Nothin’ But the Hits

 

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

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Preamble
                                _

Most of you who pick up this—what is this?—this ramble, will know me as the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world—This Week’s New Release. You’ll know me as the guy on stage who shouts and swaggers and swears and sings, who has written rock songs that topped charts in countries all over the world, who’s played the biggest venues, who’s been voted Sexiest Man In Rock ‘n’ Roll on two separate occasions. You’ll know me as the man who was labeled the savior of the music industry: the Second Coming.

   What you don’t know is what I’ve been involved in behind the veil of rock stardom. This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time, and only now do I feel I’m ready to share this side of my story that has been known about by only a handful of individuals, most of whom are no longer with us—many of whom chocked on their own puke, or drowned in a swimming pool alone at 4am high on Valium and cocaine.

   I don’t crave attention; I’ve had enough of that over the years. What I crave is clarity—it’s what I’ve always craved, but it had always seemed elusive. At the end of this confession you will understand that I’ve found something which I hope is close to clarity.

   This does not change who I am. The words written here are probably true to what you think you know about me: The Dylan Reed onstage is the Dylan Reed offstage.

   This is merely an addition to the story.

   An encore, so to speak.

                                                                        —Dylan Reed, Berlin – May 1st, 2018

♠♠♠♠

 

I grew up in a sunny, blue-collar neighborhood. A quiet American town the likes of which seem like they’ve been lost to the past, but which still exist—you just have to look for them. My neighborhood was near a bunch of lakes and housed residents who smiled and cared about each other and who were just regular, nice people. Sure they had their secrets, but didn’t everyone?

   I’d spent days in school bored outta my mind and days after school down by the lake listening to music on my battery-powered radio: Nothin’ But The Hits was the name of the show I’d listen to day after day. The disc-jockey’s name was “Madman” Maurice McGonagall and his show would start at 3pm every day and run for two hours. On most days I’d catch the last hour but on Wednesdays and Fridays school finished early and I’d listen to it all the way through. The Stones, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Band, The Smiths, The Jam, The Fall, The Beatles—all the legendary “THEs”, and then there was Dylan and Hendrix and Bowie and Iggy and all these hits would play, one after another, with some brief intervals from Maurice talking in his smooth voice like he was an MC at a dark, smoke-filled jazz club, painting a picture of himself in the studio—legs up, sunglasses on, cigarette in mouth, maybe one hand down his pants. Maybe he’d jerk off while he listened to the music along with the rest of us—climaxing during the epic guitar solo.

   I did.

   Sometimes.

   Down by the lake.

   It was my own place, surrounded by a wall of trees, the sun glistening on the dead-still water. I’d breathe in the air through my nose and it was like life invading me, telling me everything was good; everything was as it should be. And because I was alone and because I was a teenage boy I’d get hard-ons and sometimes I’d stand there among the trees, by the lake, in the quiet, and I’d work myself until I jolted and a part of me became a part of the earth. Yeah, I was one with nature and the sonic waves that surrounded me.

   Sometimes I’d bring literature to the lake. I didn’t read all that much but my old man had a few books on the chipped wooden shelf in the living room, and every now and then I’d snatch one, drop it into my backpack and take it out once school was done and I was down by the lake. One of those books was a short story collection by a guy called Ford, and I enjoyed dropping in and out of these people’s lives, just catching a glimpse of what was going on with them, learning about their struggles and their flaws and their dramas in a few thousand words or less. I liked that. It made me more empathetic. It helped me understand the long-ass wrestling match that life is for some people; and some of em don’t even have a tag-team partner.

   That’s around the time I started writing. Some would call it poetry, but I didn’t because I didn’t know poetry apart from what we had to read at school. And I hated that shit. All I really knew was my family, my street, my school, the lake, my body and my songs, because though they played through the radio and were written by all those different people, they were my songs. I reached out and grabbed them as they made their waves from the speakers and I made them mine. And so I wrote about all those things I knew and I put them on paper like songs. I was writing songs without the music. Words with rhythm but without a beat, a hook.

   I met Daniel that summer. Daniel was a scrawny thirteen-year-old, like me. He had the beginnings of a pubescent moustache, and he said he was never gonna shave it. Daniel moved into the neighborhood with his family; his mom, dad, and older sister, Maggie, and we met while I was cycling my bike, and he was cycling his, and I noticed his Clash t-shirt and without a word I nodded and he followed me and we rode together to the lake and listened to Nothin’ But The Hits together, and so we were best friends in the space of a few hours.

