He didn’t know it, but David J and I had already experienced this long and intimate history together before I met him for the first time. I had been planning the Living Room Show for four months with his manager and bandmate, Darwin Meiners – but all things considered, this was a moment nearly 30 years in the making for me.
In 1986, when I was twelve years old, my older sister’s classmate gave her a cassette copy of the Love & Rockets album, Express. As little sisters will do, I rummaged through her belongings and found it along with other teenage miscellany that she hid out of sight from our worrisome parents who did not allow for the dangers of rock’n’roll. The insert that lined the plastic case caught my eye with the band’s rocket ship logo and its listing of strange sounding songs that I wanted to hear. What was Yin and Yang (The Flower Pot Man)? Where was Life in Laralay? And how could I get onboard the Kundalini Express? Curious, I initiated a covert mission to obtain my father’s tape recorder and headphones. I slid the tape into the deck, pressed play and took a 45-minute free fall through swirling layers of psychedelic sounds. When it was over I listened to it for a second time from start to finish, this time with headphones pressed a little tighter to draw closer to the music. I read the liner notes and began to memorize the lyrics. I studied the album’s artwork and examined the band photos. There was Daniel Ash with his handsome, square jaw and draping garment. Kevin Haskins was familiar to me. He looked like the kids that I was starting to see around school with their crazed, spiky hair and black eyeliner, even on the boys. Then there was David J emerging from behind shadows, looking like a beatnik from outer space, wearing sunglasses on the moon. He was cool and silent from behind his dark lenses, a striking image and my instant favorite. I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock music. I didn’t know much about The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or even Top 40 radio, but this was the day that I found My Rockstar. And although he didn’t know it, that was the also the day that David J became my guide through a tripped out Moulin Rouge, to a cosmic bohemia inhabited by poets, artists, playwrights and filmmakers.
I followed his lead backwards through the early ’80s and into the ’70s where I discovered Bauhaus, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Joy Division and The Velvet Underground. I ditched classes to head downtown with my lunch money and purchase used records at Wax Trax. Sometimes I cut classes to go to the library and look up the names of the people I was learning about in the music. I read about the life of Antonin Artaud who introduced me to Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. They brought Jean Cocteau to the party where I met Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudi. I crossed borders into Germany where I watched F.W. Murnau and learned about Karl Freund.
David J’s trail was left behind for me in the songs that Bauhaus and Love and Rockets chose to cover, and I soon discovered T. Rex, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. That dark psychedelia led me to William S Burroughs, whose frightening voice sent me bouncing over to the beat poets and straight into the thundering heart of Charles Bukowski. I started listening to Miles Davis and Chet Baker and when I finally understood a Jackson Pollack painting I burst into tears.
Discovering the world which was opened up to me through the accidental portal of Express influenced everything that would dazzle me for the rest of my life. These things created my conversation and that developed into the community where I found myself belonging. It is responsible for the friends I made. The places I traveled. The adventures I dared. The faith I questioned and in doing so, the faith that I found. It colored nearly every choice that I made including the man I would choose to marry. Art changes lives. David J changed mine. There is a blink-and-you-miss-it lyric inside of Kundalini Express where the song invites you to “open the doors.” Had you told me back in 1986 about all of the doors that David J would open up for me over the course of my life and that 28 years later I would have the opportunity to open up the doors of my home to him, I would never have believed you.
The night before my David J Living Room Show he was playing a concert at Backstage Bar & Billiards in downtown Las Vegas with his band, The Gentlemen Thieves. I was nervous and teetering precariously on my leopard skin high heels when I arrived to the club where soundcheck was already underway. The band was going to be playing an all Love & Rockets set that night and the familiar, rolling percussion that drives Dog-End of a Day Gone By knocked on my heart, allowing itself inside like an old friend who doesn’t need to ask if I’m at home. When they finished the run-through David made his way off the stage and headed in my direction where I was leaning against the bar. He stopped right in front of me and we stared at each other. Awkwardly. I announced myself as his host for the weekend and I told him my name.
“Oh, you’re that Rachel?” He hugged me and laughed, “I thought you were the bar host. I was going to order a drink from you.” The ice was broken.
“I can help you with that. I hope that you’re hungry, too. I want to feed you and dinner is waiting.”
The plan was for me to pick David and Darwin up from soundcheck before heading over to the Venetian to meet my husband Josh for dinner. On the drive over Darwin sat in the backseat and David rode shotgun. How many times had I driven around town blasting David’s music from my car, singing along to every word? Now, there he was, sitting over there in the passenger seat and looking like he had just stepped out from the posters of my fangirl bedroom. My heart was beating out of my chest. I don’t know how well I concealed it. I can not remember what we talked about during those first few minutes of our acquaintance but I can tell you that Chet Baker was singing quietly from the stereo, gently inviting us,“to celebrate this night we found each other, mmmm, let’s get lost.”
