I recently wrote a song called Billy, inspired by a girl I met in Des Moines on one of my tours across the United States. I can't remember her name for the life of me, but I remember that night very well. For the sake of the story we'll call her Mandy.
We had just rolled into Des Moines from a long drive from Chicago and were dying to just get out of the van. The on-the-road dementia was kicking in. Before our show we would frolic around the neighborhood looking for some kooks to invite to our shows, mind you Iowa is not a place we assumed there would be lots of fans of an Iranian underground rock band. To be honest, downtown Des Moines was not the busiest metropolitan neighborhood I've been to. Regardless of the eerie calm that hovered around us, each person set out to find someone interesting to invite to the show. I happened to walk into a really cozy bar with a nostalgic touch that could pose as a hipster bar in any Brooklyn hood, but this bar wasn't trying to be cool. It just was...whatever it was. And there sitting with her friend at the bar was this gorgeous girl. Well I didn't know she was gorgeous just yet because, of all things, she was wearing a big motorcycle helmet over her head with only a straw barely making its way through the visors to her lips. I'll never forget her legs though, it was summer, and it was hot and humid and everybody in these parts of the country looked like they were slathered in vaseline. So you can imagine how hypnotized I was by those long shining legs sticking out of her skirt.
I went and sat right by her and ordered a drink then proceeded to introduce myself. She wasn't really phased that I was in a rock band, but my story piqued enough of her interest to want to come and check out the show. So she got up and finally took off the helmet and like a cliche shampoo commercial waved her long thick brunette hair around in the air to get it straight. While I sat in awe of her beauty, she grabbed her friend's hand and hopped out of the bar and said see you at the show.
The concert went pretty well given the technical deficiencies of the venue. The small crowd was thrilled with our performance and so the ritualistic search for the non-existent after party began. What usually happened though after a show was that everyone would find a particular person they related to and would head out into town looking for trouble. Mandy came and grabbed me after the show and threw me into her car. There were four of us as we drank, smoked and swerved through the empty highways screaming some song that was playing on the radio while lighting fireworks in the car. It was pure madness. Everything could go wrong at any second, but we didn't care. We were the kings and queens of the abandoned plains.
We finally found our way to a gated suburban community. Mandy said that we're going swimming and we all thought how pleasant, but there was a catch. She didn't live here so we had to jump over the gates and sneak our way to the swimming pool. The weather was scorching hot even though the stars were out in full force. We tore off our clothes and jumped in. It felt like heaven dipping into that cool water. We were only in the pool for a little while when we started seeing police lights in the distance. The gig was up. Butt naked and with our crumpled clothes in our hands, we ran back to the car and made our escape in the nick of time.
I finally proceeded to go to Mandy's place after she dropped everyone else off. The sexual tension was building up as we got nearer to her place. We went inside in a drunken rage while ripping each other's clothes off. Just before the night got any wilder, I heard the sound of a baby crying. Mandy excused herself and went to her room where she talked to someone who turned out to be her grandmother. I could hear her singing a lullaby and I put two and two together. She then tiptoed out of her room and gently closed the door whispering that her baby's asleep so we just have to be quiet.
I didn't know how to react. So far the night had been one of the most exciting of the tour, and I was in the company of this gorgeous woman ready to get intimate, but something didn't feel right.
Who was the father of her child? Where is he? Why isn't here?
While Mandy was eager to keep moving forward, I became a bit hesitant and decided to find out more details of her life. While she was frustrated at first, she finally grabbed a bottle of wine and marched out to her porch where we sat and drank, while she recalled her story. It was obvious that she had shared this story many times and as though she was giving an audition, she just wanted to hurry through the script and get it over with.
She came from a military family, her grandfather had fought in Vietnam, her father in the first Gulf War, and both of them had died in action while away from home. The father of her baby was also currently serving in Iraq. She was telling me how much she hated all of them for going away to distant lands in order to protect them at home from a threat that seemed non-existent in her world. Her mother devastated by the loss eventually took her own life and Mandy was left all alone with her grandmother at a young age. It was a rather painful and sad story. She just couldn't understand why they had to go away or who they were fighting or what they were fighting for. She was sick of it all.
The last thing I thought about that night was connecting with someone on such a personal level without actually having any sex. I was genuinely touched by how smart, caring, ambitious and human she was unlike this stereotypical image we hear about people in the mid-west. This was something that became a common theme on my trips across America. I met some of the kindest and most interesting people of my life in places I would least expect to. This fact made me love a different side of America.
I thanked her for telling me her story, and applauded her courage and conviction. It's not easy being a young single parent under any circumstance, but there was something about Mandy that I knew she was going to be alright.
I gave her a gentle kiss goodnight, and wished her luck on her journey. On the cab ride home I imagined what it would feel like to just be caught up in this military life where you were forced to follow in the footsteps of your family and enlist in the army, or for financial reasons, or any other reason for that matter, and travel around the world and shoot bad guys in the name of good.
I remember reading about the pilot who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and how he died with no regrets. I can't even fathom that sentiment. I could never live with myself knowing that I was responsible for so much death and destruction. So I just wrote a song instead.
I went to sleep with a confused sexual yearning and the thought of the silent death of tens of thousands of people as they evaporate.