Short Stories 

 

 

 

Saturday
Aug162014

Short Stories by Bruce Douglas Reeves and Alan Seeger

The Prettiest Girls In Roseburg

By Bruce Douglas Reeves

 

Only  beautiful people, talented people, rich people existed.  Harry was none of those, but he loved the two prettiest girls at Roseburg High School.  That counted for something. 

Blue-eyed, honey-haired Phyllis Gerber walked off with the Junior Prom Queen crown the year she turned sixteen.  Was there ever a question?   A year later, green-eyed Charlotte Gerber sashayed across the stage wearing the same rhinestone and glass tiara atop her own yellow curls.  Why wouldn’t she?  Those sisters were real in a way Harry never could be, but his love kidnapped some of their realness for himself, just as his sticky fingers once stole globs of coconut frosting from a supermarket birthday cake (not his birthday, not his cake).  He didn’t resent those sisters, because in his way he owned them.

Most people thought Phyllis was prettier, but Harry knew that they both were perfect.  Sure, Charlotte’s figure was a little shorter and fuller than Phyllis’s and her hands were smaller, like a child’s, but none of this made her less beautiful.  Her feet strode through life in their Capezio flats as if she didn’t give a damn that Phyllis was taller or more slender.  Phyllis, though, did have the sweeter disposition and, although Harry loved both sisters, he guessed that he loved her more. 

They were the most popular girls in the history of Roseburg High.  They were the most visible girls and wasn’t that what popularity meant?  That people didn’t look through you like you were a smudge on a windowpane?  Harry knew everything about Phyllis and Charlotte.  He followed their lives with the fervor of an acolyte studying the history and virtues of a saint, even though he knew he’d never be part of those lives. 

Harry: the kid everybody forgot.  When his teachers returned papers, they barked, “Harry White?  Harry, raise your hand.”  Even his parents called him “Hey, you!”  His brothers and sisters ignored him.  He was the middle kid, too old for the young ones and too small for the older ones, so he grew up adrift on the ice floe of his own imagination. 

When other people approached him, his brain deadened and his pulse careened, but mostly folks ignored him.  Not that he was stupid.  He was smarter’n a lot of the so-called smart guys.  He saw through them, knew they were shit, he was shit, everybody was shit.  Harry was glad to go through life unnoticed: it meant he could watch the others and share their lives.  So Harry worshiped and watched Roseburg’s resident goddesses, the lives of those two girls reflected like Technicolor movies in the broken mirrors of his brain.

When Phyllis ran for Junior Prom Queen, Harry stole the glossy black and white photographs from her posters to tack over his bed: a parade of identical blondes with hair swirled like ice cream sundaes atop their heads, smiling with merciless perfection.  She won, despite the denuded posters.

Pete Haines, Junior Class President, took Phyllis to the Prom.  Harry didn’t go, but he knew about her peach-colored ballet-length dress with a wide sash and the thinnest straps holding it up and a gardenia corsage from Pete pinned just above her perfect breast.

During four years of high school, Harry didn’t go to one dance, but often he stood outside, watching those people with whom he shared only the night air.  One evening, he peered over a two-toned Dodge Coronet under the arced lights of the school parking lot, watching Pete stick his tongue in Phyllis’s mouth. That wasn’t the Junior Prom, but another dance in the gym.  Rich boy Pete pressed Phyllis against his yellow Impala, working his hips against her skirt, feeling her breasts with his big hands.  They kissed for so long that Harry wondered how they could breathe. He had trouble sucking in air and he was only watching.  A few minutes later, when Pete tried to get her into the back seat, she shook her head, but then she let him take out his thing and rub it against her thigh.

“Be careful,” she said.  “Don’t stain my skirt – it has to go to the dry cleaners.”

At that moment, Harry despised Phyllis and would’ve ripped out the place where he worshiped her, if it had existed anywhere but in his own heart.

