Prelude, 1969

First she had to turn the volume down, although nobody was nearby. Loud music started the recording off, then a tenuous voice came on:

Welcome to Episode One, which begins Part One: Tiny Dancer.

Prelude, 1969

I was born at Saint John’s hospital in Santa Monica six months after Joan Didion’s attack of vertigo and nausea was evaluated by doctors at the same hospital and six months before the Manson murders up in Laurel Canyon. Martin Luther King, Jr., was dead; Bobby, the only Kennedy who could still matter, was dead. But Janis Joplin was still alive; Jimi Hendrix, alive; Jim Morrison, who two weeks later would be arrested for exposing himself on stage in Miami, very much alive! The Beatles were still together; and Jenny, someone you’ve never heard of, was still alive. Feels like I’ve known since the day I was born that telling about a death is a good way to get someone’s attention.

Well, hell yes! It was a good way to get Rose’s attention, anyway, because she had definitely, most definitely, heard of Jenny. She listened to the music, guitar-driven sound with a woman’s raspy voice choking out the lyrics, and let the story roll on.

I’m on the middle road from San Francisco to LA, the 101, doing 70 behind a Chevy Chevelle past open bed trucks hauling vegetables and buses hauling field workers, twin porta potties towed behind. I noticed the Chevelle pulling out from the center divider outside Salinas; the gray dust it kicked up matched the primer that coated its ageing body. Now every bus and truck it passes I blow by moments later, easing back into the right lane once I see both headlights in the rearview. I’ve had the feeling before of being in sync with another driver on this long curving road, traveling together with a stranger, the feeling that I’ll make it to where I’m going because someone else seems to be going there too. But now behind the Chevelle I’m not so sure. In this California, this republic of roads,is there a road to take me where I want to go?? As I sail past the crop rows that converge in the distance over the barbed-wire fence, Neil Young is singing from the tape deck. When he sings, “And I felt like getting high” the people cheer, and I’m thinking, how do you tell, without a guitar, a story about the way things change?

I’m still waiting for jenny’s trunk to arrive with her letters and other things she wanted to hold on to. My father promised to send it to me. Without that evidence—letters, pictures, a scarf or a necklace that she liked—there is no history here, just some music vibrating in my bones.

When someone dies, everyone wants the story to be about themselves. I’m no exception.

It was time to get back to work, but there was no way Rose was hitting pause.


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