Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story

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Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#1
Posted: 3/5/08 at 11:38am
Kristin Hersh has been serializing her old diaries (which will be published as paradoxical undressing; today she posted her Betty Hutton story!

...


On the way back to the dressing room, I saw Betty and her priest. Betty Hutton, the old movie actress, is my study partner. We’re both sophomores in college and we hang out because I’m too young to have any other friends and she’s too old. She also seems to think we have music in common, which is psychotic, if you ask me.

Betty came up in the golden age of Hollywood, back when movies were Broadway on film, so her idea of music is "singing as entertainment," and you can't call what I do singing or entertainment. I hiss and scream and wail. Sometimes I make seagull noises, unfortunately. Music seems to be something I have almost no control over, like well-rehearsed Tourette's.

When Betty sings, she sits at a piano and says lovely things about hope and broken hearts. I often sing phonetically, as if I don't speak English. The words climb out of my throat and into my mouth. Then I have to spit them out.

Betty sings about starlight and champagne. I sing about dead rabbits and blow jobs. When I say music is violence, she says it's love; when I say it's math, she says it's tap dancing.

I've also noticed that she sings notes that go with the chords in her songs. I have yet to do that. It sounds pretty when Betty does it; it sounds boring and goofy when I do it. So I make up new notes, ones that don't belong anywhere near the chords I'm playing, and I sing those. People must think, it's so nice that they let that deaf girl sing.

I can't imagine what I sound like to Betty. Not boring I bet. Maybe goofy.

I actually drew a Goofus and Gallant-style cartoon once called "Kristin and Betty" and passed it to her in class. I drew her as a sparkling Amazon sashaying across the stage and myself as a little rat girl with spirals for eyes. I thought it was hilarious; she thought it was Art and hung it up in her house.

Later, it occurred to me that she had no idea who Goofus and Gallant were; she's too old to have read Highlights magazine in her grammar school library when she was a kid. She was probably raised on Dick and Jane books. Maybe I'll do a Dick and Jane cartoon for her: See Betty tap dance. See Kristin freak.

Maybe not. She’d just put it up in her house. She's crazy enthusiastic. The band plays almost every night and Betty and her priest come to all the shows. It’s funny. Like every day is Bring Your Grandma and Her Priest to Work Day.

But I adore Betty. She’s noisy and beautiful and gooey with a sweetness that makes everything in life better. I just melt when I see her, especially at shows, because she's the opposite of a rock club. Getting felt up by frat guys doesn't seem so bad when you have a secret super hero waiting in the back of the room who could kick their asses. She totally could, too; she's a tough old broad and they were already wasted. Just thinking about it makes me feel better.

I still don’t know why she brings her priest, but he’s a nice enough guy. A little tense maybe, but pretty normal for a priest, from what I hear. He smiles encouragingly and gives me the thumbs up whenever I so much as look at him. And they both say “show biz”.

Betty’s show biz tips are heartbreakingly bizarre, though, like “Flirt with ‘em, Krissy! Cats and mice!” and “Don’t just stare into space, ask ‘em with your eyes: do you want some more?” Al Jolson told her to do that.

“But I already know the answer, Betty—it's no.” And she giggles. Betty is huge. I mean physically huge: she’s tall, she wears turquoise cowboy boots and her hair is bright white and teased high up in the air, but she’s also loud and on. Bigger than life.

I’m the opposite: smaller than life. I’m short and I don’t weigh any pounds. I’m quiet and excruciatingly shy. We make an odd couple. Because she’s loud and I’m shy, though, we both love the library bathroom. The library at our school is a castle on a cliff overlooking the sea and its bathroom is a large, black and white tiled room with an antique claw foot tub. I lie in the tub, she sits on the toilet, and we study and talk.

In the bathroom, she can talk as loud as she wants and sing and guffaw without librarians giving her any ****, and I know I don’t have to see people ‘cause the door is locked. The doorknob gets jiggled by coeds needing to pee about every fifteen minutes or so, but Betty just yells, “Occupied!” and they go away. This is our favorite way to kill an afternoon.

Yesterday, while sitting on this toilet and staring out the window at the ocean, she told me that she wasn't a real person, only the shell of one. She said this very quietly, one of the few things I’ve ever heard her say quietly. Said she couldn’t write a paper on Jung’s personality types because she didn’t have a personality herself.

I was disappointed; I really wanted to read that paper. Betty can be very entertaining when it comes to psychology. She calls Freud "that mother****er" 'cause she thinks he's the only guy who ever wanted to sleep with his own mother. I'm sure she’s right about this. Her other problem with Freud is: "Talking?! Give me a break. Talking's not a cure! Nobody ever solved a problem by whining about it!"

Betty's something of a therapy victim herself, having gone through years of counseling to quit drinking, so she knows from whence she speaks, but…she has a personality. How someone who makes such a huge impression could think otherwise is beyond me.

She got up slowly and walked to the sink, shoulders hunched, stared at her reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. “I feel like there’s no me in here. I guess there was a me once, but I don’t remember it." She kept staring into her own eyes. "When I was young, I was like a little soldier at boot camp, emptied of everything. My mother put whatever she wanted into that shell: a shiny little tap dancer, a glamorous starlet.”

It was like watching a scene from a movie. “So you aren’t an empty shell.”

“I wish I was.”

“ 'Sparkle, honey' ?” This was something a stage mother used to say to her starlet daughter every time the daughter performed. When Betty told me the story, I thought it was so hilarious, I started saying it all the time. It hadn't really hit me how pathetic it was.

“Exactly.” She looked very tired and, for the first time since I met her, old. I checked her cheeks for wetness. Betty cries at the drop of a hat: lady-like movie star tears, sweetly showy, but this afternoon, she actually looked too sad to cry.

“I didn’t know you had a mother dealie.”

“I had a mother dealie, a director dealie and a drug dealie. I was pretty easy to control.” Betty doesn’t offer up this kind of information very often; she's better at telling me what to do. “I was a lot of things, but I wasn’t me.”

I thought for a minute. “Betty, I can honestly say, you’re the most ‘you’ of any human I’ve ever met. Whatever they tried to do to you, it didn't work. You’re so much, you make other people seem like…zombie…dolls.”

“Zombie dolls?” She looked at me lying with my feet up on the edge of the tub and smiled sadly.

“Personality-free.”

“Zombie dolls,” she shook her head at me. “Just don’t be easy to control, Krissy. They’re going to want to wake you up and put you to sleep, and they’ll try to do it with drugs.”

We have this conversation frequently, but I play along anyway. “Who’s ‘they’?”

“Listen, this is important. Judy Garland and I had a long talk about this once--”

“Really Judy Garland? From The Wizard of Oz?”

“Listen. You’ll end up dead. Like her. Nobody’ll care about you once they can’t make any more money off you; they’ll just go get another girl-”

“But I’m not a girl. I don’t think they do that anymore anyway.”

Betty stared at me for a long time, then looked in the mirror again. "Look at my ugly mug," she pressed her hands to her cheeks, pushed them up into her temples. She was really wrecking me; I felt so bad for her. The shiny tap dancer was looking in the mirror and seeing an old lady.

I thought getting old meant getting wise. Or at least secure. I don't know why I thought that; I don't know any wise, secure old people. Maybe I inferred it from after school specials. And I'd like to think that by the time you die, you've figured something out. That you aren't lying there wondering what the hell just happened.

Betty's old, but she isn't at all together. In fact, she often seems to be falling apart. It's sad. Time is like a hurricane to her, a big fast mess, sweeping her body away.

What a scary vision of the future. I'd have liked to see time as my friend, as a way out of the present. Betty made it look like a black hole.

The doorknob jiggled and someone knocked. Betty shrieked “Occupied!” at her own face in the mirror and the knocking stopped. She sat back down on her toilet. “Promise me you’ll stay you, Krissy. No one should have to sparkle.”

“Well, I can’t sparkle and I’m not scared of them. I’m not scared of anything.”

She looked out the window at the ocean. “Maybe you should be.”

Betty's fatal flaw is melodrama. I think fake drama was asked of her so many times in her movies that real drama holds an irresistible attraction. She doesn't quite have a handle on what it is, though. I'm always having to pull her back from the brink of Hollywood. “So, Judy Garland, huh? What did you guys talk about?”

She squinted at me. “Don’t make fun.”

“Sorry.”

“This is important.”

“I know, but…you were successful, I’m invisible. And I'm staying invisible, I'm not on a career path.” It occurred to me, not for the first time, that Betty talked to me as if I were her younger self. Poor thing couldn't find a better younger self to talk to than me. I had no ambition, no Hollywood dreams.

