I met Margaux Hession at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference during the summer of 2007 in her previous identity as Margaret Dunbar. I got to know her better in a writers group that formed that fall. Margaux’s writing has always been funny: a gut-busting, take-no-prisoners, runaway train of images, that’s so wrong it’s exactly right. What has changed in the last ten years, is her writer’s voice has gained self-knowledge, a sense of consequences, the quiet moments when one must face their demons, and the serious repercussions after the party is over. In short, her writing has gained soul. Margaux works with therapy horses helping children with challenges, and her writing was recently published in the international therapy horse magazine, Strides. It is an honor to feature the first chapter of her upcoming novel here in Luna Review, and hopefully we will feature more of her writing in the future.
Soaring To New Lows
Confessions of a rocker wife who hit rock bottom and kept on going
by Margaux Dunbar Hession
In December 2003, Rolling Stone magazine claimed a mystery woman’s tiara took out one of the world’s biggest rock bands at their twenty-year comeback show.
Secretly booted from my mansion and banned from the band, I cradled the cover story with my cat Marvin, scheming my comeback in the rented bedroom of my drug dealer’s windmill in Yuletowne, California. That year-round Christmas town, where I grew up, sadly still lived, and where gnomes went to die.
Sure you’ve heard how a cookie eaten in private has no calories? That night of the concert, the press never saw my booze and blow-infused blunder, so from that moment on, I used my new, go-to mantra: Do everything. Deny everything.
I dipped a broken crust of day-old pizza into my rooster-emblazoned, “Rock Out with Your Cock Out” mug of merlot. Only five weeks earlier, I was flying down Sunset Boulevard in a police-escorted limousine, en route to the Hollywood Bowl with my husband’s legendary rock band. My new rock wife life was finally in place, all systems were go and rocketing along, well, that is…until the drugs kicked in and my wheels came off.
October 30, 2003
My high-jacked brain spun at warp ten.
Me, the envy of the entire planet? Even better, after thirty years, the envy of Klarissa Kilmeiner? My high school bully, Yuletowne’s #1 Christian, and still the wormy apple of my mother’s eye?
Lit, leathered and limo-ed up, at forty-two, I was sure I’d found home at last: at the juicy, dead center of a rock star sandwich. Twenty-years had passed since the band’s last gig in 1983. Time had not been kind to the weathered musicians. Their Aqua Net hair? Gone. Chins? Doubled. Six-packs? Kegs. Didn’t matter. To me, NVS were rock gods – British legends of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and after a lifetime of being called a nobody, a never-was, a social Dead On Arrival, I wasn’t just popular, I was with the band.
Klarissa could suck it.
Flanked by a flashing police escort, our limousine roared up the Hollywood Bowl canyon, tinted windows ablaze with the last rays of Indian Summer. Best Birthday Ever. The driver slowed as menopausal moms swarmed our rock-star cocoon like post-apocalyptic ants feasting on the earth’s last sugar cube. Jacked-up on Pinot-Prozac cocktails, the hammered granny groupies clamored the barricades, hailing the reunion of their four British rock gods.
And me, holy shit, me.
A tingle ran up my spine. I’d done it. Got the band back together. It was official. I was rocker wife Charlemagne LaZur Devlin, married to lead singer, Jubal Devlin. For the past three years, I’d worked my backstage magic and did anything and everything to get my new husband back with NVS. Whether he knew it or not.
It was all happening, and clearly, just in time. In nine months, I’d be attending Yuletowne High’s twenty-fifth reunion. Not as the once back-braced teenage dweeb in a German dirndl dress, but as the wife of a rock star. My life? Outrageously good.
As my rock idols quibbled over the set list, decades of suppressed star-struck adrenaline, mixed with secret whiffs of nose candy, ignited my inner spaz. My heart jack-hammered against my leopard corset. Sweat pooled behind the knees of my red, pleather pants. The limo’s low ceiling snagged my tiara and its sealed windows coffined the stifled air.
