… is a quote that’s said to be attributed to Sixto Rodriguez, the infamous Detroit songwriter that had a short recording career in the US, but unbeknownst to him became a music icon in South Africa. Decades later some fans of his seek out the truth behind the rumors of his death by suicide and find a well alive construction site laborer instead whose long lost dreams they eventually rekindle. That’s about the story’s plot in a nutshell behind the movie Searching for Sugarman. For some reason, this quote stuck with me. Nothing beats reality.
Today, in my own small version, I seem to have found ample proof for the legitimy of the phrase he coined. Because… what I experienced tonight is either a very lame, mundane personal reencounter that might be lost on anyone who’s not part of it. Or it’s indeed as incredible as it feels to me. One thing is for sure: Only a few hours ago, I couldn’t have dreamed up any of this by any means possible or mediating substances or whatever. But one thing at a time.
After decades of having lived a fairly uneventful adult, middle-class life – at least for the better part of it – I fell on much harder times back in 2007. Divorce, difficult job situation, several attempts at “reinventing” myself, eventually end of career, job loss, health impaired, disability, finally I found myself fighting to keep a roof over my head. And here I am, “ending up” – for now – in the place I grew up in, even couch surfing with bio family for well over a year by now. But I also made new and good friends while keeping some trusted old ones and still do my best to shape something new from the debris of my former life.
Tonight, I decided to follow my new friends’ invitation to meet them for a live concert at the beloved watering hole/joint that many of us have incessantly frequented since High School. Imagine an old school pub very much like your typical Irish pub at least when it comes to the look, feel, smell and patrons of the venue. Singer-songwriter concerts, card players, a run down bowling alley in the back and a grouchy leaseholder who might be willing or not to fix you a meal from the menu. It was all there. And we loved it. Tonight however we had to “celebrate” the end of an era after learning that the leaseholder of the past 11 years is finally going to retire and announced to close the place in April – a week from now. Sadly enough and although she had announced this pretty much half a year ago, noone could be found who she could pass the baton on to. So it’s pretty much a given that the most popular hang out of youth and pretty much people of all ages won’t be no longer after April 14th. This is the backdrop to the personal part of my story.
As a teen, I was too busy rehearsing and performing with local bands while entertaining dreams of becoming a professional musician at some point. (which I did for a while, but not in the walk of life I had pictured myself in). So it is only now after so many decades that I realized what a great hangout this actually was and is. And along with the small town I had spent all of my childhood and youth in, the particular venue and its patrons grew on me in the short amount of time that I was back. So I, too, see it go away with some heartache and disbelief. Now we all sit there, watching this one-man-show singer/guitarist do his thing like many times before, but the entire show suffering from this dark cloud of apprehension in light of the fact that come April 14th, none of this is ever going to take place here any more and ever again as the owners seem to have sold the property and didn’t show too much inclination to negotiate other options than to have the building torn down to make room for whatever plans the new owner might have (probably a lame appartement building at obscene leases). “Bittersweet”, I guess, cuts it. Long faces in the midst of some cheering and enthusiastic applause, the latter possibly as both authentic appreciation as well as the dire attempt to squash the shock over the grim outlook of this institution of a pub.
I come to sit next to a pretty lady who seems to have come here all by herself, so of course I chat her up (although I usually never do, I’ve been single since 2003 and after my divorce), we share some laughs, try to enjoy the show, yada, yada. In the midst of it all, I suddenly seem to identify something familiar in her facial expressions as if I had known this particular smile, the glimmer in her eyes from way back when and in a person I once loved. Her name was – let’s call her “M.” -, I was a travelling musician at the time and our paths crossed when she had escaped her neglectful, sometimes abusive adoption home to live with a friend, who worked at the casino opposite of the club we performed at night after night. At that time, all I wanted to focus on was music, playing at night to make a living, coming back during the day to practice and entertain meager attempts at writing my own material. I was 23, the other guys in the band all had some 20 years on me and had been doing this for the past decades. The only passion left in them was to track and “hunt” down any female that didn’t exactly look like a sack of minced meat – and attend to said “meat” in the usual way, then dismissed them like an empty coffee-to-go plastic cup. I wanted no part of that and tried to stay away from the guys as much as possible. But they kept urging me to do like them, because they had this reputation and I was supposed to live up to it as part of the job. Headstrong as I was, I refused to play along and naturally, I refused any women they were interested in. To be safe, I pretty much refused women in general at that time. As a matter of fact, things felt so bad for me at times, I came under the impression that all male-invented stereotypes about women must be true: All sluts, except Mom’s (for clarification: That is not what I was really thinking, but I was too insecure to stand my ground on that and my environment was… shall we say “confusing”, to say the least). Again, this is the backdrop of what I was dealing with – or shall we say: put up with as an early twen.
Once, there was this particularly pretty young lady, dancing at “our” club every night and all night, but never leaving with a man, just dancing, having all eyes from every single male in the room land on her (of course, she enjoyed it, what women wouldn’t? But like I said, she’d never arrive or leave with a man). My band mates kept urging me to try and get to know her, but I was not interested. I had somehow found a way of living this crazy travelling musician’s life with promiscuous horny middle-aged men for band mates and make myself half-comfortable in my little world of dreams (that never came to pass, I should add, try as I might). The last thing I needed was some disruption to that from a female, much less from the “star of the venue”. All sluts, remember? 😀 Naw, don’t get any of that on me!
