STILL RAMBLING 12
ROY ORBISON WHO?
Gene was a building designer and contractor, before I came along and sabotaged his career. He also had a wife and four children, so I could add ‘home wrecker’ to my growing list of credentials if that home hadn’t already become pretty well wrecked anyway.
This reminds me of another issue to be addressed. Someone remarked, on reading this book so far, “You seem awfully hard on yourself.” And several others, reading my novels and stories, have spotted the female ‘me’ character and said, “You don’t seem to like this girl very much. Why?”
So then, rolling up my sleeves: I like myself a lot. I think highly of myself, even. It’s my behavior I don’t like. Sometimes. As a yet-to-be-introduced friend once counseled, “People will like your confidence, but they won’t like your arrogance.” Alas, when confidence decides to hide behind a curtain, arrogance is quick to claim the vacancy, even masquerading as confidence—and no, no one will like it.
I don’t like it either, nor my obsequiousness, nor my obliviousness to others, nor a particular brand of aggression that comes roaring out of me when I don’t expect it, nor my perennial lack of money, nor my hair agonies, nor my fear of you-name-it…….but these are things I don’t like, they aren’t me. They are encrustations on a long-lost masterpiece; scrape them away and you have a beautiful woman of talent, wisdom, humor and music. The person who was living these pages was unfortunately still encrusted, and I can’t paint her otherwise. If you want to like her in spite of herself, it’s okay!
Gene liked me. While noticing the whole picture. That didn’t mean it was ‘happily ever after’ from that moment on. The intense drama of breakups and get-togethers doesn’t relate to guitar-playing, so I’ll skip over it.
While it was going on, I became very close friends with RITA WEILL She had a gorgeous voice and a compelling way of delivering an old ballad with no accompaniment. And her clothes! Like me, though, she had her encrustations. She was not calm. Helping her get ready for a gig, I tried not to be hit in the head by shoes flying out of the closet. Her social skills were almost as unpredictable as mine. But she was smart and funny; we laughed generously at each other’s puns and huddled together under a quilt to discuss our man troubles. She once described to me what it was like to room with the women of the GEORGIA SEA ISLAND SINGERS while their men were housed elsewhere—the mooing, bellowing and groaning of enforced abstinence caused by some insensitive concert organizer—and she raved, too, at great length about the fabulous thighs of a certain folk musician whose thighs I honestly had never observed. I needed to hear stuff like that, to gossip. We were what they now call BFFs. Since the final F stands for Forever, I assume it is still so.
As a family and business man who no longer had a family or a business, Gene no longer had a house, or credit at the bank. (Really, though, I couldn’t at that time be induced to live in a house; I’d gotten used to sleeping and cooking outside and liked it that way.) He did have a couple of major requirements of me—one, that I had to be (relatively) sane, and two, that I was apparently expected to stick around. No bolting, not even a threat of bolting. Damn. The sanity part is still interesting to me: So, growing up and taking responsibility is something a person can do even if he/she is as out of control as a junebug crashing into screen doors and knocking itself cold? As I had been raised to the ‘can’t help it’ tune, this expectation was daunting. I was game, though.
Then, soon I was working on another baby. This meant we’d have to live somewhere. Not that we were homeless; Gene had been building a boat, and we lived next to it in a tiny shelter with an open-air kitchen. Best place ever. Nonetheless, it would be necessary to upgrade. So Gene went around gathering old windows and 2×4’s and pieces of mismatched siding, and built a little shack in a friend’s avocado orchard. And next time I drove up to Berkeley, Rita was working on a baby as well. I’m talking two fine musicians in vitro. We’ll meet one in the next chapter.
Our scaled-down Scraggs never ran short of places to play. San Diego Folk Festival . . . Scripps College . . . lots of folk clubs and taverns, including one where the owner said if we weren’t packed up and out in fifteen minutes he was calling the sheriff. (The crowd we brought wasn’t always top-notch; in this case, three families showed up with all their children, shared one mug of beer and brought their own bag of unshelled peanuts.)
The Ash Grove again, of course. This was when the Ash Grove Women (MARY KATHERINE ALDIN and SANDRA GETZ, who actually ran the club) became my friends and fans mostly because of a little photo of John Lennon I’d taped to my new dreadnaught. The BEATLES had just come out with their record, Hard Day’s Night, and Ed Pearl had piqued me by saying with disbelief, ‘You don’t like them, I hope.’
You bet I liked the Beatles. After the grief years they made me feel like I was sixteen. And I was a ‘John.’ You had to pick one to like best; John was a natural for me because of a lot of physical and mental family resemblance. I also took note of the fact that he wrote songs, although it was some time before I got up the nerve to do the same.
One gig we played for several weeks when I was 6-7 months pregnant—well, I just asked Gene if he remembered the name of that club in Goleta, and he said, “You mean the one where my building foreman got hit over the head with a pipe wrench by that Appalachian nightmare who was stalking you?” “Yeah, that one.” “No.”
Anyway, one night on my break I wandered down the bar and sat beside the one customer who sat at it. He was wearing a dark blue shirt of some really quality cloth, kind of like an old-fashioned policeman’s shirt; it was pressed, professionally, in twin back pleats. And he was wearing big sunglasses, indoors, at night. His black hair was done in a ‘60s style pompadour, probably with a little dab of Brill-Cream.
He was glad enough to have company, and bought me drink. (Yes, I drank when pregnant, a little, probably why my son is so smart.) Then he asked, “Do you know who I am?” I said I didn’t.
“I’m ROY ORBISON,” he said. I said I was really glad to meet him.
“No,” he said, “I mean it. I am. I’m Roy Orbison.” I said I believed it.
“No, really,” he insisted. “Look here—” he pulled out his wallet and started taking things out of it. “See, here’s my driver’s license. See? It says, right here, Roy Orbison, and here’s my picture. (He took off his glasses so I could compare him with the license.) “And here’s my social security card. See, here’s—” I tried to stop him; he was certainly, obviously and incontrovertibly, Roy Orbison. Whether the Roy Orbison or not, he was the guy his license and five other ID cards said he was.
“You know how many guitars we used on ‘Pretty Woman?’” I didn’t. “Eleven,” he told me triumphantly. “That’s right, eleven guitars.” I said I always loved the sound of massed guitars. “Well, that’s how many we used. Eleven guitars.”
I said, “Well, I’m afraid we only have the one, which is me, but we’d be honored to have you come up and do a song with us if you would.” He said he didn’t know whether it was in his contract that he could do that. I said, “Well, there’s not very many people in here, and probably nobody who’d squeal on you. We sure wouldn’t.” He still didn’t know. The idea seemed to make him squirm.
“I’m really not in Goleta to perform,” he said. “I’m here to look at some property. I’m looking to make some investments, and this place is growing like crazy. I figure I won’t be rich forever, I know how show business goes. But, sure, yeah, I guess I could come up and do ‘Pretty Woman.’ You think you know how to play it?”
I went, “Dah-dah-dah-dah-DAAAH, dah-dah-dah-dah-DAAAH, pretty woman—”
“That’s it,” he said. “Okay, y’all call me up when you want me. Just the one, though.”
I got back on stage and told the Scraggs we were going to have Roy Orbison. “Roy who?” they asked. I said it was that guy sitting right down there at the bar, and we all looked. “What guy?” they wondered, because there was nothing but a line of empty barstools.
Maybe he was just shy. Maybe he didn’t want his song massacred by some pregnant hillbillies. Maybe he was some other Roy Orbison. But that shirt! It was straight show biz. And those glasses! That hair! Dude, if you were not Roy Orbison, then good job, whoever you were.