A sign above the limo’s bar read: “No Alcohol.”
Please. I needed a drink. Or five. Except here, drinks were off-limits. Damn rock star sobriety. Why did they have to be such alkies and addicts in their day to ruin my party now? Getting Jubal here cost me my 401K, this was my time to celebrate. I wondered, could a rocker wife get her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for pulling off such a feat? I was sure of it. I fished through the ice, pulled out a Red Bull and swigged it down. Bad idea. My heart whirred and my throat clenched. Crap, I shouldn’t have done Robin’s blow. But, she was my best friend – a lanky, Danish coat hanger shoved in a messy, mental closet. She was a hot eleven and if her issues didn’t have issues, I’d have to positively hate her.
An hour earlier, in my bathroom at the Sunset Marquis, I turned her down.
She grabbed me by the shoulders, clearly not having it. “Sober is soooo brrrr!” she said, shivering in place. “It’s your birthday. And you are Mrs. Fricking Jubal Devlin. You need to be on fire – hot, hot, hot!”
How was it that everybody else knew what I needed, except me?
My mother’s endless harping echoed in my ears, “You need to be a mother, like Klarissa. Produce offspring to elevate our station into the Yuletowne Social Club.”
That didn’t exactly pan out. Seemed my entire life, I never fit anywhere or felt right any place. Nowhere felt like me. Now, a pile of white powder on the bathroom counter – my latest, favorite escape, stared back at me.
Was life as a rock wife better than life as a mother? I didn’t know.
I pushed Robin’s straw away. “Jubal will bust me. I can’t have it both ways.”
“Sure you can.” Her blue eyes morphed into a hypnotic spiral swirl. “You can even have it more than both ways, you can have it all. You only have to do one thing.”
Shit. Robin was my life guru, so OK, take me to your leader. “What one thing?”
“Be everything to everyone.” She downed her airliner bottle of vodka and carved out two lines on the marble counter.
The powder whispered my name: Charlemagne. “How do I do that?” I asked my svelte mentor, before shoving my side boobs up into the cleavage of my leopard corset. In the mirror, we looked like a “10.” She the “1” and me the “0”. She was simply superior. She had to be right.
Robin snorted a fat line. “Do everything,” she said, offering me her straw, “deny everything.”
Eureka! “Now, that, I can do.” I took the straw.
Back in the limo, my stomach fluttered and my skin turned clammy. I needed air and reached for the button to roll the window down.
The rehabbed rockers stopped talking and glared at me.
Seriously? Who were they to give me the stink-eye? After a decade of peanut butter and crack, the drummer was now more of a whippet than a man. The bass player’s Mohawk and booze-bloated neck mirrored a Stegosaurus in a whiplash brace. The cirrhosis-livered keyboard player had so many pink drops of Pepto in his white beard, he could pass for Santa–after eating out a flamingo. Ah, but to my left sat my Jubal. Hello, Perfection. Oh, how his black eyeliner matched the custom shaggy wig I got him from Klarissa’s Celebrity Salon. So the wench bought the town salon (as well as everything else in Yuletowne), probably just to boot me to some barbershop. But I showed her and stayed a client, and even made Jubal one too. The high road – that’s for me. Sure, his hair shone synthetic now, as did his capped veneers and glossy, derma-filled lips, but none of that mattered.
To me, Jubal was still the rock star I fell in love with thirty years ago, who stared out from his poster above my high school bed, and later rescued me from my miserable life. Sure, we’d had a few newlywed setbacks and I’d gained a few pounds, maybe sizes, in our first three years of marriage. For me, when stressed spelled desserts, I still saw myself as that skinny teenager in a back brace. A dyslexic anorexic.
Jubal scowled when I’d steal fries off his plate. “Good God woman,” he said once, “you’re always hungry. It’s like I can’t get you to suck my dick unless I put mustard on it.”
