Loyal Fans and They Bake
Music helped drown out the dissonance of my adolescence. I'd climb out to the
roof from my second-story bedroom window and blast Cat Stevens' "Wild World"
so I wouldn't have to hear my older brother, a hyperactive, pot-addicted, self-proclaimed
high school revolutionary, constantly arguing with my parents. I'd listen to Laura
Nyro's "Lonely Women" so I'd stop thinking about the boys who didn't
like me and Carole King's "It's Too Late" to forget the 22 pounds I
lost the previous year and had rapidly gained back, plus 10.
the records weren't enough. That's when I began frequenting the Troubadour, the
hottest nightclub in 1970s L.A.
The "Troub," as we regulars
called it, was an intimate joint where the great singer/songwriters performed
two shows a night, six nights a week. I saw Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James
Taylor, Laura Nyro and even Elton John, whose sweat dripped onto my arm as I watched
him from a table right under the stage. It didn't matter that I was only 14 years
old, no one at the Troub ever checked IDs.
One warm April night, the scent
of honeysuckle drenching the air, my friend Molly and I hitchhiked to the Troub
to hear Cat Stevens. First in line, I caught my reflection in the window of the
Martial Arts studio next to the club. Dressed in my favorite thrift store outfit -- embroidered
peasant blouse, patched bell-bottom jeans and a long '50s style blue wool coat
that I rarely took off -- I actually felt sort of attractive that night. Well, until
I spotted Molly's reflection next to me -- blonder, a foot taller and much shapelier
in a halter-top than I.
Once inside the club Molly and I grabbed one of
the front tables, ordered bubbly ginger ales and sipped them through pink cocktail
straws. Nobody, including us, had ever heard of the opening act, a lanky, tall
woman who sauntered onto the stage with a guitar, followed by her backup band,
three guys with a lot of facial hair.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please
give a warm welcome to new Elektra recording artist, Miss Carly Simon."
voice was rich, deep and intoxicating; her smile so broad it lit up like an angelic
Jack O'Lantern. I knew immediately that this woman was different from all the
other girl singers. Her lyrics were defiant: "You say we'll soar like
two birds through the clouds, but soon you'll cage me on your shelf. I'll never
learn to be just me first, by myself." I had goose bumps. Carly captivated
me. I knew I would return the next five nights. I knew I would meet Carly Simon.
No, I wouldn't just meet her.
I would befriend Carly Simon.
the show was over and we were filing out of the club, the only teenagers in a
sea of adults, I suddenly grabbed Molly's arm. "Come on," I whispered,
dragging her up a set of narrow, carpeted stairs. Without question Molly followed,
playing Ethel to my Lucy.
At the top of the stairs, I found what I was
looking for: Taped to one of two paint-splattered doors was a yellow scrap of
paper with Carly's name scrawled on it in ballpoint pen.
The door swung open and there she stood, towering over me, tall
and graceful, wearing a long paisley dress and brown lace-up boots. "Yes?"
she asked in that lush, resonant voice.
I nearly fell over backwards. "Uh,
hi. We just wanted to tell you how amazingly talented you are." Shit. That
sounded stupidlike something a fan would say.
I quickly added,
"And you're a true artist."
Much better. Weightier.
beamed. "Well, thank you. You girls want to come in?"
"Sure," I stuttered, surprised by the invitation -- especially
after my lame opening.
We stepped into clouds of cigarette smoke that nearly obscured our view of
the three band members crammed into the tiny space. The guitarist, a skinny man
with a blond ponytail that spilled down his back, moved over to make room for
us on a ratty, plaid couch. We squeezed in between him and the drummer who was
dabbing his damp beard with a paper towel. "So, did you guys like the show?"
"Are you kidding? It was fantastic." I yipped, then
toned it down once again. "You're all very talented."
Carly looked right at me. "I want to know what you really
think. Good or bad. Be honest."
Oh my God. Carly Simon wanted to
know what I really thought. I had better come up with something good. "Well
I began hesitantly, "your songs are moving, your voice gorgeous and the band's
fantastic. My only criticism is that it's hard to hear your voice on some of the
more upbeat songs. Maybe they need to turn up your vocal mike."
smiled, those full lips spreading across her face. "Excellent point. So,
do you girls go to concerts a lot? What kinds of music do you like?"
was blown away. Most adults asked the same idiotic questions: How old are you?
What's your favorite subject in school? What do you want to be when you grow up?
But not my new friend Carly.
"I like female singer/songwriters. Joni
Mitchell, Laura Nyro."
"Janis Joplin," Molly added.
guys have great taste," Carly said, smiling that smile again.
out for over a half hour chatting with Carly and the band. When the guitarist
began to organize his gear for the second set, we stood up to leave.
gonna see you again this week?" the bass player with the mutton chop sideburns
"Sure, definitely." I said.