Handsome Pete Haines, with all that money from his old man’s construction business, was Phyllis’s boy friend but she went out with other guys, too, ‘cause the Gerber girls weren’t allowed to go steady.  Some of Phyllis’s other dates were Budd Taylor, Ric Johannes, Al Neilson, and Glen Strubbe: all popular, good-looking jocks, all of ‘em with money from hot shot dads.  He used to see ‘em in gym class, tall with long, graceful muscles, joking and splashing each other in the showers, their buttocks white and proud, their genitals as lofty and conceited as they were.  Harry watched them pick up and drop off Phyllis before and after dates and saw what they did when they thought they were alone. 

Phyllis was no snob.  Sometimes, when Harry and Phyllis met face to face in the hall, she said, “Hi!”  Of course, Harry knew she didn’t see him the way she saw Pete or Budd or Ric, but the sound of her voice directed at him made him happy.

Once, when she passed him in the bleachers at a football game, she said, “Hello, Harry.”   Her blue eyes focused on his face and the sound of his name on her tongue made him dizzy.  He repeated her words in his mind, trying to remember how she said them. 

When Harry’s mother rotted away from cancer his senior year, her absence didn’t make any difference to his life.  The younger kids howled for a while, but got over it.  Their old man snuffled and moaned, but after a few days was as mean as ever  and still seeing the henna-haired waitress at the café near the drive-in movie. 

The day after the funeral, Phyllis came up to him in the cafeteria.  She’d heard his mom had passed away, she said, touching his sleeve, and wanted him to know how sorry she was.  Harry gazed down at her slender fingers melting into the faded blue denim of his shirt and ran away.  Abruptly, unexpectedly, the loss of his mother rose up in him like fire and he felt a pain that only sudden kindness could open up.  Three minutes later, he stood panting behind the gym, wanting to kill himself.

Eventually, he snuck off home and for several days pretended to be sick, ‘til his father kicked him out of the house.  Even then, he cut school, hiking along the weed-smothered rail tracks, wishing he'd never have to face Phyllis or anybody else who lived in that rotten town.

He followed the rusty tracks past low hills where bulldozers had dug into the dull brown earth, creating artificial gullies and scarred mounds.  In some of the hollows bums lived in huts made of cardboard and warped plywood and pieces of corrugated tin.  Crushed beer cans and cigarette packs and discarded pop bottles littered the mutilated landscape.  An awful hacking cough from behind one of the shanties made him jump and a flabby dirt-colored hand waved at him. Then he saw the face attached to the hand, an old ugly face, furrowed with grime-filled crevices and speckled with gray whiskers, an almost toothless mouth open in obscene supplication.  He didn’t know what the old bum wanted but his body shook with anger, his pulse ripping through him like a wild train. 

With a howl, he charged over the dirt mound and began battering the old guy with both fists.  The tramp tried to protect himself with his skinny arms, but Harry smashed him with his fists, knocking him down, kicking him, propelling his heavy shoes into the guy’s ribs and back.

A month later, when Harry stopped to watch Phyllis talking with two of her pals on the lawn outside the cafeteria, he edged closer than he intended.  Full skirt and crinolines around her on the grass like a giant flower with a golden center, she was inviting the other kids to a party and saw that he heard.  He jumped away as if somebody’d slapped him and hid behind a poison-blue hydrangea. 

“Harry,” Phyllis said, walking over to him.  “I was meaning to ask you to my party.  You’re a quiet type, aren’t you?  But I’ve always thought you’re sweet.  Why don’t you come to my party?  I’d like you to.  I mailed the invitation this morning.”

Harry couldn’t speak, but he watched her float away in her petal-like skirt.  He did receive an invitation two days later and saved it, but didn’t go to the party. 

He didn’t show up for graduation, either—the idea of all those eyes on him when he marched across the stage made him sick.  He didn’t even bother to collect his diploma from the high school secretary.  It was only a piece of paper with a fake gold seal stuck on it.

Of course, Phyllis and Pete and Glen and all the rest of them were going on to college.  Phyllis wasn’t a brain, but she was looking forward to being a queen at the local state college and Charlotte would follow a year later.  Pete Haines, although he didn’t need ‘em, won a fistful of scholarships to some school back east.  At least, he’d be too far away to stick his tongue into Phyllis’s mouth—or anyplace else. 

