Benny Wright reasoned that the most critical number was one. It only took one tragic event or one losing ticket at the racetrack to sack a human’s will to live. What he didn’t know at the time that he had this brilliant insight was that he would have two life-altering events in rapid succession, neither of which he could have seen coming.
The man was an artist, musical composer, lyricist and performer. His mission in life was to provide a better lifestyle for the people he loved most, his wife and two children. Yet after repeated setbacks, he concludes that he’d failed them. Now he concocts what most would consider an ill-conceived plan to save his family.
Desperation is not a friend to love and devotion. If Benny is going to prove that where hope ends, the triumph of the spirit begins, a companion might be just what the doctor orders.
Music novel Crushing Dreams is the adaptation of the award winning musical Wrapped. It’s a modern look at love, marriage, loyalty and chasing your dreams. Crushing Dreams is available now at Amazon and Smashwords.
A Benny Wright Story: Book 1 Based on the Award-Winning Musical, Wrapped
Dennis A Nehamen
Golden Poppy Publications Los Angeles
By Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright © 2017 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy PublicationsTM Los Angeles, CA
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by and information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Golden Poppy Publications or Dennis A Nehamen except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
All images, logos, quotes and trademarks included in this book are subject to use according to trademark and copyright laws of the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016939740 Lyrical Passages by Craig M Nehamen
Cover by Cline Cover Design Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
Benny Wright was inspired from an archetype of the human male. Jewel Wright, his wife, likewise, I perceived as the quintessence of the counterpart human female.
Together it was my intent to portray them as representative of the most profound love that can be realized from a marital union. Then destiny played a wild card, and “one” simple circumstance wreaked havoc on the joy they shared together as man and woman—a word to the wise about cheating in romantic relationships.
I dedicate this book to my wife, Bernice. Never have I had a day of misery wondering about her faithfulness to our bond. I owe what little success that I credit myself with in great part to this fact.
“Cut!” shouted the interviewer, as he aggressively stretched his hand to back off the dollied camera moving in for a close-up shot.
“Mr. Wright, let’s try it one more time…but…without the tears.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“We just don’t want to portray you as less than the man you are.”
“I’m Benny Wright. You’ll have to take me as I am,” I responded with less irascibility than humility.
“It has nothing to do with how I take you. It’s for…the people who are going to see this.”
“Why don’t you ask me another question?” I suggested. “Fine,” the man acquiesced. “Let’s take it again, Morry,” he snapped to his producer. “Now, Mr. Wright, you mentioned in your notes that during your journey you discovered the conditions under which Gods are born.” “That’s right, Mr. Conrad, I did. My friend alluded to it but I filled in the blanks.”
“I’m certain there are many people out there who would like to hear about that,” he chuckled. “Well, when is it that this miracle occurs?”
“It’s very simple actually. When man stands alone, crying…terrified…friendless…that’s when we create our deities.”
“Let’s get back to your music,” Conrad swiftly turned to a new subject. “The material you wrote for Wrapped… what was the inspiration for the majestic sounds and lyrics we’re hearing?”
“I thought you didn’t want me to cry.”
CHAPTER 1: I CLOSE MY EYES
It must have happened at the moment I was born, for I recall no specific moment in my early life when a judicial decree was issued, ordering me, Benny Wright, to write music and lyrics, and then perform my work. Looking back, I always approached what I’ll call my life pursuit with thrill and enthusiasm. I never conceived that what sparked my creative passion could turn into a punishment; at least not until I reached my mid-thirties, when a crushing event took place that moved my center of gravity from safe planet earth to a mercurial, mis-chievous, and mocking star in a remote galaxy.
Throughout the experience I bucked and kicked, throwing a tantrum that would inflict unimaginable and unprecedented suffering on the people I loved most. It was April 14, 2012, a Sunday morning, when the adventure I’m about to relate began. I remember it precisely. I was lying in bed with my wife, Jewel. It was a gorgeous spring sunrise. I loved to sleep with the shutters open. The rays filtered through the leaves of the two giant white ash trees that sheltered our house.
I’d concealed for over a week a secret that was itching to be betrayed. I felt like a little boy with a nagging urge to be naughty. Neither Jewel nor the children knew that I was flying to New York the next morning. My wish was to surprise them when I returned with the good news of my first real contract. I intended to drop the New York deal on the table and then watch as they celebrated.
So, while we talked about our plans for the day, I told Jewel that I had agreed to a double shift to help out a friend. I let her know I’d be leaving that evening for work and not returning until late the next afternoon. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, so she thought nothing of it. We stayed in bed until about eight, when the children woke up.
Jewel was in the kitchen, making us some pancakes and bacon, and I was in the living room doing what I loved most—making music, whipping up fantasy and singing one of my tunes. As the magic swirled, I thought of the way our family was ordered. Jewel was the steel and wood beams, the bones comprising the skeletal structure, as well as the muscle systems steadying its sway and movement. It was her steadfastness that allowed the rest of us to swing freely, knowing we were safe and secure on the end of a tether.
That morning, I invited the children into the dream image I was enacting. I had created the piece, and both my sprouting teenage son Dion and his younger sister Shana were written in. They each already knew their parts. It was pretty cool—the three actors on our own
imaginary stage, swinging to the beat of a sweet hip-hop musical performance while momma bear flipped hotcakes in the kitchen.
“What do you see, son?” I sang out to my boy, Dion, as he shimmied to the center of the living room.
“I see my fans in one hand and a mic in the other, Pop.” With unrestrained excitement, Shana vaulted into the room and stood next to her brother. “I see myself on a stage of dancers, front and center.”
“I see those fans and that mic. I see that stage of dancers,” I exclaimed, my eyes ever so subtly beginning to close.
“That’s all you see, Pop? Only what Dion and I see? That’s all you see when you close your eyes?” Shana posed as she intentionally led me deeper into my role.
I’d recorded the music for “I Close My Eyes” and had it ready to go. I hit the Play button and the sound filled the house. My stage name was Magic. I had positioned myself just outside the room where the children now stood, and from there, like an announcer, I called out “Magic” over the din of music. I had lifted my right arm, with my index finger extended toward the sky. Then, I suddenly dropped the gesture and ran to join my children, like I was the main act coming on stage at the Madison Square Garden.
The piece was all about the dreams in my mind’s eye and how the world comes alive in the inner space of my imagination. It was about the wonder of being alive.
