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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Interchange's early gigs; Simon remembers the adrenalin and the alcohol

(Initially published on MortysCabin.net)

What God Didn't Give You

by Simon Leblovic

At forty one learns to close the door quietly on what once was. At eighteen I was drinking like Malcolm Lowry under the volcano. Being a crazy baby, I always took things too much to heart, so getting loaded quelled the demons and unleashed a babble of nonsense. "Demi, why you do dis to me? Please, Demi, I'm afraid." To ease my deluded and obsessed little mind, I developed a rabid thirst for booze, a taste like no other. So how does a dipsomaniac and professor of scatology recall and imagine times long past? Allow me to run my mouth and whine my latest head up my ass soap opera. But first I must beg your indulgence in inflicting this maudlin, adolescent reminiscence from a faded and wasted youth, for which I have only my village idiot self to blame. How can I put this all into perspective? Lou Reed sang, "Some people work very hard, but still they never get it right." Johnny Rotten sang, "I don't believe illusions 'cos too much is real." My Father used to quote his maternal grandmother from the Carpathian Mountains. The Slovak translation would roughly go, "What God didn't give you, you can't buy in a drug store."

There is too much useless information and nothing fires my imagination. Then out of a quagmire of drivel rises the shining image of Lesley, my fantasy girl and high school sweetheart who never was. In those hazy days, whenever I saw Lesley I would swoon and my crystal heart would fill with the passion of young love and infatuation. To me she looked like the actresses Leslie Caron, Sandy Dennis and Jane Fonda, sweet and vulnerable with long black hair, blue eyes, pale skin and pouty lips. I remember walking down a school hallway and there was Lesley sitting alone. I'd never really spoken to her, but on that day I sat next to my sweet angel and talked to her with no one else around. I retain a vision of Lesley walking through the high school parking lot wearing a long coat and smiling and waving to people. Watching her from a distance gave me reason to live, though she barely knew I was alive. I finally got around to asking her out in high school, but she told me she was already going steady with some guy. I couldn't get to first base with her, although I did manage to learn that she had been born in Wales and was a year older than me.

Even while dating other girls, I still found myself thinking about Lesley. I remember being in a local bar one night called The Pig and Whistle, where I saw Lesley sitting with some friends. As I passed their table on my way out, I impulsively leaned over and gave Lesley a kiss, for which I received a shocked and sour look in return. On another night in a feverish fit, I phoned Lesley and asked if I could see her. She said yes, and when I got to her place we went and sat in a park near her house. Being near her, I wanted to take her in my arms, but even more I ached to tell her how much I loved her. During our conversation she suddenly brought up the subject of schizophrenia. I had certainly been what you might call different in high school, so did she think I was crazy, or was it just part of her studies in biology at McMaster University? Love is insanity, but madness aside, I was head over heels in love with her and she didn't even know it. Or maybe she suspected how I felt and didn't want to know.

After high school my volcanic bouts of drinking kept erupting, spewing forth some severely evil and obsessive delusions. My family had written me off, as I had taken up residence in another world, playing the part of a rock star and singing in a Burlington band called Interchange. Looking in the bathroom mirror, I thought I could be as cool as Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. What did it matter that I couldn't sing, for there were positive signs, like people telling me that I resembled Freddie Mercury from his "Bohemian Rhapsody" period, a comparison I absolutely loathed. Other than my weird and wonderful little self, the only member of the band who I considered to be cool was our rhythm guitarist, Roy Furness, my musical mentor and Keith Richards partner in crime in my mind. Roy was a few years older than me and had previously played guitar in a Rolling Stones band in Burlington called Stonehenge. When I was desperate to play, he let me sing in the first band we put together called Shampain. I suspect he may have done this partly because I drove and could give him a lift to rehearsals. Roy definitely had me pegged, because when we hung out at Sheridan College, he would ask me with a sly grin if the sky was blue. My pin head was about as far up my butt as it could go, and I really had no clue as to what was going on. I mean was the sky blue? It was clear that I was living a white punk on dope, pie in the sky existence, although there were girls around when you played in a band, which wasn't a bad thing.

By the fall of 1975, I had been with Interchange for about half a year. At that time we were rehearsing and doing a few gigs here and there, playing cover songs by bands like The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Led Zepplin, Bad Company, The Doobie Brothers, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, April Wine, A Foot In Cold Water, Golden Earring and Foghat, along with a few of our own original songs. That September the band was booked to play an afternoon gig in the auditorium of a school in Burlington called General Brock. I recall what a rush I got when we hit the stage at that show and started playing a great, sleazy number by Alice Cooper called "Never Been Sold Before." Roy had chosen that song, mainly because he liked the Stonesy sounding guitars that came jumping out of the speakers when he played the song on his turntable. I remember Roy playing me "Two Thousand Light Years From Home" by The Rolling Stones under headphones, and raving about how you could hear some heavenly body in outer space whirring through your head at the end of the song. Stuff like that was pretty trippy and I liked it.