That fall, while Charlotte gloried in her senior year of high school, Phyllis discovered that she was only one of many pretty freshman girls at State.  She decided to major in art.  Harry heard her talking to one of her girlfriends, that stuck up Donna Porter, whose banker father paid to have her nose cut down so it was small and cute like Phyllis’s.

“I hope I stick it in college, but I’m used to everything being easy and everybody making a fuss over me.  I know it’s going to be different at State.” 

Two weeks after school ended, Harry was a stock boy shoving around crap at Bateson’s Auto Parts.  His father knew Mr. Bateson from way back.  They probably were juvenile delinquents together back during the Civil War.  Harry figured the only favor his old man ever did for him was getting him that job—not that it cost him anything.

It didn’t take Harry long to find out which sorority Phyllis moved into: the big old house, with its gabled roof and bowed windows and walls of climbing roses and ivy, was the perfect setting for her, like she’d stepped into a prettier, nicer world where she was meant to live.  Harry worked irregular hours, so he was able to watch Phyllis, at different times.  He knew when she went to class, when she went to parties, when she saw boys.  Every evening he could, he planted himself in the ivy near the sorority house.  He saw her dates pick her up and, sometimes, bring her back.

When Phyllis was chosen Rosebud of the month by the Roseburger, Harry stole a dozen copies of the magazine, razored out her photographs and tacked ‘em over his bed with his other pictures of her.  He had a room downtown, now: narrow and hot near the roof, but close to the State campus.  One of the Roseburger photos showed her in a white cocktail dress, eye to eye with a marble nude that seemed to know how gross it looked next to her.  In two other shots, she posed in a one-piece swim suit beside a pool, but Harry’s favorite picture was a closeup looking straight at him, like she was gonna ask a question only he could answer. 

The next year, Charlotte abandoned Roseburg High for the state college, wearing the adoration of the masses like garlands in her hair, as if every admiring look, every compliment, every expression of love and loyalty had turned into a flower.  Green-eyed Charlotte was rushed into a different sorority and though the sisters were seen together from time to time, they didn’t bother to compete with each other.  Harry still haunted them, an unseen spectre. 

Sometimes, he imagined himself a different Harry White, radiating personality and confidence and able to win the hearts of Phyllis and Charlotte, but that Harry wouldn’t have been him.  It would’ve been someone else, someone he would’ve hated.  He grew a moustache, but decided it made him more conspicuous, so he shaved it off. 

Right away, freshman year, Charlotte won the lead in the fall musical, Brigadoon: a golden girl from another time and place.  That was the same autumn when Phyllis was elected Homecoming Queen.  You couldn’t walk across campus without either Phyllis or Charlotte staring at you from a newspaper rack or poster.  A humorist writing for the Roseburger insisted there weren’t two sisters, at all.  Phyllis and Charlotte Gerber were one super-female who’d cracked the fourth dimension so she could be in two places at the same time.

Harry never forgot how perfect Phyllis looked on her Homecoming Parade float, poised like the chromium hood ornament on a Cadillac, six simpering princesses behind her.  People said it was the windiest Homecoming Day in Roseburg’s history.  Gusts whipped costumes, banners, flags, and floats ‘til they looked like fluffy concoctions in a bakery window.  Crepe paper streamers, bits of clothing, fragments of floats, empty beer cans catapulted down streets and over sidewalks, while spectators huddled, watching the wind-swept parade, but Phyllis sat with a steady smile atop her throne, nodding and waving, her white gown billowing like foam.

Harry kept running ahead, so he could watch her pass again and again.  He wondered if she noticed him gazing up at her, but realized that she didn’t see anybody on the street from up there.  She was too far above everyone. 