“All I gotta do is just close my eyes and everything inside me comes alive. All I gotta do is just close my eyes, hopin’ one day I’ll open them and see it’s my life.
I winked at the children. Their faces glistened, awaiting me to continue a routine they’d rehearsed many times with me.
“I close my eyes and the stage is mine, twenty thousand people and lights that blind. I close my eyes and people stand aligned, beggin’ for a piece of my time. I close my eyes and I’m a fountain of fame, the topic of talk shows, new to the game. I close my eyes and my children live in vain, and complain during trips to Spain.” “Daddy, this is my favorite verse,” Shana yelled to me, urging me to continue my performance.
I replied with a thumbs-up. It was some of my best writing.
“I close my eyes and I awaken on cue, to watch as my family travels by cruise. An ocean of sky and a sky of music, I’m lost in a daze of awe and amusement.”
“I got it, Pop,” Dion sang out, announcing that his lines were next up.
“I close my eyes and I’m rapped in rap songs, basked in claps in a crowd of passion. A mass of fans that dance while I grasp them, cheer when I ask and boo when I’m absent.”
“Daddy! Daddy!” Shana exclaimed so nobody could mistake it was her turn.
“I close my eyes and I wake up quick, to laughin’ on a family trip. Foolish swimmin’ in a swimming pool, and days upon days with no school.”
We sang and sang, over and over about all we wished for our futures, individually and together. It was so real, as if we just had to close our eyes, fantasize, and in a matter of time, the fruits of our dream world would be the feasts of our lives.
While the children were performing the chorus, I ran into the kitchen to get Jewel. “Well, hello gorgeous,” I smiled as I dragged her to join us. She stood and watched. After we finished, I addressed her again. “Jewel, we were just in the process of closing our eyes…and I was seein’ you like a princess in a shrine, my bright jewel.” She sparkled like a gem.
Jewel was beautiful. She could have been a stand-in for Beyonce Knowles if the star were ill, the only giveaway being the creamy-yellowish hue to her skin that was shades lighter. Determining her cultural background was more challenging than bringing peace to the Middle East. She’d joke that she might represent every country in the United Nations. Off the top of her head she could account for white, American Indian,
European Spanish, along with French, Creole, and Jewish blood.
Needless to say, race never played much of a role in our lives. In fact, my light skin tone, due to my African-American father and my Caucasian mom, might have left a curious observer giving up on how to classify me.
I recall standing in front of Jewel that morning with my eyes pressed closed for some time before I opened them. I walked over to the player and pressed Stop. It was a joyous occasion. We were all together, and it was the best of the best of experiences multiplied by infinity. I looked over at Shana and laughed. She’s a kid forever in perpetual motion, a real ham. When we broke from the song, Jewel called out for Shana to help with setting the table. As if the rhythm of the song were still alive in her soul, propelling her to move, she skipped into the kitchen.
The conversations that morning are recorded in my permanent memory. Jewel stared at our daughter with a look that was a mixture of love and astonishment.
“What is in your veins, girl?” “Don’t know.”
“Well, whatever it is…slow…it…down,” Jewel advised, intentionally drawing out her words to emphasize the reduced pace she hoped to elicit from Shana.
“No…slow…gear,” was Shana’s answer.
I was gagging as I watched the exchange. Shana,
making her best attempt to please her mom, practically stopped to hit each letter, but her little body was still gyrating like a spinning top as she danced around the table, dropping knives and forks like notes in her own composition.
Dion couldn’t resist joining in the banter. “She jitters while she sleeps, Mom.”
“If you were dreamin’ what I’m dreamin’, you’d be jittering too.”
To make her point, Shana spontaneously performed a full cartwheel across the room.
“I think you’re missing the whole point of sleep, Shana.”
Her big brother intended to enlighten the sapling but he should have known better. He’d made the same mistake repeatedly in the past—we all did. Shana was not only an energetic child but a precocious one as well. My daughter could extemporaneously talk on subjects most children her age might not have even considered, and do so with a lyrically inventive spirit that would at times leave her audience wondering if she were reciting poetry. Her next speech was an example.
“You know sleeping is a waste of time. Most people are just fine without a third of their life in recline. If every person were to sleep a bit less, say about half that, there’d be…” She slowed to calculate. “20 billion hours of energy excess—per day! That’s enough to launch a rocket to Pluto, enough to produce two hundred fifty thousand new cars or…”
“You have enough energy to produce a hundred thousand…”
“Claps, cheers, and roars?” She rapidly paced her retort, dulling her brother’s jibe.
Even Dion had to adore her in the end. There was something about Shana that could be phenomenally annoying, yet draw you in. At those times, you couldn’t get enough of her. That morning, her brother made no attempt to continue the dialogue. The aroma of the sizzling bacon and the vision of hotcakes on the table compelled him to drop her like a bad draw at a poker table.
The rest of the day was awesome. It was one of those dreamy memories that you can easily bring to awareness, but after doing so, you can’t decide if it would be best to dissolve it in acid or embrace it and never let it go. How can a world so wonderful one instant, be so quickly transformed into hell—without you having even a vague idea what you did or didn’t do to cause it?
I left the house close to eleven thirty that evening. From the car, I called the HR office to notify them I wouldn’t be coming in for the morning shift, which was actually all I was scheduled to handle the next day. Ecstatic, I drove to the airport. The flight was not that long, so I had hours to burn on both ends of the trip. I didn’t need to be at their office until nine in the morning.
The flight was uneventful, with the exception of one
minor hiccup. I had the window seat, and a young couple occupied the center and aisle. The problem was they were each holding infants, identical twin girls only two months old. These newborns didn’t know night from day and performed a discordant duet throughout the entire flight. I had planned to catch a couple hours sleep but was never permitted a wink.
It didn’t matter much. I was so jacked up on the thrill I could have forfeited rest for a week and never known the difference. Ever since I was a boy younger than Dion, I was possessed by a drive to create music. I’d sneak out of the house late at night, when my parents thought I was sleeping, to stand outside some of the local clubs and listen to the players. I participated in every band, orchestra, and theater production in school. I formed a jazz quartet of my own by the time I was twelve. I knew in my heart that I was destined to write and perform my own material.
