Dennis and Lonny remembered meeting that day Lonny applied for a job at the bar, but technically their first meeting had been a few months before that.
It was 1977, London. Punk was hitting its zenith, and Dennis had been dragged there by some friends, leaving the still baby Bourbon Room in the hands of his staff, with a hope and a prayer that nothing catastrophic would happen. But the Bourbon had and would see worse weekends with Dennis right there, and they didn’t have any big headliners playing, so Dennis decided a vacation wouldn’t kill him.
And it most decidedly didn’t. Punk was something new, something edgier that rock hadn’t seen before. It was at a performance by the Sex Pistols, in a crowded bar smelling of sweat, urine, vomit, and oddly enough glue, Dennis felt his pulse race, his heart swell, his stomach rise with the pure power of music. There was no way to discern melody, and he couldn’t make out a word of the lyrics, except for a lot of swearing; but the passion, felt by the performers and the audience, was electric.
The Pistols gave a good show. Sid Vicious literally cut himself, carving words onto his chest, while the other guys tore off their shirts and destroyed their instruments. If only the rock groups in the States could be as head banging, as rock oriented. Instead they still had the Bee Gees, disco, and other crap that Dennis had built the Bourbon Room to escape from. Maybe the Pistols would help out.
It had been a fun vacation, but not a relaxing one. Every night was another show, another bar, and another insane crowd. The Bourbon could get this crazy, with the right music at the helm. As the trip started to wind down, Dennis began to miss his own shitty bar with its big-haired clientele all waiting for the same sound that seemed to ignite London bars on a daily basis. They weren’t there yet; punk was just a stop. But something big was coming to rock. And Dennis was determined to be there.
London, he decided about halfway through, could be a place to get inspiration, to find talent and somehow convince them to cross the pond and come play in his club. There would have to be someone crazy enough to risk it, someone who wanted something out of music just as much as he did. He just had to find them.
Dennis did end up finding someone on that trip. It just wasn’t what he expected.
It was at the Sex Pistols concert, the night before they were due to leave. Dennis and his friends knew that this would be their last English hurrah; that tomorrow would be packing and finally facing hangovers after two weeks of nonstop drinking, and then a plane ride that would undoubtedly be miserable, so they did everything in their power to make this night all the more fun to make up for it. And the Sex Pistols were helping them do that, blasting out rock music that they probably could have heard from the hotel, and Dennis felt alive, but more homesick than ever.
He sat at the bar, surveying the club around him. It was a habit he had picked up as a club owner. Checking to see how the evening is going, enjoying from a distance, but at the end of the day this is still a business, and assisting in the destruction that you will eventually have to pay for was just not the best decision. And so Dennis participated through drinking, through cheering, through checking on the patrons and watching, reveling in the scene, if not becoming totally apart of it.
The guy he had been watching all night, though, was completely immersed.
He was skinny. He had on a Union Jack t-shirt and criminally tight pants, only further revealing just how tall and twig like he was. His hair was long and curly, rebellious, and coupled with his beard, he had a sort of punk Jesus look going on, and it was surprisingly working for him. He was everywhere; in the crowd of people jumping and clawing and fighting, in the rafters, swinging and dancing, talking to complete strangers and getting every one of them to laugh. He was popular, and his smile was infectious. This, it was clear, was his element; in the club, on the scene, amidst the chaos where only he seemed to fully comprehend what was going on.
Dennis found his eye being drawn to skinny punk Jesus. This guy was almost as infectious as the band, and Dennis found himself wishing he knew the guy better. He tried to keep those thoughts to a minimum; what would a guy like that want with an old fart like him? A guy still wearing fringed leather vests trying to find rock n’ roll, when this guy was so clearly modern and had it all figured out. Dennis attempted to distract himself with drinks, with the beautiful women around him, but women never had quite the hold over Dennis that they seemed to have over other men.
It was probably inevitable that skinny punk Jesus would get thirsty, but something about that moment still seemed like fate, like Lonny and Dennis would have to meet at some point, and find something in each other they’d been looking for for a long time.
