My visits to Brad’s garage began as casual once-a-week drop-ins, graduating to weekend hang-outs, and within a month, transformed into daily digressions.
Brad and I hit it off in record time. We connected through music. Music was our lives, and literally, all we talked about. Almost certainly it was through this noteworthy connection that made him want to see me more.
He was in a way, like having the brother I would never find in Eli, and the friend that I’d always wanted.
The rest of the band warmed up to me soon after.
Brad brought forth my lively side through his determined methods of breaking down my guard, which in turn, boosted my self-esteem, resulting in me becoming more outgoing. This emerging voice was what brought the guys to fall for my gutsy wit. They were also amazed by my vast music knowledge, calling me the song librarian. Yeah, I was well versed in the ways of music.
Hanging around them was exactly what I needed. The abstinent cloud of mistrust still descended upon me though. I guess it was who I was. The blemish just couldn’t be erased.
The guys gave me a kind of “club moniker,” too - accepting me as one of their own with the nickname Simmy - short for my last name Simone. I eagerly took on the role as a sort of assistant to the guys - helping clean up after practices while offering my opinion on their songs.
We had such great conversations and debates about music. Often we argued about who was the greatest rock singer, or what band gave birth to rock ‘n roll. They always poked fun at my choice of rock groups when it came time for our weekly battle of the bands. I would argue that musicians like Neil Young and Boston had a greater chance at making The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame than Motley Crue or Ratt. Brad hardly ever agreed with me. His taste in rock music was painfully mainstream, where I leaned more toward the classics.
Immediately after school I was at Brad’s place. I loved it. I was like one of the guys. They became like family, especially Brad. So I didn’t think much of telling him that I loved to sing. Our budding friendship was so non-intimidating. Not like with AJ, where there was risk of our relationship being compromised - at least, in my mind - if he knew what I was really like. With Brad though, I felt like I could offer a little of myself without judgment. And because of this burgeoning freedom, I would soon become his musical apprentice.
Up until that point I was a self-taught singer. Brad thought I was good, but helped diversify my sound. If it was anyone else who tried to improve anything about me, I’d send them straight to hell. But, I knew Brad’s intensions were genuinely sincere, so I accepted the instruction.
“Simmy, singing is your niche. I could help you perfect your craft.” He never made me feel self-conscious.
Once a week he gave me singing lessons to help expand my range and pitch. During this extension of my voice, he also taught me how to play the guitar, even giving me one of his banged-up six-strings he’d had since he was a kid. And Al, the keyboardist, showed me the fundamentals of playing a piano. I caught on quick.
I enjoyed singing with Brad. He had an amazing voice, pitching a high note like David Lee Roth and bringing it down like Robert Plant. I think it was The Rangers’ music that held him back. All the songs were crap, and they couldn’t keep a band together worth shit. They filtered through two bassists and one lead guitarist while I knew them. It was unfortunate that they couldn’t compromise and agree on songs - they all had talent. There were always creative differences – and personal differences, too.
I’ll never forget the one huge blow-out between Brad and Craig. It started with them fighting over the title of their latest song. Then it turned into a battle over a chic.
Brad was a charmer. He loved women and it didn’t matter if she was taken either. Being a ladies man got him into trouble with the guys in the band on more than one occasion.
The girl in question during this particular confrontation was Jasmine Tucker. She was a local band groupie that looked like Farrah Fawcett. She was, in a nut shell, the town tramp.
At the time Jasmine was dating Craig. She hung out with the band a lot. I didn’t like her; she disrupted the band's concentration with her split-sided daisy dukes, and braless white tanks. I hated the way Brad always goggled over her. It was pathetic. She was a walking citation that begged for attention from guys and girls alike.
Brad was finishing up his eighth beer one night and feeling pretty good. Craig and Benny went out for more to drink. This left scandalous opportunity for Brad to hit on Jasmine. By the time Craig got back, Brad and the tramp were practically doing it on the couch in the back of the garage.
All hell broke loose.
