Don't Come Around Here No More
We kept Rob Mitchell in the basement of our parent's house that summer, the summer he went missing. It was never in the major newspapers, because he wasn't a big enough draw. Just in a bunch of 'zines and the occasional music rag. He was almost anonymous, not almost famous. That's why nobody noticed him missing.
The snatch had been the easy part. Me and Janet and Greg were driving past the club one night, the club he'd been playing -- a little hole in the wall on a side street. As we drove by, we saw Mitchell sleeping against the dumpster. It must have been 3 o'clock in the morning. Well past closing time.
"Slow down," said Greg, and so I did. In fact, I stopped.
We all took a good look at the man. Greg pulled a cassette out of his pocket. Greg had a shitload of cassettes. He was a music library.
"That's the guy," said Greg excitedly, pointing to the cassette cover, then the man. "I forgot he was playing here tonight."
"Who?" I asked.
"Rob Mitchell," said Greg.
"Never heard of him," I said.
"You wouldn't have," said Greg.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "We're not old enough to get in there anyway."
Greg rolled his eyes, and said, "Fake ID."
I said nothing. Greg always trumped me in arguments. So we all sat silently, there in the car. Listening to the engine hum.
"So what are we going to do?" asked Janet. "Kidnap him or something?"
Janet had all the best ideas. That's because Janet was cool. Janet was Greg's girlfriend. I wished I was Janet's boyfriend, but I never would be. I wasn't nearly as cool as Greg. Greg was cool. He listened to Arlo Guthrie, even when that really wasn't cool. Still, that's what made him cool, but figuring it all out made my head hurt.
Some things you just have to take on faith.
We piled out of the car, my parent's car, then went and rescued Rob Mitchell from dumpster hell. On the way back home, Greg stuck in his Rob Mitchell tape. They all were home recordings: just him and a little four-track recorder, singing and playing acoustic guitar in his bathroom or bedroom or basement.
And then, we were bringing him home. Easy as that.
Fuck, we were cool. Or, at least, Greg and Janet were. Why couldn't I think of a thing like that? Now we'd have free concerts every night. Too bad I didn't think to invite more of my friends. We could have made more money that way.
My parents left me all sorts of necessary instructions for their vacation. One was that the money to get me through the summer was all in a tin on the top shelf in the pantry. We used this money to buy cases of beer with Greg's fake ID. The beer was a necessity. Not just to get drunk to the music of Rob Mitchell. The beer was the reason why Rob Mitchell almost never left us that summer.
The good times we all had, they're just a blur. Night after night of performances in the basement, some of which would go maybe three or four hours long, just me and Greg and Janet there and Mitchell on his plywood stage. He would play all his songs, even some of his 'hits' (if you could call them that), over and over again every night. We would even yell out requests of other artists and he'd play them -- whether or not he knew the songs or not. He was our own personal jukebox.
Most nights, Greg and Janet would be there on their plush red fuzzy loveseat, kissing. Open throat. Greg's arms would extend under Janet's shirt, lovingly cupping her soft mounds of flesh. I'd watch them, and wish I were Janet's boyfriend. Sometimes, Rob even watched them too, as he played everything. Along with the covers, he'd play all the songs from his four cassette releases, and some we didn't know. Songs like Love Octopus, Love Walrus, Love Maiden, Love Wanderer. All his songs were about love, you see. Well, either love or cars. Fast Cars. Slow Cars. Big Cars. Little Cars.
One time he stopped, just to look at us. I was blitzed out of my mind, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. Greg stopped reaching under Janet's shirt.
"What's the matter?" asked Greg.
"I need another beer," said Rob.
"You know where they are," said Greg, turning back to Janet.
Right about then, that's when Rob collapsed on his stool. Greg just shrugged and went back to kissing Janet. Janet did nothing. She just took it. Yeah, she was cool.
I walked over Rob, who was drooling on the plywood, and slammed his cassette into the ghetto blaster I kept near my dad's toolkit. Then I went back to my chair, closed my eyes. Christ. It was so much like the real thing that it was unbelievable. It was as though he was singing just for me, singing so intimately, even though he was passed out on the floor.
I guess you had to have been there.