I carried on with the dream right up to and through my marriage and the starting of our family. Sure, I was so convincing about my prospect for fame that I hooked Jewel into my fantasy, and later the children. But, I made them pay. I persisted in devoting myself to my craft, and later had to admit that I had cheated them, that had I buckled down on my career I would have succeeded monetarily and provided better for them… yet they still stood by me. It was one close call after
another, as I breathed hope into the fame-will-be-right-around-the-corner dream, each time leading to greater disappointment.
If I’m going to be forthright, then I have to fess up to the reality that there is a point where you just can’t believe in yourself any longer. A person can take only so many messages of rejection. I’d submitted songs that I’d written at least a hundred times and been promised that artists were going to produce them. Several times, there were record labels ready to sign me to recording deals, but for one reason or another, those contracts always fell through. I’d perform live at clubs and be told by recording executives that I was a guaranteed star, but they’d never follow up by calling me afterward.
After years of hoping and yearning, it can get very dangerous to think about continuing. How many times can you fail, be so close, slammed to the mat and whipped, and then still come back for more? Can it get so bad that you’re willing to risk everything—your wife, your children and all the things in your life you proclaim to love? Bad enough that you’re groveling like a gambler, stealing quarters from your children’s lunch money to place another wager; or stinking from the smoke of a filthy bar you can’t resist visiting for just one more shot of cheap rum? It’s a terrible addiction.
I did work regularly to provide for them. But what was the reward for my toil? A few bucks from a lousy auto factory job to keep poverty and hopelessness dangling in front of us like rotting carrots on a stick. I’m not a dumb, uneducated guy either. I did well in school, all the way to college, up to completing a four-year degree. In fact, what motivated me most about school was music. To me, the composition of a song and the lyrics were about language and mathematics. I majored in both because I believed they would elevate the standard of my art.
Then, in order to be able to pursue my career as an entertainer, I took the job at the factory, doing similar work to what my father had done to support his family. I love my dad. I respect him for the sacrifices that he made for all of us. But I wanted more. I knew that many of my fellow students from high school and college found their way to success as professionals, leaders, and businesspeople. I was certain I would find my reward through my creative talents. It was a promise that I had made to my family. I told them that I’d provide for them several levels higher than what my dad had been able to accomplish. So far, I’d not kept my pledge.
Things were about to change. Yes, New York, here I come! At last, after riding the fast-jerking, up-anddown thrusting of the music biz pogo stick, I was on my way to signing my first big contract—my agent had negotiated an album, a concert tour, and a guaranteed promotional budget. It wasn’t enormous, but it was far more than the near nothing I’d achieved up to this point and enough for me to leave home gloating that I had a handful of four-leaf clovers. My problems were about to end. I was finally going to give my family everything I had all but guaranteed them. The pain of doubt and the seduction of hope were over. Benny Wright had arrived. When I departed for The Big Apple, my thoughts were not in New York. I was already back home, gleaming as I watched Jewel read the fine print of a record deal that would assure our next step—a move to one flank of the country or the other, either to Los Angeles or New York. By the following evening, together with my love, I’d be planning to “watch as my family travels by cruise, an ocean of sky and a sky of music.” Benny Wright and his clan “lost in a daze of awe and amusement.”
CHAPTER 2: LET’S WRAP THIS BABY UP
I wandered around New York City for a several hours before the meeting. I recall eating a bagel and lox for breakfast at Carnegie’s Deli at the corner of 7th Avenue and 55th Street before the sun peeked out. With so much time to kill, I thought of shopping for gifts for the family, but most of the retail stores were still closed.
Then in no time, the main streets were packed with cars and humans. I wondered how so many people could be in such a hurry at the same time. How many important matters could be taking place at the same exact instant? The mass of humanity looked like the chaotic frenzy of bees swarming around a hive. But as I stopped in one spot and watched, I realized that each separate unit of mankind was purposeful in a singular pursuit that served the whole no different than worker bees blindly functioning in the service of the queen.
New York City was their hive, the sacred queen shrouded somewhere in the bowels of the concrete, earth, and steel matter. But who was the king, I wondered. Who impregnated the queen so that she could give birth to her army of faithful soldiers? I would soon have my answer.
I moseyed along the busy avenues and occasionally detoured laterally along some of the less populated side streets. It was there that I came upon some vagrants who were still sleeping. Some of the more prosperous ones were honored to rest in dirty sleeping bags discarded by more affluent residents. But there were also many lying motionless in their street clothing—I was repulsed by the stench and appearance of urine and feces-stained fabrics dampened by cheap spirits.
At first, it seemed no different than what I frequently observed in parts of Detroit. But then it dawned on me that it was not the same—at home I rarely paid attention to them. They seemed now, as I strolled along the pavement, human beings with histories no different than the wealthy and successful residents of the neighborhood where they took refuge, cuddled next to the stoops of buildings or alongside trash containers.
I tried to calculate how many unexpected events had to happen to a little child before they ended up living dismally on the streets, with no hope of ever reclaiming their duty in the service of one queen or another. My circumstance placed me at a distance from these sad souls, but I was not oblivious to how much suffering I had endured nor to the thought that it might be possible the people I was now feeling charity toward had only taken one more blow than I to land at the end of the line. Then it hit me, a frightful conclusion. Precisely how many did bad breaks did it take before a person lost their will to try? The question suggested that there was a finite number and it differed for each of the fractured beings I passed like broken toys or wilted flowers. But the answer to my question of how many blows it takes to rupture the soul was absurdly simple. It was one, one single event.
Every person on the street—in my hometown of Detroit, or in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Budapest, or Moscow—any individual in any tiny community around the globe, had given their all to be part of the productive endeavor of building hives. At some point, however, an experience of enormous proportion, or even minimal measurement, sacked their will. Sure, everything that proceeded was a contribution, everybody took their bruises in life, but for these people on the street it was that one thing that did them in.
I recall shivering, a frightful sensation, as one inkling of reality seeped in, one idea that I refused to permit to lease a space in my consciousness—the thought of my own oneness with these lost souls. At some moment in
his life, could Benny Wright face that single event, the “one” critical circumstance that would sap his lust for dreaming of something better? I never went so far as to chip away at the question, but I remember standing and quivering for some time before I looked at my watch and realized it was nearly time for me to meet the destiny I had been called to New York to fulfill.