After the show at General Brock someone asked if we could play a house party on the following Saturday night in a part of Burlington called Mountainside. We decided to do it, and the next day I took a chance and phoned Lesley to see if she wanted to go. I actually thought she might be impressed watching me play rock star at a house party in a suburban basement. Leslely agreed to come, so on the night of the party I took extra care blow drying my hair in order to look my best for her. Frank Zappa sang, "It's Disco Love tonight. Make sure you look all right." Unless you've got brewer's droop, that is. Besides my coiffed hair, I was also thinking about liquid refreshments, which would most likely be provided for us at the party. But just to make sure there would be sufficient, I decided to take a forty-ouncer of gin from my parent's liquor cabinet. Chance favours the prepared mind, and in my wisdom I thought that Lesley just might be impressed by the sight of such a humongous bottle of booze. Please pause here for the Freudian slip. So armed with the forty-ouncer and my harmonicas, I fired up the white Toyota and drove off to pick up Lesley, ready for a night of song and dance and romance.

Lesley and I arrived at the party at about 8:00, where I knew absolutely no one. But the people there were friendly and appreciated the fact that the band would be playing that night. I asked Lesley what kind of music she liked and she said there was a song on the radio called "Holdin' on to Yesterday" by Ambrosia that she liked. The rest of the band eventually turned up and we set up the equipment at one end of the basement wreck room. Our hosts offered us food and drink, but I decided to open the bottle of gin I had with me. Lesley wasn't interested in the gin, but she did seem to be having a good time, and I was happy to be with her. The thought passed through my mind that it might be better if I didn't drink too much that night. I always justified drinking by saying that it helped me to calm down and get into the music. Such is the state of my nerves, especially under pressure. Before we played that night I poured myself a few stiff drinks, mixing the gin with whatever was available. Gin has never been my drink of choice, and as far as hard liquor goes, I much prefer rye whiskey, tequila or cognac when I can get it.

We got up and started to play our first set, and things seemed to be going well with people dancing and enjoying themselves in the crowded basement. After we performed the Stones version of "It's All Over Now," a girl came up and told me that I sounded like Bob Dylan. Today I would have thanked her, but back then I didn't take it as a compliment having my singing compared with Bob Dylan. I guess I was talking it a lot back then, instead of trying to sing. After we finished playing the first set, I decided to take Lesley out in front of the house so we could be alone. Leaning up against a car, we kissed, and her soft lips yielded to my passionate advances. I was in heavenly bliss, my head was swimming, and I would happily have stayed there kissing Lesley for eternity. But I also wanted to play music, so after awhile we headed back inside, where I proceeded to pour myself a few more large tumblers of booze.

And that's when things started to go south and my memory of the night becomes a blur, as I crossed the line from slightly wasted to being pissed out of my mind. During the second set I was having trouble standing up and I was unable to keep the microphone near my mouth. Then as I was dancing around, I stumbled and fell into Roy's guitar, and the song we were playing came to a screeching halt. I don't know what happened next or how the set ended, but afterwards when I went up to Lesley, she looked at me kind of weird. So I grabbed the bottle of gin and headed off for the bathroom to take a break from everything. As I entered the bathroom some older guy followed me in, and through the boozy haze I heard him lecturing me about drinking too much.

I exited the toilet, but I didn't know exactly what was going on, because the guys in the band weren't talking to me. It certainly seemed that we wouldn't be playing anymore that night. What was this a party or a funeral? In my own defence, I doubt I drank more than half the bottle of gin that night. I was nineteen years old and far from burned out and I'm sure the adrenalin of performing would have overcome the booze and kept me singing far into the night. But with the party apparently over, I decided the best thing to do was to take Lesley and leave. She was stone sober and seemed to be heavily involved in a conversation with a gas station mechanic I had seen somewhere around town. I told her that I wanted to leave, but I was too drunk to drive. Somebody offered to give us a ride, but when we got to their car it was filled with puke. I'm not clear on what happened next, but it seems that someone kindly drove us home in my car.

