A Boy at Heart
“What stays with you most from that day?” she asked sitting on the sofa across from him, pen circling her open notebook.
“It wasn’t seeing him dead,” Walter said. “In fact, he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began scratching at the pace of his speech across the page. “He even had this smile on his face . . . It was when they put him in a body bag. That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever. It’s amazing the guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”
“Why would you feel guilt?” she asked.
“I wasn’t always the nicest to Brian.”
“You two didn’t get along?”
“Why was that?”
“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”
“What were your last moments with him like?”
“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth even when he didn’t have to. “I... I... I... Do I have to tell you?”
Her bucktooth grin flashed beneath her chipmunk-like cheeks, making her button nose crinkle adorably between her doting, big, brown eyes. “You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to,” she said. “Remember you reached out to me. This is your story Walter, not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s, or anyone else’s. No one knows about this interview but us.”
Maybe it was the disarming English accent, but somehow she’d become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was Rolling Stone’s foremost reporter, and there was a reason why.
“However,” Francis said, “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”
“And so would I,” Walter said. “But I was pretty much blacked out by the time ‘it’ happened, so yeah... Um, do you mind?” he said eyeing a bottle of Jameson and an ice bucket filled with mixers on the coffee table.
“Go ahead,” she said. “That’s why it’s there.” She flashed him another grin.
He poured himself a drink, then leaned back in his armchair. The tranquil glow of Francis’s living room fireplace was dangerously homey, a feeling he hadn’t felt in some time. Although Cirkus had given him some money to get by until the show—what they were promoting as “Quinn Quark’s last and final show”, it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s. Also, he was paying for it in other ways.
Unbeknownst to Walter, his emotional soundcheck performance of “See The Sky About To Rain” had been filmed and recorded. With no single or music video to use for promotion, the label instead pushed the video—one tight shot of his genital-swelling face rolling through the emotions of the song until climaxing in a money shot of tears. Being such an emotional performance and recorded on the day of Perfect Crime’s last performance with Squids, the video quickly became a viral hit amongst rock and indie circles, then spread just as quickly into the general public’s circles, but especially their genitals. The swelling was all anyone could talk about.
After the song became a surprise top ten hit, Quinn Quark was then hailed as the return of the rock star, even though Quinn Quark was supposed to be dead and the song was far from being rock n’ roll. But America wasn’t really interested in rock n’ roll again, just the idea of having a rock star. Rock stars are like cowboys to Americans; mythologized clichés they loved to resurrect over and over again.
Walter set down his drink and cleared his throat. “While it does feel good to finally talk about Squids’s death,” he said, “I’m not sure this is the right place. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”
“Of course,” Francis said, however, there was a pinch of exasperation on her face. “So...” she turned a page in her notebook, “...how’s rehearsal going for next month’s show? How’s it been working with Jason?”
“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. It’s like not having sex. And Jason, oh man, it’s like a whole new sex now that we have a bassist who can actually play—shit. I shouldn’t have said that—I mean, I didn’t mean to say that.”
“You’re fine,” Francis said surrendering her pen to the air. “I can leave it out—I can leave anything out. This isn’t a live interview. Remember, it’s just us here.”
That’s reassuring, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t onstage with thousands of eyes stalking him, just two big brown ones; the eyes of a cutesy cartoon forest animal.
“Thanks,” he said. “Um... what I ‘meant’ was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for Jason, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.”
“Does this mean there might be a possibility we’ll see this lineup of Perfect Crime perform again?” Francis asked.
Walter’s face turned sour. “No,” he said. “Let’s make that perfectly clear. N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime after this show or Quinn Quark.”
“But what about your unreleased album, Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”
“I never finished it. And the songs I had written for it, they weren’t right for Perfect Crime.”
“But maybe a solo project?” she asked.
“Actually, yes,” he said. “I am considering them for a solo project.”
“Really?” She repositioned herself on the couch, pen ready to transcribe. “What kind of sound is this new project?”
“Silence,” he answered. Francis’s eyes hung on him for further explanation, but Walter just smiled.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’m not understanding.”
“It’s a novel,” he said.
“A novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head. “Why?”
“Personal reasons. But also, I like the privacy of it. With a novel, my physical image doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art. I also don’t have to relive the emotions of my art night after night on tour. I can just write it, then move onto something else.”
“That’s surprising to hear from someone who seemingly enjoyed performing very much,” Francis said. “What’s this novel about?”
“Death, life, love, existence—all the typical stuff,” Walter fibbed. So far his novel was about nothing, because other than his lacquered piece of shit that he tore to bits, he’d still written nothing.
“Care to expound a little more?” Her pen rapped frustratedly against her notebook.
“I guess you could also say it’s a revue of sorts, featuring all the women who have shaped me, good and bad.”
“Can you tell me about some of them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Francis’s button nose crinkled sharply and her lips pursed into a taut circle. “Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well, where do you want to go, because I’m not having much luck driving?”
“Anywhere but my past,” he said.
“Okay, let’s continue with the future then. This novel you’re working on, when can we expect it?”
“Sometime, but you won’t know it. I’m releasing it under a penname.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the book can’t make it on the back of my music career. I couldn’t take myself seriously as a writer if it did. That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”
“So will anyone ever know the author’s true identity?”
“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into obscurity after this farewell show.”
Francis sighed sympathetically as her demeanor shifted gears. “That’s a shame you want to disappear from the world Walter,” she said, “because the world really seems to like you. A lot of great things have been said about you, you know? Some have even called you genius.”
