Motherf*cker: The Making of Powertrip

Travel back to 1997 for a look into the world of an “A&R man who happened to be a chick.”

The guys in Monster Magnet reminded me of the South Hackensack Lizard Boys I grew up with. High school dropouts who sat around picnic tables in Fochini Park getting stoned and drinking Jack Daniels, when the cops drove by they scattered under rocks. Lizard Boys were guys a real Jersey Girl dated. The boys a father would hate. The chicks were quarantined to a separate bench. I knew more than they did about music and I was a “girlfriend” so I got to sit at the boys’ bench. This way Brian and I could easily make-out; push each other up against trees where we thought no one could see him put his hands down my bell-bottoms.

Lizard Boys blasted “Iron Man” and Zeppelin, but their lives were The River. I wonder who got Mary pregnant? Who got laid off from their construction jobs? Who died in a car accident or of an over dose? I think Brian who ran off with my virginity did. In 1973 his mother sat in a car while the garage filled with carbon monoxide. His father never forgave him. Here in 1997 my Red Bank Lizard Boys weren’t sitting around park benches. They sat around L.A. recording studios. I wonder what a South Hackensack Lizard Boy would give to do that.

I had a rule. No sex with my artists. No sex with an artist signed by the record company who employed me. Along came Dave Wyndorf.  On paper it didn’t make sense. Dave had a long face surrounded by dark stringy hair. He had one of those goatee/mustache things that looked stamped on his face. All of which sat on a short, pale body encased in colossal muscles. Piercing blue eyes that were too close together. Inbred eyes. He was awkward, yet strong like he might explode into a million pieces of a planet from a comic book. Dave’s voice separated him from normal people. The voice, the pale muscles, and that odd face all mixed together…Rule? What rule? I have a rule?  Almost everything about making that record broke rules. But without all of the insanity and hysteria I don’t think Powertip would have been a hit. I don’t think it would have been created at all.

The guy originally assigned to oversee this record locked himself up in a Hollywood Hills mansion with a pile of crack and a cache of guns. It was 1997 and rock was strong. The KROQs, MTVs, VHSs were consuming dirty boys who played guitars. David Anderle, (who I hope is up there hanging out in a groovy lounge filled with reel to reels), my guru and head of the A&R Department, gave me marching orders, “This band has to have a hit record now.” I lived on the East Coast and I was a Jersey Girl. Somewhere along the line I told him that seeing a Monster Magnet show “makes me want to get fucked on a pool table.” I guess I fit all the qualifications.

When producer Matt Hyde first saw the band he didn’t want to get fucked on a pool table. He had the male equivalent of whatever that is. He tracked down Dave Wyndorf, like a 14-year old girl trying to find Justin Beiber.  Generally, producers don’t do that. This project landed in my hands with Matt Hyde, his studio, and most importantly Dave’s songs written and recorded on a little 4-track. He handed us a vision encased in a cassette. Before any of us had even met we’d exchanged conversations, music, handwritten notes all of which created a concept for a record that felt cinematic.

By the time Monster Magnet arrived in L.A. at Northvine Studio, which was leased by Matt, and home to a 48-track custom Crystal Console we knew what our rolls were. Everything was dictated by this enormous vision. Sometimes Dave made sense, and when he didn’t I translated. Our weirdly dynamic Scorpio/Virgo mix served us well. Powertrip was no The Godfather because nothing is The Godfather. However using that film as a template is the easiest way to describe our roles. Matt and Dave together were  Francis Ford Coppola, Dave was Mario Puzo, I was Albert S. Ruddy and A&M Records was Paramount Pictures. Once again, let me make myself clear, I am in no way comparing Powertrip to The Godfather. If I were I should shut myself in a room I never leave.

The skimpy $220,000.00 budget seemed impossible to work with. It had my assistant Ellen walking the trapeze more than once. In the late 90s bands at Monster Magnet’s status had recording budgets double that amount. Our measly $200k budget had to cover Matt’s fee, studio time, engineers, gear, cartage, flights, hotels, car rentals, per diems, union payments (haha), tape, mixing, editing, mastering and surprises. Years ago Dave submitted a demo to major labels as a joke. Accidently he got himself signed to a major label. Thus resulting in a shitty deal. On top of which that man never saw Powertrip coming.

The 90s were sexy. There was a blue dress, socks on cocks, Madonna got erotic(a). Hollywood released Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Television gave us “Sex and the City.” In keeping with the times, one fated evening Dave and I were eating turkey burgers and sharing French fries on the landing of his hotel. By the time those burgers ended up in a crinkled bag I was being led into a room at the La Cienega Park Motel stripped of my denim overalls and cotton panties with Paul Stanley’s face stamped all over them. Our chemistry became part of that record. “I haven’t fallen asleep next to someone for years!” “I never share cigarettes with anyone.” Later it made sense, but I’d never had a sex addict fall in love with me.

