Forever Blue: A Tribute to Chris Isaak

by Valerie Kinsey


Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing

Jay—the second Jay—is shorter and squatter than the first and has skin the color of hazelnut gelato and a layer of fat over his muscles. He tells me he spent hours in the gym bulking up when he got out of the army, but it’s the way he used his muscles in the army—humping gear, lifting the bodies of his fallen comrades, working some manly shit—that turns me on. That, the musky scent of his sweat, and his tattoos. “Commit” is inked on his back in black letters in a font I’d call Old Style Medieval Badass. Is that a command? I wonder as I dig my thumbs into the notch of flesh on either side of his sacrum. I leverage my weight, all 110 pounds of me. Eventually, when we get down to it and he’s deep inside me, my tit in his mouth, my hands holding those round, nut-brown shoulders, I’ll itch for the whir of the needle and the burn of the word emblazoned on the skin of my pectoral, and why, in this sweet, sweet moment of pleasure, I crave a little pain to make it sweeter.

Somebody’s Crying

This song is about the first Jay, who is on stage, horn in hand. My Jay strums one hand against his pressed white shirt, untucked under a 44L merino blazer, in time with the drum, bass, and piano. A look of aloof intensity crosses his face while he’s waiting to lift that trumpet at his side, and I’m forced to look into my clear, viscous drink. I suck on a Grey Goose-drenched olive. It tastes the way my father’s martini olive would have tasted, except that he drank St. Polly Girl’s Nonalcoholic beer. There are only two kinds of people who drink nonalcoholic beer. The first kind is obvious. The second is the same as the first, minus the incontrovertible proof. Jay drinks Scotch, butterscotch-brown booze, on the rocks. If I looked in his wallet, there’d be business cards for women lawyers and restaurant managers, cell phone numbers printed on the back. Yeah, it’s partly his skill that’s sexy, those long, thick fingers that move with agility, the sound he makes, the lock of hair that falls across his Scottish-white, perspiration-dotted brow as he leans back and into the note, the swell of his chest, but sometimes, ladies, music is just background noise. It’s the desire to train that intensity, to turn a single-minded communion with horn into a single-minded communion with you. Just as I look up, he raises the trumpet to his lips. I hold my vodka-soaked breath.

Don’t Leave Me on My Own

Jay the Original—we’ll call him Jay-Zero—took me to the beach in Mexico. During the sunset, long and sleepy as a summer matinee, we drank Coronas from recycled bottles smooth as sea glass. Boys fished for snapper in waves that lapped at their hips. They were successful sometimes. Americans laughed loudly nearby because they were expected to, but I was in my sundress, busy making a promise to God: If I do not have HIV and contract AIDS and die, I will be happy with this man for the rest of my life, and, if this weren’t clear enough for God, I added: I will not sleep with anyone else for as long as I live. Please don’t let me be alone. That evening, the sun was a violent orange eye watching us fight. I can’t believe you’ve been with more people than I have. He might have called me a slut, but punished me, instead, by saying nothing. My hands smelled of lime juice, sharp and acrid, and I was thinking of the birth control pill and how, in certain moments past, I believed that nothing bad would ever happen to me. I didn’t really think I was sick, but I felt lucky because maybe I deserved to pay a penalty for my caprice. Truth be told, when I uttered this promise, my intentions were good. But I made a liar of myself when I found that the true danger was in keeping my word. Given the choice, I’d betray God again.

Things Go Wrong

Jay the Third stops in Albuquerque to see me on his way back to Denver. He tells me he wasn’t planning to call after what happened last time, but he’s a victim of his impulses. Last time, he needlessly reminds me, he ended up in a hotel room and the power went out. He warns me I shouldn’t get carried away by this little visit. The light on the rooftop bar—sheathed in tent plastic to keep out the early winter cold—is amber colored and he’s wearing a sweater-vest and cashmere scarf, which makes it seem like we’re sitting in a catalog selling new things meant to look old. He tells me all the great beauties had a look of sadness—Audrey Hepburn, for example, or Ingrid Bergman. Because of this, I should take what he says as a compliment. Silly me, I do. It’s only a week later when I’m sipping ten-day-old chardonnay by the wattage of my energy-saver bulb that I realize how much of love depends on a trick of the light. When he finally got back on the road, the morning sun was white and sharp as a blade. We giggled nervously about the dangerous snowstorm that awaited him at the Colorado border, and he disappeared, soundlessly, into that crystalline white.

