just headache. Steven Tyler tries to make us clap along with a song halfway through the set. When only a smattering of the crowd does, he shouts: “I can’t hear you! What happened, did you lose your hands?!” Despite my virgin concertgoer status at the time, I consider this to be stupidest thing anyone’s ever said on stage. The designation still stands today.

Pat Benatar – 10 min. into the show she passes out — BAM! — right in the middle of the stage. Heroic roadie rushes over, dramatically scoops up the neo-pseudo-punk waif. Incident is later attributed to “prolonged fast food diet.” Oh really?

Jefferson Starship/Red Rider – My friend Rick sneaks a bottle of Bacardi 151 rum into the show in his boot. After many shots, Tony and I wonder if rum poured into a puddle on the floor will ignite enough to force the idiots around us to move the fuck away so we can get closer to the stage: It does. They do. My shoe catches fire, partially melts. Now in the front row, we are amazed that the Red Rider lead guitarist looks totally stoned yet is still able to play note-for-note the intro to “Lunatic Fringe.” Also, Grace Slick is stinking drunk, but does nothing obnoxious — apparently she just wanted the show to end so she could nod out on the bus. Or drool in a young male roadie’s lap.

Miles Davis – I attend Miles’s “comeback” show in Ft. Lauderdale with the music critic of the largest newspaper in Florida. I comment that the baggy oversized hat and coat Miles is wearing and the way he shuffles around the stage make him resemble an old black woman in a bath robe and shower cap. Days later, the critic uses the description in the review and claims it as his own. I object. We argue back and forth, then put the incident aside and attribute the confusion to copiuous amounts of sensi niceness after the show. (Also, there is an unsuccessful attempt to interview Miles backstage, although the sidemen are super talkative. Percussionist appears to be “coked up”.)

Joan Jett – I am bothered throughout the show because it appears Joan is looking directly at me the entire time. Staring right at me. Directly into my soul. I attribute this to her freakishly heavy eyeliner and my own paranoia brought on by pre-show shenanigans with a white rhino. I learn later that the girl next to me thought Joan was staring at her.

“Rock Superbowl” – Tangerine Bowl, Orlando, FL – REO Speedwagon, Sammy Hagar, Loverboy –  (Yes, I’m that old.) Music is average, but the crowd is the real show. A guy named Worm and his ghoulish bodyguard walk the stands offering acid, hash, speed. They’re hawking it right out in the open. A crumpled beercan fight ensues between rival groups in the stands around us — crushed aluminum discs fill the air. Worm and the ghoul get caught in the middle. Ghoul is unfazed, says Anyone hits me I kick his ass (even though women are also involved in the fracas.) A can zips over my head from a guy directly behind me and smacks the ghoul square in the forehead. Ghoul points a meaty finger at me, slams his fist into his palm and immediately climbs up and over rows of humanity to get at me. With the aid of horrified and heroic onlookers, we convince the ghoul it was not me who threw the can. Ghoul yields gracefully, actually apologizes and then lumbers off to find the other guy. I spend the rest of the show in soiled boxers. Remainder of day is a blur.

1990s

They Might Be Giants – The stage is in the courtyard of an old hotel. My girlfriend and our friend Mike and I are mesmerized by a guy spinning like a dervish next to a fountain in the middle of the courtyard, wondering if he’ll fall in, hoping he will. He spins to every song, including “Whistling in the Dark”. We can understand spinning to “Twisting”, but “WITD”? Security makes him stop. They also eye us because there is NO SMOKING. We hate the ’90s.

Blue Rodeo – In the bar of the same hotel we watch the amazing Canadian alt-country rockers; keyboardist near the end of the show plays Hammond B3 with his face — and he’s GOOD! My girlfriend wins a t-shirt from an earlier tequila promotion — after the show she gives the shirt to a homeless guy lying on the sidewalk. I am duly impressed. Consider proposing.

Jazz Fest, New Orleans – T-shirt-donating girlfriend and I are now married. We see the Neville Bros., Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Marcia Griffiths, Fats Domino, many others. We spot Peter Buck from R.E.M. walking in the crowd a mere six feet from us. It’s high noon, a blazing sun overhead and he’s wearing black jeans, a long sleeve black shirt, and black Converse Chucks. We stalk him. We lose him when we peel off to get more beer. We decide he might have been a jerk in person anyway. We are happy.