We arrived to the restaurant and discovered a feast already spread across the best table in the dining room. My husband is the chef at this establishment and had pre-arranged to welcome us with a plateau of fruit-de-mer piled with oysters, lobster and huge prawns. There was charcuterie, fresh-baked baguettes with French cheeses and a variety of pate. Empty wine glasses were waiting to be filled and the sommelier started popping corks the minute we arrived. My nerves were still on edge but David is a charming gentleman with a soft-spoken voice and a kind spirit. He managed to relax me more than the wine did. Through out dinner he revealed himself to be engaging and funny, and with a life as well lived as his has been I wanted to hear all of his stories.
I asked him to tell me what life was like on the Living Room circuit. For starters, not all shows happen in actual living rooms, although mine would, they can be staged anywhere. Whether it’s a house party in Utah or at The Cemetery of St. Peter in Chains in the Italian city of Turin, each of the shows have been different with an audience as diverse as the locales; from suburban homemakers to cocaine-fueled, aging goths.
I wanted to talk all night but he and Darwin had to be on stage after dinner and we were getting crunched for time. We had already talked more than eaten, which was a relief to me, even if we would leave the restaurant hungry. As dinner drew to its conclusion my husband presented an enormous coconut cake for dessert and David commented on the extravagance of the entire feast. I told him that formal dining should always feel dirty and hurt just a little. I warned him that next time I would not go as easily on him at the dinner table. In perfect response to my forwardness he answered, “I am satiated and you are my kind of girl, Rachel.”
Rock’n’Roll dreams were coming true.
The next evening I picked David and Darwin up from their hotel. We were headed to my house where thirty invited guests would soon arrive for a 7pm pre-concert cocktail party that Josh and his sister Sarah were back at the house furiously putting together. I don’t know how other hosts assemble a Living Room Show but in my house we do food and we do wine and we do it up right. Josh spent hours home-catering a feast greater than what we had seen at the restaurant the night before. After all, red velvet lines the black box and the victims have been bled. It was time to roll out the black carpet for Mr. Moonlight. We opened good wine, turned the lights down low, lit dozens of candles and invited the vampire in.
I say that with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek. The best thing about David is that he is no Merchant of Doom, neither is he the Torch Bearer for Gothic Angst. There is a moment in his book, Who Killed Mr. Moonlight, when he describes a yearning for something quieter, apart from the “bombast and high-volume aggression of Bauhaus.” That quiet-is-the-new-black epiphany speaks loudly to me. As I grew up and my tastes matured I found in his solo material a restful silence away from the sweeping dramatics of my youth and its grandiose soundtrack. David’s catalogue of artful and finespun, intelligent solo recordings carried me out from under the weight of all the old teen drama and into the beauty of the hurricane’s eye. Ever my sonic spirit guide, I followed David’s lead into a different kind of bohemia where Syd Barrett passed the madcap’s crown to Robyn Hitchcock and where all of us who were “mad to live, mad to talk and mad to be saved” could be pastored to redemption by the graces of Leonard Cohen, Bill Fay and Townes Van Zandt. More so than through the journey of that tripped out, cosmic Moulin Rouge of my youth it was this gentle crossover into Walden’s song-filled woods that affected the most lasting change in me. It was that same spirit of peacefulness that attracted me to my husband when we first met. I offer this tidbit because the significance of David J’s influence in my life extends well beyond artistic persuasions and when I tell you that it changed my life I mean it.
When Darwin and I were organizing this event he asked me if I had any requests for David’s performance. “Yes, he can sing me the phonebook,” I said. “Or he can just play An Eclipse of Ships in its entirety. It’s his best album. I love it.”
Over the years and across an expansive discography David J has provided me with many personal favorites but what I wanted to hear more than anything was a new song off of Eclipse.
The You of Yesteryear is a deeply personal letter to his wife of 40-years. It speaks to me on a level not at all possible in 1986 when I was still a child. In it he recognizes that she is older. Changed. More beautiful than ever. While there is a sadness to her reflections on these changes, he offers a perspective of tenderness and love. Time marches on. We do get older. We do change. Our dry and cracking skin deflated of ego as we shed the protective layer of babyfat nostalgia. We are changed by and with a companion who sees that the “new you will do, now is that clear,” as David sings in the song’s lyric.
He waited to play my request until near the end of the Living Room Show. I stood to the side of the make-shift stage in my house and listened to his performance, thinking about who I was at age twelve when all of this began, and who I am today at age forty. The time in-between filled by ten thousand days that have been defined by the songs he was standing in my house singing. Yesteryear finishes with a whispered declaration, quiet and strong, intended to be heard only by an unseen spirit in the room, “I…..Love….You.” The atmosphere shifted, time looped backwards and bent forwards. It pushed me into David’s arms where I was 12-years old again. I was 22-years-old. I was 40-years-old and I was 60-years-old. My eyes welled with tears and I invited myself into him for an embrace where I kissed his neck, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” I told him.
Thank you, David J, for the journey of a lifetime.