A year later, Phyllis entered the Miss Roseburg contest.  Those sisters were always in some contest or other and, of course, if they entered they won.  Harry heard people wondering how Charlotte would take it if Phyllis became Miss Roseburg, but when Phyllis walked away with the crown Charlotte cheerfully predicted her sister’d soon be Miss America. 

By then, Harry’s walls were crowded with smiling portraits, snapshots, and clippings of the blonde sisters.  Did either Phyllis or Charlotte suspect how closely he watched both their triumphs and day-to-day lives?  Of course not: he was only a shadow that’d vanish if anyone bothered to shine a light on it.

When Harry saw Charlotte walk across campus with Skippy Adams, the basketball captain, they didn’t know that he’d watched their open-mouthed kissing the night before under the rose arbor by her sorority house.  And when he sat in the Student Union lounge opposite Phyllis and Aaron Mizener (captain of both the debating and water polo teams), neither of ‘em knew he’d followed them earlier that night into the Crest Theatre and sat behind them during some noisy Steve McQueen movie.

Slouching in a striped seat on the Peerless Stage bus to Santa Cruz, where the Miss California contest was held, Harry tried to read a Mickey Spillane paperback, but couldn’t concentrate on the boobs and gun barrels.  His thoughts were at the Boardwalk, with Phyllis Gerber and this most important day of her life.

Harry reached the Boardwalk early, shuffling through the filthy sand under the huge sun-singed sky, ignoring screams from the Big Dipper and kids gobbling cotton candy.  It almost seemed as if the pageant and coronation were finished and he was remembering it, but when a band started to play panic rippled through his sweaty body, a terror that got worse as crowds pushed toward the pink concrete shell and judges and contestants arranged themselves on the stage. 

Lurking at the rear of the audience, he squinted at the other girls as they paraded back and forth, answered questions, and showed off their pitiful talents—just to reassure himself that Phyllis was in every way their superior.  Sweat burned his eyes and plastered his clothes against his skin.  All this shit was only a formality.  The others would vanish in clouds of smoke, leaving Phyllis supreme goddess. 

Then, as he’d known she would, Phyllis stood on the left side of the stage, among the finalists.  In her white dress with white camellias cascading over one flawless shoulder, she reminded Harry of a bride.  Then the announcer—one of those second-rate TV game show hosts—bellowed into the mike:  “Third runner-up, Miss Roseburg, Phyllis Gerber!”

Fourth place?  Phyllis, fourth place? 

Harry let out a howl.  It was a goddam mistake. 

People told him to shut up, but he knew it was a cheat.  He had to make ‘em see it: she hadn’t won because she wouldn’t let the judges screw her.  Only tramps won, goddam sluts.  He’d make them change their votes.   But a narrow-eyed cop moved toward him, so he staggered through the crowd, elbowing people out of the way.  What did he care who won, now?

Harry wandered in and out of several bars near the Boardwalk, aiming for one objective: oblivion.  The next day, he woke up staring out an aluminum-framed window at the silent Big Dipper, lemony sun knifing through a slashed window-shade, his head throbbing, the taste of vomit on his tongue. 

Back in Roseburg, Harry haunted Phyllis’s sorority house, but she’d disappeared. Day after day, he waited, but she never showed up.  He even waited at her family’s home, too.  Finally, Harry asked one of the girls coming out of the sorority about Phyllis.  Staring at him as if he were a cockroach, she said Phyllis had dropped out of school. 

“She’s livin’ with some guy in San Francisco.” 

Harry nearly slugged the lying bitch, but he stumbled away and sat under a tree near the Student Union, kids and faculty passing as he tried to sort out the facts.  He never would’ve believed Phyllis would do such a thing.  Charlotte might’ve disappointed him, taking up with a man that way, but not blue-eyed Phyllis.  Not his Phyllis.

Harry burrowed into his bed and stayed there.  He didn’t even go to work.  Old man Bateson called the rooming house, but Harry only grunted at the landlady from under his quilt.  He dreamed that he was handsome and successful, that he went back to school and was worthy of the sisters, that he was somebody.  As long as he could dream, he wasn’t in pain. 

