The Bridge of Sighs
Is it too late to turn back?
The howling music began to fade out in the darkened studio. Candles lit the recording room, and the lead guitar peeled off the last few mournful notes of the solo in the distance.
Jack St. Desmond opened his eyes and looked over at lead guitarist Davey. Seated on the floor, Davey's eyes opened, and he smiled and nodded his head. Davey closed his eyes again and put his head back against the wall.
"Boys, that's the best fuckin' album you've ever made, and that's the best fuckin' closing track I've heard in a long time. Congratu-fucking-lations" came a deep Southern voice over the speaker from the mixing room."
The studio erupted with cheers and clapping.
"Absolutely amazing, lads. Welcome to the rest of your debauched rock star lives," came another deep voice with a British accent over the microphone from the control room.
Catcalls erupted, and a Champagne cork popped.
"Now that was a cliché, whoever popped the champagne!" said the English voice, that of Cliff Daniels, the legendary record producer.
This was the band Mound of Venus' listening party in the studio at the end of a two-weeks long recording session at the engineer Tommy Ridley's home studio in the Hollywood Hills. No groupies or girlfriends were allowed for this first listen.
"I think it might be better than 'Lotus Eaters' said one of the studio sound men, referring to the MV's last smash album and handing Jack a glass of champagne.
"Dude, I'm on the wagon, remember?" said Jack.
"Aw shit, Jack, sorry," said the tech.
"Holy crap, Dude, we did it! Can you believe it? We made an even better album!" Denny said to Jack, arms pumping above his head, with drumsticks in his hands.
"Man, that's gonna sound so good on the radio," said Nicky, the bass player.
"You boys should take a copy down to KLOS right now and get it on air with Julie. I can call her and tell her you're coming down so she can play the whole Side One," said Tommy Ridley, patching through on the microphone from the control room.
"Yeah, right when the crowd is getting out of the Gnomes show at the Greek," said Elliot Zinder, the MV's manager.
"Oh my God, The Gnomes are gonna be so pissed. How yesterday are they now? After what I just heard?!" said Nicky, smiling at Jack.
"Aww shit, man. I don’t wanna get into it with them again," said Jack, the Mon's lead singer, and songwriter. "Cheyne is just such a jealous . . . I don't wanna say it."
Cheyne Eastwood was the cross-dressing, song-writing wunderkind frontman of the band The Gnomes. The Gnomes had taken L.A. by storm the last week with promotions at the records stores, leading up to the sold-out show tonight at the Greek Theater, up in the hills.
The Mound of Venus was Jack, Davey, Nicky, and Denny. This was their third album, 'Clean Autumn Afternoon,' and a giant step ahead of the last.
"Wait til the Lazors hear this . . . they're just gonna quit! First, they're gonna shit, then they're gonna quit!" said Denny.
The British bands 'The Gnomes' and "Lazorzap" were the MV's closest rivals on the scene.
Jack hugged each of the guys in the band, then they walked into the control room.
"Dude, it's like early, folky Phylodelphya meets psychedelic Taintball Gun. You guys did it this time. How do you feel, Jack?" asked Trevor Gordon, lead singer of the band Gleek.
Trevor had come to listen with legendary British music producer Cliff Daniels. Daniels was himself a guest of the MV's manager Elliot Zinder.
"Oh Man, thanks so much, Dude. I'm not gonna lie. I'm fuckin' proud of this thing. We knew right away from the demos. We could hear it, we could feel it right away!" said Jack.
"Tony's right. You should get it down to the radio station. How would it be to hear that song "Avalanche Appointment" cruisin' on Sunset Boulevard right now?" asked Trevor.
Jack got the vision, and it did give him a tingle up his spine.
"C'mon Dude, let's do it," said Trevor.
"Alright, let's go," said Jack heading into the mixing room.
"Robin Trower called, and he wants his song "Bridge of Sighs" back," said Clyde Stafford, chuckling. The southern gent producer of "Clean Autumn Afternoon," Clyde was seated at the mixing desk with Cliff Daniels, and engineer Tommy Ridley, who was still twiddling the knobs of the huge desk.
"Lucky for you boys, poor ol' Marc Bolan is still dead, so he won’t be coming after you for nicking 'Mambo Sun' on that fourth track," muttered Cliff, teasingly.
"Oh, God. There's nothing new under the "Mambo Sun" for you two old bastards. You're the only people on earth hearing those things," said Elliot Zinder. "Nobody even knows who T Rex is in this country."
