The Chanteuse

A few months earlier, Midgett and I had figured out some way of cutting school. It was VERY hard to cut even a single class at the high school I went to. They had a super tight system of attendance, and they knew where everybody was all the time, just like in prison. However, there was some school event that particular day that created an anomoly in the system and allowed us to sneak out at 9:30, and not be missed. Midgett and I walked out the cafeteria door and ran the whole huge block to the El without getting spotted. We had worn skate Ts under our dress shirts and packed sneakers in our schoolbags, so we were able to do a quick change on the El platform and not look like a pair of fuckin Dilberts walkin’ around South st in the “suits” North Catholic made us wear.

We got off at Second st and walked over to Penn’s Landing. It was close to the end of the school year and the sky was blue and the sun was bright. The whole area seemed so skate-able, but we didn’t have our skateboards. It was just one detail too many to manage with the skipping of school. It’s a bitch when you’re calibrated to getting around on a skateboard and then you have to walk places. It sucks in a very specific way. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the recently dedicated Philadelphia Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. I knew about it from watching TV. We wandered further south and eventually ended up on South st.

We didn’t really have much money, so we weren’t gonna spend the day buying shit. I think the plan was just to drink it all in. Today, as soon as I arrive at any destination of any kind, my first impulse is to stuff something into my face. Sample the local pizza, hamburger, donut, fried chicken, fried chicken and waffles, cheesesteak, whatever passes for a cheesesteak just so I can mock it, eggs, huevos, waffles, waffles and ice cream, chipwich, deep dish whatever, thousand mile pie, bacon on something bacon doesn’t need to be on, legendary sandwich, ribs, brisket, macaroni and cheese with something fucked up about it, regional onion rings, fried pickles, fried oreos, fried s’mores, fried Twinkie, fried broccoli, or whatever stupid name they call a hoagie. But like I said. We were both somewhat broke, so we just started on one side and walked to Broad st and crossed and walked back the other side.

I must’ve had a little money because I bought a Love & Rockets Earth Sun Moon t shirt at SKINZ that day. I saw it on a rack of shirts I could afford, $6 maybe. Shit!!! Now what?!? How am I gonna explain to my parents where this shirt came from?!? At that point, my mom bought most of my clothes. Even if she didn’t, she kinda knew where I was all the time and she DEFINITELY did my laundry. There was no way I was gonna pull this off. Oh well, whatever. I decided to put it out out of my mind. I’ll figure it out later, I thought. While we were there, I saw a poster for Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction. You know the image. The Siamese twins with their heads on fire. That was EXACTLY what I was there for that day. I needed to fill my consciousness with those types of images that would leave me inspired long after I was back to my regular Bobby Brown tainted daily existance. The image of Bowie smoking the cigarette and setting the picture on fire from the cover of the Ziggy Stardust Live Motion Picture Soundtrack album cover serves this same purpose for me even to this day. I guess I have a thing for images featuring a mixture of black and white and color that contain androgynous eyebrow-less figures and fire.

By the time we wandered the whole stretch on both sides, it was getting to be time to head home. I got done school every day at 1:36. My dad got home at 4:15. My mom got home at 5:40. As long as I got home by 6:00, and was ready to sit and eat dinner without disturbin’ the flow, I could count on nobody asking me any questions. We headed toward Market st, to catch the train homeward. We were walking by a cemetery and just a few yards ahead of us, a beautiful punk rock girl popped out of the graveyard and started walking the same way we were walkin. “Kate?” Midgett shouted. She turned around. Her eyes lit up. She was so happy to see him. “Oh my God! What are you doing here?!” “We’re gettin on the El, goin home” he said. I was in that place I get into when a girl is so hot, I just can’t say anything or it’ll be stupid, so I just don’t talk. I just nod and shit. That didn’t last too long. Kate was so friendly and easy going that we were all soon on the train together bullshittin. I was starting to get the drift that the real punks weren’t trying to make everybody else into posers. Only the posers were. I had it backwards up until then.

So, jump forward a few months and Midget and I are planning our next full band rehearsal. He says, “Yo, do you think we should ask Kate to come and sing? Like how Christian Death has a guy and a girl singer?” “Oh My God, Yeah!” I answered, relishing the chance to be in a room with Kate again. So he worked his Midgett magic and soon, the five of us, Midgett, Jamie the punk, Erik G., Kate and I were back in the Midgett basement with all of our gear and our notes and song ideas and our cassette boom box to tape the good parts.

There were a few. We worked on all the same original tunes from last time and we added a few covers too. We messed with Kick In The Eye and Crowds by Bauhaus. Then, Kate said, “Hey, listen to this. Can you play something like this?” She popped in a tape of something I’d never heard before. I still don’t know what it was, but it had a similar progression to A Strange Day by The Cure. I sorta figured out some kind of rip off version. Kate hit stop. Took her tape back. I put the blank tape back in. I showed Jamie the notes and Erik hit a dreary dance pop beat. Kate took the mic and started to sing a reverb drenched lament about eastern spirituality. It was haunting, and sexy, and easy. It relied on atmosphere and vibe and a phase shift more than it did on musicality. Perfect for me. I told everybody to hang on. I hit record and we went again. We recorded a solid version of it. It was called Nirvana. I noticed that when Kate sang, Midgett had nothing to do. It seemed like it might get awkward. What was he gonna do, play some bongos? Bang a tamborine?

At some point, just like at the last rehearsal, the singers drifted off, and we started playing that upbeat, A minor, reggae inspired thing again. This time it was Jamie who got it going. He played a few of the same riffs he had been doing the week before, and Erik and I just launched right into it. It was so fun and free and light and energetic, the opposite of what we’d been going for all day so far. Kate popped her head down and yelled, “Bye guys! I have to get going!” “Bye Kate! That was great! You wanna do it again next week?”, we asked. “Yeah, Give me a call” she said. I didn’t see her again for six years.

This time, Midgett didn’t even come back downstairs. The three of us jammed our reggae rock until we got tired. We recorded a version of it. Eventually we packed up all of our shit. Erik had his parents’ brown van and was headed east. He lived by the river. Jamie lived over in my direction, so I told him I’d give him a lift home. As we came upstairs with all our gear, the complete Midgett family was eating dinner. They were super friendly people with a great sense of humor, but It was way awkward.

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