From that first night in an L.A. motel until the final edit Dave, sex and the record was all I could think about, and the world according to Dave was, “The only things in my life that matter are this record and you Deb.” We started a succession of watching each other sleep, sharing cigarettes, breaking each others’ hearts, mending them, leaning on each other, exchanging germs, sitting in silence, spending hundreds of hours in studios, being placed side by side in business meeting after meeting after meeting completely in synch with each other.  We were working around the clock. “She keeps me going,” he would say. “This record is going to kill me,” I would say. My closest friend Amy said, “You act like two kids who are grounded.”

 

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Me and Dave Wyndorf circa 1998-definitely should have been grounded.

 

Matt Hyde had recently gotten sober. Dave and I were both abstinent. We were all addicts and addicts always find a substance to enslave them. The record became our drug. It satisfied most of our addictions except a few we couldn’t get a handle on; sex, gambling, cigarettes, voyeurism, eating, exercise, drama.  Even though the record couldn’t possibly satiate all of our combined addictions Powertrip was our primary monkey. Northvine Studio was hidden away somewhere behind Melrose Ave. It was a dark and dingy utopia. I drove onto a gravel parking area surrounded by an old chain link fence with an enormous load-in dock that hid the studio’s entrance. Matt’s wife and I would hang out on that dock, legs dangling over the side, sitting in the sun while the guys sat in a dark room rolling tape.

The first day my motorcycle boots stepped into that studio there was porn scattered everywhere. Not regular porn. Disgusting porn. Packaged in little magazines that can almost pass for comic books, but don’t. The magazines and videos could have been tucked away but weren’t. Dave was a master manipulator, and although this might have been a test. I didn’t flinch. I was there to listen. As long as they were working they could tango with anything else they wanted to. Matt decided I was “An A&R man who happened to be a chick.”  That was ironic.

Matt’s job was to keep the record moving forward and mine was to keep Dave from self-destruction combined we were a blitzkrieg. When our struggles included band members who couldn’t do their jobs, and who had attitudes on top of ineptitude, studio musicians were called in. When the budget bared its teeth I went in to A&M and fought for every crucial dollar. If we had to use a different studio we packed up and moved from Northvine to NRG. Matt’s configurations satisfied the subtleties and the largesse of a cinematic recording. Later on his duality in phasing; specifically microphone placements on the drums and guitars confused the mix engineers, but that was later on. We had moments when we were feeling rotten, complaining, wearing down, tearing at each other, but in the end we believed and that was everything.

Amy, Dana, Cid, Julie and Liz, my closest friends although tired of watching me cry, dealing with my ecstatic ups and downs, helping me through chronic bronchitis, experiencing my burn-out; stood by me and took care of me. Thank god they were spread between both coasts because so was I. Undeniably there was a group of people who were set to breathe a sigh of relief once this record was finished and I could walk away. The day came when David Anderle cut to the chase, “I know how hard you’ve worked to develop a purely professional relationship with Dave.” Because eventually the day came when I had.

Anderle had been notorious for his sexual escapades and since his reputation wasn’t pearly white he didn’t give a shit about mine. It was the 90s, and as Courtney sang, “We even fucked the same.” The industry was an arena where everyone overlapped everywhere. If you were going to stand and judge you were wasting your time. Once a record was completed, music through packaging, the entire visionary process completed, my job was to move out-of-the-way, and Anderle trusted me to. Record companies were diverse groups of departments made up of people with specific talents and responsibilities. A&R people stood in the background watching our babies, but ultimately that day always came when we had to let our records go out into the world and grow up.

Back in the real world the business was flipping. In the 90s the general formula became ‘follow the money.’ A&R people with super empowered creativity were no longer a component of the new formula. If bands were gazing at their shoes, everyone looked for shoe-gazers. If a couple of rock bands crossed into rap territory than that’s what got chased. The artists were going to lawyers for representation. The A&R executives were going to lawyers instead of clubs. Producer managers got into the game too, sad because producers were the originators of A&R not their managers. Over expensive lunches at Trattoria Dell’Arte acts and gossip were being discussed. “Just between the two of us did you know?” Across the room we’d wave at each other while whispered tones exchanged the exact same information. Those lunch tabs were in the $80.00 plus range. We were flying around the country in business class. It all added up, and later it all caught up.

