In the face
By: Robert Mitchell
“I want my … I want my MTV,” became the familiar buzz phrase, reused worldwide and brandished across all media like a tidal wave tsunami of conformity. With the Dire Straits, Sting collaboration, Jake’s world of clubs, bands, and earning a living playing covers, while sneaking in original music, had ended. With minimal gigs in sight, he was off to Paris. He didn’t know how to handle having strong feelings for a woman, let alone two women. He didn’t know how to be without a band, so he went looking for a label, or a gig, or a place to play, in Europe. He was both flying and running away in the face of chaos. He packed his guitar, the three and half other things he owned, and rolled a fat J for his airport departure.
Linda went to the airport with him and begged,
“Jake, PLEASE! Please take me with you, I want to go with you!”
What the hell was wrong with him? Here was a wonderful woman who loved him but he was too deaf, dumb and blind to recognize it. He was unable to shake, rattle, or recognize the subconscious influence, the lifelong magnetic pull towards a familiar sorrow. Confounding roots locked him into soft iron shackles of staying alone. Ironically, Linda was offering him all that he ever really wanted. It was all right there but he turned away. With passport and guitar, Jake surveyed the terminal of Logan International Airport, Boston, MA, USA.
It was an easy taxi ride from Orly airport to Paris. Normally, Jake had very little patience for traffic, but he was in no hurry. Getting a slow feel for the city, as it came into view during its morning rush hour, was a welcome retrograde. He exchanged some U.S. money for French francs and started the all too rapid reduction of his limited cash supply. But he was optimistic, blindly optimistic with one foot on the gas, and the other hoping not to need the brakes.
Walking around Paris with a guitar, box of gear, rucksack full of clothes, and in a state of semi-shock, Jake took a break and finally sat down. At a café, enjoying a beer and a bite, he mused that Blindly Optimistic would be a brilliant band name. ‘But where to stay tonight?’ He could feel his cash flying.
Finding what seemed the most reasonable hotel, he checked in for a couple of nights, intending to follow through with the contacts he had in his 9” x 12” black book. In the meantime, he didn’t really want to busk on the streets of Paris, or London, or at the ferry landing, but he did. Much to his surprise, when he landed in Paris, Jake’s passport was stamped, in midnight blue ink with a black border framing the words:
“Under no circumstances can this U.S. Citizen be hired for work or receive monetary gain without the properly filed authorizations under French Government laws, International regulations, and a Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”
Words to that effect were a harsh realization but still, he had to work. He looked for signs that all would be well. He would meditate on being where he needed to be, and encourage himself to remain positive in the face of self-doubt, and the question, “Am I crazy for doing this?”
After some sleep and a complimentary Continental breakfast, Jake mustered patience and listened to his own voice, a voice that was afraid to sing in sixth grade music class, calling now for an answer to an unasked question, a question that was storming into his awareness … “Where is my family?”
Band contact number 1.
A musician friend gave Jake contact information with someone who led a band, and was working a lot in Paris. Before Jake left for Paris, with a pocketful of coins, calling from a phone booth in Cambridge, Jake spoke with Henré and explained that he was coming to Paris. Henré was gracious, excited, and said that they could definitely play together. He had gigs, and the phone call was perfect timing. He would at least get him in contact with other musicians.
“Ahh, Ze American geeetarists, I dunn know ‘ow zey do eet!”
Sounded good, too good to be true.
So much of Jake’s time was walking, observing, listening for venues that had live music, looking for musicians, walking with his Stratocaster and looking at everything. He felt a shock of aloneness as he found his way to Henré.
Jake raised a heavy brass door knocker to its apex, and let it fall. He admired the heavy wood door, it looked old, and the stone masonry of the building. A young woman answered his knock, and the door opened. He smiled and apologized for his poor French. She was gracious at first but suspicious. Mindful not to waste her time, Jake got to the business at hand. In very calm and courteous English, he explained that he was looking for Henré. With that, she switched gears and was ready to slam the door in his face, but Jake’s stunned expression rendered her one final wave of patience as she explained that Henré was out of his mind, and that she hated him and all of his stupid musician friends. Henré was gone, she didn’t know where, and she didn’t care. She slowed herself down, offered Jake her eyes, beautiful soft dark eyes and said,
“I’m sorry. Good luck.”
The door closed with a heavy certainty.