One time, Rob tried to escape. We just didn't know it at first.
I woke up one morning, poured myself an orange juice in the kitchen. As I did, I had a premonition. The house, it was too quiet. Maybe that was because Greg and Janet weren't going at it in the basement. Still ...
Janet came running into the room suddenly.
"Al, have you ... seen Rob?" she asks breathlessly.
"He was in the last place we put him," I suggested.
"He's not on the couch?" I asked.
"No," she said excitedly, so excitedly that her tits jiggled under her shirt.
I would have looked closer, if I hadn't noticed something else. Outside the small kitchen window, I saw a figure walking around in the laundry sheets next door, right there in Mrs. Demo's backyard. He was walking, staggering really, among the drying sheets and shirts like he were a ghost.
"Hey, you!" said an adult female voice. "You git out of my clothes you perv!"
Janet and I ran for the door, having to rescue Rob from an older lady now running towards Rob wielding a broom. I ran up to Rob, pulled him to me and told Mrs. Demos that my uncle was out for a visit and liked to wander. She bought the story, apologized and asked how my parents were doing. I didn't know and couldn't give a rat's ass about how they were. But I still gave her an answer.
I walked Rob back to the house. (Janet had already run ahead to get further make-out time with Greg.) It was hard. I had to practically coach Rob to put one leg in front of the other and walk straight.
At one point, Rob turned to me and asked, "You know what's the problem with women these days?"
I didn't answer, but he continued anyway.
"You go to a bar and play a set -- they don't listen to nothin'," he said. "You ask them to chant, they don't do nothin'. You ask them to show you their tits, they don't do nothin'."
"Maybe you should stop getting wasted," I offered. "Maybe your schtick is getting old?"
Rob just looked at me, nodded, and said, "Maybe." He offered it quite thoughtfully. Then he fell over.
The money started to run out mid-summer. I checked the tin in the pantry one morning, and it was empty. So I called my parents in Florida. Collect. My dad answered the phone. I told him I needed money. Quickly. Before the beer supply ran out.
"Why don't you get a job?" he asked. "You're old enough."
I wanted to tell him what was the point of getting a job and doing something if you didn't love it. Just for the money? Fuck that. Did Rob Mitchell do ever shit for the money? I think not. He did it for the beer.
Since Dad wasn't going to wire up some alcohol, I hung up and reported the situation to Greg and Jan. Greg knew what to do.
"We'll just get Rob to record some stuff on your ghetto blaster," said Greg. "If we charge a mark-up, we could make a nice little profit."
So, we set up a recording studio in the basement starting that afternoon using a borrowed (read: stolen) microphone and some old tapes I had in my bedroom. Rob didn't seem into it at first, but when we told him we'd cut off the beer supply, he got busy writing songs.
The problem was, none of them were any good.
"Love Sausage?" said Greg in disgust, interrupting a recording session.
"I ... t-think it's my best work yet," slurred Rob into the microphone.
"Jesus," cursed Greg, pulling a tape out of his pocket. "You see this?"
It was a tape called Arlo Guthrie's Greatest Hits.
"You see this shit?" Greg asked. "This shit's timeless. How timeless? My dad still plays this."
Rob just lowered his head in shame.
"You should make something like this," he said, then turned to Janet. He pocked the tape, then started rolling around on the couch groping her. She groped him back. Again. For the 13th millionth time.
I shrugged and went back to recording the song with Rob. I didn't really notice it at the time, because Rob was being sloppy with his singing and playing, but the lyrics were, "Love sausage / Nice and round / C'mon, Janet / Let me feel your mounds."
I only noticed it months later, playing the tape in my Walkman one day in school. This was after the song had been re-recorded in a professional studio. I pulled out the cassette case, look to the liner notes, only to see that the song was dedicated "For Al." The bastard wrote the bloody song for me. Not only had he been singing just for me, he'd started writing for me, too.
Not that this would have mattered much to Greg. He would come around to Rob every day, listen to his tapes and go, "Is that the best you can do? Is this like Arlo Guthrie?"
Usually, Rob would just glare at him in return. One time, though, he told Greg, "I like your girlfriend."
Greg snorted. "Whatever," he said, and stormed off.
Greg needed the money just as well as me. That probably prevented him from plowing Rob in the mouth. Christ, I couldn't say something like that to Greg's face. Then again, maybe Greg was a bit weird. It wasn't like I was fucking my girlfriend on the front steps of some friend's parent's house.
Which reminds me of a true story ...
Greg and Janet were caught fucking on the front steps of my parent's porch by Mrs. Demos. This nearly blew our cover with Rob, fucking so drunkenly and shamelessly out in the open like that. Also, since we were having trouble selling what we called the Lost Tapes of Rob Mitchell, we didn't have any money to buy beer. I told Greg we wouldn't sell any copies because Love or Car wasn't in the title. Still, he was undeterred.
"We're going to call it the Lost Tapes," said Greg. "People will take it as a sign of real artistic maturity and shit."
Anyhow, after being yelled at by Mrs. Demos, Greg and Janet fled to the basement to finish the job up there. Rob came upstairs semi-sober and told me, "Your friends are fucking in the basement."
"Yeah, I know," I said.
Then, there was a knock on the door. It was a cop.
"Son, your parents at home?" he asked, upon my opening of the door.
"There a problem, officer?" said Rob, sauntering up behind me.
Turns out there were a problem -- a big problem, actually. Turns out, some neighbour caught two kids with the description of Greg and Janet going at it, and called it into the police. As the cop was telling us this, he started to squint. Then, he stopped.
"Hey, you Rob Mitchell?"
Before I could cover, Rob had said, "Yeah."
"Jesus, where you've been?" said the cop excitedly. "Haven't heard a thing since that concert at the Monument Club. Thought you would have had another tape out by now."
Rob stammered, saying nothing much of import. As usual.
"Uh, he's working on it," I said, nudging Rob and whipping a copy of Rob's new tape out of my pocket. The master copy, it would turn out, in fact.
We gave it to the cop in exchange for a warning and a figurative slap on the wrist. That seemed to make the cop happy. Apparently, he was a real fan of Rob Mitchell and all and even told us he had every album except for the second one. That one had been hard to find: Real Fast Cars and Love. Rob told the cop he'd see what he could do, and maybe get him a copy.
The cop walked away, whistling to himself and drove off. Apparently, Rob was so anonymous that nobody had bothered to file a missing person's report on him or something. Then again, lots of artists go missing every year. I can't remember the last time I heard from Sugar Ray, after all.
Anyway, I was going to say something to Rob, right after the cop left and took our only copy. It was something about finding Greg and Janet and giving them shit. But, just as I was about to say that, footsteps creaked on the stairs, and Janet appeared wearing nothing but one of Greg's shirts.
"What's happening?" asked Janet.
"Rob just saved your ass," I said, telling them the deal about the cop.
"Oh," said Janet, sounding not all that surprised. Like it was shit that happened everyday or something.
Then she turned to Rob, rubbing up against him, "You're going to play Love Sausage later on, right?"
That Janet, always cool like ice-cube filled water in the face. I made a mental note to toss her ass out onto the street once we got rid of Rob. But I couldn't do that. Not unless I got rid of Greg, first.
Hmmmm, I thought.
It was obvious we had to get Rob out of our hair. He was a liability now. We were lucky this time, but maybe next time we'd get a cop who wasn't a fan of Rob Mitchell's music. Plus, we didn't have the master tape to make copies and, thus, make money anymore. That meant we'd have to record everything over, and Rob was no longer interested in that shit. He was interested in writing songs about sofas. Fast Sofa. That was one of his new songs.
We got Rob drunk -- way drunk -- one night, and waited until he passed out. Then he drove him out to the same club we found him, dumped him at the dumpster and quickly drove off.
Greg said the only thing worthy of a goodbye, leaning out the passenger window.
"Don't come around here no more," he said.
"Isn't that a Tom Petty song?" asked Janet.
Greg looked back at her and scowled.
"Traitor," he spat.
I motored away, the radio off, not even looking back in the rearview. I only can wonder what Rob Mitchell might have thought about that. But, then again, I guess it wouldn't be much. His next tape, which came out a few months later, wouldn't be called the Lost Tapes. It would be called Songs About Assholes Who Kept The Chicks Away From Me.