If I couldn't be Little Betty, though, I wished I could be big enough to take care of her, if only for this afternoon. It was confusing that she could hurt like this. I much preferred the super hero Betty, kicking ass and making noise. She turned back to the window.

“Hey, quit looking at the ocean. It’s making you sad.”

“Is it?” she looked genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, listen to you. I’m not your therapist, you know.” She giggled. Betty has the nicest giggle: part old lady, part little girl. I hope I earn a giggle like that someday. I checked my watch. “Looks like another student lounge dinner. What should we have, candy? Or candy?”

She stood up, collecting her books and fluttered her fingers around her necklaces in an idiosyncratic gesture I always found charming. It made her look like a queen. She did it to shift modes, it seemed, or when conversations got too serious. Then, scrunched up in excitement, fists clenched, she squealed, “Candy!”



Love,

Kristin



Kristin Hersh's blog
i want to make thngs that count
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#2
Posted: 3/5/08 at 2:06pm
Thanks,n69n. I really love this.
"well-rehearsed Tourettes."
That's a keeper.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#2
Posted: 3/5/08 at 2:38pm
What a world- who could ever imagine those two interacting? What is Kristen talking about when she says they were "Sophomores in college" though- it lost me.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#3
Posted: 3/5/08 at 2:58pm
i will have to reread it, because i dont know if she specifically mentions it, but i've heard her tell Betty Hutton stories before & she's said that she was the youngest student (she was accepted early) & Betty was the oldest student.
i want to make thngs that count
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#4
Posted: 3/5/08 at 3:07pm
AH OK- I can see that. Thanks- I'll have to read the whole blog when I get a minute.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#5
Posted: 3/5/08 at 3:42pm
she was the youngest student (she was accepted early) & Betty was the oldest student.

Am I wrong to thing this sounds like something starring Amy Sedaris?
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#6
Posted: 3/5/08 at 3:44pm
She'd be perfect for the movie- playing BOTH parts.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#7
Posted: 3/5/08 at 10:17pm
Thanks for sharing that, Norn. Truly wonderful!

I can just see it as a film, too.

For some reason (and I'm not sure why) I picture Bette Midler being able to play "old Betty."
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#8
Posted: 3/6/08 at 7:53am
What a wonderful story. Bueatiful and sad.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#9
Posted: 3/6/08 at 10:09am
re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story

Betty Graduated, too! BOY!

What a great story. Thank you for posting that.
PEACE.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#10
Posted: 3/6/08 at 10:21am
WOW, i love that photo!!!
i want to make thngs that count
- George, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#11
Posted: 3/6/08 at 5:19pm
i just saw that Kristin had an earlier post about Betty Hutton!

...

27 September 2007
Beautiful Old Betty

My best friend in college was the movie actress Betty Hutton. She was too old to be in college and I was too young; this was all we really had in common, if you can call it that. Though she did like the fact that I was in a band.

"C'mon, Krissy," she'd say, patting the seat next to her in the student lounge, "sit down! Let's talk show biz!"

I had never heard of Betty Hutton, never seen any of her movies, and, frankly wondered if her Hollywood star persona wasn't invented. She was awfully... eccentric, to say the least. A gigantic woman who made herself seem even bigger by wearing rhinestone-studded turquoise cowboy boots and combing her white hair straight up, she smoked menthol cigarettes.

"Minty," I commented one afternoon.

"I don't like minty cigarettes," she said, "but I'm trying to quit chewing gum."

Betty did live in a bona fide mansion, though. Right on the ocean and decorated entirely in white: white furniture, walls, carpet, dog, piano. She'd sit at the piano with her gay friends, singing show tunes. Really. I mean, I assumed they were show tunes. When the singing was over, she'd wipe tears away and hug whoever had been accompanying her.

Then, glistening, she'd call me over and say to her friend, "Krissy's in a band. A band called 'Throw-ing Mu-ses'. Krissy's gonna be the new me." So sad. That she couldn't find anyone better than me to groom as her "show biz" replacement. All of that old school Hollywood wisdom to impart and no little tap dancing vessel in which to put it. Al Jolson once told Betty that when she left the stage, she should peek out of the wings and ask the audience with her eyes, "Do you want some more?". Betty tried desperately to get me to do this.

"Look, Krissy," (she always called me Krissy, she was the only person who ever did — I called her "Bob" for "Beautiful Old Betty") "it's not that hard. You have to play with them, flirt with them, string them along. Be the cat and the mouse, you know what I mean?"

"Sorta."

