Passionate Peter and his demons – Diana still dreams of him, even in the arms of her golden Uli, like she dreams of a hot day at the beach under the full moon of autumn. His music still spawned in her psyche, the music she inspired several years ago, making it wilder, until it almost drove her mad, it was so different from the type she played on her own, which was mellow, and made her listeners want to sing: Peter’s made his fans scream and shout. He was a rock star now, and his band, The Rhesus Monkeys, was creating a buzz in the underground scenes across the country.
Uli breathed her soft scent, and let her go from his clasp. He picked up his tenor saxophone with his large hands, and played a meandering rhapsody, with the spell of the moment, bluesy, romantic. He was a jazz musician, though it was his dream, as it was any kid’s, to play in a rock band, like he did with Peter at the very beginning, helping him forge his sound, along with Diana, their first admiring fan. It was still hard for him to look back on the day Peter asked him to leave The Monkeys, though he didn’t hold it against him, and knew it had to be that way, when Diana made clear her preference, and her desire to have him as a lover.
She was a proper lady, with a touch of spice, always at the top of her class at the music school, where she and Uli and Peter met. Guys love a girl like that. She was a brunette, and she wore her hair in a bun, her face still with a trace of freckles, giving her a girlish sass. With her slightly flat, slightly diaphanous features, she could change from being a rather plain girl to a rather sensuous temptress, with the choice of dress of a special evening. She caught you in the middle of a party with her dark slits of eyes, drawing you in and spurning you, beckoning for loving attention and rewarding you with an intimate kiss.
She plucked her mandolin as she rifled in her mind through her wardrobe for her clothes for tonight’s concert with Leila, who played violin, and was her best friend. Leila was just back from a trip to Costa Rica. She loved to travel, especially the Latin lands. She was Diana’s playmate and confidente at The Burke Conservatory, and she knew all her secrets, as she knew many secrets of many people, locked safe behind her smiling, sly eyes. She had thick dirty blond hair, sometimes held in a barrette, sometimes freely flowing down her shoulders, hippie hair, just like a girl from the sixties, living it up at love-ins, though she was at base just another graceful conservatory girl like her.
Diana envied Leila her free spirit though, the way she could weave around guys and joke harmlessly, garnering their love and attention. Leila was happy being who she was, though she was perpetually stunned by the way Diana could rivet men’s gazes with her china doll poise, their desire to put her on a pedestal and make her their muse. Leila was a muse, too, but she was more confident in her creativity, a painter of pastoral landscapes that evolved in her patient process into rich abstractions. She wanted to move to Vermont, and would soon, another spur to Diana’s double-edged admiration, her motility and mobility, inhabiting ever-new environments while she was stuck as a center of energy in urban Boston.
She thought more. Uli liked her best in lavender, so she put aside her mandolin and retrieved a lavender turtleneck from the middle drawer of her dresser. She pulled a pair of turquoise pants out of the closet, and laid them on the antique chair with the padded leather seat and carved wooden back. Then she stripped naked and walked in the bathroom to turn on the shower. Uli embraced her like that as he was walking through the hall to the bedroom.
“You’re my antelope, playing in the forest,” he whispered, arching back and gripping her by the arms. “I’m just a country boy. You are the wilderness. You’re more beautiful than music.”
She felt warm in his arms. She was slender and a little ill at ease about her body as a spectacle to behold in full view, but she knew she was sweet to touch, and she knew she made guys feel special when she let them hold her and kiss her.
“Please dear,” she answered. “Would you make sure the soup is ready when I’m washed? You were a good boy to peel all the squash.”
She liked her shower warm, but not hot. She adjusted the handle, testing the flow with her hand. A slight spurt of scalding heat made her pull it back. It had to be just right. She stepped in the bath and let the water drizzle down her body. It made her think of music, of Uli’s music, warm and spontaneous.
When it was hot it reminded her of Peter, gentle but aggressive lover who brought new pleasures out of her body, but made her feel a little uncomfortable, as if she were picking sweet fruits from a thorny bush. She started singing her new songs, imagining Leila’s violin harmonies as a springboard to her own trills and grace notes. Leila harmonized her mind, making Peter a pleasant presence even in the midst of red-hot memories.
Leila stepped in the bedroom as she was finishing dressing.
“You’re stunning!” she said. “Don’t forget that beautiful beret.”
“I’ll put it on when we leave,” she replied. “I’ll need to fix my hair again before.”
Leila placed her violin case on the green couch and plopped down next to it, glorious in a blue silk dress with a floral pattern. She was like the center, the vase, in a still life, the rest of the scene drawing animated life from her presence, and reflecting it back on her own.
