Music and Sex #3 - in which our hero's long musical weekend continues, etc.


Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff (first installment can be read here; second here (the last paragraph of which was moved into this part).

After the show, Walter took Norman to the West End, where Norman marveled at the broad beer selection. As they slowly worked their way through a small percentage of the fifty-plus on offer, Walter lamented how inferior college was making him feel.

"Screw that," rejoined Norman. "Just have fun and keep learning and next year's freshmen will feel inferior to you. If you already knew everything, you wouldn't have to go to college in the first place. Don't tell me about that, tell me about all the cool stuff you've been doing."

"Well, during orientation there was a great band playing outside for free called So What. I know you're not that into fusion, but they were hot. The guitarist, Steve Bargonetti, graduated last year, but some of them are still going here. The drummer, at least, Steve Shebar, is."

"Yeah, yeah. Meet any chicks?"

"Are you kidding? It's an all-male school."

"Barnard is right across the street. Don't the girls attend Columbia classes?"

"Not most of the freshman courses, they don't. I see so few women, I bought a subscription to the Spartacus Youth League's newspaper because they snuck a woman into the dorm to go door-to-door selling it. She's the only woman who's been in my room since I got here."

"What's the Spartacus Youth League?"

"A Marxist group."

"Don't become the cliché of the bourgeois kid who turns into a Communist at an Ivy League school."

Then one of the guys from the other room of Walter's dorm suite, Marcus, came in and sat down. He eagerly related that had worked at the Reed show, and said the producers had turned up the lights and told Reed not to go back out because he'd broken too many microphones. Marcus also had prevented a catastrophe; working in front of the stage, he had alertly caught a steel mike stand Reed had flung into the audience. Afterward, Reed gave him a bottle of Dom Perignon, implicit acknowledgement that Marcus had saved Reed from the potential embarrassment of injuring someone in the audience. Said bottle, Marcus related, was back in the dorm. "I don't know if I'll ever drink that. What a souvenir, right?"

Many beers later, they staggered back across Broadway. Norman had brought a sleeping bag so he could crash in Walter's room.

The following night, Walter and Norman went downtown to visit their friend Tony, who was at NYU. Over lunch at the cafeteria, Norman and Tony compared notes about working at their college radio stations. After that, Tony guided them up to an abandoned section of the West Side Highway. Having quickly gotten used to the hectic city traffic, Walter felt weird walking down the middle of a four-lane highway. There was even grass growing in the cracks in the concrete, and people were roller skating.

Norman once again raised the topic of success, or lack thereof, with women. "We're all smart guys. We're going to figure this out," Tony proclaimed. "And then we'll write a book explaining what women want, and we'll be rich, and before you know it, we'll be getting more pussy than the animal shelter."

Then it was time to head up to Madison Square Garden, where they discovered that their tickets had them sitting high up on the left side. They were mostly there to see Bruce Springsteen, but it was a big show to benefit the anti-nuclear reactor group Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), with lots of bands playing before Bruce. Walter knew Gil Scott-Heron from one song, the anti-drug "Angel Dust." He mildly enjoyed Heron and his Midnight Band, and found "We Almost Lost Detroit" chilling. Not a reggae fan – it all sounded alike, he thought, rhythmically repetitious – he suffered through Peter Tosh's set; Norman enjoyed it much more, being more familiar with both the artist and the genre. Conversely, Walter dug Bonnie Raitt's set more than Norman did, especially her covers of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" and Del Shannon's "Runaway." Both friends were thrilled by Tom Petty's rockin' set. And then Bruce took them even higher, including new songs "The River" and "Sherry Darling." Most of his set was much more familiar, so much so that on "Thunder Road" Bruce had the audience sing for him for a stretch. Steve and Norman exuberantly belted out "show a little faith, there's magic in the night. You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're alright."   Walter's favorite Bruce song, "Jungleland," came right before the rousing finish of "Rosalita," "Born to Run," "Stay" in duet with Jackson Browne, a medley of songs that Norman explained were associated with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and "Quarter to Three," which Norman further said was a song from the Fifties by somebody named Gary "U.S." Bonds. In Walter's Lit Hum class, Dionysus and his followers had been a recent topic, and the phrase "Dionysian frenzy" came to mind as the band's performance and the audience's adulation reached a fever pitch. There was a troubling moment in "Quarter to Three," right after Bruce was at his most animated, when he collapsed and, after having a towel waved over him, was helped up by Clarence Clemons and the bass player, but after saying something they couldn't understand up in the heights of the Garden's cheap seats, Bruce rallied to finish, including jumping up behind the drum riser to play for the audience seated behind the stage. 