"Good," Carly said.
It was a solid good.
Like she meant it. Then, as she saw us to the door -- Carly Simon hugged me.
floated out of the club and onto Santa Monica Boulevard, nonchalantly walking
past the Martial Arts studio, then across Doheny. It wasn't until we reached a
small, secluded park, where we were certain no one could see or hear us, that
we both finally let loose our screams.
"Oh. My. God. That was surreal!"
I slalomed through a line of trees, then flopped onto the grass and rolled around
"I can't believe you just knocked on her door," Molly
shouted, "and that she invited us in!"
said, "she's gonna be a huge star. I just know it."
go home yet, back to my solitary bedroom, my ordinary existence where no one asked
questions that mattered.
Trapped in my beige stucco junior high school
the next day, I couldn't concentrate. I kept replaying the night before, anticipating
what would happen this night. How excited Carly would be to see me. How
we'd sit on the couch together, talking about music, art, literature, philosophy.
right. Who was I kidding? Why would Carly Simon want to be my friend? I would
have to win her over.
The minute I got home from school, I baked banana bread as an offering for
Carly and the band. That evening, we arrived early at the Troub and snagged our
front row table. As Carly sang her set, I held the still-warm loaf in my lap,
as protectively as if it were a newborn.
At intermission, Molly and I
hurried upstairs. When Carly opened the door, she grinned, and the guitarist called
out, "Hey, it's the girls!"
The girls. We were the girls.
handed Carly the banana bread. She thanked me and placed it on the coffee table,
next to an overflowing ashtray, and the guys immediately dug in.
you notice we cranked up the vocals on the up-tempo songs?" Carly asked.
"Great suggestion last night, Hillary."
I suppressed the squeal
rising in my throat. "You sounded incredible."
While Cat Stevens'
played downstairs, we sat on the couch joining in the conversation as Carly and
the band dissected their show. When we heard the applause at the end of Cat's
first set, I stood.
"Sorry we can't stay, but we'll see you tomorrow
The band waved, thanking us for the bread. And this time, at the door
-- Carly Simon kissed me goodbye.
All that week,
with gifts of pumpkin, date nut, cinnamon raisin and honey walnut bread, recipes
courtesy of The Tassajara Zen Monastery Bread Book, Molly and I hung out
in Carly's dressing room. On the third night, she added us to the guest list,
a great relief since with the $4.00 ticket price and the cost of baking ingredients,
my savings were rapidly dwindling.
On closing night, when Cat Stevens
ended his set, we knew the time to say goodbye had come. My eyes welled up with
tears, but I bit my lip and held them back. Be strong. Be strong.
I said, as I headed to the door, "it was great hanging out with you guys."
"Yeah," Molly added. "Thanks for getting us in and all."
stood. As she leaned over to give us the goodbye hug and kiss we'd grown accustomed
to, she said "Next time I'm back, you promise to come see me?"
she kidding? Of course we'd come see her. What were friends for?
seven months dragged, the only high point being news of Carly's success. "That's
the Way I Always Heard it Should Be," a song from her first album, rose on
the charts, and just as she released her second album, "Anticipation,"
we learned she was returning to the Troub. This time as the headliner.
a rainy November opening night, armed with a loaf of three-layer corn bread, Molly
and I opted for a table in the back so we could unobtrusively leave our seats
during the opening act and visit Carly upstairs. A singer named Don McLean was
onstage, performing a new song called "American Pie," as Molly and I
crept to the dressing room. My heart was beating faster and harder than it had
the first time I knocked on that door. After all, Carly was a star now. What if
she wasn't as welcoming as before? Worse, what if she'd forgotten us?
took a deep breath and knocked.
The door opened a crack and a man in a
dark suit gruffly said, "Yes?"
"Uh, we're here to say hi
to Carly and give her this," I said, holding out the loaf.
can't see anyone now," he snapped, obviously thinking we were just some fans.
He started to close the door on us, but I stuck my foot inside and shouted, "Tell
her it's Hillary and Molly!"
In an instant, Carly appeared at the
"It's the girls!" she cried, and she hugged and kissed
us as if no time had passed.
She was, truly, our friend.
Molly and I spent a week hanging out with Carly and the band. One night, between
songs, Carly looked out at the audience, said, "This one is for Hillary and
Molly," then launched into "Anticipation." The next night she dedicated
"You're so Vain," and every night after that, Carly dedicated songs
I had never before felt so happy. So important.
passed, and one smoggy summer day, at a newsstand in Westwood Village, I spotted
an interview with Carly in Where It's At, a popular music magazine. I began
to read, when suddenly my heart nearly stopped.
