Marty was ten years old when his rock and roll parents divorced. His dad played guitar in a rock and roll band. His mother, Beverly, was a blue-collar girl from nearby Spencer with a fetish for blonde-haired, blue-eyed and broad-shouldered guitar players. After a whirlwind courtship in an alley behind the bar, they were inseparable from the moment they met.
It lasted a year. He was cheating on her, she was cheating on him, he was a druggie, she was a whore, all the various sundry civilities that distinguish the end of such relationships. They agreed on custody with surprising ease. Marty Sr. agreed to a loose custody arrangement that entailed him ceding some of his parental rights in exchange for smaller support payments and moved to northern Indiana. He neglected to tell his son about moving for six months. Soon afterwards, Beverly married once again. True to type, if nothing else, she married a man who handled sound for a number of local rock bands. Dwayne. He hated Marty from the start and the feeling was mutual. Familial bliss, at last.
The year was nineteen eighty-two and Marty Jr. was twelve years old. The rock music that achieved popularity in that era was the likes of Kansas and Toto, arena rock with a bright, inviting pop sheen. Toto’s hit song, “Rosanna”, enjoyed considerable airplay during that summer. The dramatic sweep and strong melody of the song impressed him greatly. He found himself humming or singing it to himself since he first heard it.
Even as a child, music stirred a tempest of emotions for Marty Jr. and it grew stronger as he grew older. Cut from the same cloth, his mother demonstrated an appreciation for music that masked an outright obsession. She expected that her child would be a strapping, blonde haired guitar player. No other instrument would do.
“Mom, what if I wanted to play drums?”
Beverly frowned. “That’s stupid, drummers don’t mean anything.” She paused. “Well, what I mean is that they usually don’t get any recognition ‘cause they’re at the back of the stage and they’re usually pretty stupid too. You don’t wanna be stupid, do you, Marty?”
Marty’s eyes widened. “No, mom.”
“Then quit makin’ stupid suggestions.”
She wanted a budding stud, a slender, blonde-haired blue-eyed rock god in the making and what she ended up with was a sensitive, pudgy, blonde-haired myopic little boy. At least he got the blonde-hair part down right. She made him wear his hair long despite his protests. She harangued him constantly about his weight. It invariably came cloaked in concern but with a cancer at the heart of every word.
“Marty, don’t you wanna be like other kids? You should do more.”
“Mom…” His voice was strained, emotional.
“Mom what? Marty, you’re too fat. You need exercise or somethin’. Don’t you wanna ever have a girlfriend?”
“Mom, I’ve had girlfriends!”
“Who? I think you’re lyin’. Girls don’t like fat boys, Marty. Don’t come cryin’ to me later.”
It was always about the music, or so she claimed. The first time she caught him listening to Toto’s “Rosanna”, she teased him.
“Marty, you’re listenin’ to Toto? I thought I taught you better.”
“God, mom, I like this song!” he insisted.
Beverly snorted. “It’s a pop song, a crappy pop song. You wanna listen to some shit like that instead of good rock like The Stones?”
“I think it’s kinda cool. I wish you liked it.”
“Not in your wildest dreams, buddy-o.” Her expression hardened. “Fine, listen to your pop music. I’m disappointed, my own son, gettin’ into shit like this.”
She left the room in a hurry. Marty rewound the cassette tape, lowered the volume a little to prevent from provoking his mother further, and listened to the song once again.
The strains of The Rolling Stones song "Street Fightin’ Man" swelled from the next room. Marty recognized the song immediately. He heard his mother singing along with a thin, reedy voice.
He would quit listening to Toto and start listening to The Rolling Stones. He would love his mom’s music and, in turn, she would love him. She would see that he could be cool and that she could be proud to call him her son. He was certain it would work. A rush of excitement came over him as he imagined his mother loving him.
He stepped into the next room and found her cleaning the living room while the music played. She seemed lost in her own world, unaware of her son’s presence, and wore a thin smile on her face. When she saw her son at last, she stopped and her smile disappeared.
“If you’re done listenin’ to that shit, go out and play or somethin’. You can’t hang out in here right now, I’m cleanin’.”
“No, mom, I was wonderin’ if I could borrow a couple of your Rolling Stones tapes.”
She seemed taken slightly aback. “You wanna borrow some Stones?”
“Yeah. I’m startin’ to think their pretty cool.”
“Pretty cool? They’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, honey.”
“They are? Cool.”
“Lemme get you a couple of tapes.”
She left the room. As soon as she passed through the doorway, Marty could not help but smile. She called me honey! There were only scattered occasions when she had used such terms of affection for her son.
She returned with two cassette tapes in her hand, Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers and a book. She held onto them when Marty reached out to take them from her hand.
“First, don’t lose this stuff. Lose it and your ass is mine.”
“I won’t lose any of it, mom.”
