Milk and Honey: Chapter Eight

***Please keep in mind, as you read this, that this is a very rough draft of what will, one day, be a novel… I am currently revising/rewriting…***

For the remainder of the spring and the entirety of the summer, Luc and Tony were inseparable.  The boys took refuge from Calgary’s dry, unrelenting heat in Tony’s basement.  It was a basement made of music: Tony’s father was an avid collector.  LP’s lined the walls, the weight of wax threatened to crack the wooden shelves they rested upon.

Luc had always loved music.  His earliest memories danced to complex concertos of Beethoven and Mozart.  For the past couple years, however, Luc’s access to his love was stunted.  The needle of the record player he was given as a child broke when he was four and though he pleaded with his parents to replace it, they never managed to have enough money to buy one.  Luc was forced to make due with the Radio.

The reception on the family’s radio was horrible.  The only station that came in consistently was the CBC, which Luc detested.  There was too much talk on there for his liking.  Sometimes, though, on cold evenings in Ontario, the family radio grabbed American signals, sometimes as far away as Detroit.  On these evenings, Luc rejoiced.  Mad sounds quickened his pulse. Little Richard, the Big Bopper, Chuck Berry- these were prominent in Luc’s pantheon.  He worshiped at their altar; sometimes he would even burn the old yellow incense he had also received in his infancy.

In Tony’s cool basement, Luc found records by many of the artists he faintly remembered from the Detroit radio station.  The records were scripture to him.  He was always careful to hold the discs by the edges as he pulled them from their protective sleeves.  The records were Luc’s Torah and Tony, his Rabbi:  “Man, if your like Chuck Berry, you are gonna love Little Richard!  I’ve got this live album he made in 1967–his between-song-banter is just as good as the songs!”

With the help of Tony and Little Richard, Luc’s English skills increased exponentially over the next few months.  From the former, Luc picked up a thick Italian slur.  From the latter, he learned an exuberance of speech, an ego and a love for sixties slang.   His English tongue was a hybrid of Italian, African American, and of course, French Canadian accents.  His was a uniquely Canadian form of the English language.  Some who listened to Luc speak took him for an Italian or Spanish speaker– others just thought he was crazy.

Strangely, Luc’s summertime routine was more regimented than his school-time schedule.  He would awake at 7:00 every morning and eat a massive breakfast with his parents.  Breakfast had always been his favorite meal.  He ate a dozen eggs every morning, which he chased with Marcel’s hot, strong swill.  By 9:00, Luc quaked with caffeine.  He would then walk to 7-11 and read Rolling Stone Magazine with a fair amount of difficulty due to his quaking fingers and developing reading skills.  Sometimes a clerk would remind him that the store wasn’t a library, but they usually didn’t bother him.  At 10:00, he would board the first of a series of buses that would eventually take him to Tony’s house.  He knocked loudly on the front door, since Tony would often still be sleeping.  As soon as the door was opened, Luc ran down to the basement.

Tony took Luc’s musical education very seriously.  While Luc, prior to their meeting, was listening to contemporary bands he had read about in the Rolling Stone, and heard on the radio, Tony was sure to provide Luc with the proper historical context.  “Now Luc, you will never understand Jimi if you aren’t well versed in those who came before.  Did you listen to the Robert Johnson album I lent to you last night?  Good.  Do you know that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil?”  Tony rambled on for hours.  It was usually well past noon by the time the boys started listening to the first record.

They continued to listen to music well into the evening, often forgetting to eat until Tony’s mother called from upstairs.  She would joke, sometimes, that she always wanted another son and now, at last, she had one.  Luc was secretly thrilled when she said this.  At times, he referred to Tony’s mother as the mother of his soul, though he was careful not to do so in front of Odette.

Sometimes, Tony’s father would join the boys in the basement.  When he did, Tony became a student again: his father, clearly, was the authoritative voice on music.  He seemed to know everything and he had seen most of the members of Luc’s pantheon live at some point.  Sometimes he disappeared and retrieved duplicate, signed copies of the albums from upstairs.  The boys never found his hidden stash of albums, though they certainly looked.

Tony’s father had played lead guitar in a band before he got married.  The band put out an album in the late fifties, but he refused to ever play it since he thought the album was an embarrassing piece of shit:  “We were all drunk in the studio- I cant believe they even released it.”  The highlight of Tony’s father’s musical career was when the band opened for the Guess Who at a small show at the University of Calgary.  Eugene bragged that Randy Bachman tried to pick up his wife, but she decided to go back to his place instead.  When Luc asked her about the story over a grilled cheese sandwich, she didn’t deny it: she smiled a mischievous smile.

Tony almost always outlasted Luc at the record playing marathons.  By 1:00 AM, Tony’s energy seemed to peak, just as Luc’s was fading.  “Man, if you liked that song, your gonna love this one.  Listen to the guitar part hear, it reminds me of what Berry did on his first album, but he puts a shit-load of fuzz on it.  These guys are gonna be big, I’m telling ya!”  “Man, I’m fuckin beat, I’m going home.  One more song, come on Luc!”  One song turned into seven and Luc had to walk all the way home since the buses had stopped running by the time he left the house.