Eventually, he crawled out of bed and found a new job shoving around boxes in the stock department of Scully’s drug store.   He staggered from his room to work and back, with occasional stops at Quik Burger or McDonald’s.  Sometimes, he saw one of his brothers and sisters on the street, or his old man (who was getting fat), and even creepos who’d been at Roseburg High when he was there, but none of ‘em noticed him. 

A few times, he saw Charlotte, always with a different boy, then she, too, disappeared.

His brain struggled to understand what’d happened.  His life didn’t matter, but Phyllis and Charlotte Gerber were special.  If their lives turned out to be no good, then who in the goddam world had a chance?  Why didn’t the earth explode?  Why didn’t it fly into the sun? 

Six months slogged past before Charlotte appeared again, in a quivering burst of sunlight, walking with another woman on First Street.  The electric charge of seeing her among yellow shards of light like a hundred exploding mirrors, almost blinded him.  He followed her until the two women vanished into the Crest movie theater. 

Harry was on a half hour lunch break, but he bought a ticket from the acne-browed cashier and fumbled through the blackness to a seat behind Charlotte and her friend.  The wide-screen emotions and violence of Bonnie and Clyde exploded beyond their heads, but Harry was oblivious to everything but Charlotte’s hair, clothes, nearness.  She and her girl friend talked through most of the movie.  Harry heard her say that Phyllis had left the man she’d been with and was a stewardess flying in and out of Vietnam.

“She has a flat in San Francisco,” Charlotte whispered, “but she’s hardly there.  Phyl was damned if she’d come back and face Mom and Dad and the old crowd.  Y’know how she can be.”

San Francisco.  Apartment.  Vietnam. 

After the movie, Harry followed Charlotte and her friend through rush hour crowds.  It hadn’t occurred to him that he didn’t know anything about the feelings inside Phyllis and Charlotte.  All he knew was what he’d seen and imagined.  Maybe Phyllis hadn’t been as happy as he’d thought, maybe she hadn’t been satisfied with that perfect life, maybe she’d wanted more.  Or different.  Better.

At the public library, Harry’s fingers traced through the G’s in the San Francisco phone directory, tearing out the page with a Larkin Street address for P. Gerber.  That night, a Greyhound bus deposited him among the bums at the Seventh Street station.  They eyed him, he eyed them.  He could see himself staying there, slouching on one of the broken plastic chairs, among those blank stares and twitching bodies, but he had plans.

The address turned out to be a four-story stucco apartment building on a lazily sloping street near Van Ness Avenue.  “Gerber” was scribbled on a card next to one of the doorbells.  Harry studied the scrawl, seeing Phyllis’s face in the slanting letters, but he didn’t ring the bell.  He got a job selling carcinogenic hot dogs for a rat-nosed dwarf at a Market Street arcade.  He hated the sailors and hustlers and snotty kids who bought the gray dogs and foul coffee, but he was in the same city as Phyllis, his queen, his Miss America.  Keep breathin’, he told himself.  It’s gonna happen.  Whatever it is, it’s gonna happen.

Fall, then Christmas—at least, that season—but days, holidays, weekends all were blank pages to Harry.  Night after night, he waited under a striped drug store awning across the street from her building ‘til finally she appeared, wearing a shiny plastic raincoat and plastic boots that made her look like one of those warrior queens in comic books.  From under the soggy awning, he watched her unlock the street door and disappear.  Sloshing across the street and up the steps, he peered through the iron grill in time to see her glide into the elevator. 

She still was the most beautiful girl in the world, despite all she’d been through.  He didn’t want to hurt her.  He wanted to possess her, but that wasn’t about sex.  He wanted her to be his, part of him.  Or he’d be part of her.  Together, they’d merge, be one.

