Many years ago a guy showed up in our lives, a musician, had the art side of it all down cold, played in an Athens-Atlanta band but wasn’t really too much a part of the music scene, who hired my husband to engineer and produce some of his redos of Johnny Cash songs. He had concept and Marty implemented and filled it out.
Not-His-Real-Name was difficult to figure out. He was nice, polite and in some respects fairly reclusive, elusive and vague. Not that he didn’t spread himself around while he was around but it was in measured, small, well-manicured, contained doses. His intent was to give the read of a musician artist but he wasn’t working. Many musician artists are financed by family and usually in school. Not-His-Real-Name (hereafter given as NN) wasn’t in school and nothing was ever said about family. Not that musicians or musician artists living mainly on family funds go around talking about how their family is helping them. Slumming is popular. But there is a big difference between a working musician living on slim club earnings and a musician artist with family help slumming it. Posture slumming has the ability to be selective in its choices, is thus artsy slumming, and tends to be shocked and repulsed when it comes in contact with those who really do live on bean soup. Those who are posture slumming tend to be able to travel a lot. Like to Europe. They tend to be able to skip years of working on the road, living out of a van with bandmates. And if their clothes are Salvation Army vintage, their shoes and accouterments are likely to be selective, well-heeled gear. And they have the newest in little techno devices and toys. It is easy to tell a posture slummer, usually. And NN was a posture slummer who really, really wanted people to think he was anything but.
He drove a ratted out, rusting American car like an Olds.
“When he was pretending to be a person…”
We vaguely made friends with NN. Rather, NN. vaguely made friends with us. Which is how we became aware that he was importing and selling high end art, the kind of high end ar that is obscure and on a one-to-one basis. He would go to Europe and buy things. We became aware of this when we visited his supposed slumming apartment and saw the high end art packaged and crated, sitting around. Not the kind of thing NN would talk about. Indeed, he obviously didn’t want to talk about it. Push it off to the side as best as he could.
His apartment was the best posture slumming apartment I’d ever seen. A magnificent marble entry in the building with a long, semi-circular marble staircase. The place wasn’t pristine, but the parts that really mattered were. No black mold there. The floors in most of the rooms I saw nicely finished and the walls in most of the rooms nicely painted. Remarkable low clutter level. No clutter at all. No furniture at all. Not like a place where you live and happen to have no furniture because you can’t afford it. It was like a slumming show place. There was a new pink couch in the main room. That’s all. His girlfriend, more animated than he, was quite excited about the pink couch. You could tell it cost a nice slice of money. At least what I would have counted as a nice slice of money. A very scenic apartment. A perfectly theater apartment, which was appropriate.
His girlfriend thought they were real serious and he didn’t negate it. She was preparing to nest.
His girlfriend was interested in film. I had a hefty collection of Black Cat screenplays I’d collected. I loaned her my collection.
Then I didn’t hear back from the girlfriend.
I worried about my Black Cat collection of out-of-print screenplays. I called a couple of times but didn’t hear back. I’m not one to pester. I figure if I don’t hear back from you the second time then I never will and I cut my losses.
She called, eventually. NN had abruptly split up with her, which was why she’d been out of touch. She promised to get the books to me. She never did. Next thing I knew she was in Martha’s Vineyard doing something and I imagine my books went with her or ended up in some trash pile.
We hadn’t heard from NN in months and had pretty much forgotten about him. Then one day we got a mysterious call from NN. He was back in town. China had only recently opened for the tourist trade and he had been out touring China and other points unknown for several months. He wanted to meet with us and tell us something. Plus he had with him a woman he’d recently met, to whom he was engaged and planned to marry and wanted us to meet her.
We were living in a fairly respectable apartment building in Little Five Points. A librarian lived there and an actor and a computer guy and some Grateful Dead freaks who followed the band all over the nation all year long and a former keyboardist for Mother’s Finest lived across the hall from us at one point, and there was too the occasional crazy mother on bad drugs who would move in and rob apartments and terrorize everyone. They were small apartments, one bedrooms and studios. I’d painted ours in gorgeous colors and loved that aspect of it. Crammed into the living room was my desk and Target-type bookcases loaded with books and all of Marty’s music gear and in the corner was room for a small loveseat made of sponge and cardboard and covered with cloth. I was in painting mode and being a painter I will paint anything. That day I was painting the couch and it wasn’t working out. It wasn’t drying. I was painting the couch because it was long since ready for the trash pile and I was hoping for an extra couple of months of sitting on it. But it wasn’t to be and soon all we had for sitting were two canvas reclining lawn chairs that I’d painted, which were actually comfortable and looked great.
NN showed up with his girlfriend.
NN was driving a Porsche Targa.