It was around midnight when we got to my house, where I proceeded to drag Lesley hastily up the hall stairs, while slurredly introducing her to my Mother. I had a vague notion that Lesley and I would chill out and listen to some music, but I was so drunk that I was having trouble carrying out even the simplest of motor functions. I took Lesley into my bedroom, which normally would have led to getting her between the sheets. Instead, this stupefied idiot proceeded to pull his Rolling Stones records out all over the floor in an inebriated attempt to give Lesley a glimpse into the deepest and darkest recesses of my soul. "Ooh, ooh. Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a bloody fool. Ooh, ooh." To really impress her, I should have put myself in the "Trainspotting" movie and taken a dump on the floor in front of her right then and there. But none of that happened.

Lesley stood in my room looking aghast and told me that she wanted to go home. We hadn't been at my place more than fifteen minutes, but I couldn't argue with her. The thing was that in my condition I wasn't really sure if I had done anything wrong. We left the house and Lesley reluctantly got into the white Toyota with me. I told her not to worry because I was a great drunk driver and her house was less than ten minutes away. As we drove I kept telling her how much I loved her, over and over again, and that she must love me, as if saying it would make it so. When we arrived at her house I gave her a drooling, slobbering kiss good night and told her again that I loved her. She couldn't have gotten out of the car any faster. Standing in the street I shouted one more time at the top of my lungs that I loved her, as her back disappeared through the front door of her house.

I woke up with a dreadful hangover the next morning and decided that I had to see Lesley and would drive to the Burlington Golf and Country Club, where I knew she worked part time as a waitress. When I arrived there in the afternoon, Lesley looked shocked to see me. I thought she looked quite fetching in her black and white uniform. I went up to her in the middle of the crowded restaurant and apologized profusely for the night before. I then asked if I could see her after she got off work. She looked at me like I was Travis Bickle in the movie "Taxi Driver," and after a moment said she would come by and see me later that night. I left the club and headed home, praying that I hadn't completely blown it with her.

I phoned Roy later to find out what was happening with the band. He told me that Bullwinkle the drummer had visited him that day and had talked about firing me for getting drunk at the gig the night before. Roy had come to my defence, telling Bullwinkle that singers, as well as those not suffering from LSD (Lead Singers Disease), got drunk and high on stage, and also the basement party hadn't been an important gig. Apparently I was still in the band, although a few months later in early 1976, I would be unceremoniously kicked out of Interchange and the dilapidated, condemned hell hole of a band house that we shared on Margaret Street in Hamilton. On the phone I told Roy what had happened with Lesley, and he laughingly said that I should have hauled her into a bedroom and had my way with her at the party. Whether or not Lesley deserved to be put on a pedestal, I couldn't treat her like a pig. But then again perhaps Roy was right and things would have been better if I had forgotten all the romantic nonsense and had just done her at the party.

After getting off the phone with Roy on that Sunday night, I waited in vain for Lesley to show up. The fact that she didn't come to see me was no big surprise because I had certainly acted like a drunken asshole and blown it with her. For a guy like me one drink is too many and a hundred is not enough, as the saying goes. The devil named Al Cohool got the best of me again. Now forgive me for waxing philosophical, but putting the demon drink aside and turning to the fair sex, it seems to me that some girls want you no matter what you do, while others remain unattainable and forever out of reach. I gotta ask myself why I was so much in love with Lesley. Was it because I couldn't have her? Years later, when I was going through another heart break., someone wrote me a note that I have kept to this day. It says, " A woman is like a bus, every five minutes another one comes. But remember, don't get on the same numbered bus again. Be happy!" Good advice that I never followed.

Three or four days after the party I phoned Lesley, but she was cold as ice and too busy to talk because she was studying for exams. Looking back on the whole experience with her, I sort of felt like Travis Bickle when he takes Betsy to see a porno film, and then can't understand why she rejects him after. I guess I was too stupid to realize that getting drunk is stupid. For some people the best parties are the ones they can't remember. Ha, ha, ha. A few weeks later I was driving back from Roy's house one rainy night, high on grass, and on the radio came Lesley's favourite song, "Holdin' on to Yesterday" by Ambrosia. I sang the choruses as loud as I could and then I began to lose my mind.

After I got tossed from Interchange I took a break from singing in bands. Then in early 1977 I met a guy named Steve Park in a bar called Duffy's Rockpile in Hamilton. Steve had previously played in Teenage Head, and he and I would eventually put a band together in his basement in the west end of Hamilton called The Loved Ones.

In the fall of 1976 I started taking courses in Religious Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton. One wintry day, as I was wading across the campus in my usual muddled fog, I suddenly came face to face with Lesley. It had been over a year since I had last seen her. She looked at me with scorn, muttered something and walked quickly away. I turned around and watched her disappear in the distance, never to be seen again.

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