It's 40 years later, give or take.
Timing is everything.
Sleep wasn't a high priority. It was what she did after sex with Bob, sporadic as that was, or when there were about 4 hours left till sunrise and she'd need to have her game on, or when the booze and the drugs had disappeared, or when she just plain skipped a beat or two. She had to be conscious enough to make sure her burning Marlboro was resting comfortably in a big glass hotel ashtray with enough space on the bottom for the smoke to be actually on the glass. She had to make sure she'd set the alarm if she was home, or called room service if they were on the road. On the road was better. There were people to do things for you. I'd heard her say it often enough that I stole the line sarcastically when a good opportunity presented itself: the key to a good life is good room service. Period. It caught people off guard, especially the way Maggie flung it out there and kept on going.
Of all the chicks who'd had songs written about them, even mean songs, even groupie songs, Maggie was the one who most deserved one of her own.
Maybe no one was up to it; maybe it was as simple as that.
She changed everything she touched. Kinetically charged is more like it. It was something you got used to, having her around, knowing something zappy was about to happen.
It would've been like singing about air. It would've been like a fish contemplating water. What was there to talk about? There was nothing to do but take her for granted.
She was plenty scary when she wanted to be. There was nothing remotely demure about her. She was 5'9", 5'10" maybe. Slender but not skinny. Long black hair that almost made it to her waist, but not quite, more like the middle of her back. I think she used conditioner and got a comb through it after she washed it, but that was it. She never played the baby doll game, which she couldn't have won. Tight, tight jeans, tight tee shirt, scrunchy long black hair. No hips to speak of, kind of a flat ass, which weirdly mimicked her face. Her face in your face. Checking you out. Sizing you up before you had a chance to return the favor. The more famous you were, the more bad-ass, the more you were a big deal, the less she could have cared. She made that obvious. There was something about her that made you want her to flash that huge sunshiney smile just for you, make sure you were on her good side. It had nothing to do with sex. It was about, "Okay, you be straight with me, I'll be straight with you. That's how this is going to work." More or less, that's how it did work.
Do you know who I am?
That was her, that was Maggie.
I met her, of all places, in an office in San Francisco, a huge national company that managed car liens. Emma worked there too, and the three of us became a little three-girl army, our lives winding this way and that, in and out of each others', for about three years, maybe longer. Maggie and I were intertwined a lot longer than that.
My ex had been a musician, and when his band disintegrated, I'd thought my rock 'n roll days were over. I'd paid my dues and moved on. I had other things going on, mostly just surviving.
Maggie got herself fired, which freed her up to work full time as Sam's manager. A few years back, Sam had put a band together, they got fairly successful, then they recorded the new national anthem. Sam had put a different band together now, and Maggie was managing them. Her days consisted of countless calls all day long with the record label, with other managers and musicians, and with people who were organizing and advancing political concerns. And reporting back to Sam constantly about what was happening with the phone calls, him changing his mind or wanting to emphasize something, Maggie getting back on the phone and reiterating. A lot of it was technical stuff about the bus. Sam was uncommonly fluent with the electronics, and he was demanding. On and on. She was firmly entrenched in the business end of rock 'n roll, such as it was then, as was Sam.
There were times you'd never know it had anything to do with music, save for the delicate egos.
And save for Maggie's rock solid ego. That was her job, to walk on egg shells and throw eggs around on occasion, and to do it in a way such that people knew it was happening but cut her the slack she needed. I'm not casting aspersions, not at all. That was just the way it worked. Those were the years when the business was embryonic.
Looking back, that's what was so important about Maggie and her huge heart. She never forgot she was doing it for the music, she never forgot the music had a life of its own that was compelling beyond description, that gave a life beyond description, that had nothing whatever to do with the quality of room service. The music justified everything that happened inside it. No price was too high.
She cried every time someone OD'd. The connections were a little fuzzy in those days, the cause and effect part.
She started calling Sam "The Cheese" behind his back. I'm pretty sure his wife knew, she hanged with us too, and the rest of us knew, but I don't think Sam knew. "The Cheese." Never "The Big Cheese," just "The Cheese." Noncommittal enough, but you could read just about anything you wanted into it.
"Your eyes are blue. You just had your hair hennaed. They're going to be screaming for you tonight. Their pants will all be wet. There's nothing to worry about. You could get up there and sing Happy Birthday over and over, and they wouldn't know the difference."
Only the people who've been on the other side of the curtain would believe that, and all of them would.