It was announced that there were still tickets available for the Sunday night show, starring Crosby, Stills & Nash, so Walter bought a pair before leaving. $18.50 each was a lot, but after a night of barely being able to tell what was happening far down below, it seemed worth the extra $3 apiece for orchestra seats. Norman, who wasn't a CSN fan, said he had to go back to New Haven before that, since he had classes Monday morning, but Walter assumed that with James Taylor and Poco also on the program, he'd be able to find somebody interested in going with him. Maybe, he thought, he would even be able to use that extra ticket to entice a woman to go with him.

Sunday morning he was less confident on that point. He'd hardly seen anybody since getting back the night before, and a look in the mirror that morning had revealed a zit on his forehead. But there was also a free outdoor show Sunday afternoon that MUSE had put together. Worried about getting in, he went early, still not having found someone interested in going with him to that evening's concert. Not knowing how late the free show would run and whether he'd have time between that and the Garden show to go up to Columbia and back, he brought the tickets with him.

His confidence took a further hit when, before the music had started, he saw Rachel Ackerman, a high school classmate, walk past with another woman. He shouted, "Hi, Rachel," and she waved, but kept on going instead of sitting with him.

After he'd thought about it, he realized it would have been awkward to offer her his extra ticket without also having one for her friend, but that didn't lessen the hurt of her choosing not to sit with him. Having arrived an hour early, he had gotten a seat – albeit on sand with sparse tufts of beach grass – fairly close to the stage. He also had plenty of time to think. Maybe Rachel hadn't sat near him because getting out of Bay Shore and going to college was a fresh start and she didn't want to look back. Certainly he himself was enjoying the clean slate of being surrounded by people who'd never seen him get bullied, never seen him do stupid shit.

It ended up being a lonely afternoon. At first it was full of time for such musings to a soundtrack of mediocre music by local musicians he'd never heard of Joy Ryder and Avis. After a while, the performers mostly got more famous, interrupted by speeches by Bella Abzug, Ralph Nader, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, and some other people he'd also never heard of. Bonnie Raitt was back, so he got to hear "Angel from Montgomery" again, but she and everybody else -- the Doobie Brothers, only played a few songs. Gil Scott-Heron was also back, reprising "Johannesburg"; Walter paid a little more attention this time and found "Winter in America" beautiful but disturbing. John Hall, formerly of Orleans, played completely unfamiliar songs; Jesse Colin Young played a set that seemed to exist only so there could be a climactic sing-along on his old Youngbloods hit "Get Together." That was cool, but while singing, Walter noticed that he was getting seriously sunburned on this hazy day, was losing his voice from cheering, and losing all sense of connection with the crowd even as he obediently followed all the cues for singing, chanting slogans, applauding the speakers' slogans, clapping along with the beat, and the like. Yet he nonetheless felt oddly compelled to stay for fear of missing something historic, or at least good. His patience paid off when, to his surprise, Crosby, Stills & Nash sang four songs even though they'd be performing again at MSG that night. Alas, no Crosby songs -- two each by Stills and Nash -- but he assumed that wouldn't be the case at the Garden. Later on, Jackson Browne played a short set, after which Walter left, more afraid of missing the beginning of the 7:30 concert at MSG, especially since the first band might be Poco, one of his favorites.

It turned out that Raydio was the first band on. Walter had enjoyed their hits on the radio, but tonight, exhausted and wanting only to hear Poco and CSN, he paid little attention. Poco's set, once they appeared, was under a half hour, not nearly as long as Walter would have liked, but not only did they play their current hits "Heart of the Night" and "Crazy Love" (plus the title track of the album they were on, Legend), but also some of their more country songs, including his favorite, "Good Feelin' to Know," an aptly feel-good set-closer. Various combinations of other artists popped up after that, most notably James Taylor being joined by Carly Simon, who at some points was nearly humping Taylor onstage as they dueted on "Mockingbird."

