Rock Legend Signs Book! Alex Call at Barnes and Noble
by Diana Davis
When I was asked to cover the August 12 book signing of the memoir of rock icon Alex Call at Barnes and Noble and learned he had penned it himself, I inwardly groaned. I expected the unbridled ramblings of a rock-star spewing out curse words and alibis for bad behavior. I found the exact opposite. 867-5309 / Jenny is a thoughtful narrative written by a man who has obviously spent considerable time reflecting upon his life and the influences exerted by the people within it. He has written a polished, sensitive, witty memoir.
As an example of the astute observations recorded by Call, he explained how he was a child with a father who was a charming alcoholic and a compulsive hoarder. The father had started to build a room for Alex in the basement of their home, but never had been able to complete it; therefore, there were gaps in the acoustic ceiling from which wolf spiders and rats would drop down upon the boy’s bed. There were also unfinished alcoves separated only by flimsy curtains behind which were cardboard boxes of junk piled to the rafters. Call could look into the dark abyss and imagine all types of dreadful creatures lurking there. This environment left a fearful boy who managed his fears by two means; 1) listening to radio music all night and 2) voracious reading, both classical and comic books–in particular–Superman. Call noted that “Superman was a lonely character who could not reveal his true identity to even his closest friends. His only weakness was Kryptonite, pieces of his home world which were poisonous to him. How true that is. The stuff that follows us around from childhood can be very toxic; it can even destroy us. Superman had a place to recharge his batteries when he was at the end of his endurance, the Fortress of Solitude.”
Call said that his personal fortress of solitude was his music. The songs playing all night on his radio sank into his subconscious and now when he begins to create, more often than not, melody and scat just flows naturally into his guitar-picking fingers and then he goes home and changes his scat into polished words. So it was with the song “867-5309 / Jenny.” Let’s go to the book signing for more details:
When I arrived, Call was sitting between a display of his books and his audio equipment. He began by singing “867-5309 / Jenny,” accompanying himself on a Taylor 410CE acoustical guitar selected because he likes its tone. So did his fans sitting on folding chairs or standing behind the chairs smiling and tapping their feet. The song was written in 1981 while Call sat under a plum tree in his yard, playing with guitar cords. He was picking and scatting and had already come up with the phone number and Jenny’s name and the guitar riffs, but had not yet determined what the song was about. He had gone over to his tiny recording studio which was inside a construction trailer. He was playing “867-5309 / Jenny” when Jim Keller, lead guitar and co-founder of Tommy Tutone band dropped in. After listening to the song a bit, Jim Keller said “Al, it’s a girl’s number written on the bathroom wall.” They had laughed and finished the lyrics in 20 minutes. Jim took the song back to the Tommy Tutone band and recorded it. It was not released as a single, but as part of an LP album. In those days, if a DJ played a song and the switchboard lit up requesting that same song be played again, then the DJ would play it again and again and that’s how the song moved up the line on the pop charts. Jimmy Keller was surprised that it moved so fast, and Alex Call is surprised that it is still keeping him alive twenty years later.
In the same way that music pours from his brain and fingers, so do stories. He began writing stories as an act of love to his older son, James. He would write a little story on the outside of the boy’s lunch sack each day. James would take it to school and read the story at lunchtime. Other kids wanted to read it so the bag was passed from child to child. James came home and reported that all the kids got a kick out of the story and requested more. Alex happily obliged. James is now 32 years old and a musician in New York. Call and James’ mother, Dede, divorced when James was 17.
Call later remarried his current wife, Lisa who is the mother of his son, Aiden, aged 8. When Aiden went to school, Call revived the lunch bag stories with the same happy results. So he had two children’s books which he has tentatively titled The Lunch Bag Chronicles waiting to be published. He also wrote a comedy which is titled, Second Childhood, plus a book on baseball with the tentative title Pastime. In all he has six more novels waiting in line to be published.
Alex Call will not end up lonely like Superman. In this book, he has revealed his true identity. His story is told with insight, intelligence and humor. I ended up really liking this man. But whether you like him personally or not, I believe you will like his well-written book. Call has what it takes to succeed: he practices his writing in the same way that he practices his music. He did five complete rewrites on this book before it was published. 567-5309 / Jenny may be the first book you’ll ever read written by Alex Call, but I doubt that it will be your last.
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