"You are the beautiful reflection . . ."--Funny Girl

Once More--With Feeling

by D. G. K. Goldberg © 2001

Every stone rock and roller knows that Elvis had a dead twin.

Jasmine and Ginger both survived birth, Jazz alone made it past twenty. Jazz didnít think about much except her dead twin.

Ginger was undoubtedly dead. No arrests were ever made in connection with Ginger's death. No one ever found anything as definitive as her body. Their mom kept right on believing that Ginger had run off with a rock singer and forgot to call home. Jazz felt like someone punched her in the gut hard the exact moment that Ginger died. Jasmine spent nearly thirty years with the absence of Ginger.

The summer of '71 the two star struck groupies had driven carelessly around the map like it was a greased mobious strip. Truck stops and motel rooms still sparkled in Jasmine's memory. She remembered those manic months in Technicolor with a soundtrack. The girls woke up simultaneously and it seemed like cymbals clashed. They moved through the sweat-dampened air dancing in tandem through gypsy crowds. They entered the sacred back-stage enclaves with their matched beauty serving as their passport.

Being beautiful was a backstage pass.

The girls had been pathetically young in '71, with arrogant firm bodies and ignorant unlined faces that had known only transient disappointment. Jasmine withered in a nanosecond when she knew her twin died. Ginger would never grow old. Ginger choked in her own vomit while blood vessels in her eyes burst.

Ginger drifted through Jasmine's dreams, her blue eyes clear as morning, her strawberry hair thick and cascading to her supple waist.

Jasmine's waist had thickened. The mirror didnít exactly displease Jasmine, she had become a handsome enough woman: still thin, but no longer limber. Her hair was a convincing shade of auburn styled in a ubiquitous pageboy. She looked well enough---for her age---an age that Ginger would never see. She talked to Ginger when she put on her make-up. Jazz kept on thinking like half of "we." We look great for over forty, we need to have our roots done, and that lipstick makes us look pale.

Her condo was decorated in cool pastels. Her bedroom had twin beds. Jasmine always slept in the bed next to the closet. Ginger always liked the bed near the window. Jasmine never went to sleep without muttering, "G'night, Ging." The ruffled curtains cast shadows across the empty bed.

Jasmine favored suits in shades of blue and gray. Her students in the graduate seminars she taught on the Sociology of Popular Music and the History of Politics in Music presumed she'd spent her early adulthood cross referencing odd allusions in "Stairway to Heaven" with obscure Celtic folk tales. She laughed about it with Ginger. "I mean, where do they think old groupies go, Ging? To the geriatric rocker home? We just got our doctorate in sociology 'cause we couldn't think of anywhere other than Berkeley that we wanted to hang out. Shoot, it beats tending bar, kinda." The suits were easy, sort of like a uniform, or a disguise.

Dr. Jasmine McKinley AKA Jazz McKeen still wrote the occasional pseudonymous article for Rolling Stone or incisive critique of aging rock icons for the New Yorker. But, mostly she taught from her unimaginative syllabus and spent her evenings talking to Ginger. She really loved her sister.

She kept a silver-framed 8 by 10 on the double dressing table in their bedroom. Ging and Jazz at Woodstock-- their strawberry hair tangled together, shooting off sparks of sunlight, their tanned arms wrapped around each other's smooth shoulders. Ginger was wearing a long tie dyed t shirt and a purple suede fringed vest, her long bare legs had been as toned as a dancer's. Jasmine had sported low-cut, wide legged bell-bottom jeans, a bandanna tied around her full breasts served as a top. They both wore large gold hoops in their pierced ears. A smaller shot in another silver frame--Jazz and Ging at Monterey. Jazz was arrayed in an Edwardian lace blouse and bikini bottoms, Ging in her batik print mini-dress.

No one but Jasmine could tell them apart in the pictures, even she wasn't certain who was who anymore--some days she would think there I was in that huge shirt with the purple vest. Some times Jasmine wondered whether she was Ginger, if it was really Jazz who'd been murdered. She didn't always think it mattered.