I was only a few blocks from my destination, Avenue of the Stars, between 47th and 48th Streets. When I arrived and stared up at the colossal in front of me, I read the sign RAVISH RECORDS over the main entrance. My heart stalled as I imagined the glory the future now held for my family and me.
It reinforced the awareness that for the first time, I had truly arrived as an artist. I’m a kid born and raised in Delray. It is an unimpressive Detroit neighborhood. Yet, all two yards of my height stood taller than a giant in front of a sixty-seven-story building owned by my new record label, a structure proudly elevated high enough to speak fraternally to the gods above. I walked into the lobby and rode that elevator to the sixty-sixth floor. I might have owned the place.
The first sign of trouble occurred when I went into the reception area and the secretary searched the appointment books of Mr. Caruso and Ms. Toleen—to see if Benny Wright had been scheduled. It had been penciled in and subsequently erased.
“There has to be a mistake, miss. They arranged for me to fly in for a meeting this morning,” I casually informed her.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Wright, but there’s nothing I can do.” “No, you don’t understand. Mr. Caruso…”
“Sir, I know all that but I can assure you the meeting has been cancelled.”
I frantically took out my cell phone. I was about to call my manager when, by chance, I spotted Caruso and Toleen walking together through the interior hallway just behind the reception desk.
“Mr. Caruso,” I cried out loud enough to capture the attention of the whole office. He glanced my way. When he looked at me, his mouth widened with the grandest of smiles. His teeth were huge; the sight of them made me freeze in terror as I imagined these sword-sharp weapons were about to impale me.
He hesitated. I don’t believe he recalled my name, but I noticed that Toleen whispered in her associate’s ear.
“Magic! We’ll be in touch,” Caruso finally waved, magnanimously gesturing his acknowledgement that I had once existed as a distant speck in his universe.
“Hold on,” I demanded. “I’m here to sign the deal. You had me flown in.”
Caruso was a large, fashionably dressed, handsome man. He walked over to where I stood on the opposite side of the waiting area and greeted me warmly.
“Didn’t you get the message? We emailed you this morning.”
“I flew in before you woke up,” I informed him with notable irritation.
“Well, don’t take it personally. Our A&R Director did a last-minute review of your latest tracks and had second doubts about how your image would work for our lineup. We had to nix the deal,” he explained with a matter-of-fact expression that felt assaultive. “Don’t worry. We’ll be keeping you in mind.”
“Please, Mr. Caruso, I was told all I had to do was sign and meet some of the people I’d be working with. My agent, Garland, said every detail of the contract had been agreed upon.”
Caruso patted me on the shoulder, a pitiful token of comfort for a man witnessing himself mortally wounded. “It’s a wild business. Don’t give up,” he said as he raced back to the inner office, Toleen speed-walking to keep abreast of her partner.
I stood with my eyes closed. I had no lyrics left, but I did have an answer to the question of who was king of the beehive—Brandon Caruso.
I went downstairs and found a bench. I had dressed in a loose-fitting, collarless white linen shirt with black baggy slacks. As I sat alone, I repeatedly tilted my head sideways and let the collar of my shirt sop up the tears streaming down my cheeks like clear blood. My heart had been ripped from me, and I behaved as a man would after finding himself heartless—absent of all feeling, numb and disoriented.
It may have been a synopsis born of bitterness, but for the first time I thought I understood the essence of the music business as never before. I had no doubt that Brandon Caruso was the king. He was the impregnator of the queen, the ruler of something greater than the hive he left to his darling like a large diamond rock she could wear on her finger, each facet magically beaming to create an endless series of workers to serve her purpose. In this arena of nature, however, the king was no victim of his lover. He didn’t perish after knocking up his sweetheart, but instead, dominated her and everything else in his kingdom.
What was his domain? Music. Men like Brandon Caruso owned the sole unifying principle of mankind. He understood that humans were motivated by fear, a primary drive that manifested itself in hatred, violence, betrayal, dishonor, slander, and every other indecent behavior of man. Humans unconscionably killed neighbors they worried might be plotting to steal their land or lover; waged wars against their own people, due to a difference in allegiance to God; and attempted to annihilate whole races of people due to their skin color, beliefs or traditions—all governed by fright.
Caruso also recognized that from the most diverse backgrounds on the planet, humans could be brought together and then delivered to a state of transcendence from terror by the infinite variations of sound—the pulse, rhythm, melody, cadence, and beat of music.
Most importantly, the masses of people could be enfeebled by the sounds they were subjected to as well as the messages contained in the lyrics.
The essential elements of music could be used more effectively than explosive weapons to indoctrinate people to a way of thinking and feeling—their behaviors and thoughts easily brought under the domination of the music they listened to, their minds controlled so they could be subjugated by power mongers like Caruso. Brandon Caruso knew it—he was king. He determined who would be permitted to sing to the troops in the trenches, as well as which messages they would deliver.
I had been stepped on like the bug I should have known myself to be. My membership card to a club of distinguished servants permitted to perform on Caruso’s stage had been torn up in front of my face even before my name was ink-dried on the paper. My eyes remained closed as I conjured these thoughts. I was consumed with wonderment. How could I have been such a fool as to believe that Benny Wright, a nothing from Delray, Detroit, Michigan, might have earned admission to such an esteemed world?
“No! No! No!” The words jeered as they paraded in my conscious mind. All the glory I had dreamed would be mine was a mirage. It would never happen. Benny Wright had just died.
Whether I was partially or totally—or not at all— correct in my assessment of music as a political tool,
it was of little consequence to the anguish of my life at that moment. I couldn’t lift myself off the bench. All I wanted to do was cuddle up with the slugs on the street. There I could await death without the agony of another sunrise, another pearly executive’s false smile, another mortifying moment of shame, knowing that I was leading my family on a perilous journey destined to end at the worst threshold of possibility—in mediocrity.
It was a nasty upbraiding, the beginning of a series of tyrannical beatings my ego was about to take. The energy of my sense of despair wouldn’t be exhausted until, like a black hole, it had sucked in and fully swallowed not only the guilt I shamed on myself, but also my innocence.
After a period of time, the raging and pitiless feelings drifted away, replaced by what I can best describe as a sense of emotional nothingness, a state of nonexistence. I have no idea how I made it to the airport or any recall of the flight back to Detroit. I surmise that some sort of robotic execution of actions with no conscious deliberation or drive dictated the necessary steps for me to reach home.
