You know me. I tell only the truth in my stories. (Mostly.) So maybe this once I told a big lie, just so I could tell an even better story that’s actually true (mostly.) Was it worth the sacrifice of my very soul? You decide.
Jim Ottea and I had been cruising through Colorado for several days, he on his Yamaha FJR, me on my BMW K1200LT. After almost two weeks on the road, the trip was nearly over, but the fun was not. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not over ’til it’s over. People have been hurt trying to prove us wrong.
We’d been laying our bikes down low enough to kiss the pavement up near Telluride, traveling from Silverton to a little town called Ouray (pronounced “OO-ray”) where the cutbacks are sweet and the drop-offs are steep. The roads were so fine we spent two days on them, staying more than one night in a nearby town so we could play on Highway 550 again and again.
Winding down into Ouray on our last day in the neighborhood, I rolled out of the final hairpin and pulled up next to Jim on a road-side pull-off, with Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gada-Da-Vida blasting out of the speakers on the Beemer.
“How many times have you listened to that record?” Jim asked, possibly annoyed for having heard it blaring at the last 3 or 4 stops. (I’m also not sure he was completely comfortable with my wanting to play my ABBA CD whenever we’d pull up near Harley guys in their leathers and do-rags.)
“About seven,” I answered, “I just found it this morning in my CD case. Pretty nice stuff, huh? Ever hear this song?”
Jim snorted, and I continued, “The drum solo alone is good for 20 miles, even on these winding roads.” I cranked it up a little more for his listening enjoyment, just in time for the song’s big finish.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he winced, obviously jealous of my six-cd-changer. I shrugged, and we pulled back onto the highway and out of town, headed toward Gunnison and points east – the general direction of home, although neither of us wanted to face that ugly fact, not yet.
The next day we were on our way to raft the Royal Gorge, although we didn’t realize we were on our way to raft it, for conceptually, that adventure hadn’t yet occurred to us. We pulled into a little park where the Arkansas River storms past a wooden deck overlooking the water. On the platform stood a kid about 20 years old, snapping pictures of the white water rafters as they splashed along in the rapids below (to sell at outrageous prices when they returned to the rafting company’s headquarters.)
While Jim went back to his motorcycle, undoubtedly to see where he might be able to mount a six-cd-changer and 8-speaker sound system on an FJR, the young man and I chatted about his job and his cameras, about life in general and about nothing in particular,
“Hey,” the kid said to me, out of Jim’s hearing, “Anyone ever tell your friend he looks like a rock star?”
I leaned back against the railing, taking in the full warmth of the sun, and replied with nonchalance, “Funny you should mention that. Which one do you think he looks like?”
I already knew where I was going with this. I am the Bad Ted, and this was just too easy.
“Well, I’m not sure, but he looks familiar. He just looks like some rock star I might have seen somewhere.”
“Someone recently said he looks like Keith Richards,” I suggested. “You think?”
“Wow, yeah,” the kid agreed, animated now. “Hey,” he added, more hopeful than doubtful, “He’s not, is he? Keith Richards?”
“Nah,” I laughed. “But…” I drew it out as if I was hesitant to reveal A Really Big Secret, then relented.
“Ever heard of a band called Iron Butterfly?”
“Yeah…?” (“C’mon,” his eyes pleaded, “you’re going to tell me he’s someone really cool, aren’t you?! I KNEW it!”)
“Ever heard of a song called In-A-Gada-Da-Vida?”
“Jim played the drum solo on that song,” I confessed, with dramatic reluctance. “That’s Jim Ottea, man. That’s HIM!”
“No shit? WOW! Hey, I play drums, too.”
“Ask him for his autograph when he gets back, he’ll be glad to give it to you.”
About this time, Jim came strolling back along the wooden pier, and as he approached, I announced, “Jim, I told this guy you played the drum solo for Iron Butterfly on In-A-Gada-Da-Vida. Think he wants your autograph.”
We locked eyes. Jim gave me a look of disbelief — poor guy, he has a little trouble overcoming his own, deeply ingrained senses of honesty and justice and right.
“You gotta be kidding me,” his piercing eyes accused. “Nope, not kidding,” my conspiratorial wink replied, “You’re in on this, like it or not.”
“Sign an autograph for this guy,” I coaxed aloud, “He’s a drummer, too.”
Then I explained to the kid, “Jim’s embarrassed about that drum solo. Thinks it’s immature and childish, now. But believe me,” I assured him, “you can still learn a lot about rock ‘n roll drumming from that classic In-A-Gada-Da-Vida drum solo.”
I don’t know if that is true or not, I’m not a drummer — but to my credit, I thought perhaps it could be true when I said it.
“I can’t believe this,” Jim muttered. I don’t remember if he actually said it aloud or simply implied it with another piercing look of profound disappointment in me, but I was having none of that. The game was on, and it didn’t matter in any case — celebrities are known to be bashful and sometimes reticent. Jim’s acting squirrelly now could only enhance the charade.
The aspiring drummer produced paper and pen and even a clipboard, not believing his fine fortune on that happy day.
To his everlasting shame, Jim fell fully into the wicked spirit of the thing. His reluctance resolved quickly into alacrity. His eyes twinkling, Jim Ottea (Wow! the REAL Jim Ottea , it’s HIM, man!) graciously produced an autograph that could one day be worth hundreds, perhaps even thousands of dollars — if he ever actually does make something of himself.
Meanwhile, I grabbed the camera and captured the moment, while Jim, with bold hand and proud flourish, shamelessly autographed — HA! Get this:
Stick with it, kid.
Jimmy “Rotten” Ottea
The two of them spent the next few minutes discussing the subtle differences between traditional drumming styles versus I don’t know what. I must say Jim held his own in the conversation, even though he hadn’t a clue what the hell this excited young fellow was jabbering on about. Mostly, “Jimmy Rotten” just nodded sagely and grunted in a manner befitting an accomplished professional. I was very proud of him in that moment.
And, of course, he offered the lad much encouragement. That’s important for young folks, and Jim is a caring sort.
Now, I should admit that before we left the scene, we told the kid the whole truth, explaining it was all intended as a harmless jest.
I should admit that, but I can’t, I won’t, we didn’t. We never confessed a thing. The way we saw it, why spoil a young dreamer’s big day, just to save our own miserable souls?
And now you know the truth about the lie. I swear.
Ted A. Thompson [http://www.phfft.com]
P.S. On our way home two days later, halfway across Kansas in 104 degree temperatures on the ungodly, flat, baking-hot, wearisome Interstate that cuts through the Midwest prairie, I pulled up next to Jim on my motorcycle, matching his speed at about 85 MPH.
I got his attention with my horn, grinned, and as he watched and wondered what I was up to, I put the Beemer on cruise control and pantomimed wild drumming motions with my arms, fists closed tightly around imaginary drumsticks.
It was a close call. Somehow Jim maintained control of his bike, but I almost lost my good friend to the evil Kansas asphalt.