I am...a New Yorker

[Previous entry: "In Love/Hate with New Jersey"]

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Erica Jackson!

The sidebar is lost on Memory Lane.

I am...beginning to understand why I've been going back to the past a lot this year. I'm trying to see the patterns, the lessons, the gifts. Mostly, it's been bad images and memories of terror. With the exception of a good teacher now and again, there weren't many positive influences in my life.

We moved a lot and when we finally settled into our own house, it was in a redneck town 70 miles outside of L.A. I had a couple of close friends in high school, but generally they'd get to that phase of wanting to hang out with with the "cool" kids and I was terrified at the thought of using drugs or alcohol, so we drifted apart. One never knows the weird twists and turns this road of life will take them on, so I did not know then that those friends and I would come back into each others lives, eventually.

The band, however, was the one stable thing in my life. From age 15 to 21, backstage at the Roxy, the Palladium, anywhere on Sunset Boulevard was the closest I had to a home. I was safe, loved, respected. Despite the rumors about me at school, I am perhaps the only 15 year old girl who could befriend a rock band and have utterly innocent relationships with its members. I used to show them my report cards and they would tell me to study harder in Algebra. Record in-stores were more like yearbook signings. Kids in line behind me grumbled.

People would recognize me at their shsows. "You're Erica Jackson!" they'd exclaim and look at me like they'd spotted a celebrity. This perplexed me untill I discovered that the boys had hung my school photos up on their Christmas tree using ornament hooks.

Not surprisingly, it began with my words, as most of the best experiences of my life have. I heard them on the radio and wrote them a letter. They called me as a result, my mother told me someone was on the phone from the "Drama Club." It was almost my bedtime, after the time I was allowed to receive phone calls, when I was supposed to be getting ready for bed. Luckily, my dad was in the shower and didn't hear the phone ring.

I recognized Chris' voice right away, knew it was a voice I'd heard on KROQ, but my mind was blank when he asked me to guess who he was. Finally, he told me, just as it was on the tip of my consciousness. When I'm excited, I tend to become very calm and quiet, so Chris was a bit disappointed that I didn't seem very excited. He put Mark on the phone and we talked for a while, Mark didn't mind my calmness at all.

I can't believe how bold I was, but I asked Mark to call my best friend Valleri, because I didn't believe it was happening. God bless him, because he actually did. When I called her after school the next day, the first thing she did was thank me profusely.

The funny thing is, I never would have known her, the boys, or one of my dearest friends Tracey (who I met through the band) if I hadn't started listening to Rodney Bingenheimer's weekend radio show on KROQ, to hear the Monkees. Valleri and I met at a Monkees concert for which we'd both won tickets on KROQ, she from members of Dramarama hosting Rodney's show.

As with my pen pals, I think the boys made me more accepting of online friendships, because we didn't meet for 6 months, only communicating through my letters and their phone calls. Finally, one night I called into Rodney's show to speak with Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees and my phone started ringing the minute I hung up.

The first call was from Valleri, who was elated and also jealous because Mickey was her favorite and she'd been unable to get through. I had crazy luck, even though I had to dial an extra 4 digits (there wasn't a local number for the Empire at that time) -- in a little over a year I won tickets to see the Monkees, Dramarama, and Duran Duran (and naturally bumped into Dramarama there and thus met Trace), as well as records and other goodies.

The call waiting beeped and it was Pat, the "artist liason" as he was credited on early Dramarama albums. He said they'd heard me on the radio, recognized my voice and, when I finally said my name, they all cheered. The others cheered in the background, as if to illustrate.

Pat told me the band was playing a show at a club in my town. It was either 18 or 21 and older, so I said I couldn't go.

"Well, we know you can't come for the show, but if you come early, for the sound check, we can finally meet you."

Those were two of the longest weeks of my life. How I managed to concentrate on English, Spanish and whatever else I was taking that semester, I'll never know. Finally, the day came and I got through school somehow. I even remembered to buy birthday cards for Valleri and our other friend Tammy, which the boys stealthly signed while Tammy and I talked to them, one by one (I can't remember why Valleri didn't make it that night).

