Daniel M. Shapiro
She had wanted to see his environment, the stage that holds its breath before the dive. Only the owner was supposed to know she was coming, to look for a woman in head scarf and mirrored glasses, deep blue Gloria Vanderbilts masking a limp. But Hilly Kristal hadn’t kept a secret since he sneaked Miles Davis in to scout the backbeat of Blondie.
Walking through an unhinged doorway, she grabbed a notepad from her sunflower satchel, wrote the words she saw on the wall: gabba gabba hey. She didn’t want to forget to ask about that later. She shook hands with Hilly but didn’t know what to say to the men setting up on stage, the men who weren’t supposed to be there. She was especially curious about the spiky-haired ginger in animal-print spandex. Tongue-tied, he introduced himself as her “biggest fan: Cheetah from Ohio.”
“Let’s use our real names,” she said. “I’m Frances from Tennessee.”
“I’m Eugene,” he whispered.
As if continuing an ongoing conversation, they started talking bands. She described what it felt like to sing a Cole Porter tune with Cole Porter in the front row, asked Eugene why his group was called The Dead Boys, if nihilism was a marketing tool for punk rock or something authentically dangerous. She wanted to know if she could help him.
“We’re about to tune up for tonight,” Eugene said. “Will you play my favorite song with us?”
“I would like that very much,” Frances said.
Eugene and Steve, who typically was called Stiv, ground out two bars of D minor chords, followed by a measure of A7. Johnny the drummer pounded a syncopated fill as Jeff plucked eighth notes on a bass adorned with unidentified red splatter. Frances recognized the chords despite the distortion and elevated tempo. Her hit from 1940 always remained backstage to her, ready to step out for an encore. This time, she would have to shout the lyrics into the microphone to hear herself.
I’ve gotta be good or mama will scold me emerged in a voice that lacked the usual Doris Day polish. For the next 2 minutes, 10 seconds, she would keep looking over at Eugene, who would continue to nod like a dashboard ornament, who grinned like Big Boy when she spat out the line, What if he’ll persist, mama darling, doing things he hadn’t oughta.
Throughout the jam, she had deviated from her typical mindset when taking the stage. She would picture herself in a velvet-trimmed ballroom, far cry from the girl who had sung for customers at the family store, the girl with the deformed foot, the girl who always asked too many questions. She had always imagined what turns a freak into a star. Here she stood under a ceiling with exposed rot, surrounded by graffiti, walls and floors decorated with unknown fluids that might not have dried properly. Here she sang in the smoke, aware her hairdo and makeup would not survive the sweat, the near unhinging.
As she left, she resisted the urge to reach for the notepad again. She no longer needed to write down questions about rolling in broken glass, arching a back effortlessly, being the loneliest person in a crowded room. She had discovered why an exclamation point belonged on the title of her TV show, why gabba gabba hey required no explanation, why Iggy is called Jimmy when he sinks into a couch.
Italicized lyrics sung by Shore are from “Yes, My Darling Daughter” by Jack Lawrence.
“Gabba gabba hey” is a phrase from “Pinhead” by the Ramones.
DANIEL M. SHAPIRO is the author of How the Potato Chip Was Invented (sunnyoutside press, 2013), a collection of celebrity-centered poems, and has written series about KISS’ worst album, disagreeable ventriloquist dummies, etc. He is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh.