Pattie Boyd’s Greatest Hits
by Matt Russell
He buys you a drink and says his name is Hutch and you think there are worse things to be named after than a song. Like a seventies TV character or piece of furniture.
“Layla,” you say, and shake his clammy hand.
“Layla, Layla,” he says, rolling your name around his mouth like a toothpick. And he’s still squeezing your hand when he says, “Like the song, right?”
You roll your eyes and slide your hand from his grip.
“Right,” you say. “Like the song.”
“Right, right. Clapton. It’s about banging George Harrison’s wife or something, right?”
“It wasn’t about—”
“Or was it Lennon’s wife?”
His breath reeks of chili fries and Altoids. Eyes dilated and bloodshot. Every time he blinks you’re not sure they’ll open again. He grins.
“So what was she, some kind of slut or something?”
“Pattie Boyd was not a slut.”
His glazed expression is a masterpiece of cognitive malfunction.
“Who the fuck is Pattie Boyd?”
All classification is simplification. A guy telling his buddy to check out the girl across the bar is too general, so he breaks her down. She’s not the girl. She’s the blonde with the tight ass and big tits. Classified. Simplified. The guy playing pool with his friends doesn’t mean anything, so he’s the frat boy in the sleeveless tee. The lady cutting loose on the dance floor is the dyke doing jumping-jacks. The man sitting alone is the creepy old guy in the corner.
When you walked into the bar, everyone with a view gave you a good once over. Now you’re not a woman. You’re the skinny chick with the flat chest. You’re the brunette with squinty eyes—you know, like that actress. You’re long legs in high heels. You’re the girl sitting at the bar all by herself. Classified. Simplified.
He says his name is Peter, but his friends call him Woody. He says he doesn’t know why. He’s a short, skinny kid—probably just turned twenty-one. He has wavy brown hair and peach-fuzz sideburns. Noodle arms and chapped lips. He asks what your name is.
“Layla,” you say and his eyes grow wide. “Yes, like the song.”
He stutters something unintelligible and says he’ll be right back. He runs like a clumsy puppy across a crowded dance floor to a stage where a deejay is taking song requests. You finish the drink Hutch bought you and order another one. It’s not that you think it’s a bad song, or that you dislike Eric Clapton’s music in general.
Woody returns, breathing heavily.
The sound of his unfortunate nickname from your lips puts a crooked grin on his face, and he’s probably blushing, but his face is still red from his dash across the room.
“So what song did you request?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” You rest your chin on your fist and feign contemplation. Just then an unmistakable guitar riff fills the room. Now you’re blushing because you pegged him all wrong.
It’s “Something.” Written by George Harrison for Pattie Boyd.
You smile and say, “You got me.”
He says, “Frank Sinatra once called this the greatest love song ever written.”
Everyone knows something about The Beatles.
He says, “Did you know that Pattie and George met on the set of A Hard Day’s Night?”
He says their names like they’re personal friends of his. You imagine his bedroom as a shrine, the walls covered with posters, some with auto-penned signatures, others framed with gold-record reprints of Help! and All Things Must Pass. His closet is filled with stacks of pop culture themed trivia games. His iTunes catalogue borders on the obsessive. He has his parents’ old Technics SL-120 record player and an original pressing of Rubber Soul. He’s the founder and sole member of the Pattie and George fan club.
“Pattie used to receive hate mail and death threats from George’s fans. Teenage girls threw shoes at her outside concert halls.”
“That’s awful,” you say.
And you know he’s just getting started, but “Something” is only a three minute song. It trails off and is replaced by “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and Woody just stands there a moment, searching, deflating before your eyes. It’s apparent he has nothing on Sex Pistols. No roundabout relation to his beloved George and Pattie.
“Well,” he says.
And you can just smile at him.
“It was nice to meet you, Woody.”
The classification of first names is only useful if you’re writing a book called 1001 First Names for Your Child. There are Biblical names like Michael and Paul, mythological names like Selene and Tristan. There are gemstone names like Ruby and Jade, floral names like Violet and Rose. Mood names like Joy, occupational names like Tailor and avian names like Robin. Parents name their kids after television characters and cities and months and seasons and fruits. Parents name their kids after their favorite songs.
He says his name is Indiana and he’s the house deejay. You ask him if he was named after the state or the movie character, and he says he was named after his dad. So he’s Indiana Jr. and his stage name is DJ Doom. He, of course, asks you for your name. Lying would be a waste of expensive therapy. When you tell him, he nods his head real slow and says, “Cool.”
He’s wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses and you know he’s checking you out. He’s wearing a black T-shirt that says Enter the Temple of DJ Doom in a large, Indiana Jones-style font. He gets his drinks for free and offers to buy you one. “Sweet Jane” by Velvet Underground is playing and he says he only has a few minutes before he needs to be back on stage.
“Don’t let me keep you,” you say, and either he didn’t hear you, or he didn’t hear you.
“George Harrison was a dick,” he says, and you swear to God you’re never coming back to this bar. All you wanted was a drink. Sometimes a girl just wants to go to a bar and have a drink by herself. Just like that creepy old guy in the corner.
“No shit,” he says. “Cheating on Pattie Boyd every chance he got. She was no saint either, mind you. Like, did you know she had an affair with Ronnie Wood?”
