“You can’t have a second childhood if you never leave the first”
Lemhi Valley, Idaho, 1975
The van rolled through the Idaho night. The headlights picked up the faint white lines on the pavement, the tumbleweeds by the side of the road, an occasional dead rabbit with its guts picked clean by vultures. The speedometer read seventy- five. The van was running steady, not overheating.
It was windy and cold. The nine long-hairs in the van were bundled up in Afghan coats and Mexican sweaters and flannel-lined jean jackets. They were driving up the long empty road to Salmon. The band had a gig playing homecoming tomorrow night at the Salmon High gym. The plan was to go to Danny’s parent’s house and crash and then hang out.
Danny was driving; it was the band’s van, a new ’77 Ford Econoline, paid for by the money from their hit, Here Comes the Big One. His girl Roberta sat on the engine cover next to him. Ace was riding shotgun. They passed a joint back and forth. Joey sang out from the far back seat, don’t Bogart that joint, my friend!
Everyone was laughing except for Sandy, who cradled her baby in her arms. Joey was ignoring her. She didn’t want to believe the voices. They said he was the devil. But she loved him. She had thought that he loved her. Joey took a big hit and passed the joint up to Greg Horn, sitting in the middle with two girls they had picked up hitchhiking at the truck stop in Arco. They seemed pretty much ready for anything. Skinny soundman Charles Frank was wedged in on the other side of the girls. Horn was being cool. He liked the redhead. Harry the Hebe was in the back seat with Joey, Sandy, and baby Jesse, wishing he could get laid somehow. Maybe the kind of ugly one, he thought. Harry was shy and nervous with girls. He needed to be drunk to get up the nerve.
The van chugged up the Gilmore grade and headed toward Leadore. Just an hour to go.
The headlights were visible for three miles before they came close. Not too many cars out here, day or night, maybe someone driving from Missoula down to Idaho Falls or Pocatello, or beyond, to Salt Lake. Or it could be a local miner driving back from the Leadore Bar to his lonely, cold stake in the mountains.
Danny turned his head and gave Roberta a quick smooch. God, he loved this girl!
Roberta let her hand slide a little further up Danny’s thigh. She leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered in his ear.
“I love you baby.”
The oncoming pickup, now just a hundred yards ahead, raised a rooster tail of dun colored dust as its right wheels drifted off the asphalt and then overcorrected, suddenly swerving and crossing the faint broken lines. Danny hit the brakes and jammed the steering wheel to the right.
It was like God hit them with his fist. The truck slammed into the Econoline’s left front and blasted the van sideways. It was slammed in a half second off the side of the road, caught its right wheels in a dry, shallow ditch, and rolled over four times before sliding and grinding to a dust cloud halt in the dirt and sage.
Somehow, Ace had been thrown through the windshield. He pulled himself up. His nose was bloody and felt like it might well be broken, and he had cuts all over his hands and arms, but he was basically alright. The van lay on its right side. The remaining right headlight laid a long finger of light along the ground through the dust. The purple grey bony fingers and quivering black shadows of the sagebrush spilt the fading beam. There were groans and cries from the van.
The left front was demolished, the mangled wheel punched in all the way to the engine compartment between the two front seats. Ace scrambled down on his knees, looked up through the hole where the windshield had been and saw Roberta’s arm hanging down. He felt it, the blood running down making her skin soft and wet. Her face hung down like it was on a string. Her long brown hair reached the passenger seat.
She whimpered, “Help me.”
He grabbed her arms. Her legs were stuck under the stove-in dashboard. He pulled tentatively, unsure if her legs were still there at all, or if they had been cut off or pinned. To his relief, she came unstuck and slid down hard and half rolled out onto the dirt. Her legs were badly cut up.
“Get Danny!” she cried.
Ace looked up in the soft, blue glow of the dash lights at where the driver’s seat had been. Danny was pinned to the roof, the broken spokes of the steering wheel twisting his bloody face to the right at an impossible angle. The shaft of the steering wheel had gone straight through his chest. Blood was pouring out; it dripped down on Ace’s face. It took a second for Ace to realize what he was looking at. Shit! Danny! The van was somehow still running; he reached up and turned the ignition off. The bloody keys slid through his fingers into the tangle of broken glass and maps and styrofoam cups, Roberta, her wet face in her hands, was sobbing on her knees by the blown out front window. Ace rolled away from the dark opening and put his arms around her shoulders and she collapsed into him.
