Face to Face

by Eric Mayer

Go back a lifetime. A sweltering late September afternoon in Rochester, New York. I'm driving down Titus Avenue, in the old Colt, with my now ex-wife Kathy. My daughter Fleur is only two. Son Tristan is six months.  We pull up to the House of Guitars and turn into the sixties, or what passed for them, a few years late, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

 Go back another lifetime, when a long distance call to the Kinks (Here's a great Kinks site) Manhattan hotel got Kathy as far as their manager. It probably says something about the band's plight that a lame tale about an interview for a nonexistent newspaper could get a teenage kid that far.

 "He called me 'Ducky'."

 And whatever their position under the Billboard charts, to us the Kinks were near enough God that it was like being called 'Ducky' by the Pope.

 In the car we chatter like kids. What's Dave really like? Dave Davies is in Rochester to promote his new album. Once inside the store, we find we are the only fans queued up with babes in arms. This is a startling revelation. It was only yesterday, wasn't it, we spent our  first night together, in the concourse of the New York City Port Authority with Joe Potera. The store is stifling inside. The kid ahead of us has brought for autographing a picture of Dave made up like a mime.

 "Do you think he'll be in make-up?" he asks us.

 In make-up? Dave. Mime make-up? Dave, the on-stage brawler, forker of his own brother, over a plate of fries? What does this child know of our Dave? To him he is nothing more than a glossy photo, a couple of albums. To us he was already twenty years of albums, awaited and listened to, magazine articles, bits of news laboriously searched out, expectations. He was the guy who played lead guitar on "You Really Got Me" no matter what anybody said. He was, in short, someone we'd lined up to shake hands with.

 And we had seen him before. The first time at the Fillmore East, in the early seventies. We went with college friend Joe Potera and since none of us had been to New York before we arranged to meet there with Joe's friend Suzy, who was spending the weekend on a class trip. Her supposed familiarity with the big city was mostly based on her arriving the day before we did. We were at the age when people are eager to throw themselves into the hands of unreliable guides.

 From the Trailways bus we caught a glimpse of the fabled skyline, as unconvincing as the skyline of the Emerald City, plunged into the Lincoln tunnel and emerged in a street lined with tenements that might have passed for Wilkes-Barre without the culm banks.

 The air in the Port Authority tasted of metal. Buses steamed and roared in the low ceilinged caverns. It was November and the concrete platform radiated a numbing cold up into my holed sneakers. My spirits soared. We had left behind the deadening provincialism of our childhood home. We were where we belonged.

 Within two minutes a polite young man who looked less Hindu than I sold me, for five dollars, a color illustrated copy of the "Bhagavhad Gita" which weighed  just less than thirty pounds. So when our guide arrived, business-like but late, having taken the wrong escalator, I headed out into the big city with cold feet and a heavy load of eastern mysticism.

 Five years later I went for a time to live in a place called New York City. It was not the city I visited that first time. This first New York was a fantasy city of nameless streets where subways propelled us through the abrupt scene shifts of dreams. When I lived in New York I was never able to find the stores clerked by pontytailed men in beaded vests and girls in granny dresses, full of tooled leather and handmade jewelry, all too expensive, or the cramped record store where I bought a copy of an album by a group named Juicy Lucy for no reason other than it was one I'd never seen at Joe Nardone's Gallery of Sound.

 Most of the day we had no idea where we were. We kept congratulating ourselves on being in Greenwich Village, although that was by no means certain. Our hair was long and we strolled around gawking at everything and everyone and feeling "with it." When the street lights came on we decided to stop in a pizza place. I wasn't hungry. Food was nothing to me then and I would go for days on unsweetened tea, but I was glad enough to put down the "Bhagavad Gita."

 We sat at a booth in the back where we could watch the traffic, the real New York traffic, moving along the street beyond the glass doors. We were extolling the virtues of New York pizza, as opposed to the poor Wilkes-Barre imitation we had subsisted on until now, when a nun, dressed in a simple black habit and carrying a collection plate, came through the doors and moved from booth to booth, meeting the rebuffs she received with equanimity. When she arrived at our booth I saw that she was young and not unattractive, although there was in her eyes a certain hardness, evidence, perhaps, of her long struggle with the evils of the city.

 "Please excuse me," she said. "Could you spare something for the needy children?" Her eyes lit upon the "Bhagavad Gita" beside me. "I see you are a person of faith. Surely you could spare a dollar?"

 We all could.

 "It doesn't matter what you believe in," she told us. "So long as you believe in something. Bless you."

 Yes, I thought, watching her leave. We could all live together, Catholic and Hindu alike, even if we weren't really Hindus.

 The business-suited man in the next booth leaned over towards us and announced in a loud voice. "You realize you just made a donation to a prostitute?" Hurriedly I got up to leave.

 "Heh, buddy," the man yelled out. "You forgot your Bible."

