I. The Kid
He made the first meeting at three on a Tuesday afternoon at Café Beaubourg, which was next to the Pompidou Center in Paris. It was easy to find and I knew just where it was—the cafe being just next to this famous inside-out looking museum with all the ventilation pipes running up the side of the building—but still he insisted upon giving me the most complicated directions, not that I really cared, because it was part of the legend, you know, just talking to the guy, right here in Paris where he lived, on the telephone. I suppose that I was just one of many fans who had jumped on a plane and tried to contact him here; after all, he had lived in the city for twenty years, but really I don’t think he did much besides read the English newspapers and walk through the streets, stopping in cafés for lots of espresso coffees even though he seemed anything but nervous. He never played music anymore. He told me that, right away. Said he was trying to paint but he was allergic to the oil in it, made him break out in blotches; he tried watercolors but they just kept running on him all down the paper and made him just want to paint picturesque barges cruising down the Seine, corny paintings he said, might as well buy a postcard.
Personally I don’t think he had much feeling for art, for the visual arts I mean. Sure, he liked the movies and there were always rumors —well there used to be anyway—of him going in that direction after he turned his back on the only thing he could really do with any precision: rock ‘n roll. I didn’t care if the critics called him a has-been, I knew what he was and that didn’t lessen him in my eyes ever, not for a second, you know.
He still made money in publishing royalties, he told me. I mean, that famous song of his was always getting played on the classic rock radio back in the States and plenty of groups had covered it I’m sure. But to think that he left the States, Los Angeles in 1973, and never looked back, God, that took guts, huh? I mean, not that he really had to play anymore because as far as I was concerned he had done it all with that one song. I could listen to it a thousand times. Well, at least eighty or ninety.
I gotta admit that when he walked into that cafe I was kinda shocked because of how old he looked but, you know, we all get old, I guess. I had only seen him in those soft pictures when he was young and beautiful with all that hair and everything: but that was when I was just a kid because I didn’t really get into his music until long after he had stopped playing. But now he looks sort of like Lee Marvin with a bigger nose than I remembered, gray hair, out of style clothes and always mad about something. I mean, he looks mad but I don’t know if he really is or not. Maybe he just likes to rant like those crazy guys on the street. But still, I liked hanging around with him. Funny huh? Can’t explain why I’m so into him—figure I’m the same as some guy still digging Beethoven who’s been dead and all for all these years. He just moved me, you know?
He said that this café was designed by this French guy Starck, who designs everything from switchblades to toothbrushes. It was cold and modern and industrial looking, not what I expected in a city as old as Paris. But the thing I was really looking at was that Don was sweating so much and it really wasn’t warm outside at all. I can say he was overdressed every time I saw him in Paris: always wearing a long silk scarf, two or three wool coats, high boots beneath thick khaki army pants and still all that hair plus now the beard (which I wasn’t expecting). He was just sweating a torrent all the time, I think he must have been aware of it too because he always carried two or three handkerchieves to wipe his forehead. Then a drop of sweat would just fall down his nose and hang there while he was telling me about the time he met John Lennon or something. I was trying so hard to listen, to really concentrate and remember so I could write it all down sometime just because I thought it was important, that Don’s memory was important because most people’s memories are not, like mine for example, and so I didn’t look up to see when that sweat would drop because I didn’t want to embarrass him, being so famous and important and all.
Then the third day he brought his wife whose name was Solstice: I was really floored because I never met anyone named that before. I bet in the whole state of Indiana you couldn’t find one Solstice if your life depended on it. She was big, blond and kind of beautiful a long time ago I guess, with straight hair and big lips, as big as Mick Jagger’s. She wore fringe and stuff and beads, you know, looking like a hippie but not like she decided to dress like that because she read it in some magazine or something, but like she’s been looking like that all the time for the last twenty years: the rest of the world just came around the fashion track and caught up with her again. Like she was a slow runner but always on the same path or something. The only thing really weird about her was how red and sore looking her hands were. I’d have guessed that Don had her washing the dishes or taking in laundry or something.
Did I say he liked the movies? Yeah, he told me did, especially Clint Eastwood, which was again surprising because he was so against the Vietnam War back then, and Eastwood being kind of, well, violent. But he seemed to think Clint was okay now, gotten old and cool and Don said he heard Clint split up with his wife and it had made him a better actor. Solstice gave him a look like, I guess, she didn’t agree or something.