An artist and an act are two different things. We lost sight of artistry. That was more pathetic than the gossip or the overindulgence. I loved an $80.00 lunch, but real artistry is easier to swallow. I made mistakes and signed acts. Which sucked, and through some painful lessons I learned how to stay true to myself. I worked my way into this business at 21. By 1997 a little more than a decade had passed and as I matured clarity followed; I would never be compensated nearly as much as a male peer, and I would never have access to the same type of power men had. I didn’t want to ordain Wyndorf wisdom, “People like us like to dance and we like to fuck so we’ll never acquire power because people who have real power don’t have time to dance and fuck.” I  would have appreciated some power and some money, even if dancing and fucking did nurture my soul. It was unfortunate that he was probably onto something there.

I went scuba diving for a week. Immediately after I came up for air, set my feet back down on New York concrete the Powertrip mixing drama began. In New York Roli Mossimann was mixing. While I was processing giant stingrays and nocturnal octopus Dave was either talking dirty, or complaining. “I miss you Deb,” while kisses, kisses, kisses were sent over the Gulf of Mexico. I came home and fired Roli. I fired people. Joe Barissi one of my favorite engineers was let go after one song. Terry Date was next in line. I don’t know what went on in that studio, but it went something along the lines of, “He’s scaring me with the wine.” Terry was “chasing the low-end,” and no one had seen it running around.

Dave was becoming unhinged and I was beginning to feel like Anais Nin running to save Henry Miller, “He loved her for what she could give him not who she was.” What I could give him was every reason not to have a nervous breakdown and ruin a couch. Larrabee Studios had history. A long and beautiful history involving Carole King, Gorgio Morodor, Michael Jackson recorded Dangerous there! I really hated being Anais Nin to his Henry Miller because it was a line out of a friggin’ Jewel song. Still I was not going to let Dave Wyndorf tear up the lounge. So I ran to him, and hired John Travis.

With every engineer fired Dave and I leaned on each other more. “I want to drive from L.A. to Las Vegas lock myself in a hotel room with you and just fuck for three days.” “I love your mind it’s sweet and devious, and the combination is driving me crazy.” “You are so sexy. If you just sat quietly and looked at people you would drive them crazy. But then you open your mouth and Hackensack comes out,” Fifty percent of that one worked. And of course, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” In the wee hours my fingers were being sucked on while naked and lying on his side I swore Dave looked like Jesus. He just didn’t act like him.

Most of John’s mixes got canned. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t right, and of all the engineers John was the guy I hated letting go of most. He brought an element of joy back to the project, and this group of junkies needed to laugh. Dave could describe the plot of a movie better than if you actually saw the movie. John was quick. Matt was smart and loved banter. I spoke Hackensack. There was non-stop energy and entertainment. Until the realization came that once again we’d failed.

Next stop, Dave Jerden. He was the final solution. He was the Jane’s Addiction guy! Problem #1 Jerden refused us entrance to Paramount Studios. Problem #2 he doubled booked us. Problem #3 when we finally got into the studio we found his assistant mixing our record. Fired. I was kicking myself and A&M were kicking harder. By this time Matt had already recorded two other records, and I had attempted three other signings. Nine months and Powertrip kept wandering around looking for its Oz. We’d spent over three hundred thousand dollars searching.

Every time a Roli Mossiman, Joe Barissi, Terry Date, John Travis, Dave Jerden got hired we were paying their rates, studio time, additional gear rentals, travel and surprises. Combined the guys we hired had discographies that included Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, White Zombie, Incubus, Pearl Jam and Deftones. Collectively these bands were saving rock & roll. I believe the most significant achievement of the 90s was the resurrection of rock and roll. I desperately wanted Monster Magnet to be part of that club. Pump your fist and scream “Space Lord Mother Fucker!” The listener is never going to think about the acoustic 90 seconds that open the door to their first fist pump. But we had to.

I was running off frustration with Metallica’s Loud in my headphones. I jumped off the treadmill. Dripping with sweat I flipped open my phone, “Dave!!! I’m Fed Exing Loud. Listen to the drum sound!!!” Randy Staub had a Lars’ library. He replaced every Powertrip drum sound with a Lars’ trigger. Fifteen years later while Lars was sitting on Michael Alago’s lap I fessed up. He was not only honored he loves Powertrip. While working at The Armory a small part of me feared a lawsuit. The one I’d convinced my boss not to a give a second thought to.

Dave and I headed to Vancouver. He strung his room, just one floor above mine, with Christmas lights where late at night, ambient music in the background he could suck on my fingers, the rest of me, and we could finally get this record finished. Honestly by that point I’m not sure which excited us most. It was a tedious process, but Randy Staub studiously fixed the drums, dealt with the phasing, and got this motherfucker of a record mixed. Music, like cinema, is an illusion it can be a room lit by Christmas lights, or Lars’ drum sounds.   You don’t need to know what’s behind the curtain as long as you end up pumping your fist screaming, “Space Lord Mother Fucker!”

