May 11, 2021
10 mins read
This story is true and the events described within occurred as accurately as my memory allows.
Some names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
For high school graduation my parents bought me luggage. So I took the hint and used it.
My Aunt had moved her family to Louisville KY and said it would be a fine place to start a life.
So I went. She set me up with an apartment in the seminary complex where my uncle was training to be a preacher and get his Doctorate in Divinity.
I took a night job stocking shelves in a Kroger, made friends with a middle aged burnout called Glen in a state of arrested development. We bonded over classic rock, blabbing about music and smoking weed in his truck over lunch. It passed the time.
On days off my aunt would take me to a local hipster microroastery/coffee shop where all the fashionable bon vivants congregated and the confluence of the tattoos and piercings crowd, the granola hippies and the obvious druggy vampires finally piqued my curiosity about the music and art scene. I started scouring the weekend entertainment rag (Louisville Eclectic Observer) for a place to perform an open mic. The novelty of grave shift with no friends my age had worn thin.
A few weeks passed like this until once while sitting around with my aunt and coffee, our rowdy humor infected another table and the couple that sat there was hip! And young! Older than me but not by much. We chatted and joked and they excused themselves and went off to their next adventure.
The next week I went there alone, my aunt couldn’t make it but I love a good schedule. Wonder of wonders, the couple was back. And they remembered my name. And invited me to join them. Jon and Lana and Terry. Inseparable from then on.
They asked what I liked and what I did and I talked about J-horror films and books and my dumb job. Lana was going to school to be an architect and Jon restored cars and synthesizers. Did Jon play synthesizers? What a fun coincidence, as I played guitars and wrote and sang..
They asked if I’d been to any open mics and I let them know I hadn’t really been out of a 2 mile radius of my apartment. They decided to take me around to a couple as soon as next week. My mind staggered with possibility on the horizon
That the week crawled towards our date is an understatement. I was listless. I didn’t go out for food or coffee, just practice, work and sleep. Sleeping like it would fast forward me to the date. Eventually it did.
Jon and Lana showed up in a mid-80s Saab, all bondo and primer. It coughed and sagged a bit in the back but there was room enough for me and my guitar in it.
First we hit Twice Told Café, an early spot that was in the rear of a used book shop (I saw recently that it had been purchased and converted into a used and rare record shop by Louisville denizen Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy. Some things are worth saving). The important thing was that even though it was well attended, the sign up sheet was barren and there was no cover.
I don’t remember what I played. I do remember asking the sound guy for more reverb.
“How much reverb?”
“Put me in a cave,” I said.
I left the stage to scattered polite applause and felt like I’d just crushed it at Carnegie hall. My first out of town gig as a singer songwriter. My hair crackled with the performer’s high. Way cooler than anything I’d accomplished as a night stockman.
Lana raved about me then and is still a big supporter of my music now.
Jon would prove trickier to impress.
We hit another spot but the list was full up and Jon said he knew another place.
Did I mention I was only 19? I feel like that’s important to why I sat around in coffee shops exclusively.
This next spot was a bar with a cover but I had proper ID so it was no issue. ZELDA’S, the upstairs bar/stage at Fitzgerald’s pub. It was crawling with beautiful college students and tons of the eclectic art weirdos and musicians I’d seen around town. I signed the sheet and Jon got us a table. I was fidgety and obviously nervous. Jon asked if I’d like a beer or a drink of some sort and I wasn’t really a drinker but I agreed it might kill my nerves. Lana went to retrieve drinks and came back with a tray of pints and shots. I had a few and my nerves did indeed fade, kicked to the side by a confidence and gregariousness that I hoped would cover up my terror and sensitivity.
A bad Bob Dylan wannabe bored everyone before a well rehearsed group of 50-something hippies doing Grateful Dead and Doobie Brothers covers with 4 part harmony crushed it. Great soundtrack for the young and tipsy. There was another act and then it was my spot. I joked and horsed around, failing to not look anxious while they set up the mic and got a stool and testing testing 1-2 - and some laughter.
“Ladies and gentlemen” the emcee bellowed, “please welcome to the stage from our favorite ass-kicking girl group The SoupCrackers.. Jen Cornell!”
Strumming and last minute tuning. The crowd settled as the spotlight hit her glossy black hair and silvery sheath dress. She opened her mouth wide and sang “Here comes your man” by the Pixies and I was madly, suddenly, completely in love. I sat, enraptured, through the next three songs, envisioning our future together, as far off as I could imagine.