Jack paused for a second. Now that they mentioned it, he did hear echoes of those songs.
Fuckin' Davey. He just plays whatever I hum to him, thought Jack.
Why can't he catch these things? How can an idiot savant guitar genius not know shit about other music?
The Mound of Venus got hit with a lawsuit on their last album for alleged infringement of an obscure garage rock song "Psychotic Reaction" by The Count Five.
"Where's Davey? I wanna talk to him," asked Jack to Elliot Zinder.
"He's already gone, Jack. Said he was meeting Dianne at the Gnomes show. What's wrong?"
"Is this gonna be a problem again, Elliot? Are we gonna get sued-again?" asked Jack.
"Honey Baby. No way," said Zinder confidently.
. . .
"And now, have I got a special treat for all you freaks and sleazes out there . . . Guess who just docked at the Mothership and delivered an early present for the three-day weekend?" said the voice of DJ "Julie Jewel" through the radio.
Trevor slammed down the accelerator on the 70's Lamborghini and pulled out westbound onto Sunset Boulevard. Traffic was congested on a hot Friday night.
"Alright, alright, don't get us killed!" yelled Jack, looking for the seatbelt.
"Jack St. Desmond from the Mound of Venus and Trevor from Gleek just teleported into the control room and dropped a little early Christmas present on yours truly, my little peoply-poos," said DJ Julie.
Trevor pulled the vintage Lamborghini around the cars stopped at a red light, and they ran the intersection in front of the Tower Records. As they passed, Jack looked at the billboard above the brightly lit music store.
It was the Gnomes, with an emaciated Cheyne Eastwood looking backward over his shoulder. Cheyne was dressed in a pink dress and a blonde wig, meant to look like Marilyn Monroe.
Making a coy face with his finger pressed to his lips, Cheyne was surrounded by the other band members, all dressed in tuxedos. It was unclear whether the scene harkened back to the original movie, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” or the Madonna video for “Material Girl,” or both. No matter, the effect was hilarious either way, considering how loud and obscene the Gnomes music was. The album title was written in pink satin "Ribbed for Your Pleasure."
"That's right, it’s the new Mound of Venus disc, baby, and it's Fab and I got it in my sticky little fingers here. I couldn't get those two hotties to stay with me, cuz of the restraining order they got and all . . . but I got Jack Sprat's permission to play all of Side One. So here's track one of the new album 'Clean Afternoons,' ooooh spooky, this one's called, well . . . I guess we have an "Avalanche Appointment."
. . . .
Trevor sped down Sunset Boulevard weaving through traffic.
"Listen to that song, Man! You did that!" shouted Trevor. The tires squealed. "You did that, Man!" he said one more time for emphasis.
Jack grabbed the armrest and put his left hand out towards the dashboard, but it was too far away. The two of them were practically lying down in the sleek Italian car.
"Here comes the solo!" shouted Jack
A bluesy guitar played a talking solo, complete with squawk box effects thrown in for good measure.
"Dude, is that Davey, or Joe Walsh?! Is that Davey, or David Gilmour?!" said Trevor jokingly.
"Davey's something else, isn't he?" shouted Jack.
Trevor weaved in and out of traffic until the road was clear ahead. He turned down the music.
"Jack, I see you getting bummed out. Forget what that dumb bitch Julie said to you in there. You guys don't owe her a goddam thing. You'd be right exactly where you are now, whether you ever met her sorry ass," said Trevor.
Jack looked over at Trevor, unconvinced.
"Hey, did Julie Jewel, or Julie Jacob, whatever her fuckin' name is, sit down and write "Pantomime" or "Jetty Kiss"?
Jack smiled weakly.
"Did she ride around in a van and play "18 and up" clubs from Modesto to Tijuana?" Trevor asked. "Let me answer that for you- No! So she can fuck right off!"
"No. No, she didn't do those things, Man. But she did introduce us to the right people. And she helped a lot. She's mostly right, Dude. Most of what she said in there at the station was right."
"Well, y'know what I say. I say fuck it tonight. Don’t ruin this night. This night is about you, and the band and, and. . . . Me har-har! and the soon-to-be-biggest-album-in-the-world. C'mon, let's go to the Greek and rub it in the Gnomes' faces!" said Trevor.
"Nah, there's no time, let's just go straight to The English Disco. We'll catch up with everyone there," said Jack.