The Tom Scholz Rockman allowed Jake to play through headphones and enjoy a decent sound. He brought it along so that he could plug in to whatever was available and be ready to play, in any situation. Busking on the street was the last thing he wanted to do, and it came down to that too soon. His funds were floating away faster than an unanchored set-list at an outdoor gig on a windy day. Jake came from established roots of playing in clubs and getting paid, but he rolled with these changes and his own guiding voice, ringing more patiently,
“Here you are now, in Paris, Great! You can act, you can sing, you play guitar really well, and you know a ton of songs. Be resourceful. Make some cash.”
Jake passed a pawn shop and noticed some cheapo, battery powered boombox in the window. He bartered. It wouldn’t sound as good as a proper amplifier, but it was cheap. He could power it with batteries for playing outside, and could carry it easily. Plugged in to the Scholz Rockman, his guitar had a big, chimey sound that he could sing above. But busking felt like begging. He was tossed coins, bills in francs, and the odd smile from a French beauty on her way to work. But mostly, this type of survival was embarrassing. Jake was skinny. When that French woman stopped, dressed so nicely, with an apologetic smile, turned back on her tall heels and left her pain au chocolat, wrapped politely in wax paper, in his guitar case … that singular moment was an adrenaline fueled bolt of fulgurous lightning, and a wake-up slap. Busking seemed to ask the musical question: Can’t you get a paying gig?
Band Contact number 2.
Patrick McKee was the owner of New Rose Records in Paris. They had spoken on the phone but when Jake arrived, Patrick was out of town. He would be back in a week. Band Contact numbers 3 & 4 were barely worth mentioning. Jake was told by tried-and-true musician friends back in Boston, that Le bar de plongée was a club that always had bands, and an open mic with a jam scene. Upon his arrival, the club was more of a TV bar with no stage, and MTV blaring. The other music venue, Bar à musique du diable, was now a rock ‘n roll clothing store with MTV gloating on multiple screens.
Petit Hôtel Fier de Paris was an expensive stay, so he decided to leave Paris for a few days. Back home, Jake had a best friend, Chef James. His French girlfriend, Suzette, was also a chef, now living with James in Charlestown. She suggested that Jake could stay at her home in Quimper, France. The six-hour train trip to Quimper was not cheap, but it was clean, quiet, and the countryside was a peaceful change of scene. Arriving in rural France, with guitar, gear case and rucksack, he hitched a ride to Suzette’s farm house. Suzette said that Luic, her ex, was still living there, taking care of the place, and would be glad to have some company. But upon his arrival, Jake was viewed as the enemy. Luics’ English was much better than Jake’s French. Jake tried to tête-à-tête but as soon as Luic saw the guitar, he asked, with a blistering sneer,
“Are you Chef James’s friend?”
Assuming that was a good thing, but seeming like it was not a good thing, Jake said that he was Suzette’s friend. Luic told him that he could stay but he was not happy. Luics’ displeasure was heavily amplified,
“Fuck Chef James, fuck that asshole and his fucking guitar.”
Tension. Jake settled in as Luic blasted off on a loud dirt-bike, leaving deaf chickens to scramble for their lives.
Le Coq Rouge was a short walk down a country lane, and a very nice restaurant for his single meal of the day. It was delicious farm fresh food, and Jake splurged to enjoy a beer and an amazing piece of chocolate cake.
Good night Luic. While the accommodations did not exactly convey, ‘Welcome,’ Jake slept. In the morning, he heard Luics noisy reminder, making his point with unnecessary motorcycle revving, and a blastoff that re-freaked the screaming deaf chickens. With the charismatic host finally gone, Jake showered, had a few glasses of fresh country water, and with thumb in hand, made his way towards the White Cliffs of Dover.
It was an easy hitch to the ferry, although there was some rain. Jake was going to London to see what could be found for an American rock musician with a passport declaring ‘DO NOT HIRE.’ The ferry was fairly full, and rain fell more heavily as the boat set to sea. Once underway, the dining tables of the common area were turned over to become gambling tables. Black Jack was the game and Jake considered playing. Maybe he could fortify his financial supply with a good win? While considering the stakes, he was approached by a tall, noticeable young woman. With a lovely accent, Scottish maybe, and with a sad, tired smile, she asked Jake,
“Could I just sit next to you with my bag here, and try for a few minutes of sleep? I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m just so tired, ya see.”