"Well you aren't actually doing it." Then she'd smile sweetly. "I know you're trying."

"I'm not really trying."

"No, you're not," and she'd laugh. Hard. I couldn't fake her out because she actually came to Throwing Muses shows. She always brought her priest, though she never explained why, and she and this priest would stand in the back of the room and look encouraging while we played. Betty would make her eyes real big at me, I guess telling me to ask the mosh pit if they "wanted some more". The thing was, my eyes were spirals while I played; I was so far from flirting with anyone. Lost in a swirl of sound, I never even knew where I was.

It was hard for me to explain this to Betty. "Why do we entertain?" she would ask — and then answer herself — "to make people happy!" She said this all the time. I didn't think I made anyone very happy by playing and I told her that. "Well, you do scream a great deal don't you? Which isn't very nice. But that's the style these days. And they jump around when you play. I think that means they're happy. So you gotta show them that you love them back. You gotta earn their love."

I couldn't tell her that I wasn't trying to earn love, that I was trying to own violence. I couldn't tell her this because it would have sounded as pretentious then as it does now. So I said, "I play to make the math work".

"Oh! Like tap dancing!" Betty was so beautiful.

Leaving a psychology class one afternoon, she squealed, "That Sigmund! What a comedian! It's bad enough he wanted to **** his own mother — he's gotta write it in a book and get it published! A book people are still reading! That poor man...he's probably up in heaven right now, with his face in his hands..."

She gave me quarters for the vending machine, still laughing. "I need an oral fix for my oral fixation!" I brought her some crackers and a soda. "What is this?" she asked, holding the crackers at arm's length. "I can't read the package."

"It's cheese and crackers."

"But, honey, I'm not lactose tolerant."

"I don't think there's any actual cheese in them."

"Okay, look," she said, tearing into the package. "There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about. It's this: don't ever let them feed you pills."

"What? Who?"

"Whoever tries to do it! They'll want to wake you up and knock you out because they make more money when they can control you physically and emotionally. Judy Garland and I had a good, long talk about this once she forgave me."

"Judy Garland-Judy Garland? From The Wizard of Oz? Was mad at you?"

"For stealing the role of a lifetime right out from under her. I don't blame her. But now she's dead."

"Yeah, she is. I really don't think they do the pill thing any more."

"Stay clean, Krissy. And then you won't end up like Judy Garland."

Years later, in a London hotel room, I was to reflect on this conversation while staring into the palm of a tour manager who offered me a fistful of pills. The yellow ones were for waking me up, the blue ones for knocking me out.

Betty died earlier this year. I hadn't seen her since I was a teenager. In 2002, we lived a few miles from each other in Palm Springs and never knew, so I didn't ever see the beautiful very old Betty.

To mark her passing, I rented one of her movies, though. In it, astonishingly, she plays an un-wed mother. She is lovely and girlish and completely over the top, just like I remember her. I can see her working to earn love, asking stuff with her eyes. I don't see the deep well of sadness that once moved her to perform, as her final thesis, a soft shoe of "Me and My Shadow" in a college classroom, tears running down her face. What I do see in that gorgeous face is the wide-eyed openness of a lady who could think that Sigmund Freud was a comedian and that I was an entertainer.
Beautiful Old Betty
i want to make thngs that count
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#12
Posted: 3/6/08 at 5:32pm
Wow--loved that! Thanks for posting
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#13
Posted: 3/7/08 at 9:42am
This really should be a movie. What a terrific story of two mismatched soul mates!

Call it "Beautiful Old Betty."
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#14
Posted: 3/7/08 at 9:56am
Kristin Hersh:

re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story

Betty Hutton:

re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#15
Posted: 3/7/08 at 10:01am
i would love to see it!!!

just imagine the scene of Betty tap-dancing her thesis & crying!!!

i would be blubberin all ovah the place!!!
i want to make thngs that count
- George, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#16
Posted: 3/7/08 at 11:05am
i want to make thngs that count
- George, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#18
Posted: 3/12/08 at 7:35pm
Norn, this is SO great! I still haven't found time to watch the whole thing, but I adore her. And she's so moved by the audience after her first number!

Very touching.
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#19
Posted: 3/12/08 at 8:19pm
Doesn't that clip of Betty just make you want to run up and hug her? Her sheer joy of performing and her total appreciation of her audiences love, with the real pain just below the surface is just so bittersweet I can't stand it.
PEACE.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#20
Posted: 3/12/08 at 8:22pm
It's that sheer joy of performing that seems so RARE to see today.