The climax, of course, was CSN's set, which lasted an hour and twenty-five minutes (he actually checked his watch when they started) and included fifteen songs. After a while he was slightly bothered by the relative lack of Crosby, but eventually a trio of his songs were played --though not Walter's favorite, "Anything at All," though on reflection he realized that a quiet piano-and-vocals song perhaps wasn't arena material. After an encore where Walter heard "Chicago" and "Teach Your Children for the second time, he checked his watch again, assuming the set was done, but John Hall, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jesse Colin Young, Jackson Browne, and a bunch of people he didn't recognize -- wait, was that the singer of Aerosmith? Wasn't that platinum blonde woman one of Browne's back-up singers? -- joined the band for the warm-and-fuzzy anti-nuke song "Power" that Hall had featured that afternoon. It was like the theme song of the MUSE concerts. Had it also been played Saturday night? He was so exhausted, he couldn't even remember. When he got back to the dorm, he fell asleep within seconds of lying down.

When he wasn't spending all his money on concert tickets, Walter spend it on record shopping sprees, mostly at used shops in Greenwich Village, though he also got a few new records across Broadway at Record Discount. But with subway tokens just fifty cents each, trips downtown were economical enough.

At first he got into a weekend rhythm of subsisting on French fries from Cosmo Burger for two meals per day (skipping breakfast). One weekend he even managed to last until Sunday evening before giving in to his rumbling stomach and crossing Broadway for fries. This exhibition of self-denial helped fund the acquisition of a spectacular brace of old albums: Zalman Yanovsky's Alive and Well in Argentina; John Mayall's Blues from Laurel Canyon, Crusade, and The Turning Point; one new LP, released in August: Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door; and the real prize and the most expensive item, a fascinating two-LP Beatles bootleg entitled Hahst Az Sön that compiled Let It Be outtakes. Hearing McCartney teaching them "Let It Be" was entrancing, while getting to listen to Lennon sing such unexpected fare as "Suzy Parker," "House of the Rising Sun," "Tennessee," and "Commonwealth" more than justified the set's $25 cost.

Back in his dorm room, contentedly munching his fries and listening to The Turning Point, which was a concert album, Walter finally got to hear the tracks leading up to the FM radio hit, "Room to Move." But it was the latter that brought an exclamation from his roommate, Carlton, after it ended: "I love that song! Can you play it again?"

Walter had to explain then how a record shouldn't be played more than once a day because the friction of the needle moving through the grooves heated and thus softened them, and replaying would degrade the grooves' sonic data. "But I'll tape it tomorrow and you can listen to that as often as you want," Walter promised.

As the weather got cooler and Walter began wearing a coat, another food option presented itself: he began sneaking food out of the cafeteria in his coat pockets, saving it for the weekend in Carlton's little refrigerator. At first he just took pints of milk, and cookies wrapped in napkins. Then one of his pockets developed a hole, and he found that things that went through the hole didn't fall out; rather, they stayed in the space between the lining and the outer layer. Walter started bringing sandwich bags on Fridays and going back for seconds, stockpiling more substantial fare for the weekend. He didn't have to cross Broadway for fries anymore. He was able to buy a number of brand new October releases: The Eagles' The Long Run, The Police's Regatta de Blanc, The Boomtown Rats' eponymous debut with the compelling hit "I Don't Like Mondays," and glory of glories, Fleetwood Mac's double LP Tusk.

The last of these he got in the Village while visiting Tony, after which they went to McSorley's, a bar so ancient it didn't even have a women's restroom. Walter ended up playing a makeshift game of chess with a friendly stranger, the board and pieces drawn on a sheet of paper, pieces erased and redrawn with each move. After the game, which the stranger won – Walter had never played chess while drinking beer before – the man put his hand on Walter's and said, " Let's go back to my place and play some more games."

"No thanks, I'm with my friend," Walter replied, gesturing towards Tony.