Dennis had still been sitting at the bar, drinking, when skinny punk Jesus sauntered right up next to him and ordered himself a rum and coke. He and Dennis made eye contact, and Dennis found himself being greeted with a big grin that he couldn’t help but return.
“These guys are ridiculous, aren’t they?” said skinny Jesus, his accent letting him trip over his R’s just so.
“Yeah. Real show stoppers,” Dennis replied, glancing back at the stage, only to find himself more interested in the man in front of him.
“Yeah, they’re great. But I dunno, they’re just missing something, aren’t they? Some part of it that would just make it better.” This must be how skinny punk Jesus communicated with everyone; jumping right in with an opinion on something to start up a conversation. But Dennis couldn’t help but gape at how much he agreed with that statement.
“You know it’s weird, I was thinking the same thing.”
“Oh, you’re American, eh? Missed that.” Skinny punk Jesus held out his hand. “I’m Lonny.”
Dennis accepted the handshake. “Dennis, Dennis Dupree.”
“Well, Dennis Dupree, what do you think the Sex Pistols could do differently?” Lonny sat down now, sipping his drink and looking at Dennis with big eyes, like he really cared what he had to say.
“Well their performance is great, really hardcore. But imagine this with songs you could dance to, with lyrics you know.”
“Or with real melodies and words that you get, like love and sex and…”
“Rock and roll.”
“Exactly!” Lonny grinned wide at that. “You’re pretty smart, mate.”
“Not too bad yourself. So you live around here?”
“Down the block a ways. Liking punk, but hoping for something more, you know? Trying to find my place.”
“Seems like you fit in pretty well here.”
“Nah mate, not quite. It’s like we said, there’s something missing. I just can’t figure out what. Now what about you? What brings you to jolly old London town?”
“Friends. Checking out the scene. Thinking maybe I can convince some band around here to come play at my club back in LA.”
“Oh really? What’s the place?”
“The Bourbon Room. All rock, and the chicks drink for free.”
“That’s great mate. Any luck with the talent search?”
“Not really. You wouldn’t happen to be in a band, would you?”
“Oh no way, mate. I leave that up to these guys to come up with the art. I just like the bars. Living it up, watching people, you know.”
“Yeah, I do.”
They regarded each other for a moment, smiling at the acknowledgement of a kindred spirit. Suddenly one of Dennis’ friends called out from the crowd.
“Looks like I’m needed.”
“Have fun mate. Hope you like London.”
“Thanks. And hey, if you ever come to LA, stop by the Bourbon sometime. I think you’d like it.”
Dennis reached into his pockets and grabbed the last wad of money he had from the exchange office and put it on the bar. For a second, his fingers met Lonny’s. The men looked at each other, feeling a sort of fire pass between them that neither could exactly explain.
And just as quick as it had happened, Dennis moved his hand, and rejoined his friends, leaving Lonny at the bar to talk to the people on his other side, and the two parted ways.
Neither man would wake up the next morning and remember their exchange. Only just that some moment had passed with some stranger, that Lonny had met an American and that Dennis had found someone who agreed that punk could evolve into something better. But something ended up nagging at Lonny enough to get him to go to LA to seek out a new life, and Dennis ended up hiring a bunch of punk bands at the Bourbon, trying to capture something he couldn’t place.
When Lonny ended up at the Bourbon, the name standing out to him for more than just being the new hottest club on the Strip, he applied for work, finding from back in London that being a part of a bar only made being a part of the rock and roll scene better. Dennis liked Lonny; he felt like the guy had a good head on his shoulders, that he had found someone who saw his vision for the bar. And Lonny felt like he could make a home here, that he and Dennis could be close for a long time and that he could be really happy.
When Dennis reached across for Lonny’s resume, their fingers touching for a moment, the same fire passed between them as it had before. Something inside both of them felt the tinge of remembrance, but lost it. But as their hands parted, more slowly this time, the men couldn’t deny the fire anymore.
And as Stacee Jaxx likes to say, the fire phoenix can’t be contained. Not forever.