The others were calling for help from inside the sideways, battered box of the van. Ace stumbled to the back in the half moonlight and ripped at the bent back doors. They resisted his pull and then sprang open with a screaming metal sound, and then the bottom one dropped open, clanging against the battered sheetmatal and springing back halfway. Ace stomped on it to make it lie flat. The others were piled against the side, on each other in a tangled mass. Joey clawed his way out frantically. His face was bloody, but he was okay. Ace and Joey helped pull each one of the others out of the back of the van. Everyone was bloody and in shock. They all had cuts on their faces, their arms, their legs. Greg Horn had what was probably a broken arm. The redhead had fainted. Harry, his hands dark with blood, sat down on the road and put her head in his lap.
Sandy’s glasses were broken. She sat and held her baby Jesse. She was crying softly.
Joey bent over and said, “Are you alright? Is Jesse alright?”
Sandy didn’t speak. She held Jesse tight. She rocked gently in the cold wind as she felt the warmth leaving his limp little body. Her thin blonde hair washed back and forth in the wind like seaweed in the waves.
Roberta was moaning softly and sobbing.
“No, Danny, No! No!”
The drunk came stumbling out of his wrecked truck and said stupidly, “Is everyone ok?”
Ace could smell the whiskey from three feet away. He hit him right in the face as hard as he could. He had the thought that he’d mostly likely just broken a couple of fingers on the drunk’s mouth. The drunk fell backward on the pavement. His head bounced dully like a melon.
Roberta was hunched up crying by the front of the van. Ace took off his jacket and put it over her shoulders.
He looked off at the handful of scattered lights of Leadore, two miles away. There’ll be someone in the bar; there’ll be a phone. He started walking, then running. The silent mountains lay tranquilly under the countless stars of the Idaho night.
CHAPTER 1) Here We Go Again
El Segundo, California, 2011
The phone vibrated in Ace Jones’ right pocket and the distorted sound of the intro to Aerosmith’s Walk This Way emanated in surround sound from his hip.
Like a digital fart, thought Ace. Why did Sheila insist on that ringtone? Ace would have preferred a simple ring, ring, or maybe Green Onions, if he needed a ringtone. At least it wasn’t Here Comes the Big One.
God, thought Ace, now that would be embarrassing.
310-317-1971: Gold, Harold. Harry the Hebe. OK, what’s up? Ace pushed the little green phone sign on his cell. Damn, he thought, I need my glasses to even see the mother.
“Yo, Hebemeister, what it is?”
“Jonsey-Wonsey! Hey brohan, did you hear?”
“Brohan? Nobody says brohan anymore, Hebe. What”
“Xeonosis wants to use Big One in an ad. Plus, they want Childhood to recut it. It’s three hundred and thirty grand, man!”
“Holy shit, for real?” Ace’s mind spun into higher gear. Whir, click, snap. He stood up and walked across the kitchen and poured a cup of decaf.” That’s fuckin’ great, man. Charles finally comes through! How did this go down?”
“I got a call from Horn. Xeonosis called him said they had it all mapped out. It’s for their new penis implant!”
“And it’s gonna be huge, right?” Ace laughed and Harry laughed as well. Back in the money! That’ll help get Sheila off my back for five minutes, thought Ace.
“Of course we only have the usual problem.”
“Have you talked to him yet?”
“No, I wanted have a warm and fuzzy moment of goodness before I had to fall into the deep brown pool of turds. You don’t want to give him a buzz, do you?”
“Fuck no. Let fuckin’ Horn deal with him. They probably have some deal on this already, anyway. Shit, he’d better not fuck this up; I need the dough.”
“You and me both. Greg said he could probably make some stuff happen if this goes down: casinos, corporate; easy money. My nut is sucking my life’s work down the goddam drain,” said Harry.
“The big penis implant; how appropriate! All dependent on one of the biggest pricks in the industry!” Ace did the numbers. “Man that’s sixty each for you and me. Roberta gets thirty. If we could only kill Horn and Lord Himself we could each have a nice paycheck.”
Ace heard Sheila’s beamer crunching the gravel outside the house.
“Gotta go, dude, the old lady’s home. How’s Grinder doing, anyway?”
“Well, I’m glad to be playing, but bright lights big city, it ain’t! I’ll call Greg back and tell him it’s a go.”
“Right, lemmee know. Fuck; that would be way beyond nice. Thanks for the news, Hebific one; I’ll sacrifice a few virgins to the gods.”
