She might have been an angel
In February 1968, I wasn’t exactly aimless; I had goals. I wasn’t hopeless; I had dreams and wishes. I wasn’t totally homeless; there were a few places where I could stay. But I certainly wasn’t grounded, or focused, or even very motivated. Too much had gone wrong.
I was only 18, but my music career had actually shown more promise when I was 16 and 17. It was stalled. I was stalled.
I was staying with a high school friend—one of just two who were still in town—a guy who really was aimless and hopeless, and had even less motivation than I did. But his wife had a job. And they had an apartment right above Heights Hardware on Coventry.
That was the second time I had stayed in that same apartment. In the summer of ’67, my high school girlfriend, and her friend, rented that place and I spent a lot of time there, especially after I was strongly encouraged to leave my parents’ home, by one of my parents. My girlfriend and her roommate didn’t have that place long because they started college, in other cities, that autumn. Several months after they moved out, my shiftless friend and his wife moved in, coincidentally.
Of all the people I could have stayed with (and there weren’t many), this guy, Tom, was not the influence I needed. Tom and I used to skip school together during high school to write songs together, and practice them for the band we were in. But no more. I had stopped writing songs. One time, in my last year of high school—I hesitate to say 12th grade, because, by then, I wasn’t in any grade—my guidance counselor called me in, again, to tell me, again, how much I was underachieving. I said to him, "You know, a group in New York who’s signed to a major label is going to record one of my songs. It sometimes takes songwriters many years to make that happen; but it’s happening for me right now, and I’m still in high school. So, I think I’m overachieving.”
But by February 1968, I had stopped writing songs. That previous summer and autumn, I had played quite a bit in places including Farragher’s, a place on Taylor Road, near Cain Park, that presented national and local folk artists; and La Cave, a University Circle-area folk and rock club that presented mostly nationally known artists, with local openers. But by February 1968, I had stopped playing anywhere.
The members of all three of my bands had all gone off to colleges out of town (except for Tom). My girlfriend, from all the way through high school, and I suddenly broke up in January. So even that was gone. I had no band, no money, no home, no friends, no girlfriend.
But one mid-February night, I got a call, at Tom’s apartment, from a college friend of my girlfriend who had dropped out of school and returned to Cleveland Heights. My girlfriend had introduced us, and I had really disliked her. But I ran into her on Coventry one day and we started talking, and I got a different impression of her. Then we started talking a lot and I began to really like her. Though I knew we’d never have any kind of relationship, other than a friendly one, because she was strange—ethereal and magic, in many ways; extremely empathetic and intuitive; fragile and vulnerable, yet strong and durable in ways, too—and I wasn’t ready to handle all of that.
So, she called, out of the blue, one night when I was at my lowest. She was crying. I asked why, but she wouldn’t tell me. She only said, “You have to get out of town.”
I said I had no place to go. She said it didn’t matter, because I was nowhere already. I said I had no money. She told me to meet her in 20 minutes in front of Irv’s Restaurant.
I arrived. She arrived. She handed me a $20 bill. She said, “Go to New York,” and then she ran away. I just watched her disappear into night. I packed what few clothes I had in one guitar case, and my guitar in another guitar case. I called my other friend in town and got him to take me to the airport, that night. Back then, if you were under 21, you could fly stand-by for half of the going rate, which wasn’t a whole lot to begin with.
I left town, and my career began almost immediately. The girl—the friend of the former girlfriend—and I remained friends, from afar, for the rest of her life, which was only 10 more years. And when I think of February, I picture her—standing in front of Irv’s, in the rain, with tears in her eyes, handing me that bill.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.