   Daniel and me asked for music instruments that Christmas. We both wanted electric guitars, but we argued because someone would have to either play drums or pick up the bass. Neither one of us was willing to concede the guitar so we settled it with a fight by the lake late one autumn afternoon. The sun was hanging low but the air was crisp and it was still warm. The argument reared its head again as Maurice spazzed out about a new band that was making its mark on the industry, right before he signed off for the day and ended the show with their new single. Daniel said if we ever wanted Maurice talking about us like that we’d need to hurry up and get a band started. But still we couldn’t agree on who would get the guitar, so it began with a push, and then we were rolling around on the soft grass, staining our music t-shirts, wrestling for the upper-hand, holding each other’s shoulders when one got on top, punching each other’s gut when we were balled in a brawl. After about ten minutes we both fell to the grass, exhausted; blood on our faces, aching bones and limbs. I’d tapped out after Daniel had worked my arm behind my back and threatened to break it. He had me by the wrist and elbow and pushed my arm further and further towards my neck, and as the bone threatened to snap like a twig I screamed and said OKAY! OKAY! FINE, YOU FUCK!

   So it was decided—Daniel would get the guitar that Christmas. And after he did and he practiced and I used a half-empty cardboard box to provide beats, and as spring arrived and we’d spend our days down by the lake again, I found the courage to mention my songs. Daniel asked me to sing them to him . . . I’d had some trouble with girls at school and I had gotten in trouble with the principle and with my parents for different reasons, but Daniel asking me to sing for him was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. But we’d bonded and I trusted him and we loved each other in a way, and so I sang one of my music-free songs, only my voice was the instrument and Daniel listened and looked at me and I think in a way kinda fell in love with me. He didn’t say anything for a minute or two, just looked at me and at the towering trees that surrounded the lake, and he looked at flies hovering above the water—who were oblivious to how close to death they were, like some of us—and he just stared. Eventually he asked me to sing the song again, and so I did, this time with more confidence, and he began playing something on his guitar and before we knew it we’d written our first song together. Little did we realize we’d write a thousand more.

   We looked at the rest of my lyrics and we worked on more songs and we wrestled and we jerked off and we listened to Nothin’ But The Hits by the lake and we were happy.

   And that’s how I spent my teenage years.

At a Loss

Since she died I’ve noticed that my ability to speak with others is being slowly eradicated, gradually fading away like this emaciated pink bar of soap I use as I bathe.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

This water will soon be cold and I’ll step out, dripping. I will shiver. The bathroom will be unwelcoming and I’ll leave in a hurry; my scrawny, pathetic body with its limp flesh covered by a damp, frayed, yellow towel.

But for now I will bathe.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

This is not the first instance in which I’ve considered my verbal constipation. It’s been a number of years since this inadequacy began to rear its ugly head.

I stumble over my words, if I’m fortunate enough find them.

The water in the porcelain tub swashes as I sit forward and look out the bathroom window which is ajar. The cool air envelopes my face. The day is bright. I see the woman from one of the houses opposite mine (number forty-four, I believe) as she hangs her washing in her back garden. I consider masturbating, but my thoughts are too busy to construct a pleasing fantasy. Once again the water dances as I rest my back against the cool tub.

I wash my underarms.

There is a great void in my mind, it seems — I cannot express myself with the requisite words when prompted.

And what if I do not speak? What if I instead choose silence? Where will I be then? How will I live — in this highly connected, this garrulous world — when I find it such a challenge to assemble a satisfying sentence? How can I, for instance, charm a member of the opposite sex with my daft tongue? (It’s not just what lines the pockets that dictates a woman’s interest in the male of the species. The power of words, ah, yes. Powerful, indeed. Powerful, too, is a distinct lack of them.)

Drip. Drip. Drip.

But not my short supply. A silence that is chosen can be a cunning tactical move, but a silence that indiscriminately finds one during discourse is as debilitating as a thunderous kick to the groin.

Like, for instance, only a week ago when — against my better judgement — I agreed to meet with a number of work colleagues. Upon being asked a question about my education (Where was it you studied all those years ago in Germany, Felix?), I faltered. Of course I responded by stating the name of the exact place where I had studied, but that was it. No substantiating or elaborative information followed. Instead, a silence of immense discomfort. Only when the group had moved on to another topic had I conjured up the desired information I had wished to share with them, but by then it was too late.

I was forever missing trains; always knowing where I wanted to go but never reaching my destination in time.

I debated whether or not I was suffering from a crisis of confidence, that perhaps the youth of today was somehow intimidating me, but even when I spoke to those with whom I’ve been familiar for years I found myself lacking. There appears to have occurred some catastrophic incident within the cerebral cortex, an incident which I cannot comprehend. For when I write, it is fine. When I sing, it is perfect. When I dance, my steps find themselves effortlessly. My thought process isn’t fazed in solitude. The frontal lobe does not shut down when I’m alone. Is the frontal lobe really responsible for my social deficiency? Is it merely a result of some sort of social anxiety? Perhaps. Do I feel anxious? Not to my knowledge. I’m merely struck down with some sort of ‘dumb’ syndrome at the most inconvenient times.

Or, perhaps, it’s delayed grief.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Even the tap which I cannot turn any further is more prolific than me.

I splash the ever-cooling water onto my chest and run my soapy hands over my well-fed stomach.

I am not an object of desire.

I place my hands each side of the tub and pull myself forward. The woman from number forty-four is still in her garden. I’ve watched her on many occasions. The female form is forever distracting, invariably alluring, occasionally tormenting. I cannot remember the last time I had sex. I do, however, remember the final time I had intercourse with her.

 

***

 

My current state of vocabularic impotence hadn’t found me at that time. Her name was Lucy. She was American (from Pittsburgh) and weighed approximately 15st, and what attracted me to her was her brown eyes which suggested an open, warm heart. We met when I was in my late-forties. Lucy was two years older.

Together we enjoyed simple pleasures in life. For hours each day we would sit indoors reading and listen to music. Her favourite authors were Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, and John Saul. Her favourite musicians were Billy Idol, INXS, and Blondie. Her favourite snack was a chocolate éclair; I would regularly find her in bed, wrapped in a duvet reading Night Shift while devouring the oblong pastry.

Lucy engendered in me a firm belief in being oneself: she wore what she pleased, however unflattering. She sang at the top of her voice, despite her inability to hit one correct note. She ate her éclairs whenever she felt the urge.

Now that I think about it, I recall an instance when my apparently latent inability to form an articulate sentence may have signalled its existence during that period.

In our apartment, which was situated above a Chinese restaurant (the smells from which would regularly slip under our door and greet us and our guests like irksome door-to-door salesmen), we were hosting a small gathering of friends — Lucy’s friends.

Lucy had spent the afternoon cooking. Beads of sweat on her forehead captured her russet fringe, so it stuck there until she would wipe her brow with the greasy tea towel. She would regularly swear when she cooked; becoming vexed by the slightest inconvenience.

“Fuckin’ macarone,” she’d say. “Boil, you basta’d kettle!”

Of course I found these outbursts rather odd. One may get angry and curse, sure, but to scold a kettle for not boiling fast enough?

I would make myself scarce as frequently as possible when Lucy prepared food, and afterwards I would scour the kitchen for any stains she may have missed when cleaning — a product of my OCD.

During the friendly gathering Lucy’s friend, Noel, a reticent, plaintive and socially awkward fellow, found the courage to ask me where I grew up.

“Speilenstanz,” I told him. Then, I rocked from heel to toe as we both stood waiting for the other to continue to speak, as the numerous conversations taking place in the room swirled around Noel and I as if to mock us. We both smiled. I rocked back and forth some more. This is when I should’ve known there was something on the horizon, that some sort of irreversible malfunction had occurred up there.

Noel, sensing my dishevelment bordering on despair, pushed himself to his conversational limit in a bid to sustain the pathetic attempt at a discussion.

“It’s charming, or so I’ve heard.”

“Yes!” I enthused, quite relieved. “Yes, it’s very quiet. It’s, um, a quiet place.” I gave him a sheepish smile and excused myself, entering the kitchen as Lucy was muttering swear words at a carrot she was chopping, and I quietly sank into a chair by the kitchen table.

I put my inability to converse down to fatigue; I had been feeling tired most of the week, after all. Work had indeed been long and arduous at the time.

While I sat in a daze, I looked over at my lovely Lucy as she prepared the carrot.

“I thought you’d cooked everything earlier today?”

“We’re out of pre-meal snacks. I’m chopping some carrots for dipping into the hummus.” She stood upright and flopped her wrist back so that the knife pointed away from me. “You look off colour. Did you have too much to drink? You know you can’t handle more than two gin and tonics.”

“I’ve barely indulged, my Lucy. And I can handle more than two G&Ts. I’m not a bloody child.”

“Sweetheart, get yourself a drink of water and get back outside. We’re the hosts, we can’t both be absent from the living room at the same time. So if you don’t mind…” She flipped her hand back the other way, so she was now pointing the knife at me. I’m still unsure as to whether or not this was a threat.

Eventually, after a couple of G&Ts, I found my voice once again and the words rolled off my tongue like marbles off a coffee table. I freely participated in conversation while poor Noel stood by nodding his head and sipping his drink uncomfortably.

Fatigue, yes! That’s all it was.

The night had proved a success, and Lucy and I had intercourse soon after everyone had left. The next morning, a Sunday, I had forgotten about Noel and those few embarrassing minutes, and Lucy and I took a morning stroll to the supermarket where she purchased three fresh chocolate éclairs.

Back at home we lay in bed together while Debbie Harry told how once she had a love and it was a gas. After finishing two éclairs Lucy turned on her side and, as I read Faulkner, I placed one hand on her massive hips as I held the book open in the other.

