Get Real: Chicks on a Plane

Get Real with Carla Stockton

I’ve been traveling to New Mexico all my life.

On the Turquoise Trail Photo by Carla Stockton

Well, most of it – my parents celebrated my first birthday in Joplin, MO, on our way to spend our second year together outside Albuquerque, and when I was four, my older sister married and settled in the mountains north of Santa Fe, necessitating that I visit intermittently, which means that over the years, I have often crossed the country between there and my East Coast homes by rail, by bus, by car and by plane.

But my friend has never been there. So last month I talked her into going with me to visit my sister’s children, grandchildren and a great-grandson, and thus we wound up together, chicks on a plane, passengers on Jet Blue’s late night airbus to Albuquerque, the only existing nonstop flight between New York and New Mexico.

This late night flight is pretty mellow. Many people have come to the flight in pjs, knowing that even though they’ll arrive at their destination before midnight, it’ll be nearly 2 AM in their body clocks, and they just want to relax. Jet Blue has free entertainment and wifi, so it’s easy to relax as one would in one’s own living room, vegging out or taking a nap before going to sleep for the night.

My friend and I cozied into our seats and steeled ourselves for the long sit. I readied my ipad to watch the PBS Wolf Hall series my writing had made me miss, and she opened her NY Times Magazine and settled in for a long read. She was not so happy about being in the middle seat, but she’s a good sport and didn’t complain. Then, when a very dapper gentleman sat down on the aisle seat, her demeanor changed to absolutely positive. I stopped staring out the window and smiled in his direction as well. There’s nothing more pleasing to two single women held captive in an upright position than the prospect of pleasant male companionship. Especially if he’s easy to look at.

Our guy quietly arranged himself, pulled out a book, and made himself as comfortable as his long legs would allow. After several minutes and some sidelong glances, he said to either of us or both, “Well, you look like a civilized pair.”

We both took that as a compliment. Especially coming from a man who was about to read a real book. Of nonfiction! So we curried the conversation. He asked what was taking us to New Mexico and allowed that he goes there often to recharge himself. The more he talked about New Mexico, the more animated he became.

“It’s such a spiritual center,” he effused. “I can feel my creativity surging from the minute I arrive there.”

He has friends, he told us, who have a house near Santa Fe, on the Turquoise Trail, the scenic route between Albuquerque and the capital city. “They live on the island, and they don’t go out as often as I wish they did. So I go for them. It’s heaven.”

The conversation was natural, like we had known one another for years. That’s how it is when New Yorkers, who are comfortable in their own skin, find commonalities of interest and backgrounds. I was marveling at how well preserved he was for a man of my generation. Lanky, fit, not terribly wrinkled, he wore his gray hair proudly, and his face was weathered, wise and neither botoxed nor surgically altered. Not a smoker. I could see a man who had simply aged well, handsomely, comfortably. Blue/gray sparkled under lush eyelashes and brows, and he actually looked at each of us as we talked, made eye contact, and listened.

After he asked us what we did in New York, and we had exchanged our connections to the Land of Enchantment, he finally answered our queries and explained who he was. When he had asked what we did, and I told him I was a writer, he had smiled hugely and said he, too was a writer, but he had not explained what he wrote.

Writes. It turns out that this man is the author of the soundtrack that plays in the background over all the memories of my teenage blunderyears. My friend is younger than I am; she didn’t grow up with these songs, but as soon as he sang one snippet of Lightning Strikes, I recognized Lou Christie.

Lou Christie, photo courtesy of Lou Christie

If you were my age or not too much younger, you would probably remember him from American Bandstand. He and his co-writer Twyla Herbert – to whom Lou referred as “pure genius” every chance he got during our airplane conversation – collaborated on some of the hottest songs of the first half of the sixties, sung by Lou in his fascinating falsetto and backed by singers, who included Twyla’s daughter Shirley and Lou’s friend Kay Chick – to whom Lou referred lovingly as “my girls – plus a schoolmate named Bill Fabac. Besides Lightning, there was Gypsy Cried, Rhapsody in the Rain, Two Faces Have I. They were everywhere, you couldn’t miss them, and when they weren’t performing on their own, they were performing as The Golden Boys with Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darrin, or Lou was teaming up with Leslie Gore or Diana Ross. He was huge.

If you are much younger, perhaps you have discovered him recently. Because it turns out that Lou Christie has never stopped turning out the hits. Last time I remember being aware of his music was in the film Rain Man. Director Barry Levinson chose the haunting “Blue Horizon” for the recognition/reversal scene, where Raymond and Charlie bond and find their true brother-hood. But the man, now in his 70’s and spryer than Mick Jagger, is still touring the country, still rocking the airwaves with a show on Sirius, still turning us on with his suggestive lyrics and his liquid vocals.

I asked Lou to let me interview him, and he agreed. So in my next installment of GET REAL, I am going to introduce you to a truly fascinating representative of my own generation, who is now as well known among my granddaughter’s peers as he is among mine. I’ll take you to his house, a cozy Santa Fe style cottage in Midtown Manhattan, and I’ll give you the lowdown.

Meanwhile, let me leave you with something to hum yourself back to work on Monday.   Here is Rhapsody in the Rain, inspired by Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, a song so suggestive even American Bandstand was afraid to play it till Lou turned down the heat. But, he told Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow in an interview on Sirius Radio, “I kept the best lyric in. The windshield wipers saying, ‘together, together, together, together,’ still sounds like, well, you know.” There are actually two versions of the song; this is the one that was banned. You can look for the other one and judge for yourself whether there’s any real difference.

Be sure to look for my interview with Lou Christie in my next GET REAL installment.

Carla Stockton - headshotCarla Stockton, MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation.  She is the mother of three, grandmother of two, writer, theater director, filmmaker, teacher and vegan traveler.

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