The day I arrived in New York City will be forever engrained in my memory. My first thought being, my life will never be the same, was the understatement of the century.
The summer was coming to an end. It was August. The sun showed absolutely no mercy as it reflected off the paved city. The humidity wrapped its smothering clutches around my chest. But the weather didn’t put a damper on my spirit. Everything from the smoking manhole covers to the chaotic horns blaring, felt like home to me. Over the years I’d read so much about the seediness and the congestion. But I didn’t really get it until then.
Gawking at the pedestrians as they blazed by - oblivious to what was unfolding around them, focusing only on their destinations - fascinated me. The traffic was insane with yellow, taxi-cabs bumper-to-bumper, blearing their horns. All this madness was hedged by an enclave of skyscrapers. It was one of the most emphatic and psychotic landscapes I had ever seen.
Our uprooting was in essence ludicrous. Brad and I had a hundred dollars between the two of us, no place to sleep, and a whimsical hope of breaking into the music business. He had no experience as a manager or promoter, and I was a young dreamer. We were doomed.
That night we stayed at a flee-bitten motel near Grand Central. It was all we could afford. His brilliant plan for the next day was for me to go to Grand Central and sing, while he looked for a job. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I certainly didn’t have a problem entertaining the masses, while strangers tossed a coin or two into my guitar case. In my opinion, Brad was the one getting the shit end of the stick. After all, he had to dredge within the sweltering heat to look for a mindless job.
I wasn’t worried though. I trusted Brad. He was witty, charming, and knew how to handle any situation. He never made me feel like I had anything to worry about. I believed that if anyone could make me famous it would be Brad.
I was so naive.
Brad got a job as a bartender a block from our motel. And I wasn’t doing too shabby on the tips at Grand Central. I felt like we were going to be okay. And we were, for the first year anyway. Things were slow moving, but we were having fun.
Six months after our arrival, Brad was able to contact a nameless studio and make arrangements for me to cut a demo at a makeshift set-up in a guy’s basement. His name was Frank, and like us, he wanted to make it in the music biz, only, as a producer.
Frank was narcissistic and obnoxious. This stereotypical Italian New Yorker was loud and arrogant. All he talked about was himself and his “vast” experience in the business - like I cared. Even if he knew a guy, I decided that I’d rather panhandle for a living than work with that blow-hard.
“So, Simmy, is that your real name?” Frank asked in his Italiano accent.
“No, it’s Yari Simone.”
“Really . . . well, if you make it kid, use your real name. It sounds better.” He looked at Brad then clapped his hands together. “Alright, let’s get started.”
Brad looked on like a proud father. I knew he wanted my success more than anything.
After half an hour of setting up I was finally on my way. For the next hour I sang "Enchanted" on accoustic - one of my favorite songs.
Eyes of envy,
She dreams of a brighter day.
Her frail limbs,
Memories of a distant place,
All she can do is pray.
Along the brick road of hope
Deliverance will come
Kneel down to the faith
Before the day is done
She seeks your peace.
For all that she fears,
The demons she sees.
Blood on her lips,
From the struggles endured.
The death of love,
Oh, enchanted – she mourns.
Pursue the yellow path, I hear him say,
Take hold of her scarred wrist,
Creator, lead the way.”
By the time I finally finished the grueling demo, I hated that song. I sang it a hundred different ways until Frank and Brad finally agreed on one. I wanted to rip their heads off – the excessive tediousness irritated me. I had little input on the final cut, which pissed me off even more. Who the fuck was Frank? He had no bearing on my career. But I was so damn tired and spent – I just wanted to leave.
“Wow,” Frank gasped, shaking his head in disbelief. “If Pat Benatar and Jim Morrison had a baby girl, she’d have your voice.” “Give me a week to edit and make copies for ya, and you’ll be on your way to stardom.”
“How do you feel, Yari?” Brad chuckled, repeating Frank’s address to me when we left the studio.
“I don’t know . . . fine, I guess.” My annoyance was fizzling. “How did you hear about Frank, anyway?”
“I’ve been asking around at the bar. A couple people brought up his name. He was cheap, so I went with him. It doesn’t matter who records your voice as long as it gets done. With a recording we have something to finally work with.”
Brad then rambled onto a less noteworthy subject. That was so him, sort of adolescent the way his mind changed gears.
“I can see why he chose to work behind the scenes in this business,” Brad snorted. “He’s certainly no looker.”
I was too preoccupied with my thoughts to mull over Brad’s observation. I was trying to recover from my first music demo. My voice was sore, my head like mush. He was going on about something to do with an ugly tree. I was half-listening.