Her set ended. I clapped long and hard not realizing the emcee was calling me. Jon shoved me lightly “get up there” and I tripped a bit over a chair into my angel. I was obviously a little tipsy and clumsy and apologetic and she wasn’t upset. She smiled a smile I would never forget and told me good luck.
I fumbled a bit with the mic and introduced myself as the new guy from out of town, ingratiating myself too much and then I played. I played everything I’d ever written (about 4 songs tbh) and ended my set with “HEY” by the Pixies.
My eyes never left my angel. She was with a boy. Bigger than me. Good looking. Nice preppy clothes. She knew I was singing only to her. It was obvious to everyone and I did not care. Her boyfriend had to have known. I finished my set to mild applause and announced that I was new in town and looking for more musical opportunities.
As I made my way back to our table I seized up. Jon and Lana were talking to my angel. They were already acquainted and what a great set she had and had she met their new friend Terry yet?
I gushed over her with absolutely no cool. She shook my hand and told me she loved the Pixies and asked “were the others originals?” and more questions
Had I ever been to Rudyard Kipling’s tavern?
Would I like to join her and her FRIEND NEIL?
Not her boyfriend, not her lover, not her fiancée. Her friend. Never had the word sounded so beautiful.
“Well I would but Jon and Lana were my ride and I wouldn’t want to be rude.”
Jen said “I can take you home after” and Jon and Lana said they had “early mornings anyway so go have fun.” with a wink.
“It’s settled then.” she said.
“Come meet Neil.” she said.
Neil was less thrilled to meet me and after a monosyllabic exchange he bowed out of going to Rud’s.
“Looks like it’s just the two of us, let’s bail..” says she.
We collect our things and tumble out into the crisp and blustery night.
We chat in her car, an 89 Honda Accord hatchback and she plays PJ Harvey tapes. She asks me to roll down the window if I wanted to smoke and I obliged.
There are no awkward silences, just an endless stream of band names and album titles and who is a sellout and why gangsta rap is good but misogynistic and a hundred things.
By the time we get to the spot we are holding hands.
I lean in and clumsily make a dirty joke. She rolls her eyes mocking my voice and the lewd punchline, but punctuates it with the tiniest of pecks, the cheek and corner of my lip. Chaste lightning surging with a promise of unforeseen glory if I could rein it in just a bit.
Before we can lock the car we hear hollering from the bar “JENNIFER LYNN , is that boy bothering you?”
It’s a group of friends of hers. Sam, Trenton and Cristopher Lee. Rud’s is dead and they’ve secured a case of beer for apreś-club hangs at the boys shared apartment. They question my presence and she explains that I’m “..a good musician that just moved here” and she was showing me around. I could have just died and sailed away then.
We walk the 2 blocks with our guitars to the apartment and the boys settle in, passing a round of canned beers out. I wander to the bookshelf and find a black sparrow press chapbook of Bukowski poems.
Pleasantries are made. They ask to see my guitar and I allow it. It’s a cheap Yamaha. They know guitars and they know it’s a cheap starter guitar. They know I don’t belong and certainly don’t belong with their angel Jen. They play some hipster indie rock and garage type stuff and some very pop punky stuff and ask Jen to play something on it. She plays a song about Agent Cooper from twin peaks.
“Best damn coffee, the agent exclaims/as he gets into his car and drives off in the rain” she sings like a sunbeam in a drizzly sky.
They joke and tease while she plays but you can tell they love her and like her songs. They ask for an encore and she says “No, Terry has some good stuff, let him play his guitar.” I play something. Probably a cover as I’m not ready for their full scrutiny. I finish. They nod and agree that it was good stuff.
“Do you know any Nick Cave? How about Iggy?”
“Pop? I ask?”
“Stooge” they say.
We drink beer and pass the guitar. It’s getting late and Jen yawns and asks if she can take me home. The boys all howl and wolf whistle and Jen rolls her eyes while we laugh it off and say goodnight.
As we walk back to the car I carry both guitars. It’s chilly out and late so she walks fast, teeth chattering. We load up and wait for the engine to warm and hold hands shivering in the idling car.
She asks “Where did you say your place was again?”
“Up by Heine Bros off Jefferson.” I manage, light as a feather
She chews on it a moment. I hold my breath.
Her words tumble out “That’s a pretty good haul, maybe we should just go to my place instead if you don’t have to be anywhere first thing (I didn’t) and if you can behave yourself” (I made no promises).
So it’s settled. PJ Harvey comes back up with the headlights and as she puts the Honda in drive she grabs my hair with her free hand and asked “Don’t you want to try to kiss me?”
I really did.