Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dead Crush #2

Of course, most of the dead people died by doing stupid things. They died young and so are young and beautiful forever. Not that I don’t also have crushes on dead old people.

Once in a bar bathroom in Dover NH a very drunk 50-something woman slurred at me: “I used to be young once too.” It was a strange accusation. I was 24, probably at my physical prime in spite of the cigarettes and drinking, and I hated myself. I think when they die young, they probably don’t like themselves too much. I am saddened at my attraction to this. I know I’ve already mentioned my love of self-destruction in (male) others. I’m sure this won’t be the last time. I’m also startled and surprised by my steadfast heteroness. But I’ll get into that another time.

So I’ve never really crushed on James Dean, per se. I mean, he’s so obvious. This is mostly an excuse to write about one of my weaknesses. Without the JD model, I would have been without a major real-life crush experience: on the fragile, world-weary, hard-living, touchingly sexist Greaser.

Have you ever waited 7 hours in the rain to meet Morrissey at a signing? I did, circa 1993. Did I see him? No. Did the ten or so pale but tough boys with greased hair and triple-rolled jeans who were somehow mysteriously moved to the front of the line get to? Yes, and one came out breathing into a paper bag. Did anyone else get to see him? No. And there were plenty of other people in rolled-up jeans and horn-rimmed glasses that didn’t get to see him either. It’s not really any surprise that someone who sang “…and the rain that flattens my hair, oh these are the things that kill me…” would inspire a whole white (and Chicano, too, actually) culture of fashion clones. But since Morrissey’s style was based on James Dean’s greaserness (I mean, he left Primrose Hill to film a video in Fairmount, IN, where he lip-synced while lying on Dean’s grave) I credit JD with indirectly creating this whole greaser fashion of the late eighties/early nineties.

My first boyfriend was one of these fake Morrissey greasers. He was very quiet and occasionally used Butch Wax. And fake because his parents were middle class Iowa Democrats who still went to political rallies. The fakeness didn’t make him any less attractive to me, but mostly because I didn’t know there were real greasers still, people who held onto their Vitalis, Levi’s, bikes, and sideburns because daddy did, and daddy before him did too.

But they did exist. And some of them lived in Iowa. Two of them were brothers who drove school busses and fronted a rockabilly band called the Roughhousers. Oh My God. I can’t even begin to explain how in love I was. Obviously from a long line of working-class drunks, they themselves went nowhere without their flasks and Lucky Strikes. (Oh, there are issues here, me being attracted to and idealizing what is essentially a class difference. But the issues are complicated, as I am also from a long line of working-class drunks. These drunks just don’t happen to be my parents. I’m just saying they weren’t POSING, as many early nineties twenty-somethings did, as (some) of the Morrissey clones did. And as I did, when I thought that as a college student I’d ever have a chance with one of them.) Their rock shows were attended by punks and old locals alike. They went NUTS on stage. I believe the genre is sometimes referred to as Psychobilly. It made perfect sense to me.

I had no chance with either of them, as they were both married or otherwise entangled, and, as I said above, they probably weren’t interested in English majors, even those wearing fifties dresses. I don’t think I’d really figured out yet that it wasn’t a costume. It was who they were.

I understood this much better with the next greasers I met (they would hate it if I knew I called them that, by the way) in Portsmouth NH. Also in school-bus related fields (they repaired them), the two J.s were probably kindest guys I’ve ever met. They preferred Johnny Cash to psychobilly, had beautiful cars and beautiful eyes. I met them at a particularly low period in my relationship with E. They were sitting with yet another J. at a bar I went to nearly every weekend while E. was working his third-shift job. I had seen one of the J.s around town and was very drawn to him, so I went to the table at sat down. He was the sweetest, most polite man I’d ever met. His pompadour was not greasy, and he gave the impression of being both large and small at the same time. He refused to let me pay for any of my drinks. He was quiet but very funny. He was from up North and had the reassuring accent of that area. So far, I had only met dads with that accent. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but I felt very appreciated after the months of abuse I’d been suffering under E. J. complimented my shirt, my eyes, and my laugh. He held bar doors and car doors (he had a sweet, sweet, sweet MG that he fixed up himself) open for me. He didn’t ask for my number. His friend, the other J., was smaller but equally sweet. He didn’t really talk to me because he had a girlfriend. I felt incredibly guilty.

This went on for several weekends. J. still had not asked for my number. It appeared that he was courting me in a kind of old fashioned way. I don’t think we ever touched each other on accident, even. He wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though—the guy could drink. I got the sense that he could really mess someone up, but that he would do anything in his power to protect his woman from this side of him. Sexist, yes; but I appreciated it. It was almost like I was experimenting with a traditionally gendered relationship, but with a person I was desperately attracted to, which normally wouldn’t have been the case in such a relationship. The girlfriend who usually went with me on these excursions told me I should break up with E. immediately; didn’t I see now that I could be with someone who was nice to me?

One night we went to the all-night restaurant where E. worked. I still hadn’t told either J. about him. I knew at some point this had to end, but I had hoped it wouldn’t be in the way it did. Of course E. saw me coming in with the J.s. Of course he made a big point of coming over and sitting down and pawing me all over. Of course J. gave me a confused look. And of course he got up and sat with another woman across the room, a younger woman I knew who wasn’t very nice. He made a show of hugging her and then leaning across the table to engage her in intimate conversation. “Is he mad?” I asked the other J.

“I don’t think he knew you had a boyfriend,” he said. He seemed confused too.

Ugh. I’m such a jerk.