Funny how he wanted me thinner, but not doing blow. Jeez, his nose had been avalanched in snow for so many decades, he surely had tiny ice climbers lost up there.
Jubal’s tatted hand clamped over mine, his dragon rings clinking my gold-plated wedding band. “Charlemagne! You bloody high?”
I froze, hovered over the button, flipping my frosted hair over my dripping nose. Holy crap. Could he tell?
What I wanted to tell Jubal was, Yeah, I’m flyin’. After all, he was the guy who turned Robin and I onto his magic powder a year ago. And now, I’d be thrown out on my bloody bum?
It wasn’t like I had a problem, like Robin. Lately, she was always high. But please fellas, me? I was a newbie, just getting started.
I tried to talk slower but powdered lies machine-gunned out my twitching mouth. “High? Me? No!”
Jubal rolled his eyes, then slipped on his sunglasses. “I meant the window.” Jubal shook his head and pinched my belly roll. “You can not open it, chunky chicken,” he insisted. “The fans.” Jubal grinned, adjusted his sunglasses, reclined his wig on the headrest and cooed, “Now relax, Heiress.”
Chunky chicken? Not my weight again. I sat up.
Wait. One. Minute.
I stared at my reflection in Jubal’s Foster Grants, clearly confused. “Heiress?”
Jubal cocked his head; his face flushed.
Before he could answer, it came to me. “Oh, heiress, because now I’m rock royalty.” I hugged myself as those words spooned me.
A hot granny mess jumped the barricade, screaming, “Jubal, I want to have your baby!”
I grumbled. A baby…
Jubal peered over his sunglasses. His face soured. “Sorry, love, I think your baby-making machine has bloody well retired.”
She whipped off her blouse and pressed her saggy tits to the window.
The crowd gasped.
The band’s eyes fell on her chest and then down, down, down, their faces scrunched in confusion.
She squealed through the glass. “Jubal, do you remember? You signed my boob in 1970. I tattooed over it!” A foot-long serpent of blue ink started below her shoulder and slinked down her blue-veined pancake breast to where her nipple met her belly button, but the dragon was no dragon. Its head was a “J” and its tail spelled “Devlin.”
Jubal gagged. He cringed at her hairy nipples, clearly realizing one could never unsee that image. “They never said they grow little beards.”
With all eyes locked on her, I chugged a bottle from my purse, then dropped the empty back in my bag. Its glorious burn coated my throat, smoothing out the edge. Now, I was feeling good.
The drummer yelled, “Bring us your daughters!”
“Or their daughters!” Jubal called out.
I laughed, knowing my husband was different from other rockers who wolfed after young tang. Jubal loved me for me, even with my love handles, underarm boobs, and salt‘n’pepper vajayjay.
My wedding ring caught on a matchbook dangling out his pocket. It couldn’t be his. Jubal hated smoking. In the past three months since his buzzkill rehab, Jubal was anti-drinks, anti-drugs, anti-smoking. While I used a lighter to secret-smoke. So I opened it. My heart swelled.
It was one of his secret scrawled messages. My Jubal. It had been awhile for a lot of things for us – sex (surely, his aging), the loss of his adoring gaze (cataracts?), and eons since one of his hand-written messages (arthritis?), but now I saw he was still an adorable note-leaver. For the first years of our marriage, he’d write with anything, on anything – candle wax on paper plates, his finger on our fogged bathroom mirror, lipstick on my panties. He’d stash the notes in hidden spots for me to find just when I needed them most. Today’s note was in a Pep Boys matchbook with three cartoon men on the front – Manny, Moe and Jack – sporting matchsticks pulled through their legs like big dicks. Inside, Jubal wrote, “Big Night for You & Big J!”
He look surprised at the matchbook, checked his pocket, then smiled back.
I remembered how I’d leave answer notes hidden in his world, as we played an endless, treasure hunt game of thinking-of-you. It made me ridiculously happy.
