|There was that one time on the swings when he saw Ronald Barret
hanging out alone. Usually Ronnie had plenty of his pals with him,
especially when he would tease and taunt Johnny. Calling him "Weird" and
"What are you looking at Shitface?"
It was just a moment, it only took a second. Ronnie was sitting on top
of one of those monkey bars when he said it and for a moment Johnny just snapped.
He was never exactly sure how it happened. He reached up and grabbed
Ronald, tried to pull him down, Ronald fell forward but instead of
simply coming down his legs hooked onto the bar, he swung forward and
around the way that kids would swing on the back of their knees around
the single bar in the playground. But this wasn't a single bar. It was
a double bar with a set of ladders between. Ronald swung forward and
hit his head on the opposite bar, hard. His legs relaxed, he fell to the
ground and when he looked up - his hands were covered in blood. The
impact had opened a gash in his forehead and his was bleeding heavily.
Johnny was panicked, as Ronnie was writhing on the ground moaning, the
blood beginning to spread. Yet again, Johnny ran.
He ran fast, but this time it wasn't away - it was to the nurses office.
Usually they would be closed since it was late, hours after school would
normally be closed - but Mrs Norris was still in the office that day when
Johnny came running in. Crying and screaming about how "Ronnie Fell and
now he's bleeding everywhere". She followed him quickly.
"Where? How?" she asked as she grabbed a first aid kit and followed Johnny who was already yanking her hand to follow.
"Um, uh.. we were playing,..it was on the playground.. c'mon. There's a lot of blood", Johnny stammered.
They ran back quickly, finding Ronald still on the ground, the blood
flow had slowed. His hands were still covered as he held his
forehead,but he there wasn't a large pool of it. Mrs Norris tended to
him quickly, wiping away the excess and applying a butterfly bandage to
the wound. Ronnie said nothing, he simply cried as Mrs. Norris led him
back to the office. Johnny followed. He didn't say anything.
After calling both their parents, they started to ask questions. Johnny stayed quiet, but eventually Ronnie began to talk.
"It was an accident, I just fell... I meant to simply jump down but my
legs hooked and .. I hit my head real hard" he said - only glancing at
Johnny for a second, a flash of fear in his eyes. "Can I go home now"?
"No, Ronald, you're going to need some stitches - your Dad will be hear soon to take you to the Children's Hospital".
Ronnie never did talk about what really happened. Maybe he was scared,
Johnny never found out. He just knew that Ronnie didn't bother or tease
him anymore which was a relief. He didn't talk to him either. Johnny
didn't go back to the playground anymore, he stayed home. He watched TV. He
didn't know or understand where the anger inside him came from. That one
moment, that one second where it seemed like the world had turned RED,
where his heart was pounding in his chest and all he felt was a blinding
rage... where he'd lost all control. He didn't want to feel that again.
So he stayed away from all the other kids. He watched TV and listened to the radio,
mostly Motown which is what his mother loved. He loved the melodies.
Sometimes he'd sing along and he found he could follow and even predict
where the melody was going to go even when he'd never heard the song
before. Whether it was Gladys Knight and the Pips or Marvin Gaye. Their songs just made sense to him. His favorite was "Papa
was a Rolling Stone'" by the Temptations.
"..and all he ever left us was alone.." they would sing.
Somehow that song made Johnny enormously sad, but truly greatful to heat at
the same time. It spoke to him. Made him feel he wasn't so alone in
the world to know someone else knew what it was like without a Father.
He'd only met his Dad once, and when he did he was drunk with a thick,
scratchy five-o-clock shadow. He'd come by when his mother was working taken Johnny to a park, playing checkers with a bunch of his pals, drinking beer from brown paper bag.. Johnny could barely remember it at all. His mom had told him
later that his Dad, Jack, who she had divorced right after she became pregnant, had been arrested for being
drunk in public and that Johnny was taken into foster care for the
night. His mother Michelle was frantic when Johnny went missing. She'd
called the police, the hospitals, everywhere and didn't find out what
happened until the next day. She was relieved to finally find Johnny,
but she never let Jack take him again.
That one song, "Papa was a Rollling Stone" meant more to Johnny than he
could express or explain as a kid. He didn't even fully understand
why. It wasn't that common a thing during the mid-70's to be brought up
in a single parent household, but the trend was growing. When he was
younger Johnny didn't really know exactly why Jack was gone. Later
Michelle explained to him that Jack had been violent. He was a very
smart man, a very charming man - but he liked to drink and he liked to
get his way. He didn't think his wife should work, but she had gone out
and got a job anyway so that she would have money of her own. He felt
that she should stay at home, and that after she had spent all afternoon
making dinner - he would decide to go out and leave all the food she'd
prepared go to waste. He didn't want her to drive, but she'd borrowed
his car and had left a dent in the door when she tried to get out and
hit a pole in the parking lot. His reaction was to hit her.
She left Jack by the end of the week, and had filed for divorce by the end of the month even though she was pregnant.
"all he ever left us was alone...", yeah, Johnny knew what that meant. It was the music that made it all ok. All the songs. Johnny joined the school band. He chose trumpet and eventually moved to become a "1st", which is the player usually handling the highest and primary portion of the songs melody. Whatever the main melody of the song was, that's what the 1st Trumpet would play. Johnny stayed with Band all through primary and middle school, even into High School. He listened to all the popular songs of the time as the 70's melted into the 80's. Disco had come and gone. Motown was beginning to wane as so many of it's artists, from the Jackson's to Smokey Robinson left the label for others where they would have more influence and control of their careers outside of the Motown's assembly line process.
Then there came a moment, when Johnny was just 17, where his love of music and his love of television came together. While on vacation in Texas with a cousin, Johnny discovered MTV for the first time, and he was mezmerized.