Back in Detroit, I might have designated myself a tragic hero, but such a kind term was undeserved. The date I flew back from New York was April 15th. It had not been a good day, and the evening was going to be crowned with a mortal nightcap—a bad day, bad night.
CHAPTER 3: BLOODY BAD LUCK
My car was parked at the airport. After I picked it up, I must have decided to stop off for a beer. In my despaired state, the last thing I wanted to do was to go back to the house. Normally, I’d have visited Jimbo’s, a tiny spot near our home, where I’d horse around with the guys. I’m guessing, but probably the reason I did the unexpected was that I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing anybody familiar. That evening I drove my car and left it around the block from Wally’s Liquor on Bagley Street.
I never made it into the store, I’m sure of that. I wandered aimlessly from one street to another, seeking an ointment to heal my wounded soul. Suddenly, out of the quiet of the night, I heard rapid steps. Someone was racing frantically on the concrete sidewalk. Then I heard a male voice scream a terrifying noise, an adolescent-sounding outburst that jolted me from my mental cocoon.
As I began to process what was happening, I understood why the fellow was panicked. Within an instant, a vehicle made a screeching sound and rounded the corner where the man had just turned. The car accelerated. As it closed in on the figure dashing full-speed down the street, I noticed two stick-like objects projecting out from the passenger side of the car.
It was a Jeep with no license plates. The car slowed as it came up alongside the man and paused long enough for the rifles to open fire. The sound was like a hundred shots blasting through the stillness of the evening air. I saw the machine-gunned man go down to the ground. A heavy mist enveloped the scene, making it impossible to see who had done the shooting or to make out the identity of the victim. The driver gunned the engine, and the Jeep’s wheels skidded on the slick pavement. As the unidentifiable car attempted its getaway, the backside of the vehicle jumped the curb, coming within a few feet of hitting me.
Noticing my presence, the driver slammed on the brakes. I was sure they were going to gun me down too. I saw vague faces in the vehicle. I knew that I’d never be able to identify any of them. I prayed they had realized that too. Fortunately, the man behind the wheel accelerated a second time. He drove to the end of the block and stopped, leaving the engine idling. It was my opportunity to take off running in the opposite direction, yet I couldn’t. I have no idea why I felt compelled to do so—but I needed to try and help the slain man. I took a deep breath and turned back toward the victim, grateful that his assailants hadn’t tried to kill me. At least for the moment, my life had been spared.
I was, at most, fifty feet from where the man lay bleeding. However, even from that distance, I still couldn’t make out who he was. Surprisingly, not one person had come out of their home to investigate. I realized I was alone at the scene of a crime—except for the shooters in the Jeep who remained at the corner for a few more seconds before taking off.
Instinctively, I ran to the man to see if I could help. That’s when I saw that he was no more than eighteen years old. The kid had taken an unimaginable number of bullets, the most gruesome to the throat, which made him appear like a fountain that had tumbled over; he was pumping red like a broken faucet. He grabbed at his right shoulder that had been nearly severed by the explosion of shell casings.
He seemed to be entreating me to come nearer. Honestly, after getting closer, I wanted to run. I had never seen a human being shot. The scene was so ghastly that I could hardly tolerate looking. Finally, I did put my head down toward him. To my amazement, and disgust, he took his blood-dripping hand and reached it around my neck to pull me still closer. That’s when I could see that the blood loss had turned his facial skin from white to a deathly looking dull yellow color. He whispered his last words in my ear—it was like a scene from a movie I hope to never see again.
“Sometimes we have to do the right thing, even if we die…”
I watched the young fellow expire. I couldn’t say for certain if he had more to say after the word “die” or if he had finished his sentence with that word.
Somebody must have looked out their window and called the police, because the next thing I recall was the siren blast of another vehicle heading toward where I sat in a state of shock on the ground next to the dead victim. Because it seemed as if hardly any time had passed, I was certain the same men were coming back to finish off the sole witness to the shooting.
Of course, they never would have had a siren, but my mind was not processing things correctly. As the car approached, I couldn’t tell that it was a police vehicle, a fact that made me even more certain my time had come. I held my breath, awaiting my end. Before exhaling, I realized that it was an unmarked detective car.
The sole officer jumped out and ran over to me. He flashed a badge and identified himself as Detective Bix Rafferty. Within seconds, the sound of other vehicles filled the air. Rafferty asked me a few questions and then left me sitting on the curb for several minutes while he talked with what seemed like a battalion of law enforcement officials who had converged on the scene. Then he came back to me.
“I want to make sure. Did you know the man?” Rafferty repeated a question he’d definitely asked earlier.
“No, sir. As I told you, I happened by chance to be out here walking.”
“What about the driver? You’re sure you couldn’t make out details of the car or driver?”
“I’m positive. Look, I had a bad day. I don’t know a thing. I really don’t recall any specifics.”
“Do you have some identification?”
I reached for my wallet and handed Rafferty my driver’s license, watching as he wrote down the information. By now, several residents were observing the scene from a distance, and it was only a minute later when I heard the siren of what I knew was an ambulance that would be serving as a hearse on this occasion.
“What about a phone number?” Rafferty asked. “(313) 760-2349,” I answered.
“Look, if you want to go, we can get in touch with you later should we need you.”
He must have noticed I looked dazed because he made a kind offer.
“I’ll have one of the boys take you home in a few minutes.”
“It’s okay. Thanks.”
I had no idea that my face, neck, and upper coat were wet from fresh blood. Jewel did the instant I came in the front door. She let out a shout. Then she ran to me and wrapped her arms around my body. I noticed she squeezed with all her power. I also recognized that my physical self was as unresponsive as the dead man I’d just left.
For a husband Jewel knew to be affectionate, the first sign of danger noted by my wife had to be when she recognized that I offered no reaction. Of course, she tried to elicit from me what had happened, and I managed to explain about my chance witnessing of a young man being gunned down—but I never said a word about New York.
Spiritless, I showered, had dinner, and went to sleep early. The next day, I put in a full shift. Upon my arrival home that afternoon, I said nothing to Jewel other than perfunctory comments about work and the children—she read me like a clock. My wife was right to be alarmed, although she didn’t understand the extent of it. I had been doubly traumatized—New York and then the murder. I was about to set Jewel, our children, and me on a Disney-esque wild, wild ride. Benny Wright was a shameful failure; there was going to be no tonic to soothe that bitter reality.