 Maybe we were shaken by our encounter because we immediately became lost. We had, it is true, been disoriented ever since we arrived, but in the daylight we had been exploring. Now, in the dark, with the streets deserted, dark doorways gaping menacingly, we were simply lost. It was windy, and no matter how many corners we turned, the wind seemed to stay in our faces. The cold helped keep our minds off sudden, violent death.

Suzy lead us on and on. Finally, by sheer luck I suspect, we found ourselves on the wrong platform of a dank, empty subway station, forced our way, the wrong direction, through a one way turnstile and emerged into the heart of the sixties.

 That Fillmore East show was the high water mark of my career in the counterculture. For the most part, I observed the sixties from the back row. Although the idea appealed to me, there was no real chance of my "dropping out," joining a commune or living outside society. I was as likely to climb a beanstalk and slay a giant. But for that one evening I left the back row for the front row. It was wonderful, to be part of a milling crowd, not one of whom could have walked down the River Street in Wilkes-Barre without attracting stares, or worse. And when I nearly dropped my ticket in my excitement, and the bell-bottomed usher said, "Heh, man. Cool it, " with perfect seriousness, I had to pinch myself.

 I don't recall the concert well and can't reconstruct it accurately. Once I had a program booklet, but after I moved to Rochester I lost the manila envelope in which I kept it, along with the minutes of the Horseshoe Club and my Junior Safety Patrol Captain lapel pin. I recall that a group called Quatermass led off, featuring arty organ with light show amoebas crawling over the stage and walls. Love followed and toward the end of their set Arthur Lee trotted out onto the stage for a surprise reunion appearance and I pretended to be as delighted as everyone else seemed to be, though I had no idea who he was.

 The Kinks were an artistic triumph, I'm sure. I remember quite distinctly that Ray Davies wore an outrageous bow tie and performed "Waterloo Sunset." The actual sound is irretrievably jumbled with the sounds from the albums I've played so many times. The people in front of us smoked spliffs the size of stogies and we left the theater ecstatic and half stoned.

 There was no way we could return to Wilkes-Barre in our exhilarated state, so instead of catching the subway back uptown to make our bus, we pooled our money and bought tickets for the second show. We killed the time between shows in an earnestly Bohemian coffee house where a sensitive looking fellow sat on a table and plucked a guitar and the barefoot waitress told her there was a minimum charge of $2.50. On the way back to the Fillmore we passed a flower vendor. The girls decided they must buy the Kinks flowers.

 Again we sat in the smoky balcony. This time, when the Kinks arrived on stage the girls took off, clutching their bouquets. They reappeared far below, and approached the stage, tiny and unreal as the Kinks themselves, as if they had entered the same fantasy world as the Kinks, a world Joe and I were only observing. When they returned to their seats, the flowers still lay on the front of the stage, where they had left them. And at some point during the set Ray reached down, picked up a single flower and held it briefly to his face.

 "I just love roses," he told us, and the crowd cheered.

 Later, at the end of the set, after all the encores, he sat on a stool, alone, with an acoustic guitar, and played "You Are My Sunshine."

We missed the last bus home. Hotel security wouldn't let us into the room where Suzy was staying. We counted our change in front of a warm looking Chock Full O' Nuts in Times Square and found we didn't have enough left for a cup of coffee. We spent the night in the main concourse of the Port Authority, our backs to the cold tile walls, dozing, while cops strolled by without curiosity.

 And so back to another lifetime, back in line, and Dave bounds out onto the stage at the House of Guitars, which is usually filled with amps for sale, accompanied by an entourage of local DJs and H.O.G. owner Armand who dressed entirely in black save for a T-shirt silk-screened as tux. Dave is not wearing make-up and the kid with his mime photo is disappointed. Dave sits down at a table and someone slides the rock star standard issue Heineken over to him.

I remember I have forgotten to wear my "God Save the Kinks" button. The line begins to move. When we climb unto the stage daughter Fleur stands and gapes, more amazed by the crowd of people staring at her than the man seated at the table.

 I have brought "Chosen People." I set it on the table. I am on the same stage as Dave Davies and I am speechless.

 "We saw you at the Fillmore," says Kathy.

 "Cor," says Dave. "That was a long time ago. You're not that old."

 Kathy thrusts Tristan towards him. "Will you hold him while I take your picture?"

 Dave looks surprised. But he takes him. Tristan boggles. Dave holds him up over his head and the crowd cheers.

 "I love kids," says Dave. "I have five."

 Then we are back outside, in the heat. Storm clouds are building up over Lake Ontario. A breeze turns up the white sides of the tree leaves. The air is suffused with the dull coppery light that sometimes precedes a storm. It is the weather of the late sixties, our adolescence, when we saw the world in a mysterious golden haze, even as we listened fearfully to the thunder in the distance. But the storm passed us. For better or for wors, the lightning struck elsewhere.

 Now the signed album is gone, the snapshots of Dave and my six-month old son are gone, my kids live somewhere else. But, when I think back, Ray still sits on the stage at the Fillmore East, the night I lived through the sixties, and plays "You Are My Sunshine." And I guess the sun still sets over the Waterloo Station I've never seen

 Copyright (C) 1996 Eric Mayer

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