Pieces of her soul had been lost when the Stones played Altamonte and appeared to be in league with Satan. Both twins had witnessed the signature trashing of hotel rooms that added to Zeppelin's notoriety. When Sid and Nancy had died the twins mulled over what really must have happened---they were privy to information that the media didn't report.

Stargazer was beyond the standard rock star excess. There were rumors of wretched dissipation. There were rumors of participation in snuff films. There were whispers through the covens of groupies that girls had been disfigured or driven mad. There were stories of families being offered huge sums of hush money. Some of the rumors were true.

There was the unmistakable truth of a few girls who simply disappeared.

Ginger had disappeared.

Stargazer stayed at the top of the charts. They withstood assaults by grunge, hip-hop, punk, and derivative rhythm and blues. They outlasted everyone except the Stones. They continued to pack in hordes of fans on their world tours.

Jazz and Ging had toured with two or three different bands. The twins were groupie royalty, a cut above the teeny boppers in St. Paul's or Atlanta who sleazed their way back stage by hanging onto a roadie. They were USDA prime, only for the stars. There were rumors about three ways and odd kinks involving various liquids. Those rumors were untrue. The girls would have never done sex together. It would have spoiled the fun of comparing notes.

During the '71 Stargazer tour Ging and Jazz had slipped away during the Atlanta show to hunt down a Dairy Queen. "Billy thinks his is made of gold." Ginger licked a butterscotch-dipped cone suggestively.

"Well, is it?" Jazz preferred chocolate dip; it was one of the infinitesimal differences between them.

"You know Sissy, when we give this up and marry rich record producers, I want my old man to give me emeralds." Ginger fiddled with the hoops in her ears.

"I don't know, I was thinking we'd look better with sapphires." Jazz tilted her hair and studied her sister. It was like looking in a warm, breathing mirror.

"We have a few years to decide. Let's get back before the show starts." Ginger scooped up the keys to their trusty Ford. As they drove towards the back-stage parking lot with the radio blaring, they bounced in unison. They opened their car doors simultaneously. Four perfect legs swung synchronically. Two masses of waist length hair shook in the amber sunset.

Jazz fell into step with Ginger. Their sandaled feet hit the asphalt at precisely the same time. Just before they reached the door, Ginger laid a light hand on Jazz's forearm. She hadn't really needed to; her sister could feel it when she wanted to speak. Jazz leaned towards her twin, they looked like two exotic long stemmed flowers bent by the breeze.

"I want to live forever." Ginger's face was drained of color. Her hand was cold against Jazz's flesh. "I don't ever want to die." Her heart was hammering against the frail cage of her ribs. Jazz could feel her own heart rate speed up.

Jazz hugged her sister. Then they merged into the smoky back-stage carnival. Jazz never saw Ginger alive again.

At 1:45 AM Jazz woke up from a hazy sleep. She was choking on her own infinite tears. She was with Eric the rhythm guitarist who immediately decided that super-groupie or not this kind of hassle was not something he had to put up with, no way.

Jazz couldn't remember how she got home.

She didn't remember much of the next few years. Stargazer's scene got uglier. Groupies lured by pot stayed for smack. The hollow-cheeked blondes with ran-into-a-door bruises started having single car wrecks. A groupie from Toronto allegedly bled to death aborting alone in a hotel room---that was not the real story at all. Dark things, horrible things, things unspeakable and unholy, millions of dollars, platinum albums, and a sweet movie deal.

Ginger was dead but not forgotten.

Jazz was forgotten but not dead.

Jazz had a bit of trouble her first two years of college. In high school Ginger and she had split classes: she had taken English, French, and history twice each day. Ginger had handled math, science, and phys Ed. She managed.

She put her hair in a bun and wore baggy dresses with lace-up hiking boots years before that look was common. She didn't have any friends; she and Ginger had always had each other. She didn't date. She made very good grades all the way through graduate school.

G'night, Ging. I haven't forgotten. I'll never forget. I'll fix him.

When John Lennon was shot an enterprising reporter interviewed her on the sixties. She answered questions in her academic personae.When an old Zep roadie that worked in marketing for Rolling Stone recognized her name and called her number, she claimed to be Jazz's cousin. "Look, I just relay her checks to her, she's in South America."

When the radio and TV bombarded the city with promo spots for Stargazer's Summer Tour she smiled. It had been such a long time since she had been to a concert.

Jazz blew off her regular haircuts, might as well let it grow out one last time. Her hair seemed to grow amazingly fast.

She presented a paper on "The Changing Portrayal of Women in Popular Music Over the Last Three Decades," at a meeting of the American Sociological Association. There was polite applause. Screw this Jazz thought, let's ditch the rest of this boring conference and go shopping, 'kay Ging?

She walked a few blocks from the Hilton to an unfamiliar area of expensive boutiques. An iridescent tunic caught her eye. The garment shimmered in the shop window. It seemed to pull her into the store like a living thing beckoning her. Its' opalescent sequins flashed electric blues, forest greens, and blood reds.

"Can I help you?" The salesgirl was wearing all black; even her fingernails were painted black.

"Yes, that thing in the window, the dress or tunic, whatever?"

"Yeah, dress if you've got the attitude and the legs for it." The salesgirl looked at the tweed-suited woman appraisingly. "It's about your size."

"Let me have it." Jazz felt her heart hamstering. She was near dizzy.

Bored now that she'd made a sale, the girl rung up Jazz's purchase and wrapped it in a black tissue before putting it into a black bag. "No refunds, exchanges only."

Jazz had no intention of returning the garment. Ginger would love it.

When Stargazer tickets went on sale Jasmine dealt with the indignity of Ticketmaster. After a confusing maze of pressing the pound sign to review the menu six times she managed to secure a ticket. She didn't care where the seat was. She intended to be back stage.

A week before the concert she was reviewing a collection of particularly uninspired research papers when she heard the foot shuffling, coughing supplication of a student. Jasmine glanced towards her office door. Who was it? Oh yes, Carol, not entirely stupid, hard-working. "Carol, is there something you need?"

Carol was a short young woman with a round appealing face under a cap of dark brown curls. "Well, yea Professor, I have . . .well, I really admire your work . . . and I was wondering if you could give me a protocol for how you approach learning so much about a topic when you haven't actually had the sensory experience."

Oh, dear, another eager young thing wanting to know about LSD without risking a brain cell. "What were you wanting to know about?"

Carol hugged her notebook to her sweatered chest. "Mostly your methodology." Curious, Jazz beckoned the student into her office. "Come in and sit down. Now, precisely which methods of research are you interested in?" Carol bit her lip. "It isn't so much the research angle as the way you lecture. You talk about the sixties like you were really there. I want to teach English and I would love to be able to make Dickens and Shakespeare come alive in the class room like you make things real."

Jazz studied the girl's face. She had the open honest expression of a Girl Scout hawking cookies. "I think what you need to do is absorb every possible source of information on the topic and then focus your lectures on the parts that you are the most enthusiastically interested in yourself." Jazz coughed to keep from laughing as she watched Carol write: absorb all poss. inf.--lec. Re: most interest.

"Oh, thank you,Ē Carol said. "Thank you so much." She scurried off like a happy puppy.

Jazz shook her head. What was that about Ging? When she could no longer hear footsteps in the hallway she took a surreptitious glance at the mirror in her purse. She did look a bit younger than she had a few years ago. It must have to do with growing her hair long. She studied her reflection; her skin seemed more youthful since she'd abandoned the auburn dye. There wasn't any gray in her hair, she had been foolish to let her hairdresser talk her into the expensive cut, curl, and dye routine.

She abandoned her car a few days later. Ginger had been the one who enjoyed driving. After a few weeks of walking to and from campus, her waistbands loosened and her pants grew larger.

The evening of the concert Jazz stepped out of her shower and doused herself in patchouli oil. She finger combed her long hair and shook it dry. In the pink glow of the afternoon sun she caught a glimpse of her body in the full-length oval mirror. She posed before the shining surface. You know, Ging, it's really freaky . . . but in this light, if we stand just right. . . We look just like we did at seventeen.

The prismatic fabric of the strange tunic spilled over her body like wicked moonlight. She laced up her high boots. There was more than a foot of smooth skin between the top of her boots and the swirling hem of her dress. The dress was like an animate being, it alternately caressed and fled, revealed and concealed. Her hair was like a cape of fire. Her stomach muscles tightened, it was as if there was no skin shielding her nerve endings. She was dangerously alive. C'mon, Ging. Let's go rock.

She seemed to have a peculiar illumination outlining her. As Jazz walked the few blocks to the arena she seemed more like a model on an MTV shoot than a middle-aged sociology professor. A barely bearded kid with a Nikon crouched before her; he was framing his shot to feature her high breasts. She weaseled through the crowd near the stage entrance. She graced him with a runway model smile. "Got a good one!" he exulted.

"Well, but who was she?" his girlfriend nagged.

"Damned if I know, but she had to be someone's old lady." He clicked furiously as Jazz mounted the stage door steps and disappeared into the Promised Land.

Piece of cake, Ginger. After all that bull about increased security, it's the same as it always was, smile, show skin, and keep on trucking. She sipped a diet soda and waited for the back-up band to finish.

The crowd screamed like a tornado hit them. Boom. The roar of pyrotechnics and the squeal of the revved up fans moved up the Richter scale to shatter the night sky. Jazz felt her own breathing quicken, her heart rate escalated. Thousands of hearts pumped harder, thousands of fans rocked to a rhythm as ancient as the worship of fertility goddesses. In a haze of smoke and terror Stargazer exploded into their legendary hit "Human Sacrifice."

It's ballsy; I'll give them that. Most guys would save that for the encore. C'mon, Ging. Jazz walked unheeded to the wings where she could watch Billy excite the crowd into a writhing mass of mayhem. By the middle of their second number he had flung off his jacket, sweat plastered his black T-shirt to his muscular body; leather pants clung to his thighs. His ebony hair whipped around his shoulders as he leapt into the night like a dark angel. The foot stomping of the audience echoing the beat threatened to shatter the bleachers.

Death hovered over the arena. Jazz thought of the Who concert in Cincinnati. She thought of the unreported deaths that had followed the Dead. She smiled.

As Stargazer launched into the misogynist, nihilistic anthem "Destroy Your Love" she changed positions so that the light from her dress temporarily blinded Billy. As the satanic singer shrieked his hymn to male dominance, "I spit on your wanting me, little girl. There have been thousands before you, I've forgotten their names." Jazz felt Ginger's touch on her arm. It's time, Sissy. Way past time.

The young men in black were crowding the stage; the first few rows had become a carnivorous mosh pit. Girls in Goth splendor were straddling their boyfriend's shoulders, held aloft they pulled up T-shirts displaying their young breasts. Jazz seemed detached, like a fairy queen.

With a final detonation from the drummer and eruption of purple smoke, Stargazer vaulted off stage. Billy almost collided with Jazz as he rushed into the wings seeking a Perrier. He'd given up the booze years ago. Aging rockers tend to rely more on their personal trainers than their pushers. He took a thirsty gulp of the over priced water. As he spun around to dash back onto the set for his encore his eyes locked with Jasmine's dark blue eyes. "I can wait. I've waited years." She smiled suggestively. Billy went chalky beneath the thick make up.

He ran on automatic during "Use You," his movements were robotic, jerky. The band noticed--the crowd didn't. Todd shrugged as he went into his final drum solo, 23 cities in 26 days--what did they expect?

Billy got a hold of himself during "Get Another Lady Tomorrow." As he pranced and snarled down at the worshipful fans, logic took over---it had been over twenty years since those twins had hung with the band, lot of water under the bridge, lot of different women.

After taking his final bows he sauntered off stage with an easy arrogance. He retrieved his water and drank down the bottle before throwing his arm casually around Jazz's shoulders. "I believe I may have known your mother." Billy took pride in being deliberately crude.

She smiled enigmatically. "Well, how about a little kink for auld lang syne?" She didn't go for his zipper like a nineties groupie. She didn't even slip her arm around him. "Why don't I ride back to your hotel with you?" She ran her long fingers through her incredible hair.

He hesitated. He usually got off back-stage and then retreated to the privacy of a luxury hotel room. She just smiled as if it was already settled. It was clear she wasn't going onto those smooth knees in a dressing room.

She followed him to the limo as if she were a queen. Billy didn't even register the shock on the faces of the other guys. Jazz nodded regally at the boys.

She exited the limo and strode confidently across the marble lobby as if she knew exactly where she was going. As they rode up in the mirrored elevator she hummed a tune Billy couldn't quite place. "That's one of ours isn't it?" he asked.

"Of course, but you haven't played it in years." She stepped out of the elevator ahead of him.

He remembered the song, a soppy love ballad from their first album. "Recorded that before you were born." He slipped the key card into the lock.

She looked around the expensive suite as if it would just barely meet her standards. He fell on her with gauche urgency. She pushed him back. "I have all night, don't rush things." She lit a cigarette. "I'd like something to drink, please."

A look of utter bewilderment crossed Billy's face.

Deliberately misinterpreting his lack of comprehension, Jasmine said, "Anything you have will be fine. Diet soda, juice, water, anything at all."

Every time he gathered enough presence of mind to toss the uppity groupie out on her delightful fanny, her dress shimmered and distracted him.

She sipped her orange juice slowly. He looked at her with open lust. "All in due time, darling."

When she finished the juice, she placed the glass down on an end table with a resounding clink. She stood like an exquisite flower stretching towards the sun. A smile like dawn broke across her perfect features. Jazz was ready for him, so was Ginger. They had waited years for this night.

"You can make your move now Billy." She let her pink tongue peek out from between her plump lips.

He made his move.

Early morning light sucks the color out of back alleys and opulent bedrooms. The monochromatic chill of 5AM bled the color from the woman in the bed beside Billy. He shifted in uneasy sleep, flinging his arm across flaccid frigid flesh. Bad dream. Nightmare. He broke a sweat and scrunched into the twisted sheets sticky with traces of sex. His leg brushed against something hard, unyielding. He raised up on his forearms and saw her sprawled across his bed.

He shut his eyes instantly, unwilling to see her. Like a by-stander at the scene of a wreck, he opened his eyes in morbid fascination. Billy had never really seen the naked body of a woman his own age. The slightly flabby flesh, the scars and stretch marks echoing the years he had run from the devil. He was initially repulsed by the intimation of his own mortality. As his eyes adjusted to the achromatic pre-dawn he noticed the woman's neat auburn pageboy hairstyle, the faint crow's feet framing her eyes. He was horrified by the imperfection of her aging body. The faint spider veins on her thigh repulsed him; the slackness of the skin around her hips seemed a precursor of decay. Billy felt nausea rushing up his throat.

Who the hell was she? What was this hag doing in his bed?

There was a problem far more profound than that of her identity or how she came to be in his bed. She wasn't breathing. She was unmistakably dead. She wore nothing but a necklace of purple bruises.

Trembling, Billy sat up. He fumbled in the woman's purse for her cigarettes. He coughed as the unfamiliar smoke permeated his lungs. He sat in a chair beside the bed shaking his head in disbelief and wondering how on earth this had happened and what on earth he was going to do about it. He had always been so very careful when he indulged in his little games.

He was innocent this time.

Billy didn't have long to consider his options. The door to his suite crashed open and the overhead light seared his eyes. Before he finished the cigarette, a detective and two uniformed officers were reading him his rights. They allowed him to put on his pants before leading him out of the room.

x x x

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