He suspected it might be some kind of scam, but of course she could. They sat together, she rested her head on his left shoulder and hooked her arm through his. It was sweet. He could read that there was nothing more to this moment than just this moment, which he liked. It was nice to be a secret white knight, a good guy. He revised the classic lyric,
“Nights in white satin, on a ferry to England,” said the Moody Blues, never. But the Moody’s were from England, and decades of influential music came from this place Jake was now approaching. White Cliffs of Dover came into, and then faded from view. With some sudden sun, his sleeping beauty was awake, refreshed, smiling less sadly, and gone. The sea air and cool water spray on the upper, exterior deck of the ferry, felt good. With guitar and all hands on deck, the sun was rising over England and so was Jake’s hope, renewed.
Wandering around and eventually finding what seemed to be the most affordable accommodation, Jake settled in to London and became familiar with its locales. Walking, forever walking to save cash, London was a spicy pepper of cultures and people. Hackneys, black cabs, and double-decker buses rattled and rumbled loud and proud on the opposite side of the road. With access to beautiful parks, Jake took advantage of the flora for moments of deeper, slower breathing, writing, or playing guitar, when weather permitted. He had time, too much time, and all that time had him thinking. A hunger for home and family started to force itself to the forefront of starvation. But Jake was still on his mission.
The woman who managed the Bed and Breakfast was friendly. She may have been friendlier than he realized, but Jake was focused almost exclusively on finding work. She asked him to call her, Rebecca, and continued with,
“Oh, and you must meet my son Jeffrey. Jeffrey does the sound board work for a band called Culture Club. Have you heard of them?”
Culture Club were huge all over the world and of course Jake couldn’t wait to meet Jeffrey. Finally, a way into the music scene in London. When Jeffrey and Jake met, they hit it off like old friends. He took Jake ‘round to a few pubs and said that he would introduce him to people, but first he had a favor to ask. Jeffrey had given Rebecca two tickets to see Frank Sinatra at the Royal Albert Hall. She wanted Jake to escort her to the concert but was too shy to ask. Jake was not at all interested in seeing Sinatra, but the Buddy Rich Orchestra was the opening act and he very much wanted to see that.
They took a cab. Decked out and happy, Rebecca looked beautiful. Jake had his nicest black, double-breasted jacket, his only jacket, and brand new, high laced black leather boots he bought that day, on Oxford Street.
The celebrated Royal Albert Hall was a humbling site to behold. It was a theater in the round with great royal redness and gold trimmings. The Buddy Rich band was a thrill and half. Enjoying the swing and the grooves, Jake was taken out of his punk-funk snobbery. With his Sony cassette recorder secretly in a jacket pocket, Jake was naive and hadn’t considered the risk of bootlegging. He just thought it would be nice to record Sinatra, for Rebecca. They had great seats and the sound was amazing, but what Jake didn’t realize was that Sinatra was about to blow his mind. The moment the lights came up and Sinatra released his voice into the crowd, Jake was converted. He was all in. Frank was musical magic, magnetic, and Jake suddenly understood. Now he could hear it.
After the concert, they shared drinks and laughs. It was a lifelong dream for her to see Frank Sinatra. She was happy, and Jake was content to see her in such good spirits. Upon their return to the B&B, Jeffrey was packing suitcases. Culture Club were going back out, and so was he. Rebecca asked her son,
“How long this time Jeffery?”
“Four months, Mum.” Now looking at Jake, “Stay in touch, mate. I’ll hook you up when I get back.”
Four months? Rebecca invited him to stay, and with the invitation there were advantages, but he held focus on the work needing to be done. Enough time had passed in London and Jake kept thinking about New Rose Records, back in Paris. Driven, pushed forward by separateness, his path led back to Paris. He.
He hasn’t eaten in 14 days, he,
he hasn’t dreamed in that long either, so
how does he sleep?
He hasn’t had a lamp or a candle.
He hasn’t let the sun in either, so,
how does he see?
He sees her standing naked in moonlight
He knows the feel of her ribs when they’re touching his hands.
Trying hard to sneak closer to her,
climbing walls and braving barbed wire,
he’s making his move.
The painting of the walls, the spinning of his flesh
the separation calls, he’s peeling his regrets.
To never know again – the feeling of her skin
To never know again – the feeling of her skin
When he’s dreaming again
He’s dreaming again
Jake had contact information with Georgie, a waitress friend, from the Harvest restaurant, where they’d worked together. She had an apartment in a nice section of Paris, where she was stressed from waiting for Lance, married man Lance, a wanna-be writer, who led her on and lied about coming to join her in Paris. Jake knew Lance well enough to suspect that he was just taking advantage of her willing figure.
