Friday, March 13, 2015



I've noticed there's a big difference between men and women. If you say something that makes a MAN angry, the man will remember THAT the thing was said. If you say something that makes a WOMAN angry, the woman will remember THAT the thing was said, HOW the thing was said, what the weather outside was like WHEN the thing was said and the shirt you were wearing AS you said it. In other words, women are terrifying.

This story takes place in the 1970s. At the center of this story is a guy named Jeff and midway through this tale you will feel the need to pause--and so will I--as we have a moment of silence to feel an enormous pity for the width and depth of the error he will make when speaking to a woman. Don't worry reader, we'll share that moment together.

Where was I? Oh yes, Jeff. When I first met him he still lived at home in a busy family with six kids, five boys and a girl, all between the ages of 15 and 23. They lived in a town called Kenmore, which is a very small town across the lake from Seattle.

People from Kenmore may correct me and tell me it's a city, and I would have to disagree. If the pharmacy sells penny candy, if you know the local cops by name because your parents went to school with theirs, if the hot spot of the entire city is a bowling alley and if everyone who lives there speaks in a vaguely Southern accent for no particular reason, that's not a city; that's a town.

Not much to do in Kenmore. The teenagers manage to fill their time the same way kids do everywhere: they try to get booze or pot or fool around, they fix up their cars and drive them, windows rolled down, radio blasting, up and down what passes for the town's main street, the one that goes past the bowling alley. They hope their cars look good. They hope they look good.

And a lot of them are in garage bands. In the Pacific Northwest kids love to play music, and they especially love to play the guitar. Most all teen musicians in the Northwest wear the same look: like they have all the time in the world and like they're glad to be alive. These groups make their own fliers to advertise and they plaster them up all over telephone poles, jockeying for space with all the other band fliers already there.

They play wherever they can get a gig. They play at house parties, weddings, reunions, senior centers and school dances. They take whatever amount the host can pay them and sometimes they play for free, just to be heard and just because they love playing. Sometimes these bands work for pizza.

And they work hard, these musicians. To be able to play anywhere and be able to take requests when audience members make them, they need to be able to play covers of the latest hit songs as well as hits, both fast and slow, from the music time machine. They need to know Blue Suede Shoes. They need to know Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. But more songs to learn just means more time to play and that's what these kids really like.

Naturally, they spend a lot of time dreaming about Making It Big. Why not? Every big band started off as a little one. And these kids of the Pacific Northwest, they hold onto that dream for awhile, some longer than others. Some of them have the kind of parents who allow the kids to dream and learn how to like the sound of their children's music. They don't say Turn It Down, they say Let's Hear That One Again.

Because they know. They know the day will come when the kid will join the regular workforce and that guitar will go into the closet. And when the kid takes it out to play a song he'll notice a layer of dust on that guitar and he'll feel a pang of loss that it is so. These parents do not know the expression I Told You So. Are there more of them in the Pacific Northwest? I suspect maybe there are.

Jeff and his younger brother Dennis were both guitar players. Their six kid home was a wonderful place to be. The front and back doors seemed to always be banging shut letting more people in and you could almost always hear Dennis' band practicing, either in the basement or right in the living room. Guitar strings, amps, extension cords, these were present in almost every room of that house. The parents knew all the band members by name and made them regular faces at the dinner table.

Jeff would sometimes join in and play alongside his brother for awhile and then he'd get a sad look on his face. We all knew why.

I was quite young when we first became close to this family and my mother and Jeff's mother had taken me aside and warned me to never mention one particular musical group around Jeff. I knew the group they were talking about; I heard them on the radio almost every day. And then they told me the story I'm about to tell you, and then I understood why Jeff looked so sad, holding that guitar.

Jeff had been in a local band and he had had a good time for awhile, playing for low wages, sometimes playing for pizza. And the band he was in had something unusual: it was led by two girls; sisters. The band used to spend a lot of time dreaming and Jeff dreamed right along with them, but only for awhile. Then he decided he was wasting his time and he decided to leave the group.

The sisters tried to get him to stay. They told him they were sure they were getting really close to a record deal. They told him if he left, they'd miss him. But Jeff knew better, at least he thought he did, and he told them they should face reality. He told them everybody knows you need to have a guy in charge of a rock and roll band, you can't have two girls in charge and that's why they were never going to make it.

Oh, said the sisters. Didn't know you felt that way.

And now we have our moment of silence, reader. Because you know this band. I'd bet good money you could recognize at least three, maybe four of their many hit singles from the opening chords alone. You could do that day, night, drunk or sober. The whole world was going to be hearing this band soon. A moment, as most of the men feel pity for Jeff and most of the women feel amusement.

Months later, they got their first record deal. Jeff called them, to try to get back into the band. The sisters reminded him they were still girls and that he had said girls can't be in charge. After that, they stopped taking his calls.

20 Top Forty singles, the cover of Rolling Stone, world tours, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All without Jeff, but they managed anyway. People have loved this band for four decades. They play their slow songs at weddings, their fast ones usually in their cars, the windows rolled down, the volume cranked up, the listeners, more often than not, singing along, unable to help themselves.

I don't know if those sisters would like me repeating this story. Maybe they would. Maybe they'd say: You tell 'em, Amie. You tell 'em to watch what they say because someone might think he's dealing with a dog or butterfly when in fact he may be dealing with a barracuda.

Heartless is one of the 23 stories in Starfish On Thursday, available at

No comments: