In the latter part of 2007, I entered a contest at the writing site, Absolute Write. The prompt was to write about a song that changed your life…and you could write fiction if you wished. I went with ‘fiction’ that was a thinly veiled slice of life. They say there is truth in fiction. We sometimes get ourselves and our own lives entwined in the fiction we create. Probably the case here. (-; I didn’t win the contest, but I did get the JUDGE’S CHOICE AWARD. I kinda think that’s a bit better than winning. (-;
As it was about Lou Reed’s wild side…I thought I would hunt that story down and post it here today. Lou was an icon of the crash and burn decade of the 70s. Loved his work. R.I.P.
The Wild Side: A Life Without Wings
By Kevin Craig
A song can sometimes bring you back down to earth. Often, it’s the songs you least expect that eventually have the heaviest impact on your life; songs that have been there all along, sitting latent in your consciousness…waiting.
When Marci came to the hospital to visit me, I had already completely given up on life. I was ready to call it quits. The purpose of her visit was to sway me away from the precipice at which I had arrived, but the moment I saw her enter my room I turned to face the wall. Making a cocoon of my blankets, I barricaded myself against her will. Had I been paying attention, I would have seen that she came bearing music. Marci knew the omnipotent power music had over my mind, body and soul and she wasn’t afraid to use it.
“Please look at me,” she said after a moment’s silence. Receiving no reply, she sat in the contoured plastic chair at my bedside. “I’ve got all day. I can wait.”
I lay there festering in anger, willing her to give up and leave like the others before her.
“I brought something for you,” she said. I heard scraping and the metallic shriek of the bedside table’s drawer being opened. The pitter-patter of things falling into the drawer followed. She was sweeping the table clear.
I then heard a barely audible click and recognized it as a ghetto blaster’s tape player being activated. The squelchy silence that followed informed me she had made the tape herself.
“Holly came from Miami, F L A…”
I arched my brows in confusion. I always liked Lou Reed, but I couldn’t figure out why she chose that particular song to play to me. Obviously she was trying to rescue me but that song held no weight with me. We had danced to it in the murky Toronto underground clubs, but it had never been more than background noise to me; excellent background noise, but noise nonetheless. I was baffled that she would pick that song to reach out to me.
She began to speak over the rumbling certitude of Reed’s hollow gothic voice.
“Remember how you used to tell me to take a walk on the wild side?” she asked. “Every Goddamn second you were saying that. Here I was looking like a frumpy nothing…no friends, no life. You saw something in me.”
I smiled, perhaps for the first time in the three weeks since Scott had jumped. I had forgotten how I had come to know Marci. How could I have done that?
I remained silent, staring obstinately at the wall. But I began to feel an awakening in my chest, perhaps a combination of Reed’s voice and the doo doo doo girls? Or maybe I could feel Marci’s reaching and an inner part of me—a hidden part not ready to give up—was reaching back?
“If not for you, I would probably still be living that lie,” she continued. “My parents always thought something was wrong with me. Imagine an artist and a museum curator having an uncultured daughter. They were perplexed until you came around.”
I thought she was trying to make me laugh. Everybody wants to laugh, even those of us who have given up. It’s an inherent trait we have no power against. But, still, I fought it.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, throwing me off. “I mean, that was the bender of the decade. You’re lucky you lived through that, man. What were you thinking?”
I fought against turning to face her, but I couldn’t fight off the tears any longer. She was getting to me. I hunkered deeper into my blankets, wiping the tears away in a way that I hoped she couldn’t tell they had fallen. But even as I wiped them, I felt myself hitching. There was no way she would miss that.
“Scott’s dead,” she continued. “I’m sorry you had to see it happen. I am. I really am. But he’s dead. You can’t bring him back.”
Through the sobs, I finally gave up my fight and spoke. “He had wings,” I mumbled through the growing lump in my throat. The explosion of monarchs in my stomach was fighting against the lethargy I had fallen into. I could feel the rumbling need to move; to flee. I edged against it, squeezing myself further toward the cold blue wall.
“It speaks,” she replied. “Your brother told me you haven’t said a word in the last week. He’s sick for you.”
“He had wings, Marci,” I said, ignoring her comment. “I swear to God. Before the truck, before the tumbling. Before the splat.”
I was screaming now.
She stood and reached over my bedrail. I felt her hands on my shoulder, at first just to be there, but then she tried to force me to face her. I fought against her tugs.
“Goddammit. Look at me,” she screamed. “I need you to face me.”
As we struggled, the song was drawing to a close. I loved the doo doo doo girls. How did he know to put that part in the song? How perfect it would make the song? How did he know? Music is just so beautiful when it’s right. The song was starting to have the desired effect on me and I resented it even more. When you’re sick, when you’re ill and wanting to die; you get so angry with anything that tries to destroy that feeling. You get so low that you like being there, you get comfortable in your misery and you kill to keep it.
“He flew,” I said. “You didn’t know him like I knew him.”
With a sudden punch to the shoulder she gave up the struggle and pushed me violently away. “You bastard!”
“He didn’t mean to do it, Marse,” I said. I had won the fight. I turned around to see her plunk back into the chair. “He was flying.”
“You can’t save everyone,” she said. Now I realized that she too was crying.
“I can’t live with this,” I said, breaking. “I see it when I’m awake and I see it when I’m sleeping.”
“He’s a rotten bastard for making you a part of it,” she replied. “I don’t care if he is dead. He’s a rotten bastard.”
The doo doo doo girls were making their final appearance. My favourite part of the song was about to play. I did love that song. I never realized how much until I found myself waiting for that part of it to come.
We looked at each other as the horns took over and rose above the rest of the music; she with her soft brown eyes, pleading, and me with a million miles of sorrow looking for somewhere to dump it.
“You’re the horns, you know,” she said as they built to a crescendo. “If anybody can be the horns in this song, it’s you.”
Sobbing, I reached out beyond my bedrails. Marci stood to receive me. She had finally breached the chasm that nobody else could breach. She had saved my life with a song. I didn’t know if I was starting my walk on the wild side, or ending it; but suddenly I felt empowered. If Scott could have wings, if only for a moment, then I could be horns. I could be lifted.
Walk On The Wild Side – written by Lou Reed
That’s that. Godspeed, Lou, baby…