"Oh, he can come too, the stranger invited. Walter suddenly realized the man seemed a little too eager. Wait – he knew that tone from his own awkward slips into it: would-be seduction trying to sound casual. He'd heard that the Village was supposed to be a hotbed of gays. Well, if this was what an attempted gay pickup was like, it was nothing to be afraid of. What had he thought it would be like? The vague fears seemed insubstantial, vaporous; he didn't understand the fuss. You just said "no" and the world went on turning. Then he noticed that the cover of Tusk now had lots of lines impressed on it from having been under the paper the chess board had been drawn on. Goddamnit!

The only shopping expedition that went seriously awry was not only atypical for being during the day, but for the fact that he didn't even buy anything. It arose from Walter's obsession with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Young in particular, which had led to a quixotic fashion urge: he wanted a Confederate cavalry hat like the one Neil wore in old photos. Walter thought this through far enough to figure out that maybe the gray Confederate hat might send the wrong message, so he switched to wanting a blue Union hat instead. Nor would he be too fussy about whether it was a wide-brimmed cavalry hat or the smaller infantry hat with its slight bill.

Now that he was no longer stuck on Long Island, but instead living in Manhattan, the center of the world, he assumed his chances of finding one of these options had gotten exponentially better. Checking the Yellow Pages under hats, he learned of a shop near Times Square. Hey, he hadn't seen Times Square yet anyway, so that seemed like a good trip to make.

On Tuesdays, he had no classes between when German ended at 10 AM and Music Humanities started at 1 PM, which seemed like enough time to make it down and back. So next Tuesday, he went directly from the charms of Fraulein Kiefer's class to the 116th Street subway stop, descended the stairs, forked over a dollar for two tokens, and eventually got a 1 train going downtown.

On detraining at the 42nd Street stop, he exited and conveniently found himself actually on 43rd Street, which was the street the hat store was on. He didn't have that much luck in his quest, though; the old guy behind the counter looked at him like he had two heads when Walter explained what he was searching for, then flatly said, "We don't carry that."

"Well, is it something you could order?"


"Do you know if anybody makes them?"


Walter didn't bother asking whether that "No" meant that they guy had no knowledge on the topic, or that such hats were not made. He did mentally note for the future that he had to phrase things more precisely; he'd felt somehow that the way he'd asked was a little more polite, but that hadn't made any impression anyway, so next time, aim for precision.

At least he had plenty of time to get back uptown for Music Hum. He returned to the exit he'd come from, went down the stairs, and discovered that the turning thing didn't turn to go in, only out.

A short black man approached and asked the time. Walter fished his wristwatch with the broken band out of his pocket and said, "11:13." In reply, the man, who seemed intoxicated, said something Walter couldn't decipher.

"Excuse me?

"Gimme yuh watch 'n' yuh wallet," the man repeated.

Well, that was unexpected. Still, he fixated not on the request, but how odd the man's voice sounded, talking so fast that the words blurred together, yet somehow drawling too, which Walter associated with slow talkers.

Anyway, Walter's reflexes being what they were, which is to say primarily verbal, he proceeded to debate the man's request in what seemed like a logical fashion.

"If you do this all the time, you have more watches and wallets than I do."


Now it was Walter's turn to have to repeat himself. Then the guy flapped his right elbow and said something drawled sloppily that Walter again couldn't understand.


"I got somethin' in muh pocket, so do what Ah say."

Right then, a train pulled in and discharged its passengers. When they began coming out, Walter pushed past what he had finally figure out was his mugger and walked up the stairs along with the exiting passengers. By the time he reached street level, his adrenaline had started pumping, too late to be useful.

Only now did he realize that he'd attempted to enter on the downtown side. Not that that had been relevant to the attempted mugging. He walked down to 42nd and entered there, still quivering from the adrenaline.

Later, when he related the morning's events to his roommates, it seemed hilarious -- his utter naïveté, the mugger's confusion when confronted by Walter's unusual response. But he decided not to tell his parents. There was no point to making his mother worry any more than she probably already did.

Next installment here.

Roman AkLeff says of Music and Sex, his third attempt at a novel: "Lots of the events to be depicted in this book happened, to varying degrees. Some of it should have happened but didn't until now. Though it's mostly set in the 20th century, Music and Sex aspires to be a Bildungsroman for 21st century sensibilities, in that the main character doesn't finish coming of age until he is several decades into adulthood."