Buckwheat Zydeco – The show is at Dobbins AFB in Marietta, GA, outside a hangar. Halfway through the show a wild and fast-moving thunderstorm tears through the base toppling tents, sound equipment and scaffolding. Huddling inside the hangar with other nervous fans while the storm rages outside, we see the band in the office doing shots.

2000s

Elvis Costello – I missed the opportunity to see him in the ’80s and kicked myself for years. It’s too embarrassing now to divulge the bands I chose to see instead — bad memories there. This show more than makes up for past mistakes. E.C. is at the top of his game. A full moon rises over the amphitheater as a solo spot shines on E.C.’s face while he sings “I Want You” as the finale. Stirring. I am glad I waited to see this with my wife.

David Bowie – The guy is still amazing, but somehow looks like an alien without(?) even trying. The show is top-notch despite the Brian Eno-influenced stuff from the five-year-old “Outside” album he played too much of. Security discovers the harmless skinny joint in my shirt pocket upon entrance. We hate Y2K.

Lucinda Williams – Atlanta Botanical Garden. L.W. argues (during the show!) with the lighting guy about the spots in her face, and with a roadie about the box fans blowing her sheet music away. It’s July in Atlanta and about 100 degrees outside so we feel for her. It’s distracting and she apologizes, blesses us and goes on. Wife and I are troubled by the tight security that constantly shoos us away from garden statuary and plants. L.W. calms down, and this turns into one of the best shows ever.

Pre-show meal for first show: burgers and beer.

Pre-show meal for latest show: Sushi and wine.

Vibe at first show: Security? What security? Relax and smoke up!

Vibe at latest show: “Don’t touch that, sir. Keep off the benches, ma’am.” So polite.

Time marches on.

*Upcoming novel, dependent upon finishing second half, landing agent, finding publisher. So easy!

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

JIM SIMPSON is an award-winning fiction writer and freelance music critic. A native of the wilds of Florida's Gulf Coast, he now resides on the scruffy fringes of Atlanta, Georgia.

He frequently writes about music, with his taste spanning all genres: Bluegrass, Americana, Classic Country, Alternative Country, Western Swing, Blues, Classical, Rock 'n' Roll, Punk, Reggae, Klezmer, and British Isles Folk (to name but a few).

He once sang Happy Birthday (with about 10,000 other people) to Joni Mitchell, and has seen such legends as Miles Davis, The Incredible Jimmy Smith, Rockpile, Blue Rodeo, King Sunny Ade, David Bowie, Joan Jett, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M., Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan live in concert. He has interviewed such musical luminaries as Those Darlins, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, Marshall Chapman, Charlie Louvin, Derek Hoke, Jim Avett, the Secret Sisters, and Meghan McCormick.

Jim has been at work on his first novel for longer than he originally planned, and if all goes well it should be in bookstores sometime before his death.

2 responses to “A Partial List: Flaming Shoe, Joan Jett Stare-Down, and A Drug Dealer Named Worm”

  1. Jim Simpson says:

    Original comments follow:

    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-06-10 17:29:32

    Great. I have to compete with Lenore for comments. Sheesh.

    At least I get to be on top.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2009-06-10 18:01:13

    trying…not…to…make…sex…joke….
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-10 18:03:42

    don’t…hold…back…let…go…
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Reply here

    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-10 18:08:43

    Too bad entries can’t post from behind.
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2009-06-10 18:11:29

    hahahahahaha

    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-12 18:01:25

    I love it when you laugh.

    Reply here

    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2009-06-10 17:36:55

    ummm, most people would LOVE for joan jett to stare directly at them. APPRECIATE IT! jeez, Simpson, get with the program.

    also, i have notes to myself in the pockets of every article of clothing i own. i don’t know what they mean, though, and i suppose that makes it cooler and more mysterious.

    JOAN JETT! you lucky man.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-10 17:47:45

    Joan is very intimidating in person. Eyes like saucers, teeth like daggars, could probably kick all our asses, too.

