Let’s see: I imagine I had reached that critical juncture when one suddenly finds himself at odds with his better angels, terribly misjudged and undervalued by his totally uncool parents, a regular at detention hall, and a might too cheeky with entrenched moral authority for his own good, especially in light of parochial school—you know, a time when you’re basically at war with the cold, cruel world that just don’t seem to revolve around you anymore since the short curlicues sprung below and dark peach fuzz hit the chin and upper lip (in my case, encroaching upon the eyeballs.)
There you were, full of hope and promise, destined to be Dave Clark, when in a twinkling, there goes the charming baby face, vanished into the cosmos, doomed to the black and white pages of the family photo album. Oh the heartbreak, as every once-doting aunt is suddenly loath to pinch your cheek, and inclined to keep a healthy distance from this newly spawned creature with a unibrow and a voice that keeps dithering between soprano and baritone midstream.
If not given to long stretches behind locked doors, questioning the bathroom mirror as to whether to part the do left or right, or in the middle, or not at all, it is a mysterious phase when one is prone to be idly dreaming away much of the day, rapt in self-tortuous, lyrical trifles and tidbits, jotting down profound inconsequentialities, trying to ape one’s favorite Lake poet; at the same time, having his disproportionately grown, pimply nose, too often buried deep in girly magazines lying in shadowy corners of unfrequented household wings. Ah yes, the salad days of the tyrannical little head, lord and master of a boy’s universe, mad butcher of rational thought, otherwise known as puberty. I had a job at Eaton’s, a department store in Montreal. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays I bused my way downtown to St Catherine Street and pitched socks and undies to the passing world. I was paid a whopping fourteen dollars for my fourteen hours of services every weekend. No windfall, but still a welcome sum for a man-child who just hit his teens. On one particular Saturday I remember trying to answer a couple of mind-numbing questions about whether a certain pair of Jockey’s was the appropriate size, while some short and round elderly lady, who mulishly insisted upon opening up every package in the department, spread a pair of white shorts across her pelvis, claiming she and her husband were blessed with the exact same measurements.
Suddenly, while the sunburst-coiffed, wobbly-ankled old woman in stilettos kept prattling on, soon veering off into protracted tangents about her Harry (medical nitty-gritties unfit for a boy’s ear), I found myself helplessly swept away by a certain sound in the distance—a bass run in particular. F-C-C-D-F-F-D-C-D / F-C-C-D-F-F-D-C-D. . . best I could tell. Of course the brass and guitar were shadowing the riff but the woofy sound system in the high ceilings made them secondary to the bass. Besides, I could have bet, then and there, the run was the bassist’s own brainchild that any clever producer would have seized upon and handed over to the rest of the band.
Then came the harmonica followed by this piercing, high-pitched voice, singing, “I was born in Lil’ Rock / Had a childhood sweetheart / We were always hand in hand. . .I was made to love her/ Built my world around her. . .”“Young man”, cried the woman, posing in the three-way mirror, pivoting left and right at forty-five degree angles, spanning the shorts across her rather generous mid-section. (Now and then she would quit the pivoting, zoom in close, pucker her orange lips, bat a plastic lash, give herself a once over, moan a couple of words in some foreign language, then zoom out and merrily resume the pivoting.) With her thumbs locked in, stretching the elastic waste band to its limit, she continued, “Young man! Don’t you think these are a bit on the snug side? My Harry might do better with a size forty-two, don’t you think? She paused and looked at me in disbelief. “Stop staring at the air, why don’t you, and fetch me a forty-two!” she snapped, clicking her tongue. I couldn’t rightly make out the gratuitous commentaries beneath her breath that ensued.But, no earthquake, burning building, or falling sky, nothing in the world, be it earthly or divine, let alone a tetchy old girl posing in a mirror with a pair of Jockey shorts eagle-spread hip to hip, could have torn me away from that lovely rare air I was staring off into. Carol Kaye’s* licks seemed to be the perfect counterpoint and balance to Stevie’s voice, weaving this way and that around the drums, passing effortlessly through roots, seconds, thirds, fifths and dominants. It was all so harmonic, jazzy, rhythmic and sensual—something I hadn’t heard before, and a technique of playing that would be etched in my memory from that moment on. Bass had suddenly become a voice and not just footing buried below the surface.“Kids today, I swear,” grumbled the old woman, flinging the shorts at my wide, unblinking eyes and bopping head, as she turned and walked away.