Without further ado, part one of The Groupie Story:
In the tiled room her footsteps echoed, the wooden door closed with a resonating boom that bounced off all the hard surfaces. Over her shoulder she carried her handbag and a canvas tote decorated with bold yellow daffodils with black whiplash outlines. Thankfully no one else was in the room, it was deserted, which was to be expected at that time of day nearly seven o’clock Friday night. On the iron hook on the back of the door she hung her handbag and attempted to balance the tote on the toilet paper holder, but it wouldn’t stay. It threatened to tip over every time and she did not want the contents within to fall on the filthy tiled floor. Inside was a change of clothes, blue jeans and a shirt with a verdant green paisley print.
At the moment she was dressed in an A-line dress, brown with orange daisies on it, beneath a cream colored turtleneck. It was work clothes, she worked at the jeweler and make up counter at O’Malley’s Department Store, located downtown Detroit. Her shift was over, but she did not have the time to drive home and change; at half past seven she had to meet a friend at a bar several blocks away. Unfastening the buttons on the front of the dress she pulled it over her head and folded it the best she could. From the tote she pulled the shirt and slipped it on. Stepping out of the flats she was wearing she tugged off her nylon stockings, being careful not to step on the floor by the toilet with bare feet. Quickly she put on the jeans then closed the lid on the toilet, chipped wood painted black, it had been there for decades she thought. She lowered herself onto it, pulled on a pair of stripped socks and a pair of platform boots.
As she jumped up to leave she noticed her work nametag had fallen on he floor; ‘Roxanne’ it read in white letters on red. Cringing a bit Roxanne picked it up and left the cubicle, heading straight for the sinks and mirrors on the wall. At least they seemed somewhat clean she thought, eyeing the white, cast iron pedestal sink before her, just some rust stains from the water. In the mirror above it, spotted with age she fixed her long, dark hair in loose curls formed by putting it up on juice cans. If left alone it was just straight. Roxanne looked fine; she looked as best as she could she thought. Before leaving she tried to look out the window with its panes of frosted glass on the back wall of the toilet. All Roxanne could see was it was dark, in the street below the lamps glowed orange in the deep blue.
Upon leaving Roxanne headed or the employee stairway, through a door nearby the men’s and women’s toilets. If her boss caught her going down the main stairway, for customers only, she would get taken aside and scolded the next time she worked. Albeit her shift being over it did not matter and there was no reason to take that risk. Her boss would have a clear view of her coming down the stairs from the jewelry and makeup counter. The employee stairway was narrow, dark and dusty with an odd musty smell that lingered in it, like that floating about an old house. It ended in the back room on the ground floor, with its boxes of merchandise needing to be unpacked and mannequins and clothing racks that needed to be taken down to the basement. Roxanne exited through the back door near the loading doors.
Her car was parked in the lot across the street, in the very back where employees had to park. The night air was cool and crisp, the scent of fallen leaves carried on the light breeze, autumn in Michigan. October was deliberately coming to an end, Halloween about a week away. Over head wispy clouds hung in the deep blue sky, making a feeble attempt to blot out the innumerable stars like spilt glitter and the waxing moon like a round disc of abalone shell, clear and pearly bright. Wrapping her navy pea jacket tighter around her, Roxanne dashed across the empty street. Inside her car, a butter yellow Volkswagen, she shivered slightly and peeked in the wallet. In the faint light from the street lamps she saw the tickets, smooth slips of pale blue paper.
Lighting a cigarette she turned out of the parking lot and onto the dark, post rush hour street. She was meeting Jenny at Bill’s Bar, a hole in the wall on the ground floor of an old motel, several blocks away. On the way there Roxanne thought of her old friend, best friend, who had moved to England at the end of the summer. Back in June she had met and ran off with an English musician who swept her off her feet. Almost every week a letter came in the mail from her; all of them told about the great time she was having with photos that proved it. England was beautiful, her new boyfriend was wonderful. Nearly a month ago Roxanne had broken up with her latest boyfriend, Joel. He turned out to be a loser, a drunk who cheated on her with high school girls.
She was glad he was gone, but then a bit sad, it did not help that her best friend was having such a great time. Things were still so complicated she sighed as she slowed her car down in front of the bar. There were plenty of open parking spaces, the office building across the street was closed for the night and the parking out front was free to anyone who wanted to park there, the restrictions ended at six thirty. Roxanne pulled into one of them, shut off the engine and stepped out into the chilly night. All around her the tall buildings seemed to funnel the icy wind, intensifying it. Shoving her hands in her jacket pockets she raced across the street.
The heavy wooden door of the bar with its leaded glass windows opened into a dim, cozy, smoky room, cluttered with small tables and battered bent wood chairs. Jenny was waiting at a table towards the back of the room beneath a sign advertising Jack Daniels whiskey. She was a short, plain-ish girl with lank brown hair, blue eyes that were too large like a cartoon characters and the slightest bit chubby. When she spotted Roxanne she smiled and motioned her over.
