Thursday, July 2, 2009

Looking for Lewis & Clark

Maybe it wasn't the explorers, but Gary Lewis and Gene Clark.

Like most stories, this one begins with a song.

In this case, the song was "Looking for Lewis & Clark" by the Long Ryders, complete with its self-referential lyrics and homage to the Kingsmen.

I was working at my first job out of college (a soul-killing endeavor made almost bearable by great co-workers who lived to savage the company's management during beer-soaked lunch hours at a local pub) and was looking for an apartment in Watertown, Mass. Apartments in the area were notoriously hard to find, so unscrupulous brokers charged obscene "finder's fees" and kicked back half to greedy landlords. One broker's teenage daughter drove me to a series of crappy apartments while trying to get me to comment on whether or not I was in favor of "nipple rouge" (I'd never heard of it and kept trying to change the subject). She had a Long Ryders mix tape that she played as she drove us around in a crappy Pinto whose left front light was missing. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

I would have cut the afternoon short after the first crappy apartment, but I liked listening to the Long Ryders and wasn't sure exactly how I was going to find a place to live. Plus, I could always steer the conversation away whenever she brought up "nipple rouge" again. (For the record, she brought it up seven times.)

In the early 1980s, Sid Griffin, Greg Sowders, Stephen McCarthy, and Barry Shank formed the Long Ryders, bringing a Graham Parsons/late-era Byrds country feel to the growing L.A. psychedelic movement known as the "Paisly Underground." (To cement their ties to the Byrds, the Long Ryders even got ex-Byrd Gene Clark to sing on a song on their first full album.)

The teenage wannabe broker chick didn't care about any of that. The only thing she knew is that her boyfriend loved the tape, then broke up with her because she wouldn't agree to wear nipple rouge. Finally, when the second side of the tape was nearly done, she told me there was one more apartment she could show me. (Link -- with bonus panda dancing -- for Gmail subscribers.)

The last apartment she showed me was down a hallway that stunk from cat piss. I tried not to make a face, but I guess I failed. She smiled the kind of smile seen mostly these days on the faces of delusional contestants trying out for American Idol and said: "And the best thing about this place is you can have pets!"

I didn't rent any of the crappy apartments in Watertown. But I did drive into Harvard Square that evening and buy the first Long Ryders album.

As for the band, they were invited to open for U2 on the Joshua Tree tour, but were plagued by personnel problems and broke up instead.

I never saw the wannabe teenage broker chick again, so I never got to tell her that she got the best of the deal -- getting rid of the loser boyfriend and gaining a Long Ryders tape. In an alternate universe, the Long Ryders would have been huge stars and the wannabe teenage broker chick and her new boyfriend (the one who didn't care if she wore nipple rouge or not) would've been in the front row in front of 50,000 other fans. (And if she really wanted to be a broker, she wouldn't have to show apartments that smelled like cat piss.)

Bonus video -- The Long Ryders cover NRBQ's "I Want You Bad":


Anonymous said...

I think I rented that apartment... :(

Alex said...

At the very least, I'm sure your cat enjoyed it! :)