She looked skeptical. “Let go for a minute and lemme tell ya about this book I want you to read.”
Marty released his hold and stepped back.
“This book is called Up and Down with the Rolling Stones. It’s written by a guy named Spanish Tony who was Keith Richard’s best friend. Keith is the guitarist for the band and one of the songwriters. He wrote this book because he was worried that his friend, Keith, was in bad shape because of drugs. You gonna read it and tell me what ya think?”
“Yeah, mom, sure.”
He took the book and cassettes from her and returned to his bedroom. He put Sticky Fingers in the tape player and heard the raucous chords of “Brown Sugar” begin. He didn’t like it. It was too raw, not tuneful enough. He liked melody and this song didn’t have much of one.
However, he could feign enthusiasm. He could act as if they were the greatest rock and roll band on earth and that he had never heard anything like it before in his short life. He could read this book and act awestruck. He could do it all if she would love him in the end.
He read the book on the school bus over the next few days. Written from the point of view of Richards drug connection, it was a grim, dark account of excess and debauchery. The world depicted in those pages was one where everyone pretended to care for each other while greed and disease reigned.
He finished the book on the way home from school. Eager to share all he had learned from the book, he hurriedly stuffed the book into a backpack pocket and rushed off the bus. His mom was sure to be impressed with his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the subject. He napped in front of the television until his mother came home from work.
“Hi, mom. I wanted to tell ya I finished that book today!”
She had sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. She puffed on it nervously.
“Really? That’s quick. What’d ya think of it?”
“I loved it! It was fun to read. Especially those stories about Keith and all his guns!”
She smiled. “Yeah, lots of rock stars carry pistols. They probably should considerin’ what happened to John Lennon.”
“What happened to John Lennon?”
“He was shot by a crazy fan. You really liked the book?”
“Yeah, mom, it was cool!”
She smiled again. “That’s great! Come here and give your mom a hug!”
Feeling as if he were walking through a dream, Marty practically leapt up from the couch and ran to his mother. He gave her a long, tight hug that seemed to dispel the years of contempt and outright neglect. It felt warm, affectionate, and sincere.
“Okay, honey. Go get the book for me so I can put it back up. You’ll have good taste in music yet, just like your mom.”
He smiled and went into his bedroom.
The first sign that something was amiss was when he noticed the backpack pocket wide open. He opened it and looked inside. It was empty. He frantically searched every pocket, but he knew, he knew all too well, that the book had fallen out somewhere. He had to retrace his steps.
He tore out of his bedroom and ran outside, bypassing his mother. In their front yard, he found nothing. Obviously, it had to have fallen out either in the yard or on the bus. However, his mother wrote her name and phone number on the inside front cover, so the bus driver would have called. It seemed that it had fallen out in the front yard and someone walking down the street discovered it and claimed it as if it were their own.
He did not want to go back inside. He wanted to run away, far away, far beyond the place where he had to answer questions. He wanted that moment when they embraced to last forever; he did not want this. However, there is was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to do but walk back in and tell his mother what had happened.
He went back inside. She was sitting at the kitchen table.
“Where did ya rush off to?” she asked jovially.
“I thought I mighta dropped somethin’ in the front yard.”
“Oh. Well, go get the book, honey, like I asked.”
He lowered his head and shuffled his feet. “I… lost it.”
“I think I lost it, mom.”
He nodded slowly.
“How? Where? Jesus fucking Christ…”
“I don’t know..”
“You don’t know? You DON’T FUCKING KNOW? You weren’t payin’ attention and lost it!”
Marty was on the verge of tears. “I think so… mom.”
“DON’T YOU MOM ME, MOTHERFUCKER! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT BOOK WAS TO FIND?” She took a deep breath. “No, ‘course you don’t. You wouldn’t know. Everything’s about your little world and nothin’ else.” Her tone was disgusted and resigned.
“It’s not true! It was an accident and I’m sorry!”
“Everythin’ is an accident with you. Just accidents all around. When you gonna take some responsibility? You ain’t gonna be a kid forever.” She glared at him intensely. “I thought you were my friend. Guess I was wrong. You’re just my kid.”
Marty wept and felt like he was going to pass out. “Mom, that… that’s not true. I’m your friend. I love you.”
She snorted. “Save it. I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re like Spanish Tony. Keith trusted him with his secrets and Tony wrote a book. I trusted you book and you screwed me over. Your own mother.”
His sobs were painful and they wracked his body. “Mom!”
She waved him away. “Get outta here. I wanna be alone. Go to your room.”
Marty slowly walked to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He began playing “Rosanna” once again and looked outside his window. The backyard was empty. The plaintive vocals overwhelmed his emotions and helped bring tears to his eyes. The drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards conspired to transform his sorrow. He immersed himself in singing the words, placed his fingers against the glass, and wept.