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Gigs, Girls, Guitars

Paul Data

A musician's tales of itinerant misogyny

She wanted to be chained naked to the furnace in the dark basement of the band house, and be left there alone, all night while we played our gig at the arena. We heard she had done this before, other nights with other bands, and only the devil knew what else. She did not specify what would take place when we arrived home after the show.

Embarking on a career that would encompass several years on the road touring with rock and blues bands, I, a relatively naive young Music Conservatory student, was about to get a front row seat education in human degradation. Not to mention a wailing good time.

My father had died recently, and with no means at hand to continue my conservatory studies, majoring on classical guitar and renaissance lute, I decided it was time to return to my roots, as it were, playing the popular music that had originally got me started down this path as a multi-instrumentalist, ethno-historic-musicologist. Alas, I had grown up in the '60s playing in garage bands, at age 12 and 13 learning by ear the blues classics; Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and the new rock classics; Stones, Beatles, Hendrix. So, when the time came to earn a living, it was easy enough for me to pick up all kinds of work playing electric bass in various venues from local nightclubs and Colleges, to national tours, the latter usually with more established bands that had a record release to promote.

Thus, I began to encounter the nocturnal denizens of this unique universe that revolved around hero-worship and all out bacchanalia, aka the Fans, and soon discovered they were indeed a flock to be reckoned with. As I was invariably the youngest band member during these days, I was fortunate (?) enough to have the older veterans to look to for counsel. It is a strange and dubious camaraderie that often forms among these disparate personalities, thrown together in their mutual pursuit of musical exploits; and band mates are known to bond like brothers and brawl like beasts.

For the most part, I attempted to observe the goings on from a safe (so I thought) distance: the alcoholism, addiction both substance and sexual, the subterfuge and the lies; but then there was also the brilliance and unfettered creativity, and the sheer joy of playing music nightly to appreciative, live audiences. To be sure, this life has its allure; with a certain romanticism simultaneously encompassing the archetypical lifestyles of the soldier, the lover, barbarian, renegade, raconteur troubadour, artist.

All the things you've heard about groupies are true. They are the ubiquitous and irresistible fauna in the lexicon of rock's panoply. Sexy, submissive, witty or depraved; dedicated devotees of the music, the life, the kicks; sometimes a friend when in need, or even just an opportunity for a home cooked meal. I'd been a vegetarian for several years, and after a month of ongoing chiding from my band mates, while subsisting on grilled cheese (or chilled grease as they called them) sandwiches and road food spaghetti, the band was invited by several nice girls to their home one Sunday for dinner. When barbequed steaks were served up with all the trimmings, I didn't hesitate for a second, but ravenously dug in with gusto. After the feast, when the guys noticed my carnivorous indulgence, a new wave of wisecracking approval ensued. From then on I maintained an omnivorous diet, doing none the worse for it, and with less chiding from my brethren.

But this, in fact. forebode a pattern that was gradually to ensue; as I descended in small steps into the carnal maelstrom, a cigarette here, a beer or shot of tequila there, ducking out on break for a quick tryst with some damsel; hey, pass that reefer… the boys in the band actively participated in paving, perhaps even gilding, my way into debauchery. Not that I was complaining.

What I found most odd was that a lot of the guys had 'wives' in the different towns we visited, even though they would have real wives and kids at home. We would roll into a burgh, and there they'd be, waiting faithfully for their guitarist or singer, whom they would take home and lavish their attentions on, and the following week would welcome their lovers in the next band coming through. I think it was these young women that I understood the least, their lives a calendar of revolving self-delusion regarding what these relationships actually meant. Absent love, infatuation, romance; to the guys, it was mostly about convenience and comfort, staying at a nice house or apartment, instead of a funky hotel room or broken down band house; with a familiar and reliable lover, rather than the luck of the draw. These couplings would usually last only a season, then off to greener pastures…

Unpredictably, I chose the alternate route; strictly one-night stands. Don't ask me why, but this just seemed more sensible then becoming extricated in some peripatetic web of romantic entanglements. I observed that these pseudo long-term infatuations usually led to trouble, possessiveness, jealousy, and I wanted none of it.

All in all, I consider myself lucky, I never got the dose, didn't become a boozer, user, snoozer, loser, or confuser. My music career eventually evolved towards professional recording, and later scholastics. Although I could tell tales of the special mirrors built into the control room mixing consoles in some of the most prestigious L.A. recording studios, explicitly custom installed for the convenient snorting of cocaine, supplied by the session producer, for musicians only. "OK boys, have a hit of this Peruvian marching powder, then get in there for another take… there's long neck Buds in the fridge… I know it's only 3AM…" Or the night the entire band was hijacked, pressed into service at some isolated studio built in a converted rural church house to record endless soundtracks for unspecified porno flicks; "…come on guys, we need another hour or so of cues, can you play something psychedelic?" I: "Sure, what have you got for inspiration?"

