Thursday, September 8, 2011

Slow Hand


I'm back with a post for the IndieInk.org Writer's Challenge II. The folks at IndieInk.org are always welcome to new people joining the fun. You can sign up to do it just once, or you can keep coming back week after week - no pressure, no huge commitment. If you feel like giving it a whirl, click the link here.

This week my prompt comes from Kayla, who writes here. The prompt is, "You're a groupie for a very famous band. Tell me what it's like."

In turn, my prompt went out to Dafeenah who writes here.

And now, without further ado...

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Gran's voice was barely above a rough whisper as I sat at her bedside and held her hand.

"Granddaughter, I want to talk to you about your inheritance..."
"Gran, you don't... you're not... this isn't..." The words choked on tears that I refused to shed in her presence.
"Shush. Listen to an old woman who loves you."
I managed a slight, weary smile, "Yes, Ma'am."
"I'm leaving you forty thousand dollars. Nuh!" She stopped my protest. "This is my wish. I get that much, don't I?"
"Yes... yes, you do."
"Well then. I'm leaving you forty thousand dollars, but I want you to promise me one thing."
"Anything, Gran. You know I'd do anything for you."
She waved her hand dismissively.
"It's not what I want you to do for me. It's what I want you to do for you. I want you to use the money for something wild, something irresponsible and fun. I want you to do something with it that your mother wouldn't approve of."
I laughed long and loudly. Gran nodded approval.
"Live." She said. "Go and live."

That was how I ended up buying a car and a summer's worth of front row tickets to all his concerts the year between graduating and starting my internship. See the USA and Party Like A Rock Star! I lived out of my Dad's old army duffel bag - a suitcase just seemed so wrong for this kind of adventure. I drove countless miles, slept odd hours, ate all kinds of questionable road food, and felt like I owned the whole fucking world.

I never got tired of going to his concerts. He wove absolute magic with his guitar. His ability to be simultaneously casual and energized was nothing short of brilliant. He clearly lived for what he was doing, loved it beyond the comprehension of what most of us could handle. I've always thought that it takes a special kind of strength when someone is in possession of a gift like that, a kind of courage to so completely give in to it. He made love to that guitar, right there in front of thousands, with all the naked, intimate, beautiful glory that lovemaking ought to be.

And the lyrics? Do I really need to mention it? He wove words with all the poetic genius of a noted laureate. His music, the totality of it, has always not only pulled me in, but has taken me somewhere other. It did that from the first song of his that I remember hearing when I was four years old; it hauled me around all that "go and live" summer; and it still has the ability to yank me sideways. He's that good. Really. That rocking bluesy growly sound... shit fire to save matches... he's just that fucking good.

That entire summer is an indelible etching in my mind. However, it was the night of July 10th that really stands out. It was the seventeenth concert on that tour, and I'd been to all seventeen. That night started as nothing different. I took my place in the center of the front row and watched the rest of the crowd meander in, the air slowly filling with the scents of well-alcoholed breath and cannabis. The pre-concert chatter in the room was nearly deafening, the buzz of a billion bees. Anticipation was electric and lent its own hum to the air.

It all stopped for loud applause as the band made their way on stage. Spotlights switched on and focused the band members. There was that all too pleasing cacophony of sound as they tuned their instruments. The big screen behind them lit up in a kaleidoscope of color as the house lights went dark. A local DJ walked out to the microphone in the middle of the stage, and hollered, "Ladies and Gentlemen... give it up for... Slowhand himself... Misterrrrr Errrrrrrric Clapton!"

The crowd went wild when Clapton sauntered out on stage as if he were merely crossing the street. He seemed to ignore the crowd as he threw the guitar strap over his shoulder and settled the stratocaster against his hip, his fingers already resting lightly against the fretboard. He strummed a chord, made a quick adjustment, then strummed again. Satisfied, he finally looked out at the crowd and gave a quick wave of acknowledgment. He moved closer to the microphone, gave a nod to set the beat, and with a slight hunch of his shoulders as if he was an animal readying for the pounce, he launched those visceral, whining first strains of White Room.

I was as mesmerized as ever. Just before his final encore song he changed my life forever. He looked right at me. He gave a slight nod and gestured stage left with a cock of his head. I put my hand over my chest, not only to still my madly beating heart, but as if to ask him, "Me?! You mean me?!" He nodded again. I made my way past the orchestra pit to where a redwood sized security guard was waiting. The guard took my elbow and guided me out a door next to the stage, to a waiting limo. He opened the door for me and said, "Just tell them Reginald sent you." Once the driver dropped me off at the hotel, I did as instructed and was escorted to the executive suite. The place was luxurious, complete with a separate living room filled with overstuffed furniture and a baby grand piano. I couldn't resist. I sat at the piano and played.

About an hour later the door opened and there he was. Clapton. I was in a hotel room with Eric Clapton. I couldn't help thinking, "How's this for 'go and live', Gran?" As I stood up, he quietly said hello and gestured me to sit back down, saying in that unmistakable Surrey accent, "Please, keep playing if you like. I need to take a quick shower." I gulped, offered a totally cheesy smile and trying to sound far more hip than I felt, replied, "Sure. Take your time."

