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Bev, Efficient 1960s
Rex Muncey, a 23-year-old self-described "runaway" from the ghetto of East St. Louis, stumbles into the world of girl-group fandom in the novel Doo-Lang Love by Chad Sosna (iUniverse, Aug. 2006).
After arriving in Chicago, unsure of his future, Rex takes a job at Wayne's Wax and Hi-Fi Trax, a collectible vinyl and CD store. At first, Rex is derisive of his boss Wayne's focus on 1960s girl groups:
There was some memorabilia on the shelves next to the counter. Behind the counter was the expensive and shopliftable stuff like a Beatles lunch box, boxed sets of oldies on CD (if Wayne turned out to be a bitch, Rex had already decided heíd swipe the Volt/Stax Singles CD box set), and autographed photos.
They had a lot of girl-group records, posters, and other junk. Rex had heard of the Supremes and that group that did the motorcycle-crash song, but didnít know much else about the female singers of the 1960s. Wayne was only too happy to fill him in--the biggest drawback to working with him.
While they worked, Wayne played all of his favorite songs. Rex had never heard so much cryiní over boys, motorcycle accidents, mama doesnít understand, heís from the wrong side of town, Iím just dumb because he loves me and I didnít notice him and when the girlís happy the boyís happy too.
"God, could they have made these songs more demeaning to women?" Rex asked.
Wayne giggled. "That was the time--do your hair for him, wear your best dress for him, then sit home with a Coke and your turntable and hope he calls you."
Rex shrugged. "Sounds kind of desperate."
"It was the early Sixties," Wayne explained. "Thatís why it was desperate. Those women finally got wise and protested and burned their bras a few years later."
Soon Rex discovers a secret: Wayne's hobby is dressing up as a woman, not for a sexual interest, but so that he and a couple of similar buddies can be "the Girlettes."
As he put his cleaning supplies in the closet, the broom fell over and hit him on the head. It didn't hurt, but as Rex shoved it back deeper in the closet, a rolled-up poster fell off a shelf.
Curious, he opened it. It was made cheaply at a print shop. There was a picture of three not-so-good-at-it fat drag queens. Peering, Rex realized the middle guy was Wayne. Wayne and the two other men, about Wayne's age and roughly his same proportions, struck a strange pose. Standing at their sides, each man had one shoulder higher and one lower, hands on their hips and lips pursed. The headline read, THE GIRLETTES. Underneath that, in not-so-screaming letters, Gay Pride Parade 2003.
So Wayne had been in his own group, clearly modeled after those 1960s girl groups he was always talking about. Only Wayne and his buddies were fat middle-aged men.
Rex smiled and put back the poster. The Girlettes. Jeez, he thought, could anything be more fagola?
Rex, who never knew what he wanted to do when he grew up, immerses himself in the store. Choosing to brighten up the store's appearance, add vinyl by current bands, and promote the store, he brings a new level of success to the place.
One day Rex stumbles upon Wayne in the middle of a Girlettes fantasy, and it takes both their lives in a new direction:
Rex tapped on Wayne's door, then knocked. Occasionally he heard music from Wayne's upstairs apartment after the store closed. But this was much louder than normal.
The music went on. Somehow Rex thought this was strange and wrong. He pushed on the door, which due to its age, tended to stick. Sometimes Wayne didn't lock it during the middle of the day when he was home.
Stepping in the foyer, Rex could see movement in the dining room. The music blasted with wailing voices singing, She tells me not to cry, Not let a tear fall from my eye ... But soon as he said goodbye, felt like I might just die...
Then Rex saw Wayne in the dining room, standing in front of the large mirror, a portable microphone in his hand. Wayne was turned in a way that he couldn't see the door, and the mirror was to the side. Wayne wasn't aware Rex was there.
"Ladies and Gentleman, in their first Grammy Awards appearance ever, the fabulous Wayne Simmons and the Girlettes!" Wayne shouted into the microphone. He then did sort of a light "echo" of the crowd screaming, and began dancing in a feminine way, singing:
There's no place we can go
As he sang, he was apparently looking in the mirror, pretending this was real. Rex would have laughed, but it was such an invasion he started to step out. He saw Wayne catch his movement in the mirror and stop singing. Frozen in shock, Wayne turned around. "What the hell are you doing in here?" he cried loudly.
"I--I'm sorry," Rex said, startled at Wayne's tone. "I didn't mean--"
Wayne turned down the music and marched over to Rex, his face dark red with fury. "Always knock before you come into my home!" Wayne said. "You have no business sneaking around like this!"
"I'm really sorry," Rex said. "I came up to--"
"Just because I let you live downstairs doesn't mean you own the place!" Wayne said. "And if you say a word about this to the others, I will beat you senseless!"
"Look," Rex said, his hands shaking. "I didn't mean to barge in. I thought something was wrong."
Wayne slumped onto the couch and started crying. "Oh, God, how embarrassing. I bet you really think I'm a fat old queen now."
"This is what my life has turned into--my fat ass singing alone in front of a mirror, pretending I'm famous!" Wayne cried. "And in reality I'm nothing, and my store is all I have!"