I don’t think that J. and I really had too much in common. I think what we both liked was making another person feel happy, as stupid and simple as that sounds. We never got close enough to hurt each other. The more I was wooed by the opened car door, the more chairs that were pulled out for me, and like that. Around him, I became sweet and sort of helpless. That wouldn't have worked for too long.

I’m still drawn to greasers both real and fake, and I can usually tell which kind they are by merely looking. The fakes have modeled themselves on an idea, rather than simply living the idea. James Dean was a model for Morrissey and his retinue: be bad, look good while doing it. The real greasers don’t need this model. They live it because it was handed down to them. I don’t know if it’s anything to be proud of: static 1950s white male “rebellion.” I learned a lot from J. though—he was 100% true to himself. And he looked really, really good in his car. Just like JD.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Dead Crush #1

Me and Gram Parsons on a motorcycle at dusk. Me and Gram Parsons in the cab of someone else’s semi, barreling toward a creepy dawn. Me and Gram and my loneliness and his loneliness. Gram and my loneliness. I’m somewhere else. See those leaves rustling in a park in a strange night wind? I’m not there either. A bottle many years ago in a park. Part of me might be there. I disappeared.

He died in a desert from morphine and tequila. He cheated and lied. But inside that weakness, the horrifying potential. The weakness in all of them, the potential that leaks out and makes you fall in love with them all over again, even after they lie to you, even after they lie to you for the last time.

The night E. threw a bottle at the go-go dancer I stayed all night in the bar with him as he yelled and got drunker and drunker. I sat at the other end of the bar and watched him. I don’t even know if he knew I was there. Once he picked a fight with someone who made fun of his pink golf pants. It was tempting to make fun of him until he kicked your ass. I watched from a window inside and then went out to help him even though he told me to go away. Once he screamed at my sister, who is the most precious person in the world to me, the one person I’d kill for, (I mean it, I can feel the gun in my hand now as I imagine avenging her imaginary death) on a sidewalk late at night, the night he got arrested at a hot dog stand. I wanted to break up with him then. I was with him for three more years.

What should they do with this love? Gram’s love was so gigantic and desperate. If he had given it to himself, he might still be here. Why do they think that their love can only go to someone else? He was obsessed with loneliness and it powered everything he created. If he couldn’t give his love to someone, would it disappear? And who would he be without love? In “To Love Somebody,” he sings “I’m just a man, can’t you see that’s what I am, and I breathe every breath that I take for you. But what good does breathing do if I can’t have you, if I can’t have you?” In this song and so many others, the definition of man is love for a woman he can’t have or has lost. Man equals unused love. What happens to the man if the love isn’t accepted? He stops breathing? Yes. And what is a woman? Oxygen. And we find this attractive? Uh, yeah. Well, for six months or so. Or the length of time it takes to listen to a Gram Parsons song at least 14 times in a dark room after your husband leaves you.

E. could have beaten me up, could have really hurt me, could have destroyed me. That reality breathed down my neck every time I thought about leaving him. We both knew it was there. It was the little ghost that walked between us. It linked us. “I can’t leave him,” I told my sister. “I’m his only advocate.” I said this the night he told her to shut up and then dropped her off at his friend’s house in a town she didn’t know. I chose him over her, I did it again and again. I chose the slow wearing away of who I am over…I don’t even know what the other option is. I imagine, now that I’ve let another person use me up and leave me, that I’ll find out. I keep choosing this wearing away. Now I’m not choosing it, and I don’t know what else there is.

I guess it’s pretty obvious. I’ve wanted to save someone who thinks I’m their only hope. How can I have been so many people’s only hope? My former sister-in-law used those exact words the other day: “We thought you were his only hope.” I keep thinking I see a glimmer of what they could be through all of the fuckedupness, their desperateness to figure out what to do with love. Sustaining a relationship that’s based on me taking care of them ultimately causes me to detach, like I did with all of them. ALL of them. And then they hurt me, each one more than the last. My reward for being oxygen is always betrayal. I refuse to ever again be responsible for helping someone be who they should be. I want some who’s finished. If only that didn’t sound so unattractive.

He wasn’t really a rock star even though he dressed like one. He wore beautiful clothes; he dressed like an extravagant woman. Near the end, his voice broke and cracked over his sad, sad words. The voice was gone but the hurt was still there, more raw than ever. It was so raw that he couldn’t even sing alone; he needed Emmy Lou to carry his voice with hers. I don’t know if they ever had anything together besides their voices, but he said this about singing with women, “Singing with chicks always seems to work out at least half good, and if you get a really good chick it works better than anything, because you can look at each other with love in your eyes.” But he knew how to empathize. What other man could sing “Do Right Woman” and make you believe him?

I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of Gram Parsons. My favorite thing about him: he’s just a guy. Like many guys before and after him, he ran away. His marriage was nearly over when he ran away for the last time. The things he loved kept him running: motorcycles, trucks, drugs, Jesus, music. They were all a way of transporting him somewhere else. When he died, Gram’s road manager stole the coffin with Gram’s body in it so his stepfather wouldn’t get half of his estate. Even after he died, he was running.

So my confession is that I want to be a savior. Because I know that’s what Gram wanted and that’s what they’ve all wanted so far. Basically, I don’t know how to be desirable if I can’t change your life. I won’t do it again, and I realize that I’m going to have to sacrifice a great deal of my own definition of love, of what it means to be a woman, in order to do this. I may never be in love again without it. So can I ask this: What about my love? Where is our love, women’s love? What am I supposed to do with my love? Why is it always about their stupid love? Also there’s this, if I can actually say it: Love destroyed me.