Bandanna Double Flashback
Never know when the Yahoo news feed will surprise me with a sudden flashback. Tonight it was a report on Bret Michaels, evidently a popular singer and musician. “Evidently” I say, because I never was a fan of rock and roll, or further devolutions of American music that followed.
Classical music, however, was hard to find on car radios, from my ’52 Chev through my ’96 Bronco. I spent a lot of time on the road from 1961 to the end of the 20th century, and needed noise to keep me awake. Music I disliked became, perforce, the soundtrack of my checkered life. Eventually I noticed a few tracks less awful than others, and a singer or two whose words were mostly intelligible. One of those was Bob Seger, whom the internet calls A roots rocker with a classic raspy, powerful voice…an example of a heartland rock artist….
Some time ago, pre-Pandemic, my lady-love and I were listening to Segar’s songs on YouTube, complete with printed lyrics since my hearing has gone way downhill. Turn the Page, a rocker’s lament about life on the road, on tour. (They share a hometown, Detroit; she has gone to see him in concert. The very idea of attending a rock concert makes me shudder.) Having been viewed as an alien apparition in many diners across this nation, I liked his road-warrior’s lament:
“Well, you walk into a restaurant all strung-out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you, but you just want to explode…”
I began this by saying news of Bret Michaels turning sixty caused a flashback. The flashback was to the night my lady-love and I listened to Bob Segar on YouTube. When Segar’s lyrics alluded to restaurant-patrons’ reaction to his long hair — I had another flashback. This is where Bret Michaels comes in. From that night:
Full-blown, an image flashed alive from the turn of the century, a Denny’s Restaurant near SeaTac Airport during the witching hours. “I saw a guy like that one time,” I told her. “Can’t remember his name. He wore a bandanna around his head, a rocker who’d just finished a gig and came into a Denny’s to eat…”
I had expected the usual quiet of a Denny’s at that late hour, patrons keeping to themselves, concentrating on their food, talking quietly if at all. There was only a thin scatter of tables occupied when this guy kind of erupted into the near-silence. He greeted the woman at the register loudly. Loudly told the waitress seating him that no, he was not expecting anyone. He spoke like man who’d had his eardrums battered by loud noises. Like a Basic Training firing line sighting in M-14s, where the muzzle side-blast from both sides was deafening. Like sighting in deer rifles at a municipal range before I started using hearing protection — too late. Like the roar of heavy shotguns in a lifetime of duck blinds.
The guy’s cell phone rang, another jarring loud sound in the Denny’s. He began to talk loudly as if his caller might be hard of hearing as me. Yes, the show had gone well. He was just winding down before sleep. No, he did not need company. He preferred quiet time alone to wind down from the performance…we all were privy to his remarks whether we wanted to be, or not. He fairly vibrated in his seat as he talked, discussing potential meetings tomorrow. But he cut his caller short, not too rudely, insisting he needed decompression time.
I don’t know what his waitress asked when she brought his order. But he loudly admitted he was a rock star, though he didn’t use the term star. Had just finished a performance (I didn’t catch where) and needed to eat. He alluded to his blood sugar. That was years before I was diagnosed diabetic, but I knew people with the affliction all the way back to my maternal grandfather, so the way he dug in was familiar. The waitress station was near my table.
“You believe he’s a rock star?” one asked the other.
“Yeah, and I’m Queen of the May. Honestly, the kind of people we get in here!”
Not a precise transcript, but close. His every interaction with the staff was in that loud voice. My personal view was he did not seem to be showing off. If he was telling the truth his loudness was self-explanatory. There had been plenty of literature about hearing damage caused by blasting rock music. So I reserved judgment. Seemed I was the only one. When I mentioned loud music to my waitress, she was convinced he was a wannabe, pretending. And said other diners shared her view. And wished he’d tone it down. She said a couple tables had left early, annoyed by the display.
He did quiet down while he ate, gazing out the window at the night. But the phone rang again, another caller evidently solicitous of his well-being. This time he was impatient — and loud — insisting on his need for alone-time after the performance effort. If he was a phony, he was persistent. And consistent. It was time for me to go. At the register, I said why not ask him for a couple tickets to his next show? Got the patented female eye-roll. She wasn’t going to be the one suckered by his pretensions!
“And that was it?” my lady loved asked all those years later. “You thought of it because of Seger?”
“Wish I could remember his name,” I said. “He did say it. But it’s gone. I do remember his bandanna and the long hair.”
Since there was a pause in the Seger music, I pulled up Google Brain and asked about singers and head bandannas. My lady-love predicted Willie Nelson as first hit. But she was wrong. First hit was Bret Michaels. “That’s it!” I said. “That was him.”
We read a little. His original band was called Poison. (I did say music continued to devolve after rock and roll came in.) Never heard of it, and unwilling to correct the oversight now. He evidently had some success solo as the century rolled over, which comported with the Denny’s apparition. Further, in an early performance he collapsed from insulin shock (wrongfully described by the media as a drug overdose.) Which squared with his Denny’s remarks that night.
He evidently spent lots of hours on the road, just as Seger wrote in Turn the Page:
“But your thoughts will soon be wandering, the way they always do
When you’re riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing there to do
And you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through
“Here I am, on a road again
There I am, on the stage
Here I go, playing star again
There I go, turn the page….”
The news says Michaels is sixty now, still touring, with a photo of him dosing himself with insulin. Type One Diabetes being only one serious health issue he has overcome. Twenty-four years ago, he must have been forty-something at Denny’s near Sea-Tac.
Modern-day troubadours both, wanderers as surely as the twelfth century’s legendary Blondel de Nesle, supposed favorite of Richard the Lionhearted. Wonder if innkeepers back then doubted the man tuning his lute by the crackling fire was a well-known performer…
Which concluded my journal entry, entitled Strange Night at Denny’s. (My mother, who raised me on a Florida waitress’s tips earned in 12-hour six-day shifts, could have told the Denny’s doubters: everybody has to eat, even rock stars.)