Craig went after Brad with fists flailing. All the while, I’m wondering why nothing’s being said to Jasmine, who provoked it in the first place with her panty-less summer dress. The skank actually bent over in front of Brad showing off her beaver. Of course he was gonna get aroused. So knowing this, I stormed up to the slut and punched her in the face.
“You fucking whore, it’s your fault!” I screamed, wild with rage.
I think I took out all of my pent-up fury on Jasmine that day. She was the perfect target. I blamed her for everything. My thoughts were rampant, and Jasmine was going to pay for my shitty childhood.
The first blow I drew blood. I’m not sure if it was the sight of the sticky red stuff, or my infuriated state that excited me. But I kept throwing punches. The second knuckle went for the nose. I heard a pop. I knew I had broken it. Her screaming escalated and she fell to the floor.
I had no idea that I had it in me to kick ass. It felt awesome.
“You bitch!” she yelled through sobs, clutching her nose.
“What did you call me, tramp?”
I swung back my leg and starting kicking her in the abdomen, as she lay on her side. I was out of control, calling her every insult imaginable through repeated kicks. I was like Gloria meets The Exorcist, kicking ass while possessed by hell’s fury.
At that point Brad had taken Craig down, too. Immediately after, he saw the damage I was inflicting on Miss Do-Me-Dukes-A-Lot. At first he was in shock, not thinking I was capable of such violence, soon though he rushed over to contain me.
“Simmy, Simmy!” He grabbed my waist, pulling me away from the curled up, blubbering mess on the floor that Jasmine had become.
“Sim, that’s enough,” he said so calm it forced me to a halt. “You kicked her ass for me, didn’t you?” he asked through a breaking smirk.
“She was acting like a hooker the whole time.” I rubbed my sore hand as I spoke. Looking back at Jasmine - who had managed to pull herself off of the floor.
I immediately started cursing at her like Scarface incarnate. “Go whore-around somewhere else, you fucking bitch! Take your fucking loser boyfriend and get the fuck out of here. Bitch!” It was poetry in profanity . . . my finest work.
I was so pissed that Jasmine and Craig had attacked Brad like some Bonny and Clyde criminal exploit that I was ready to rock-out with the punches again - even though Brad was guilty of debauchery in the first degree. In my line of sight, Brad was one of the most charismatic and selfless people I ever met – his flaws were inadvertently overlooked by me.
After that night of “the boxing match of the century,” as it became known, the remaining guys, especially Brad, had a renewed sense of respect for me. I was no longer the little girl who tagged along with the band. I was one of them – worthy of the bad-ass branding. Which interpreted as: I was even more white-trash than I was initially led to believe.
The guys were a good time, for the most part. Music and that garage brought us together. It was our place of worship - Our Lady of the Devils.
I even got to know Brad’s mother, Nora. She was a single mom who loved to smoke pot. Ironically, she was an RN. She worked a ridiculous amount of hours, leaving ample opportunity for Brad and his gang to come and go as we pleased.
We rocked the garage during the day, and hung-out in Brad’s backyard in front of a fire pit at night, drinking and smoking joints. Occasionally a new girlfriend would stumble into the picture, but they never lasted. Brad never brought chics around.
Very few of these girlfriends were cool. For the most part they were annoying Maybelline-plastered dolls. Brad found humor in my irritation with them – I would mimic their pigeonholed mannerisms behind them, or roll my eyes when they tried to be cool and fit in. I loved that I was the beloved female of the club.
After hanging-out with the Rangers for four months, I felt confident enough to be open with the band - mainly Brad - and share my singing and writing skills. It was time to take the fledgling to flight.
We were lounging in Brad’s finished basement one rainy afternoon when I sprung it on them.
“Hey, guys.” It was surprisingly harder to approach them than I anticipated.
Brad and his closing-band members, Bud, Adam, Al and Simon all turned to face me.
“Umm…” my voice trailed. I diverted my gaze to my tapping right foot. “I was hoping you’d be up for listening to my song.” My eyes quavered from their stunned faces to a random fixture then back to them.
