L

Ronnie Dio in: ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’

Mannys

 

 

I first met Adrian when I was thirteen. He was two years older than me, the kind of guy you’d say ‘Oh, he’s so nice’ about. By the time I hit  high school, we sometimes (i.e; always) skipped school together, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes at the local luncheonette or Bagel King, always keeping an eye out for anyone who might rat us out. (So-and-so’s mother, that guy who lives two houses down) We’d pour over the latest Creem magazine, talking rock music 99% of the time.

We smoked lot of reefer and had all the paraphernalia to prove it (bone stones, one hitters, EZ Widers, Zig-Zags) We constantly found ourselves behind things (apartment complexes, stores, dumpsters, stone walls) which is where you find yourself when smoking weed means breaking the law.  We waxed poetic about the deep meaning of Sabbath’s spot-on lyrics  in ‘War Pigs’, about how the government was bullshit and fleecing everyone, and how we’d never get old and sell out, like those before us. (Boy was I in for a surprise….)

Adrian once told me  I reminded him of Stevie Nicks, who I’d never heard of. One day he excitedly opened up ‘Creem’ and showed me a picture of her lounging on the hood of a car.  I realized what a compliment it had been all along. We were even wearing the same turquoise bracelet! (Truthfully, there was barely a slight resemblance- I was far from her doppleganger)  

Adrian was a genuinely good guy who remained by my side despite the fact that my bratty brothers aimed their bb guns our way and shot at us like we were squirrels  on our walks to my front door (Thank god for bell-bottoms- bb’s ricocheted off those sails like water off a duck’s back) Despite this treacherous suburban anarchy, Adrian braved the enemy fire. (The ‘latch-key ‘supervision’ of the early 70’s was sorely lacking as kids in the 70’s were often left to their own devices after school) My newly divorced mother had gone back to work after years of being a housewife, toting her Ms. magazine and Eve cigarettes, seemingly carefree behind the wheel of her new Gold Duster with the tornado sticker on the back. She took her fashion cues from Mary Tyler Moore- she wore blue eyeshadow, turtlenecks in every color imaginable, pendant necklaces and lace up boots. It was a new day for the newly liberated woman. 

I had a hunch Adrian liked me as more than a friend, but I didn’t give it too much thought, having other crushes on my mind. Adrian, to his credit, was firmly entrenched in the friend-zone, but didn’t mind having women for friends. Eventually we lost touch when I moved across town and enrolled in another school.

(Years later he told me that once, when were on vacation in Florida, he’d climbed a ladder in my backyard and carved our initials into my windowsill, thinking he could ‘will’ us into being a couple. I can’t verify if this was true, but there was an old ladder under our deck for years ) 

A couple of years later, as I was suckin’ on a chili-dog down at the Tasti-Freeze with Jack and Diane… wait. That’s not it- It was Duchess with Tracy and we were stoned. I heard someone call my name from the parking lot.  I scanned the lot to see a total fox : long dark hair, a rocker-type (ie: my type)- and I was both giddy and nervous as he approached.

‘Well, well, well- what do we have here?’ I whispered to Trace out of the side of my mouth, eyebrows raised. Soon we were face to face. He was looking at me strangely.

 ‘You dummy! It’s me- Adrian!’  

Well- what the what? I did a double (and triple) take. It was Adrian all right, he’d somehow transformed into a rocker. Immediately I thought: Why didn’t I grab him when I had the chance, when he was gettable? He must have a girlfriend or five, these days.  It was like being in a John Hughes movie, pre John Hughes movies, and I was cast in the antagonist role! There would be no shared birthday cake while sitting atop the kitchen table for me!

He began to tell me he’d formed a band, and was playing guitar all day, every day. When he wasn’t, he was at work painting houses to get money to buy guitars. Being a guitar player obviously agreed with him.  Tracey and I just so happened to be house-sitting at the time for her older brother, handily right around the corner from Duchess, so we invited Adrian over.

Tracy went out with her boyfriend that night while Adrian and I stayed up and talked till dawn. I waited 24 hours for imaginary ‘moral clearance’ (I was raised Catholic)  then Adrian and sixteen year old me, learned the ropes with each other, (Surprisingly, he didn’t already have a string of girlfriends. I must have plucked him on the day he peaked) We stayed wrapped up in bed for a week, coming up for air only to go to work, or to (barely) eat.  By the end of that week, we were a couple.