“Genius?” he said chuckling. “I’m a failed songwriter. The one hit song I have is a cover.”
“Oh, but I’m not talking about your music career,” she said. “I agree your accomplishments in music have been blown out of proportion.”
Francis then set down her notebook and pen on the coffee table, then picked up a thick binder from the floor Walter hadn’t noticed and opened it across her lap. “Actually,” she said. “I’m talking about your work in physics.”
“Physics?” Walter said. “I was a C-average physics student.”
“Yes, that’s what you tell everyone...” she said thumbing through the binder’s plastic-sheathed pages, “...but there’s also much more to the story. I hope you don’t mind revisiting your past again—just briefly, but I spoke to one of your professors at UCLA, an Alan Schechter, and he said before your junior and senior years, you were the most promising physics student the department had seen in some time. He also showed me your papers. And while he admitted there was a lot wrong with them, he also said…” She read from the binder: “…‘They’re the type of creative genius of someone who could revolutionize physics.’ And that your choice to apply that creative genius to rock music was ‘an unfortunate result of being young and disproportioned in blood flow between brain and penis.’”
Walter laughed. “Sounds like Schechter,” he said. “But what does he know? He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself. A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it. Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”
“You don’t have to be condescending,” Francis said under her breath.
“Condescending?” Walter said. “Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?” She shrugged. “See, naïve journalist who doesn’t know shit about physics. Not condescending, just the truth.”
“But still, you don’t have to be a...” She tried to come up with a polite rebuttal, but went blank.
“A what?” Walter continued his charge. “An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead, I’ve been called worse. However, the real asshole here is you. This entire interview you’ve been trying to trap me because you thought by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d know it better than me. And by the way, just because I’m somewhat famous now, that doesn’t mean you have an all-access pass to riffle through my past—”
“Actually, it does,” she interrupted. “Maybe I don’t know ‘shit about physics’, but I do know shit about media law.”
“Whatever,” he said. “I’m done. If you think you’re going to prod any more information out of me, you’re nuts.” Walter stood from his chair and walked to the front door.
“Seriously?” Francis said. “You asked me for this interview. I thought you wanted to introduce the ‘real you’ to the world? But how am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything about you?”
“Well, apparently you already know everything,” he said. “What else do you need to know?”
“How about why someone so gifted continually throws away his talents? Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer. You’re so much more than Quinn Quark the one-hit rock star and I just want the world to know. Isn’t that what you want too, for people to know the ‘real you’?”
Walter stood silent, contemplating. “No actually,” he then said. “I’m sorry Francis, but this was a mistake.” He opened her front door and began to leave.
“Walter stop,” she begged as she ran to the front door. “Why?”
“Because the real me is not who you think he is. Wanna know the truth? I have no novel, not a single page. So cross off writer.” He slashed an invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an insult to the field. So we’ll cross that off too. I guess I’ll give you songwriter, but as of next month I’m officially resigned of that title also. So there it is: I’m an over-hyped, title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to anyone or anything; just a big fucking face for people to talk about, that’s all. You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant of the world, because... because fuck the world!”
The front door then struck its frame like a thunderbolt.
Walter tried to walk to his car, but only made it to the curb in front of Francis’s house. Her unanswered questions began to sting at him like tiny ants.
“She’s right,” he said sitting, his head tilted to the night sky. “But why? . . . Why-why-why-why? Why Walter—or whoever the fuck you are today, why do you always throw away everything good for something uncertain? Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for Catherine—what’s next and when will it stop? But please, just stop. I can’t take any more pain.”
A cycle then began to formulate. Every time something became too comfortable, he abandoned it for something new and more challenging. He couldn’t stand to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.
“But then who am I?” he asked. “What am I? Can I still be or should I be asking these questions at twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this, flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change. I like being single. Why does it have to stop? Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”
The dilemma of being twenty-five. Walter had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy at heart.
“Who are you talking to?” Francis asked from her doorway. Walter stirred to his feet in surprise.
“Um… myself,” he replied.
“You realize that’s kind of crazy, right?”
“Guilty as charged,” he said then sat back down.
She scoffed and shook her head. “So what’s your deal?” she said. “Do you really hate being famous? Does it really drive you that crazy that people recognize you sometimes; that you impact their lives?”
“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect their lives. I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she never existed I think my world would be no different.”
“But you don’t represent the world Walter. Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an actual writer, it’s that you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you forget about the actual one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound to you, is the real world.
“Since I’ve already tanked my interview...” Francis continued, putting her hands to her hips, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you now: you need to buck the fuck up and stop being such a whiny bitch. Yeah, you’ve been dealt some bad cards lately, but there’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on you than being intelligent, multi-talented, good-looking, and famous. Also, if you think writer is the answer to freeing you from fame, you’ll be sorely mistaken. If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a story, or even a theory, you’re also going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous. People don’t connect with ideas insomuch as they connect with other people.”
Her voice then softened as she walked and sat beside him. “And I know at one point you had no problem connecting with other people,” she said, “especially on a stage. You also loved doing interviews. But I can understand why you’re not so trusting of people now and maybe don’t want to do one. You’re still healing and people aren’t making it easy, including me.”
“No...” Walter said quietly. “You were just trying to do your job, the job I asked you to do.”
“Thank you for understanding . . . So, are you going to let me finish it, or am I going to have to call the cops and tell them some madman is talking to himself in my front lawn?”