    Still, I felt really special. In a weird sort of way.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2009-06-10 17:52:10

    damn right you felt special. i can’t name a single person who wouldn’t bang her if given the chance.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-10 18:07:10

    That’s why I went to the show, for the slim chance of going backstage to tag Joan Jett! Just like everyone else in that crappy arena.
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Reply here

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-06-10 17:52:18

    The question is, was Joan backstage afterwards thinking ‘Jesus! That guy! His eyes could see into my brain‘?
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 04:12:48

    I have to admit, I’m still attracted to her animal sexuality even though she’d probably choose Carmen Electra over me anyway. I would too.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irwin
    2009-06-10 22:02:46

    I write myself a lot of notes because I have a terrible memory. My desk is scattered with scraps of paper with random words that are supposed to remind me of a great ideas I had whilst busy.

    Right now I can see ‘cactus or trident?’ ‘FINISH CHAPTER 9′ and a pretty good sketch of the Millenium Falcon.

    Joan Jett and Grace Slick are sexy, this post is sexier.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 04:14:21

    Thanks, mate! You can draw the Millenium Falcon? Cool! Yes indeed, “FINISH CHAPTER 9″!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Irwin
    2009-06-11 11:26:41

    I finished chapter 9! I cut it short, at a good, natural end, moved on with 10 and 11 and will return to the characters of chapter 9 in chapter 12.

    10 + 11 are about 1 and a half pages, but its a huge mental boost.

    I can’t draw the Falcon properly, only the outline, it’s more a blueprint.
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-13 07:24:51

    Mental boosts are always welcome. Sounds like you’re motoring along quite nicely.

    Reply here

    Comment by Greg Olear
    2009-06-11 03:36:29

    Great post, Jim. Thanks for the shout-out. Your check is in the mail.

    But seriously, thanks. And seriously, it should come by Saturday, Monday latest.

    Elvis Costello is one of the few acts who never disappoints, even though he changes it up. I’ve seen him with the Attractions in a huge outdoor place, at the Beacon, at a quiet show with just him and Steve Nieve, and at Radio City Music Hall with Bacharach. He’s the tops.

    But the best show I’ve even seen was Dwight Yoakam at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. Nothing quite like good country in the big city.

    Peter Buck = extra credit for celebrity being a self-conscious dork. Only metalheads are required to wear all black and not wear shorts when it’s that hot out.

    Joan Jett is slightly less sexy with shorn hair in the front row at New York Liberty games. But I will not argue with Lenore’s point.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-06-11 04:07:08

    I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    I’ve since seen E.C. twice, once with the Imposters and once solo opening for Bob Dylan. I won’t go on about Dylan; you either love him or hate him.

    I saw Joni Mitchell opening for Dylan. He wasn’t memorable that night, but she was excellent. Sweet, smart, but a bulldog to the asshole guy who kept heckling her until she stopped the show to confront him, and 4,000 of us booed the guy into submission. It was her birthday, too, and her ex came out with a lighted birthday cake and we all sang happy birthday. Unique.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Greg Olear
    2009-06-11 10:09:26

    My wife would have KILLED to be at that show. And would have killed the heckler.
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Reply here

    Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom)
    2009-06-11 03:44:45

    James,
    I just don’t have the gene for enjoying rock concerts. The sound is so loud that my ears hurt, and if you want to go to the bathroom you are gone for easily an hour and probably can’t find your way back, and when it’s time to leave it’s SO late that you are having trouble staying awake, but your car is on a line two hours from the exit.
    I know. Odd man out.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 04:11:00

    You saved your ears by avoiding so much loud music. Good for you. I didn’t and I’m paying for it now with some hearing loss in one ear.

    Not all shows were loud. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians was quieter. He told a ghost story halfway through the show about a floating hotel and gophers who stumbled upon a cache of radioactive toothpaste that made them glow green in the night and gave them mysterious powers.

    Also, Miles was not loud, he was subtle.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-06-11 07:27:34

    Per Joan Jett: It could conceivably be a sign of an outstanding performer that each member of the audience closest to the stage has the impression that he or she is being favored in glances by the star attraction.