Our version of ‘decor’

Adrian was my first musician boyfriend, a complete ‘trial-by-fire’ experiment in what it was like dating a musician from the ground up. Among the surprises: The rehearsing that went on for hours on end- which I could not have withstood had I not been a voracious reader. (I read a thousand books in two years!)

Did you know that the repetition of the same guitar riff over and over and over and over could drive a person to the brink of insanity? There are songs that I’m still sick of to this day. (Play ‘Smoke On The Water’ one more time and I will cut you! )  Not to mention the band dynamics: so much in-fighting and dealing with the bitchy girlfriends of the other band members (not me of course, I was a peach!) All of this, along with completely overblown egos in a band that hadn’t even played out yet. Trust me, Telemundo has nothing on the drama that is the North American Garage Band. (Screams in Spanish)

On the plus side: Adrian had a great stereo system and about 1,000 ‘pieces of vinyl’ (and Baba-booey to you all!) so with a good pair of headphones I was able to make perfect mix tapes (on cassette) ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’by Rainbow, ‘Dallas 1PM’, Saxon, ‘Lights Out’ (live!) UFO, and maybe a little ‘Take Your Whiskey Home’ by VH….The combinations were endless. I considered myself quite the ‘mixologist’. When I played these tapes at the local hangouts, blasting them out of the back of my stepmother’s old red and white Grand Prix, strangers would run up and say ‘Oh my God! What station do you have on?’ while I beamed with pride.

Little Guitars…

After the first year with Adrian, I knew the ropes. I became proficient in ‘important’ things like: Re-wound pick-ups, Flangers, Echo-plex’s, EQ’s, Delays, Distortion boxes and whammy bars, plus the difference between Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gibson’s, Les Pauls, Dean, BC Rich’s and any other house favorites.  I spent a LOT of time at guitar stores with Adrian, from Manny’s on 48th Street in New York City (a short train ride away) to the myriad of local and semi-local music stores.  (Meanwhile- did he take interest in books, sharing my passion as well? Pshh, yeah, right!)

Still, I’m a decently patient person if there’s an eventual pay-off.  We’d go to bookstores, lunch, or  dinner afterwards,so the music store wasn’t always torture -and I always brought a book. Nothing like reading ‘I’m With The Band’ while waiting for your boyfriend to finish molesting every guitar at Manny’s! 

A majority of the time I dated Adrian was spent waiting for Adrian, and I knew damn well no guy would wait on a girl like that. (Why I didn’t pick up my own guitar is one for the ages. It never even occurred to me, and I could kick myself!) Of course, I was buying into the whole ‘he’s gonna be a rockstar’ fantasy, and narcissistically saw us as a younger version of Joe and Elyssa Perry. (As if!) I told myself these were the ‘Ramen soup’ years, our struggle. The stories we’d someday tell to rock magazines from our beachside mansion. (haaaaaaaa!) Plus, our love life was ok, so I didn’t feel too entirely put upon. (The fact that he would have dropped me for a model before his heels even hit the tarmac in LAX did not occur to me, I was blind to it)

Joe and Elyssa Perry

Anyway (surprise, surprise), we happened to be at the local guitar shop one Saturday morning. It was fall- crisp, chilly- with the scent of burning leaves and apple cider in the air.  All that Autumn crap. The guitar store was in the posh town of Westport, Conn – across the street from a Sam Goody’s record store. It sat on the side of a small building, with parking in the back. Adrian was there just to buy Dean Markley strings (so he lied) but it quickly evolved into his picking up all of the dream guitars he couldn’t afford and holding them in his arms like newborn babies -rocking them back and forth, sometimes actually cooing. I was reading ‘The Sword Of Shannara’ or some ‘Zeppelin in Wales’ evoking bullshit (it could have been Tolkien, what difference did it make? They all had me thinking about climbing a mossy hill with Robert Plant, me holding a small, practically naked child on my hip who had Robert’s golden ringlets and my eyes. ) when suddenly Adrian tapped me hard on the arm, an alarmed look on his face.

‘Whatttt?’ I said curtly, annoyed to be yanked out of my Robert Plant trance for anything less than a ‘we’re leaving’.

Ronnie with another local fave- Dee Snider

‘I…I..I just saw Ronnie Dio!’. This got my attention. I quickly scanned the store. Nothing but wannabes in corduroys waving their Dad’s credit cards.You couldn’t even find a long-hair in this neck of the woods, only rich Daddy’s boys who could never rock, no matter how much money daddy threw at it, or how hard they practiced.

‘Where?’ I asked.

