this one goes out to Miami Janet.
I called her Miami, because she (like me) had a thing for Steve Van Zandt, back when he was Miami Steve, back when this was a band that wore hats! She wore hats, too. We all had nicknames for each other, stupid, dumb, nicknames – I quite honestly cannot remember any of mine – because we wanted to be a gang, an exclusive club with nicknames and handshakes and secret rituals and inside jokes.
I met Janet in 1978 or 1979, when I saw a little ad in the back of Rolling Stone magazine advertising a fanzine called “Who’s News”. It read something like “Who fanatics? You’re not alone. C’mon and Join Together with the band!” I sent my $3 or whatever it was and then waited. I am sure that you are snickering at how trite and corny it was, but at the time it was a beacon in the wilderness. What arrived in the mail was beyond my wildest dreams: a fanzine. A magazine dedicated solely to one band, MY band.
It’s hard to describe that feeling now, what it was like to find and connect with a group of people who cared about music as much as you did. Now, you tap tap tap on your computer and no matter what band you like or think you’re the biggest fan of, there’s already two fan pages, a Yahoo group and a Flickr feed. Back then, the best I could do was skulk around the hallways of my high school with a record album under my arm and hope that someone, anyone would see it and recognize it and and talk to me about it. That never happened; I wasn’t cool enough, I didn’t smoke pot, I hung out with the wrong group of people (who were listening to Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd or worse).
30 years ago, you had fanzines. And where you had fanzines, you had penpals. “Who’s News” had a classified section and a letters section and they PRINTED PEOPLE’S MAILING ADDRESSES and excerpts of their letters, and that was where the madness all started. I don’t remember if Janet wrote to me or I wrote to her, or if I met her through another friend – that was the thing, once you reached out to one person you were immediately connected to this cross-country – hell, CROSS GLOBE network of Who people (I still want to draw the little arrow coming up from the O, even when I type it) but soon letters were flying across the distance between Cincinnati and Stamford, CT. Then phone calls.
Then a large group visit, with people from all over the country – because it was a small world, us insane crazy Who fans. I started getting random phone calls: “You don’t know me, but I know so-and-so, and I heard that X, Y and Z are coming to visit you in New York? We live in Virginia/Delaware/Buffalo, could we come too?” It was on Halloween in 1981 and we called it “WHO-loween”. The photo at the top is me, Janet and Mary (who was from Michigan, another Who person), all dressed up to go see Siouxie & the Banshees down at the Ritz. We were so excited when they played the new Stones video on the big screen. We danced and acted as cool as we could, me in my thrift store vintage best, Janet in a loaned faux-leather coat that I insisted she take back home with her, Mary rocking the Keef schoolboy cap.
We never got to see the Who together, despite wishes and hopes and plans, believe it or not. There were jobs and classes and distances and money to be dealt with. And then, of course, the band broke up, and that was, as they say, the end of that.
But not the end of the friendship. Janet and I stayed friends for years and years and years. We talked music and life and boys and music and boys again. Tapes were sent. Clippings were xeroxed. Packages were assembled. I managed to be in Cincinnati a few times, and I am to this day amazed that her door was always open and she was always ready for whatever crazy scheme I had cooked up this time. And there were always phone calls, which were crazy expensive back then, but it was an expense we – and people like us – shouldered as the cost of doing business. This was as real a friendship as anyone who lived in my area code.
The friendship survived a bad marriage and a cross-globe (and back again) move. She diligently kept up with me all the way up until Seattle, where she would eventually email me – her email address was Miami something something @ aol.com. Even if we hadn’t talked at all, there were always birthday cards; her birthday was in early August, and it would pop up on the calendar and I would find her address (she bought a house years ago, and never moved) or she would find mine (I moved all the time, but she somehow managed to keep up).
And eventually, communication faded out, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t think about her or didn’t tell stories about her. When the anniversary of Live Aid rolled around, I kept telling the story about what it was like to watch that in an internet-less age, how I took the train up to my parents’ house in Connecticut (because I didn’t have cable), and sat in front of the television from the first note until the last with a bottle of diet Coke in one hand and the telephone in the other. That when the satellite went out during the Who’s set, the signals on the phone got crossed because people were freaking the fuck out and I managed to pick up three calls at once, somehow (we had call waiting, which meant I could do two), while everyone else got crazy busy signals and assumed the phone was broken, which meant that everyone tried calling everyone else which didn’t help the situation. (My father finally physically removed the phone from my hands under protest and hung it up for 30 seconds – which felt like a LIFETIME – but it fixed the problem.) Janet was on the other end of that phone multiple times that day, as we laughed and agonized and analyzed and DISCUSSED. Pete’s hair. Roger’s jeans. John being John.
This morning, I got an email from a name I hadn’t heard from in a very long time. It was from Mary, whose snail mail address I had tracked down last winter but hadn’t done anything about yet. The subject line of the email read About Janet. Please call. I knew, like you know, that there was no way this was going to be good news. To be honest, I hoped it was something critical but did not believe that it would be something final. She wasn’t that much older than me.
Janet died of a massive heart attack on Saturday. She was only 48.
If there is a friend who you think about every day and haven’t told them that, please go find them on Facebook or search them out wherever and let them know.
[And in case you were wondering – YES. We ALL owned that goddamned black and white MAXIMUM RNB shirt that at the time you could buy in any good head shop anywhere in the USA.]
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