Maggie gave that to Sam, she knew when he needed it, she was always there with it, and he never thought to thank her for it.
More likely than not, that would be his cue to yell at her about something or other.
Then, he'd calm down.
It worked. It worked over and over and over. It didn't happen all the time, not even most of the time, but when it did, it did. He never thought to thank her.
That's what they all left unsung.
If it comes out of rock 'n roll, it's rock 'n roll, Baby.
John stopped pretending to be her boyfriend when he was in town. He was a roadie for another group. He was mostly on the road anyway.
"C'mon, Jude, a couple of shots, a couple of lines, you'll feel like a new woman." Our mantra.
Once they were booked in San Diego and someone had told her the gig was at the university. Problem was, there are two universities in San Diego, miles apart, and she'd booked a hotel at the wrong end of town. Somehow, she told me, I told her, and the thing was fixed in five minutes without Sam knowing anything about it. That was our girl. She had a case of 6 fifths of Chivas delivered to the press room. For me, Mama.
Right before the show started, when they were tuning up, some guy grabbed a ladder and told me to climb up to the top of two humongous amps piled on top of each other. My nose had been fixed and I was clinging to one of the bottles. The ladder disappeared. I sat cross-legged, my back to the audience, in the darkness. I didn't ask questions. After a bit, in the middle of the set, they launched into the national anthem, which went on forever and ever. My life was perfect. I'd still be sitting up there, if they hadn't finally wrapped up the tune. Damn! That's the thing about songs: they have beginnings and endings. The part where you want to be is in the middle, in between.
People are that way, too, like songs. People have beginnings and endings.
I remember her saying that people were talking about that Bruce guy, that his act was worth catching, even if he wasn't our generation, one of us. [Unlike everything else in here, his name really was Bruce, but I'm sure you caught that.]
It was starting to catch up with us, but who knew? I'd left grad school by then. It got to where she was worried about how much I was drinking, rather than the other way around. We were losing touch.
I got sober. Years melted into years.
One of those freaky things happened: I was walking in Santa Monica one day, which I never do, and passed what had once been a movie theater, near the ocean. Sam's name, minus his band, filled up the marquee. I could have seen him that night. I kept on walking.
I read or heard somewhere that his wife Lisa had gotten sober, or I inferred it, or something.
Maggie called me. How, I don't know. She was sober, too. I was shaken to my roots. Kevin had died driving drunk through the park and Emma had sat there holding his lifeless hand and saying his name over and over. She couldn't comprehend that he wasn't coming back, that there wouldn't be any more beer to stock up on. I think that's why Maggie had called, to tell me that. All of this seems like a dream, except I'm pretty sure it really happened. I know it did. I didn't say much. I didn't get Maggie's number. I was afraid to go back there, though I knew it didn't exist anymore.
This, THIS, was years ago, like 15, maybe more, probably more.
Last week something way freakier happened, the upshot of which was that I remembered, again for the first time in years, that I'd always intended to write 'a book' about Maggie. Maggie had been McMurphy from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Maggie deserved at least one 'book,' or song, or something. She'd put herself out there like a champ for a lot of years, she'd made the others look like the champs, not her, and she deserved a rousing tribute of some sort or other.
Even freakier was that this time I wasn't paralyzed with fear.
I went to Sam's web site and sent him an e-mail which I was pretty sure would end up getting deleted by some younger version of Maggie. I put her full name in the subject line. I sent him a little note, completely free of irony and full of deep respect. I told him I'd like to contact Maggie, would he mind sending her my contact information if he had it.
I clicked on one of four little video boxes on his main page. The arrow just about hid the entire cover picture.
God friggin' help me.
Someone had slashed my heart in half with a finely honed knife. I bled red tears till I understood the profundity of Sam's performing that song with all the rest of them, from all the other bands, for 15 minutes or so, onstage, erecting a tightrope of DNA straight to my brain, straight back to my fileted heart. It's as much a part of me as Maggie is. Years have nothing to do with it.
I'd seen him do this about 100 times.
That song, those blue eyes, that un-hennaed hair that's grey now, what's left of it, that VOICE.
He answered my e-mail the next day. He couldn't have been more polite.
He told me Maggie had passed some time ago, and that he regretted being the bearer of bad news.
He wished me peace.
She's not really gone, though.
She's still here. She's just disappeared for a bit. Her spirit is all over the place.
I'm not sad. It's a relief to know. I have no interest in the circumstances.