We were like the Russian astronauts who were safely yet precariously delivered to earth August of 1997.   One of their less publicized problems was the lost ability to get rid of their waste. Same problem Dave and I had. The Russian government, the press and the poor astronauts were all throwing around blame like a basketball during a playoff game. We did that too. He lied and manipulated and I was guilty for believing him. He refused to acknowledge our relationship. The one that everyone knew about anyway which made me feel worthless.  Yet I stayed and believed it was more than this.  I was in a relationship with a sex addict, and for over a year I reinterpreted the lies with what I wanted to hear. The only thing Dave and I ever had together was a record, and astounding sex. By our second trip to Vancouver we hit bottom, “Is there something awful I can do to make you hate me so much we can just have sex?”

During the entire saga of making Powertrip I couldn’t come up with anything worse than he’d already done; kissing the fire blowing bassist from Nashville Pussy directly after he’d left my apartment for a New Year’s Eve show my roommate booked. Fucking his roommate on the nights he didn’t stay on the phone with me until 5 a.m. “Deb, it’s just sex.” During a period of torrential fighting, aka one of our “break-ups,” they showed up to the album photo shoot wearing matching cat suits. I had to leave until that situation got fixed. The love handles were going to make me light myself on fire. Taking me to the circus with his entire family including ex-wife and four-year old daughter, and still refusing to acknowledge that I was his girlfriend (his family including his ex hopeful I’d end up as wife #2, it would have been very scary to tell people I was once married to Dave Wyndorf). Trotting around with dancers from video, photo and television shoots that I’d helped coordinate. He mentally tortured me, but he never physically hurt me.

Dave was forthcoming about his addiction to sex which is a much more complex fixation than it sounds. Sex is a supersonic concept to begin with. I suppose that’s why we spend a whole lotta time thinking about it. At the outset ignorant of, but once well-informed, I still signed on. My curves fit his muscles like a puzzle. Desire can be excruciatingly rapturous, and I became addicted to my appetites. Our lives mirrored this record, our refusal to give-up, and the sacrifices we made to keep going. Just like junkies.

We had been inseparable since that visionary 4-track tape was brought to life: the tracking, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, Northvine Studio, NRG Studios, Electric Lady Land Studio, Bay7 Studio, Larrabee Studios, The Armory Studios, the sequencing, the editing (“Mother Mother” yikes!), the mastering, the styling, the artwork, the packaging, the video shoot, the new management company. Powertrip entered the Billboard charts in the top 50, a coup for a heavy rock record. Monster Magnet had a video in heavy rotation at MTV, “Space Lord” was heard every hour on the hour on every rock station across the country. My work was done. It was time to kiss my $460,000.00 record goodbye.  The one that began with a contractual budget of $220,000.  Same record delivered at a very high price.

Monster Magnet’s tour bus was getting ready to depart. The leather clad Bullgod well equipped to take on the unwashed masses. There’d be lots of one night stands, and stories that would make Jerry Springer’s head spin. One afternoon I received a phone call from MTV News asking for verification that a lesbian act had been performed onstage.  I wasn’t clear on who I should ask about that. Standing on the bus Dave put his arm around me. I reached around and scratched his back. We let go of each other as people began to board. I walked down the stairs and back into my world. He had his work to do and I had new artists who needed me. Powertrip had arrived.

A little over twenty years later I was on the phone with Matt Hyde. As we were about to say goodbye, I confessed to him, “The gift Dave gave to me, left me with, is he made me feel beautiful. He made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. No one had ever made me feel like that.” Long pause, and Matt said, “He could do that. He made me feel beautiful too.”

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He still makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the room.

Dedicated to Dave and Matt, my partners in the trenches.

 

 

 

 

 

You Only Live Twice (part two)

 

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard-Katha-Upanishad (via W. Somerset Maugham)

The break-up occurred on May 10th, 1999.   Then the real break-up, “It’s over.  We tried it and it didn’t work,” took place about thirty days later.  Then I dropped thirty pounds in thirty days.  My friends came running, but I was too busy isolating to notice.  I sat at home listening to Moby’s Play the soundtrack to my heartache.  I didn’t start to cry until May 13th and then I couldn’t stop, just like that CD’s constant circling in its player.  But I went to work.  Work was my salvation the one place I always returned to.  Like home.

Sometime in 2001 we bumped into each other.  He was married, ran a marathon and had a dog.  These were all things I knew would happen.  I knew he would try to continue our legacy, but with someone else.  They were actions taken “at” me.  His appearance of a life fulfilled was done at my expense.  While he’d spent time revenge run rampant.   I just suffered.  I feigned happiness for him and his brilliant accomplishments.  At least by then I had put down the whip, picked up a fork and was living my life.  He never bore witness to my incessant flagellation.  2001 came in sharp contrasts, I realize for all, and yet my star had risen.  For me that was a very good thing, and not a thing he needed to know.  I walked away feeling good about myself, and that was a very good thing indeed.

