12 November 2014
After seeing Garland do a sweeping, soulful set at the Dakota last weekend, I felt the need to exhume this never-published piece, from way back in the day (1981) . . .
It’s Thanksgiving Eve in Los Angeles, nearing midnight. Garland Jeffreys has just finished an MTV video shoot of an explosive, cinematically-oriented set of classic rockers at The Country Club. He’s given his all, and normally that would be enough. But tonight the show’s not over. The video crew wants one more number—out in the streets.
Backstage in his dressing room, Garland towels off, acknowledging well-wishers and strumming an acoustic guitar. His adrenalin is still on the run and even the ladies-in-waiting take side saddle to the ballad he’s humming along in tune to the guitar. His red satin shoes tap time to the beat.
A head pops through the door to announce “Time.” Garland flips on an army combat fatigue jacket and heads out the door, still strumming.
Outside, the crew has set up shop on the curb. They stand in a huddle of slick shoes and New York accents, shivering against the unexpected chill. Mixed in with them are LA promo people, photographers and various hangers-on. The potency of Garland’s onstage performance still has the group abuzz with energy and an exhilarating “over-but-not-yet-over” post-concert high.
Across the street is a grotty dead-end bar whose neon lights spell out RUMBLE IN. Parked along the front curb is a cold, metallic line of Harleys, chopped to the bone. In the shadows of the bar’s entrance lurk brooding bikers, bearded hulks half-savage with drink and glowering darkly at what they take to be an invasion of their turf.
Garland stands out alone in the street, five foot five and looking his age, under a single streetlamp, tucked up inside his fatigue jacket, strumming a ballad to the night.
“What can I say
it happened that way
I’m the freak of the family . . .”
One of the bikers—so drunk he’s almost harmless—totters across the street and into camera range, spoiling the take. Everybody gets reset.
Take 2 is spoiled by motors in the distance.
The drunk—who gives off a considerable odor—is stumbling in and out of the video crew, who sneak nervous glances at his compatriots across the street and pray that they don’t decide to join him.
The onlookers huddle protectively closer, as if the coldness itself were coming from the dark massed bodies reflected in the neon gleaming off the line of Harleys.
Take 3 . . . the drunk gives a throaty laugh and lunges for the camera, falling to one knee before he can do any damage. He starts singing a maudlin, off-key song of his own.
Garland thrums his guitar abruptly and says, “Get this guy out of here before he pukes on my shoes.”
The drunk is cajoled back onto his feet and diplomatically detoured away. Filming recommences. The cold is ever more noticeable.
“What can I say . . .”
Garland starts up again, and this time something catches hold. It’s a special moment, a freeze frame of rock ‘n’ roll life that holds its meaning within itself: Garland Jeffreys, a blood mix of us all, a ghostwriter of years’ and more years’ standing, is singing hot clouds of steamy breath out into the cold night air. Alone in the streets he sings, under-sized inside his army fatigues, age lines etched across his face: a street poet all ready for combat.
“Here I stand black and white as can be . . .”
Alone in the streets he sings, the bright lights of show biz and welcoming faces in front of him—but at his back, like the chill wind that runs across his neck, he can feel something else, something harsh and cold as the neon that says without speaking: RUMBLE IN. Behind him skulk the brooding bikers, midnight sentinels of America’s dark edge of violence. They pace and mutter and watch.
The crew is still and silent. Garland sings from somewhere deep inside himself, no band behind him, no electricity, just heart.
“Here I stand black and white as can be . . .
And I give you this ballad of me.”
There is a silence when he stops. People stare at their feet and think private thoughts.
Garland takes off his guitar. The moment is over. Now it’s just another night on the road.