He means the guitarist from The Rolling Stones. He and Harrison actually swapped wives one night.
And like someone flicking your earlobe, he says, “Did you know Clapton slept with Pattie’s sister, Jenny?”
And you know he wants to go on, that he’s a bottomless well of sordid trivia, but he stops because the song has ended. He runs like a teenage girl, arms flapping, across the dance floor. And just when you think you’re rid of him, he says into his microphone, “I’d like to send this next song out to my girl at the bar.” He’s pointing at you.
Now everyone is looking and already you can’t wait for the song to be over. It’s not that you think it’s a bad song, or that it was the song they played when you were elected Prom Queen in high school.
DJ Doom says, “Layla, this song is for you.”
And everyone is still looking at you when that unmistakable guitar riff leaks through the speakers, and DJ Doom is shooting finger bullets at you and he’s laughing because he thinks he got you so good. Because the song isn’t “Layla.” It’s “Wonderful Tonight,” written for Pattie Boyd by Eric Clapton. This was after he wrote “Layla,” after her affair with Ron Wood and, depending on who you ask, before or after her split with George Harrison.
And now, of course, you’re fair game.
Some little twerp in factory-torn jeans comes over and tells you it was Pattie Boyd—not Yoko Ono—who’s to blame for the band’s breakup.
He says, “If she hadn’t introduced George to all that Eastern meditation bullshit, The Beatles never would’ve broken up and John Lennon would still be alive today.”
Another idiot wearing a fedora comes over and says, “Did you know that “Layla” was named after a Persian story called The Story of Layla and Majnum?”
Of course you did. It’s basically about a man in love with an unavailable woman.
The bartender walks over and buys you another round and says, “Did you know that George Harrison had an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife?”
Maureen Starr. It broke up their marriage after George proclaimed his love for her at a dinner party. You swallow the drink and feel the cheap tequila burn its way down your throat. You stand and waver for a moment. With everyone still looking at you, it feels a little like that scene from Carrie and you look to the ceiling for a bucket of pig’s blood.
“Wonderful Tonight” ends and makes way for “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” by Billy Myles. Clapton covered it on the Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album. It’s basically about a guy in love with his best friend’s wife. DJ Doom shoots another finger bullet into your brain as you lurch toward the stage.
A greasy red-head says he has a Fender Stratocaster signed by Clapton. Some clueless dipshit with a hearing problem is singing the chorus of “Lola” by The Kinks. Another shouts, “Show us your boobs!”
DJ Doom cuts Billy Myles short and finally you hear it. That unmistakable guitar riff.
It’s not that you think it’s a bad song, or that it’s the ringtone every one of your friends has assigned to your number.
The entire bar is singing along. Half the people don’t even know the words—they’re just going, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da.
DJ Doom is playing air guitar with his microphone stand and you climb onto the stage and start pressing random buttons on his soundboard.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he says.
You’re hitting little white and red buttons and turning frequency knobs and sliding volume levels up and down.
“Hands off the gear, Pattie!”
You give his crotch the pointed toe of your high-heel. He falls to his knees and his microphone hits the stage with an amplified thud. The crowd on the dance floor cheers and starts chanting, Pattie, Pattie. DJ Doom is groaning at your feet.
You pick up the microphone and yell, “Shut up!”
And either they didn’t hear you, or they didn’t hear you.
You yank all the power cords from their sockets.
You yell into the microphone, “Shut up-shut up-shut up-shut up-shut up,” only you unplugged the PA system, so now you’re just yelling into a dead mic.
You scream at the top of your lungs as a heavyset bouncer pushes his way through the crowd.
Someone moans, “Get off the stage,” and you realize it was DJ Doom, still lying on the floor holding his nuts.
At the far edge of the crowd, you see Woody walking toward the exit. He pauses at the door and looks back at you. You start to sway back and forth, nearly in rhythm with the chanting. The colors of the room fade to sepia. You close your eyes. The voices turn to a rumbling drone. Your ears start to ring. Nausea and heaviness.
A booming voice cuts through the static: “Enough!”
You open your eyes and look down. The bouncer is standing below the stage, one hand raised toward the crowd behind him. His name tag says Winston and you wonder if he has any cigarettes. He steps up and grips your arm to steady you. You let DJ Doom’s microphone drop to the floor, this time without the amplified thud. You look past everyone toward the door, looking for the only friendly face in the bar, but Woody is gone.
Winston helps you off the stage.
“This way, Pattie.”
“I am not Pattie Boyd.”
He puts a surprisingly gentle hand on your shoulder and guides you through the crowd.
“Of course you’re not.”
The looks people give you as you’re escorted from the bar say you’re not a woman anymore. You’re the crazy bitch getting eighty-sixed. The psycho chick who flipped out onstage. The girl named after that song. Classified. Simplified.
Outside, Winston helps you into the backseat of a cab. He stands there a moment with his hand on the door and peers down at you.
“What do you have against that song anyway?”
You close your eyes and lean back.
“I don’t remember.”
He closes the door and taps the roof. The driver eyes you in the rearview. His name badge hangs below it.
“Well?” he says.
“Another Day” by Paul McCartney is playing on the radio.
“Can you turn it up, please?”