The folk singer and the wallpaper photo incident


We were in the Sheraton hotel, having played some gigs somewhere, and we had to catch a plane to somewhere else. I say we, but I mean she. We had the same first name and did everything together for nearly a month, except she went on stage and sang songs and I hovered round the back, watching the hummus turn brown, the carrot sticks curl up and trying to count cash, to see if we had enough to pay for the hotel that night. Her manager told me to put it on my credit card, but I didn’t have one, I had no money at all except the 200 quid a week they were paying me, which come to think of it is more than I earn right now, in the modern world.
We stayed in the Sheraton a lot. I loved it. Clean sheets, air con, toilet wrapped like a present with a cellophane wrapper. And all the little soaps and creams. I thought if she were not crazy, or if I didn’t feel that she was crazy in way that was not compatible with my own craziness, I could do this forever. Just get on the plane or tour bus, get to the next city, set up her guitars, her mandolin, make sure she made the sound check on time, her interviews with local rags or glossy mags on time, and stand in the wings, listening to the same old spiel every night. Her patter was basically along the lines of , if you are homeless, and a woman, they will lock you up and say you are crazy. But she was missing the point which is that you can be homeless and crazy, and anyway, that was a lifetime ago, man, we were staying at the Sheraton. That’s like, the opposite of homelessness, but not the opposite of crazy.
Her American team had suggested a mini tour of homes for juvenile delinquents, kid prisons, only not ones for little offences like taking drugs or setting little fires easily put out, or robbing seven elevens. No, these kids had done really bad things like murder or attempted murder. That was one leg of the tour I really didn’t like. She would say to the audience how much she related to them, but it really wasn’t like Cash at Folsom. These were just fucked up kids who had maybe killed their own parents. She had not killed her parents. Her father was a lovely guy, an air of long suffering about him. He joined us for a while. Dollar Bill, we called him. He loved first editions by Jack London. We used to talk about books when she was on stage, but sometimes he went up with her.
But back at one of those Sheratons, I noticed we were running really short on time. We had to be at an airport in a few hours, and she had a man from People magazine chasing her for three states. I had no concept, til then, how she was really pretty big that year. People magazine. Three states. Why her? Why not, like, Cher? The guy from people kept ringing my room. He was in the lobby, had been for some time, he had had too much coffee, I could hear it in his voice. He was sick of the chase. After all, she was a folk singer on the up, not Cher, or Meatloaf. Mr. Loaf, as the New York Times had to call him.I said, stop with the coffee, have a real drink, we’ll be down in ten minutes. I did this for about four hours, just kept telling him to get drinks, we’d be right down. The more coffee he drank ( he was not drunk) the more desperate he sounded. “Look! You promised! Where is she? I need to file this story. You said whatever you are going to lie to me right now, you said that last time.”
He was right. I kept ringing her room but she would not answer. I didn’t want to knock the door in case she didn’t answer in live person and the bus boy had to use his swipe card and we’d find her swinging from a light fixture with an orange in her mouth. She didn’t seem the strange auto sex or suicidal type, but anything was possible and the main thing was to avoid a scandal. I rang and rang. Finally she answered. I said, hey look, the really important guy from People is here, and we have to leave in less than an hour, and he’s really pissed off.
She said, Oh,ok, well you can come into my room, I’m doing something really important, maybe he can come to the airport with us?
I said the magazine was more important than whatever she was doing. The only excuse would be near death illness, or perhaps an exorcism. She said oh just come up but don’t bring the guy.
So I went to her room and all over the bedspread with her clothes and bags and stuff were SX70 poloroid shots of what appeared to be the wallpaper.
I said, oh, OK, are you using these in the act? Is it a symbol? Wouldn’t it be faster just to tear a bit of wallpaper off and we could see if we could blow it up or something. Someone somewhere has the technology.
Yes, it’s a symbol. Look at it closely. What does it look like to you, this symbol, this symbol of evil?
Um, it looks like an S. My guess is that it stands for Sheraton.
She said, really?
I said, yeah, really, it makes sense. This is a Sheraton hotel. We see this S in every Sheraton hotel. It doesn’t stand for sugar or shit or Sherry, vicar, a small glass? It’s the name of the hotel, the first letter of it.
She said, I think it’s a swastika.
I said, you think the Nazi’s have taken over a nice hotel like the Sheraton? Um, please don’t share this idea with the guy from People.
She said, oh, but not just that, look in the bathroom, someone has turned the S’s into swastikas with a pen.
OK, I said, maybe a Nazi stayed here, a neo Nazi, and doodled in the bathroom, but it’s not a good reason to not do the interview and drive the guy crazy and shit, our plane leaves in one hour, we should be checked in right now. We have to go right now. He’ll have to come with us.
I threw all her dirty leggings in a bag, gathered up the instruments, went to get my own stuff, and just kept saying to myself “I can’t do this any more. This is nuts. But I’ll quit or get sacked after People.”
We got downstairs. The guy was hopping mad. I said how sorry we were, that the singer had been indisposed, and that now we had to go to the airport, but he could come with us. He didn’t like this and said right away, to her, that name you use, it’s not your real name, that age you use, it’s not your real age. Both of these things were true, I had the passport, but boy this was a bad opening gambit. But it startled her. She said, we could do an on the road piece.
He said, I can’t follow you for any more states. It’s been three.
She said I mean on the road to the airport.
He said that takes like 15 minutes.
She looked at him like, take it or leave it. That’s all you got.
He took it. We squeezed in the back of a cab and for the first and last time in my life I said to the driver, “Step on it, Mister.”
He asked some questions. She may or may not have answered. I was having a panic attack and trying not to throw up, or throw myself out of the car.
We made the plane. I dunno if she ever got into People.
That was 27 years ago. She is still around,doing gigs, giving someone else a nervous breakdown, maybe. I work right near where I live and don’t have to manage anyone. I polish glasses. It’s not all that, but it doesn’t make me nervous. I haven’t stayed in a Sheraton since then, I’m pretty sure. I hope it’s the same, with the soaps and Ss and gift wrapped toilets.

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