His girlfriend was a blond Atlanta model he’d met in Milan. She was leaving the modeling profession for NN and was going to write a memoir for their prospective children. She was around 21 years of age.
It was a bizarre and very uncomfortable meeting. NN was basically coming clean with us because he liked us and counted us as friends. Not friends with whom you share your new-old-real phone number, not that close, but he wanted to tell us who he really was.
Which was the son of an absolutely filthy rich coal family in West Virginia. He’d basically been given time to go out and play before going back and learning the family business. And the time had come for him to leave the land of mortals and to reascend Olympus. For which reason he had been out touring Europe and China, and I guess looking for the mortal wife who was to have the lucky pleasure of ascending with him.
He talked about responsibility to the family when you’re on that level of…whatever.
NN wasn’t even his real name. He had been going by an assumed name.
He told us his real name, which I no longer remember.
He said he’d really enjoyed knowing us and wanted us to know all this because he was leaving and would not be back ever, blah blah, let’s shake hands and let’s not say anything about how I will not be giving you my phone number so please don’t be discourteous and ask for it because I will turn you down flat because I am frankly telling you that I will never have anything to do with you again as I am done with slumming and you were nice folks but good-bye, I’m now going back to West Virginia because of my responsibility to the family fortune and company, taking along with me my showcase blond who will fit better with the family than the old girlfriend who had dark hair and used to be a gnostic nun or something like that and had no chance of being my significant other but was fun while it lasted.
Well, y’know, I was kind of speechless. I was partly speechless because of the prospective wife, who was terrified of us. She looked like she’d never been out of the palace, except to be on the runway, and she eyed our little, clean, nicely painted but small cramped apartment like it was a leper’s room. She was dressed in bright white very expensive pants. Despite her eyeing everything in our place like it was from hell, she had the wisdom to start to sit down on the sofa I’d been painting. I was still holding the paint brush. I thought, well, considering how she had done nothing to conceal her horror of us, I could let her sit down and ruin a very expensive pair of pants. But I instead leaped forward and and said, oh, no, so sorry, I’m painting the sofa, wouldn’t want your pants to be ruined.
I for some reason felt like I was being very generous not letting her ruin her pants.
She went to stand by the door. It was time for them to leave, uhm, about three minutes after they’d arrived. She said that if we ever needed a car, her dad was a Rolls Royce/Jaguar dealer and he’d give us a good deal.
What the fuck kind of offer was that? I never could decide if she was that clueless, thinking anyone could afford a second hand Jaguar, or if it was her way of putting us down just a little further.
NN had bemoaned that once, during a dark art phase, he tossed his typewriter out the window, talking like he couldn’t replace it. And Marty had looked at the pseudo-slumming and the leather portfolio holding the art and the crated art and thought, “What?”
Marty had certainly not charged NN very much for his work.
NN had been one of us. Supposedly. Wanted us to believe it. Barely making it by. But not! We’d known, “But not!” Though not to what degree of “But not!” We’d figured everyone has their secrets, or at least their not so public lives. Halls with doors and some people open up a couple and some three and some keep you standing on the Welcome mat. One respects that.
I don’t know what was wrong with me at the time that I didn’t say, “What the hell’s wrong with you, you son-of-a-bitch?” But I didn’t. It just seemed to me another one of those , “Oh. Hmmm. Well, such is life,” happenings. Except in one regard. There is a cardinal if unspoken code in the musician world and it is this: You do not waste anyone’s time on projects with which you actually never intend to do anything. Now, you may not do anything with them, but you must believe that you might. And it is one of the basic gentle person’s agreements among musicians, an understood, and you simply don’t break it.
During the latest coal mining disaster, I recollected NN, and I was wondering what had ever happened to him. I was wondering what mines his family had their hand in and if they had any connection to Sago. Perhaps not, but I was thinking of NN’s Returning To Mount Olympus speech and the relationship of the coal magnates with anyone on a lesser economic level, much less coal miners. When NN had made his speech, I had wondered if the care taken in hiding who he was had anything to do with some notion of filthy money that he might ve a little embarrassed about, what kind of agony his family might have perpetuated on the serfs and the earth. Or maybe they hadn’t. Maybe they looked upon their employees like parents considering the long-term care of dependent children, and treated them well, but I somehow doubt it. If, in order to enter the world of mortals you must take an alias, then you must live on a very small island of the privileged.
Twenty years is a long time and it’s been twenty years since we’ve seen NN I’ve wondered how he might have changed and if he looks upon his alias days with some trace embarrassment or if the level of exclusivity has been amped.
What’s really freaking peculiar is that the fairly anonymous name that NN. went by, if you do a Google search for it (he did play on the occasion with one band here and I was wondering if they were internet archive worthy) nets zero results. Imagine that. Absolutely zero results. And it was a pretty anonymous name. A Me andMr. Jones kind of anonymous.