Harry waited across the street ‘til Phyllis came out of the building, a bulky bundle that arched her body backward in her arms, and walked a few blocks to an all night laundromat.  Through the chipped black letters on the streaked glass, Harry watched her sort clothing and drop it into two machines—bits of silk and cotton and polyester that’d been next to her skin, absorbing her sweat and odors.  Fog swirled up from the ocean, making Harry shiver in his thin jacket.  A paperback book in her hands, she waited while machines hummed; finally, she pulled her clothes from the dryers, blouses and panties clinging like butterfly wings to her wrists.  Methodically, she folded clothes, then stuffed ‘em into the bag. 

As Phyllis stepped into the fog, Harry leaned into the doorway of the closed bookshop next door.  Twice, she hesitated to adjust the weight of the laundry bag and each time Harry stopped, too, but just as she unlocked her building door, he caught up with her.

“Don’t be scared,” he whispered.  “I won’t hurt you.”

She gave him a glance, the blue flames of her eyes singeing him, as if to say he wasn’t man enough to scare her, and pushed the elevator button.  If only she knew, he thought, that he wasn’t a stranger, that he’d loved her for years, that whatever happened their lives could never be separate. When the elevator came, she rushed into it, her finger jabbing the button to close the doors, but Harry jumped in, shoving the bundle of clothes against her. 

“Don’t try hitting all the buttons at once.  You live on the third floor.”  Harry stabbed the number three button.  “And please don’t scream.  I don’t wanna hurt you.” 

When the elevator jerked to a halt and the doors wheezed open, Phyllis lunged into the hall, but he was behind her.  Her gaze scraped at the doors lining the walls, then stopped at him, as if she were trying to decide if she rang a bell—any bell—or screamed, if somebody’d reach her before he got her.  When he told her to open her door and go inside, she obeyed. 

Bolting the flimsy door behind them, Harry confronted Phyllis.  Standing there, slightly disheveled, eyes bright, she was more beautiful than he’d ever seen her.

“Put down that stuff.”

Phyllis dropped the laundry bag, pastel clothing frothing out of it at her feet.  Her eyes were flecked with purple shadows Harry’d never noticed before.  Was that fear or had the blue of her eyes always been impure?

“I won’t hurt you,” he said. 

“Just...go away.”  She wasn’t crying, but seemed near tears. 

“I’ve waited all my life to be with you.  All my life.”   He touched her shoulder through the plastic raincoat.  She was real.  “Off with all this.  And don’t scream ‘cause nobody’ll come.  People never come.”

She looked as if she’d been given Novocain.  Hands fumbling at the buttons on her clothes, her eyes stayed on his face.  Harry would’ve told her to never mind and walked out, but if he died for it he had to see her naked.  He was glad that she moved so hesitantly, because he could let his gaze slide over her slowly exposed, pale skin.  His mouth filled with dust and his tongue shriveled as he watched her skirt drop around her ankles and her sweater float after it.  She covered her breasts with her arms, as if protecting them from being bruised by his stare.

A vision of the night in the parking lot with Pete Haines rose up in Harry’s brain.  He saw her against the car, Pete rubbing against her skirt, and now he pushed himself against her, pressing his own body through his clothes against her nakedness.  Eyes shut, lips shut, she stood motionless while he moved against her.  She never said a word, never made a sound, even when he spasmed, forcing her against the wall.  The front of his pants was wet, but she wasn’t harmed.  Hadn’t he kept his promise?

“Don’t tell anybody,” he said. 

He hurtled downstairs into the fog, but knew that part of him stayed in that apartment with the bay window overlooking the hillside street.

For two weeks, Harry kept away, but finally his feet took him back to the four story brick building.  The card by Phyllis’s mailbox was missing.  When he tried to find out about her, the hairy-nosed building manager told him to get lost before somebody called the cops.  Panicking, he ran away and the next day took a Peerless Stage back to Roseburg.

Although Harry couldn’t locate Phyllis, he found out that Charlotte had dropped out of college, too, and was working as a hostess in one of those restaurants where people eat in the dark with squat red candles burning on the tables.  She decked herself in a black dress and high heels to show people their seats and give them menus. 