It didn’t bother me that he borrowed a hundred francs from me. He said he’d pay it back by tomorrow but I never asked him for it because I suspect he’d be embarrassed, borrowing money from some kid from Indiana who comes over to France just to see him, this old rock star, and ogle him for a few days. The only drag was that he would only let me hang with him for an hour a day after lunch, and I had come over here to Paris just for that: just to see this guy whose voice I’d been listening to at least three or four times a day for the last ten years. But you know what? I don’t know if I could have handled more than that, really. Maybe he knew that too because he was one of those guys who knew a whole lot more than he said, I’m sure.
Solstice had long blond hair and red cheeks. She said she was from Brittany and it took me a while before I realized she was talking about France and not England because I kept listening for some kind of an English accent, which she definitely didn’t have. I didn’t know if everyone from England has a different accent like how in America everyone doesn’t sound like they’re from New York or Mississippi. Most of Don’s hair had gone gray and inside and out he wore those damn reflector shades: I was always looking back at myself when I wanted to be looking at him. One time I asked him if I could see where they lived and Solstice started to tell me I could come by but he kinda shushed her up. Guess he was afraid I was gonna go back home and tell a lot of kids about it who’d come over and bother him and everything. But really, I would have kept it to myself. Besides, I think I was maybe his last true fan in this world not that I’d ever tell him that, not wanting to hurt his feelings in case he was sensitive to that kind of thing which I’m sure he’s not.
I asked him if he wanted to visit Jim Morrison in Père Lachaise cemetery and he said that he’d just as soon piss on a grave rather than visit it because there’s no one really there. He pulled down his shades and said it’s like sitting in an empty house waiting for someone to serve you tea. That was kind of spooky, just thinking about that. Then he seemed pissed off at me for even talking about Jim Morrison and started calling me a fucking tourist which was really a bit of a drag…whatever, but I just kept on going, asking him stuff, because I knew I was leaving in a week and it was my only chance. A lot of people thought he knew Morrison, supposing that they were hanging out in Paris together. But I knew that wasn’t true because Morrison got here in ‘71 and Don was here starting in ‘73. And Morrison was only here for a couple of months while Don’s been here all these years since. Anyway, he told me he’s never been to the grave and didn’t care to go, so I went by myself one morning and started to tell him about it when I saw him that afternoon. But he wasn’t interested and just said that he wondered if Jim was still lighting any fires where he was, or if they were lit all around him which was kind of heavy to think about, coming from him. I asked him if he was working on a new album and he said no, he just didn’t give a shit about music anymore. Then he got up and started walking, I suppose because it was such a beautiful day and all and so I kind of followed him after I quickly paid the check. I guess…oh yeah, he said he saw a lot of movies with his wife. Then he said this was his twentieth autumn in Paris and he looked both sad and happy about that. I could just feel how he felt by looking at him since I was listening to all his records all the time and knew him pretty well that way I figured.
This fucking kid came to see me…well, I shouldn’t say that because he was a nice guy really but he wanted to see me every day. He came all the way from god damn Indiana—James Dean’s hometown even—so I figured I should spend some time with the kid as long as it was in the afternoon and not for too long. I was usually up by then or I hoped I’d be up by then because I was drinking too much these days. I don’t know why, just because I was bored and Solstice has been bugging me to do something or take her god knows where. So I’d meet the kid in the café near Beaubourg that I like: the one that’s designed by that cat Philippe Starck who pretty soon is gonna be designing hip looking people themselves— wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, you can go in there, grab a newspaper or read a book, and the coffee’s better than average. You can watch the whole goddamn town walk by, scan the babes and the crazy Frenchies all dressed up like each one of ‘em was the center of the universe. But what made it turn into a drag, was when the kid…well, he kept asking me about Jim Morrison. I don’t know shit about Jim Morrison except what everybody else knows. I do know he was living in some motel on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles without a telephone at the height of his career—that was pretty cool. Imagine Madonna living without a telephone—ha ha! And I told that to the kid but he didn’t get it because he’s not into Madonna, he told me. He was always asking me what I like to do in Paris and I said I don’t know I’m just trying it out for a while. He said trying it out for twenty years? Because what the hell was I supposed to say with Solstice sitting there right next to me: that I was into watching the French babes walk by?
