A STORY ABOUT AMERICA
by King Wenclas
THERE EXISTS a photograph of Melissa Habermyer's parents from the late 1960's showing them as anti-establishment warriors. That they were both from wealth and met at ultra-elite Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, made no difference. Like others of their social class (Garry Trudeau for instance) they were leaders in the enormous youth rebellion then taking place in this country. They didn't wish to tear down society, not really. The war, despite the noise they made about it, was an irrelevancy to them and their kind; neither they nor anyone they knew would have to go to it. For their type the 60's rebellion, when all was said and done, was about them having fun. More than this it was an expression of their youth; of their energy, their privilege and gloriously innate power.
In the photograph the couple is eternally youthful and very beautiful-- as beautiful a couple as ever was-- wearing expressions of security and confidence in themselves; a confidence no American generation before or since has worn; given the faultlines and disharmonies of the civilization now, an arrogant smugness that will likely never be worn again.
Melissa's grandfather on her father's side owned a company manufacturing trucks in grimy Midwestern cities like Toledo, Ohio. Like all such industries, the company manufactured its share of tanks and other war material via lucrative government contracts. Melissa's uncle, her father's older brother, Frank Habermyer, would eventually take over the business.
Melissa's mother was from WASP old money, the kind handed down through holding company stocks and blind trusts over the years and years so that whatever actions, achievements, or misdeeds had acquired the wealth centuries ago in the first place were far removed and utterly forgotten by the time Melissa was born. The greatest presence from this side of the family was Uncle George; good old swanky bon-vivant Brahmin Uncle George!-- who'd skippered a PT boat during Korea and served a few mysterious years with the CIA in Switzerland and played semi-pro baseball for a summer, among other legendary and basically insubstantial accomplishments, the most substantial of which was founding a small press-- a very small press-- publishing George's trust fund buddies and marketing them as avant-garde outsiders. Despite the small size of the press, the books received an inordinate amount of media attention in the isolated island of New York, one of them winning a National Book Award, for whatever that's worth.
Melissa's parents were artists-- artists of life, you could say, living a thoroughly counter-culture flowers-and-beads existence in which they roamed from state to state, east coast to west coast, living in a commune, teaching at small colleges, opening their own art gallery in a gazebo-like building in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Into this paradise in the mid-70's was Melissa Habermyer born. Her eyes were so blue, so strikingly hugely amazingly blue from birth she was called Bluebird. A more fitting name was never chosen as this child of nature ran with the birds and the squirrels amid the dwindling remains of a lush forest. Creativity was the order of the day from her folks, who raised her on Picasso and Mozart; who beneficently watched as their three year-old Bluebird conducted her own symphony orchestra consisting of a few dozen of her favorite stuffed animals.
At four Melissa attended the most exclusive private pre-school on the west coast (her parents bought a condo in San Francisco for the purpose), and attended private kindergarten and grammar schools and prep schools throughout the area to give her the best individualized instruction possible. Her teachers were geniuses; not just those employed by the schools-- every one entranced by the child's blue eyes-- but also genius engineers who worked for Uncle Frank and genius writer friends of Uncle George and genius artists who displayed their works in her parents gazebo-like store.
For all the daily influence of "Culture," of art classes and ballet lessons and piano instruction and the highest-tech multi-media computer equipment to play on, young Bluebird never faced that which might be thought most necessary for the development of talent: a challenge. All was adulation and reward. The brutal traumas of life, the realities of the world, lay outside her cocoon-like barriers. Oh, she knew they were out there-- she read about them and worried over them, had an abstract commitment to the underdog; in the laissez-faire laid back nature of her life identified with such; was firmly against Evil-- or at least bad manners-- and on the side of Good, whatever that was.
When Melissa was eighteen, Uncle George threw for her upon the occasion of her graduation a lavish party at the largest ballroom of the largest hotel at which strutted and posed, for enormous fees, several famous classic rock bands. Melissa's preferred avocation among the many was music. Meeting the mummified rock legends up close, who retained somehow in their withered forms their legendary glamor, decided Melissa upon a music career, though at the moment she didn't know it.
The summer after graduation was the worst period of her life, at least until years afterward. One summer day, a surreally bright summer day, something troubling clicked inside Melissa's head and she began shaking through her entire body. For days she remained like this, frozen, barely eating or moving, her friends puzzled until her parents and uncles were called and Melissa quietly spent several weeks in a private sanitarium where, thanks to the proper amount of indulgent therapy and astutely prescribed pharmaceuticals, she fully recovered.
