I had not intended to post this segment so early in my "Degrees" series. However, due to her passing this month, I am writing this as a tribute.
Etta James was residing in San Francisco during at least a portion of the time that I lived there. Contrary to many people's perception, San Francisco is a small city and paths cross easily there, sometimes crossing and recrossing until they occasionally resemble a plate of spaghetti.
I had hosted a party one Saturday night. One guest, an extremely cute, extremely well built friend of mine stayed the night as he was too intoxicated to get home across the bay to Oakland safely. To be completely frank, we had "enjoyed each other's company" on more than one occasion. As I said, he was cute, fun and had a body as hard and solid as a brick wall. I would have been a fool to not take advantage of these opportunities when they, well, arose. But on this night, drunk beyond all reason, we merely slept together.
The next morning we were walking to get coffee to help clear the spiderwebs in our heads brought on by the previous evenings revelry, when he stopped, went up to a building and without explanation rang a doorbell. A voice answered, my friend unidentified himself and we were buzzed in.
Once inside, we knocked on a door and were ushered into a beautiful vintage apartment by the extremely handsome, deeply tanned occupant. A redwood chair rail wrapped around the living room topping off redwood wainscoting. Molding graced the ceiling surrounding the period light fixtures. Morning sun poured in through generous windows.
The apartment's occupant proved to be intelligent and gracious, not to mention very easy to look at. He and my friend had met once in a donut shop and had "enjoyed each other's company" several times. I need to express that in San Francisco in the early 1980's our actions were not as slutty as they may sound today. He had, in the recent past, been Etta James road manager. He regaled us with an accounting of a party he had had featuring a group of hardcore punks in the kitchen, Etta in the living room and a reporter from Women's Wear Daily scurrying about busily recording and notating the various goings on.
When Etta first asked him if he was interested in being her road manager, he queried, "I don't know, what does a road manager do?" To which she replied "You'll find out."
Several months later Ms. James was scheduled to perform at the smallish yet legendary dance club I frequented in those days. It was a major event for the club. "Are you going" became the question of the day at San Francisco's lone gay video bar as they interspersed clips of her performing among their usual fare. I met up with, by chance, a friend of mine who knew her and we claimed a position directly in front of the low stage. Midway through her set he shouted to her that they were prohibiting him from photographing the event. She explained that the flash would be too disrupting and, as a consolation, dedicated her next song to him.
Upon hearing of her passing, I emailed a dear friend of mine, who was my roommate in those days, that I didn't quite know how to deal with losing a one of a kind talent like hers. He replied, be grateful for being able to hear and be grateful for the wonders of modern recording.
My wish is that her soul finds the peace and contentment it so richly deserves for her gift of bringing so much beauty and enjoyment to so many.