That night on the bus back to Flushing, I asked Remo about stopping by Artie’s office. “I have the day off tomorrow, right?”
We were sitting in the far back of the bus. I was in the very corner banquette, with the Ovation, making pleasant sounds with it but not really playing in any focused way. Remo was at the little table a few feet over. Between us we’d finished the dregs of a bottle of Knob Creek that had been lying around and I was feeling mellow.
“You sure about that?” he asked me.
I didn’t spend all those years under Digger’s thumb without getting highly sensitized to undertones of anger or aggression. But I didn’t expect it to be coming from a direction I’d never felt it from before, so I stayed blithe as I pushed on: “I’m pretty sure, but to make sure, I’m asking you.”
He chuckled then, yawned and stretched. “I don’t get a day off,” he said, and I took his anger to be about the media grind, not me. “Check with Waldo.”
“Okay. Artie asked me to stop by the office if I get a chance.”
“Then you better do that. Artie asks nicely but he doesn’t just blow smoke.” He rubbed his face. “Hey, you know what we could do? Why don’t you come with me to do this morning show? We can play a little together. It’s right near the Wenco office and you could go over there after the show is done.”
“Radio or TV?”
“TV. The Today Show.”
“Sure. What ungodly hour do they want us there?”
“Seven, I think?”
“You’d think they’d have put it tomorrow,” by which I meant the day after, “so we could get to bed early before it.”
“Not that we probably would,” Remo pointed out.
“I know, who needs sleep. Certainly not musicians.” I was feeling tired myself right then, but maybe that was also whiskey making me feel heavy.
“You don’t have to do it if you’d rather get your beauty rest,” Remo said, sitting down across from me.
“Are you kidding? Of course I’ll do it. If I could do it in Japan while jetlagged from hell, this should be a piece of cake. I’m surprised you didn’t ask me about doing it before.”
He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I guess this got booked late and I didn’t think of it? I don’t know. Trying to be less of a micromanager these days and all I end up is confused.”
He seemed unhappy. I chalked it up to being away from his new family, the Clapton thing, and who knows, maybe some New Jersey stress, too. Right then we were on the Jersey turnpike.
“Did you say something about Maddie beating liver cancer or something like that once, or did I dream that?” I asked him.
Remo considered for a moment. “I think we talked about how he retired and moved to Florida. I don’t think I remember anything about cancer.”
“I told you it’s a fern bar now, though, right? Well, if it’s even still that. I was there two years ago.”
“You did, but it was two years ago so I don’t remember if there was anything more to the story.” He sighed. “Life on the road makes it hard to remember things and people from home.”
“Yeah?” I just thought my memory sucked and that I didn’t care enough. But I suppose it was like me to assume there was something wrong with me.
“No one will cry us any rivers over it, but yeah. This life messes with…life. Normal life. Connection to society. Whatever you want to call it.”
I nodded in agreement and sympathy and put a hand on his shoulder. It was sinking in to my brain that Remo hadn’t named his band Nomad just because it sounded cool. Deep down he had something going on about being rootless.
“Where were you born?” I asked suddenly, realizing that I didn’t know.
“St. Louis,” he said.
“I never knew that.” I had a vague notion he was from the midwest, maybe Illinois or Indiana? But as you know when I was a kid Remo didn’t really talk about his past, at least not with me. In fact I said, “You’ve never talked about it.”
“Not much to talk about. By the time I was a toddler we’d moved to a farm in Wisconsin, and then when I was five or six my mother left my father and took me to Indianapolis. Then to Kansas City. Then back to Indianapolis.” He shrugged.
I knew that shrug. That was the I’m-acting-like-it’s-no-big-deal-because-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it shrug. I used that shrug regularly myself.
I wondered if Remo’s mother was still alive, but I was afraid to ask in case the answer was no. He’d never talked about her either so I had to assume no, or that they were estranged.
Remo read my silence for curiosity. “I left home when I was fourteen. It was the early fifties. Back then, no one asked your age on job applications if you could work. I smoked to make myself look older and saved up the cash so I could get out of town.”
The unspoken piece of the story clicked for me then. “And you were playing blues honky tonks.” At age fourteen.
No wonder it hadn’t seemed weird to him to have a kid like me tagging along and playing shows when I was young. The standard line in the Remo Cutler bio you’d see in magazines or wherever was that he was playing in clubs before he came to New Jersey but I’d never done the math in my head to realize that had been when he was a teenager. The whole thing about him getting into trouble and landing in the army instead of jail: he wasn’t even twenty yet when that happened.
A funny thing happened then: I felt old.
(This cover was originally done in 1988 for the movie The Lost Boys, but it charted again in 1991, I guess because of The Doors movie…? -d)