Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Love in a Thousand Faces

I know I've departed from books this week, and have come nowhere near food. Please bear with me; a near family member is seriously ill (though now on the the mend) and I have learned I must work late tomorrow and Friday evenings. I promise a nice long weekend post about Joyce Carol Oates.

But now I have to talk about Max.

In the roundabout way that seems the nature of information these days, I learned that musician Max Vague jumped off the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge on on August 13th. You can read Jim Ridley's sad, lovely elegy here.

I knew Max when both of us were living in Los Angeles in the early 1990's. I cannot say he was a friend, exactly, but he was more than an acquaintance. We met because two mutual friends played in his band. I was with him and his then wife, Laura, at the New Year's Eve celebration that heralded 1991. I'd been brought there by a friend, a person who was kind enough to be keeping a close watch on me: I had just ended an abusive, hideous relationship with a man who did not mean me well. I was in a fragile state of mind. Actually, I was actively considering suicide. But this person insisted I join him for the party, which he promised would be small.

I went along, covered in a heavy flannel shirt certain to hide anything womanly or attractive about me. At that point, I was terrified of all men save my father and brother.

The party was indeed small, perhaps six people in a plain San Fernando Valley home. There were drinks and munchies. The company was kind. We were sitting in a circle; Max sat beside Laura on the couch. I was on a folding chair, which I pulled back to be outside the conversation.

Max noticed. He leaned forward and told me to pull my chair in. "You can talk," he said. "you're allowed." And he drew me out. He talked to me about books and music and the world in general. He had dark curling hair and intense eyes behind John Lennon spectacles. He talked with me as if my words were fascinating, as if I were an attractive young woman with something intelligent to say. I was captivated. When midnight came, and he kissed his wife, I was jealous.

I only saw him once more. We were eating spaghetti with meat sauce, which he pushed to the side, eating only the pasta. He was too polite to tell the hostess he was a vegetarian. We talked about Stephen King, agreeing we liked The Stand best of all his books.

Some time later I learned he and his wife were moving to Nashville. Given Max's musical aspirations, I thought this odd, but wished him well. I had a copy of his CD, Love in a Thousand Faces. I knew his real name, then an enormous secret. Life moved on, and I forgot about Max until this most recent, awful news.

The photo of the sad, squinting man in the photo accompanying the article breaks my heart. The musical success he longed for--indeed, deserved--eluded him, at least to his thinking.

In time, when I am past this initial stage of grief, I will be angry with him. I'm waiting, because anger will feel better than what I feel now, which is pain mixed with a kind of empathy. What happens to a dream deferred?

It jumps off the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge.

Ridley interviewed Vague's mother, Gay Cameron, who wants to know what was playing on the car radio when her son jumped.

I think I know.

Max loved the Beatles. Worshipped them. Thought they were the best band ever.

I think he listened to the Beatles as he jumped, and they harmonized him down his long, long road to peace.

At least, I'd like to think that.

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