This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)
This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.
It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, tearing off their clothes. Lennie would dance for a while, then unzip the costume to reveal him buck naked inside. He’d throw himself, with a giant stoned smile on his face, out into the crowd where he was pawed and treated to all manner of sexual indignity while the band played on. Arrested numerous times for public indecency, he and the band were eventually black balled by promoters across the Midwest and then, everywhere. The usual sequence followed: drugs, the band broke up, the lead singer having a couple of good albums. The lead guitarist had enough talent to play with a couple of other top bands, and then had a long career as a studio musician with a house in Malibu and three divorces. The rest, like Lenny, went under. Unlike him, most went permanently. OD’s. Shot and killed by drug dealers. Prison.
Lenny was an exception. About 25 years ago, after years of long decline, rehab finally worked. He got work as a roofer. He has been slapping and nailing millions of three-tab shingles on three-bedroom ranch houses in subdivisions in the Northwest in the summer and Florida in the winter ever since. Still skinny and hard as a drumstick, wearing just jeans or shorts and work boots, burned walnut brown, his long grey hair tied back with a woven string band. He sometimes thinks about the old days, wonders that he survived, about how any of them did, and tells no one who he was. Not that the young guys on the crew would care, anyway. Some burnout case musicians would join the crew from time to time, and they’d jam on the weekends before the other guys just drifted away. Guys in that life aren’t good at stability and normal things. Lenny was one of them. He had a truck camper and a dog, and was happy on the road.
He welcomes the sun’s heat, and the repetition of nailing row after row of fiberglass and asphalt shingles on, relishing the way his muscles feel tired at the end of the day, how the sweat feels rolling off his eyebrows into his eyes, and down his back, how good a cold beer feels at the end of the day — never before work was finished, and never more than one.
He has lung cancer. Got the word last week. It’s very advanced and has spread to his brain, spine, stomach. He’s not going to interrupt it, will let it do it’s thing. He can feel it in there, chewing away. Hungry. Insane. He always knew the day would come, just not how. It felt comforting, somehow, to finally know.
He’s ready to go. Before the days in a hospice bed for those without insurance. All the tubes and the drugs, depending on the charity of strangers. It won’t be long, but even so a day in that bed would be too much. He’s worked too hard to give up control now. Besides, something has changed in the world, a deeper darkening he senses but knows he can’t survive.
So. In the time he has left, he enjoys the heat and the sweat and the labor and the beer. And the precision of the work, the rewards of being good at something physical, useful.
It is April. Fort Meyers. A Friday. Finishing the roof of a new condo on the beach before the weekend. He likes getting to this job site early to enjoy the view, alone, 40 feet in the air, just him and the gulls lifting and wheeling in the onshore air from the Gulf. His buddy’s fishing charter is leaving the harbor up the coast a mile or so, heading west with a gaggle of tourists going out for a few hours to try their luck with grouper and snapper, dropping lines in 100 feet of water to a sandy bottom, snagging hooks on rocks
He’ll be on the one that goes out again early tomorrow, parked in his usual spot in the stern. With any luck, one of the pods of dolphin will escort the boat and the dads will take their sons to the bow to watch the animals dance in the bow wave, and he’ll be alone. There will be a moment of solitude and that’s when he’ll slip over the side, the heavy sedative he’s saved for years washed down with black coffee.
His favorite time of day, dawn on the water with the soft corals and blues of the tropical sky, soft spring air tangy with salt, far from shore. He can hear the music of it in his head.
The quiet music. At last.