This is one chapter from my novel, "Nobody From Nowhere." It's the story of a young man in the mid-to-late 1970's who becomes the lead guitarist for an up-and-coming band, The Wolves.
Dawn Kelly is the lead singer. She's considerably older than James Grant, the guitar player. She used to be in a group in the '60's named Medicine Stones, which was part of the San Francisco scene. The band fell victim to a number of problems, from infighting to drug addiction. It ended when she got busted for heroin and went to prison for a year.
When she got out, she formed The Wolves. In this chapter, the current tour has taken them to San Francisco. It's the first time she's been there since Medicine Stones broke up, and she's giving James a bit of a guided tour.
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11 – San Francisco
Dawn and James stood at the corner of Post and Steiner streets outside the Winterland Ballroom. In a few short hours, they would use their 20 minutes to try and make an impression on the music fans of San Francisco.
“Union Square’s just a little ways up there,” she said, pointing up Post Street. “We used to jam there. Played at the Fillmore, People’s Park . . . s***, I don’t think there’s any place in this town we didn’t play.”
She was trying to have a good time showing her young guitarist some of the city she knew so well. The trouble was, everything she laid eyes on dredged up ghosts from the past. Too much of it made her want to run into the bus and put her pillow over her head. Or, find a dealer and score some smack.
James, on the other hand, was fascinated. He’d been to Boston a couple times, Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire, but from here he could smell the Pacific Ocean. “Then you must have known Janis Joplin?”
“Oh, man, I knew ‘em all!” she said. “Loved hanging out with Big Brother. Used to get high with Jim Gurley all the time.”
“Wow! I love his playing!”
Dawn was surprised. “Really?!? He plays entirely different from you.”
“Yeah, but it’s some bad s***,” James said. “Just hang on and let fly. You can’t make that stuff up!”
Dawn laughed. “Professor, you never cease to amaze me.”
“So, you said you guys played Woodstock. Did you do Monterey Pop?”
“No, but I went as moral support. In some ways, it was like a battle. San Fran versus Hollywood, with some Brits thrown in. Who knew Hendrix was gonna steal the whole show? But the Frisco team did well, I thought. And it all proved to me that the first two letters in ‘lame’ are LA.”
They walked down the street, James continually pumping her with questions. She was usually close-mouthed on the past, but was getting comfortable around the kid. It gave her a chance to remember the good stuff. Riding her thumb from Boston, finding kind strangers, the Haight in the Sixties, opening for Santana and Quicksilver Messenger Service at the Fillmore, busking for quarters at Fisherman’s Wharf. She even admitted about the time she slept with Janis.
“No way!” James said, a bit shocked.
“I have a hard and fast rule,” she said. “I try to only do what feels good. And the things I like . . .” She gave him a wink. “. . . I try ‘em again.”
He blushed a little. They hadn’t slept together since that first night, but she knew he was getting lucky on a regular basis. How could he not? With that face, and his ‘aw, shucks’ demeanor, he was irresistible. She was sure that every girl he nailed thought she was his first. She made a mental note to find out if he’d learned anything in the interim.
She was about to regale him with the tale of her passionate love affair with the other girl singer, Angel, just to shock him some more when they went around a corner. When she saw who was coming toward them, she stopped short.
“Gotta quarter?” the disheveled man asked.
She gave him a sour look and dug around in the pocket of her jeans. She found a coin and handed it to him. “Hi, Tom,” she said, immediately wishing she hadn’t.
He accepted the coin and squinted at her. Then, a huge grin split his matted beard.
“The one and only,” she said. James could see how tense she was.
The scruffy man aimed his gaze at James. “So . . . this your kid?”
She laughed. “No, man, just a friend.”
James stuck out his hand. “I’m James. I’m the guitar player in her band.”
Tom looked at the hand, then shook it like he was handing someone a dead fish. Dawn shot James a quick shut-up glance.
“James, huh?” Then the rest of the information seeped through and he turned back to Dawn. “You got another band?”
She shrugged. “Just futzing around.” James held his peace, having gotten the message.
Tom’s gaze wavered back toward James. “So, she probably told you all about me, heh?”
He gave Dawn a glance, looking for direction. He had no idea who this person was.
“James, this is Tom Hayes. Oh, I’m sorry . . . Apollo. Like the Greek god, right?”
Tom’s eyes narrowed, and he looked back and forth between his old friend and her new one. “Dawn and me, we were in a band together,” he said finally. “We all had stage names. She was . . . well, she was Dawn. Couldn’t top that. Dawn, Angel, Frazz, Mikey . . . No, wait, he was . . . Hey, what did we call Mikey?”
“Dead.” She gave her old band mate a look that indicated that her patience was at an end. “About a month after Angel. Or at least, that’s what I heard in prison.”
Tom scratched the back of his neck absently. “Oh. Right.”
She turned to James and cocked a thumb at her old band leader. “This is the clown that drove Angel and I up to the Emergency Room door and bailed.”
“Hey, I saved your life,” he said with a scowl.
“And your rich lawyer daddy hung that bus full of dope around my neck,” she spat back. “The judge said he’d have given me life, but his kids liked our music.”
“Now, look, that wasn’t my –“ he protested, but Dawn cut him off.
“This is also the bastard that got me addicted in the first place,” she told James. Then, in a sing-song voice; “You snort it, you can't get hooked.”
“Why, you . . .”
Those were the last coherent words out of either of them for the next minute or so. The air turned blue as the two old bandmates screamed bloody murder at each other. James saw Tom – or, rather, Apollo – rear back to throw a punch at his lead singer. Before he could, the young guitarist grabbed the pinky finger of his other hand and wrenched it hard. The scruffy man immediately dropped to one knee and began to keen loudly.
“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, sir,” James said with a lot more calm than he felt, “but we really should be going.” He gave Tom Hayes, former leader and rhythm guitarist for Medicine Stones, a shove. The man plopped on his back and continued his whining, cradling his injured hand in the other.
James and Dawn made haste, around the corner and back toward Winterland. When it became apparent they weren’t being followed, they slowed.
“Can you believe that f***ing bastard?” Dawn roared. “What kind of f***ing bulls*** was that? Why, that s***y, lousy, f***ing . . .”
James just walked along silently. Dawn could tell that he was upset. She took his hand in hers. “Okay, Professor, it’s fine. You did well. You okay?”
James gave her a wan smile, remembering something his grandmother once said to his older brother.
“Y’know . . . when every third word out of your mouth is ‘s***’ or ‘f***,’ it reveals a lack of imagination.”
Dawn’s jaw dropped. Then she laughed and plunked her head on his shoulder.
“Point taken,” she said.
They walked along until they got to the back of the auditorium that they would be playing in a couple hours.
“I’m not mad about the jail time,” she said out of the blue. “I deserved it. What makes me mad is the fact that I used to believe in that so-and-so. You’d never know it now, but he looked like he could have been Apollo. And, man, could he weave his webs. There were three girls in the band, and he had us all in bed and begging for more. Sometimes, all at once. We had two singles on the charts, got to be on Shindig . . .”
She stopped and looked James hard in the eye. “That, my young friend, is what heroin does to you. What you saw right there is a dead man walking. He had everything, and now he has a monkey on his back, and it will ride him to his grave.”