But Georgie was nice to Jake. She helped him get some work as a model. First, there was a photo shoot for an up-and-coming fashion line. Jake also stood naked, silent and still for art classes. Georgie welcomed Jake as well as the opportunity to split some rent. With a place to stay, he could now focus more on connections, and getting a band, or getting signed. It was time to visit Patrick McKee.
New Rose Records was a humble place, very humble. It wasn’t what Jake expected to see at a record label headquarters, but he had a meeting with Patrick. McKee was polite and calm as they sat together and listened to four of Jake’s eight songs, on cassette. Finally, Patrick stopped the tape and commented. His accent was very musical, but sadly, he sang words of rejection. He was complimentary of Jake’s sound and writing but insisted that, as soon as he was paid an advance and had some success in Europe,
“You will go back to the USA to sign a better deal. Everybody does that. Besides, it’s all MTV now. Live music doesn’t stand a chance.”
His voice and manner grew more agitated as he pounded his point home,
“You have to make videos and get on fucking MTV!”
In earnest, Jake tried to explain that he really wanted to work in Europe, but he made his best case to deaf and blind ears. Patrick told Jake to stay in touch, to let him know when he had a gig. He would come out. Jake thanked Patrick for his time and suggested, with a smile,
“Keep the tape, for when you come to your senses.”
At Georgie’s apartment overlooking the stone structures and streets of her little corner of the city, Jake was finishing his shower. The shower was in an open space in the kitchen area of Georgie’s small loft. There was no curtain and Georgie seemed to sadly enjoy Jake getting clean. She had just received a ‘Dear Georgie’ letter from Lance, and she was crushed, heartbroken, and in tears by the news that they would not be together in the City of Lights. She was inconsolable but had an idea. She had befriended a man named Iraj Azemi. He was a successful Israeli filmmaker she met in a cafe. He had invited her out for dinner and said that Jake was welcome to join. A nice meal would be better than staying at the tear-filled apartment.
Iraj was a gracious host and talked, among other things, about film music. Jake was inspired and hoped there may be a connection there for him. Iraj promised to listen to Jake’s cassette. As Georgie momentarily excused herself, Iraj went off into a tirade. He started off with a declaration of hatred regarding the influence of MTV, and then, with reddened cheeks, Iraj confessed his intense desire and passion for Georgie, his Goddess, his dream of connubial bliss. He begged Jake to let him be with her. Confused, Jake explained that it was up to her, they were just friends. The eyes of Iraj lit up like a Christmas tree under the Arch de Triomphe. But he would have to pursue Georgie another day. She was feeling her many glasses of wine, as well as the hot attention of her fascinating, filmmaking, hope-to-be-lover.
Feeling the Hell fury of a woman scorned, Georgie shared her need, her immediate need for fresh, cool Parisian air. They left Iraj, crushed for now, but ever hopeful. With her arm wrapped inside Jake’s arm, he steadied the unsteady stride of her high heeled sandals. She smelled delicious. The long straps of her sandals wrapped and climbed, making grooves in the muscular curves of her calves.
She let a wild vocal howl loose into the echo of late night. Her emotion bounced off of Notre Dam and the river below. Body heat warmed and further ignited the scent she wore. Gargoyles watched from above when Georgie threw herself at Jake, right there on the street, and then again at the apartment. He was reminded of a dozen years earlier, when Derek Lee and he were performing at a pool party. After their final set, Stella McCauliff asked Jake if he would give her a ride home. Sure, he would! On the way to her home, she asked Jake if he could pull over along the Farmington River, so they could make out. Sure he could. With the river humming and Stella puckering, with a face full of vodka, she breathed,
“Ohhhhhhh Derek, I love you!”
Sixteen-year-old Jake wanted to reply, “I love you too,” and have away with that bra which seemed simply too tight under her white leotard. But with a smiling stiff upper lip, he fired up the truck and drove her safely home.
Jake knew that Georgie’s sexual welcome was just a reaction from her Lance pain, although he had some lance action of his own growing from down under.
“Just let me give you a blow job,” Georgie said.
It seemed like a waste of great passion, but he just held her. Her emotions and hungry lips slowly fell to rest. Finally relaxed, her ‘call of the wild’ was loud enough to get his attention, but a drunken fling was not the thing. Not tonight.