Jubal looked at me, started to say something, then grinned through stiff lips. His face tensed and he gazed out the window. He finished his Coke and crushed his plastic cup. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said.
My heart hit a bump. “What?”
Jubal said, “I … uh, never played sober before. What I wouldn’t give for one drink, a line, just to get me feelin’ it again.”
The drummer kicked in. “I ain’t feelin’ it either.”
The other bandmates grunted and nodded.
Lucky I was there to give them a pep talk. “Didn’t your manager say that after the album and next summer’s tour, you can party until 2099? It’s a few months, you can do it. Easy.”
The band let out a communal sigh.
This concert was the comeback chance for NVS. That night, they could emerge from the Bowl’s clamshell stage two ways: a worshipped pearl, or a moss-covered pebble tossed back into the tide pool of forgotten rock stars.
What was even more daunting? It was the comeback chance for me.
I flicked a foxtail off my metallic boots. Yesterday in Yuletowne, Jubal and I stood waiting for the limo to take us to L.A. Shin-high in the tall weeds outside our low-rent garage apartment behind his record label’s dilapidated mansion, I’d imagined how this night would forever change our future. The label would renovate the mansion. I’d arrive at my reunion as Mrs. Jubal Devlin, living in a MTV crib. I’d show my mother and Klarissa, in fact, I’d show them all, that even without kids, I could be somebody in Yuletowne.
Everything, absolutely everything was at stake.
The police motorcycles came to a halt as their blue-lights flashed, stopping the limo. The sun set as twilight cloaked the red carpet. Golden, glowing streetlamps and blue fairy lights clicked on. A wall of paparazzi moved in, their camera’s floodlights poised on the limo.
Four beefy security guards in reflector shades exchanged stone-faced
nods, checked their earpieces, and in unison stepped forward to flank the limo’s rear door.
Muffled screams roared outside and the pounding of feet rocked our car. I squinted, imagining we were NVS, back in their day. Young. Our whole lives ahead of us as one of the biggest bands in the world. I opened my eyes. A marquee glowed above the backstage door: “NVS – OCTOBER 30, 2003.” So it was twenty years later, so what? NVS could have it all again, and this time, with me.
My heart whirred.
Blinding flashes pummeled our windows.
Our driver leaned in, clicked open our door handle.
The door opened and the roar of the crowd slammed us back, then sucked us up, their energy nearly pulling us out of our seats.
At that moment, my world felt right. The life I was supposed to have, had finally begun.
My skin flushed with goose bumps. I belonged somewhere. Not just anywhere. To the coolest clique ever.
Jubal whipped his black shaggy wig over his shoulders. Coolly, he stepped out of the limo into a wall of deafening screams. Looking back at all of us, he said, beaming, “Here we go.”
Poking my head out from the back seat, I got blinded by the paparazzi’s lights. Then this: Eyes – old and young. Men and oh yeah, women. On me? What a rush. I held my hand out for Jubal to escort my virgin steps onto the red carpet, but my fingers clawed air.
Instead, Jubal stood alone on the red carpet, haloed by spotlights, strobed by flashes, gobbling up his fans’ adoration.
A reporter had a microphone rammed under Jubal’s nose.
Jubal puffed out his chest and beamed his famous pirate smile.
The reporter prodded him. “Your band name’s NVS. The world wants to know,” he said, motioning to his cameraman for a Jubal close-up. “You’re envious of who? Why are you so envious?”
Jubal stomped his snakeskin boot and scowled an old-man, ugly face. “Bloody Hell, not again. We are not envious of anyone!” His arms flailed. “NVS means the world is envious of us.” He jabbed his deflated chest. “We are envied!”
“Well then,” the reporter jeered into the camera, “shouldn’t you call the band…NV’D then?”
“No,” Jubal rolled his eyes. “As in N.V.D.? Oh, for Chrissakes, stupid. I can’t be bothered.”
