We inch down I-90 in New Orleans searching for the Canal Street exit. In my excitement, I can't remember how far down the expressway it is or whether there's any exit at all.
I break into a sweat. I'm embarrassed by the giddy effect the thought of seeing him is having on me. I am frantic, teetering on the edge. The last time I recall experiencing this amount of somatic frenzy was thirty-six years ago. It was 1973 and I was fifteen years old.
That summer, my girlfriends came to my house to bake in the sun in the only yard obscured from the street by a thick, four-foot tall hedge. And, we were the only people in the working class neighborhood with a stereo. I didn't care that my legs were white enough to cause retinal damage, I couldn't be bothered warming to the point of puke to acquire the color of cowhide, so I assumed the task of creating the mood music.
I have no idea what I thought I was playing, but I know I'd never heard anything like it before. I dropped the needle onto the vinyl and the five seconds of un-grooved crackle at the beginning of the record gave me just enough time to race to a chair set between the speakers I had placed on either side of the porch.
Let Me Tell You Baby, the growling lyrics and violent blare of wide open, unrelenting slide guitar nearly blew me out of my seat. The girls bolted upright on the lawn and I nearly ripped the door off its hinges rushing into the house to see where I'd set the volume. It was normal. I knew at that moment, this guy had what it took to blow my mind and my speakers!
Within a week I was obsessed with the scorching riffs and licentious lyrics delivered with the subtlety of a jack-hammer. I spent hours studying the Still Alive and Well album cover. A picture of the monochromatic demigod - silver/white hair cast about his shoulders, bejeweled and regal, staring off at who knows what through always narrowed lids - never failed to incite carnal thoughts in my thus-far innocent mind.
I longed to see his eyes, the color of them; how much of his soul they revealed. I wanted to run my fingers through his long, corn-silk strands. I imagined what it might feel like to reach my arms around him, lay my head against his back and feel him jar my body and rattle my brains with his fierce, vibrating rhythms. I was smitten.
When Johnny Winter came to Chicago that summer, I was there. My brother and I had just started frequenting Rock concerts, especially the ones at the Aragon Ballroom. The burly bouncers there recognized us for some reason. It could have had something to do with the red and blue striped bell-bottoms my brother wore to every concert, or maybe it was the six inches of bare skin between my smocked shrink top and patched up, hip-hugger jeans. Either way, the security apes shoved the older kids back to motion us forth.
My brother struck up a conversation with a tall, skinny kid sporting a white-bro' 'fro the color of a flaming sunset and gave him a Marlboro. In just a few minutes, he had arranged for us a few tokes off the guy's joint in exchange for a few hits from the Boone's Farm Apple wine I had in my leather hip flask.
Still thirty minutes prior to show-time and I felt a primal urge. I pulled the flask strap over my head, handed it to my brother and pushed through the crowd. My frequent visits to the Ballroom paid off. I made it to the john in record time.
As I poised above the filthy stool, I heard a voice cry, "Reds, reds. Buck apiece!"
I pulled the needle nose pliers from my purse, zipped my jeans, pushed out of the stall and edged around the small crowd of females gathered around a girl sitting on the counter. My gaze drifted upward and locked eyes with the dealer's in sudden and mutual recognition.
"I know you!" she exclaimed, pointing at me with the same hand that held the baggie of red capsules.
I knew her too! We worked at the same pizza palace. We both wore a bolero and hot pants, but mine were made plain black cotton and hers were of shiny red satin. I was honored. I had no idea this sophisticated waitress recognized little old me, a bus-girl!
"For you, free," she said and shook the plastic bag in my face. "Reach in!"
For a split second I thought of getting some for my brother, but I didn't want to take advantage of her generosity. I took two, popped them both in my mouth and stuck my face under a faucet to wash them down. Now, I was ready.
With his platinum hair flowing, silver pants tight as a second skin, bare-chested with rhinestones dripping from his neck and armband, he has come to do battle with Beelzebub! His gleaming white Firebird V and metal slide flashing beams as brilliant as lightening bolts are his sword and shield, and his name is not Michael. His name is Johnny!
Ah, but my vision was not to materialize. I'd taken Too Much Seconal. I remember hearing the audience cheer. My heart soared but my flesh was weak. Narcotized, I sagged against one of the pillars as he whipped up the already frenzied crowd with a tremendous roar, "Rock and Roll!"
That's the last thing I recall.
My fiancé drinks his Corona from the bottle as I sip a Margarita. It's thirty minutes to show-time and we're in the casino bar chatting with a couple out on their thirtieth wedding anniversary. The husband dashes outside to have one last cigarette. When he returns, we head to the door of the theatre with tickets printed from our PC's and find our seats.
I notice the 2009 audience is a mere fraction of the multitude in 1973. The T-shirt clad, long-haired youths have been replaced by middle-aged men in sport shirts and slacks and the women on their arms have traded in their musk oil and patchy, embroidered jeans for Botox and designer labels.
Suddenly the lights dim, the rumble of conversation stills and the crowd grows silent. A voice from above booms, "Ladies and Gentlemen. Let's hear it for John-ney Win-ter!"
We leap to our feet as the man we've been waiting to see takes his place on the stage. He is battle weary and bent with age and it dawns on me my mighty Seraph is mortal after all. His bare chest and arms are now covered by a black T-shirt and tattoos.
But then, I see his hair, silver and straight and my admiration and thirty-six year infatuation crescendos into an unexpected rush of emotion. The years fall away the moment I hear the signature whine of his guitar.
My significant other loses his Armani jacket, and his mind, and barrels to a few vacant seats in the front. He beckons to me and the anniversary couple. I don't make it to the seat. Instead, I start dancing in the empty aisle where I am immediately joined by several other women. It isn't long before Maestro Winter has a virtual harem writhing and undulating to the smooth rise and reverberating fall of every elongated chord. The improvised staccatos add to the grinding intensity.
The tour is titled NOTHIN' BUT THE BLUES, but when he is handed his Gibson Firebird and serves a honed-to-perfection cover of, "It's All Over Now," and "Johnny Guitar," it is pure Rock n' Roll. We start twirling like whirling dervishes. And, when he encores with "Highway 61" as only Mr. Winter can do it, we nearly combust in unison.
We are probably agitating everyone who has come to admire his artistry. But, this is a concert. And, it's not just a concert. It's one performed by a god of Rock n' Roll, a Master of the Blues, a genuine living legend. This is a celebration, and my White Angel is granting my wish to see as well as hear what I missed thirty-six years ago.
Through my tears.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Aimee Dearmon. All rights reserved.