Saturday, 30 July 2011

She Sees Round Corners

Man, how I hated that waitressing job. It was in a coffee shop on Mulholland Drive. I mean, looking back now, it doesn't seem so bad, but that doesn't matter, does it? Not when you're there, when you're in the moment.
So, sure, I can laugh at my younger self now, whining to my new-found mentor, Josie.
“Why is it the richest guys give the meanest tips and are most likely to hit on you?” I'd say to her.
“At least they still hit on you, honey,” Josie would say, and laugh that big, wheezy laugh. She didn't own the coffee shop, but she might as well have. The real owner gave her the run of the place.
“Look and learn, listen and learn,” she'd tell me. She was about fifty, a big woman who made the best pancakes I've ever tasted, but it was the way that she picked up things about the customers that fascinated me.
"Those two are having an affair," she told me one day, after a couple left the cafe. "Pure and simple. Both got out of the same car, but two sets of car keys on the table. Why would you bring your own car keys when your husband's drivin' you?"
Sure enough, a few minutes later, the woman drove past in a different car. Josie looked at me sidelong with those eyes of hers. "Dangerous waters, Venus, dangerous waters."
There was no triumph in her voice, just a kind of sadness. Later, she told me about her own times in those waters, and I understood. Two messy divorces, and a whole lot of heartache. You could have written a whole album of songs just about her love life.
I don't know why I gave the coffee shop my stage name when I applied for the job. I guess it was a point of pride, a gesture that meant if I kept using it I'd soon be up and out of this crappy job that was such a cliché, waiting tables in L.A., waiting for the big break.
I mean, didn't they know about So Said The Clown? I hated that song, almost as soon as it became a hit. Every so often it would come on the radio in the coffee shop, and I'd feel myself go tense, maybe drop something. And I'd feel Josie's big brown eyes on me, knowing more than she needed to.
I learnt a lot from Josie, but not very much of it was to do with waitressing. I got flustered if I had more than one customer to deal with at once. I spilt milk over Paul Newman once, and you could have heard a pin drop. And then he laughed, and said it was time he changed that shirt anyway, and fixed me with those baby blues until my knees went weak. He was a perfect gentleman, unlike quite a few I could mention.
Luckily for me the coffee shop wasn't that busy that often. I used to bring my guitar in and sing a song or two to Josie when the shop was empty, or it was just one or two of our regulars.
“Who wrote that one?” Josie would say, then act surprised when I said it was one of my own. “Get away,” she'd say. “It was kinda good, too.”
One day, I came in and sang her one of the songs that ended up on the first album. It was called She Sees Round Corners.
“You know,” she said quietly, when the regulars stopped clapping, “that's the first song I've heard you sing that's not about you.”
She was right, of course. And it wasn't her way to say she knew who it was about.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Stan the Man

Stan the man. I haven't thought of him in a long time. He was Lickety Split's drummer, and also their fixer, a bit older than the rest of them, the guy that held it all together on and off stage. If there had been mobile phones in those days, he'd always have been on one. As it was, he was always in phone boxes, arranging the next gig.
Phone Box Stan, the others called him. No wonder he fell out with the new management regime of bloodsuckers that moved in after the hit single. He was an unpaid manager before then, really. There was some bloke called Billy G, but he was just always pissed.
Anyway. There he was, on my doorstep in L.A., looking off back down the track when I opened the door.
"Hello, Linda. You got my letter, aye?"
"Sure, of course I did," I said. I was still half-asleep. We often slept till noon in those days.
I showed Stan into the living room, where the remains of last night's party were scattered around. Empty bottles, the ends of roaches, and a half-dressed girl called Marianne whom I'd never met before last night. She rubbed her eyes, and looked past Stan to me. "Hey, Venus."
Stan raised an eyebrow at the cannabis residues. "You're all grown up, Linda. "
Marianne was lighting up her first cigarette of the day, that passive hit of sharp smoke making my own cravings stir themselves. She pushed her golden mane of hair out of her eyes, squinting in the light.
"People call her Venus around here. She's gonna be a huge star. You heard her songs?"
Stan looked slightly foxed. Looking back, I guess he must have been totally jet lagged, but that didn't occur to me then. "You doing your own songs now?"
"Yeah," I said. "Grown up ones."
Days passed. Maybe just a day. Memory's hazy about that period. Next thing I can remember clearly is walking along Lookout Mountain Avenue with Sumner. Stan was ahead of us, joking with Marianne, who had never remembered to leave.
Neither of them knew where Carole King lived. But I did.
It was early evening. The roadside bushes were alive with crickets, sawing away at those violin legs of theirs. A motorbike sailed past, adding a smell of two-stroke to the scent of vegetation starting to exhale.
Carole met us at the door herself. "Come in," she said, smiling. "Find a place on the floor, if you can."
You know the picture on the front cover of Tapestry, with Carole King barefoot and a cat in the foreground? Well, it wasn't an official launch party for that album, but it was that time, that Laurel Canyon house, that cat rubbing himself in and out of all the partygoers as Carole took her turn at the piano.
"Oh, that Carole," Stan whispered to me, as she sang Will You Love Me Tomorrow.
You know how she sings that song on the album, right? Slow, her voice a little raw to catch the edge of the emotion? Now imagine that in a little house in Laurel Canyon, and you're sat on the floor with twenty or thirty other people, and she's singing it like she wrote it that morning, instead of in another lifetime. I don't think Joni Mitchell was there that night to sing backing vocals like on the record, but Sweet Baby James, James Taylor, was, with his guitar.
"Yes," I said. "That Carole."

That Bloody Clown Song

People ask me why I never sing So Said the Clown. "It's your biggest hit," they'll say. "It's so catchy!"
Yeah, well so are various things I don't want to catch again. So, once and for all: it's not my song, it was a long time ago, and I've forgotten the words. Entiendes?