Something a bit different this week. Less dour than most of the other stories in my collections, it has elements of humour in it. Which is a bit unusual for me. It deals with faded celebrity, but with a slightly uplifting tone. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please consider my two collections of short stories, from which this piece is taken. They’re only 71p (UK) or 99c (US).
And in print:
.: BMT :.
JUST ONE MORE TOUR
I guess you could say music was my first love. Way before I got interested in girls, drugs and drink, I could sing along with those crap tunes which came out of the dodgy radio my mom and dad owned. They’d sing along with me in the parlour, encouraging me to do my little dances. I suppose I would have been around three or four. I’d stand there, short trousers even when the inside of the windows were frosted with a thin layer of ice. Central heating had yet to come to the Stevens household. I can see myself now, jerking erratically, la-la-ing to Frank Ifield, the Bachelors, Val Doonican – all the greatest. My mom said: “Our little Jackie’s going to be one of them pop singers when he grows up.” My dad stopped puffing on his pipe for a moment. “Aye, I reckon tha’s right.” Oh joy.
Many thousands of hours later, Celia was practically begging me to go to the doctor. I used to say: “As long as I can stand to take the applause, and lift either of my arms to my mouth, I’m okay.” Celia had other ideas. I ignored her for as long as I could, but when she got the record company involved, and they started hinting at loss of revenue and increased insurance premiums, I saw the doctor they’d brought to my hotel room.
He took blood and a bucket-full of other fluids, and sent them off for tests. But I asked him straight. And he told me straight. And I wished he hadn’t. A couple of weeks later, his straight-talking summary was confirmed. My liver was shot to hell. “Barely functioning,” he said. Actually, he said a load of other crap, with bits of Latin wedged in. The bottom line – it could fail at any time. Either I did something to help my liver, or I didn’t. The latter sounded more fun, if only I could get the thought of dying out of my head.
Celia didn’t know. The record company certainly didn’t know. They did everything by the board, but I wouldn’t give them permission to approach the doctor. “Doctor – patient privilege,” I quoted. The sideways glances were the start of the rethink. How much did they really need Screamin’ Stevie Jack cluttering up their books and languishing in their back catalogues?
When they called me in to the meeting, I knew what was coming. I think Celia did too, because she was very quiet in the cab on the way over. The driver recognised me – most of them do, and I did the obligatory signature thing. “Not for me, you understand, it’s for me missus. She’s got all your records. Plays ’em all the time.” To Deirdre Cabdriver, keep this and sell it on Ebay in a year or so’s time – maybe less if I’m unlucky. It’ll be worth a fortune then.
“Things have moved on,” the suits started. “We’ve done the retro tours to death. There’s only so many times you can force-feed ancient history to the punters. They all realise now that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Nice joke, music-man-in-a-suit.
“You’ve spoken to the doctor, haven’t you?”
“Why? Is there anything we should know, Stevie?”
Bastards had stitched me up like a kipper. Round our way, in the new money of Essex, they had a phrase for every eventuality. So they ditched me. The press release spewed some crap about me wanting to pursue other avenues. What they didn’t say was that this avenue was a dead-end street and I was already facing the graffiti-daubed brick wall with the disused railway sidings behind. End of the line, Jackie-boy.
I did one of those stupid newspaper interviews the other day. “What do you do when you get up in the morning?” “What car do you own, or would you like to own?” “Which was your favourite album?” That sort of crap. I can answer those questions, easy-peasy. I have a shit; I’d like another Ferrari; and “The Screamin’ Stevie Jack Band – Live!”
I remember when they recorded it. Our manager at the time, Tommy Marchiaro, waddled onto the stage, managed to quieten the boos enough to shout “We’re recording this gig live.” No exclamation mark needed – the crowd erupted with a roar, right on cue. We left his announcement in the recording. “We want you to make the biggest noise this place has ever seen.” Noise? Seen? He was an okay manager, but he was no Brain of Britain.
Well, they made a huge amount of noise (which was electronically enhanced in post-production, of course), and the band played out of their skins. The whole place was hyped up beyond belief, and we had it down on digital for all time. The final number, before the encores, still makes me cry. Every so often, I stick the CD on, and kneel down, miming to the final chorus. “I need you so much. I can’t live without you. You are my…” and the crowd roar “ONE”. Not a dry eye in the house, cue fans screaming, obligatory dash off stage, down half a bottle of JD, and straight into the encores. Fantastic times. Really fantastic.
Once Celia had left, I kicked around the palatial mansion, drinking, playing pool, swimming. Occasionally some of the old gang would come over – Tez, Jimbo, Kak, and we’d sit around, idling our time away, reliving the memories. Occasionally, we’d go out to the studio, fire the desk up, do a few bits and pieces. I told them I was in negotiation for a record deal, a sort of “Back From The Dead” album. They seemed to believe me.
After that, they’d all head home to their own places, leaving me to mix the tracks. They should have known the only mixing I did was out of a few bottles. Nothing could ever improve the mess on the tapes.
The tabloids got it nearly right. Drink and drugs hell of former rock star. Usual stuff. Photos of me faded down, sunken cheeks, and heading for The Priory. Celia came over, looking pretty. I told her so, and most of the other stuff too, expecting her to fling her arms round me, telling me we’d work together to beat it. In real life, and away from my pipedream, she turned and walked out. She does it so well. Practice, I suppose.
It was time to clean up my act. In the studio, I drank water for the first time ever. I wrote self-indulgent acoustic tracks called “Hold On For A Cure” and “This Ain’t The End (Baby).” Some weird independent label signed me for a three-album deal, gave me new management, and sent in a housekeeper a couple of times a week. I went out and about a bit more, generating headlines like “Return of Screamin’ Stevie?” and “Jack’s Back.” The lads weren’t interested in doing anything serious any more, so the management got a new band together – a bunch of young hopefuls, so desperate for success they’d put any old drunkard out front, if it got them noticed enough to get a proper deal.
We start the major tour next week. We’ve done a few local gigs up and down the country. I’ve got the all clear for three months, which they said was the best I could expect. “Just keep the Status Quo, Mister Stevens.” Even the doctor’s a comedian. It’s fine by me. The album’s “bubblin’ under”, according to one music magazine. It had been for many months, but that was fine too. All in all, everything’s fine. Celia’s shacked up with some minor celebrity in LA, but the boys behind me attract enough female attention, some of which is curious to know if the rumours about me are true. I just give them a knowing wink, and put the “Do not Disturb” sign on the door behind them. Just one more tour, please God, just one more.
© Gerald Hornsby 2010