College was anti-climactic, though she attended the most progressive open-format school money could afford. She'd been through it all before. Though she lived off-campus in a small apartment at the center of the local city's modest downtown, with a boyfriend-- slumming it-- Melissa Habermyer was thoroughly bored.
After two years Melissa Habermyer changed her name to Melissa Bluebird and quit college to form a girl rock band with two friends of hers. They named themselves Melissa and the Bluebirds. They'd been practicing together for months.
Their first real gig was playing at a private party during the Super Bowl. This was arranged by Uncle Frank, whose company was one of the largest corporate sponsors of the football game. One of Melissa's favorite classic bands was the half-time show for the game. She thought it fitting to play, in some small way, in proximity to her idols. The more modest circumstances of her own performance didn't bother her.
The performance itself? In its earnest pop amateurishness it was at least fun. The jaded corporate execs, journalists, coaches, and hangers-on present found the band of pretty young women pleasant to look at. The mild harmony of the band's chords and weak voices antagonized no one. Melissa Bluebird had written the songs, was lead singer and accompanied herself on lead guitar. The rest of the band consisted of drummer and keyboardist: Melissa Bluebird-wannabe-likes who sang backup. Melissa wore a bright multi-colored outfit loaded with scarves, which matched her blue eyes and downy blonde hair. Her voice was pleasant to hear, if one could hear it, and carried a delicate tune, though there was little propulsion behind it. At one point in the modest concert, Melissa "got down" and moved across the glossy black stage at the front of the room in a series of steps. Belching old-bull men clutching drinks in her vicinity applauded.
"Yeah!" Melissa said as the chords of her electric guitar reverberated, swinging her arm around Peter Townshend-style. "Wow! Thank you."
Present in the room as Super Bowl guests of Frank Habermyer were a billionaire record producer from Los Angeles along with an always grinning publicist, Nick Stomponatas.
"Not bad," the producer, blasted on cocaine and cocktails, remarked. "Not bad at all. Whaddya think?" he asked his more sober compatriot.
Thirty-two year-old Nick Stomponatas was a notorious gun-for-hire with extreme smarts and a necessary cynical outlook. He was little-known by the public but respected by anyone in the industry with sense. If you wanted someone made-- or destroyed-- Nick was the guy to go to.
Nick saw something in the girl. Beyond the dollars in Frank Habermyer's bank account, which Nick was well aware of, he saw something for real in the strutting self-important rich girl. Maybe the blue eyes, or the name, or the naive self-importance itself held appeal.
"Give them an edge and they could be huge," Nick Stomponatas said.
There, at the Super Bowl party, he was given the job to create them.
The "edge" he gave the Bluebirds was in the person of Alex Skarski, notorious bad-girl guitarist from the gutters of Cass Corridor Detroit; a music school dropout-- or rather, had been kicked out for telling off her professors. She'd kept her record perfect by being kicked out of band after band-- this though she played the most rockin' power chords heard since Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Alex Skarski WAS rock n' roll, or maybe a caricature of it as she'd absorbed every self-destructive rock myth into her own personality.
Bizarrely, perversely, Nick believed Alex would be a great fit with Melissa and cohorts. He'd seen a soft spot beneath Alex's loud exterior; a hidden vulnerability-- hidden by layers of tough-girl defenses-- that would be dazzled by Melissa's blue eyes and by the sincerity of her modest talent.
They met in a hotel room. Alex was late, had barely made her plane flight-- barely made it through security-- then had vomited for twenty minutes in an airport john after the plane landed. She arrived in the hotel room weak, hungover, red-eyed, tottering, smelling-- despite a layer of perfume-- of sweat, vomit, and urine. Her short dress was so flimsy you could see through it. She wore nothing beneath, and had forgotten to shave her armpits. Or, for that matter, her legs.
Tall, pale, and strikingly thin, with large shoulders and bangs of jet-black hair, she peered at her prospective new bandmate, Melissa Bluebird, recipient already of a million-dollar recording contract. Melissa leaned casually against a divan with the unblemished bearing and confidence of her class. Though Alex was several years older, to study the way each woman approached the other you'd peg Melissa as the elder.
"Uh, hi," the supposed tough girl squeaked with pronounced meekness.
"Hello," Melissa Bluebird said, holding out her hand. "Welcome aboard."
As Nick Stomponatas beamed the two women shook hands on Alex Skarski's arrival into the group.
(To Be Continued.)