On Rickie Lee Jones
It was in 1979 when I first saw Rickie Lee Jones on Saturday Night Live singing “Chuck E’s in Love.” Lying on the couch in the basement of my mom's house in Baltimore, I was mesmerized by this long-haired chick singing about poll halls and dudes who walked like jazz. Casting an aural spell, Rickie Lee Jones’ popular single was my first peep into the coolsville of American bohemia.
Two years later, when I was a freshman English major living in New York City, Rickie released her novelistic second album Pirates and I became a true fan. At the time, I was hanging-out with an overweight Black girl named Beverly, who schooled me about her hero Tom Waits, the romance he shared with Rickie Lee Jones and how their break-up was the inspiration behind the bitter romanticism and beat poetics of Pirates.
After class, we sat in Bev’s dorm room drinking Jack Daniels, beer chasers and playing the album continuously. For me, songs like "Traces of the Western Slopes" and “Lonely Avenue” were a gateway drug that led me on to stronger cultural addictions: Jack Kerouac, Charlie Parker, John Cassavetes, LeRoi Jones and others artistic rebels. Caught-up in my own boho visions, I soon dropped out of school and started hanging out in Lower East Side dive bars, going to Alphabet City literary gatherings and dating girls into Godard. In fact, I was doing everything “writerly” except actually writing.
Twenty years later, while working as writer-at-large for Vibe, I went to see Ricki Lee Jones in concert. As she stood on stage of Irving Plaza berating a drunken customer who kept screaming, “Play ‘Chuck E., play Chuck E,’” all those yesteryear memories came back to me as I sipped from a cup of Coca Cola.