Back in 1979 I was 23 years-old and living in a little hotel room on 2nd and Folsom Street. It was a flophouse, basically. $17 a week rent, if you can believe it. The building was the last remnant of the old San Francisco Skid Row on 2nd Street (the bums would eventually all migrate north to 6th Street). I think Kerouac even wrote about it in Dharma Bums. So I feel proud to have been a small part of the cultural history of San Francisco’s Skid Row district.
I’ve been saying for years, if they want to solve the homeless problem, one of the first things they need to do is start building thousands and thousands of flophouses. Cheap, little rooms with a bed and a sink in them, and a bathroom down the hall. Unfortunately, they’re a dying breed: flophouses. In fact, a couple months after I moved out of the one on 2nd Street, the phone company bought the building, paid off all the tenants a thousand bucks each to “re-locate” and then turned it into one more bland, humanoid, corporate office building. The final gobbling of the old Skid Row to the Financial District. And, as usual, my timing was poor (I could have used that thousand bucks).
Anyways, at the time I was madly in love with this beautiful, 19 year-old blonde stripper. Well, actually, I barely knew her. I was mostly in love with the idea of her. I used to do that all the time when I was a young man. I’d create this idealized image of some chick in my head and fall hopelessly in “unrequited love” with the image I had created. If the love object happened to live 3,000 miles away, or hated my guts, I could keep these imaginary “unrequited love affairs” going for years at a stretch without having to worry about actually getting involved in an actual relationship (which I always knew would be even more painful than the imaginary relationship, so it was very clever how I avoided that possibility).
Anyways, I was obsessed with this chick. I’d describe my unrequited longing for her thusly: I remember one time these street people were hanging out at the top of the Sproul Hall steps with their dog. And the dog was just insanely in heat. There was a female dog down below on the plaza, and the street dog kept straining at his leash, desperate to get to the bitch. He was making all these howling, whining noises, his tongue hanging out, panting like a cartoon dog. The owner did everything he could to distract the dog; tried to give it doggie treats, tried to pet him, tried to force the dog’s face in the other direction of the bitch. But nothing worked. The dog kept straining against the leash with all its strength in a desperate, and even feverish, obsession. That’s how I felt for most of my 20s and 30s. This sort of overpowering obsessive sexual/romantic (the two were always confused in my head) drive with no relief. Like a dog in heat. It wasn’t until I turned 50 where I could actually go 20 minutes at a stretch without thinking about sex (I’m either attaining new levels of maturity or just burning out, I’m never sure which).
So that was pretty much where I was at as I sat in my lonely skid row hotel room in 1979. Obsessively longing for the unrequited Dream Girl of my dreams.
It’s a well-known fact: there’s no cure for a broken heart. Even the Bee Gees couldn’t solve that one. The only relief I would get from my Tales-of-Brave-Ulysses torment (“His naked eyes were tortured by the Sirens sweetly singing” and all that crap) was when a particularly sappy and romantic love song would come on the radio. I think they practically invented that whole genre of pop songs for that purpose. You latch onto one of those torch songs and it’s like the only surrogate for the doomed romance. Offers a little solace, at least.
I remember the band Boston had just released their new hit single, “Don’t Look Back.” And that song perfectly fit the bill. I spent hours and hours sitting there in my hotel room, mindlessly and obsessively turning the dial on all the channels of my radio in the hopes of getting that song. I was relentless. About once an hour I would get a score. I’d sit there listening to the song. It placated my heart somehow. The worst thing was when I hit the song, but I just caught the last 10 seconds of the end. Damn! Just missed it. What can I say: It was my special song.
“Don’t Look Back” was kind of hard rock, but it also had Beatle-esque harmonies and soaring guitar melodies. So it was perfect romantic fodder. The message of the song “Don’t Look Back” was, well, don’t look back. Don’t waste your time bogged down with memories of the past. Face your bright and bold new future. So it was all up-lifting and shit.
I’d find out later, the lead singer of Boston also played in a Beatles cover band as a side project. So he added some of that romantic Beatles thing to the music. And he’d eventually commit suicide. Which is weird. Back then I thought all them rock stars had it made, had tons of money and adoring fans and actually had real relationships with real women and didn’t sit in little hotel rooms listening to corny songs on the radio. Looks can be deceiving.
Every now and then the song “Don’t Look Back” comes on the radio nowadays. And it always takes me back to that little hotel room on 2nd Street back in 1979, and spinning the dial on my radio in the hopes of hearing that song. So, of course, every time I hear “Don’t Look Back” I’m looking back. I swear to God, sometimes I can’t do anything right.