Junebug versus Hurricane

“Shooting Stars” – Keeping the Beat (and Bad Company)
May 26, 2010, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Bad Compant, brother, Dust, Elena Glasberg, Funeral Songs

Elena Glasberg

May 26, 2010

My partner Juney Bug’s been regaling our readers with the song of the loathsome, fearsome hag.  The hag — and don’t get this wrong, ya’ll — is no one to pity.  She is not a Christian figure, exactly.  No pity and no mercy for the white gal at the end of the bar, please!  She don’t need it.  She – unlike the rest of us – is Right With God.  She, with her tricks and manners, her suitors, a gin and a tonic to lean over, and the end of the night coming on too strong.  Like all the Lonely Girls and Barroom Girls, she doesn’t want the night to end.  Help our hag keep those colored lights flashing; come closer, and sit down beside her.  Tell her a story – if you can get a word in edgewise.  And if you’ve got that sad-eyed air about you, fella, hardly a nickel in your pocket, maybe those shoulders carried the weight better in younger days, well then, you just might be the hag’s long lost brother: the beautiful loser.  What the hag is to country and down home twang, the beautiful loser is to rock n roll and the Jersey shore.  While the hag never left town and her bitterness is deeply grounded, like her moneymaker, into that barstool, the loser couldn’t sit still.  You could say he was born to run, to ride his cliché 90 miles an hour down a dead end street.  Consequently he is always on the road, lost, and always coming home. 

Johnny was a schoolboy when he heard his first Beatles song,

‘Love me do,’ I think it was. From there it didn’t take him long.

Got himself a guitar, used to play every night,

Now he’s in a rock ‘n’ roll outfit,

And everything’s all right, don’t you know? 

“Love Me Do I think it was” – It’s a quote, of course, and thus the most genuine syllables of a song of love and theft.  A long hall of mirrors and the corridors of forgettings and violent crossings out of memory wind the lyric.  The stagey way that memory is produced – I think it was — and its middle class, polite locution gives away where these shooting star poseurs come from – mama’s house, or in the case of Bad Company, England.  This is the kind of bad company one finds in the discomfort of the suburbs (or 1970s Flatbush), the place where nothing is supposed to ever happen and the blues come borrowed all the way from the Delta through The Stones and Led Zep on to American top 40 ubiquity.   

Love me do I think it was.  And maybe it was.  Maybe it was for me, too. I used to listen all afternoon, piling the stereo arm high with vinyl LPs, the Beatles and Dylan, The Stones, and Judy Collins, Odetta.  Where was my little brother? All I remember of David is my excoriating disgust that when offered as a present any album in the world, the fool chose Tom Jones, Live.  He actually wanted to listen to an under-talented ass who swiveled his hips at the screaming female fans who threw their panties on stage.  It makes sense then that David would go on to love Bad Company.  Like Tom Jones they wore tight pants and glittery outfits to accentuate their heterosexuality. Liking them was the mark of a true boy, a suburban, melancholic boy.  A white boy, like my brother David. 

Johnny told his mama, hey, ‘Mama, I’m goin’ away.

I’m gonna hit the big time, gonna be a big star someday’, Yeah.

Mama came to the door with a teardrop in her eye.

Johnny said, ‘Don’t cry, mama, smile and wave good-bye’. 

It’s no accident that mama comes up in the second verse. She is the fount of the loser’s self-love, the lover he wants to escape and to perform for.  Little Rockstars are mama’s boys.  In their badness — especially in their rebellions — they prove themselves tied ever more to mama. Everyone wants to save the loser.  In this bath of unwanted maternal attention the loser perfects defenselessness as the ultimate defense.  His signature concession — You may be right – predicts another bender: Hey mama I’m going away. 

Remember the hag?  The lady sitting at the end of the bar?  Well, she’s gotta move over.  There’s another sibling rivaling for the bartender’s attention.  The lesbian with the dead brother is a new cliché (and oxymoron).  We coulda been him.  Maybe wanted to be him.  Weren’t allowed to be him.  Or refused to be him.  But in not getting what we wanted or felt we deserved, we survive all the guys we could not be.  Poor, unlucky, survivors. 

Johnny made a record, Went straight up to number one,

Suddenly everyone loved to hear him sing the song.

Watching the world go by, surprising it goes so fast.

Johnny looked around him and said, ‘Well, I made the big time at last’. 

Among my brother’s things is a notebook with cockroach brown pasteboard covers, the kind that you find in old-fashioned office supply stores.  In it the tab forShooting Star  is meticulously inscribed. My brother took up playing the guitar in prison the way Malcolm X taught himself to read.  In prison you do for yourself what you’d let others do for you in the outside world.  The results of the loss of freedom can be impressive.  By the time his sentence was complete, David played a pretty good guitar. 

One afternoon soon after his release, my brother performed an acoustic version of the strangely affable power rocker.  He was crashing at our mother’s apartment in Marine Park, one of NYC’s last havens of white ethnics.  He was home; I was visiting from grad school in the midwest.  I had been circling jobs for him in the local paper.  He shot down every demeaning suggestion, but gracefully, without rancor.  “This is a good entry level position,” I offered.  “You’re probably right” he’d evade.  How can a rock star be a bagel boy?  Yet as I was playing the sane older sibling I was fighting my surprise at his studious guitar playing.  I admit it: I was jealous.  You see, I had always been the rock star in the family.  I was the one whose band played CBGBs.  But I put down the guitar.  Who was I to tell him to get real about working some dumb job?  Wasn’t I in grad school studying literature, trying just as hard as he was to escape the fate of the ordinary?  We both nursed our rock star dreams.  Our narcissisms collided, overlapped. 

As it turns out, there has always been a job opening for a Shooting Star:   

Johnny died one night, died in his bed,

Bottle of whiskey, sleeping tablets by his head.

Johnny’s life passed him by like a warm summer day,

If you listen to the wind you can still hear him play 

Don’t you know that you are a shooting star,

Don’t you know, yeah, don’t you know….. 

Every beautiful loser sings “Shooting Star” at his own funeral, years before he actually dies, in the mournful cadence of manly self-possession.  He’s long down the road from the boy who once cried out “look ma –.”  He knows now that no one can look away; no one can ever save him.  And it is his utterly calm refusal to be saved that draws us to the beautiful loser.  I mean, would you actually want Him to have come down off that cross, knowing his investment in his own sacrifice?  Until that afternoon I don’t think I ever realized how fully jealous I must have been all of my life of my beloved little brother, the beautiful loser.  

I think David might have learned more about what he wanted in prison than I managed to in grad school.  I know he never became a recidivist.  Yet I in my way have never gotten out of my institutionalization.  No, I seem to even be fighting my way in deeper. And he’s long gone.  

But if you listen to the wind you can still hear him play …..  

My thoughts so often come back to Dylan, who also wrote a Shooting Star of his own:   

All good people are praying/ it’s the last temptation, the last account

Last time you might hear the sermon on the mount

Last radio is playing 

Seen a shooting star tonight slip away

Tomorrow will be another day

Guess it’s too late to say the things to you that you needed to hear me say

Seen a shooting star tonight slip away 

Maybe Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” is the last song … playing?  If so, I often hear its opening guitar chords so balanced, detached, equanimous: All our deaths are sure to come.  Don’t You Know? 

Don’t you know, yeah yeah, Don’t you know that you are a shooting star,

Don’t you know, don’t you know. Don’t you know that you are

a shooting star, And all the world will love you just as long,

As long as you are.