Adrian pointed to the  floor to ceiling window, which looked out onto the parking lot. He fanned his left arm in the direction of Main Street, pointing. He made sure to safely grip the Les Paul he was ‘testing out’ firmly across his chest. Even in shock, he had his priorities. He looked at me with wide eyes.

 ‘He went that way’ he said, trance like.

I looked at him suspiciously.

“Lis- I know it was him! I swear!’.

Ok. Time for some intervention. We’d had a long night, involving more than a few drinks-and stuff- and a possible sunrise sighting.

‘Ok- I’m sure it was Ronnie James Dio!-I laughed- ‘just out shopping in Westport on a Saturday morning’ And then I sweetly added, ‘You know- you look so cute when you’re tired! Let’s just go get some freakin’ lunch. Are we done here?’..my stomach rumbled.

‘Well- I do have one more guitar to try out…” Adrian said. Of course you do! I settled back into my book. But I could no longer concentrate, I really did need some food, at least some coffee. Turns out I’d  enticed myself into wanting lunch So I couldn’t help it when I faked an excited ‘Oh my God!’ forcing Adrian to  look up from a spanking new Les Paul.

‘What?’ he asked.

‘Oh, it’s probably nothing’ I said, pausing for effect- ‘But….I think I just saw Ozzy Osbourne ride by on a beach cruiser! And I’m pretty sure Jimmy Page was riding the handlebars!”

 “I really did see him, y’know!” he said. Whatever. 

Dio: Dressed for a day of bargain hunting in Westport. (Have you ever tried to find low prices in Westport? Exactly!)

When I tired of the teasing, I went back to my book, my shelter from boredom. A few minutes later he was grabbing my arm, pulling me up out of my seat.

‘C’mon!’ he hissed.

I grabbed my purse and we ran out of the store, and Adrian bellowed “SEE? SEE?” and there, walking towards the back lot was Ronnie James  Dio!

His hair was halfway down the middle of his back, and he was carrying a rolled up Persian rug over his shoulder.

Adrian boldly called out: ‘RONNIE!’

He stopped and slowly turned around, and we bolted towards him. As we caught up, I was stunned to see how short he actually was! (Cue: Price Is Right loser-tuba) Adrian and I towered over him. Adrian reached out to help him with the rug. Ronnie let him. “Where’s your car, dude?” he asked, and I felt both thrilled (It’s Ronnie James Dio!) and disappointed (he’s so tiny! How can I fantasize about us living together in a big castle complete with moat and dragon, now that I have this information?) But no mind.

“I LOOOVE you!” I burst out, and Ronnie grinned, looking up at me ‘Well, thank you!” he said, ‘that’s very nice of you!’. His voice was ridiculously deep, like it originated in a cave. He led us to his car and popped the trunk. Adrian helped him maneuver the carpet in, and Ronnie commented in his deeply baritone voice ‘Yup! Just out rug shopping. Very rock’n’roll, you know!” Ronnie was in Black Sabbath at this time, and Adrian and I began gushing, talking all over each other: “I LOOOVE Heaven and Hell! Me too! ‘Neon Knights!”Die Young!’ We loved you in Rainbow, too! Man On The Silver Mountain! Fucking Stargazer! You rock, dude!”RonnieJD

He jingled his keys after closing the trunk, and extricated himself from our shameless fawning. ‘Well, kids. Gotta go. See you at the Shows!” He shook both of our hands (“I’m never washing my hands again!” I swore. You should see how dirty it is now) and we moved reluctantly out of the way as he backed out, then drove away.

The minute Ronnie was out of sight, Adrian took me to task. “I TOLD you I saw him! I TOLD YOU!”

“Yeah, yeah’ I admitted. “But would you have believed me if I was all like: Ronnie Dio just walked by?”

“Probably not” he admitted.

“Okay then, hurry up and get your strings! We need get back home  and TELL everybody!” I exclaimed–and  did we ever!

Heavy Metal Parking Lot is real.

Ronnie James Dio recently died of cancer. It was a huge loss. He always seemed like a nice guy, who was tailor made for heavy metal. You never hear stories about Ronnie being a diva, or rude, or an asshole. He had an amazing voice, and made  great music! He will forever be missed, but never forgotten. He epitomized a moment in music that meant a whole lot to certain hard-rock loving, suburban kids. He supplied an escape from family drama, minutia and awkwardness by singing about dragons, knights and castles…..which at the time, was as cool as it gets. (And if it sounds a little over-the-top, just think of it as ‘Game Of Thrones’- The Musical)

  

 

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