“Sometimes we have to do the right thing, even if we die…”
Those were the last words of a dying man, and he’d shared them with me. They had no significance as far as I could tell, yet I couldn’t stop repeating them, syllable by syllable. I had no idea why. I also had no way of knowing that I was about to engage in a series of bumbling experiments, flirting with fate, taking chance to the outer limits where dreams are bought and sold like worthless scam parcels of property in remote deserts.
While Jewel was calculating how much time she needed to allow me to come to her and share my hurt, her wounded husband was diving deeper into despair. My full focus had come back to the breaking of the contract by Caruso and his people at Ravish Records. They had shattered my hopes and plans for my family by twisting the first several inches of a long steel screw mortally through my heart. It only took one, the last in a series of impalements surgically aimed into my soul with the effect of bleeding out my zest for living.
The day after I came home, I placed a call to my agent and manager, Garland. I have to confess holding on to a smidgen of hope that it was either a big joke or a misunderstanding. Could the deal still be breathing? I asked myself in a desperate attempt to find the sunny side of the street in a whiteout. When he didn’t call me back, however, the matter was resolved. By then, in truth, I knew it was over. I had finally reconciled myself to the fact that my days of pursuing music as a career were finished. The problem was that I hadn’t begun to address how I would atone for having deprived Jewel and the children through my selfish wish for fame.
Garland and I go back to grade school. He’s a very successful and powerful man in the industry. He measures over six-feet-six. He was a star basketball and football player in high school, doted over by most of the popular girls. Garland was fairly bright in academics, possessed a remarkably swelled ego, and was sought after by most of the coolest guys in the class. He was also outgoing, friendly, humorous, lighthearted, and…a bull-shitter of such extraordinary achievement, he’d have made a perfect candidate for public office.
Everyone tolerated his warped and deficient character because he always had gifts to dispense that people were eager to attain—unfortunately, far less of them were ever delivered than promised. Still, he was a relic from “back in the day” who I had hoped would be the catalyst to my career launch.
Garland had a way about him. When he arrived at a given space and time, it was like an invasion. His personality was highly dynamic and infectious. As a result, there was always a fan base dreaming they might share in the wonder of his presence.
We had just finished dinner the evening after the disastrous day of my trip to New York and the murder. The family was in what I ironically called the “grand room” of our home. Our dwelling was modest at best, but this space was by far the largest. I believe anyone entering our home would have immediately recognized it as the heart of the house, the inner chamber, the pulsing, breathing organ that fed the vital life substance through the family members’ veins and arteries so that we could thrive as individuals and as a unit.
Dion’s instruments, including a guitar and keyboard, were housed in one corner, facing an easterly wall. To his right, was a large window that looked out toward the neighbor’s yard. On the other side of the window, across the room, Shana had a desk where she did her homework—our children each had their own bedrooms. They were so small, however, that there was barely space for their beds and dressers.
The sofa faced the front yard, deep at the rear of the room, and adjacent, there were two matching comfortable chairs. The only television in our home was sitting on a stand that faced the couch. TV was not a big item for any of us, although we each had a favorite show that we routinely tuned into. The master of the palace was rewarded his own office, a closet-sized enclosure where I kept my instruments and recording equipment. There I sat, staring blankly into space. When the doorbell rang, Shana ran to get it. Unannounced, Garland showed up.
“What’s up, buddy?” he called out to me as if he had just returned from a winning Tigers’ game. As he waltzed through the room, he flattered each of the family members. “Hello, hello. Dion, future client, VIP; Shana, the hottest thing in junior high; and, Jewel, the hottest thing…since junior high. Benny, my greatest friend.” “Garland, oh distinguished one, what brings you here?” I listlessly responded on behalf of the whole family.
“Benny, buddy, we have to talk.”
He took me by the arm and led me toward the dining room where we couldn’t be overheard. Jewel surreptitiously glanced at our exchange. I’m sure that she was wondering if she might get a clue as to what was eating at her husband.
“It was all settled, right?” I confronted Garland with obvious sarcasm.
“Benny, I tried to catch you before…” “Before they snapped me?”
“You know how those fellows can be. They’re just holding off on your gig. But it’s just a bump in the road, friend.”
“Garland, in a day, just like that? Just like that at the last moment?” I retorted defiantly, my voice muzzled. I could feel the muscles of my jaws bulging out the sides of my face.
“It’s a bump, Benny,” Garland nonchalantly slanted the events of the prior day. “Not even a jut or a bulge. It’s definitely not a block. It’s a bump.”
“One more bump…one more bump!”
“There’ll be a thousand more opportunities just like this one. Hell, my next Who’s Who party is coming soon. Can’t you see the long road ahead?” Garland pitched to encourage me. “Open your eyes, Benny.”
I was in such mental pain that I could barely listen. I do know that contrary to the prescription of opening my eyes suggested by Garland, closing them was what I did. I heard the first few bars of “I Close My Eyes” playing in my head. My face dropped into my hands, masking the sorrow that weighed down on me, a deepening gloom, one that Garland remained oblivious to.
Shana took note of my sour temper. “Daddy, what’s wrong? Can his little girl perk him up?” she offered coquettishly. I nodded a “no,” but the girl was not finished. “Daddy must have had a blah day at work.”
Jewel was standing across the room. From a distance, she tried to elicit a response from her man. “Baby, what’s wro…”
“Just scowling, Jewel. He gets in his moods,” Garland sang out, answering on my behalf.
“I should be celebrating? Look what they did to me,” I wearily countered Garland’s refusal to appreciate the devastation I was experiencing.
“You’re golden. Come on now.”
Garland winked at Jewel and took me by the arm, leading me to the front door.
“Jewel. I’m borrowing your man for a while. Stay beautiful like I know you will.” Exiting the door, he revealed his plan to lift my spirits. “We’re going to Benny’s favorite pub for a drink.”
It was Shana who shouted out the last words. “Remember, Daddy, all you have to do is close your eyes.”
Jewel knew I was in trouble over something but couldn’t imagine what could be so overwhelmingly terrible to evoke an emotional state she’d never before seen in me. She said nothing; instead, she circumspectly eyed our twosome as we walked out the front door.