First, was Pat, who came running out, anxiously looking all around. I got to witness this sort of reaction over and over that night, as each one was told that Erica Jackson was there. The thing I always go back to with them is that they were as excited to finally meet me as I was to meet them, nervously chewing on chocolate mint-flavored Hubba-Bubba that had quickly gone tasteless.

Finally, they were all in the same place at once. Chris asked what my favorite song was and, for reasons I cannot fathom, I mentioned some song by Gene Loves Jezebel that I liked at the time. "No, one of ours, silly!"

I was speechless, so Tammy responded in my stead. "It's something about a 'dame' I think." 1-2-1-2-3-4 and they launched into "Some Crazy Dame," still a sentimental favorite of mine.

Always too soon, it was time for we minors to go. John walked us out. He kissed me wetly on the cheek (I had the fleeting Marcia Brady thought of never washing it again) and he proceeded to talk to me, but the house music came on and I didn't hear a single word. To this day, I have no idea what he said that night.

A lot of it was thanking me for all my letters and support. I'm not sure I quite appreciated their point of view until I moved to New York and realized how hard it must have been for them to leave everyone and everything they knew to follow their dreams. There I was, writing them letters, baking them cookies and encouraging them while they were steeped in a land of phonies who all wanted a piece of the Next Big Thing.

: : :

It bothers me when people find out about my history with the band and say, "Oh, I felt the same way about David Bowie," or "Yeah, I had a New Order phase, too." Now, had David Bowie ever called the person crying when they wanted to commit suicide, I could understand the comparison. I'm not sure why it's difficult to understand that they are people and that, over time, we connected as individuals, beyond musicians and fan. It's inevitable.

Like most people, the music of my teens brings back memories, most of them happy. Unlike most people, the music of those years is intrisically matched with happy memories involving the people who made that music. I don't just see an album of old songs I used to like, but pictures of old friends.

I received their second album, Box Office Bomb on the eve of my 16th birthday. Although I'd heard about it on the radio, I was still surprised to see my name under special thanks. That night my best friend and I went to see the boys at an appearance at Videopolis at Disneyland. I'd won tickets on KROQ, so we'd looked forward to it all week.

I think Mark was the first one at the table. "Did you see your name?!" he asked, again as excited as I was.

The line ground to a halt as each of the boys stopped me to talk.

Later that night, Tammy and I turned a corner and bumped into a bunch of the boys. We joined them at the little German restaurant at the Matterhorn and the two girls who were following them sat across the room. After a while Teddy, the keyboard player, said, "Hey, Erica, it's almost midnight. Can you believe you're almost 16?!" I was touched that he remembered.

We all left the restaurant and started walking away. Suddenly, Chris said it was midnight, officially my birthday. The boys formed a semi-circle around me and sang "Happy Birthday." I remember all the families leaving the park just then, dragging and carrying out toddlers, looking quizzically upon this scene. The two girls stood on the opposite side of that path, I saw them back there, too.

The boys looked so sweet and my heart just about burst with love and gratitude for them at that moment. When they finished singing, each one gave me a hug and a kiss and wished me happy birthday. I don't remember how we parted, though I thought later how ironic it was that everyone sang to me but the singer!

: : :

One of the most surprising parts of the story is that my father, controlling as he was, never put his foot down about my going to see Dramarama. This was a man who didn't give a damn about the ex post facto clause, who put me on restriction so long, even he forgot. Perhaps this was one battle he knew he couldn't win.

: : :

John was the first man to tell me I'm beautiful, but also the first to tell me I'm brilliant. All of the boys appreciated my writing, baking and other creative pursuits. I'm so thankful for that, because girls who grow up with psychotically violent fathers tend to pick psychotically violent partners. Meeting them allowed me to see there were other options.

I never would've settled for all that nonsense, I just assumed that part of life was not for me. Of course, I'm still not so sure. But I learned not to settle for less than I deserved and to never, ever beg anyone to be my friend. Although I lost sight of it recently, I learned that true friends love you, warts and all.

I feel like I'll never tell this story quite right. There are so many facets of the experience over the years. It's like I said yesterday about prayers coming true -- I asked for a big brother and I found 8 of them. I asked for creative people to come into my life and they did, leading me to consider my dreams of writing and New York as not so impossible.

It's why I liked Almost Famous more than I should have.

"You are home."

[Next entry: "Making Connections"]
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