It wasn't long before he walked back in, dressed in sweats and toweling his hair dry. He smelled like gingersnaps and oak. I swallowed back an embarrassing amount of saliva. I waited for him to speak, and after a moment he did.

"You've been to every single concert this summer." He said it like he was reading a police record.

"Yes, I have," I demurred, blushing furiously.

"Why?"

"Beyond the obvious, that I love your music? God, I sound like a fucking teenie-bopper."

He smiled and gestured for me to continue. So, I told him the story of that evening in the hospital with my Gran.

He laughed, "I think I like being the something that your mother wouldn't approve of."

I laughed too. "Well, don't be too flattered. There's a whole host of stuff my mother wouldn't approve of, up to and including spitting in public. But that doesn't cost a thing. I did this partly because I wanted to know that what I feel when I listen to your albums happens for real when you play. When it's live. And it does. I also did it because I know my Gran would love the idea of me doing something so utterly frivolous and hedonistic."

"I'll have you know... I'm honored."

"Are you kidding me? I'm sitting in your hotel room. I'm the one who's honored!"

He waved it away again, then as if noting that I was still sitting on the bench, pointed at the piano and said, "So, you play."

"I do. I have since I was five years old."

"Do you write?"

"I'm loathe to admit it, but I do. Sometimes I can't get the soul gunk out unless it's in the form of a song."
He smiled. "I'm familiar with the feeling."

"No doubt!" We both laughed.

"Play something you wrote," he said. He didn't ask it. He just said it, the same way he might have said, "Make me some toast." It didn't stop my protest any.

"But I can't... I mean... you wouldn't... I... you're... this is... shit! Why do I feel like an idiot school child?"

"Just play. Go where you hide your soul gunk - I love that, by the way - and play. Not for me, but because you love it."

So I did. I sat right there in Eric Clapton's hotel room and played a song I'd written. It was a simple song I'd written about a lover needing to make up his mind because I was getting to the don't-make-me-say-goodbye point. But, if I do say so, it wasn't a half-bad tune at all. It was a little bluesy and full of soul, clean without a lot of musical or lyrical clutter.

I finished the tune and sat without turning, staring at the keyboard. My mind was a blur. I'd just played a song I wrote for Eric Clapton. And I knew I wasn't dreaming.

He cleared his throat and said, "You've got a certain flare for that, you know. It stumbled out of you like a drunk looking for safe haven on a rainy night. Raw but... there. It's good that you listen to your instincts, good that you play and write."

"Thank you." I couldn't think of anything else to say.

I walked over and sat at the opposite end of the sofa from him. I was innocent enough to not know what to expect when a famous rock star asks you to his room.

He raised an eyebrow, "I'm impressed. Usually chicks throw themselves at me by now."

"Well, I didn't want to be presumptuous. Besides, as trite as it sounds, I'd really like to get to know you. Not that I wouldn't... ah, crap. I can't dig out of this one, can I?"

"Honestly? It's refreshing."

So we sat and talked until some god-forsaken early morning hour. Somewhere along the way we both stretched out at our opposite ends of the sofa and tangled our feet together. The conversation lagged and we dozed. We both woke up about mid-morning, still fully clothed. I yawned and stretched, having gotten over my giddy shyness at some point in the night.

He rubbed his eyes and said, "For fuck's sake. I've just slept with a journalist and I won't even get a byline about my amazing rock n' roll sexual prowess."

"Not to worry. If I ever take such liberty as to write about last night I will leave out explicit details, but demurely say that I wasn't a bit disappointed, and in fact, quite pleasantly surprised and utterly satisfied."

We had breakfast together. I had taken a shower and lounged about in one of the thick hotel bathrobes. We talked about everything and nothing. It was easy, relaxing. At some point in the early afternoon, I threw my clothes on. We hugged, he kissed my forehead (which endeared him to me forever), and we parted.

That's the story of how I got to sleep with Eric Clapton.

I went to the rest of his scheduled concerts that summer, just as I'd planned, always in the front row, always just as dazzled by his genius, but with one slight difference. After that night, he always gave me a nod and a smile, both perceptible, I'm sure, to no one but myself.

That was a quarter of a century ago. I figured that by now he'd long forgotten the night he spent with that girl, the night he spent not having sex with that girl. I was wrong. Just yesterday I received a package and a note from him. The note read, "Caught your piece in the post about insomnia. Thought you might like to have this. Might help you sleep... Fondly, E."

It was a bathrobe from the hotel where we'd spent that long ago night. I slept with the robe on last night. I couldn't resist the scent of ginger and oak that lingered on it.

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PS: My Dear Mr. Clapton. If by some strange twist of fate you happen to read this, you have my sincerest apologies. That being said, feel free to call me any time. I don't write anything that doesn't have some intrinsic truth to it, and I do feel that way about your music.

3 comments:

  1. I love you!!!!! (friendwise)...I had no idea you wrote...I think I need to bring out my inner self...and do what's in my heart...I AM inspired!!!!! For me, Willie Nelson....

    ReplyDelete