I thought it would be fun to post a little more!
Today, I've posted the first chapter of THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB over on Girlfriends Book Club, and all of the positive response has been amazing. So, for those of you who want to read a bit more, here's another chapter!
THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB
By Brenda Janowitz
I Love Rock-n-Roll
“You got fired by your own father?” my best friend, Chloe, asks me.
“I know,” I reply, “It’s a new low. Even for me.”
“What a dick move,” my boyfriend, Jesse, says. Thank God I still have Jesse. I don’t know what I would do without him. He understands me in a way that no one else ever has before—and I like to think that I understand him in that same way, too.
Jesse is looking over Chloe’s shoulder to see if the band is about to start. We are at a tiny Lower East Side club that is packed to capacity to see The Rage, one of our favorite local bands. “He could have at least had your dick brother do it.”
“Andrew isn’t really a full partner in the practice yet,” I reply.
“You’re allowed to screw the Barbie doll nurse before you’re a full partner?” Chloe asks, brushing her silky black hair off of her shoulders. Andrew’s girlfriend—the office’s head nurse—does bear a striking resemblance to a Barbie doll. But, to be fair, my brother does look quite a lot like Ken. Still, it’s pretty tough talk coming from a woman who’s only five foot two.
“At least you still have the Beemer,” Jesse says.
“Forget the Beemer, at least you still have a parking space in the garage of your building,” Chloe says, “that’s an even more elusive asset in Manhattan than an actual car.”
“You’re right,” I say, “I guess.”
“Still,” Jesse says, looking into my eyes. I love it when he burns his eyes into me. Even in the dark, I can see them clearly—a deep sapphire blue, framed by thick black lashes, just like Jakob Dylan. He has a thick black curl falling to the center of his forehead. He flips his head back quickly and it falls back in place with the masses of other curls piled on his head. “It still sucks.”
“I would rather have my father fire me than my brother, I think,” Chloe says to no one in particular. The waitress—who I recognize as the bassist in the band that plays the Lion’s Den on Sunday nights—comes to our table. Jesse and Chloe order beers (Chloe’s is a light) and I order a vodka tonic.
“Well, I’d rather not be fired at all,” I say as soon as the waitress leaves.
“It’ll give you more time to focus on your music, babe,” Jesse says as he puts his index finger gently under my chin, angling my face upward for a kiss. It makes me smile and Chloe blush.
I always meant to get a real job. But there was always something in the way. Something more important to do. Something left that I had to do, like get my MFA in music, or some reason that I had to wait, like when my band nearly took off and we almost landed a record deal.
Life is different for people like me. Artists. I could never work for the rest of my life in an office, toiling away day and night at a job that I wasn’t passionate about. I need passion in my life. Excitement. Adrenaline. Sure, everybody says they want passion and excitement in their lives, but I really mean it.
The bug hit me when I was five years old. My parents were having a dinner party and my father encouraged me to sing a song for his guests while he accompanied me on his prized possession—his baby grand piano. He began to play “Hey Big Spender” from the musical Sweet Charity and the feeling overcame me. All eyes were on me and it felt like magic. I opened my mouth, improvised some dance moves I’d picked up in my ballet class and belted it out. The rest is history. I decided right at that very second that singing was what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I wanted to do with my life.
I’ve been working my ass off since then to try to make a go of it. Nothing compares to the feeling I get when I’m on stage. The stage is my true home—it’s where I come alive, where I feel the most myself, where I can do anything.
My parents encouraged me for a while. They even dragged me, Gypsy Rose Lee style, to the Star Search auditions back in the 80’s. I made it through the entire season, leveling the competition with my killer rendition of “Hey Big Spender.” By the Finals, I thought I had it in the bag. I was going against a corn fed blonde from Kansas who had never been out of the Midwest her whole life. She had buck teeth and a flat chest—no match for my retainer and burgeoning bosom. I belted out “Hey Big Spender” and she did a shy rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and, in so doing, stole my crown from right under me.
My parents fought for three weeks—my mother accusing my father of pushing me into a song that was “too adult” and my father accusing my mother of pushing me into a business that was full of rejection. One of my clearest childhood memories is overhearing him tell my mother that he was happy that I lost.