Two months before we broke up, I was working late when a colleague cracked open a bottle of Patron.  I’d felt alienated after the merger.  Interscope was the antithesis of A&M.  I was swimming in the shallow end of unknown waters.  I so desperately wanted a friend to help guide me deeper.  My timing was awful, so was my methodology.  I eventually came home, but two hours late and excuseless.  The general hysteria that goes along with tequila incidents gone awry spewed out of me.  I puked.  I screamed.  I puked.  Why was he even with me?  I was too old for him!  He was a downtown hipster and, “I am totally uncool!”  He cleaned me up.  Put me to bed and left.  As soon as that hangover wore off the breakup was on.

“You can drink. You don’t have to change.  We’ll get through this.”  He claimed to have lost two relationships to AA.  Since I was his third the odds weren’t looking good.  He couldn’t watch me go through it.  “Too few people make it.”  A day later, “I can’t believe I found someone so perfect for me.”  A few days would pass, “I’m trying to work my way back to you.”  I was convinced the dream had shattered in a bottle of tequila, a pool of vomit, and a bed full of denial.  A close friend gently pushing me toward recovery, “Believe me he knows you’re an alcoholic and he’s known all along,”  He maintained, “I like the way you use alcohol.”  Solutions are rooted.  We felt unworldly.  Vaporous incapable of being trapped into something so solid.

On Place St.-Michel he pushed me.  Took two arms and shoved me as if I were a pickpocket caught in the act.  “Get off of me!”  Ten days in Paris, the city of love, we had sex twice.  Angry sex.  Naked and hit by a belt, yanked around the hotel room, completely dominated, left simpering in a corner, and going to sleep with our backs facing each other.  Years I fantasized over visiting The Muse’ Rodin with a lover.  Standing so close we could have stroked The Kiss, “Maybe I’ll get a sex change operation and move to Paris.”  Beaten down I was still trying to share even though he’d clearly decided there was no more “we” it would now be “I.”   Two months had passed since the tequila incident.  Sixty days I spent looking like a Camille Claudel sculpture.

 

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There’s only one in the bed… Or, how I spent my Paris vacation.

Making love in a rooftop Jacuzzi while Grammy night lights swirled around us, cuddling up to a fire place at Long View Farms studio while an ice storm raged outside talking about everything we hoped for us none of which was true, driving to Boston telling stories about the past while the The Idiot played on rotation and we tried to hold hands across a stick shift Barracuda named Bernadette, those days were gone.

Sobriety requires a relationship with something greater than oneself.  Over the weeks our conversations turned to seeking.  He was didactic, an excitable boy searching for something beyond the experience of reality.  I was often left mystified yet confused by his musings.  Frankly I often found them sophomoric, dorm room fodder.  Lacking clarity I did engage although I had spent far more time thinking about Led Zeppelin lV than about god.

Much earlier in the relationship he’d given me a copy of The Razor’s Edge.  Claimed it was his favorite, and inscribed with many declarations about my eyes, my breath, rain. The final lines read; With you there are no walls. Together we escape burden, and culminated with Debbi- you make me cry.  I read his page long benediction so often I never read the novel.  I couldn’t quite make sense of how making him cry was a desirable effect.  I decided the inscription had something to do with love, but he didn’t sign it with love.  He’d also spelled my name wrong.

Eventually I read it.  I indulged in anything, size don’t matter, he’d left me.  Obviously Larry spoke to him, “I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not.”  I was an Isobel (is a belle), who wanted to meet interesting people, but not if it meant giving up her Chanel dresses.  Larry (I wish I could interpret that name as ‘liar’ but I don’t think Somerset Maugham would agree) knew she would only be experimenting with, “a sort of cultured slumming.”  Isobel could also give herself an orgasm just by staring at Larry’s arm.  She couldn’t have him.  She was forced to settle, and his would be a lone journey.  In the end Larry finds his salvation.  He escapes bondage.  Poor Isobel, well, you can’t have someone who isn’t there.  Dharma-bums, social strata, the ultimate question, none of that meant anything, the only answers I was seeking made habitat behind those blue eyes. Perhaps it should have been obvious that my boyfriend needed to find something, and he couldn’t do it with me.  But I didn’t read the book.

 

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I could always find my way back home.

In 2003 he called with an invitation to dinner.  He requested that I come that same evening.  So on an indifferently cold evening I walked west to east arriving at the same building.  He was cooking fried chicken and corn bread.  An aside, by the end we had both gained about 10 pounds.  We feasted on food instead of flesh.  We swallowed up all the truth so there was nothing to say.  Rib roast, homemade bread, macaroons one of my favorite things, were all forced on me.  I didn’t want any of it, except the macaroons, but I ate anyway.  I would take anything he offered.  I finally figured out what happens when you’ve been consumed, you start consuming.  Once you gain 10 pounds you get depressed and your doctor puts you on anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants and sleep aids.  Then you refill those fuckers as often as you need.  By the spring of 1999 I was a beggar with an extensive medicine cabinet who could no longer fit into her jeans.

