Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #2: Groupie Totems, A Brief Introduction

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Mud sharks. Mars chocolate bars. Dental alginate. I’ve never before put up a post that required both a forward and an afterword, but I want to fit this topic into one day and maybe this topic should have a full week to itself.

This groupie story involves a groupie totem. It’s not a mud shark, like the one Frank Zappa sings about. It’s not a Mars bar, forever associated with Marianne Faithfull. And it’s not dental alginate, made famous by Cynthia and her friends. However a couple years after the totem in my story—a peasant blouse—changed my life, a musician named Dean Friedman gave the totem a song of its own. It’s my pick for the most romantic song ever written, and I’ll include the lyrics and a link in the afterword. Also in the afterword is a warning about groupie totems. They’re not always what they appear to be.

A Groupie Story
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The young man would remember forever that Cathy had been wearing a peasant blouse the first time he saw her. He never remembered if she’d been wearing jeans or a skirt, or if she had on shoes or sandals or was barefoot.

The young man had never before been away from home. He was on summer vacation between his freshman and sophomore years of high school. He was one of a few dozen high school students staying in a coed dorm at an Indiana college. Based on samples of their writing they had been selected to participate in a writers’ workshop at the college. He’d moved into his dorm room the day before the workshop started. Now it was afternoon, he was in the dorm’s student lounge and he had no scheduled activities until the workshop started the next day.

The young man looked around the lounge. There was a large, square, carpeted area in the middle, surrounded by a raised rectangle topped with yellow cushions. Around the room’s perimeter there were couches, chairs and study carrels with raised sides. With the undergrads home for the summer, the dorm housed only high school kids on campus for various workshops. Young men and women were scattered around the sides of the lounge as singles and couples, some reading, some talking.

There was only one person sitting in the center of the lounge. A young woman ignored the cushions and was sitting on the carpet and leaning back against the raised edge. She was writing in a spiral-bound notebook using a bright orange pen. She had brown hair that fell on one shoulder and she was wearing a peasant blouse that was slipping off her other shoulder.

The young man had never before been away from home. He had never been out on a date. He had played tennis with girls, but never, for instance, had lunch with a girl. He attended an all-boys, Catholic high school.

There is no conceivable mechanism in the known world to explain where the young man got the idea or the courage or the ability to do what he did next. His next action and its first sequel would be his first experiences of a larger, infinitely mysterious realm.

The young man walked into the center of the lounge. He sat down next to the young woman. For a moment, she finished writing whatever she was writing. Then she looked up. Her face was expressionless. Granite.

The young man said, “Hi. My name’s Mark. I’m here for the writers’ workshop. Are you with the writers or one of the other groups?”

She could have ignored him and gone back to her writing.

She could have told him she was busy.

She could have gotten up and walked away.

But she smiled. She told the young man that her name was Cathy and she was also there for the writers’ workshop.

And then came the first sequel, which propelled the two young people out of our world and into the embracing otherness of Magonia.

“I’ve got to say something,” the young man said. “I’m sitting here looking at you and you are fully dressed. But in some way that I can’t put into words it’s as if you’re naked. I’m looking at you and you’re fully dressed but it’s as if your clothes aren’t there and I’m seeing your whole body. I have no idea what this means or why I’m saying it.”

She could have gotten up and walked away.

She could have furrowed her brows and returned her attention to her writing and ignored him.

She could have called over the dorm monitor and complained about the young man.

But she smiled. Cathy said, “It’s funny you should say that because at home I never wear clothes. At home I’m always naked. I love being naked. I love eating breakfast with no clothes on or just sitting around the house reading a newspaper with no clothes on. It feels so free. I drive my parents crazy. I guess when I have clothes on my body still reacts as if I didn’t. I guess you can tell from looking at me I wish I didn’t have clothes on. That’s so cool. No one’s ever said that to me before. You must be a really good writer.”

You must be a really good writer.

The young man was gone, then.

For thousands of years, the human race has passed along stories of men and women being taken off to fairyland, to Magonia. Some never to return. The whole La Belle Dame Sans Merci mythos is built around a dark interpretation of this. Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite story—which he was never to film—was ‘Mary Rose,’ about a woman who disappeared to Elfland and had a less dark conclusion than Keats gave to his re-tellings. Oddly, there are few emergent tales in this mythos which have a classic, happy ending.

The young man was gone. Taken away. He would sometimes come back, but he would never stay. He didn’t experience a classic, happy ending with Cathy. But every one of the many adventures they did have ended happily.

The End

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In 1977, just a year or two after the events in my story took place, Dean Friedman wrote the most romantic song ever written. It’s a song about his experiences with a woman in a peasant blouse. I don’t know if he took the name of the woman from real life, but, perfectly, it is a name from Elfland:


Way on the other side of the Hudson,
Deep in the bosom of suburbia,
I met a young girl, she sang mighty fine,
‘Tears on My Pillow’ and ‘Ave Maria.’

Standing by the waterfall in Paramus Park,
She was working for the Friends-of-BAI.
She was collecting quarters in a paper cup.
She was looking for change and so was I.

She was a Jewish girl. I fell in love with her.
She wrote her number on the back of my hand.
I called her up. I was all out of breath. I said,
“Come hear me play in my rock and roll band”

I took a shower and I put on my best blue jeans.
I picked her up in my new VW van.
She wore a peasant blouse with nothing underneath.
I said, “Hi!” She said, “Yeah, I guess I am”

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .

We had a little time. We were real hungry.
We went to Dairy Queen for something to eat.
She had some onion rings. She had a pickle.
She forgot to tell me that she didn't eat meat.

I had a gig in the American Legion Hall.
It was a dance for the Volunteer Ambulance Corp.
She was sitting in a corner against the wall.
She would smile and I melted all over the floor.

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .

I took her home with me. We watched some TV,
Annette Funicello and some guy going steady.
I started fooling around with the vertical hold.
We got the munchies and I made some spaghetti.

We sat and we talked into the night.
While channel 2 was signing off the air
I found the softness of her mouth.
We made love to bombs bursting in—

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .


A Warning About Groupie Totems: Something like 130 years ago, a French writer, Maxime du Camp, anticipated a problem that would come to plague the entire Western world when, commenting about Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, du Camp wrote, “One does not know nowadays if it’s honest women who are dressed like whores or whores who are dressed like honest women.” It’s like that, too, with groupie totems. Their only power comes from the groupie dynamic, from the coming together of a groupie and the object of the groupie’s attention. But lots of non-groupies for reasons of their own take on groupie totem affectations. Groupie totems can be seductive to non-groupies. Appearances can be deceiving. But the groupie dynamic never lies. And there are almost always clues. Sometime humorous ones. For instance, some groupies enjoy low-rise jeans. When non-groupies wear low-rise jeans, they almost always reach down every thirty seconds or so and tug up on them. Beware. That’s a sign. Some groupies enjoy low-cut shirts. When non-groupies wear low-cut shirts, they almost always reach down every thirty seconds or so and tug up on them. That’s a sign, too. Beware. There are real groupies and there are people who fuss with groupie totems as if the groupie dynamic were a kit you could buy from one of those TV shop-at-home-networks. It isn’t. The real deal is real magic.


Get well soon, Marianne Faithfull!

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