CHAPTER 4: IT’S GUARANTEED TO SUCCEED
Garland was nearly dragging me out of the house. I had no desire to leave, no enthusiasm for visiting Jimbo’s, and even less interest in being with Garland, although I lacked the energy or will to resist. I remember stopping as we approached the street. It was dark outside. I twisted around to gaze backward at the house. That’s when I felt this odd sensation of disassociation, as if I had no connection with it or anything inside. Worse still, I had the thought that I was never coming back.
At the time, we were living in an area of Detroit called Mexicantown-Southwest. The neighborhood had gone through many changes during the preceding three decades. The community was about fifty percent Hispanic, twenty-five percent African-American, and the rest a variety of Caucasian types, from American to Italian to Hungarian, with even a smattering of Asians.
I mention this ethnic mix because it mirrored the multiplicity of backgrounds of our friends. Even going to my favorite spot to have a beer, Jimbo’s, the clientele spanned the globe with different colors, religions, races, cultures, and nationalities. The geographic region itself had become a magnet for people living in the greater Detroit city who wanted an ethnic Mexican food experience. All along Bagley Street and Vernor Highway were clusters of these purported authentic ethnic restaurants. Garland led me toward Vernor where Jimbo’s sat, nestled between several of these eating spots. It was a plain vanilla bar run by a proprietor who generously named his establishment in honor of himself. The business was not a thriving enterprise in terms of making the owner wealthy, but due to the socio-economics of its clientele and its ability to produce a decent revenue stream, it wasn’t a dive either.
It was populated by regulars, drawn to the haunt by both the comradeship enjoyed between the patrons and the graciousness of the owner. Jimbo was the type of man who found it difficult to draw the line between his role as a businessman and that of being a friend, confidante, and counselor for the primarily male customers who stopped in for a brief respite from the agony of their lives as worker bees.
As we approached our destination, I glanced into the window of a closed shop. Reflected from the glass was Garland’s figure. He was dressed in a fine cotton shirt under a lightweight silk sport coat. His hair was thick, black, and slick. The short strands curled buoyantly, offering the impression that life was a carnival ride.
What stood out most distinctly for me, however, was the slight bagging beginning to weigh under Garland’s eyes. It blemished the otherwise immaculate image of a man I had “known” since we were sandlot buddies. As I consciously reflected on my relationship with him, I concluded that I understood almost nothing about what he believed in or stood for, other than power and wealth.
We kept walking. Garland used the opportunity to pump up the sullen man slouching by his side.
“You gotta keep going, going, going. This business is nothing but highs and lows.”
“For me, lows and lowers.”
“Well, highs and highers are comin’ soon. Smile, Benny, you’re right…there.”
Garland paused intentionally to separate his last two words. He used the interlude between “right” and “there” to draw my attention to the tiny distance he had measured between his right thumb and index finger.
“For the last three years, you’ve been my agent and manager and for the last three years I’ve been right there! Garland, it’s been most of my life that I’ve been right there!” I emphasized my objection by mimicking Garland’s hand gesture.
“Benny Wright, Most Likely To Succeed, Class of ’94. You’re our hope. I’ve looked up to you since we were digging in dirt to get to China,” he howled.
“Yeah. Tell me about all the guys in our yard who grew up with us. M.D., Ph.D., NFL, NBA, CIA, and C-E-O!”
I emphasized the last title while pointing at Garland. “What about The Most Likely To Succeed? Z-E-R-O. Hell, I’m still selling songs for a dime.”
“Don’t get glum on me. Today don’t mean a thing. Don’t get droopy-eyed and numb on me. Today don’t mean a thing. With the future I see for you; today don’t mean a thing.”
We had just reached the door to Jimbo’s, but before entering I delivered a decisive speech.
“No more, Garland. That family of mine…I’ve dreamed away their futures.” By now, my eyes were droopy and I was on the verge once more of tears. I succeeded in choking down my emotions by deliberately tightening my chest, cheek, and neck muscles. “I’m finished,” I proclaimed as much to myself as Garland.
“Your future is starting over, right now!” Garland characteristically dismissed my edict.
Garland opened the door to Jimbo’s. It wasn’t the familiarity of the smell and friendly faces that startled both of us to silence. I’d prepared a compilation of songs for Jimbo and had put them on a CD. It had been some time since I’d last heard it, but by chance as we stood at the threshold of what Garland knew was a joint where I enjoyed mixing with the boys, one of my best jazzy sounds was blasting. It was not solely the coincidence of one of his client’s tunes being played that animated Garland, it was the particular piece, named “Get Moved.” Garland leapt into the bar, tugging at me and forcing me to follow. As we entered, Garland hollered to me over the music and chatter, loud enough so as to make a public statement, “You know what your problem is?” “Yeah, I do. That’s what I’m trying to explain to you,” I shot back petulantly.
“Your problem is you sulk your way through the tough stuff.”
Garland heard the sound increasing in intensity and couldn’t stop himself.
“I’ve got a different strategy,” he shouted so as to gain the attention of all the men in the bar. “I need to get that lyric back in your heart.”
By this time, Garland had succeeded in pausing all the customers from either guzzling their drinks or panting over the game on the large screen televisions that Jimbo had installed around the perimeter of the room. I noticed that my best friend, Craig, and another good friend, Link, were there. In no time, Garland rallied the whole joint to challenge my dejected state, though not one knew what I was “sulking” over.
“Boys, how about encouraging Benny to lay down a line?” Garland called out.
“Come on Benny, give us that line,” the crowd shouted.
“Give me a line, Benny,” Garland coaxed.
I couldn’t be budged out of my funk if they had all been threatening me with rifles, but still, Garland was undeterred.
“I’ll get this going,” my dear agent volunteered. “I’ve got lots of lines,” he trumpeted delightedly to all the customers gathered around us.
The sound of “Get Moved” rose in volume. Garland began performing the lyrics I had written for the song. Jimbo joined in, followed by Link who performed the final verses. I must admit, they put on quite a show, dancing and jiving, having a grand old time…yet completely oblivious to how I was feeling. I can still hear the chorus and lines that I’d written.
“Move, do it with me, groove, right through it with me; get moved, smile with me tonight.”
It repeated several times before Garland stole the stage, intent on nagging me out of my funk.
