The first time I sang on stage was one night at Maddie’s in 1980, when I was thirteen. Let me revise that. First time I sang lead on stage. This was before Remo had put me into the regular gig; I was just getting up there once in a while for a thrill. At the time there were maybe two dozen songs on the radio that I could sing and play note for note, not all of them strictly rock. I had learned “Another Brick in the Wall” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” but also “The Pina Colada Song.” (I don’t know why that one, don’t hold it against me.) At home I had a transistor radio that only got AM stations so I listened to a lot of hit radio, which was all there was left on AM by that time besides all talk and news stations and one or two oldies stations. So I was hearing Blondie and The Police and The Cars, the Knack and Billy Joel. At Remo’s I tuned to FM and picked up Styx, Aerosmith, Supertramp, and ZZ Top. They claimed disco was dead but you could still hear Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” every place you went, and “Funkytown.”
Somehow it was decided that that night I’d do this thing I’d arranged that was a cross between “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” I was sort of secretly hooked on Buddy Holly at the time–I’m not sure why it was a secret–and the medley was my way of doing a kind of ’50s thing without ever saying that was so. I remember having to adjust the mic way down to my height and all the regulars at Maddie’s clapping and whistling for me as I stepped up with my guitar. I don’t remember most of the performance–it was a long fucking time ago–but I do remember what it felt like to really lead the band, determine the changes, play some tricks. I remember running the ending off into a long jam session and no one seemed to mind, and at the end, control switched back to Remo and we went on with the set. I was feeling pretty good about myself.
I suppose I’ll never know what made Digger angry that night, but at the time I thought it was something I’d done. He had been drinking with some guys he was trying to get to go in with him on buying a stake in an ostrich farm or something. I could never remember exactly what get-rich-quick scheme he was on at any given time. Anyway, those guys had left. I was helping the band to pack up when he whistled from the doorway, “Come on, kiddo, let’s get a move on.”
Remo said something to him like “What’s the rush? We can drop you guys off.”
“Gotta get going, sorry.” He shot me an impatient look and I hesitated a little before going over to him. “Catch you on Tuesday?”
Remo gave him a goodbye shrug and we turned away.
It was maybe a forty-five-minute walk from Maddie’s to our house, so it really did seem sort of dumb not to take the ride if he was in some kind of a hurry. But he wasn’t in a hurry to get home, he had just been in a hurry to leave. He didn’t speak for a long time and we walked in silence, our breaths fogging a little in the air.
At the time he and I were still pretty chummy and eventually I asked him if everything was okay. He didn’t answer. What I really wanted to ask was what he’d thought of my song, of course. But if the answer was going to be worse than the smoldering silence, I didn’t want to hear it. Why did I think he hadn’t liked it? Why did I think his moods were all my fault?
I didn’t bring it up, and when Remo asked me to do it again I said no.
Shortly thereafter the AM radio station I liked went all talk and John Lennon was killed. All a coincidence, I’m sure.