“Felix?” she asked me in between deep, laborious breaths.

“Yes, my dear?”

“Rub my back.”

I placed the book page-down on the duvet so I could resume reading where I had left off, as Lucy turned onto her stomach — her face becoming lost in the pillow.

Placing my knees either side of her and resting my bottom on her calves, I lifted up her carmine red T-shirt, revealing the pale white and acne-covered skin. With both thumbs I pressed deep into the muscles causing the skin to crease and Lucy to release a number of low moans.

“Don’t be afraid to be tough,” she said — her words muffled by the pillow in which her face was nestled.

Halfway through the massage I changed the CD from Blondie to INXS. Lucy had a thing for Michael Hutchence, and — fully aware that I offered little sex appeal to the female of the species — I would play his band’s music in a bid to conjure up a sexual fantasy in her mind: INXS were nothing more than an aphrodisiac, and quite an effective one.

After ‘Mystify‘ had finished, I moved my hands from her back to her enormous thighs. With much effort I parted her legs — it was like lifting two massive slabs of beef — and began to rub between her inner thighs and her buttocks.

By this stage I had developed an erection, and with one hand continuing the massage, I manoeuvred my penis from my underwear with the other and began to touch myself.

Soon thereafter I noticed that Lucy wasn’t being receptive to my massage; which by now had moved to her vagina. This wasn’t unusual, however, as she would prefer to lie static during intercourse more often than not. Highly aroused, I continued, and, positioning myself higher up the bed, I rested one hand on the pillow by her head and used the other to position my penis between her legs.

After no more than twenty thrusts I climaxed inside her.

Never Tear Us Apart‘ began to play through the speakers as I used the bed sheets to wipe my penis clean. I lay on my back looking at the ceiling, spent.

“A little quicker than usual,” I snickered, then turned to Lucy whose face was still buried in the pillow. “Were you thinking of him or me?” I asked.

Lucy didn’t respond.

“Lucy?” I called, but still she failed to acknowledge me. Had she grown tired of me? Of us. Did the latest round of lacklustre sex arouse in her a latent depression?

As Hutchence declared that we could live for a thousand years, I rested my hand on her shoulder nearest me and shook her gently. “Lucy,” I intoned, but still there was no reply.

 

***

 

When I called for the ambulance my voice trembled.

“Where is she now?” the woman on the other end of the phone asked.

“In bed,” I answered, my words laced with panic and shame. “We were… having sex.”

The paramedics arrived a short time later and pronounced Lucy dead at the scene. Before they left one of them noticed the case of the INXS record.

“Good, huh?” he said.

“They’re OK,” I opined quietly. “Do I go with you?”

“My colleague here is going to ask you a number of questions.”

I looked at Lucy, who by now was spread on the gurney with a white sheet covering her whole body. With her massive belly and pointed feet the sheet looked like a miniature model of a snow-covered mountain range. I imagined tiny people skiing down her stomach and over her breasts, towards her thorax.

Later that evening, having attended the mortuary, I returned to the apartment and sat myself down on the bed on which Lucy had been lying only hours earlier. I reached for the remote for the stereo system and pressed play; the system automatically choosing disc three.

Driving drums began and Billy Idol proceeded to sing ‘Mony Mony’.

I lay my head on the pillow next to Lucy’s; the indentation made by her head still remained, and Billy sang with great vitality. I had never cared much for that track, but somehow it was the perfect song to accompany me at that moment. I reached my hand over to the empty space next to me where usually I would find Lucy’s hefty presence. I ran my fingers over the now cold duvet cover.

Lucy was gone.

 

***

 

The bathwater is now quite cool. My skin is puckered and the room lacks condensation. I move forward, reaching for the tap, twisting the handle, but all the hot water is gone. I look out the window once again; the woman from forty-four has long left the garden. A chill envelopes my face and I settle back into the tub.

I picture Lucy and think about my worry over words, and a faint chuckle arrives. When I think about her and I together, and when I consider our exchanged words, my memory serves me monosyllabic ones like ‘love’, and ‘rub’, and ‘soap’. Words such as ‘back’, and ‘hug’, ‘kiss’, and ‘play’. These are the important ones. I wonder, for a moment, if I’ll experience another relationship before I die. I’m in my mid-fifties, hardly an old age pensioner. I can still muster an erection. Even the thoughts of that last sexual encounter with my lovely Lucy had me mildly aroused, despite the morbid nature of the recollection.

I cannot be sure if my struggle with words is a result of Lucy’s passing, or something that predates her departure from us. I cannot be sure if I’ll ever be able to attract another woman, given my current predicament. What I am sure of, however, is that I have a window in my bathroom.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

And that’s something.