“You haven’t caught a virgin since ’74, you old fart!”
“I don’t think she was one, anyway. Girls are as big liars as we are!”
“Speaking of girls, do you want to call Roberta? I know she’d rather hear this from you than from me.”
“Sure, dude. I got it. Do I have her number?” Like I don’t know her number! “Yeah, I got it.” Said Ace.
“I’ll yell at you as soon as I hear anything more. Good luck to us! Later, bro…er, you fuck.”
Ace put the phone down. He looked out through the French doors into the back yard. The bare trees of the Nashville winter stuck up like bony fingers into the gray sky. Maybe things‘ll get going again. Waiting for a break had been killing him. Like the old song said, too much of nothing makes a man lose his mind. The Hebe was right: the life of playing and writing was slipping away. Fifty-seven: way too old. But all those other motherfuckers are out there making a living. That’s all Ace wanted out of it: just a few more years; a couple of breaks. C’mon, Joey, you rich asshole; let us work again.
He stared at the back yard. The swingset was littered with leaves; the chains on the swing were rusting. Fallen tree trunks lay like dark bones on the ground in the woods beyond the yard. Trees, swingsets, careers, and marriages: nothing lasts around here, thought Ace.
Harold Goldstein, aka Harry the Hebe, former drummer of Childhood, now of Tommy Sanders and the Famous Grinders, stood on the little balcony of his condo. God, the sheer volume of noise in L.A. is so oppressive when you let yourself hear it. He held out the cell so he could see the tiny numbers and hit the phonebook for Greg Horn.
“Hey Jules, Harry again. Can you get him?”
“Let me see if he’s available, Harry.”
Fuckin’ thirty- three years together and I have to hold for my manager, thought Harry. It was four in the afternoon. Ninety-one degrees, the end of October, for fuck’s sake. I oughta move back to New York. Harry watched the never-ending line of planes dropping toward LAX out of the east. They call this Manhattan Beach here, but, it’s really El Segundo. Or El Dead Endo. Or maybe I should have moved to Nashville like Ace. But there’s no work in Music City for an old rock drummer. Ace, good as he is, sure has struck out as a writer there.
The line clicked. A familiar basso profundo voice came on. Greg Horn of the major fuckin’ league of rock managers.” You got him, go! What’s the word, Hebester”
“Hey Greg, Ace is ready like I am. But you have to talk to Joey. You know he won’t listen to us.”
“I’ll try, man. It’d be a lot easier if I could get him to concentrate on something other than golf and twenty- year-old women.”
“Well, try telling him it’s a hundred and twenty grand”
“Shit, Harry, that cocksucker makes a hundred and twenty a month. Believe me, he doesn’t need the money. He’ll tell you: it’s not about the money!”
Both Harry and Greg cracked up.
Harry said, “Well, tell him we fuckin’ need it!”
“Sure Hebe, I’ll appeal to his better nature.” More laughter.
Greg got serious. “Look, man. I know that this would really help you guys, and I’ve been looking after your sorry asses for a third of a century; I’m not gonna stop now. But we might have sweeten this up for Mr. Lowe somehow.”
Harry knew this talk. Horn managed Childhood, but among his many other big clients was Joey Lowe, megastar. “Hold on Greg, let me make sure my asshole is properly lubed up before you stick it to me.”
Greg didn’t laugh.” Harry, I’ve been making a couple of calls. I can get you out co-headlining with The Vortexans on a few dates, Tony Riggs on some others, plus some Indian casinos, some other shit, corporate. More than sixty, maybe even eighty if we can get Joey to sign on. The Beatles reunion tour it ain’t, but it will mean an OK run for you guys. I know Ace has to put some dough in the bank for his kid. We just might have to give Joey a sixty share.”
Harry stood looking down on the street. He felt like throwing the phone off the balcony; an adrenaline urge to just destroy something.
“But not on the ad, right? “ What a coward I am! why can’t I just say, how can you sit there and fuck us again after all these years!
“No, no. the ad stands, sixty each for you and Ace, thirty for Roberta, One-twenty for Lowe.”
And sixty off the top for you, Harry said to himself.
“Well, shit, do what you have to do. Just get him to sign on somehow. It’s got to happen.”
“I will make it happen, my friend. I’ll let you know as soon as I can”
Oh, yes, my friend, my good friend, we dey a street again.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: ANY ONE WANT TO READ MORE?)