40. Rent a Wreck

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S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1998

Brought my girl to La La Land at the weekend.  I love musicals.  Our record collection growing up at home, before my sister started buying Zeppelin and Bob Dylan, mainly consisted of original cast recordings of classic musicals: Oklahoma, South Pacific, Hello Dolly, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and on and on.  I knew every song and staged them in the sitting room most miserable Sunday afternoons between mass and lunch and the Riordans. Over and over I washed that man right out of my hair.

I dreamed of being a superstar like Barbara Streisand.  I remember hearing about Barbara’s troubled love life and thinking to myself that I too would make whatever sacrifice was necessary to achieve my dream even if it meant a life of loneliness and heartbreak.  I had the feeling that it would be unlikely you could have the good fortune to be talented and successful and also happy.  So I would forgo happiness if that’s what it took. I set about pursuing my dreams with gusto. I had few inhibitions and even fewer scruples. When I fell on my ass, which I did, repeatedly, I would retreat to my dreams regroup and start again.  Nothing much has changed.

City of stars

In the course of my search for the Holy Grail I was naturally drawn to LA and like so many wannabes before me and since, I had a stab at making the crucial connections in Hollywood.  I had meetings with agents and music supervisors, songwriters and producers.  One memorable lunch at Chateau Marmont with legendary arranger and producer Jack Nitzsche, became quite surreal when I realised he had no interest in working with me. He had only come to lunch to vent his anger and heartbreak following the demise of his relationship with Buffy Saint Marie who was a friend of my A&R person Kate Hyman.

Another memorable meeting I had with Kate in LA was with Don Was.  Kate had worked with Was Not Was back in the day and he was top of my producer wish list, since before I had even met Kate. He had heard the demos and he was interested.  We had our meeting at his house on Mulholland Drive, if I’m not mistaken he lived next door to Jack Nicholson.  Anyhow superstar names like that were being dropped all the time, you became quite blasé about it after a while.  I played Don a few songs on the piano and we had the chats. I told him how I had dreamed of making my album for years and how it sounded in my head, earthy and dark, shot through with light and humour. There was a definite chemistry. I felt it. I’m quite sure Don’s wife felt it too when she arrived home. Suffice to say I didn’t feel the love from her as much!  We parted that day with hugs and kisses and Don saying “I’m going to make this record”.  I remember Kate and I driving into the LA sunset with me screaming at the top of my voice… “Did you hear that Kate?  Did you hear what he said?”  “Yes” she said “He’s going to make your record”.

And I believed 100% that that would happen even as the weeks passed and Kate’s calls were unanswered I still believed it was destined to be.  But in LA dreams are made and unmade over and over.  I think the energy of all those dreams combusting is what powers the place.  Eventually we heard from Don’s management. Don was committed to other bigger projects, ones much more likely to succeed, or words to that effect and that was the end of that.

On another occasion while on holiday with my then boyfriend, we hired a car to do the famous drive from Malibu to Laurel Canyon.  As we were cruising through the canyons top down, Soul to Soul’s big hit of the day, ‘Keep On Moving’ on the radio, a spliff on the go, we realised we were running low on gas.  I think it was me who had the bright idea that to conserve fuel we should cut the engine and freewheel down the hill.  I closed my eyes blissed out from the weed and the music and the warm sun on my face when suddenly the engine roared into life, the brakes screeched and we came to a halt.  When I opened my eyes I could only see space in front of the car, no road no barrier nothing.  I looked at Craig. He was ashen faced. He had done as I suggested and turned off the ignition, only to discover he couldn’t steer or stop the car. We were a split second from rolling over the edge of the canyon to certain death.

And so a number of years later I wrote the story down in a song ‘Rent A Wreck’.  It captures the dystopia my life was back then, dark rumbling bass and soporific vocals. I guess it’s a kind of lo-fi example of that sound I had tried to describe to Don Was.  A sound I’m still dreaming of today.

It occurs to me that if I had the chance to write a musical about LA it would be a much darker affair than LA LA Land, which I absolutely loved btw.  I especially loved the bitter-sweet ending and the perfectly nuanced performances from both lead characters.  They fulfilled their dreams, but at a cost…

‘Oh to have come so far just to die in a rented car’

PS: Spot the deliberate mistake in the lyric.  All mistakes are deliberate right?

Suzanne Rhatigan: Vocals, guitar, piano, drums
John F Morrison: Bass

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