The first thing Jenny did was ask Roxanne, “How was your day?”
Sighing and settling down Roxanne answered, “It was okay, boring… you know what I mean. At least my boss decided to leave me alone.”
Jenny nodded, “Did you remember the tickets?”
“Yeah, I have them right here,” Roxanne said holding up her handbag. “The show starts at eight.”
Sometime around half past seven the both of them needed to get over to the Grand Theatre, which was only a few blocks away. Roxanne had been looking forward to this night ever since the concert had been announced. The last time she had been there was with her best friend back in June before she had taken off. They had seen Led Zeppelin together. Tonight Jenny and her were going to see Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. One of the waiters brought by their drinks and they spent the tome between then and the concert talking about their days, life, Roxanne’s troubles with Joel. Music from the jukebox played in the background, old Beatles songs, for Roxanne they brought back far away memories from high school. Outside the gusting wind rattled the door, along the bar multicolored Christmas lights twinkled.
The waiter who had been helping them came by once more and asked, “Would you like another Heineken miss?”
Roxanne responded, “Yes, please.”
There was still enough time; there was about twenty-five minutes before they had to leave. Only twenty-five minutes, excitement rose from the pit of Roxanne’s stomach like a jolt of electricity. Frank Zappa would be there, she wondered what he looked like in person, she had only seen pictures of him. The waiter came back with her second drink ad she took a long sip hoping it would calm her soon. Roxanne wondered what Frank and the band would do on stage, would they be dragging people onto stage, would they be humiliating them or just have fun?
“Aren’t you excited?” Roxanne exclaimed.
“I don’t know,” Jenny said taking a sip of her Miller. “They aren’t going to do something weird to me, are they?”
“They could…I thought you said you liked Frank Zappa and The Mothers?” Roxanne replied.
“I do, I just don’t want to be humiliated,” her friend retorted. “We’re going to be right in the front row too.”
“Aw, don’t worry about it, it’s gonna be great. If they want either of us I’ll go up on stage,” Roxanne smiled thinking about Frank Zappa.
“Okay, I don’t are what you do. I just want those dirty freaks to keep their hands off me.”
Roxanne wished her best friend were still in Detroit to go along with her. She would have been just as excited as Roxanne and would not have had any second thoughts about it. She liked Frank Zappa and The Mothers just as much as Roxanne did. But that was all she could do, wish. Her best friend was on the other side of the globe and happy, why should she be wishing she were there in Detroit when she had spent so many years wishing for what she had now. There was no reason for it. It was going to be a great night and she was going to make the best of it, Roxanne thought, her old stubbornness making a return. If you think about it your then it is.
Rapidly the time to leave was encroaching upon them. Roxanne and Jenny finished their drinks then paid the tab. Outside the bar they agreed to meet up again at the concert hall. Each had their own car and Roxanne had the tickets, so Jenny could not get in without her. Several blocks away a group of people gathered outside the front doors of the theatre, a large, old art deco place that had certainly seen better days. Glowing pink, green, red, orange above the doors an enormous neon sign spelled out ‘The Grand’ in bold, flashing letters surrounded by a sunburst design. Driving a little further Roxanne parked in a nearby lot, the same one where she had parked last time she had been there.
Standing out front of the theatre with all the rest of the people she waited for Jenny, wondering how she would find her in that crush. At least the street was situated differently than the other and the wind was not gusting, only a chill breeze was blowing, just enough to ruffle her hair and rattle the remaining leaves on the trees. The oaks always seemed to hold their copper leaves throughout the winter. From the waiting crowds arose a tremulous din, composed of many voices, laughter the stray shout here and there. Roxanne caught sight of Jenny’s red and brown tartan jacket.
Waving a hand above her head Roxanne shouted, “Hey Jenny! Over here! I’m over here!”
She turned and looked right at Roxanne for a moment, not seeing her, just hearing her voice. It took her a moment to notice Roxanne, when she did she smiled and came over. Queuing at the ticket window people waited for the remaining tickets, the show was not sold out yet. Compared to Led Zeppelin back in June there was a vast difference, there was not people without tickets running about threatening to start a riot.
“Where did you park?” Roxanne asked finding that speaking alleviated some of the nervous excited energy that had been building in her.
According to her watch she was only twenty minutes away from seeing Frank Zappa, the doors would be opening any moment now. Just that thought made her insides jump and her heart pound. Being twenty-three years old she did feel a bit silly getting that giddy over seeing a musician.
“Err…I parked in the empty lot down the street,” Jenny answered.
“Okay, that’s where I parked too,” Roxanne said just as the doors were opened and the mass of humanity surged forward carrying her along with it.