“What?” he asked, opposing my silence, thinking it an objection to his rude comments. “Come on Sim - did you see that coffee cake?”
Momentarily distracted by my obsessive performance-scrutinizing, I considered Frank’s appearance for a second. He was a man of average height, probably in his early forties, but his island recession and thinning black hair made him look closer to fifty. A small pot belly, skinny legs, acne scarred face, incessant verbal diarrhea, Brad was right, Frank wasn’t much to look at, or listen to.
I laughed quickly to appease him then returned to my thoughts of music.
Nervously adjusting the guitar-strap on my shoulder, I veered the conversation back to business. “What’s the next step after the demo?”
“When we get the copies, I’ll go to the record studios and radio stations around town – ya know, refuse to take no for an answer.”
Because of this asinine plan of attack, I had to bail Brad out of jail a couple times. Apparently, he was literal in his approach. It was comical at the time.
Things were quiet for a few months with no responses to the demo. There was minimal interest in my public performances, too. Brad was going out a lot with his newfound girlfriend, Andrea, who he met at the bar where he worked. Their quasi-relationship left me alone often in our perilous apartment on the lower eastside. I didn’t like her. She partied too hard, and introduced Brad to pill-popping, eventually luring him away from our dream.
Approaching my seventeenth birthday, January of ‘87, I received the best gift I could’ve imagined. I was offered a singing gig at a small rock-bar not far from the apartment. The owner, Victor Harding, got hold of one of my demos and liked what he heard.
Victor was a smooth guy, all business. His appearance reminded me of Sonny Bono – short stature, thick mustache, and flashy clothes - with a raunchy sense of humor to boot. The club was called Cobra. It was a dive and the patrons were questionable – a house of ill repute. But I certainly wasn’t particular about where I performed, considering my previous venues - Grand Central and the subway.
Victor paid me to perform for one night. He said that if the crowd liked my music then I could return for more gigs.
Hair bands were big on the charts at the time. My style was edgier, untapped. Being a female, I knew the audience was going to be harsh, too. And, this was my first stage performance. I was batting a thousand.
My choking nerves were restricting my senses that night. It was unlike me to be so intolerant. I needed to get a grip on the significance of this opportunity, and the exposure it could bring. I didn’t want to blow it.
Nevertheless, my heart continued to race like a psychotic drummer on roids. My mouth was as dry as Tina Turner’s over-processed hair. And the palms of my hands were clammy like Frank’s face. I was a train-wreck.
Standing before a floor-length mirror in the grimy, mock dressing-room, I brutally scrutinized my appearance. Victor said I couldn’t go on stage without a look that made me exude sex - fucking pig. I had the unsavory suspicion that the Bono-clone was expecting me to dry-hump a poll.
I had the body for stripping, but not the shamelessness. At five-foot seven, my height made me look lean. Unfortunately, my breasts didn’t shrink with my length. They were a whopping C-cup. Being somewhat of a tomboy, these awkward swells got in my way sometimes. An exotic dancer would have loved to flash my shit. I on the other hand, was pretty conservative when it came to offering up my goods. Brad agreed with Victor on the wardrobe downgrade, as I saw it. My so-called best-friend was present when choosing my attire. I cursed him for three days for making me buy slutty garments. Right before he left me at the dressing-room, I called him a worthless mother-fucker for his pornographic taste in women’s clothing. He never broke stride with his proud smile.
So there I was in my egregious catastrophe - a black, leotard cat-suit, tagged with a half-sized, denim jacket. I varnished the ghastly look with dark eye-makeup and teased hair.
I looked twenty-five.
I looked like a tramp.
“Simmy, you look terrible. What’s going on?” Brad barged into the room without knocking, taking heed of my anxiety. I was moping in that pitiful space the size of a closet.
“Don’t you knock?!” I lashed.
He laughed and stood before me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I know you better than you do, Sim? What’s going on?”
I hesitated. “Uh . . . I uh, I’m scared.” I said in a small, mortified voice.
He was laughing at my expense. This made me feel even worse.
“Stop it, you fucker. I’m dying here.” I pulled away from his grip then looked back at my vulgar image in the mirror. My face was that of nausea.
“Sim, you have stage fright - it’s normal. You’re gonna be great.” He flashed me that amiable smile that beat me into submission every time. “Just don’t make eye contact with anyone in the audience. Find a vacant spot to focus on when you’re nervous. Look at it this way - you’re better off singing here than at the harem theatres of Time Square.”
“Your words of infinite wisdom aren’t helping.”
Victor rushed into the room. “You’re on in fifteen,” then rushed back out.
