My obsession with music didn’t end with just listening. This fixation fueled a desire to follow the path of the musicians that I idolized. When I was introduced to rock music my musical path was paved.
Incessantly, I sang, and sang. Singing then branched off into writing songs to sing, creating more of an attachment to this dream. I wrote about all the turmoil that plagued me.
Oddly enough, the deep, raspy tenor of Janis Joplin would become my singing coach. My love affair with the blues-rock singer began when I heard her voice for the first time at the library. I was twelve years-old. An album was recommended to me by the library intern, Fiona. She saw me struggling over music.
“If it’s good music that you’re looking for, there’s only one singer whose stands out from the rest - Janis Joplin.” The pretty bologna-curled brunette reached into the large plastic container of alphabetically arranged records, snatched one without pause, and displayed it before me.
The cover was that of a smiling woman flamboyantly dressed in seventies attire, resting against the arm of a loveseat while holding a drink. The simplicity of her face, the unadulterated smile captivated me.
There was one word on the cover. In white, disco-style font was Pearl.
Before taking possession of the album, I turned with incredulity to Fiona. Would I even understand the music that the strange woman sitting on the loveseat sang?
Fiona detected my uncertainty.
“Trust me,” she said. “Once you listen to her voice, everything else is just noise. Tell me what you think when you’re done.” Fiona nudged the record toward my chest gently, encouraging me to take it. I accepted without a word.
It didn’t seem likely that I would be interested in the sounds that a teen who looked to be lost in another error, admired. Fiona, in a way, resembled the woman on the tattered album. Her hair always looked like she put her finger in an electrical socket. The clothes that traipsed her thin frame were routinely baggy and flowy.
I gave the vinyl insides of the album sleeve a listen. The intense passion and anguished cries that emerged from the music wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard. Amidst the distinctive style of blues melting with rock, inlayed with a raspy voice that was all her own, a beautifully melodic tenor emerged. It was this bizarre union that won me over. Fiona was right, there’s nothing out there that remotely compares to the works of this voracious singer.
And so, my love affair with Janis Joplin begun.
In a sort of unhinged kind of way, this unusual artist and all her relatable indignant lyrics became the matriarch in my life. Her music inspired so much of my own style. Bizarrely enough, it was healthier to have a dead singer offer me guidance through this unconventional means than the alternative - no one.
But inevitably, a woman who was no longer living couldn’t teach me everything about life – like for instance, sex - that, I had to learn the hard way . . . on my own. There was the occasional stupid girl in junior high that thought she was clever enough to offer me some backcountry advice on sex.
“If you have sex and don’t wanna get pregnant,” my scabby friend Carol felt compelled to educate me on how not to get knocked up in the sixth grade. “Make sure you go to the bathroom and piss right after. This will push out any cum that slips inside you.”
Yeah. That’s the kind of ignorance that Shelby bred. I certainly didn’t expect anything on the contrary. I never heeded to what they had to offer – I was one of the few who had common sense.
Regardless of my wit, being labeled an outcast by the boys at school made sex seem an unlikely rite of passage.
An amnesty bone was thrown to me freshmen year of high school - a reprieve from the isolation trenches. There was a new kid that moved to Shelby from Montpelier, Vermont. His name was Alex James Schmidt, or for those that were so inclined, AJ.
It was 1985 when he was dropped into my life.
To my advantage, he didn’t grow up in Shelby. So he wasn’t privy to my family dirt on which to judge me. It was this ignorance that fated him to me.
Mousy-brown hair, slightly passed his ears, hazel-green eyes, and a perfectly white, straight-toothed smile, making my knees jolt whenever he flashed it - this was my first crush.
He was tall and fit, and loved to wear black – black jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, hats – everything black. His response to why the perpetual gloomy look was, “Life is a dark hole. Until it becomes light, I have no reason to wear an optimistic color.”
I think it was more of an image thing for him - a much needed identity. He really wasn’t that depressing, at least not to me.
The young boy exterior conflicted with his seemingly mature mind. AJ was a year and a half older than me. He was held back a year in school. But that wasn’t where the maturity derived. Taking on the adult role at home put him in his twenties. Also from a broken home, he too, carried all the bullshit that went with it. He told me that his dad had recently gone to jail for stealing, causing the divorce between his parents; his mother lived off of state assistance, and was on all kinds of meds. And that he had a little brother named Tommy.
If things at home bothered him, he kept it hidden. Regardless of any underlining issues that might’ve troubled AJ, he was an incredibly laid-back and easy going guy.
I never did confide in him my problems though. I was afraid he’d reconsider our association. Without ever telling him, AJ was strategic in helping me escape my fucked-up family, even if he wasn’t aware of this fact. My silence was essential for me to sustain that much needed solace I sought from him. I had the sneaking suspicion though, that I was his salvation, too. He offered an almost desperate need to be with me every day. The signs were subtle. But the waiting by my locker before school and after every class was a dead giveaway.
I’ll always remember the paralyzing effect AJ had over me the instant we met. It was the start of a new school year. We shared homeroom. He sat diagonal from me. When his name was called, he responded with a smooth, confident air, compelling me to discover the source of the intriguing voice. I casually directed my attention to his already curious gaze, fixated upon me.
He smiled in a cocky sort of way. It was all I could do to stare in internal amazement at him.
This appealing new kid took me in with a determined conviction that reveled on something deeper than just a superficial look.
My stomach churned with drunken butterflies as my pulse convulsed to the sounds of cardiac arrest. A seething-warmth flooded my face while we continued to lock eyes. His smile never faded.