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When Ile St-Louis calls you go no matter how big your thighs have gotten.

Whatever this dinner was, it was not going to be a hostile takeover.  Thanks to a couple of green pills my emotions were well barricaded.  I entered the same building but different apartment.  That helped keep a few sensory triggers at bay.  His red hair was long, and greasy.  He was wearing some make-up along with tight red glam pants tucked into Paul Stanley’s boots.  The most striking piece of his countenance was the perfectly plucked eyebrows.  The brows becoming the entrance to his face, replacing what used to be blue eyes.  The lightening bolts on his cheesy boots were enough to strike me silent.

He fried up chicken and rambled on about his ex-wife.  She was now the dumpster for all his rubbish.  She wanted money and she took her dog.  Aside from the dog it seemed her best asset was the ability to apply make-up; then they would go out together.  I immediately imagined her in a suit and him in a dress.  Our gangster and gun moll act done in reverse.  I was thankful for her.  He no longer had a reason to do anything “at” me.  I snuck a peak into the bedroom.  It contained the double sized bed we’d bought together.  Seeing it there with the same headboard did beget sorrow.  I could still see my hands wrapped around the poles.  Still and all, we had been living perversely different lives for seven years.  I owned a new bed, an extraordinarily expensive one at that.

“I’m having a sex change operation.”  I don’t know why I was surprised.  It was in my face throughout our entire relationship.  In Paris he had said the words.  If that statement were spray-painted on the wall my reaction would have been, “Wall? What wall?”  Hear, speak, see…no!  If I had to be The Three Monkeys I would, and then swallow another macaroon.  My eyes welled up but I didn’t cry.  I squeaked out, “But why?”  This was his razor’s edge.

“I always knew I would do this.  That’s why I had to break up with you.  I knew you couldn’t live this way.  I knew you need a man.”  Larry needed to find truth.  Isobel needed to live within her comfort zone.  But we were not the characters Maugham created.  And it was never the tequila, and it certainly wasn’t a relationship that fizzled after the excitement of the first 60 days.  There was always a thread between us that we tangled up, like the necklace you carelessly throw into your jewelry box every night even though you put it back on the next day.  If you never pause to fix it eventually the chain breaks.

During the months our break-up dragged on, before, “It’s over.  We tried and it didn’t work,” he also said, “I know how I feel about you. I just don’t know how I feel about us.” “I’m trying so hard to work my way back to you.”  “I need to take a break from this relationship and I don’t even believe those are my words coming through me because I could never say that to you.”  I also wondered where those words had come from.  How could I know they came from she not he.  He said he couldn’t see himself in the mirror because I was standing between him and the mirror, “I have to remove you if I’m ever going to see myself.”  My boyfriend wanted to be me.  And thank god he managed to remove me, because eventually he decided to look like Brittany Spears.

I got to bear witness to some of the process.  Throughout the next year or so she helped me sell off some records, she helped me move some boxes.  When I lost my job her new girlfriend helped me look for a cheaper apartment.  She finally acknowledged my success when she started playing in a band that loved Queens of the Stone Age.  Gone were the days when my cell phone was an embarrassment.  I was even invited to the studio a couple of times.  The make-up, the breasts, the hair, the nails, never fully disguised the man.  Eventually I heard rumor that the transition had been wholly consummated.  Over ten years have passed since I last saw her.

“I knew you couldn’t live this way.”  I was never given a voice in the decision.  Maybe I could have.  Maybe I would have stayed.  At the least we could have tried to live in the truth.  Maybe I would have walked away.  Maybe I wouldn’t have made him cry, and he could sign a novel With Love.  I always wished him to be happy.  That was the unselfish piece.  I wanted him to love me forever.  That was selfish.  “I knew you needed a man.”  Well thank you for making the decision for me.  I’m not going to go on a tirade about gender specific roles.  I only know I’ve had plenty of men (and a couple of women) since, and not one has ever given me an ounce of what he did.  I’ll never know what she could have.

I silently mourned his death.  I didn’t starve myself, I didn’t over medicate, I didn’t worry my friends.  But, I did mourn.  I will never again see that blue-eyed boy I loved.  There was a time he came to me almost nightly in my dreams.  Like Peter Pan visiting Wendy. To be perfectly honest, fleetingly he still comes I wake up happy.  He managed to crawl up inside me.  Inside of me resides a beautiful blue-eyed boy who ate candy for breakfast and called me “Kitten.”  But outside there is no grave marker.  He simply faded away never again to be.  I miss him terribly.  Yvan-you make me cry.

