Okay – so I’m officially the world’s lamest blogger. My last entry was over a year ago, and I honestly don’t know where the time goes. Most days, I feel like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes on his knees at the foot of the half-buried Statue of Liberty crying “Damn You!” and thinking that my wrinkle cream’s not working. Being a parent is a thousand times more exhausting than being a rock star. The upside being that I’ve memorized every single lyric from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack (which our 3 year old daughter loves) which may come in handy one day when I audition for the part of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Speaking of the west … tonight we had the most amazing sunset and brilliant full moon. You know those nights when that funky cosmic phenomenon takes place and the moon is triple-size orange, glowing and hanging there like a shimmering Christmas bauble in the sky. It hovered silently, illuminating our back yard, which is dark and lush and filled with giant, old trees, like a private park. The air smelled damp and salty, from the breeze coming in off of the Pacific. We are removed enough from the ocean and the road so that on most summer nights it’s absolute stillness, except for the occasional whirring of crickets, which adds to the enchantment. I felt like I was three years old taking it all in. A three year old with a few wrinkles, that is.
Back in the eighties I became best friends (for nearly twenty years) with my manager’s assistant, Petra. She had been the number one promo rep for Saga (a Canadian band that managed to transcend the Canada-only curse and enjoyed equal if not greater success abroad). At thirty, she was already a savvy world traveler, sipping champagne in the finest hotels around the globe, hobnobbing with rock stars and industry fat cats and making an indelible impression wherever she went. I was bowled over by this one-woman powerhouse – gutsy, beautiful, sharp and opinionated. She was fluent in English and German, plus she had a deliciously dark sense of humor and particular fondness for personal assassination when provoked. We became instant friends. I thought she was so grown up and cool. She became my Jewish mother, biggest fan, cheerleader, confidante, protector and – at times – my most brutal critic. She was passionate about music. And smoking. It’s a German thing, I think. They fire up the Lucky Strikes between courses at the dinner table. A cleansing-the-palate ritual. Sort of like sorbet, German style. One just accepted this, as part of Petie’s persona – this glorious, talkative, blazing blonde woman, with a long cigarette in her hand always … like it was a natural extension of her. She would always say “When you’re as famous as Madonna and I’m as famous as Hemingway we’ll just ring each other up one afternoon and fly to Paris for lunch, Luv”. Secretly she wanted to be famous too, but spent most of her life championing others.
In 1988 an executive decision was made to have her road-manage a lengthy European tour for me, as she spoke a foreign language, understood the industry game, and could use a calculator. I had to sit next to her on the flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, which just happened to be the year they banned smoking on airlines. Having never been a smoker myself, I can’t honesty tell you what nicotine withdrawal is really like, other than the fact that I got to witness it first-hand for six hours.
In the first hour Pete and I laughed out loud, exchanged juicy industry stories and free champagne. She stole away to sneak a few puffs in the bathroom (this was prior to lavatory alarms – back when the flight staff looked the other way). During the second hour Pete drank a little more – actually, a lot more – I assumed to help with the uncomfortable feeling she was forced to endure. By hour three the champagne flowed as freely as lemonade on a sunny day and she began to blather, gripe and eventually, snipe at me. Most intensely. I tried to remain calm, which set her off even more and sent her re-directing her assault on the flight attendant, feeling she had to represent the rights of legions – no, generations – of disgruntled smokers, and their right to light up. It was brutal and embarrassing. To make a long story short – twelve piccolos of Henkel Trokken later – I wanted to crawl under my seat and into the stowaway compartment, and I seriously think that the flight attendant was considering a parachute. Either for Petra or herself.
By the time we touched down in Frankfurt, she was completely unconscious. She looked haphazardly angelic – like if Michelle Pfeiffer had lost her compass on an outback trip. The silence was a welcome relief but waking her up was a disaster. A chinchilla with PMS is an understatement. It was at this moment I realized she probably had a drinking problem. Crap.
We were met at the airport by the Promoter. We’ll call him Mr. H. No joking, he was a midget in a fine Mercedes. (Can I say midget, or is that totally politically incorrect?) He had these special devices on his gas and brake pedal so he could drive – like stilts. It was pretty fly. And while I had no problem with the fact that he was a small guy – physically I mean – I did have a problem with the fact that he turned out to be slyishly dishonest, mean-spirited and abused his position of music biz power to be inappropriate with the ladies. It seemed as though these were his coping tactics for being well … a smallish man-person. One light-hearted midget-slap on the booty too many (and there was conscious effort involved as he had to reach up to do this) – plus a bottle of Gerwurtzaminer (for her) – sent Petra over the edge one night. Then our big guy, feeling wounded, tries to skip out on paying the band hotel bill the next day. Needless to say, things got rather feisty and weird.
