People Who Died/C’mon Billy

I got up and threw open the windows. I was suffocating in here, I couldn’t breathe, the air was hot and stagnant. I woke up crying. I didn’t even realize it. Tears were running down my face and making my pillow soggy. I must have been crying in my sleep. I had dreams. Dreams of kids in cages. Dreams of roads that don’t let the traveler ever pull over. Dreams of running into train tunnels, but no dreams of mountain passes, no dreams of lakes or trees with my name carved into them. No dreams of pulling into magically beautiful Medora. No dreams of buffalo, or wild turkey, or howling coyotes. No dreams of people who died. The night almost gave me a heart attack, though. In a pièce de résistance of horror, my evening’s rest culminated in a flickering technicolor horrorshow: it was me in a crate. The trapped room 101 fear-fest of my nightmares.

A dreamworld man in white with severe glasses and smart shoes pushed me into a crate, not big enough to stand up in, or stretch out in, just enough room to sit with my legs drawn up and arms folded over my body. Air holes along the upper portion. I begged him not to. Please don’t. The dream wasn’t going to let me off easy. “You will comply with authority, Detroit,” he hissed. I was to scared to resist. Instead I struggled silently “There must be some kinda way outta here alive,” I muttered to myself. He locked the cage and turned his back walking out of the basement room. “We will see,” he replied curtly. I woke up gasping and kicking.

After opening my windows, putting on a kettle, making my bed, I went to my youtube jukebox to find something to make the morning go easier. Van Morrison reduced me to a disaster zone. I’m not ready for Joni. I headed out towards the Ramones, but Joey was too jovial, so I went to hang out with Lou and Jim. There is something unique in the ability of music to reach parts of the psyche that are blocked off. Rage and humor mix in equal proportions as Jim Jim and Lou give it one more time for people who died.

Sometimes on the road, I used to play this song as a warning when the more difficult members of my family group started kicking off. “Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug on 26 reds and a bottle of wine!” I screamed at them. “Bobby, he lost his leg, Billy, and then the booze got him. Remember? He made us all tea and then walked out into the garden and died. Tuco and the Puerto Rican whose name I can’t remember. Dead. JJ? Heroin overdose. Maggot, then that creepzoid with the green harley? Motorcycle accidents, within days of each other. ..(actually Detroit, then the next week there was that other two. Motorcycle accident mayhem comes in fours)…That sweet bozo whose letterman jacket you wore, the one with the big nose and the little girl? Drowned while drunk. Jackson! Remember him! Gold paint dried that bag to his face, and he suffocated! All fucking died! Died, and so will you! Cut it OUT!” They let me scream and ignored me and did what they were all going to do anyway.

That empty feeling of being all cried out, that hole in your chest of desolation that cannot be fought, the constricting ropes of mourning, that box that shuts you in, mirrors all broken, curtains drawn, clothes ripped. No short sharp shock, more a lingering electric jolt of the agony of the final separation with no backsies, no retreat, no fixing, no healing, no reconciliation. The finality of the legions beyond the veil, and us survivors here, swimming around like gawping fish in a bowl wondering when the great cat paw of the eternal beyond will beckon for us, fishing us out of the watery illusion of freedom we console ourselves with, swimming in circles, ever-decreasing, our worlds closing in, made irrelevant by time and the loss of collagen in our faces, and eggs in our ovaries, and the desirability of our bodies. Tick tock, motherfuckers! Men have it easier I think, they lose a bit of hair, get distinguished and turn into silver fox impregnantors of young women. I often think I would rather be dead than old, and am summarily forced to give myself a good talking to and plan becoming some psychedelic old traveller to the coast of perfection. A small female Ginsburg with a beard that might well rival his if things continue to go south the way they are going. Life, any life, is better than the finality of the curtain closing on possibility. Even a bearded one with a neck like a starving turkey.

No one ever listens to me when I put on my best toga and do my oracle act, prophesying doom to those I love, if they don’t change their death seeking ways. I am a la cucaracha gran dama, jigging down the hallway doing legless revolutionary roach dance, never quite touching home, never quite getting there, Billy’s beat up old straw hat on my head, bandanna covering my nose and mouth, turning in inelegant semi-circles avoiding my final destination of a box with bars on it and not enough room to turn around, my highway boots hung up on someone else’s wall like trophies taken by some serial femicidal skin wearer so they can jerk off over my ultimate betrayal. I crawl on, swimming in the shit and the discarded crumbs of other people’s lives and carry on anyway. Rip a leg off? Still crawling. Spray me, stamp on me, hit me with your rhythm stick or some dead flower action and I still keep crawling, avoiding death as if I am allergic to the grave as I am to food. The self centered bitch that I am has been hit in the face by my own mortality. “Careful, Detroit, you will end up being here when I die” Bily used to say, patting me affectionately on the shoulder and smiling at me in that little boy way he never quite lost. He always did bail too soon. He bailed on responsibility, bailed on parties, heading off to the next, the screen door slamming just before he wore out his welcome or everybody else collapsed in a semi nekkid puddle of flesh and intoxication; he bailed on fatherhood, he bailed on baseball and bailed on his college golden ticket to a future better than the one marred by violence and ditch dwelling.