"'At the Troubadour,
it's been great,'" Carly was quoted. "'There are these two girls who
have really just made my evenings there.'"
Oh my God. Carly
was talking about me and Molly. In a magazine!
I threw money down on the
counter, grabbed the magazine and raced five blocks to Molly's house. I arrived
sweating and gasping heavily. "There's an interview in
Molly snatched the magazine and began to read aloud.
"'At the Troubadour, it's been great. There are these two girls who
have really just made my evenings there.'"
"Can you believe it?"
I yelled, loud enough for the neighbors to hear. The poodle next door began to
"'They've been sitting in the front row every night. They come
to all the shows and they bake me bread, and they sing along,'" Molly continued.
I screeched, then grabbed the magazine back from her. "'They know all the
songs and, as many times as they've heard them, when I start them, they say, 'Oh,
Great'! It's really exciting to have such great
"Such great what?" Molly barked.
devastated. Stunned into silence.
Molly grabbed the magazine from me and
read. "'It's really exciting to have such great fans.'" She closed the
magazine and looked at me. "What's wrong?"
After a moment, I
finally said, "Fans. She called us fans."
Molly paused. "Well, she called us great fans. And she also said a
lot of other cool things about us."
"I thought we were friends."
trudged home and locked myself in my room where I ate an entire still-frozen Sara
Lee Pound Cake and listened to records -- anyone but Carly. The words "such
great fans" echoed through my head, replacing previous insults classmates
had heaped upon me. "Fat-ass." "Lezzie."
days, I knew what I had to do. If Carly were truly my friend, she would understand
why I had to write. I composed ten drafts of a letter before settling on the final
version, which I then re-read twenty times.
We saw your interview in 'Where It's At' and have to say, were very
disappointed. We were surprised to be thrown into the category of 'fans' with
so many others who, I'm sure, you appreciate, but, well -- we just thought we were
more. We thought we were friends. I guess we were wrong. If we're wrong about
being wrong, please write back. We still think you're a very talented woman.
jumped on my bike, rode to the corner mailbox and dropped in the letter before
I could change my mind.
Every day after school, I waited in the driveway
for Felix, our mailman, and every day he shook his head and said, "Sorry,
nothing for you today. You waiting for grades? An invitation to a Bar Mitzvah?"
"No, Felix," I said brusquely, not bothering to give him any more
information since he clearly didn't get me.
Finally, after two weeks of
disappointment, Felix drove up holding a powder blue envelope with my name written
on it in neat, loopy, handwriting.
"This what you've been waiting
for?" he asked, handing me the envelope.
"Yes!" I squealed.
I tore into the house then upstairs to my room and closed the door. Sitting on
my twin bed, I carefully opened the envelope and inhaled the Patchouli oil that
wafted up from the stationary. The letter was hand-written.
sat on my bed, unable to hold back tears of relief and joy. Just then,
my brother barged into the room without knocking.
"GET OUT!!!!!!!" I screamed
so loudly, he jumped, then slammed the door closed.
I put on a Carly record,
and turned up the volume, singing "The Love's Still Growing" along with
her while I tucked the letter safely inside my shirt and pressed it to my skin.
early May, Molly and I returned to the Troub. Carly was a huge star by then. Even
though she'd won a Grammy for Best New Artist, free tickets still awaited us,
and the front table was reserved for us at every show. After the performances,
we hung out in the dressing room that had become so familiar I knew every stain
on that plaid couch.
On closing night, I brought along a clunky tape recorder
that I held on my lap during the show. It was a perfect performance to tape because,
just as Carly was about to sing "Summer's Coming Around Again," my favorite
song, she dedicated it to me and Molly. What stands out on the tape over Carly's
voice is held-back, breathy, 14-year-old excitement escaping from me in short,
[LISTEN TO THE DEDICATION]
song is dedicated to Molly and Hillary who have been in the front seats of this
club more times this week than I have. They're very loyal fans and they bake.
You should meet them because if they like you, they're a powerful, powerful duo."
was so high from her lengthy dedication, and her hearty hug and kiss goodbye,
it wasn't until I returned home, well after midnight, and played the tape, that
I heard the word.
She called us fans.
I climbed out my bedroom window and crawled onto the roof, I played the tape over
and over again. Sitting beneath a dim crescent moon, I didn't mind anymore. Was
Carly leaving free tickets and reserving front row seats for anyone else? Who
was she mentioning in interviews, writing letters to, dedicating songs to, and
calling powerful? And who did she invite up to her dressing room every night and
not only ask for opinions, but listen to them as if they counted?
turned up the tape recorder, looked at the moon and let Carly's lyrics seep into
my being, my every cell.
"We want you to love the world, to know
it well and play a part. And we'll help you to learn to love yourself 'cause that's
where lovin' really starts."
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