Gaze not on beauty too much, lest it blast thee; nor too long, lest it blind thee; nor too near, lest it burn thee. If thou like it, it deceives thee; if thou love it, it disturbs thee; if thou hunt after it, it destroys thee. If virtue accompany it, it is the heart's paradise; if vice associate it, it is the soul's purgatory. It is the wise man's bonfire, and the fool's furnace.
- Quarles, English Poet (1592-1644)
It was the hottest day of Spring, as a matter of fact it was as hot as any Summer day that year as well, it must have been about 110 degrees. It was Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, a holiday for the Mexican revolution which I hear they don’t even celebrate in Mexico but here in Southern California, it meant ninety-eight cent Coronas and cheap tacos at the local bars.
We had a gig at the local music store where my best friend Marc taught guitar. It was a grand re-opening and we were asked to play. At the time our band consisted of Marc on guitar, Mike Loos on drums, and myself on the bass. We still hadn’t found the right singer for our band, but they said we could just come and play as sort of an instrumental clinic to all the young musicians.
That morning I was wakened by a call from the drummer, Mike Loos. He told me a nightmare story of how he’d lent his car to his roommate Jake the night before and when he woke up this morning he discovered that Jake had returned the car but had forgotten to leave the keys!
Jake was working about 30 miles north of where Mike and I lived in Newport Beach, and the music store was another 30 miles south of Newport. We were supposed to be at the gig in a little over an hour. The lazy morning I was looking forward to was not to be.
I picked Mike up in my Datsun 280z after a quick shower and we were off. We got his keys from Jake and on the way back we talked about his girlfriend Dana. We sped with gratitude for the car pool lane as I tried to explain to him that he was too good for her, that she was doing nothing more than causing problems for him and the band, and that he should try to figure out if he really wanted to be domesticated with her and the family lumber business or hang with the boys in the band and the groupies. I was being a bit rough with it, but hey, in my opinion as a friend, they were really doing each other no good. My words were going in one ear and out the other. I had a feeling that this was to be our last gig with Mike as our drummer.
When we got back to Mike’s house, I heard a girl scream “Ow!” as in “Ow, baby.” I looked up to the apartment across the street and saw a quick flash of long, brown, curly hair, which has always been my favorite. I said “Hey, what’s up.” Not too original, but a quick response, as if I wasn’t caught off guard.
Her name was Lisa, on top of the Lisa I met in Hollywood and would date and live with for years, here was yet another Lisa with big flowing curly brown hair! She told me her phone number and she said I probably wouldn’t remember it. I couldn’t help but be contrived in telling her I always had a good memory when it came to a pretty face. When we got out of sight of the apartment I wrote that number down and vowed to call her in a couple of days, so as not to seem too eager.
We were really under the gun for time and we drove like maniacs to make it to the gig. We swerved from lane to lane like a nervous deer startled in the forest.
When we finally showed up, Marc and Denise, our manager, were both ready to ring our necks. We were glad to only be about ten minutes late. The band before us was just finishing up their last song, Marc said. When they finished playing it was dead silent. I looked around to see about two hundred of the most unimpressed faces I had ever seen.
“Tough crowd,” I commented to the bassist.
“Yeah, good luck,” he said.
That’s the kind of response that can make a calm performer nervous.
Up until that day, I had spent months sequestered in my room, struggling to finish a music book before the magazine it was advertised in hit the newsstand. It was 110 degrees and I was wearing a long white sleeved shirt and long white jeans. I remember a couple girls saying, “How can you play in this heat with the long sleeves and long pants???”
I said, “I don’t care about the weather, I wear whatever looks cool.”
I don’t remember much of the gig. My brain felt kind of mushy in the heat.
Midway through our set, Marc had one of his students stand up and told everyone it was her sixteenth birthday. She was sixteen, and a very sweet sixteen at that. Her name was Dawn, and she blushed as her friends tried to get her to stand up and wave to everyone.
After we were done playing, I followed her and her friends to a sandwich shop in the same cul-de-sac. I loved her brown eyes and after we talked for a while I got her to sit on the grass with me and gave her a little birthday kiss. Her mom came to pick her up a little bit later.
By this time I was the only one in our band hanging around the store. Marc and Mike had their girlfriends waiting and Denise had business to attend to. I had already scored phone numbers on two good looking girls, so I decided to try getting a third.
The memories I have of Leila are such a bittersweet mixture of some of the best times of my life and such a deep longing for more.
I saw her walk into the music store. I followed, unconsciously, like I was sleep walking. She was checking out the guitars. I noticed she wore black nail polish.
“Where do you get your nails done?”
She laughed with two of the most beautiful syllables I have ever heard. A smile lit her face and I was in love. “I did them myself,” she said.
I asked her if she was into guitar, I suggested she take lessons from my friend Marc only to find out that she already was. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk.
It wasn’t much of a walk. We ended up going around the building and sitting in the alley.
We talked about life. I told her she was beautiful and she denied it. I told her that she was a miracle creation of God and that not only was it incredible to be alive and have a life, but she was granted beauty the likes of which very few women will ever know. I tried to make her realize that she owes God some appreciation for his work and I finally succeeded in convincing her to say it out loud and thank Him.
Being with Leila that afternoon was wonderful, like the feeling of a couple glasses of champagne mixed with a warm, glowing sun. It was the perfect buzz, I was totally sober and yet I felt as if I was floating. She intoxicated me with her presence.
. . . a couple days after I recounted that gig and wrote this, Mike Loos passed away. He died of an aneurysm. It was such a shock. He was so young and had so much ahead of him. He was a great guy and it was always a blast and a trip to be in a band with him.
I read this over when I heard the news. It was strange how I was just thinking of him the other day, writing about our Cinco de Mayo gig just a couple of years back. It was haunting reading of how I’d felt that gig was probably going to be our last one. I wish I’d never felt that way. I wish it hadn’t come true.
They say only the good die young, and in Mike’s case, that couldn’t have been more true. He was nineteen. Such a sad irony, here was the one guy in the band that was working out at the gym when the rest of us were working on getting a good buzz. Here was the one straight arrow in the band and he died of an aneurysm at nineteen, pumping iron at the gym.
Mike was a weird character, no doubt about it. Mike was different than other people, but in a cool way. He loved his pythons. I hated snakes, but I’d watch from the edge of he bathroom as he’d load one of the two pythons into the bathtub and drop a mouse in there. It was fun to watch, noting the moment the snake sensed he wasn’t alone in the tub, the slow procession as he got himself in position and then the brutal strike, the unhinged jaws, the swallow and then the noticeable lump . . . but what I remember more than feeding time was Mike’s ability to do an impersonation of his snakes. It wasn’t just like a casual pantomime of a snake, he really looked like he could flip a switch and be in complete reptilian mode. “Do the snake, Mike! Do the snake!” we used to say.
Mike liked Animal, the Muppet character that played drums, he kept a little Animal on his drums, and he loved the unbelievably precise drumming of Neal Peart. I remember the last band we were in together, I broke out an old metronome that had this big light on top, we’d set it to half notes and we’d get the snare on the 2 and 4 locked into that slow, slow, steady flashing light, he called it “Cyclops” and once we’d mastered playing to Cyclops, his chops began to be matched with a flawless groove. That teenager would have been a monster drummer in his 20s.
You were a good friend, Mike. You were taken away from us way too young, but not a year goes by I don’t think of you at least a few times, you, your drumming and your crazy love for those pythons.