But back to Maggie of above said 'chained to the furnace' scenario: I honestly have to report we all let that one go. Those waters ran a little to deep for even the most jaded of us. She was later spotted ambling inebriated down the main drag, naked in fishnets, cut and bleeding from rolling in broken beer bottles and slam dancing in front of the stage.

A vignette illustrative of the cavalier attitude to the fairer sex held by many of my brothers in arms at this time can be clearly seen in samples from their original song lyrics:
"The No Generation, they never say yes, unless - you're a girl and you take off your dress…" or: "…I'll get down on my knees if you get down on your elbows…"

Our singer, Lee, had recently wed a beautiful young Japanese gal; on the wedding night, he was presented with a traditional gift by her Dad. In a melodramatic mood, Papa-san ceremoniously handed Lee a black lacquered box. Upon opening the box, Lee beheld a wooden object he immediately took to be a ping-pong paddle. "Wow, how did you know, I love ping-pong!" "No ping-pong!" Said the now flustered father, "This is special Japanese marriage paddle… You must spank Yukiko minimum once a week; if not, marriage not last one year…" Needless to say, the paddle was relegated to some bottom drawer, and Lee and Yukiko split up within the forecast year…

And then there was the time I delved perhaps a little too deeply into the psyche of one of these lost souls. She was a stunningly beautiful full-blooded Iroquois Indian fresh off the Six Nations reserve, fathomless dark eyes and waist-long silken black tresses bound in modest gleaming plaits. Slim and sleek, barely out of her teens, Marie was working at the hotel where we were playing a three-night stint. Her opening line was "I love the way you play the bass. I bet you can do other things well…" I was meanwhile very busy losing myself in those eyes… "Hmmm, yes," said I, "perhaps later I can show you…" …when suddenly we were surrounded by a trio of young punk chicks, bristling in their zippered black leather perfectos, studded chokers, kinky stiletto heels and safety pin earrings, all topped off with Xandra Rhodes technicolor makeup and a pound of sparkly hair gel.

The three had been watching me perform all through the show, flashing their giggling titties and calling me Elvis, (not Presley, but Costello, whom I at the time slightly favored with my spiky haircut, horn-rim glasses and skinny black jeans.) "Elvis, what the fuck are you doing with Pocahontas here?" they taunted drunkenly. Seems the tricked-out trio had other plans for me that night, but I was drawn to this exquisite, native beauty like a moth to the flame. Sorry girls… Mebbe another time…

An hour later, up in my hotel room, she says, "No lights, let's do it in the dark." I, the voyeur: "OK, I'll just leave the bathroom light on and crack the door a bit…" CRASH! Something flies through the window, and down on the street below, raucous laughing, then Fuck You Elvis!!! I glance out to see the punky trio carousing loudly down the street tossing bottles and curses. I turn back and she is naked, slipping into my bed, under the covers. And I am there, doing the dance I know best. She is getting ready, now on knees and elbows, she wants me to ride her doggy style. Just as I am about to enter her, she bucks back like a pony, with a yip, trying to violently impale herself on me. Suddenly the pace has changed, frantic. "Do it now, please NOW, then, NO, stop, please STOP. I stop. Frenetic: Please NowNowNow do it NOW!!!" I go "Go GO…" Crying, "No. STOP oh don't stop No don't. STOP. I stop. Dismount. Sheath Sword. Sobered, suddenly, on her perfect body, I notice something strange. In the gleam of the bathroom light, I see she is scarred with tiny round marks, all over her torso, breasts, buttocks, arms. Cigarette burns. In the eerie half-light, the countless spots create an artful illusion of animal skin; she looks like some fantastic horrible leopard girl.

"Have you ever been raped?" I ask her softly. She bursts into tears. "Why do you have to ask about the rapes?" she sobs. Rapes. "Marie, do you want to talk about it?" And tearfully, quietly, she tells a long, lurid tale of nightly torment, raped routinely from age six by her bastard drunken Indian stepfather, violently passed around his boozy buddies every weekend, no corner left unsullied, tortured, burned, pissed on.

I'm sick. For her. I have never before confronted such cruelty. I see that she is caught in a loop, nightly reenacting the horror, trapped in a spell of unfettered degradation, compulsive heightened arousal. I offer: "You don't have to relive the rapes every night; that is all over, it was not your fault. You are beautiful and sweet." "But my scars," she wails. How can I tell her I love her for the scars, in spite of the scars. She calms down and asks me if I want to take her. I can't… won't, instead I hold her until she sleeps, which she does quickly and deeply. When I awaken in the morning, she is gone. A couple weeks later I hear from some guys in another band who have just been through her town: "Yeah, man we were tag teaming this Squaw bitch from the hotel, she took on five of us, and wanted more…"

Ultimately, I was glad to put my touring days behind me, I logged literally hundreds of hours onstage in performance. I learnt more about human nature than a clinical shrink. But to this day, I'm still haunted by some of the images of sadness, madness that I witnessed.

I hope Marie is OK.

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