“Give me a line man, give me a beat. Get hopin’ again, feelin’ so sweet. All you gotta do is just lean on me, rock with me, fly with me. What’s it gonna take for me to get you loud, risin’ again with that passion roused? Benny baby, don’t die on me, just love the drive and love the dream.”
He had no intention of backing off. Instead, he reached his hand around my neck, pulling me close to him.
“Give me a hug. I’ll rub off some hope and some love.
There’s no need to shrug, we’ll get that magic back so don’t you crack, just like that. Benny baby, you know I love to see you get w-i-l-d. Benny baby, you know I love to see you get riled up. So come on now, get moved and smile with me tonight.”
The sound continued. It was Jimbo that picked up the next verse.
“Damn it Benny, don’t get down on me, not when I’m tappin’ a keg and it’s free. Do what you need to get up, and get out of this rut. Come on, let’s toast to Ben, glasses up for a real good friend, the legend, Magic, we love you ‘til the end.”
The entire group of customers was having a ball. It was like they were all clowns singing together on stage. “Move, do it with me. Groove right through it with me. Get moved, smile with me tonight,” they entreated my hapless soul.
Finally, Jimbo turned down the music, but the beat continued in the background.
I’d describe Jimbo’s as a tame neighborhood bar where most of the people came more to socialize then to get drunk, although there were a few who considered alcohol to be a career. As the interior went silent, Link, Craig and Garland stood in the center of the room with me next to them.
“Garland, Garland. Strange to see you in a dive like this,” Link teased. He draped his arm over Craig’s shoulder. “Did Benny tell you what the two of us have got in the works? You’ll never hear anything quite so sexy.” Link smiled as he placed his hand over his heart. “But we won’t show you a thing without a contract.”
Both Link and Craig had the music bug too. They were singing and writing partners in their spare time, trying to get their gig together, although they had less of a chance than I did.
“Benny, you look like…death,” Craig said with concern, now honing in on my depressive state.
“He’s down on life boys. Benny’s planning to quit on his music career, just like that,” Garland informed them while snapping his fingers to highlight his point.
Hearing the statement, Jimbo abruptly cut the music. “Uh, uh, not in Jimbo’s he isn’t,” he asserted from behind the bar.
I stood gazing at my surroundings. One of the alluring features of Jimbo’s was that while it was a middle-class joint, it had a feeling of dignity. The interior was crafted primarily from several types of wood. Most outstanding to my eye was the bar itself, which stood toward the rear of the large room. It was long and arched at the ends to abut the wall.
The bar top was beautiful, the chestnut wood accented by a marbling pattern that reminded me of a prime Spencer steak. The rest of the structure was made from intricately detailed mahogany. There were numerous drawers and racks atop for hanging glasses of varying shapes and sizes. The back was mirrored and covered with bottles of hard liquor. The piece spoke of durability and a symbol of assurance to the customers that it would be there dispensing spirits long after they’d taken their last shot.
Jimbo took pride in maintaining his establishment, though the floor, composed of planks of dark walnut, spoke to wear and tear visible even under the dim lighting. The inside was painted a tan color, but around the perimeter of the ceiling a thin strip of orange accented the otherwise plain walls.
The unlikely silence after Jimbo turned off my beat pricked the attention of everyone in the bar. A man I recognized but didn’t know by name, one of the customers who drank heavily, dropped off the chair where he was sitting and strolled up to me. Pantomiming, he took a stethoscope out of his pocket and held it to my heart.
“J. C. in heaven, it’s not movin’,” the man jested after lingering over my organ for a few seconds.
His act completed, he stumbled back to his drink that was resting on a nearby table. He faced the basketball game projecting from the large-screen television and called to me.
“Come on over here, Benny, and watch my Detroit Pistons in action. Let Jimbo get you on track for the hii-life and tomorrow you won’t remember a thing,” the man blathered jovially.
“I always remember,” countered one of the other more lighthearted customers sitting near the man. “That’s why I keep coming back.”
“If I had to wake up to your wife, I’d always come back too,” the drunk taunted.
“You do always come back. What’s your excuse?” the man questioned while gulping a large volume from a beer mug.
“My wife is uglier than yours…and meaner,” he jived. “Benny, you…quitting? But it all felt so right,” Craig said, rescuing me from the antics of the drunks.
“Yes, yes, yes, Craig. It was perfectly right for Benny Wright, Biggest Fool, Class of ’94. I’m failing everyone. Blowing bubbles of fantasy to hide in.”
“Well, then until you blow another one, at least honor us with one last performance,” Link urged just as Jimbo hit the button to start the music again.
Jimbo was pouring glasses, ranting joyfully. “Look at these classy customers that I have to tend to and this kid’s talking about givin’ up. Nobody gives up at Jimbo’s.” That’s all I can recall until much later that night. It seems during my time at the bar, I drifted into a mental state where I lost complete track of myself. I can earnestly state that I don’t remember a thing after the singing of “Get Moved,” until Jimbo called out, “Last round, team. Jimbo’s going home.”
By then, there were still several customers in the place, but Garland, Craig, and Link had already left. I don’t know how I blanked it all out. While there would
be numerous occasions during ensuing weeks when I’d take excursions beyond my normal awareness, with or without the aid of alcohol, I’m certain that up to this point in the evening I didn’t even have one single drink.
Jimbo was wiping the counter. He seemed to be in a talkative state.
“Benny, it’ll be okay. We’ve heard your sound, we’ve loved your beats, and you’ll conquer.”
“I had so many opportunities that I passed up for this pipe dream. What did I do to my family?” I muddled my words, spoken to nobody in particular.
“Your family? You’re doing everything right. Right boys?” Jimbo inquired of the remaining drinkers.
There was definitely a zany humor to the scene. Jimbo kept calling out, “Right boys?” and in unison the inebriated late-night clients replied back perfunctorily, “Right, Jimbo.”
“You’re fighting for something better,” Jimbo offered. “Every other man I know seems to be fighting for something worse. Let me tell you my story,” Jimbo said, motioning for me to sit closer. “One time, a while ago, I had a wife and children too. And on top of that, a damn good job to support ‘em…right boys?”
“Right, Jimbo,” the chorus replied.
“But for every night you’ve spent with a headphone on one side of your head or another, I spent with a pretty young thing on either side of me. Well, eventually my wife caught me. She dropped me, kicked me out, and left me in the street where I belonged…right boys?”