Uli crouched in front of her and stroked her sleeve, with a little pinch. Then he jumped up back to the kitchen. As he stirred the soup he started miming her violin playing.
“Mmmmm, ahhh ahhh, la di da,” he crooned. “Leila, Leila,” the melody was transformed.
“If you start singing too sweetly I’ll have to pull you into our act,” she interjected.
“You know me, Leila. I’m the lone wolf, howling on the hill as the moon rises.”
“Well, Diana is the sweet shepherd. And she sleeps lightly. She’ll have her sheep dog after you.”
“You’re the sheep dog, Leila. And your barking is sweet to my ear as Beethoven.”
“I can play Beethoven better than you,” she snipped. “I always could.”
“I love Beethoven,” he assured. “I especially love his jazz solos.”
“Beethoven was a rock musician and you know that.”
“He was the original gangster.”
Uli ladled the squash soup and tossed the salad of fresh fall mesclun greens. Diana noticed his golden hair, as she often did. It was curly, as was his nicely trimmed beard, which was just a little wild. She loved all the colors, and they blended incandescently with her own turquoise and lavender. Leila noticed them too. She was already fancying a new painting in her mind.
“I could do a dinner oil of just the three of us at the table,” she said.
“I’m starting to get butterflies,” Diana said.
“I never get nervous about a show,” Leila said. “But butterflies would dovetail with the theme. It could be a picnic, the three of us, in late September.”
“When I played with Arian at The Greenhouse,” Uli said. “That was a wild show. Everyone loved it. It gave me hope.”
“You’re a great musician, Uli,” Leila chimed.
“Yes, you are,” Diana agreed. “You’re career will take off, just like…”
“Like Peter’s?” Uli asked.
Then Uli’s hair turned black, and his beard was completely wild. She saw Peter, tortured, ferociously inspired, dominating the environment around him, belying his diminutive presence.
“Uh, Peter… Have you seen him lately?”
“I see him all the time. I was just at Deep Thoughts to pick up his new record.”
“Oh, of course. How is he?”
“As he usually is. You know.”
“Yeah, I know.” She thought of him again, his bravery, his quick wit, his sharp temper which he tried to disguise with a soft, matter of fact voice.
“Uli,” she inquired. “Are you friends?”
“I think so. At least I try to be.”
You still wish you were in the band, don’t you?”
“I’m moving on.”
“Where?” Leila quipped.
“Into the realms of Aquarius. I’ve been listening to Gong, you know? Daevid Allen’s band after he quit Soft Machine?”
“Are you related?” She asked.
“No. He’s from Australia. We just have the same name. Are you related to George Gershwin?”
“I think he’s my great grandfather. My grandmother loved “Porgy and Bess.”
“Bess you is my woman now,” Uli sang.
“Am I?” Diana asked.
“Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high.”
“You sure got rhythm,” Leila said.
“That’s what Diana tells me. Who’s curating the show at the gallery tonight?”
“Juliet,” Diana said. “She’s put together a really good bill. Even some psychy jazzy stuff that you’d like.”
“I’m glad I’m going then,” he said.
“Aren’t you always glad?”
“I love folk music.”
“It’s not just folk. It’s innovative. It’s got elements of classical and rock.”
“I know. I love your music, Diana. You know that.”
Leila cleared away the dishes and started washing them in the sink. Uli joined her, drying them with a Matisse dishtowel. He kept noticing the rich colors. They reminded him of music, as most things beautiful did. He thought back to the summer before last, when Adam put on Woodstock in the park. That’s when I first caught his glory, the sound waves gathering together in a ball of his solo saxophone, and he with the grace of a falconer, spinning the sound into flight as he ended the show striding into the distance in the evening grass.
“I was just thinking about Woodstock,” he said after a pause.
“You were glorious then,” Leila said. “Everybody loved you.”
“It was my finest moment. Will it ever happen again?”
“You’re growing, Uli,” Diana said. “You’re becoming a greater and greater artist. Everybody knows that. People talk about you. People want to play with you, but they’re too shy to ask. You have to ask them.”
“Well, I’m shy too.”
“Who do you like?”
“Who do I like, Diana? You know I like you.”
“I mean to play with – no… You’re not saying…”
“Why not? Why can’t we do it tonight?”
“Tonight? We have our songs planned. You can’t play those. You haven’t memorized them.”
Uli stared down into the sink with a keen, wistful smile.
“Are you kidding? Why are you putting me on the spot?”
“Just a thought.”
“Wait. Now I feel bad.”
“I’m sorry I upset you.”
“I’m not upset. I just don’t understand.”
“I don’t think you understand jazz.”
“You’re right. I don’t.”
“Let’s try. Tonight could be our experiment.”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“Well, then, that’s jazz.”
“That was jazz!” Leila shouted.