Yeah, I’m with the guy but not because he’s some kind of a legend but just because he was a nice guy: he always listened to what I was saying even when my English was really bad. It took him a year to pronounce my name right, just kept calling me babe. The thing I liked —at least in the beginning—was that he didn’t need to do anything or go anywhere, he was just happy sitting at home watching TV even if he didn’t understand. It was just to pass the time and that’s how I’ve always been myself: that time is just time—what you fill it with doesn’t change it from still being time…like you can’t change the shape of the glass by putting champagne or water in it…the glass always stays the same, oui? One time right after we met he said he knew exactly what I was talking about, although I’m not sure if that was the truth or if he just wanted to get me in bed like a lot of guys who will act like a girl is some kind of genius, talking with her for hours and hours until it gets really late. Then, after they’ve had you, you turn into some kind of crazy bitch and they tell you just that, when they can’t stand themselves for being men. But men are like that and it’s hard for them, having everything on the outside, their sex. I feel sorry for them; I really do, because they’re expected to produce all the time. But the truth is that you can’t create if you gotta produce because to create you gotta wait and to produce you can’t wait. Comprenez?
How long with Don? I don’t know, it’s been eighteen or nineteen years. He keeps saying we’re gonna get married someday, like he thinks I care or something. Most people think we are already. But he says there’s no point to being married if you don’t have kids, and he won’t even consider having kids. That’s been going on so long I don’t even think about it anymore. We go to friends’ places for dinner but don’t ask him to pick up a guitar or he’ll get even quieter than he is normally which is not too talkative even for an American. I don’t know what he’s really interested in and I’m not interested in what he’s interested in anyway. But maybe that’s why we get along.
I don’t know why he decided to see this young boy from America —from the middle of America. Maybe because the kid was just so persistent. Whatever Don did back then, he’s still remained like some kinda rock star to this kid; like what he was thirty years ago playing the Whisky-A-Go-Go and hanging out with Johnny Rivers. I hadn’t heard of him back then because here in France it was the Seventies that were our Sixties. Things didn’t really start changing until 1968 and some rock star from the real Sixties in America, some guy who was playing in bands opening shows for the Beatles and…who else did he say?…oh yeah, the Four Seasons. I guess that’s like Vivaldi, hee hee, but that’s like the Fifties to us here. Only America really had a Sixties —the rest of the world, we just had a double-decker Fifties. Then we just woke up in the Seventies and everybody was wearing bell-bottoms and protesting against the war and bombs. Me, I was living in Rennes with my father who was a butcher, still is in fact, although he’s supposedly retired and he shouldn’t be working at all. My two brothers got the shop in their name now and my father just hangs out because he’s bored being retired. So they let him sell the steak haché—the hamburger meat—and the potato chips and talk to the old customers. He doesn’t cut anything anymore because he’ll probably take off one of his fingers if he picks up a knife.
IV. The Kid
We walked a lot but I didn’t see much of Paris because Don only seems to circle around the Beaubourg museum area; walking up rue St. Denis where the prostitutes stand around day in and day out and then back down to Châtelet where I was staying at the two star Hotel du Palais. I tell ya, I never saw so many hookers in my life as I did on rue St. Denis and a few of ‘em smiled at Don like they knew him or something. But I guessed they just knew who he was. I mean, like they knew his music. I only know the names of these places because we walked there everyday for a week. I think Don must have lived somewhere nearby and maybe he didn’t like to be too far from home, or at least I had the feeling that this was a guy who didn’t like to leave home even though he was in Paris which was a long way from his real home: I was in Paris too which was a long way from Indiana and just wanting to leave my home so bad and really digging being in this strange place, everybody speaking and me not understanding jackshit. I had to go back and he didn’t. I even brought a few of his old records with me for him to sign, just the jackets, not the records themselves. I didn’t wanna bring the records themselves on the plane because they might get broken in my luggage and you know they’re gonna be real valuable some day. Well…to me they are. Don seemed to get all choked when he picked up those album jackets, like he was embarrassed or something. He kept saying, “Oh Christ, Solstice, will you look at this…Oh Christ, not this one…” but he signed them anyway with the pen I gave him, a gold magic marker that I had brought with me from Indiana and it came out real good: he wrote “Good Luck,” his name, “Paris,” and then he gave them back to me fast, saying, “Thank God that’s over.” Then I laughed a little with him and his wife Solstice just kept looking at me like she didn’t get it.
Elliott Murphy was born in Garden City, Long Island in 1949. After a year of busking in Europe and a bit part in the film Fellini Roma in 1971 he returned to New York City to begin his music career. His first album Aquashow was released in 1973 to tremendous critical acclaim and nearly thirty more albums of original music have followed in the years since. He has published two novels Cold And Electric (Entreligne 1989) and Poetic Justice (Hachette 2005) along with a collection of short stories Café Notes (Hachette 2002). After receiving his BA in Literature from State Univerisity of New York — Empire State College in 1987, he moved to Paris, where he lives with his wife and son and continues to perform concerts all over Europe. www.elliottmurphy.com
Only America really had a Sixties—the rest of the world, we just had a double-decker Fifties.