One afternoon, I’m at the club as usual, learning new material, headphones on, all my attention funnelled on the song I was to learn, figuring out the lyrics and chord progressions. In other words: I was busy. Super busy. Busy, busy, busy. In yet different words: Sacred time! It was not a good idea for anyone to mess with any of it back then, I’d devour your sorry ass, warts, pimples ‘n all, no prisoners were made! Yes: Open warfare, if you so much as showed up during my holy hour(s)!
There she is. Out of nowhere, it seems, the young lady from the night before and all nights before. She places herself right in front of me in this somewhat sassy fashion, mouthing away, which I wasn’t hearing as the music was at full blare. I mentioned headstrong, living in my small bubble, right? So I tried to just ignore her at first. But she wouldn’t leave. So I took the headphones off, already being fairly pissed off over the disruption of my daily routine (warfare….!) and setting out to explaining to her that I was busy and that this was not a good time to have a conversation. (Yes, apparently I have a talent for being an ass, who knew?… 😛 ). But maaaan… what can I say… she was so nice! So freaking charming! With a smile that would have had Jack the Ripper reconsider the gruesome actions he made questionable history for… Head over heels? Probably the closest I ever got to that feeling that is the stuff of many a Hollywood movies. So, to the best of my memory, I think we agreed on having a coffee together some time. Which we eventually did. And for the foreseeable part: I did fall in love with her, in spite of all my gruff posture and demeanor towards women at that time and in this particular walk of life.
Crazy weeks of partying together followed, her friend that she lived at being a part of our awkward threesome. That friend had a temporary ban on her driving license, so she wasn’t allowed to operate her car. But she had a nice car that asked for some “rubber action” (not to be confused with “jimmy action”….). So she handed me the keys and we’d take off on a whim, leaving at 3 am, driving all the way from Lucerne in Switzerland to Milano in Italy – to have coffee, do some sightseeing and shopping, drive all the way back and sleep all day. (I bet you’d like to have some further details here, but uhm… sorry… maybe another time and only if a publishing company holds a hefty check to my face, haha!). We’d get up in the evenings, have dinner somewhere downtown, then I’d hit the stage for a couple of hours with the horny old men, while “M” would dance the night away in this perfectly innocent, child-like, oblivious-to-her-surroundings manner that has me fall in love with her again for just thinking of it. She was gorgeous! And we had fun. I was in love. I made good money, which we got to spend during those days. I was happy. I think, she was happy, too.
But she had a story. Again, for privacy reasons, I’m going to skip the details. Let’s just say that at the end of my “gig” in Lucerne, I had a feeling that I couldn’t simply take off and get on with my self-absorbed, easy-go-lucky life as I had before. I offered to take her along for a while and take care of her as best as I could. (I made some very nice money with this band, so that part was not a big problem, I thought). Long story short, this idea turned out to be non-sustainable. Pressure from the band and management, pressure from the venues and their owners that we were booked for, money turning out to feel not as lavish as before, myself never having enough time to spend with her for reasons of my funny job… the list goes on. I came within close reach of losing my gig and at that time simply didn’t see any other job I’d be able to do (which, in retrospect looks like a startling case of clairvoyance, but… I had no idea then). So I had to put my foot down and decided, we’d be better off, if I found her a place to stay and a part time job. Someone else, who had been following our band for a while, stepped in and offered to let her live with her and her family, who owned an upscale restaurant on Lake Zurich, Switzerland. So I take her there on one of my very few off-days, get her accommodated, spend a few days and when I had the feeling that things would work out alright, I’d take off to resume my travelling routine.
Weeks, months come and go, we call each other, I visit as often as possible. Things there didn’t go well, the initially helpful other girl veers off into a bullying harangue, I have to “rescue” M. again. So I bring her back to my home folks’ place for lack of other options available at the time. Now, I practically never get to see her and I can’t blame her for finding another man, closer by and with time on his hands for her. So that was that.
Swinging back to tonight’s concert: All of the above suddenly comes back to my mind when looking at this nice lady sitting next to me whom I’ve imposed myself on by chatting her up. She reminds me of M. She has the same smile, that same spark in her eyes, when she laughs, a similar twang in her speech. We clink glasses, bring out toasts to this or that, have a good time. And then… out of the proverbial blue, bam! IT MUST BE HER!!! M.! The girl from some 30 years ago, whom I’ve spent crazy partying weeks with, eventually ripped her from the slightly abusive friend’s tenure where she camped at. Knowing me, I also know, I will never sleep another night if I don’t find out. So I release that unfathomably lame line that has anyone in their right mind gag with repulsion: “Do I know you from somewhere?” She gives me the look that must follow a line like this, something like “You seemed nice – until now.” But doesn’t say a peep. Tenacious as I can get, I press on: “OK, I realize I just said a very stupid thing. Guess, I can’t redeem myself. But if I could … would your first name happen to be M.?”
Beat me with a stick, if you must, but: It was her. Is her. I even remembered her last name at the time (anyone who knows me will also know that I simply can’t recall names – ever! Which is bad news in the business world, let me tell you…).
So I come home from spending a loooooong evening well into the small wee hours of the next day with M. 30 years of catching up do take some time, no?!
I couldn’t have made any of this up. I swear to God, this is what went down tonight. I am still in disbelief myself… Destiny? There are no accidents? I never believed in any of these concepts. But after this… I might reconsider. After all, with her almost never going out as she shared later that night and myself having become a recluse as well, what were the odds?