Audience appreciation - check
Pain beneath the surface - check

Sheer joy of performing - extremely rare today from anyone. Everyone's "too cool for school."
"Jaws is the Citizen Kane of movies."
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#21
Posted: 3/12/08 at 8:30pm
Oh, I don't know about that. I think there are a lot of artists whose love of performing comes through, Cindy Lauper, Bette Midler are two that pop into my head right now.

But, it is that little spark that Betty has, the wearing her heart on her sleeve, her willingness to open a vein to please her audience that puts her in a special place. It is almost as if she would DIE, literally, if she didn't put a smile on your face.
PEACE.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#22
Posted: 3/12/08 at 8:32pm
You picked good choices.

I wonder if that's why earlier in the thread I thought of Bette Midler to play Betty.

Oh, I know, she's not a match for her... and I couldn't figure out why I was thinking of her... but she does share that eccentric, boundless joy of performing, and that wonderful energy.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#23
Posted: 3/12/08 at 9:15pm
n69n, thank you again for starting this thread. I just reread Hersh's Betty Hutton story, and it is one of the loveliest things I have ever read.
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re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#24
Posted: 4/16/08 at 11:00am
more Kristin & Betty!


I swim at Betty’s house sometimes; she lives like the movie star she used to be, in a mansion on the cliffs, and she has a big pool. I pretend that it’s fun for me, like a little kid would want to swim in a pool and play with a beach ball or something. To that end, I try hard to hide the desperation in my voice when I ring her buzzer with swimming goggles jammed into my back pocket. And there is desperation in my voice then because I only go to her when I can’t find anywhere else to swim.

I’m scared she’s gonna figure out that I don’t live anywhere and make me stay in one of her soft, airless guest rooms (I don't do walls). So far, though, she’s been too lost in her own world to figure out much. She really, truly lives on Planet Betty, especially when she's in her mansion. It's creepy.

She always lets me in, though, because she’s never doing anything except sitting at her piano and singing show tunes, as far as I can tell. Betty was probably better as a drunk. At the very least, alcohol could've helped explain her mood swings.

Some afternoons, I sit with her on the white piano bench, as payment for the use of her pool and because I sort of get off on her creepiness. The piano is also white, as are the carpet, walls and furniture. Betty’s dog is white. "Sure, sweetie, go swimmin'…you're the only one who uses that big, fat pool."

"The only one? Why don't you let your dog swim?" I asked her. We both looked down at the dog, who looked back at us blankly. Betty didn't bother to respond. She just played a piano chord and stared into space. "Well, why do you have a pool, if you don't use it?"

“I had it put in when I quit drinking,” she answered, playing another chord and humming along with it. I thought about this while I swam laps. Does that make any sense at all?

I suppose if it makes sense to Betty, then it makes sense. I mean…it’s her pool. Once she told me that she doesn’t like cigarettes--she only smokes because she’s trying to quit
chewing gum. She smokes menthols ‘cause they taste like Wrigley's spearmint, her own personal vice.

Who am I to judge? My fix bag is a bathing suit and goggles. I'm just glad she happened to invest in one of my personal vices when she quit one of hers. I could never have gotten Betty Hutton to score me heroin.

I also don’t think it would be this nice. My junkie friends will wax poetic about heroin's effects for hours, especially when they haven't got any, but from the outside, what they call a high looks a lot like a low. And it doesn’t seem to add the color to their lives that water adds to mine. There’s a whole story down there, like a love life. Not an open experience, but a private one. Under the water, it’s quiet and otherworldly. Even a stormy ocean is quiet underneath. And literally color: everyone knows there is no more blue blue than swimming pool blue and the ocean is slate green and full of slate green life.

I love swimming in the ocean. There’s nothing like being knocked around by waves, turned upside down, getting the **** beaten out of you by something so big it couldn’t care less, all in vivid silence.
I can’t think underwater; I'm too busy making bruises. Add numbing cold and I’m giddy.

A good storm’ll beat the living daylights out of you, too. I run outside whenever I hear thunder, hoping to get my head bashed in by pounding rain. The band thinks this is very funny, so I have to sneak away when I hear a storm brewing. They know that if there's a hurricane or a blizzard forecasted, that I'll be out in it, but they can’t relate to the desire to have my skull caved in and my body pummeled. They claim that a healthy organism moves toward pleasure and away from pain. I say endorphins mean I’m having it all.