“What was jazz?” Uli asked.
“You and she. Just now. The banter. The back and forth. It was jazz!”
“It was jazz speak.”
“What do you mean, Leila?” Diana asked.
“It could work. You know how sensitive Uli is. He’s responsive. He could play around our playing – a coloratura.”
Well, we could try,” Diana offered.
“That’s some enthusiasm. You have to try. We have to do this.”
“Now I’m getting nervous,” Uli said.
“Actually I’m feeling quite calm. And excited,” Diana said.
“Gee,” Uli said, “That makes me feel good. You really love my music.”
“You know I do.”
Everybody loved the performance, but it was, in a nutshell, a beautiful wash. Diana came out of it knowing much more about Uli, but no more about jazz. She was a purist, collecting old traditions like beautiful antiques, dusting them to shine in brilliant light. For her, the antiques were tarnished that night. Only Leila’s light touch and humor on her instrument gave her a peaceful edge and rewarded her for feeling something was broken. But when it was over, Uli was beaming. He had never felt so lusciously free in music.
Diana knew what her real reward was. Uli would be her lover for the rest of her life. She had made a sacrifice at the altar for him, giving him sacrificial blood. It was to give new pulse to his playing from then on, making him stronger and musician man, and this was Diana’s real reward. She would never feel anything but safe in his arms and she was free to keep the flames of her beloved traditions always. She dreamed of nothing that night, only feeling the strong warmth of Uli’s embrace.
Everyone wanted a piece of The Rhesus Monkeys. Even me. I experienced them first at the great Gay Gardens, a triple-decker deep in the heart of Allston, with a basement where they played all-night rock shows. I was smoking a spliff with Ray Cyrus and Kai Rivers of The Fine Peaches, on whom I had just published an interview online, in a side room. Peter Blackbridge was there, sidling in and a round us, with his curly black hair and his scruffy beard. He listened politely to our mutual quips, inserting an echoing comment here and there, staying carefully away from the smoke.
The Fine Peaches went on, Ray dipping and swaying in his sexual, androgynous charisma, Kai beaming as he banged away at his guitar with a shy hand, the music falling apart like a sheaf of wheat, falling all over the place, gathered together again in glorious bounds. The kids were whooping. This was where it was at. Where it all begins, before the stadium shows, when rock stars are playing for friends, and everyone’s a star.
I’d heard the buzz around The Monkeys, but had not taken the bait. I was still chary of the whole modern rock scene, not seeing the miracle cure the kids of today had effected, bursting a blossom out of the ashes of ‘90s grunge. Then they took the stage. I was wowed, but I felt like an old man. I didn’t think I’d ever understand what the kids were doing, though I knew right away they were as great as Elvis, distancing the previous generation the same way, while they just couldn’t pull away.
I couldn’t quite see Carly, the lead singer, clearly, as she was blocked by the crowds. And few could see the love relationship that was growing between her and Peter. Yes, she was Uli’s replacement, the cutie wild girl pulling the energy centers of attention into her belly with a leotard and a thong, a tattoo on her lower back. She screamed like a banshee, and it was just plain infectious.
Peter banged his drums like Bam-Bam from The Flintstones, drawing energy from the driving needles of his past, and the hard discipline of the streets of the Lower East Side, where he grew up. Simon, glamorous as Robert Mapplethorpe, stood stark naked drawing audacious booms out of his bass guitar, as Arian, the cool, sleek, dark guitarist, gave the night’s offering the slow-burn sound of the East. Ian eked sounds of strange beauty out of his synthesizer.
The band tightened its act as the months progressed, with a daunting output of new songs. The current between Carly and Peter intensified. Carly’s dancing became more sexual and spectacular. People started to notice their love for each other, until they made it public and official in a photo online of the two of them sharing seltzer at a table at a sidewalk café in Greenwich Village. Carly evolved from being just one of the guys, to a full blooded front woman, the nexus and plexus between audience and band, the buffer zone and the jackpot.
Carly was shy offstage, but she was poised and self possessed, ready to greet strangers at a show like a charming hostess, disarming and brave, however sketchy or timid they may be. Like Diana, she had a holistic vision of the music community, where fan and band are one, and the various bands participated in one larger artistic project. It was fun watching her from show to show, sometimes the coquettish vamp, sometimes the darling maiden in white nightie.
Carly was a student at a small liberal arts college for girls when Peter met her. She was someone he could have fun with, coming loyally to the shows and charming Uli as well. Somehow she was part of the band already the moment she first started pogoing on the basement floor at the first basement gig she caught. Peter spotted her.
“I bet you’re good on a pogo stick,” he said.
“I don’t know what that is,” she chirped.
“You’re too young to know.”
“So are you.”