He walked home in early morning hours, propelled by a music and a rhythm that entered his blood stream over the course of the day.  It often occurred to him that he really knew nothing of his best friend- they only spoke about music.  He owed Tony so much.  Tony was hugely responsible for teaching Luc to speak English and he shared the treasure of his father’s record collection with him, a debt that Luc felt he would never be able to repay.  Sometimes, Luc found himself in tears as he slipped underneath his covers, careful not to wake his sleeping brother in their shared bedroom.  He had come to Calgary, a stranger in a strange land but, in Tony and the rest of his family, he found a home.

By the time the leaves began to fall and the school bells where ringing, Tony and Luc had moved on to Bob Dylan.  Dylan was a universe for Tony, though Luc could never stand his voice.  “I am about to play you the most important album of the sixties, Luc.”  Tony spoke with a tone of reverence reserved for Dylan, “we are going to listen to Bringing it All Back Home and it will be the only album we will listen to today.  I want you to know this album inside and out and outside and in, y here?”  “Oh, fuck off Tony.  Why are you always forcing that guy on me.  I hate him!  He’s a fuckin’ has-been!  Did you see the review his last album got?  ‘What is this shit?’”  “Dylan’s very important, Luc, trust me.”

The needle dropped on Maggie’s Farm.  Luc, in spite of his stubbornness, was secretly half impressed.  It wasn’t as bad as the earlier stuff Tony had showed him in June, but not as good as “Like a Rolling Stone”, which Luc often heard on the radio.  By the time the needle returned to its cradle, Luc was tired of Bob; Tony, however, was in Heaven.  “What do you think?”  “It’s alright, I guess.  I just don’t see what the big fuckin’ deal is.  He is doin’ some bluesy stuff there, but you can tell he doesn’t really have an understanding of the blues at all- he is pretending Tony.”  “Exactly!”  Tony was encouraged by Luc’s observation, which he fully agreed with.  “That’s Dylan’s genius, he pretends!  His still pretending with that piece of shit he just put out!”  “You’ve heard that album?”  “Yeah, my dad bought it last week.  I listened to it after you left last night.”  “Can we listen to it now, I’m curious.”  “No, Luc.  You have to remember context!  Besides, the second side of Bringing it all Back Home is probably the most poetic of any side of any album ever made.  Hmmm, I also have a little treat that might make you appreciate it even more.”  “Fuckin eh, man!  Did you find some more of your Dad’s Jamaican Rum?”  “No, not exactly.”

Tony pulled what Luc thought to be a hand rolled cigarette from his jacket pocket.  Tony smiled as he placed it into Luc’s hand.  “You can do the honors, Luc.”  Luc brought the cigarette to his nose; it scratched against the stubble of his upper lip.  It didn’t smell like a cigarette at all.  Over the past couple weeks, during his lectures on jazz music, Tony had made passing references to marijuana.  The references were scarce and he didn’t elaborate even though Luc was curious: “We’ll get there eventually”, he said with a smile.  Luc held the strange cigarette between his middle and index fingers of his right hand.  He knew.

“Should we smoke it in here?”  “Don’t worry, mom’s visiting her sister and dad is workin’ late- light her up!”  Luc lit the match and coughed ferociously.  It reminded him of his first cigarette, which he also smoked with Tony on that afternoon many months ago.

The distance between Luc and reality widened with every pull he took.  He lost all sense of space and time.  The needle dropped on the “Gates of Eden” and Luc was lost the walls of sound.  Suddenly, Luc had the ability to hear every single strummed string on the lonesome guitar.  The song complimented Luc’s glorious state: devoid of the narrative structure that many of Dylan’s previous songs had.  Instead, fleeting images passed through Luc’s brain.  Hours seemed to pass before the needle lifted again.

Not a single word was exchanged between Luc and Tony for the rest of the evening.  Each of the boys were content to listen.  Records were played in their entirety.  Tony created a soundtrack for Luc’s first trip.  After Bringing it All back Home, Tony put on Highway 61, followed by Blonde on Blonde.  Sensing that Luc was tiring of Bob, Tony played Rubber Soul, Revolver and Magical Mystery Tour back to back.  Before playing Sgt. Pepper, Tony played At Her Satanic Majesties Request as an inside joke that Luc didn’t get.  “Ok, this is the last album we will listen to today.”  Luc’s introduction to Sergeant Pepper was in Mono; Tony was a purist.  By the time “A Day in the Life” came to its crashing finale, Luc was forever changed.  He rose from the couch.  “Tony, thank you so much for everything.  I love you.”  Luc left early enough to take the bus home that night.  He missed his stop more than once but just giggled.

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