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Addendum: For many years I wondered if this entire saga unfolded in my head.  One evening my intern entered my office and closed the door.  She was young, zaftig, with long black hair, punk rock clothes and a beautifully kind face.  She had a story for me, but she approached with caution.  This could be dangerous territory.  A few years after he and I broke up she walked into a bar on Avenue B.  He stared, and I have made it quite clear those eyes were no joke.  He appeared to be awestruck.  Once she settled on a barstool he said, “I’m sorry.  I thought you were someone else.”  I looked at her, yes, I could see it at a distance he would have seen a ghost.  He continued, “I thought you were a woman I had a relationship with years ago.  It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had.”  They chatted some.  Her drink was on the house.

-For Molly who got to live twice

You Only Live Twice (part one)

 

Six magical months, I’d fallen down the Rabbit Hole, one that would be free of mean queens and weird eggs. Fairy tales converged. I came face to face with The Pied Piper and fearlessly followed him. Wait, where did the Piper take all those people? He was Peter Pan too. What the hell happened to Peter Pan again? This was a boy who ate candy for breakfast and took a bath before he went running, “I don’t think like that.” Six insatiable months lead to 16 months suffering from a heart so shattered I’m not sure it ever healed, and twenty-five years later I’m okay with that.

I was crazy with love. I will never forget that feeling, but I can still feel the pain. Painstakingly physical and unfathomably psychological my love affair was an impassioned journey. It was so easy for me to love someone who hated me, and hate someone who loved me. Denial and desire make harrowing bedfellows. In the end, I felt like I’d been burned at the stake, nothing left but ashes in the image of a girl. Years after the embers were cold, I went back and found a dead boy grinning.

My life was normal, well normal for a female A&R executive, until a frustrated songwriter whose daddy started an empire showed up to buy a new toy; all the Polygram Distribution labels. I was an employee of A&M Records, people lose their jobs during corporate mergers. The money was frozen. Everywhere I turned my colleagues were freaking out. I had a quiet confidence, but I was bored. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Then again, the universe loves fools, drunks and dancing girls. Out of thin air, or Avenue B, a beautiful blue-eyed boy came along.

Months earlier Monster Magnet was performing at CBGBs, the record on the verge of radio play. I was wearing a blue slip dress with great big red flowers on it, twenty-five years later and I remember that dress. “You turned around and smiled at me. The whole world disappeared.” I don’t remember him, yet the dress remains indelible. “You were always alone.” I didn’t like baggage or negotiation. I liked everything in its right place. He ruined the groove of my life.

Ginger hair, big blue eyes, a young Lou Reed, and accordingly, “everyone wanted to fuck Lou.” I was at The Continental with Jesse on what appeared to be a normal Sunday night. Cid was performing, and there he was sittin’ on a toad, I mean barstool, and I’m sure he was waiting for me. “I know someone who has a crush on you.” “The bartender on Avenue B… he thinks you’re really hot.” I found it hard to believe, we had him listed as one of the 5 cutest guys on the lower east side. Within thirty minutes I was sitting on his lap. Fifteen minutes later I was straddling him. I grabbed Jesse’s whiskey and downed it as I walked out wrapped up in a beautiful blue-eyed boy.

We commenced to eat each other up.  Rubbed raw, knowing it was going to hurt, yet not able to stop. Night to morning to day to evening, someone had to make it stop, “Baby I think we ate too much.” What happens after you’ve been consumed? When we weren’t together, we were coming from, going to, waiting for. On first look, our friends saw the perfect couple. Imaginary worlds only exist until someone finds their way back out of the rabbit hole, or chances upon the ruby shoes, or ends up in the oven. Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf got so comfortable eating candy in their Avenue B cottage, they forgot about the blazing ovens.

Together we upended ghosts.  Sharing spent, sweating, closeness we ventured into dark places and survived them. We fit into each other whether we were fucking, walking, or sitting across a room from each other. Spanning from one to the other existed an invisible umbilical chord. We drank coffee laced with condensed milk, and danced to “You Only Live Twice,” while the smell of homemade bread smothered us. Made love on the couch listening to Nina Simone, “I’ve listened to this record a thousand times and it’s never sounded like this to me before.” Obliviously holding hands. If one let go, the other might float away. Walking through Tompkins Square Park singing “Perfect Day.” The lyrics still describe us.

 

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Just a perfect day/ Problems all left alone/ We can do this on our own/ It’s such fun

 

Back then he was a sober bartender (I still don’t understand how people can do that), and of course he had a band. I knew he’d been a junkie and a street hustler. I wanted a street hustler. I wanted perilous. I wasn’t built for insipid experiences. This Hackensack girl craved vicissitude. Metamorphosis is painful, and in that I wasn’t alone. In the end I was left burned up and scarred. And it really hurt.

