The bar was sealed off from us minors, but a waitress opened the service window to get a drink order and left it open when she walked away. The music lured me straight up to that window, singing along with the song. It was like a TV set into another world. And there he was. So handsome, so at ease, so full of music.
    As I leaned closer, had my head right in the window, everybody but Billy seemed to go out of focus and into a sort of slow motion. I was singing the words to that Vic Ivy song along with that young boy,
    “If you wanna have some real fun,
    I’m gonna tell you where to run,
    You’re my dreams, my heart’s desire,
    You’re the one that lights my fire…”
    Two GIs doing a sandwich dance with a lively fat woman blocked my view, and then it happened. They passed and he was looking straight at me. Together we finished singing,
    “So c’mon baby let’s get it done.
    C’mon baby to our place in the sun.
    C’mon baby to our place in the sun.”
    After it ended, he gave me a wink...

The thing about songs. They’re like tombstones of time. Time stones that won’t erode. Granite harmonies that anchor indelible memories to specific moments. The first time you danced the Twist with your cousin at a sock hop, first time you made out to a Johnny Mathis song. Was flirting with disaster; a handsome, long-haired drifter at a bar in Santa Fe, when I first heard Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac. Played it six times in a row. I admit it. I really love the old music. It sings as sweetly to me now as it ever did.

Late one slow night, this handsome young man in a nice gray suit comes in alone. His tie is unloosened and he sort of looks like John-John. Terrible about that plane crash, he was so young. Anyway, this guy asks if he can eat in the bar. Told him sure, except the kitchen was closed and the cook was gone. He said he was really hungry, had been at the office all day long and asked if maybe I could find an orange or a couple old rolls or something in the back. He said please in the sweetest voice.
    So I went in the kitchen and found an apple and sliced up some cheese. Rooting around in the pantry I found some peanut butter and jelly and made him a sandwich. He smiled like a kid when I brought it out and said, “Gee, thanks a lot. How did you know to cut the crust off?”
    “Always used to make them that way.”

We’d have breakfast together down at the Yolk, before he went to work. He’d come home dog-tired, smelling of that heavy equipment shop. I visited him at work one day. My God, it was all screeching sounds of metal being tortured by whirling machines, welding sparks and the fumes of diesel and hydraulic fluids. He worked in that hellhole every day.
    In the early months, as soon as he came home, I’d give him a real good shower. After dinner, we’d sit around and play games. He wasn’t much of a reader, so he didn’t have the vocabulary to play Scrabble. We’d play dominoes or Gin Rummy and talk about our future. The house that we were going to buy when we had enough saved up.
    We talked in a roundabout way of having some kids. That was tough for me. He didn’t know that the miscarriage had left me barren. Didn’t know how to tell him without making him upset. So, I tiptoed around it, as we made plans for our future.

Gaylord had a route from Albuquerque to Phoenix, with a stop in Flagstaff. When he first came into the Moonlight, he hung with a certain pack of truckers. He was always joking, laughing a little too loudly for my taste.
    A couple of weeks after Mac came through, Gaylord quietly appeared and took a booth alone. One of the other guys told me that he was trying to clean up his act and hadn’t been drinking for a month. I glanced over at his rugged face, still bloated from years of Budweiser; he was reading a Max Brand western and trying to behave himself. Couldn’t help to notice his lovely thick lips, watched them move as he read. I let him be that night.

Always thought that your after-life was yours to imagine. If you hope that eternity is sitting in a church listening to organ music, it will be. Imagine that it’s hot guys and motorcycles that you can’t fall off, and yours truly and Robert Mitchum will be running forever down Thunder Road. Mitchum singing about moonshine and the Feds and the devil and who got him first. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he wrote it too. What a guy.

But at that moment in the limo, though her story was bogus, the hurt and the pain that Harmony felt as her mother’s liver slowly turned into a rock was genuine. She actually was being sincere with Billy and he replied in kind, “Yeah, Pamela has had a hard time. The mental part of taking care of her mom is almost worse than the chores and stuff that she needs to do.
    “I’m real proud that she’s so strong. You know, I wrote that song Pamela Say when I first met her. Have been trying since then to get it just right. Have already done three or four versions. One day I’ll get it just perfect. When I do, I’ll marry her the next day.”
    “Oh Billy, that is so romantic. I know that one day you will get it spot on, and it will be wonderful. Am I invited to the wedding?”
    “Of course you are. Tall Tommy Timmons is going to play the music. It’ll be a blast.”
Rain began to sprinkle lightly on the car windows as she said, “I’m sure it will,” and wistfully turned to watch the city go by through the water-dotted glass, looking at her world through a pane of tears never shed.

Boiling down the black top
Running from the state cop
Fatter than a pork chop
He can’t catch me.

Breezing past the truck stop
Slicker than a tear drop
Cooler than a Bee Bop
He can’t catch me

Pedal to the metal
Smoking down the street
Racing to my baby
Cause she’s so sweet.
Racing to my baby
Cause she’s so sweet.

Running through the stop sign
Headed for the state line
Gonna make my date time
He can’t catch me.

Churning with the big nerve
Burning through the S curve
Gonna make the cop swerve
Into a tree.

Wheels are just a humming
My fingers are a numbing
Memphis here I’m coming
Into Tennessee.

Pedal to the metal
Smoking down the street
Racing to my baby
Cause she’s so sweet.
Racing to my baby
Cause she’s so sweet.

1 comment:

m.trial said...

I enjoyed reading Pamela’s Song. It caught the spirit of the music, time, place and who we were then, beautifully. For those of us at that age, the music was central to what we thought and did. I certainly didn’t realize that the songs I was listening to on the car radio then would be the same music I enjoy all these years later.
The Bobby Fuller Four-ish story of a talented young band whose rise is cut short by tragedy and the effects it has on Pamela is nicely done. At times Pamela seemed a little dark, but her ultimate optimism in the face of hardship won me over.
The Rockabilly references were good, but I resonated more with your backgrounding of some of the early vanilla music which I loved – the Teddy Bears, the Fleetwoods, (you didn’t mention the Murmaids), the Paris Sisters, Connie Stevens, and later the Ronettes, Shirelles, etc. Those syrupy lyrics and melodies expressed exactly how we felt then (at least how I felt.)
Would have liked more time with the LA surf/hot rod music, but you got Dick Dale and the Rendezvous Ballroom, along with early Jan and Dean, Beach Boys, Surfaris, Ventures, etc. Would have been fun to have a cameo by the garage band that was the Nightriders, became the Crossfires, and evolved into the Turtles.
And speaking of hot rods, Billy drove a 58 Chevy with a 348 engine, then moved up to a Buick. Good, but would have been fun to see him in one of the true muscle cars of the late 60’s: Dodge 426 hemi, Chevy SS 427, etc. Just the car-guy in me speaking, I guess.
Anyway, my commentary has gone on way too long.

Suffice to say – I enjoyed the book.

Mike Trial, DH ‘61