At the doors tickets were being taken, at the ticket window those remaining were sold. Compared to the crowd back in June people remained relatively calm, no one was rushing towards the doors knocking others down in the process. With Jenny at her side Roxanne arrived at the doors, the man standing watch tore the perforated section from her ticket and let her pass. The cavernous, high ceiling lobby smelled of dust, stale cigarette smoke, mould and faintly of urine. Layer upon layer of peeling paint hung from the filthy walls like hang nails. The last time they had been painted it was with a rich cobalt blue. Beneath her feet the ancient brown and white floor tiles cracked the edges were broken, fractures crossed their surface. The blond woodwork, stained and finished more than forty years ago was worn, scuffed and marred; the doors into the auditorium were the worst.
Through the doors labeled Section C – D Roxanne ambled trailed by Jenny. Their seats were in row one, section C, front and center. Rows of wooden folding seats lined the room left to right, front to back, split up by isles paved with green tiles, broken and worn with age. Slowly the seats were filling as more people spilled through the doors. For them the task of finding theirs were not hard, row one, seats forty-eight and forty nine. Sighing Roxanne settled down, the wood of the seat hard and smooth beneath her. All that was left was waiting; the show would not be starting for almost twenty minutes.
Biting her lip Roxanne said to Jenny, “I can’t believe we are here!”
“I know what you mean,” her friend replied shrugging off her jacket.
Within her head, above the tumult of the growing crows Roxanne could hear her heart hammering away. Here she was at a Mothers of Invention concert, an event she had been waiting to happen for so long. Frank Zappa and The Mothers had been to Detroit before, but the first time she had not been all that into them and the others she had missed for a variety of ridiculous ideas, like not being able to get away from work. If she knew she would have been fine or if she had not needed the job so much she would have just walked out. But that did not matter anymore, it was all in the past, here she was at the concert; the one she had been yearning for.
“Hey Roxanne!” exclaimed a girl who dropped into the empty seat beside her.
“Hey Mary!” Roxanne answered turning a bit to face the other girl.
Mary was the one who had procured the tickets for the show; she was friends with a local promoter who did favors for her since he had an interest in her. If it had not been for Mary, Roxanne would most likely not have front row seats. She was a tall, feisty redhead and the leader of a local group of girls who made it their business to go to as many concerts as possible and meet as many musicians as they could. Roxanne was loosely tied to them, but did not get in on all their exploits. Tonight Mary was dressed in a long floral print skirt, a purple shirt, suede boots with fringe and a fur-trimmed jacket. Roxanne knew she had more than just taking in the show planned for the night.
“So, are any of the others going to be here?” Roxanne inquired referring to the other girls in Mary’s pack.
“I think so, I know Sue and Debbie are gonna be here. As we both know Maggie isn’t,” she said.
Maggie was originally going to come with Roxanne, but she had an exam in an evening class that she could not skip.
“I’m pretty sure Bev and Beth Ann are coming too… Oh, there they are now,” she exclaimed turning to make eyes with two girls coming down the isle. Turning back to Roxanne, Mary stated, “After the show we’re gonna try to get backstage, would you like to come?”
Roxanne did not need a moment to think about it, “Sure!” she blurted out, Frank Zappa would be there, if she stood a chance against some of the younger, more bubbly girls. The thought of them made her frown, but it did not cause the current of excitement racing through her to ebb.
Checking her watch Roxanne found there was only around five minutes until the show was supposed to begin. Glancing about her she found the theatre nearly full, even the upper level balcony, people leaning against the railing bottles of beer in hand. Shortly following the arrival of Bev and Beth Ann, Sue and Debbie showed up, their group of seven taking up more than half that row. When the house lights were dimmed the electric excitement racing through her like snakes increased so much that she began feeling a bit faint. Her heart was still pounding in her head over the din of the crowd, which had only grown more thunderous. If she stood up Roxanne feared she would topple over, her fingertips were throbbing along with the racing of her heart. She thought about sending Jenny to get them drinks, but she did not want to be tipsy if she managed to get back stage.
By the time she had thought of it anyway, it was too late, the stage lights came on and the band was walking out. So nonchalantly Roxanne could not stand it, they did not seem to even acknowledge the hundreds of screaming people before the. They talked amongst themselves, made final adjustments to instruments and microphones. With his back to the audience Frank plugged his guitar into his amplifier and fiddled with knobs and dials on both. He had his long, black hair tied back in a sloppy ponytail at the back of his neck and was wearing a pair of overalls, a purple thermal top, a blue scarf tied around his neck and platform saddle shoes on his feet. When he turned about and strode up to the microphone the crowd began shouting even louder. Prior to saying anything he stood silent surveying the madness laid out before him.
“Quiet!” he announced. “Quiet you pigs!”
*Part 2 Coming Soon*