“Are you sure you wanna go to Napoleon’s?” asks Dave, sticking his head in the car window. “You could stay here.”

“I know.”

He smiles. “Maybe the Animal will be home.”



It’s morning now and the donuts are smelling up the room, cooking in the sunshine. The Christmas lights are still going ape****, but ineffectively. I should unplug them. No sign of the Animal. I was hoping those God-forsaken donuts’d be crumbs when I woke up.

Speaking of God-forsaken, Fish Jesus is funny again. I’m gonna stick a donut in his face hole before I leave; the painters’ll like that. But first I’m gonna pray that Napoleon's still paying his water bill, up in heaven. I could really use a shower.

Love,
Kristin
i want to make thngs that count
- George, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
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n69n
Broadway Legend
joined:4/30/06
Broadway Legend
joined:
4/30/06
re: Kristin Hersh's BETTY HUTTON story#25
Posted: 4/16/08 at 11:48am
Tonight Betty is dressed down: shiny gold pants, rhinestone-studded heels and a blue cowboy hat. Her priest is dressed as a priest. They lean against the back wall of the club, talking. She is wearing gigantic old Hollywood sunglasses because she doesn’t like being recognized. I don’t have the heart to tell her there’s no way in hell she would ever be recognized at a rock club in Providence, Rhode Island in nineteen eighty-five; fear of her public is so much a part of her thing.

I didn’t know who she was when I met her; I didn’t even know who she used to be. I’d never heard of Betty Hutton or seen any of her movies even by accident, but now that I know her deep, weird need for stardom, I act like a tiny body guard when I’m with her, shielding her from invisible autograph hounds wherever we go. This has backfired a little--she now thinks that fans are everywhere: at school, at the beach, at Dunkin’ Donuts. I have to buy our coffees on the way to school, she's so scared to be seen. It's weird; she's no fading flower, she's really ****ing loud. But unusually fragile.

“Betty, do you wanna hang out in the dressing room?” I point over her shoulder. “There’s nobody back there.”

“I’ll think about it,” she looks around nervously and tugs at the brim of her hat. “Krissy…you remember Father McGuire.” Father McGuire smiles encouragingly, gives me the thumbs up.

I smile back. “Hi, Father. Would you like some orange soda?”

“Oh, no thank you," his smile widens to the point where his face must hurt, he raises his thumbs higher. "I’m just excited to see the show.”

I find this hard to believe. Betty says, “Oh, yes. We can’t wait." She gives me a sly wink. "Don’t forget what we talked about, Krissy.”

I think for a second. “Cats and mice?” Father McGuire nods his head wildly.

“Yes!” squeals Betty. “String ‘em along!” she gets excited, spreads her long frosty nails like cat’s claws. “Play with ‘em! It's spring, sweetie! Fall in love!” Father McGuire is still nodding and smiling, thumbs in the air.

“Okay, Betty.” But instead, Betty and her priest watch me stare into space and then stomp on a guy’s hand.




So many people tonight…five or six hundred, someone said, though we still only made fifty bucks. And they didn’t want to give me that. In the back office at settlement, one of the club guys put a gun on the desk between us and asked if I really expected him to give me fifty dollars. Obviously, he hadn’t watched our set, which, if not quite the musical equivalent of yelling “shoot me,” definitely creates the impression that my survival instinct is not what it could be.

I didn’t think a question like that deserved a response, so I just waited for him to count out the goddamn gas money. Which he eventually did. Jerk.

The first time we played that club, they paid the audience to come in. We have pictures of the sign: Throwing Muses--We Pay You $1. We took the pictures because it was both sad and funny. Sad because we weren't very good then, funny because we knew it. We weren't just bad, we were weird. And boring, which is a pretty tough combination to pull off. They really should have offered people more than a dollar.

But we're good now. Or we're something now and people seem to like it. It's a realized endeavor and we mean well, I guess, and that attracts attention. We went from playing on hardcore bills every weekend with scores of other bands to opening for every ****ty band who came through town to opening for every great band who came through town, and now we headline.

It took about four years from the night they had to bribe the audience to come in, but only in the last few months have we come to matter at all. Suddenly, we're bringing in all these kids who're going ape****, our shows are reviewed, we're getting booked in Boston, we're getting airplay at college radio.