Rex sat beside Wayne, nervous. He'd never seen Wayne so shaken and felt responsible.
"It's okay," Rex said. "You thought you were alone. Really, it's all right. And I won't say anything. Try to forget it happened."
"You'll probably have to move now!" Wayne yelled. "I'll always feel like you're slinking around, invading my privacy!"
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"Calm down," Rex said, tears welling up in his eyes. "Rodney sent me up here to get the rubber stamp that has the store name and address on it. When I heard the music so loud and someone talking, I came in. I didn't know you had a microphone."
"Well, what did you think was happening?" Wayne barked.
"I don't know," Rex sighed. "It was instinct. It seemed like something was wrong. Please don't make me move. I'll try to get a place, I just need a little more time. I won't come back upstairs unless I call you from the store."
Wayne wiped his eyes with a tissue. "Oh, this is stupid of me. Of course I shouldn't kick you out. I'm just so embarrassed!"
"Hey, we all do crazy things," Rex said. "And we all need our privacy."
Wayne stared out the window, sniffing. "When I'm singing and pretending I'm famous, it's like time stops. I don't worry about not having a partner, about my size, about anything. I am so in the moment, as they say. It's the only time I feel really good."
"Look, maybe you can make that sort of happen for you in real life," Rex said. "I'll try to help you."
"Oh yeah, I'm going to be real famous as a fat drag queen performing in front of forty people at a gay bar!" Wayne said. "That's a long way from the Grammies."
"Wayne, you've got things going for you," Rex said. "You have a great store. You don't have to work in some sucky job to make a living--you have your own business."
"I guess you're right," Wayne said. "Let's go in the kitchen. I need some tea."
As Wayne made the tea, he began talking more quietly. "I have been sort of depressed lately. It seems like I get stuck in life. That's one reason I left Kansas City. Now here I am, doing the same old thing every day, still without a partner, still thinking I can sing well but not having any way to use that."
"You have the Girlettes' upcoming performances," Rex reminded him.
"So what?" Wayne said. "We'll perform at the bar, and at the gay pride parade. We'll have a few fall and winter gigs at gay bars. Then next year we'll do the same thing. I'll have the same store. My sales will be the same. I still won't have a partner--and then I'll be a year older! Life is starting to get into a rut that I can't get out of."
He leaned against the counter and started sobbing. Rex couldn't think of anything to do but rub his shoulders. "It'll be all right," Rex said. "Take it easy on yourself."
Soon that wave of crying subsided, and Wayne seemed in better control.
"You're young," Wayne said. "You have a chance to make something of your life."
Rex didn't think of it that way. He thought of himself as having a limited future because of not having a college degree. And there was no way he could go to college now.
"I'm sorry," Wayne said. "This is stupid. You can leave if you want. I'm supposed to be your boss and I'm acting like a baby. But this frustration has just built up."
"It's okay," Rex said. "And I'm not going to leave. Just tell me how I can help you. I don't think you should give up on your group."
"What's the use?" Wayne said, starting to cry again.
Rex held Wayne as Wayne cried some more. He was surprised at his amount of sympathy for Wayne, but then, he wasn't used to seeing grown men bawl like this. Finally Wayne's grief receded. He wiped his eyes and drank some more tea.
"Do you really think my group could do anything beyond a few free shows up and down Halsted Street?" Wayne asked hopefully.
"I think so," Rex said. "If you don't give it a try, you'll never know. I can't say you'll reach world fame, but you can definitely try to get more attention."
"But what do you think we can do?"
Rex rubbed his chin. "I'd have to see you on stage first. I haven't even see you guys try dance steps."
"You're right," Wayne said. "We've got to show you where we are." He looked at Rex. "Do you remember when you joked that you would be our manager?"
"Uh ... yeah."
"Would you?" he pleaded. "I can make you full-time at the store, and part of your responsibilities would be working on the group."
"Are you sure that would be okay?" Rex asked. "I mean, that's more money."
"Yes, you're giving us so much time I should have just done it before now," Wayne said. "I've never had someone hang around the store because he wanted to help out."
The CD player changed to a fast song. "It's Mister Twister," Wayne said. "I wish our group could sing this song. But it didn't work."
Rex had been trying to think of something he could do to cheer up Wayne. Trouble was, he had more time than money.
"I've got an idea," Rex said. "Why don't you show me how to do the Twist? In fact, show me all those weird Sixties dances they talk about on these songs."
"Really?" Wayne said, brighter.
"Sure," Rex said. "As your manager, I need to know these things. That will help me better evaluate your dance steps when that time comes."
Wayne jumped up and began going through CDs, gabbing excitedly about all the dances he would show Rex--the Twist, the Swim, the Watusi, the Monkey, and more with crazy names. "You have to try them!" he said to Rex. "Even if you don't like to dance. It's just us!"
And that was how Rex spend the next hour, twisting and twirling with Wayne on the hardwood floors of his apartment as the afternoon sun shone in the windows. Rex couldn't really compliment the dances. They seemed too choreographed or fake to him. But he loved the way it lifted Wayne. The silly old fat guy really did love his music and everything about it.