The irony of that little Pollyanna stealing my Star Search crown is that the girl who beat me was Amber Fairchild. Yes, that Amber Fairchild. The pop sensation who flew to stardom at age fifteen singing “I want you to keep me up all night (all right).” Otherwise known as the bane of my existence. I hate her brand of slutty bubble gum pop, but what I hate more is that this girl made it and I did not. I often wonder what would have happened if I had won Star Search instead of Amber. I should be the one with the record deal, production company, fan club and slacker husband who mooches off her. Well, my current boyfriend mooches off me, so the way I figure it, I’m part of the way there. The record deal has so far eluded me, but I know that it’s just around the corner.
My first band—my only band really—was on the cusp of breaking through about two years ago. We called ourselves The Lonely Hearts Club Band. Together since college, we had it all—the talent, the drive, and even the requisite bad boy drummer with a drug problem. We were just beginning to have a bit of a following in Manhattan. Our bass player, Kane, had a girlfriend who set up a website for us and we posted photos of ourselves, my song lyrics, and our show dates. I wrote a web log about trying to make it in the music industry. The blog barely ever got any hits, but it made us all feel more legit.
We had a gig at the C Note in Alphabet City, and a friend of a friend of a friend’s pet dog had arranged for an A and R guy from Pinnacle to come hear us play. The night before, we all went out to play a gig at a small club in Chelsea to get ready. We were all so young then. We still felt invincible in that way that you do before anything really bad has ever happened to you, before you’ve really had a chance to see the way life really is. I don’t remember much about that evening, but I know that I went home early to try to get some sleep before the big day. Billy, our drummer, must have stayed out at the club without the rest of the band because the next night, he didn’t show up at the gig. Two days later, we got a call from New York City Hospital telling us that Billy had overdosed and died. The hospital staff didn’t even know for sure who had brought him in to the hospital.
The record company wouldn’t take us without him. I thought we were Blondie, but I guess even Blondie wouldn’t have been signed without Chris Stein. It would be like the Doors without Krieger, the Stones without Richards. Would it be the same band? I could debate stuff like this for hours, but, the point is—they wanted nothing more to do with us. And then, when we all found out what had happened to Billy, we all wanted nothing to do with each other. The next Monday, I went to work for my dad.
I am currently without band. And now I find myself on the brink of 30 with no real job and no real prospects. And even if I did have prospects, who on earth would hire a loser who’s been recently fired by her own father?
“Hey, China Doll,” Chloe’s Flavor of the Week says, pulling a chair up to our table and kissing her on the cheek. I don’t even remember his name. It’s never a good idea to get too attached to any of them anyway, seeing as their time with us is generally very brief. They’re always the same—anti-establishment, angry, too young for her, and unbelievably hot. I can spot ‘em a mile away.
“Hey, yourself,” Chloe says back. She doesn’t seem to mind this ridiculous ‘China Doll’ nickname even though she is actually Korean.
“Hey, man,” Jesse says as he puts his hand out for the Flavor of the Week to grab. Even though Jesse calls everyone ‘man,’ I can tell that he doesn’t know this guy’s name, either. After two and a half years together, I know one ‘man’ from the other.
“So, have you heard what our ape ex-president did today?” Flavor of the Week asks, leaning over our table. It is not fashionable to like George Bush (either of them) on the Lower East Side.
My father has a signed photograph of him (W) in his office.
“I heard about it on CNN,” Jesse replies. “It’s an atrocity,” he says, giving a sly smile in my direction. Jesse knows about the photograph.
“Freaking W,” I say, trying not to laugh.
“No, honey,” Jesse whispers to me, “the Senior Bush.”
“Really?” I ask, taking a sip of Jesse’s beer.
“No, not really,” Chloe chimes in, “He’s being a dick. Not as big of a dick as your dick brother, but a dick nonetheless.” Jesse laughs under his breath and kisses me on the head as the lights dim.
“Don’t be mean to me!” I whine. “I was fired today!”
No sympathy from the people at our table.
“By my dad!” I cry out. Heads turn. That’s true star power—commanding an audience even on your worst day.
The band begins to play and Jesse and I jump to our feet. Chloe and Flavor of the Week sit and make out, oblivious to their surroundings. Chloe is always making out with her Flavor of the Week. Jesse and I dance, singing along to the chorus. I begin to feel the tensions of the day fade into the music.
Four songs in, the redheaded lead singer takes a break to talk to the crowd.