Harry hung around outside Gregory’s Bistro for several weeks before he worked up nerve to buy a jacket and tie at Goodwill, slick down his hair, polish his shoes, and walk up to the restaurant door.  The darkness blinded him, then Charlotte strode up in a black dress with a low scooped neckline and bell-shaped skirt that ended at her knees.  The curls of her hair were layered like the petals of a flower.  

When she focused her green eyes on him, asking if he had a reservation, he didn’t understand what she was talkin’ about.  He’d thought he could just walk in and she’d put him at a table and he’d order a breaded veal cutlet and watch her while he ate it.  He shook his head and walked out. 

He blamed his stupid mother and father—they did this to him, never noticed or encouraged him, never taught him anything about the world.  He should’ve smacked ‘em, showed them he was somebody, while he had the chance. 

Harry lived underground, surfacing only to go to work.  Old man Bateson let him have his job back at the auto parts store.  The bastard paid so shitty he had trouble finding suckers to work for him.  Harry went days without speaking to anybody.  At work, people told him what to do and he did it.  He was a dumb animal and animals don’t care about happiness.  They don’t know what it is.  Harry still loved those girls, but he also hated them.  They were goddesses, but had refused to stay on their thrones where they belonged. 

He dragged himself back to the high school, prowled the yards and corridors of their triumphs, crept around the college campus and sorority houses, down First Street where the Homecoming Parade had breezed its way into his memory.  He hung around the Gerbers’ two-story house, waiting, hoping.

He would never give up.  He’d wait for them.  They would come back, and when they did he’d be here.

 

 

The Fauxling Stone Interview

By Alan Seeger

 

Imagine that both the Beatles and the Kinks had broken up in the mid-1960s, as most rock bands do, rather than being as long-lived as they turned out to be, and Paul McCartney and Ray Davies had wound up forming a band together. Here’s the interview—  

 

  

 

The Fauxling Stone Interview: Ray Davies and Paul McCartney

Fauxling Stone #24 - December 21, 1968

 

Former Beatle Paul McCartney and Kinks front man Ray Davies joined forces last year, forming what some have termed a ‘supergroup,’ The Apple. The band’s first album, “Revolution,” was released in August, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

FS: So, Paul, Ray — how did you two come to form The Apple?

PM: Well, it was... uh... [laughs]

RD: [Laughing] Yeah, it was rather a giggle, weren’t it? We, uh...

PM: Met at a party...

RD: A party, yes, at Mick [Jagger]’s... [He makes an “after you” bow to McCartney]

PM: We were at Mick’s, I suppose it was New Years’ Eve, ’66...?

RD: Right.

PM: We were both, er, unattached, you might say. Jane [Asher] had broken up with me not long before, telling me I cared more about the [Beatles] splitting than I did about us... 

RD: Bloody hell, I cared more about the Beatles breaking up than I did about me wife. She’s told me so many times. [Laughs]

PM: Yeah, but your brother...

RD: Yeah, it’s true. Dave [Davies, lead guitarist of The Kinks and Ray’s brother] said I wasn’t a rock and roller any more. He said “Well Respected Man” and “Sunny Afternoon” and those others were music hall shite and he’d had it. I rang him up last Christmas [1967] and we spoke for just a few minutes. Before that it had been almost a year.

So anyway, here we are, at Mick’s, and he’s playing an acetate of Between The Buttons, and everybody’s had a few drinks, and somehow Paul and I wind up sitting across from each other in the parlor.

PM: We started making small talk, just, you know, ‘How’re you liking Manchester United this year?’ That kind of stuff.

RD: And after a bit, I’d had an uncountable number of... well, let’s just say it wasn’t cherry cola. My inhibitions were just totally destroyed, you know, I could have asked Paul if he fancied a shag at that point —

PM: You did, actually. [Laughs]

RD: Did I? [Both laugh] No, but at one point I blurted out, “We should do a record together.” And then I just froze, because, you know...

FS: You had just proposed making music with a Beatle.

PM: Ex-Beatle.

FS: Ex-Beatle, all right, but there are millions of people that will never think of you as anything other than “The Cute Beatle.”

