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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2008/05/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Morgan the Lion, no. 2

BRAIN TUBA: Morgan the Lion, no. 2
Morgan imagined his mother at the concert. It was at the town’s old movie palace, a gilded theater where she’d gone with her girlfriends, saw Frankie Valli movies, and made out with strange, smelly boys in the darkness. It was in some disrepair, Morgan gathered, tapestries peeling from the walls on either side of the stage, weighed down with dirt and ash. By the mid-‘70s, they’d started booking rock shows, and she’d gone to her share of those, as well. The ritual then was always the same, she told Morgan, one of those long afternoons during the brief period after Morgan’s adolescence, before the onset of her leukemia.
She’d never told him much about that specific night, so he’d pieced it together from other instances. They got there early, not long after the doors opened. Her brother Jim was a local pot dealer of some repute, and his bricks of brown Ohio-grown opened whatever doors he wanted. She didn’t go backstage before the show, though. Morgan knew that much. She hung out in the aisle by the left side of the stage and danced, a little bit, went to the lobby every few songs to smoke cigarettes with Yvette while the bass vibrated the wall-sized mirrors.
He’d heard bootlegs of that tour, seen blurry photos. He imagined his mother in that world, of saturated colors, just slightly dim. The grooves were crisp, despite the haziness. In the distance, on the stage, the back-up singers rolled from side to side, their colorful robes flapping slightly. She wasn’t close enough to the stage that He could see her. They wouldn’t meet until later. She barely even noticed him, she told Morgan. She barely noticed any of the singers. The singers were just there, she said, and she didn’t make it a habit of talking to them. Mostly, they were people to tolerate until Jim was ready to stop hanging out with them and drive her home.
That night, she missed out on the rejection of Jim’s weed, but arrived for the aftermath. It was like a soft bed of laughter. Uncle Jim never stopped telling the story. It wasn’t derogatory, their laughs. They were tickled — tickled, Uncle Jim said — that he’d come to them with this offering. Morgan’s mother couldn’t understand a thing they said, the patois so abstract, and their own Jamaican marijuana so intense. And then she turned, and saw Him among the laughing faces, not knowing he was the singer.
It was at this moment that Morgan got stuck trying to imagine the evening. It wasn’t that he cringed at the thought of his mother having sex with somebody (though he preferred not to), but that he couldn’t envision Him in any other way besides the poses he’d seen in a million photos: the tossed back head, the occasionally skeletal cheeks, the dreadlocks falling slightly. It was as if there was always a picture frame between Him and his mother, a divide she couldn’t cross. He’d played the scene, the scenes, so many times in his head that he could recall segments in a fraction of a second, instantly be sitting somewhere in the back row in an alternate universe.
When he arrived at the table where Ian was sitting with a half-eaten basket of dry chips, the band was tuning up, about to start the first song.
"We goin’ this year?" Ian asked him before Morgan could sit down. "Zig’s playing."
"Zig?" Morgan asked. "Huh?"
"Ziggy. Bonnaroo. C’mon."
"Yeah, whatever man."
"It’s time he heard his little brother’s tunes!"
Morgan wished he hadn’t told Ian. He pulled at the blonde hairs on the back of his neck and sat down.

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