“Hey, we’re The Rage and we just want to thank you all for being here and supporting the band,” she says and the crowd goes wild. The light hits her hair and it looks like fire. “A friend of ours—a very good friend of the band—has asked us for a favor tonight. And for this guy, well, for this guy we’d do anything.” More screams from the crowd. “His friend is having a pretty awful day, and the only thing that would make her life better is to sing to you lovely people tonight.” The crowd goes nuts. “Can you believe that? I hope you’re flattered,” she says, flirting with the crowd. “Jo, are you out there? Jo Waldman?”
I turn to Jesse.
“No fucking way,” I say. The edges of his mouth curl slightly and he shrugs his shoulders. I put my hand around the back of his head and pull him to me and kiss him hard. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” he says, “I just wanted to do something for you today. It’ll get you jump-started.”
“Yeah, now that you won’t be working for your dad any more, you can focus on your music,” he says and he doesn’t need to say anymore—I know where this is going. It’s the same discussion we’ve had over and over since my band broke up. I consider defending myself, telling him that I have a gig or two lined up and that I’ve even been working on a new song lately, but instead chose to take the high road and not turn this into a heated argument. I try to remember that he’s doing something nice for me on a bad day.
“Thank you,” I say as I walk around the table and smooth out the front of my used Levi’s. I am thankful that I am dressed in my usual uniform of black leather motorcycle boots, ripped vintage jeans and fitted concert tee over a white long sleeve T shirt. Running my fingers though my hair to mess it up a bit, I walk to the stage. My black hair tops off the look—the bangs and layers around my face are Joan Jett, circa 1982, and the rest of it, all tangles and curls, is pure Stevie Nicks.
As I discuss song selection with the band, all I can think about is how lucky I am to have Jesse. We debate The Pretenders vs. The Kinks, and I turn around to sneak a peek at him. He’s staring at me. I wink at him and wonder if he can see me through the darkness.
Jesse and I met at a Battle of the Bands competition out in the suburbs of New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from the George Washington Bridge. This was just before Billy died, back when my band was still together, before I went to work for my dad.
It was at a dive bar called “Treble” that was rumored to have been owned at one time by Ritchie Sambora. Each July, they ran a Battle of the Bands contest and the prize was $10,000. All of the bands that played the downtown clubs went—any band that was anyone at all was there. Debbie Harry used to say that she and her band never went to high school, they went to Rock and Roll High School. Well, this was a week long competition that sort of felt like summer camp for rockers.
Jesse’s band and mine were the two bands left in the finals. We won, of course, but who’s keeping track? What I remember most about it was how goddamned romantic the whole thing was. I noticed Jesse on the first day of competition, tapping his drumsticks on a table in the back of the bar to Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” When he glanced up and saw me staring at him, he knocked over his beer bottle with his drumsticks and it spilled all over the spiral notebook he was writing in. Billy caught this little exchange out of the corner of his eye and quickly ushered me away, lecturing me on messing around with the competition.
Through each of the rounds, I could see Jesse staring at me from behind his massive drum set, eyes burning into me like they always did. Every time I was on stage, I found myself always singing to him.
“So, are we the Montagues or the Capulets?” Billy asked me as we walked off the stage on the second night of competition.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him, even though it was obvious that Jesse and I were into each other, but trying to pretend that we were not. We were nothing if not loyal to our bands. I started wearing tighter and tighter jeans each round in the hope that Jesse would notice me. Any time he tried to approach me, one of our band members would be there, seemingly out of nowhere, to tear us apart and remind us that we were there to compete. On the last night of the competition, I even had my hair done, a fact which Chloe has never let me live down.
Right after my band was announced as the winner and we all hugged and mugged for the audience, I marched right off the stage and into Jesse’s arms. It was like something out of a movie—or so Chloe told me—with him waiting in the wings and everyone in the room watching us, just waiting for it to happen. I ran to him and we fell into each other’s arms and began kissing like it was the end of the world.
After that night, we spent every night together, either attending each other’s gigs or meeting up late night after our respective gigs, and we haven’t been apart for one night since.
Through the crowd, I see Jesse staring offstage. I turn back to The Rage as we decide upon “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick as a compromise.
I spin around to the crowd as the band begins to cue up the song. The lights hit my face and I feel the energy building up inside of me. The music penetrates my bones and I can’t help but smile. This is where I belong—under the burning lights with tons of eyes focused on me—not in some doctor’s office wishing the hours of my life away. I can hear Chloe and Flavor of the Week screaming my name. I can’t see Jesse anymore, but I can feel his eyes on me. I can feel everyone’s eyes on me. The band plays the last eight bars before the first verse and I cock my right hip, ready to go.
I adjust the mike and begin to sing.