The building must have once been a neighborhood store. Today, the exterior is plain; solid, but not fancy. The door faces the side street and above it hangs a jaunty sign sporting the retro Tip Top logo. Just inside is a small room that functions as a vestibule with the johns off to the right. On a music night the band’s merch table takes up most of the space. The bar is through a door on the left; past the doorman who’ll take your money and stamp your hand.
The night Deb and I went to see Sarah Borges open for The Bottle Rockets, we parked along the curb nearly under the sign. And as we arrived at the stoop, Sarah and a couple bandmates burst out the door.
“Oh, my goodness,” I said in an exaggerated way, but she didn’t recognize me yet.
I had met Sarah through my brother. I think he is practically a patron and has been a fan since he was going to M.I.T. and she was a local phenom. She has done a couple crowdfunded albums in recent years. As a poor vagabond sailor, I chipped in just enough to get the music.
The last five summers or so, when Tim and his family are back in the States for a visit, Tim has hired Sarah to perform at a garden party on Boston’s south shore where his family reunites with their Boston friends and former neighbors.
|Deb, Sarah, The Bottle Rockets and I|
As she walked in, Sarah apologized that she hadn’t had enough change for the parking meter and the time allotted. As if by magic, Tim poured an amazing number of quarters into my cupped hands.
“Go fill Sarah’s meter,” he said, “I’ve got to go pick up the ice cream.”
Thus, I found myself walking across the quad at M.I.T. with Sarah to find her car. She was dressed for a casual afternoon acoustic jam in a mini skirt and cowboy boots. We must have been quite a sight mingling with all the future engineers and computer scientists but had a nice walk and a pleasant chat about music and family.
Back at the Tip Top, Deb and I found a booth and as Sarah passed by, Deb pointed to me and asked her: “Do you remember this guy?”
“Hey, um … your brother is … Dawson-Townsend, in Switzerland. And you’re just Townsend” Sarah declared.
Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. He also produced the last couple Bottle Rockets albums. Roscoe has an amazing musical pedigree; including having been Joan Jett’s original lead guitar player in the late 70s. Roscoe was playing for Sarah on this tour and the Bottle Rockets’ rhythm section, bass and drums, were the rest of her band for the night. Apparently, they had all met on an Outlaw Country Cruise, Sarah had been scheduled as a solo act, but a borrowed pick up band -- these same guys -- was organized. She and her gathered crew put on a killer set of rock and roll. They played a lot of Sarah’s new music; peppered with old favorites and the go-to songs from her back catalog. With a short break after Sarah, The Bottle Rockets took the stage and after two or three songs, I wandered out back to find Sarah.
“Do you smoke?” Sarah asked and I shook my head. “Well, if you can hang out a minute, I want to chat.”
Sarah took care of her business with the club as Roscoe sat near the merch table eating a sandwich. Soon Sarah and I went outside to the crisp air on the sidewalk. She lit a smoke and ...
“So, how’s the boat?” she asked! The.First.Words.She.Spoke.
Suddenly I was lost. Disoriented. Blood thrummed in my ears as my heart pounded. Misty stars floated in the air. Seagulls cried. Waves crashed and hissed against a beach. The.First.Words.She.Spoke.
Now, I wasn’t on the make that night. I was honored that she even recognized me. But Men are often ridiculous about inappropriately projecting our affections on any woman who is remotely nice to us. We are even worse about imagining that woman is projecting affection in our direction. But when a woman asks a sailor about his boat -- FIRST.
Well, that was almost more than I could handle appropriately.
Despite my swimming sweaty brain, we had a nice chat. It was more than surreal standing out on the sidewalk, after just watching Sarah rock the house at the Tip Top, and talking with her about her son, life in Boston, and my niece and nephew, whom she had seen more recently than I.
Anyway, I think Sarah’s been on the road since her late teens. She has heard it all and has probably had to shut down all kinds of harassers and interlopers. I’ve seen her burn hecklers into silence from the stage. Moreover, I’m in no position to offer her anything. But.The.First.Words.She.Spoke.
And besides, I can’t decide if she and Roscoe are a couple or just musical partners. She told me, nodding to the black Suburban at the curb, that they like traveling together. I also read an article where she referred to him as her “partner in crime.” Each of these could equally refer to a professional relationship or something more.
There was a couple at the Tip Top who I know are also Michigan friends of Sarah’s. Inside, she stopped by them a couple times to chat. I really don’t know, but I think I was the only one to stand outside on the sidewalk for a chilly, extended chat.
If nothing else, I like to think that I might have made Joan Jett’s guitar player a little jealous.