I am a different kind of beast. I would cut off my arm to save someone else that I love. I tore out my own heart time and time again. Hit me over the head with a door, overdose me (I leave you alone one night and I come back and you are shoving morphine up yer ass and overdosing on my pills, baby! ..Well Billy, I can hardly shoot em, they gel up, fuckhead…That is not the point, Dee…up ya get, you DROOLER!”)…leave me to die in Tokyo, get me out, freeze me, boil me in a tin can in Auburn, and inflict me with autoimmune disease…I still keep crawling through life, impaired, can’t remember names to save my life – I think it is the extended use of benzos and smack, my memory is a little off. I’m barely functional at times, but still creeping along. I have taken the zombie girl crown from the dead king of the ultra-alive. Fuck being undead, ultra alive is where it is at. The scenery whizzes by in my head. My hand reaches out to Billy’s. He takes it and tries to calm me down. It is impossible. I am a drooling Cassandra telling the future. A fucked up oracle of doom lacking the slightest regard for time or space or the reality of things. I spit at mundanity. Life has to be grasped with both hands and squeezed for every last green drop of juicy living it has to offer before it gives up the ghost.

Yes, somewhere in time and space I am standing in a Tokyo elevator defacing it with my initials scratched into the brown shiny clean surface by a key to an apartment that I could never really live in. TPS IS OUTTA HERE! I wrote, upsetting the ‘wa’ and harmony and the general peaceful sophistication of Tokyo, lugging my children and our meager luggage, three backpacks and my purse, out of Japan and launching us onto the road.

The ghost of beastie will always haunt the 101, forever driving north and south, dodging crumbling roads, and barrierless sheer drops, shaking and rattling and rolling her way to Coos Bay and Eureka, holding four people who loved each other once upon a time. I suspect the strains of Blood on the Tracks drift over the marshy swampy roadside and the scorched hillsides, while passers by blink once or twice at the shimmering mirage of happiness and freedom, and then tune out as we slide out of view.

There is nothing for it after I am proved right, as always, and so, for once, is Billy, who used to call the Beastie his ‘tin coffin’. He didn’t so much predict his own death, as make sure it happened: he simply had no interest in continuing to live. He had already lived too long, he wanted to die fashionably young and instead forced himself to hang on in order to get his oldest friend out of a jam. He succeeded. Not without fucking up, not without being a jerk occasionally, not without failure, but he did it: I am out of Japan forever, away from pig forever. It was an inelegant solution, like most of his redneck fixes, but it ‘did the job’, the world got the general idea.

It was indeed good enough, and let me scramble my way up from the crevice into an apartment in San Francisco, he pushed me up so I could last long enough for others to pull me into the safety of a life I could live relatively safely. I saved the Boy with their help, and damn it, I deserved not to die too. For that Billy needs to be patted on the back and remembered fondly by those that knew him. Helping me destroyed him faster than he would have been destroyed. He was never gonna stay sober and cleanish with me around, and on the road with temptation all around. Pig didn’t ever get the message, but his opinion ceased to matter. I was gone down the highway and heading towards a future. He drowned. Irresponsible. Hedonistic, crazy Billy with a trashy heart of fool’s gold.

I don’t worship dead things, but I know a lot of people who do. They chase after that unholy grail of burning out brightly, in a flash of lithium white butterfly beauty, transforming all that life and talent and irreplaceable beauty into graveyard dirt and tears and lost albums that never were. Poetry written on the eyelids, art painted on the tombs. These are my heroes and heroines, and Billy was one of them.

I put Led Zep on, When the Levee Breaks. In a time gone by, Billy with his red telecaster that became mine before some bitch stole it and used it to buy twinkies, stood glowing white bright light and taught me that riff, transforming me for one moment from a punch drunk hag into something that glittered in the dirt. I held onto my black Danelectro with the built-in fuzz box and made like Brian Jones, weaving in and out of his soaring lead, foot stomping hand holding the neck forced up and down by the beat and the burr of the mason boogie amp, his head nodding as he grinned wildly, and bit onto the harpoon held in a wire sling round his neck, laying on some cross harp wail and moan, fading out on that riff as I took it over from him. “If it keeps on raining, Levee going to break!” I eased into the weep and groan and he became that monkey man who left his home to save my ass from the premature end. I stumbled over that break. “Don’t it make ya feel bad!” He let rip, as I found the groove again. For one moment I felt alive again. Reanimated. Saved by rock and roll.

There was no need of restraint, there was no use for sobriety. As the song wound down, he stood back. “You are still there, Girl,” he whispered as he kissed the back of my neck, passing the bottle back to me. For once we were sharing like civilized people, the rum ran down my chin. In three chords and a bolt of electricity, in the lurch of the ethanol and the golden light of the oxycodone thebaine buzz, I emerged blinking into the light. My razor mouth had been silenced by survival. My hedonism curbed by motherhood. My very soul was crying dying weeping flickering out smothered by the violence of a world that could not take me as I was, and a man who sought to possess and destroy that which he could not understand.

He passed me the red tele, and I started to play PJ Harvey, C’mon Billy. He didn’t laugh. It took me a few attempts to get the chords right, the groove on. He just sat back, and played my lead guitarist. Something clicked in my head. I was awake. I was back. I stopped being a broken victim and I felt the power and heat rise in my head alongside the rum. On the stage of that living room, deep in the Oregon hills, outside of the valley on the way to the alpine beauty of La Pine, I came back to life. Between six strings, and the crack in my voice he summoned my soul back to my shattered body. He saved my life. He lost his doing so.

Come on Billy, you’re no good to me. He wasn’t even the only one. He was the only one that mattered though. He was the only one who loved me enough to bring me back to life.

Thank you, Billy. You did good, old man.