“Hi,” the sweet melody that beckoned from his lips made me stammer. “My name’s AJ. I just moved here.” His beautiful mouth of smooth pink flesh, which was recently moistened by a previous lick of the tongue, embodied sex like I’d never known - so appealing, so kissable.
“I’m Yari, and I, unfortunately, lived here my whole life.” My attention was still upon his distracting mouth of sex.
He chuckled at my intro.
“Um,” he leaned closer to me. A faint whiff of coffee laced his breath. “Do you mind showing me around to my classes?”
Saying yes to that proposal changed everything. That dark-clad kid introduced me to a human emotion I thought only existed in The Land of Oz. A hapless boy from Vermont brought a tragic girl like me promise.
AJ loved rock music – a guy after my own heart.
We shared cassettes. When he compiled a tape of his favorite tunes for me, not even two weeks into our discovery, it was official – we were going steady.
Jaffrey Field, a baseball diamond a mile from school, became our rendezvous spot. Sharing music on the bleachers, sitting on the rusted swings, and lounging in the grass behind the field had become our routine.
AJ introduced me to marijuana. We smoked it only a few times, when he could steal it from his mother’s stash after she passed out on valium.
I enjoyed the placid effect that weed had on me, even though the quality he stole was piss-poor. I didn’t know the difference then. All I cared about was the temporary high.
Hanging at the baseball field one Saturday afternoon, under the large maple tree that cast a shadow the size of a dump trunk, AJ moved especially close to me.
“Yari,” his body language was mild, non-suggestive. “You’re such a cool chic.”
Not sure where he was going with this praise, I turned to face him, waiting for more on the topic of me. He gently moved in and planted one on me. It was unexpected and weird.
I stiffened and stared at him like I was a virgin at a strip club. It was awkward and shocking.
AJ was a pro. His eyes were closed, and he even used his hand to hold my face.
I felt like a moron for keeping so rigid, just watching him.
After a few seconds of this one-sided mingling of spit, he pulled away, smirking. “Was that your first kiss?”
My face flushed with humiliation. I looked away, saying nothing.
“Don’t feel bad. It actually makes me feel special that I was your first kiss,” his hand rest on my knee.
I misinterpreted the gesture as a patronizing pity pat, as if he were saying it was okay to be affectionately inept. It wasn’t okay. I knew I was a freak because my parents never taught me how to love. It was pathetic. There I was, fifteen years-old, and I didn’t know how to respond to a kiss.
Pushing his hand away, I stormed off.
AJ was right behind me. “Yari, don’t be that way. Please stop.”
I gave in after a few steps, sulking with arms folded in front of me. My eyes were trying to tear up, but I forced the shame away.
“Don’t be embarrassed.” He placed his hands on my shoulders, attempting to pull my attention back to him.
Too humiliated to take notice of his genuine attempt at kindness, I kept my eyes diverted from his, saying nothing.
“It’s actually a good thing that you’ve never been kissed.” His tone was sensitive, sweet.
I met his khaki-green stare, curious by this comment.
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “It tells me that you respect yourself. You’re not like those skanks at our school who kiss everything.”
“You’re just saying that.” I tried to shrug under his resting hands.
“I’m not. Honest.” AJ stood before me with conviction. His gaze was adamant.
I believed him.
And just like that, sucking face was no longer a cataclysmic event.
In fact, we perfected the art of making out. It became our favorite thing to do. Eventually, we started to explore other avenues. Of course, in broad daylight, we had restrictions. So it was mostly kissing with top-clothes petting.
We were always together. Always needing the other.
AJ blew me out of the water one day with a gift that reinvented my love for music. He surprised me with tickets to see Aerosmith at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston.
“Holey shit, AJ!” I trembled over this jolt to my system. “No one has ever given me anything. I don’t know what to say.”
My shaking hands held the concert pass like it was the golden ticket to see Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
“Say nothing. You deserve it.” His smile was as large as my jarred eyes. “And what better rock band to see for your first concert, none other than your favorite.”
The inconceivable notion of actually seeing Aerosmith live on stage was beyond comprehension.
I rushed forward and crashed into AJ, practically knocking him over with my hug.
When I pulled back from our embrace, my eyes immediately fell to the small piece of glossy paper in my hand. I needed to commit this thing to memory, to prove to my skeptical mind that this little insignificant piece of paper was actually going to get me in to see Steven Tyler.
The three inch long, narrow ticket read:
Aerosmith * Pre-Tour Pass * Done with Mirrors Tour, Wednesday, November 7th, 1985
8:00 P.M., Orpheum Theatre, Balcony CTR, Section 201, Row D, Seat 210
The smooth surface of the concert pass was the most phenomenal sensation my excited fingers had ever stroked. The black Aerosmith decal perfectly placed in the ticket’s center, with the angelic wings bursting from the sides of the legendary band’s epitaph, was like seeing them in the flesh at that very moment.
“Don’t forget, we’re going as a couple.” He chuckled over my semi-private fantasy of the hot lead singer. “I don’t want you running off with one of the band members, now.”
“How did you come across tickets for a pre-concert showing?” I didn’t want to sound ungrateful, or even rude - suggesting that he was too poor to buy them, but I was curious over the difficulty of getting ahold of such rare gems.
“I’ve been saving money that my dad sends me for birthdays and Christmas. Rather than spend it on cassettes and stuff I don't really need, I figured, why not a concert. I’ve been itching to go to one.” AJ offered a mischievous grin. “It’s been over a year since my last concert, so when I heard that Aerosmith was coming to town for a special showing, I took my mother’s car the Saturday they went on sale. And I drove to Boston to buy ‘em.”
“You fucking rock!” With arms outstretched I fell into him again, this time offering payment with a kiss.