PM: It’s why I’m growing the beard, innit? [Laughs]

RD: So he looks over at me, you know, and he’s had a few, plus maybe some cannabis...

PM: Just a little.

RD: And he says, “Sure, why not?” And I...

FS: Were you shocked?

RD: Speechless. Utterly shocked fucking sober, y’know? It hit me that Paul fucking McCartney had just agreed to make a record with me...

PM: Hey, now, you act like it was a big thing. You’re no slouch yourself. We’re a good match. I have a rocker side, and a softer side... you know, “I’m Down” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and Ray’s much the same... “You Really Got Me” and [sings] “All The Day And All Of The Night,” and then [sings] “‘Cause he gets up in the morning, and he goes to work at nine / And he comes back home at five-thirty, gets the same train every time...”

RD [Mock-faints] Oh, my god, Pauly’s singing me song! [Both laugh]

PM: [Laughing] It’s a mutual admiration society.

FS: So how did things develop?

PM: Well, initially I had been planning to do a solo record, just me, playing everything, you know, guitars, piano, drums...

RD: [Cockney accent] But not bass, guv’nor, you’re rubbish on the bass.

PM: Right, we were gonna call in John Paul Jones. [Laughs] No, but at first we figured we’d just go into the studio, the two of us, and do it all, but the more we talked over the next few weeks, the more we felt we wanted a real band.

FS: So you started asking around...

PM: We started asking around, looking mainly for people who were able to play a couple of different instruments, you know, because sometimes I would want to pay piano or guitar, you know, and Ray plays piano too...

FS: So you ended up with a nice group of musicians.

RD: Yeah, a good bunch of mates. A couple of Micks — oops, that sounds like I’m anti-Irish, I swear I have nothing against the wee leprechauns... Mick Avory on drums, who’s been with me since the Kinks began, Mick Taylor on guitar, who we lured away from John Mayall with lurid promises of promiscuous sex and drugs... [laughs]

PM: Mick Taylor plays bass as well.

RD: Right. And then there’s Nicky Hopkins, who plays piano like God. [Laughs]

FS: So there are rumors of a second album?

PM: Dirty rumours, spread by leprechauns! [Laughs] No, it’s true. We’re still sort of in the middle of wrapping it up, but we’ve agreed to share a bit about it.

RD: We’ve got enough material done to make it a two-record set.

FS: So, a double album.

PM: Yes, a double set.

FS: Did you write many of the songs together?

RD: It’s a fairly even split... at this point there are twenty songs, and we feel like we need perhaps ten more. At this point, Paul’s written eight, I wrote six and the two of us worked together on the other six.

FS: Can you share any song titles?

PM: I have a couple of rockers, “Back In The U.S.S.R.” and a really heavy number called “Helter Skelter” that sounds like we’re breaking our guitars. A few acoustic tunes... uh...

RD: “Blackbird.” I love that one.

PM: Yeah, “Blackbird,” and “Mother Nature’s Son.” And Ray has a fantastic new song called “Dead End Street” that I love.

RD: Thank you, sir. And I am quite fond of your song, “You Know I Will.”

PM: See, I told you, mutual admiration society.

RD: Should’ve just called the bloody group “Mutual Admiration Society.” [Both laughing]

FS: And then you co-wrote several songs?

PM: Right. Hmm, there’s “Riverside,” and “Drawing A Blank,” uh...

RD: “Linda Lou,” “Sixty-Four Is Not Too Old For Love,” and my favorite, “I’m In Love With The Meter Reader.”

FS: Do you have a title for the new record yet?

The two men look at each other, smiles playing across their lips.

PM: Should we tell?

RD: Naw, we need money first.

PM: [Smiling] Oh, well, there is that.

RD: Go ahead.

PM: We’re thinking of releasing it — and the record company is livid about this, but... we’re talking about a plain white sleeve with nothing on it. No title, no photos...

RD: Like, the blank album, or something.

FS: You don’t think that’d confuse people?

PM: I’d like to give our fans a bit more credit than that.

-FS-

 

 

 

 

 

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