“Bup-Bup-buh-buh-buh,” sings Jona Lewie over the supermarket loudspeakers. Eric and I are in the fray at Tesco alongside merciless shoppers lunging for cheese and sausages and bottles of wine or Christmas crackers, their trolleys serving as battering rams. I run back to grab a trolley even though we only need a few things.
“Spotty Dog – Now” says my phone. But I’m in England. I hope Otto got my message about covering this last shift for me. I picture the bar and bookshelves, familiar faces, happy chatter, the Marianne Faithfull version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” that’s been playing nonstop for the last six months. I feel a misty wave of longing, aware that sometime in January I’ll be standing behind that very bar thinking “gee, I wish I was back in England fighting it out at the supermarket.”
We drink tea and eat Victoria sponge with David Thomas and his girllfriend Kirsty in a Hove tea room. He just happens to live around here. I’m too shy to tell him I saw the first Pere Ubu CBGBs show, when he was still Crocus Behemoth and I couldn’t get over how he had the nerve to wear a wide tie when everyone else was wearing skinny ones. The man dictates his own rules. Drinking tea with him and Eric is like some weird summit of pop music outliers of my youth – I feel like we should be filming this, talking about who makes the best mince pies, and Cleveland, and Mark Twain.
“How did the rest of the tour go?” David and Kirsty ask.
“Tour, tour – oh right, the tour!” It feels like a century since the tour ended, one week ago, with a fun show in Leicester. I’ve been suffering with a cold, like the whole rest of the world, and staying with Eric’s mother, trying to help her get her strength back after weeks in a hospital bed. Eric and I take turns walking her across the living room floor and bringing cups of tea, both drenched in sweat from the cranked-up heating topped off with a raging gas fire while the TV blares a special about a man who dons a rubber mask and custom wig to perform as Frank Sinatra and a revolving cast of carers drop in. When we’re gone, they’ll keep coming. I want to hug every one of them but they’d probably call me “that daft American”.
I keep thinking of the brilliant Gay Talese article for Esquire, 1966, “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold”. Consider this paragraph:
Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.
Yes, it’s like the whole world has a cold this month. Congestion and muddled thinking, where you grope to remember what it was like to feel good and healthy. The only thing clear each progressive week is that things will never be as simple as they were the week before. The malaise punctuated by peaks of terror and valleys of dull depression. I don’t want to go home where Donald Trump was somehow elected president but is it any better anywhere else?
I want to go home.
“Bup-Bup-buh-buh-buh” sing a couple wheeling their trolley to the tiny car next to ours. They smile at each other in snowflake printed sweaters and for one second I feel cozy like in a supermarket ad on TV.
“No one, but NO ONE, should have to spend Christmas on their own” decrees a Salvation Army ad on TV that plays about every ten minutes. We changed our tickets to stay with Eric’s mother an extra week. We will fly back ON Christmas, which actually feels like a relief because I’ll have had about as much Christmas as I can stand by then. We’ll dress up and maybe Business Class will be empty and we’ll get an upgrade? Or the pilot will be wearing a Santa hat or something wacky and the whole plane will laugh together.
“When will it end?” The Yardbirds – I keep hearing this refrain from Over Under Sideways Down in my head, every time I reach for another tissue and blow my nose. It’s one of many songs we listened to in the car on this tour that keeps ricocheting around my head, that and A Salty Dog by Procul Harum and Mickey Jupp’s Moonshine, this is so us, geeking out to classic rock while the moon rises over a field next to a road between two towns. It wouldn’t have been the same, doing these shows without Eric. I remember whenever I sing Do You Remember That or Don’t Ever Change how lucky I am to have him.
(thanks to Daisy Wake for the clip from The Apple Tree in London)
“If you’re looking for a nice white wine, that one there is really good.” Umm… Blossom Hill? A woman in a knit hat with a smiling face is, shockingly, speaking to me in the supermarket.( A thing I really miss about the northeast US when I’m in the UK is a general open, easy manner I take for granted. I said “isn’t it a beautiful day?” to a man sitting with his dog outside a cafe in Norfolk the other day and he recoiled like the Wicked Witch of the West having water thrown on him – how dare I let my cheeriness invade his private surly territory? But I understand, it’s a small island.) I’m so shocked that a stranger is talking to me in a store that I say nothing and the woman with the knit hat says it again. “Really nice flavor.” “Are you American?” I ask. “No, Canadian – but that doesn’t mean I don’t know good wine.”
Eric and I stand in The Mobility Shop, looking at wheelchairs to see if there’s some secret to finding the brake lock since we have yet to locate it on his mother’s version which led to her and I descending into a heap on the sidewalk outside a beauty parlor while a young stylist just inside the door looked on in horror. We’re taking his mother back to the beauty shop tomorrow.
“We’ve got competition,” Eric says under his breath in the cafe when a woman tries to hold the door open with one hand while pushing her mother’s wheelchair in with the other, knocking over stools and a sheepskin-strewn armchair along the way. We greedily down our coffees and try not to eavesdrop on the “Would you like cheese on toast? Or a lovely cup of tea?” conversation we had in the exact same spot ourselves yesterday. We’re on our own today. It’s like when you buy a new make of car and never noticed how many Subarus there were on the road before – how many, how many friends, family, strangers dealing with their own mom or dad in a wheelchair, in a care home; dementia, Alzheimer’s, illness or just plain old age. I feel so fortunate my dad has his wife and they keep spry and healthy, and I have four brothers too and their families, and my daughter. My mother’s been gone so many years it’s like Eric’s mother is my honorary one. I admire her wit and spirit and it’s wonderful to hear her say “You and Eric are a really good team”. I can’t bear the thought of her shoved in a corner somewhere.
When I want to fall back asleep every night after I wake up due to this damned cold I restrain myself from opening my computer to see if something new and bad happened in the world and think back on the gigs I’ve played over here , how they add up to many happy moments and it helps to remember these things are still possible; joy is still possible.
Eric’s daughter and grandkids are coming by.
I find myself looking up the Catskill Price Chopper supermarket’s Christmas weekend hours – we must be going home.
Wishing everybody peace, love, joy and hope in some form (and clear heads, throats and sinuses) over the holidays and in the New Year.