The next day, walking, always walking with the guitar, Jake sat under the Eiffel tower and had a revelation. The sun’s warmth fueled a feeling of gratitude and provided a moment of clarity. Hearing something, maybe his own intuition, a song flowed into his awareness and onto a page of the 9” x 12” black notebook. With the Scholz Rockman satisfying his guitar itch, Jake wrote, In the Face. Through the song, he realized what he surely needed. All of the striving for success and recognition, all of the writing and the mountain of recording were nothing without love. Jake felt the aliveness of love but he needed to feel it coming back, in return. In the Face.
If my feet and if my hands hurt
from holding you the day after
Wyoming is my open heart
water flowing with your laughing
In the face of my future memory
Crashing on the rocks and spreading but in the end changing nothing.
I don’t live here
I don’t live where I’ll be shaving again in a day or two.
Learning language just to send a letter that I wrote to you
In the face of running past the roses
My hands bleeding from grabbing, instead of holding
This warm day
this autumn hour
dreaming beneath the tower
amazed to see so few things changed
strange to see my hands and face
Still running, still grabbing, still on the move at least for now
In the face of the world I can see all of me.
Returning from Europe was a rough landing. Staying with Sheila in Delaware was a mistake. He wanted to contribute to the household but it was nearly impossible to find any kind of work, other than minimum wage fast food work, and playing Santa Claus at the Delaware Valley Mall. There was zero activity on any kind of music front, but Jake didn’t care. What good would music do him now? He just wanted a feeling of family, but his hope for a rekindled connection with Sheila reflected back like the icy field of dying hay outside of her apartment complex.
The local morning paper would not take long to search through. He would jog, take a walk into the woods to meditate or try to listen for guidance, but nothing responded. Decaying leaves post-harvest. They were strangers held together by some ancient coupling ritual. Jake did not belong there.
Waking up New Year’s morning, she was gone but returned with a rental car, tank full, and the car keys in hand. She had packed his few items of clothing and his guitar, and was ready for him to leave. Sheila stood outside the white rental. She told him, with no kindness, that he would be better off wherever he could play music. Shutting the drivers’ door, her final icy motion was handing Jake a plastic baggie with two fat joints, a lighter, and another mini-bag of white stuff, cocaine. They had not indulged in anything like that together but he had some suspicions that maybe she was a bit more of a wild thing when she was on her own. Evidence had been visible but he chose to ignore them. Her final words were ice.
“I thought you might want this for your drive back to Boston, or wherever. Goodbye.”
She turned and walked away without looking back. He drove. It was a torturous drive on a freezing New Year’s Day and Jake was about to be 100% alone. It was a white-knuckle drive and he was out of my mind.
“Where the fuck do I go?!!!”
Weed, tears, and cocaine got him to Boston. No food. No water. Just a desperate fool at the wheel, Jake’s intuition led him. After seven hours on turnpikes, screaming with crying eyes and a dead hoarse voice from wailing alone in a crap rental car with his single worldly good, he found the location to return the car in Charlestown, and then collapsed. The apartment keys were hidden in a secret place. After a shower and crashing on their bed, still physically shaking and internally quaking, Jake was overripe for the next chapter of life. I Can Do This.
When you go away, take your strength with you.
Do you hear a strange buzzing?
I’m tied up in knots, believe it or not.
On the edge of my bed, weighing in the many things she said
I could choose to be a tortured soul, but that’s not me. That’s not me.
All night long, the wind blew in on my expectations, now growing thin.
I finally get it. Did I get it too late?
Saying nothing, saying nothing too late.
I can do this.
And in my dreams you’re hauntingly beautiful
You’re haunting me.
I’m letting you.
James and Suzette arrived home and found him whiter than the Cliffs of Dover, starved, dehydrated, and numb with blackened, sunken red eyes. Moving quickly, availing every resource from any positive past, Jake found a place to live in Beacon Hill. It was a beat-up place and a five floor walkup, but it became home, a safe haven with windows, light and air.
He got a job at a copy shop, as well as waiting tables part time at the Harvest. Jake survived the shock of rapid change, bought new guitar strings, bought food from the farmers’ market, tried to be frugal and was, in a way, reborn. Nights were for walking and being in the moment. So intensely in the moment, he would look at women and wonder, “Should I say hello, or is this just lust? Am I out of my mind?”
Walking through the parks of Cambridge or Back Bay, smelling the night air and changing seasons, walking along the Charles River as the boats passed, as cars carried families, people together, people going home … where was home?
Jake was home.