Forever Blue

Winter in New Mexico. In the pre-dawn, deep purple-blue clouds billow over the tops of the Sandia mountain peaks. Brilliant lights spread like a blanket at their feet. Too often I ask what’s Jay—the first Jay—doing out there? Where is he? What’s he thinking about? Have all but given up manufacturing reasons and ways to run into him. Keep making bargains that start with the phrase, maybe if I sleep with him…And then what? I’ll like him less? I’ll trust him? Luckily, Mom offers some help:

  1. You don’t have to do anything
  2. But you are dating
  3. It’s good you have a therapist
  4. You have so much anger, sugar, can’t this be a learning experience?

Nighttime, on the balcony, I shove my hands deep into my fleecy pockets. I can see my own breath, pale and ashen, but I can’t see the mountains, only the red blinking light on top, warning hot air-balloonists, reckless fliers.

Goin’ Nowhere

This club is darker than the last. You’re in your jeans and black leather jacket. Two lesbians sit at the checkered-tablecloth table where your sax player sets his Stella. Everyone else—your fans—are all dressed like you: single men, former band-dorks who whistle through their teeth after your solos. Not me. I’m perched on a barstool, front and center, in two strands of fake pearls, a suede miniskirt, and a pair of stacked, leopard-print heels. There’s nowhere for you to look but at my legs, pale and bare in the bruised-colored room. You find a way to gaze into the walls that need paint, the bar that was once black but is now scuffed like your patron’s shoes, the music, the drum shuffle, the jumping bass, the thick notes that swill and fade into the dingy air. When you press that trumpet to your lips, what am I hoping to hear? That you still want me? How can you feel regret when I’m bare-legged in your presence and it’s obvious I’m going nowhere? I see the paradox: that for you to miss me—to really miss me—I’d have to leave like I mean it, exist in a past that, for me, doesn’t yet exist.

Changed Your Mind

To me, this song explains what happened with the second Jay: I chose a table by the window to eat my sandwich so I could sit in the November morning and watch the wind tear yellow, paper-thin leaves. Jay may have been waiting out of sight, but he came and sat across from me. I pushed my plastic sunglasses to the crown of my head and then set them beside the waxy white bag to reach for his hand. I stroked the inside of his tattooed forearm.

“When I mentioned I wanted to see that band Friday, I was thinking that we’d see each other the following weekend,” Jay said. “I was taking the long-term view.”

The long-term view?

“It’s like when the circus is in town, and it’s only in town every once in a while.”

The circus?

“When I told X I missed playing in a band, she told me to call the guys. ‘Start playing again,’ she said, even if it meant going on tour.”

            Why don’t you marry X again?

            Who asked you to give up music?

            Why don’t you fucking marry her (again)?

            “You have to make room in your life for a relationship, Jay, that’s all I’m saying. It’s the nature of it. You don’t have to stop playing music. Or stop listening to music.” I release my hand from his, open the waxy white paper bag and take out my foil-wrapped BLT. There is too much mayo, and the bread is buttered soggy and squishes against my palate. Leaves swirl in eddies and scrape on the pavement outside. Without looking in his cinnamon-flecked eyes, I chew, swallow, and persist:

“As for priorities, I get that your son comes first—”

“And you had a problem with that.”

I blink in the light and shove buttery crusts and foil back into the bag and reach for a near-empty Styrofoam cup of Coke. The straw squeaks against the lid. I set the cup down and pick up my sunglasses. “You were the one who was uncomfortable.”

“I was. You’re right. I’m a person who needs a lot of time to himself. I don’t have a lot of free time. Time I spend with my son isn’t free time. My free time, I spend playing music. Music is my life. It’s more important than even writing. If I have to choose between you and music, I don’t want to be in that situation. My free time is, well, free. That’s the nature of it.”

The End of Everything

Everything ends, but not all at once. Just like the sound of one hand clapping is difficult to hear, so is the sound of a cell phone that doesn’t ring when Jay the Third says he’s going to call. My Buddhist friend, Steven, suggests I might be making myself too available:

Look without looking.

Hope without hoping.

Wait without waiting.

But, I protest, if Jay the Third doesn’t call, he’ll never know that I’m not going to answer. It would be nice to know he’s not going to call. It’s only fair, isn’t it?

Buddha shrugs.

My unanswered question hangs in the air, and the conclusion drags on until I forget I even asked. Almost…

Heart-Shaped World

Jay-Zero once said, When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. With every Jay I meet, I feel the almost-thereness of love. He might be the missing piece, I tell myself. He just might be, and even if he isn’t, close enough. After all, I carry around a palm-sized, construction-paper red square with a heart shape missing. This is the danger of living in a heart-shaped world.


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