We came together wounded. I was living hard, fast and drunk. Relinquishing the streets left him with run-of-the-mill STD’s. He hated the dick that fit me perfectly. It never occurred to me that he was ceaselessly plunging an instrument of hate into me. I was a clueless, inebriated “angel.” Perhaps being loved and hated conjointly made me the perfect fit. Add in denial and a bartender could mix one gorgeous Molotov cocktail. “You are so perfect for me. I can’t believe I found someone so perfect for me.” I filed “perfect” next to “I adore you,” and that next to “I love you,” and that next to “You make me more human.” Although, “I wish I could crawl up inside you and live there,” was perplexing.

My friends were sending smoke signals. Jesse, “doesn’t it feel weird that your boyfriend had sex with my (male) bass player?” My assistant Ellen, “You’re never in the office. Everyday someone asks me where you are, and I have to tell them I guess she’s fallen in love…” Kelly (rip), “I watched that guy fall head over heels in love with you with my own two eyes, but I should have known something was wrong.” My brother muttered something about, “the wrong side of the tracks.” Ryan, “Be careful. He’s a bad guy. He’s dangerous in ways I’ve seen, and you haven’t.” Dave, “He’s too young for you. You’re playing house.” Dana, “Is this really the life you want? Quit your job, live in a tiny apartment on the lower east side and get pregnant?” Cid, “I hate that guy.”

I found a green camisole in our bed. “If I didn’t know this was yours I would be furious.” I honestly didn’t care. Our sex life was transcendent, so why let a cheap green camisole get in the way? If you could end up in the ER suffering from too much sex we’d have side-by-side gurneys. I found the hidden chicks with dicks magazines (they were under all the pots and pans in the cabinet above the stove). That apartment was all about him, the smell, the stuff, even the single bed we romanticized. John and Yoko needed a king size bed to intertwine, it’s much easier in a single. All his other porn was exceptional, thus I mentally obliterated chicks with dicks. I wasn’t paying attention at all.

There was a box shoved in the back of his closet filled with woman’s clothing. One night he took it out, and started dressing me up. I love clothes. I loved my leather pants, leather midriffs, cowboy hats and boas. Little black dresses with mules. My Levis (or his) with heavy metal baby tees and motorcycle boots. Slip dresses ala Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a knock off Liz. Those were my feathers. The things flying out of this box were hooker clothes. Cheap clothes the Puerto Rican girls left at the Salvation Army. Those big blue eyes turned feral. He was screaming while pulling out awful whore skirt after whore dress, disgusting polyester halters. He called a friend over. I was put on display. My tears held tight like a corset, which I would have preferred to this. Arms flailing as I tried to cover up the same body that was perfectly comfortable sitting naked in his kitchen. “Oh God, please let this end.” Anal sex never felt like a violation. This did.

We went to Paris. We went to Boston. We went to L.A. We found hideaways in the countryside. We had funny interactions with Legs McNeil, and plenty of New York’s demimonde. We met the parents. A song was written for me. He witnessed the beginning of the next era in my career. I vomited tequila all over him. There was ‘not my lingerie’ in the bed. Looking back he saw details while I saw scope. Not seeing the details propelled me. If I were cognizant of each separate element I never would have seen that they didn’t fit together. All of which to say, I am here and he is not. All of which is for later.

Four months in, “I knew while I was gone you were going through my closets and wearing my clothes!!! Why?” I didn’t understand why we couldn’t work this cross-dressing situation into our sex lives. Shuttered tight, this part of his life was off limits. For me he was all boy, muscle cars, hot musician, punk, flirt, and girl crazy. Playing with sex was a no brainer for us. Which made this piece incomprehensible. “I was doing a lot of acting out around then.” Cross-dressing was his drug. Drugs are a secret. They give us relief from the unaltered world. Drugs demand we isolate. For three solid months were using. Our drug of choice was the relationship. Now he was using something else. If I was heroin, cross-dressing was crack. But I had my own secrets too.

Four months in, the real world came knocking. Twenty-five out of 200 people at A&M Records kept their jobs. Tom Whalley liked the rock chick, Ted Fields liked my knowledge of the roster, and Jimmy ran by screaming, “I’ve heard she’s terrific! She stays!” I was going back to work, and I was psyched. Even though I had the perfect boyfriend, momentum was pushing me out of the rabbit hole. The one with secrets in the cabinets and Pandora’s Box in the closet. My two worlds collided. While I was traipsing to my office in a mid-town high rise my boyfriend was at home wearing my clothes. Still, I was living the dream and he was still living.

-End of Part One

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You made me forget myself/ I thought I was someone else/ Someone good