"Yeah, ok Man. Yeah, yeah, yeah!" Rock n' Roll! Rock n Roll!" shouted Trevor cranking up the music and flooring the gas again, making the backend of the car fishtail, before the tires caught and they sped away.
. . .
Rodney Bigenhiemer's English Disco was the most exclusive spot in town. A spotlight beamed out in front, and a big crowd waited outside to get in. Trevor pulled up to the valet stand and pumped the gas to make the throaty exhaust purr.
The crowd recognized Jack and Trevor, and chaos ensued.
"Oh my God, Ooooh, oooh, look at me, please Jack!" one girl screamed. The crowd laughed.
Trevor gave the keys to the valet, and three security guards intervened and pulled the girls away from the car. The guards lifted a velvet rope and ushered Jack and Trevor towards the door, but not before Trevor stopped and leaned over, grabbed their faces, and kissed two of the girls on the lips. The crowd cheered, and the girls who did not get kissed screamed their disappointment.
Inside, the club was tiny and packed full of all the beautiful and weird people, dancing, singing, hugging, kissing, drinking, and popping pills, and snorting cocaine. The music and shouting were deafening. Marijuana smoke filled the air.
A DJ spun records from a booth above the crowd, spinning "In A Gadda Da Vida" by Iron Butterfly. Blacklight posters glowed on the wall, most of them torn, and the red lights and wood beams gave the impression of being inside a pirate's ship.
Gradually the faces turned to Jack and Trevor, and a throng started to push towards them when Rodney appeared by magic.
"Oh, Hi guys, what a lovely surprise! Ooh I'm so glad you’re here, let's go to the booth!" said Rodney, sporting a Beatles haircut and mod outfit.
They followed the elfin Rodney to the tiny VIP area that was elevated above the dancefloor and separated by yet another red velvet rope. As by magic, a bevy of "it girls" appeared, taking Jack and Trevor's arms and leading them to the big Naugahyde booth.
"'How do' ladies," said Jack
"What’s with the outfit," said the girl on Jack's arm. "Did you guys shoot an album cover tonight or something?"
The music changed to "Ride My See-Saw" by the Moody Blues.
"No, Sweetie. You mean this little number? This is what I wear to the grocery store," said Jack smiling, brushing the sleeve of his burgundy velvet waistcoat, and adjusting the cravat.
"Seriously? Is this going to be the new look for the MV's," she asked teasingly, showing she was comfortable and was not at all intimidated by rock stars, or anyone famous, for that matter.
"That's right. We're channeling the 60's Bee Gees. Or the Hollies. We're gonna drive around in Rolls Royces and Citroens to each others' Country Mansions too," said Jack.
The young girl rolled her eyes. It was clear she had no idea what Jack was talking about.
"You're weird," said the girl.
"Ooh, I'm getting the vision. Can I come and stay in the guesthouse. Maybe I can be your like Brian Jones housekeeper?" purred Rodney, eavesdropping.
"Didn't Brian Jones' housekeeper kill him?" asked Jack.
"Just a rumor!" said Trevor.
The boys and Rodney scooted into the booth, and no less than eight girls piled in around.
"Everybody's talking about the new Mound album Jack. They played it on the radio tonight!" Rodney shouted.
"Oh Yeah?" said Jack.
"Yeah, everyone who went to the Gnomes tonight says they heard it on the way over, and they're dying for more," said Rodney, trying to get a waitresses attention.
"Sissy, get over here," Rodney called out to the waitress.
A girl who looked to be underage came to the table. She had large breasts and wore a tank top with no bra.
"Hello, hello,' said Trevor, in a lecherous voice.
"What would you guys like?" asked Rodney.
"Ladies first," said Jack.
The girls put in their complicated orders while "Sissy' rolled her eyes and chomped her gum, annoyed.
Scotch and Soda. No, I take that back. Brandy Alexander please, right, Jack? Isn't that what you said The Beatles and the Stones drank when they got together?" asked Trevor.
"That's it. At The Scotch of St. James Pub," said Jack.
There was a great commotion near the entrance, spilling onto the dance floor. Rodney stood up to try to see what was going on.
"Oh shit, it’s the Gnomes," shouted Rodney, looking down at Jack. "I heard they're kind of pissed, Jack! They think you guys showed them up on the radio."
Cheyne Eastwood and two or three of the others from the band pulled away from some grasping groupies and swiveled their heads, looking around the room.
Cheyne made eye contact with Jack, and Jack knew in an instant there was going to be trouble.
"Oh shit," Trevor yelled, standing up to leave the booth.