On the surface, the tour ‘rocked’ – and by all accounts would be considered successful – but behind the scenes it was like an episode of Arrested Development. With Mini-Me.
By the last week of the tour Mr. H and Pete had sorted out most of their differences, mostly thanks to Pete. She had enormous grace that way. She laid down a no butt-smacking, no-B.S. rule with him and he obeyed … like an eager puppy … in exchange for her laughter, an occasional hug and letting him know he was actually an O.K. guy. She had amazing sway over people that way, and I think Mr. H. realized he could drop some of the bravado and still feel big.
Unfortunately, she was still a hopeless drunk.
We started rooming together, as most mornings I had to rouse her from a deep coma, and it was less obvious to the band if I did it on the inside of her hotel room door. I needed to keep everything from imploding – at least until we set foot on the flight home.
Three days prior to the end of the tour, I was asked to sing on the Scorpions’ Savage Amusement album. They needed a near operatic high part on the ‘Rhythm of Love’ single. Don Dokken and Udo Dirkschneider had both attempted it but apparently weren’t anatomically equipped to hit the note. It was decided I would stay on an extra few days after the tour ended and fly to Dieter Dierks’ studio in Hanover (with my fabulous tour manager) and lay down the track. We would stay at the guest house. I was actually relieved we would be flying back separate from the rest of the band. I figured little could go terribly wrong at that point. Pete was on her most peachy behavior for the next few days, looking forward to the extended trip.
We were met by Rudy, Klaus, and Rudy’s guitar tech at the airport. I had met them all several times previously, as they had come out to my shows, and I liked them all immensely. For internationally famous rock dudes they were respectful, sweet natured and funny. Petra cracked a few smart jokes in German, flipped her long blonde mane and had them wrapped around her finger within 5 minutes. They escorted us to the guest house and Pete was given charge of the keys. Then we all adjourned to the studio to hear the track and start the process.
The front of the mixing console was cleverly constructed out of Chivas Regal bottles. Hundreds of them. Hmm … very hip for ’87, although probably not good, I thought, for Pete and her little problem.
After many microphone try-outs, tweaking of headset mixes, testing 1,2,3’s … a tedious process which always feels like it takes forever, I could see Pete was getting anxious. Rudy, the Tech, and Mathias – who had dropped by – invited her to join them for lunch at a place nearby, so she left.
I emerged from the studio a few hours later, to find Rudy and Mathias watching television but Petra nowhere in sight. The boys said she’d gone into the ladies room a while ago and maybe I should go check on her.
Part of the Scorpions ritual back in the day was taking their guests to the pub next door for a little initiation cocktail they called Cuervo Gold mixed with a spritz of ginger ale in a small rock glass. One must then cover the drink with a coaster and slam it down onto the bar simultaneously yelling ‘BANG’ (how clever) then down the foamy concoction in one gulp. Smooth as champagne with the mind-whack of tequila. Of course, Petra loved it. I mean them. Plural.
So there I found her … passed out under the sink in a puddle of yuck. Beatific, comatose, and seemingly at peace with the world. I wondered how on earth I was going to make this look like an accident…
That’s how she was when I saw her last September, five days before her death. She was still radiant with half her head shaved, no make up, and withered to a razor-ish 90 pounds. Despite our friendship having survived divorces, different time zones, and her alcoholism, we’d sadly drifted apart four years prior. Well, truthfully, I drifted. I thought it was her addictions that had caused her to become so unbearable. Had I known she had a massive brain tumor invading her thought process, I’m sure I would have had more grace. But I didn’t know.
No one knew.
I talked at her bedside (the palliative care nurse told me that one still hears in a coma) and I told her I was sorry for abandoning her. I told her that her friendship had made me a richer person. That if God could love me with all my broken parts, Jimmy Swaggart and Eminem … then she was probably doing just fine. I was told she wept later even though she hadn’t had food or water in 9 days.
I was devastated when she died – taken by surprise even though it was inevitable. At any moment you just expected her to pipe up, start bossing the nursing staff around and complain about the crappy food and oppressive hour that lights needed to be out.
To demonstrate how much I was hurting, I picked a huge fight with my husband, and later apologized for being such a jerk. Then I cried for three days straight.
When we finally managed to get Pete out from under the sink and back to the guest house, she’d misplaced the keys. I still have a Polaroid somewhere of Rudy, Klaus and Mathias awkwardly fumbling through cosmetics, feminine hygiene products, and about ten other keys that Pete had forgotten to return to hotel reception on the tour, her entire handbag dumped onto the sidewalk in front of the guest house door. Funny thing is, in the end, Petra found the right key. She had uncanny drunk person instincts like that. Delighted with herself – like she could out-drink the boys and out-smart them too – she found a second wind and exclaimed “Hah! We should just blow this pop-stand and fly to Paris!”
Yes, Pete. See you in Paris, Luv…