“Brad - help!” my anxiety ridden voice screeched with agony. I looked to him for guidance that was more than just disobliging words.
His face turned serious. Brad motioned for me to sit. Kneeling beside me, he offered the best help he could comprise. Reaching into his pant pocket, Brad pulled out a few small pills.
“What are those?” I snapped with adverse caution.
“Sim, they’ll take the edge off. It’ll be like . . . you’re taking a shot of whisky.” With his hand cupped, he offered me two yellow pills.
I looked at them, hesitating. Drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, I didn’t have a problem with. I’d been partaking in those sedatives since I was fifteen. But street drugs, they didn’t agree with me much. I tried Quaaludes once. They gave me a wicked migraine. And with acid, the long-term damaging effects outweighed the super psychedelic high.
Brad detected my disinclination to take the daunting pills.
“Simmy, do you trust me?” he asked with an honest face, eyes frowning.
Of course I trusted him - it was the pills I didn’t trust. But I didn’t think he’d offer me anything lethal.
Victor stormed in again, “You’re on in five. Meet me near the stage in two minutes!”
Looking back at Brad and then to the pills, I was in no state to entertain. I had no choice. Fuck it!
I grabbed the mystery drugs, and quickly slugged them down before I reconsidered my hasty decision.
Brad rushed me to the dressing-room door. “They work fast, so let’s go.”
I felt like a robot. It was as if I had left my body and no longer had physical control. Frightened was an understatement. The room spun. My surroundings were obscured with indiscernible images of dark and bright shadows swirling into oblivion.
I’m gonna die from fear. I don’t think it’s ever been documented as a means for death, but there’s a first for everything.
I wanted the drugs to consume my senses, to eliminate my anxiety. Hurry, God damn it! Kick in!
Nearing the stage, an explosion suddenly erupted inside of me. It was as if I had stepped into a warm pool of invisible comfort. A calming sensation engulfed my entire being. A sharp clarity kicked on in my consciousness. Brad noticed.
“Knock ‘em dead,” he said with a big toothy grin.
Victor walked onto the stage to announce me. The audience appeared restless, but it didn’t faze me. Those pills were a miracle. Walking toward the mic, I felt completely at ease.
The bar was dark and smoky. A few people clapped during my approach, others looked on with disinterest. The stage was small. The band I’d been practicing with for a week, provided to me by Victor, were as ready as they could be on such short notice.
I chose to start with “Black Rain.” I figured if any of my songs was going to get the crowd’s attention, it would be this one. A blues/rock number about a scorned-woman man-hater, felt appropriate for this stoic audience. I sang it like nobody’s business.
“Whispers of loneliness,
Secrets can’t be found
Shame and fear drip from my skin,
Cries of terror all around
Black rain drowns the house,
Hate rakes my face,
The mistrust that he spills,
Woman, know your place
The witching hour is upon me,
Never will I trust,
For all he has done.
The selfish ways, the lust
Black rain of tears flood my hands,
How I wish to be free,
Will it come to pass?
Forever it will be.
I plot revenge,
He’ll pay for his ways
Justice, my sisters, from the black rain.
I stole his breath.
His life is still
My chains are broken for I have made the kill.”
The audience went berserk, especially the women. Apparently, they could relate to the lyrics.
On the stage for an hour, loving every minute of it, hoping that it would never end, I sang a few more of my songs then wove in a couple Janis Joplin jams. After the last bout of applause, there was no longer a doubt in my mind - I was meant to do this.
After that epic night, I started to make a name for myself at Cobra. I mastered the art of small-time dive-bar entertainment.
I even had fans. After a gig one night, I met the most unexpected admirer. His name was Eric, and he attended Juilliard.
The most intriguing quality that my male fan possessed, aside from the fact that he was being taught to become an orchestrated violinist at a prestigious performing arts school, Eric had a deep passion for rock. You wouldn’t think it by his upper-crust persona.
There was a genuine wholesomeness about this guy who grew up in Paris, London, and New York City. I felt like my mere presence was tainting him.
His parents were known orchestra musicians/composers who traveled the world, touring and performing in all the famous theatres. Apparently he was from a long line of professional symphony players, so naturally it was expected of him to follow suit. It was an expectation that he did not carry well.
Because his future had been set for him since birth, Eric had a tendency to be rebellious. His defiance was subtle in comparison to what I’d been capable of. In a pristine, high-class family, the things he did were frowned upon with tremendous discontent.
I had a three-week fling with this defiant closet-rocker.
“Yari, I am so envious of you.” Eric had confessed to me with humility. We were having a drink one night after my show.