"They're dressed like The Furies, from that movie "The Warriors," said Jack
Cheyne and the Gnomes began pushing their way over to the booth, knocking people aside, and climbing over chairs. Jack reached for the cane he'd brought in.
The one with the handle that concealed a six-inch dagger.
. . .
"You're really going to let me go home alone tonight?" said Hermione, in a French accent.
"It will be even better next time, I promise," said Jack.
"It must be really important if you can resist . . . . this," she said, sweeping her hand around the inside of her exotic sports car.
"If you only knew . . . " said Jack. "It couldn't be more important."
"Do you know how bad your good friend Trevor wanted me tonight! He's chased me all over the world, and now you're just blowing me off!" shouted Hermione.
"Listen, this is something I have to handle immediately! Like, tonight! Please be reasonable, Dear," pleaded Jack.
"Well, I may not wait for you. We'll see if I'm still around L.A. next week. I have many invitations all around the world, you know," said Hermione in a sing-song voice.
"Hermione, I have to talk to Davey tonight, right now in fact," said Jack. "They're going to stop production on the album, which is supposed to be released tomorrow.”
"Close the door, then!" Hermione said.
Jack closed the car door with a solid, satisfying thud. The window rolled down. Roxy Music's "The Bogus Man" was still playing in the car.
"I've changed my mind. I don’t want to see you next week. In fact, I don’t care if I ever see you again. I don’t want to see you or your ridiculous outfit, or your stupid cane, or your silly silk shirts and scarves. Fuck you!" Hermione screamed.
The tires spun on the dirt shoulder and threw mud against Jack's tapered pants and Cuban boots.
"God, French chicks are psycho . . ."
Jack turned to walk down the driveway to the house Davey was renting in Laurel Canyon. The lights were on, and the last song on Side One of "Clean Autumn Afternoon" was playing full blast.
Hermione's car appeared again, and she rolled down the window.
"By the way. Since you're too dumb to figure it out. Trevor told me your guitarist is purposefully copying other songs so you can get sued. Now you can go have a nice talk with him! All night long!"
. . .
A Mexican woman splashed water across the parquet dance floor and began mopping. As her son lifted the bag out of the narrow trashcan behind the bar, beer bottles clanked together.
A heavy-set white man in his sixties, with a severely pocked marked face, went behind the bar, poured himself a cup of coffee, sat in a high bar chair, and read the horse racing form. He took off his racing cap, lit a cigarette, and poured some whiskey in his cup.
Above the man’s head read the still lit sign "Rodney's English Disco," and beside it was a small TV mounted on the wall. A commercial ended, then a news program began, and a male newscaster came on the screen
"Thank you for joining KCAL News this morning, we have rather shocking breaking news to report to you this morning . . .
“The body of rock star Jack St. Desmond, leader of the group The Mound of Venus was discovered by a jogger on Zuma Beach in the early morning hours today . . .
The male jogger reportedly came upon the badly mutilated body around 5:00 AM. . . .
According to one eyewitness at the scene, the body appeared to have severe wounds on the face and torso. . . .
Now let's take you out to Geordie Coleman on-scene in Zuma. What do you have for us Geordie?
"Yes Bill, it’s true, the body was discovered in the early morning hours by that jogger, and as soon as word got out, the crowd started showing up down here, as you can see behind me."
"What details can you tell us Geordie?" asked the newscaster.
“Well, this investigation is just beginning obviously, but the questions are piling up. What was this well-known celebrity doing on this isolated beach in the early morning hours? Who was with Mr. St. Desmond last night? Who would want to cause him this terrible harm?”
“Are the police giving any information, Geordie?”
"Well, what I'm hearing informally is based on the violence . . . As you said, there injuries to the face and torso, the assumption would be that the attacker had a personal motive. More simply put, the assumption is the attacker knew the victim and meant to inflict very personal harm. We’ve learned that Mr. St. Desmond's wallet and other personal items were not taken.
“A few last details, and I want to warn our viewers that the information is graphic, and disturbing. According to one eyewitness, the victim was, partially undressed and there was a message scratched or written on the victim's chest. Speaking to a person who actually saw the body, but wishing to remain anonymous, they said that it looked to be a sequence of musical notes. . . .
Finally, the perpetrator or perpetrators staged, or left some sort of a scene, if you will, with a music player device, a CD Walkman, left beside the body playing a song on a repeat loop- a relatively obscure 70's rock song called "Bridge of Sighs."
© Jack Clune 2020