Richard Lloyd: 'Scuse Me While I Hit This Guy
After a few minutes of not provoking further argument with me, Richard got bored and turned back around and began sticking needles in his head. Acupuncture needles. Lots of them. In his scalp. In his face. In his ears. And all the while talking, talking, talking about his theories of oriental medicine, and how the needles were going to fix his voice. He was rasping so bad that I thought we might have to cancel the show that night. Blood was pouring down his face in little rivulets from the needles.
“Richard, I’ll bet you $20 you can’t shut up for 20 minutes,” I said.
“You’re on,” said Richard, who lost the bet in under 30 seconds.
“Double or nothing for another 20 minutes,” I said.
After maybe two minutes of silence, Richard was bugging. He couldn’t talk with $40 on the line, but he couldn’t just sit there either. So he rolled down the window and stood up, extending his entire upper body out the window where he waved frantically and meaninglessly at all the passing cars. The wind blew out most of the onion mist, even if I hadn’t quite engineered the moment of silence I was hoping for. And it was thus that we drove on to the Best Western Inn on the Park, a venerable old hotel across from the State Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Richard,” I said, “you’re not going to check in like that, are you?”
The guy had dried blood all over his face. Most of the needles were still stuck in his head. He was wearing parachute pants that he’d been wearing every day for seven weeks. His hair, dyed a reddish shade of brown unseen since Ronald Reagan left the White House, was hanging in asymmetric winding wisps to the left.
“You’ll see,” said Richard.
“You know the weird part about that onion?” Billy said as we sat on a couch in the lobby watching Richard approach the front desk. “It actually improved the smell in the car. It got rid of that horrible tobacco stink.”
It was true. Richard had been ingesting colossal amounts of tobacco in various forms: unfiltered cigarettes that he rolled himself, corncob pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff. If anyone objected, he claimed that he, like the Native Americans, was using it for religious purposes. The snuff was the worst. It looked like feces mixed with lawn clippings, and he’d stick globs of it up his nose, and then blow florescent brown puddles of snot into a Kleenex. So, yes, the onion was an improvement on the normal miasma of rancid nicotine in the car.
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “He looks like Leatherface. He looks like he’s going to cut up teenagers with machine tools. And they’re going to let him check in.” The two girls behind the front desk were laughing at his jokes, completely charmed.
“They want the money,” Keith said. “It’s a bad economy.”
And about three hours later, Richard walked across Carroll Street from the hotel to the Frequency, took the stage with his Stratocaster and delivered two hours of shit-hot rock and roll to the loudly appreciative Cheeseheads that had packed the joint. True, it was a small club with an official capacity of 99, but compared to any other band on the planet in any other venue that night, the performance was still up there in the number-one percentile of shit-hottedness. Great songs from Television (“Friction,” “See No Evil”) and all the different periods of Richard’s solo career (“Field of Fire,” “Wicked Son”) interspersed with five or six monster Hendrix covers. So for about the millionth time in three weeks on the road, Richard completely flummoxed me. I would have sworn on a Bible he was going to suck in Madison. Just two nights before in Omaha he’d spent most the show cursing the audience and lying to them about why he was two hours late to the gig. It may have been the most appalling concert I ever saw. Compelling, too. Like a car wreck. But Madison: brilliant and compelling. I mean, who is this guy?
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