“Why? – You’re the one who has everything?” I glanced over his posh attire. “Your parents are rich and they give you a good life.”
Eric stood out from the rest of the Cobra patrons like a thoroughbred among donkeys. He always wore perfectly pressed corduroys with an oxford. If I was passing him on the street I wouldn’t have given Eric a second glance - he was too clean-cut for my liking. He was, however, devilishly handsome. He reminded me of a young Paul Newman. Yet, he didn’t quite possess the seductive appeal that the striking actor oozed. That was mainly due to Eric’s slight insecurity.
“You have your music though - the music that you love.” The lowly mood of his voice was oddly attractive. “There’s nothing that I wouldn’t give to be in your band.”
“You’re too gifted for this shit, and too good for the lifestyle. Trust me it’s not for you.” I diverted my vitiated gaze from him.
“I wish I had your creative freedom though.” His hazel-blue eyes flashed with conviction.
I picked up on the envy in his voice. It made me wonder what would make a rich kid like this want my life.
“What do you say we go for a ride along Central Park?” Eric seemed to be hiding his peculiar remark within this invite. I was no dummy. I sensed the streaming disappointment he felt toward his life. At Cobra I met all kinds.
Eric was very well off. His parents owned an apartment that overlooked Central Park West. They also owned a flat in downtown London. Being an only child, he had everything he could possible want at his disposal. It was surprising to see him so humble.
And he drove a Mercedes Benz. Fantasies of royalty filled my head when my body contoured with its tan leather seat. I felt like Queen for a Day when we cruised downtown Manhattan and Central Park. When I was with him, Yari Simone, the struggling poverty-stricken singer didn’t exist. He never made me feel inferior.
Brad didn’t know of Eric’s existence - he was too preoccupied with his own fantasy life to notice.
I didn’t perceive Eric as a love interest, but rather, someone to just hang with. I had a lot of free time, and he was available. The rich kid was very far from the type of guys I liked. Maybe it was the night that he played the violin for me underneath the Brooklyn Bridge that won me over though.
“Do you keep your violin with you at all times?” I asked, confused by the love affair with the unfamiliar instrument. “It’s always in your car.”
To me a violin seemed more as décor than something played. I had always found the instrument to be so beautifully crafted with its sensual curves and delicate strings, that it seemed almost too fragile to be touched.
He chuckled at my curiosity. “Not exactly, but it is in my clutches a good deal of the time.”
“Can I see it?”
Without a verbal confirmation, Eric leaned into the backseat and retrieved the oval holster, covered in black leather - even the container that held his prized instrument was impressive.
Resting the case on his lap, slightly angled in my direction for viewing, his attentive hands lifted the flaps that folded over the zipper. He then opened the top to reveal a petite golden-stained violin with a black neck accent and signature clef holes. The object resembled that of an antique heirloom that could only be found in the house of the matriarch to an affluent family.
Eric removed the delicate object from the case along with the bow. “Do you want to hear me play?” he offered with a tranquil confidence.
“I’d love to.” I perked up diligently, tickled that I was going to be personally serenaded with the eloquent sounds of a violin.
Without pause, Eric leaned the base of the beautifully carved devise under his chin, and shocked me into a hypnotic state of bliss.
He was magnificent – clearly he had been playing for most of his nineteen years. Captivated and awed, I listened intently to the medley that he called a sonata.
I never wanted him to stop the deeply poetic and emotionally inspiring melody. The fluttering, chirping, fluted, and vastly rich whimsical sound that he conjured from his fingers was magic to my ears – overture to a lullaby. What intrigued me the most, though, was the serenity that filled his face as he played. It was everything that I wished to achieve when singing my music.
When he finished, Eric had to break me from the seduction that the music had propelled me into.
“What did you think?” he asked mildly confident.
“Wow . . . amazing. You’re brilliant, Eric. And you say that you’re envious of me?”
He smirked. “You write your music though. I play composed music.”
Reaching behind my seat, he placed the violin back to its original spot on the floor.
“You played with real passion.”
He shrugged and offered no opposing comment. “Um . . . Yari,” he appeared suddenly conflicted with his thoughts, “I don’t normally play for anyone, and well, I just wanted you to know that I did so, because, I have feelings for you.” Eric kept his gaze upon me with such verdict, even though his words were somewhat jumpy.
Without thinking, without the slightest hint of evaluation into any feelings toward this half-stranger, I lunged at Eric, kissing him so hard that all he could do was respond with the same token. We then had sex in his car.
I’ll never understand what he saw in me. Maybe I was to him what a bad boy biker is to a stupid defiant girl - a yearning for the forbidden.
Our lives just never made any sense for the other.