    I once saw a play in New York featuring Meryl Streep, who often had to address the audience during the course of it, and I could’ve sworn that she was gazing especially at me. I saw this play alone, but later, having never said what I just wrote here, a friend saw the play, and he was sure that Meryl had been eyeballing him. We were both undoubtedly wrong. However, in JJ’s case at that particular show, the girl next to you may have been right.

    Another possibly irrelevant thought: the musical–and, specifically, rock & roll–memory may be to us what Proust’s tea-dipped pastry was to him.

    I look forward to hearing more about your book.

    Best,
    Duke
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 19:08:25

    No, no, Proust is totally relevant. But that’s another tea-kettle of fish altogether. Funny you should mention that, too; I used to have a recipe for the petites madeleines that was supposed to be the closest to Proust’s magical cake, with as little sugar, eggs and butter as possible. I just remember it was horribly dry, but I think that was the point. A hot beverage was a necessary accessory.

    Excellent point about the powerful performer being able to connect with the eyes in mid-performance. Joan rocked hard, yes, but those eyes just freaked me out. If she had sung a slow ballad while staring directly at me I probably would have jizzed in my pants. Or thrown my underwear onstage.

    Thanks, Duke!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-06-11 10:21:09

    “Pre-show shenanigans with a white rhino”? Do tell!

    I’ve only been to two rock concerts in my life. And they’re both shameful. When I was 15: Better than Ezra. With my sister. And then, at 19: Muse. With my college friends. On a road trip. Not my choice, I swear.

    I have, however, been to several dozen operas and symphonies. One of my earliest diary entries- age six- includes the following description: “Today I went to the simfuny. Abby was there. It was fun. We had a good time. Love, Marni.”
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 13:10:50

    Thanks, Marni. I think it’s wonderful that you still have your childhood diary

    I’m ashamed to admit I’ve only been to the symphony once and it was on the beach! I’ve gone out to see live theater a bunch of times — opera, never. Just can’t get into it.

    I sang in the St. Petersburg Boys Choir for a few years until my voice changed, traveled all over the country, so you’d think that experience would have made me more open to live classical performances.

    Anyway, I’m with Joan: I love rock ‘n’ roll.

    (And white rhino is simply very good weed.)
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-06-11 17:20:09

    Is it embarrassing that I had no idea about white rhino? That I legitimately thought you were talking about an animal?
    (Comments wont nest below this level)
    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-12 18:00:27

    Don’t be. The drug culture with its cool names for drugs is totally ridiculous. I don’t smoke anything anymore — I drink martinis instead. And I leave the White Russians to the Dude. Movie references anyone? Joan Jett’s only feature film? Anyone?

    Reply here

    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2009-06-11 15:19:21

    oh! that diary entry is so cute!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by jmblaine
    2009-06-11 11:58:47

    I was hoping for one thousand
    one hundred comments
    all about Joan Jett.

    Yes we wanna.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Irwin
    2009-06-11 12:32:43

    If this was a right and proper world that would have been the case.

    I love rock and roll.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jim
    2009-06-11 12:56:52

    THERE! WHERE? THERE! Oh YEAHHH!! She does kick some major ass. Wonder just how kinky she is? Wouldn’t it be odd if she turned out to be very straight-laced in the sack. Anyone have any personal experiences with Joanie?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rachel Pollon
    2009-06-17 21:07:40

    Damn it, I have no Joan Jett stories, or even sightings. And while I’d never given this any thought before, now strikes me as irritating. I want to contribute!

    Fun to read about your concert experiences, Jim. It’s conjuring up memories… though, as mentioned above, not about Joan Jett.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rachel Pollon
    2009-06-21 07:21:06

    Hey, I just saw that Elvis Costello is playing this summer (at least he is here in L.A.) with Lucinda Williams supporting. Made me think of you and thought I’d let you know incase ya didn’t!

  2. […] will be inevitable: Wanda Jackson’s grandkids? Joan Jett’s night-of-hetero lovechildren? Miraculously impossible incestuous bastard riot grrrl offspring of […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *