The Writers Nook

The Tom Petty selections from the novel, "Death on the Wild Side"

by Jack Corbett

In my novel, "Death on the Wild Side" there are two passages in which Tom Petty is mentioned. The selection below merges the two which do not follow each other in the book. It is funny or perhaps not so funny what brought me to putting this selection, both the music and the narrative here in the "Writers Nook". I had already put the final chapter on the site and accompanied it with "Jet City Woman" and was flirting with the idea of putting the Tom Petty selection up in much the same way. In the novel I am referring to Lori Mellon who had danced at C-Mowes and numerous other Metro East clubs. But towards the end of June, 1999 I was sitting with another Lori, in her pickup outside the club in which she worked as a bartender and a waitress. It was a long conversation in which we talked about fate or destiny. And not about anyone in particular. Still--the train of thought followed some of the themes of the novel----in particular the Tom Petty analogies. And that decided it. This just had to go up ---------Jack Corbett


Just a Face in the Crowd

Frank left the Injection Pump, walking quickly, pausing only for the flight of stairs leading to the exit door.  The air was warm outside and the sun was shining.  His mind was clear and sharp, his body quick and powerful.  Everything was perfect.  Frank climbed into his pickup, lowered the power windows, and drove away as he lit an  Anthony and Cleopatra.  He thought of three women:  His wife, Lori, and Chanel.  He quickly dismissed his wife for he knew the thought of her would ruin his day.  Chanel had been wonderful.  There had been a certain wantonness about her that none of the others had.  She was also very pretty.
Then there was Lori.  Slender and quick in her movements she had a mind that was as agile as her body.  She could read a man like a book.  Always alert, she listened to everything he said, yet her eyes would occasionally move about the room like a ferret's to make sure that one of her other customers didn’t walk in and leave without her saying hello or goodbye.  She'd smoked cigars with him and drunk a lot of booze with him.  She had been serious and she had been impish.  He pushed a cassette into the tape player.  It was Tom Petty.  Very appropriate, thought Frank.  Lori was a master of her craft.  She could make all her customers feel important at all times, and she was always the perfect companion.

Tom Petty's voice filled the interior of the pickup. He was singing A Face in the Crowd. It was Frank's favorite selection on the tape. Definitely not a ballad, it had nevertheless always made him think of the Old West, and for some reason, that he couldn't quite put his finger on, about Billy the Kid. He had first heard that tape while visiting a friend in Oregon. The two of them had listened to that tape while driving to Mount Hood with their skis in ski racks on top of a Mazda. The friend was a very good friend--a fearless skier, who had left a secure job in the Midwest, in order to live how he wanted to live in the West. This friend was the only person in the world Frank wrote to, the written word being the form of communication chosen by both men to bridge the 2000 miles separating them. The man had never had a secure job since moving to Oregon, but he had nevertheless carved out a life of his own choosing on his own terms. Larry had been born one hundred-fifty years too late. For that matter so had Frank. The souls of both men were alike in that they did not belong in a century of civilized constraints.

They had driven to the Oregon coast where they had stayed for several days along the ocean, picking their way around the boulders littering the beach and hiking through Oregon's rain forests. Larry and Frank had drunk lots of beer together in Oregon's brew pubs where homemade ales were served. They had skied Mount Hood together to see who was the fastest that year. The two men had ridden chair lifts while getting soaked as wet heavy snow fell on them from the skies. And through it all they discussed anything and everything: their marriages, their careers, politics, farming, history, life, death.

Frank couldn't make out most of the lyrics in A Face in the Crowd. What was important was the impression he got out of the music. It was tied to the West--the Old West--even though no one but Frank would get the connection. And it was tied to Lori. The crowd was all those people out there going about their daily business, scurrying about between job and grocery store and all those mundane things and places that most people preoccupy themselves with. An individual becomes lost in the crowd--crying out for someone like him--but the crowd is too busy frantically trodding the treadmills of life to notice or to care. The soul sees a river of faceless people flowing around him and drifts away in lonely isolation. Then out of the crowd appears a light--a face. It takes shape and touches the soul. Perhaps for a fleeting moment, an instant of time only, the isolation is penetrated as one soul touches another. The two recognize one another, and both know that they are not alone.

And.............much later on in the novel

Other girls did not wander around the room hand in hand with their customers. He never saw any of the other girls bring their customers over to the jukebox to help pick out their selections. He had been stood up, time and time again. It would bother him when he woke up the next morning, but at this moment of time, he had forced that unpleasant reality into the back of his mind. In the long run, he reasoned he would be dead. In a few short years he would be old and feeble. Lori had five children, so there was no way that they could make a future together. It was the here and now that counted as if both he and Lori were perched on the knife's edge of the present, both of them acutely aware of the sheer drop off on either side of them that represented both the past and the future. Yet that knife's edge of time, so precarious, so thinly devoid of substance, meant everything to them.

Frank thought about the message from Tom Petty's Face in the Crowd. For him at least, that face was one out of many--perhaps out of millions--one face that showed itself--possibly for only a few seconds-- to the other as a bright light different from all the rest. There was the meeting of the eyes, the flash of recognition from one to the other that there was a soul out there like one's own, then the parting which ended with the incredible sadness that they would never meet again. A vision in his mind appeared of a traveler of life on a train, which had just stopped for a few moments to pick up and drop off passengers. The other appeared suddenly outside the train, on the railing. The passenger and the one who had just gotten off saw each other--there was the flash of understanding--and then the train closed its doors--and began to creak forward. Seconds later, the vision--gone.

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