“S-sure,” Brad staggered, exacerbated by my willingness to be so exposed.
He heard me sing many times. My songs were sacred though. I kept them guarded. He knew this. Even he hadn’t heard any of them yet. I think he was in shock over my humility.
The others nodded in dumbfounded agreement with Brad.
The first ballad I ever wrote and put into music was titled “Hopeless.” It was basically a narrative of my life. I sang it to the band that night on acoustic. It had a blues influence, and my strong alto was perfect for the rhythm.
“Born into a dark world,
Pain consumes my soul.
All I ask for,
All I desire
Is for my family to know
Stop with the merciless blows,
My bones are bound to break.
Will it all end if I were to die?
I suffer the sins of my mother,
And the lust in my father’s eyes
Hopeless is the wonderer,
Will I ever know?
Will it never be found?
I wish for hope in my life,
To keep me from the knife
Hopeless I feel,
I want to live the night.
My brother knows no truth,
To him I’m a monster in the dark
I wish to be loved,
But my future is blinded
All I see is a bleak destiny.
Will I always be . . . hopeless . . . in . . . me.”
Upon finishing, no one said a word.
Their usual intrepid faces stared back at me with sympathy. At first I thought the guys hated the song and that their grave expressions were that of dislike. But rather than read the tea leaves to grasp the obvious, I sought an underlining revelation within deploring reactions. I soon realized that they had become enlightened to the truth behind why a young girl would desire so much to hang with a no-name band comprised of a ménage of misfits - to escape my home life.
Brad was the first to speak.
“Damn, Sim.” He looked at me with a devoted sincerity that I still keep locked in my heart for those days when I feel like my life is collapsing in on me.
With my reluctance to be sentimental, my response was circumspect. “Well,” I said in length. “Was my singing all right? How about the guitar, was I in tune?”
The guys looked upon my indifference to speak further on the sensitive subject with disbelief. They knew that I was tough as nails. They didn’t expect a complete shut out though.
I wasn’t ready to let down my guard entirely.
Simon broke the uncomfortable silence with clapping. The others quickly joined in, adding whistles to the applause.
The following weeks Brad and I became even closer. Our friendship was bittersweet, possessing a sibling-like quality. He turned into a big brother, watching out for me always. And with a fierce determination he maneuvered his way through my emotional blockade.
“Sim,” Brad confronted me one night in front of his backyard fire-pit. “I’ve been meaning to talk to ya.”
“Yeah?” Clueless as to where this was going, my focus remained on the rippling flames.
“I’ve been thinking about your song, and the things you’ve been through. And well, I, uh,” he looked away, awkward, “just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
I embraced his veracity. “It’s not your fault.” I snorted. “Don’t feel sorry for me. It won’t be like this much longer. When I graduate, I’m outta this shit-hole town. I’m gonna move away and do something with music. I don’t ever want to see that pathetic excuse for a family again after I’m gone.”
“I don’t blame you.” Brad reached his arm around my shoulders, giving me a quick squeeze. The subtle display of affection meant oceans.
Brad was rethinking his situation, too. Inexplicably, my music had become his inspiration to turn to management.
After an ugly break-up with The Rangers that summer, Brad vamped the idea of taking on the role as my personal promoter. There was no question in my mind that he could perform this task. It was more a matter of how. But at sixteen, I was willing to sample anything to give my life meaning.
Brad suggested not waiting for high school graduation to split from Shelby. He believed that I had a talent that should be unleashed to the world. He convinced me with his larger-than-life talk that we had to go to New York City - where the big record companies lived, and where the best contacts could be made in the music business.
I was down with that plan. If he believed we could do it - then we could do it.
So Brad sold his half-rotted ’73 Pinto to pay for the bus fare. I wasted no time snatching up my guitar, a few garments, and my last twenty bucks. Leaving a note for Marty and Josephine saying that I was leaving for good, I set my sites for the Big Apple with my would-be manager by my side.
I kissed that wasteland town goodbye, and never looked back.