In the midst of trying to at least get regional notoriety for the Girlettes, Rex finds himself attracted to his straight co-worker and roommate, Rodney. The Girlettes start to get some gigs at local venues, and each of them is hilarious.
About an hour before they were to perform, Rex was in the back struggling with Wayne's and Nick's ever-rising emotions. "We're missing a band member," Wayne wailed, "and I don't like the color of this lipstick!"
"Why donít you call yourself the Girlette Sisters, since Burl didnít show up?" Rex asked.
"We canít change our name now," Wayne said. "Weíre already getting well-known as the Girlettes."
Thatís debatable, Rex thought but didnít say.
"I had this dress altered too tight!" Nick said. "I look like a whale in taffeta!"
"Well, I warned you not to predict how much you'd lose!" Wayne said. "You should use my seamstress, Ju-Ju Kim. She's better."
"I don't like that bitch!" Nick snapped. "She charges too much."
Rex shrugged and said to himself, "Drag queens. What can I say?"
This place had a real stage entrance. Rex decided to check the house DJ, who would run the music for them.
Looking out the door, Rex was stunned to see that all the seats were full, many people were standing, and there was a line outside.
"Oh my God," he breathed. He looked over at Rodney, who was busy bartending. Rodney caught his eye, pointed at the crowd and smiled. Then he went back to the cocktail waitresses who were demanding his attention.
"Let me take a peek," Wayne said, behind him. He stuck his head out and gasped.
"Oh, Lord!" Wayne screamed as Rex shut the door. "My nerves are beginning to rack!"
In the store Rex meets an older guy, David, and starts his first true relationship. When he discovers that David works for a national record label, Rex decides to keep it secret from Wayne. Then, like most secrets, it's exposed.
When Rex got back to the store, David was there, talking to Wayne at the counter. A couple of other customers were leisurely browsing in the store.
Wayneís mouth was pinched.
"So you guys met," Rex said, trying to sound casual.
Wayne stared at Rex. "You didnít tell me your friend was in the music business."
Rex turned red. "I, uh, I didnít? I mean, Iím sorry. I guess I forgot to," he babbled.
"I see," Wayne said.
As soon as David left, Wayne swung toward Rex. "Was David's job supposed to be a surprise? You did say he was coming to the performance."
"I think I know where this is going," Rex sighed.
"I am hoping you have done the absolute ultimate for me," Wayne said. "Maybe after he hears us, he will want us to sign with A&R. Now we don't necessarily want a lot of money and know we're not like some A-list star, but--"
"No, that's not why he's coming," Rex said. "He's going with me. I don't think A&R would sign an unknown group, especially one that doesn't do current music."
Wayne was silent for a moment. "So when were you planning to tell me about David's job? About the greatest moment the Girlettes never had?"
"Look," Rex said. "I knew it would stress you out to know his job. And surely you don't expect me to push the group onto David to get a record contract!"
"Well, yes I do," Wayne answered. "It's not like we'd be asking for a million dollars."
"You guys don't even have a demo CD!" Rex said. "You're sort of starting out."
"With friends in high places, maybe we wouldn't need a demo CD," Wayne said.
"This is a new relationship," Rex said. "I don't want to use David."
"Like you used me?" Wayne shot back.
"That is not fair," Rex said. "I appreciate the job, and I work hard. I even delayed the L.A. trip because of responsibilities here."
Wayne slumped on the barstool he was sitting at near the cash register. "You're right. I shouldn't have said that. I'm a fool to think the Girlettes are ever going to be anything."
"No, you're not," Rex said. "This year you're going to give it a major push. David will hear you, at least. And if something happens, it happens."
"Things were happening so fast, it seemed like maybe it was meant to be the right time for the Girlettes," Wayne said.
"I know," Rex said gently. "It's a crapshoot, though, to actually get famous. It might take a long time to even get good regional attention. Be prepared for that."
Wayne wiped his eyes and grimaced. "Well, can't you at least try? We have this great contact in the record business and you're not even going to push?"
"I don't think it will help," Rex said. "He knows what the Girlettes are all about."
"But you could push!" Wayne said. "You've got him now. You could coax him! Think what that would mean to me!"
"Think what it would mean to me if I lost him," Rex said. "What if he thinks I'm not into him, that I just wanted his power?"
"So it's sort of about what you want from David versus what I want," Wayne said to Rex. "And you win, because you have him."
"It's not like that!" Rex yelled. "I've never even had a relationship before. I'm trying to figure it out myself!"
When the Girlettes get a sudden, surprising break, it's big-decision time for both Rex and Wayne. What happens changes both of their lives forever.
The humor, drama and plot in this novel is all very well-developed, making it a definite "page-turner" and interesting read. While there is also a gay theme to the novel, the dominant story is about the Girlettes, and fans of the girl-group sound will find many references to their favorite songs, singers and groups. I highly recommend Doo-Lang Love.
To read other reviews or get a copy of the book, go here: Doo-Lang Love
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