That ****ing guy with the gun must think I'm an idiot. It isn't complicated math: a few hundred people at ten dollars a head, everybody drinking five dollar beers, and they don’t wanna give us a lousy fifty bucks?

I was pretty pissed-off about this, walking to the back alley for load out, thinking that I’d have to sleep on Napoleon’s floor tonight and that loser’s going home to his house, when I saw an enormous and hairy man crossing the room, grinning like a crazy person. He was…a Mexican biker? I couldn’t quite pinpoint the look, but he was walking towards me, both fists in the air. “That song!” he shouted.

“Which one?” I yelled back.

“It has two chords and a million words!” Now he was in my face. Yep, Mexican biker, very cool accent, even bigger up close. He towered over me; his smile was as big as my whole head.

I looked up at him. “Oh god, ‘The Letter’? That’s a terrible song.”

“No, it’s beautiful.” This is a truly happy man, I thought. “And you play it crazy. I thought your head was gonna start spinning around!”

“That’s a bad thing.”

He shook his head as we stepped outside together. “You play that for me next time, okay? Promise? I’ll come to every show if you promise to play that song.” He held out his hand for me to shake. I looked at it.

“Geez, can’t you just play it yourself?" He shook his head as I reluctantly shook his hand. "I’ll teach you the chords; there’re only two of ‘em…”

He laughed and walked away, yelled “Promise!” one more time. I laughed too and grabbed the other side of an amp my drummer was loading into the back of our ****ty car, the Silver Bullet.

“Promise what?” he asked, grimacing over the top of the amp. Together, we shoved it in, crushing the kick drum head and narrowly missing an unprotected guitar neck.

“He likes The Letter.”

“Really?” he asked, confused, then stretched his hands over his head. “Are you driving?”

“Did you bring your glasses?” I asked.

“Nope.”

“I’ll drive.”

Dave’s been playing drums since he was, I don't know, two or something. He was a snare prodigy. I didn't even know there was such a thing. He is an unflinchingly furious drummer. Dave can liquefy a song, just beat it to death, and he somehow does this delicately, murdering with finesse.

We all shy away from any sound that reminds us of a beer commercial, but other than that, our band's sound is something of a free-for-all, and Dave has embraced this aesthetic with a charming exuberance. He refuses to play cymbals, but is willing to hit just about anything else--hubcaps and mixing bowls, for instance, or whatever he finds in the street on the way to practice.

As people, Dave and I are disconcertingly similar. We look like children and are often treated as such, which makes us…ineffectual. We’re both spacey, nearsighted, we get lost a lot and we've had a hard time with glasses and coats. For some reason, we never incorporated these things into our lives and so have spent a lot of time blind and cold.

A few months ago, Dave showed up at the practice space wearing both a coat and glasses. I felt betrayed, but he was transformed: “Trees have individual leaves, even when they’re far away!" he insisted, his eyes and new glasses shining. Then he unzipped his coat to show me how it worked. "See? We can still wear t-shirts, but if we wear our t-shirts underneath coats, winter won’t hurt!”

I tried it 'cause I do everything Dave says, but I was less enthusiastic. I bought black, square, men's glasses like my father wore when I was a kid. I loved them but I wasn't prepared for vision. Seeing everything I looked at seemed like overkill. Such sharp edges! It hurt.

There's just too much stuff out there; I lost focus rather than gaining it. Plus, in the mirror, without the forgiving Vaselined lens of nearsightedness, my face was disappointing. It had individual pores.

I didn't get around to the winter coat until it wasn't winter any longer. But the spray-painted lab coat I wore every day was looking unloved and Dave felt it might be time to move on. I agreed. The lab coat had gone from cool to I need a hug fairly quickly.

We actually went shopping for my new coat together. Dave didn't help much, he just kept holding up different combinations of feather boas and golf shirts, asking if they "worked". But after roughly one million hours of sifting through roughly one million ladies' winter coats that smelled like moth balls and would have been too big to fit my car, I found a small blue wool one with a silk lining and a fur collar. I'm sure that when it was made in the forties, it was a fancy item for a fancy lady, but I got it at the Salvation Army in the eighties and it looks it. It's ragged and the buttons keep falling off. I already looked a little bag lady to begin with: wool skirts, clunky, black, practically orthopedic shoes, a fishing hat. My new coat isn’t helping.

Maybe winter won't hurt, I don't know; it's spring and I'm warm natured. It was probably time to retire the lab coat.

Love,
Kristin
i want to make thngs that count
- George, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE