Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Can’t Be the Scene

“Dr. James to the ICU. Dr. James to the ICU.”

Ah, that’s a laugh. A call for Dr. Jimmy! Roger grinned as he stared at the tiles surrounding his tennis- shoed feet. Elbows on knees, head down, a flood of brownish-blonde curls camouflaging his head. It felt good to have a chuckle, even a little one. Helped with the nerves.

He felt a slight tap on his shoulder, then a slight weight. He picked up his head and looked to his left, where he spotted a slender hand resting on his tight checked shirt.

“Have a Coke?” the nurse asked. Roger shifted in the too hard white plastic seat. No way to get comfortable. It’s not easy to wait in a hospital waiting room. Not easy to sit and not easy to cope with the uncertainty.

“Thanks, luv.” Roger smiled as he took the cold sweaty bottle from her left hand, lingering a bit. Holding her hand, if even for a moment, felt nice. He wasn’t trying to pull this bird, no. Just looking for a bit of human warmth.

“He’ll be alright, really,” she said seriously, softly. “Really, he’ll be just fine.”

Roger appreciated the encouragement. Did she know for sure? Did she? Or was it just a meaningless, though sweet, comment to ease his pain?

Was it my fault that Pete provoked me? Roger thought. Fuckin’ Pete, he’s always going on about my “fucking shawls” and my wanting to be an actor.

“Oh, now you ARE Tommy, are you?” Pete sneered. “You do know that means I created you. You’re my Frankenstein, mate.”

Roger would burn at the mockery, clenching his fists. It wasn’t like he hadn’t slugged Pete in his big nose before.

“Well, you are deaf, dumb and blind. Especially dumb,” Pete went on, slurring drunkenly.

It’s been getting worse lately, the tension, the taunting. Fine, I know he’s the writer, he’s made us big, but at the beginning it was my band. I’m the singer, and I have something to say too. He wants to work on his operas, does he? Fine, I want to tour more. He’s not the King, though he acts it.

I don’t need him either, at least not only him. Sure, Pete and “Ox” had their own albums out before I did, but mine actually sold! It felt good being the man in charge, choosing the songs, shaping the direction.

Still, what happened today was too much, too ugly. Roger flashed back. They were rehearsing Quadrophenia at Shepperton, getting themselves together for their upcoming tour of America. Pete was wasted, the usual these days. Roger had been clear he didn’t like the music much, the soul-searching, the reflection, the “who am I?” nonsense. I know who I am, Roger declared to himself, who the fuck are you?

Roger reached up and rubbed his shoulder as he thought about the row, another round of yelling and name-calling.

“This is shite, really,” Roger spat with disgust.

“Really, what is it you don’t like today?” Pete replied snidely. “I respect your opinion, Roger, you’ve written, what, ONE FUCKING SONG in your life?”

Roger wasn’t going to take it much longer. He was feeling pretty good about himself, about the success of his last record. Roger wasn’t much for backing down, ever, but even less these days.

“Listen you fucking nob. These songs are terrible. ‘Helpless Dancer?’ Come off it mate, you ain’t that sensitive.”

“You’re a no-talent piece of crap, nothing without me, without MY songs. I’d like to see you prance around in your pretty little fringe vest, twirling your microphone like you’re doing a circus trick. And that hair? Ridiculous, you look like a Soho tart.”

Roger started balling his fists. Pete had him going and wouldn’t stop.

“You’re just a cardboard cutout, a puppet singer that I manipulate from behind the scenes. What can you do about it? Are you gonna hit me like you used to? Grow up!”

Roger unclenched his fists and, in that brief second, Pete turned from verbal violence to real. He smashed the neck of his Gibson Les Paul guitar on Roger’s shoulder, hard. Roger winced at the pain, then flew into a rage. Pete was staring, daring Roger to respond, but that wasn’t going to be a problem. Roger punched up from his 5’5” height and banged Pete square on the jaw.

Pete toppled like a freshly cut tree, crashing horizontally to the floor. From behind his drums, Keith, who had been watching and giggling as his bandmates squabbled, leapt to kneel by Pete’s side.

“He’s out cold, Rog. You got him good that time.”

“Ahh, he’s fine. It’s not like I haven’t given him a bunch of fives before.”

But he wasn’t fine. Keith shook the unconscious Pete.

“Come on Pete, darling, come on. Time to wake up now.” A hot flash of fear swept over Moonie. “Rog, I think he’s dead!”

Roger kneeled down and held Pete’s wrist.

“He’s not dead, you twat, he’s got a pulse.” But as the minutes slowly passed, and Pete remained immobile, Roger grew frightened. An ambulance was called and it was off to the hospital.

That was three or four hours ago. Since then, Roger was consumed with anxiety. Would Pete come out of it? Did Roger cause any permanent damage? Pete did hit his head pretty hard when he landed. Even if everything was alright, would Pete forgive Roger? Would The Who be able to continue?

“Mr. Daltrey?”

It was that same nurse.

“I’m sorry, but I have some awful news.”

In the fall of 1973, The Who was in crisis. Roger Daltrey, whose confidence was at an all-time high after the April release of his debut LP Daltrey, and Pete Townshend, at a peak of alcohol abuse and dictatorial demeanor, argued frequently on the direction of the band. Prior to embarking on a tour to promote Quadrophenia, Pete’s new rock opera that Roger didn’t care for, the band rehearsed at Shepperton Studios. After a heated argument, Townshend swung his guitar down, smashing it onto Daltrey’s shoulder. Casually, Roger knocked Pete out cold with a ferocious punch to the jaw. Townshend was taken to a nearby hospital and remained unconscious for nearly four hours, with a shaken Roger Daltrey nervously awaiting word.

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