The band’s lifetime manager, Marty, whipped out from the wings, onto the red carpet behind Jubal. Now pushing sixty, in gold-rimmed glasses, a silver comb-over and a straggly walrus mustache, Marty looked like the poster boy for pedophilia, which wasn’t far from his three-decade career of plucking teen groupies from the orchestra pit and feeding them to the lascivious band. Seasoned at NVS damage control, Marty slithered his forked tongue. “We’re fixing that tonight.”
The reporter leaned into Marty, prodding, “No more destroying venues? The band’s finally clean?”
“As a whistle,” Marty said.
He prodded Marty with the microphone. “What about Jubal’s hair?”
Jubal scowled, his face flushed red as Marty put his hand in front of the camera lens. “We’re done here.”
I caught up to Jubal, took his hand as the security rushed us to the backstage door. The female fans gawked at me from beyond the barricades, as if NVS was branded on my forehead. They used to be me, forever on the wrong side of cool. Not anymore.
Swept up in the whirlwind together, Jubal and I crossed the threshold from the red carpet into the backstage foyer, and in that moment, he let go of my hand.
Backstage at the Hollywood Bowl, a deliciously dreamy, magical chaos ensued. The night of rock and roll’s biggest party – history in the making. A psychedelic center-of-the universe vibe pulsed off the white walls of the dressing room corridors, spilling out onto the wood floors. Framed black and white photos of legendary acts lined the walls and with each ogle, I imagined filling the echoed footsteps of Beatle boots, Elton’s fishbowl platforms, and the soft shoes of Old Blue Eyes, as they, not Jubal, escorted me down my path to fame and fortune. Or at least to our dressing room bathroom where I could down a few vodkas.
And hey, where the hell was Jubal?
Q & A
Luna Review: When did you begin this novel, and how has it changed over that time?
Margaux Dunbar Hession: Can I say Pre-Jurassic? Sure seems that long. In 2007, I wrote a short story that won a scholarship to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Then Kerblam! 2008, my life did a nosedive into a ten-story belly flop. Laid off my career job (Marketing Manager and Slogan Writer for Big Dogs), divorced. Lost it all – husband, step-kids, band family, work family, money, house, cars – all down to zero. Fell down a rabbit hole and found rock bottom has collapsible floors. For a job, sent resumes into an abyss, for love, tried being a cougar.… By the way, me? Worst cougar ever. A loser-friendly Pollyanna.
May 2011, I took the short story, turned it into a few chapters, and mined those lost years for a dark comedy novel. In 2013, had a draft and worked with editors (Matt Pallamary and John Reed), authors, and workshopped it at conferences. My downfall? I applied every critique. Changed it, then changed it back, then changed it another way. Low self-confidence. Finally had to stop and ask, “What do I want my story to say?” Now I know. You have to hold onto your voice, your story, because that is what sets yours apart from the rest. You’re the only one to tell your story your way. Unless you wake up and you’ve morphed into Stephen King, then go with what he thinks. Every time.
Luna Review: You were married to famous rock drummer. Was the idea of this book to be an exaggerated extrapolation on what you had experienced and knew? A fictionalized mockumentary femoir?
Margaux Dunbar Hession: Yes, I was married to Aynsley Dunbar, (Bowie, Zappa, Whitesnake, Lennon among others) who gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Journey on April 7, 2017. Aynsley and I are great friends now. Funny how life circles around to settle in at a better fit.
And yes, this book is an exaggerated extrapolation of my life and a mockumentary femoir. You got that on the nose. I crunched years of my life experiences into a one-year escapade and added chunks of fiction to make it a better story. I was lucky to have an inside view to rock and roll, and as a writer, perhaps even lucky to lose it all. Perspective.
When I wrote this as a novel in 2011, I was a goody-goody looking after my mom, volunteering with autistic kids, and building my businesses up. To write that as a memoir? Hell no! Boooooring. So, I jumbalaya’d the former me, gleaned ideas from people I knew and things I’d seen, and made the rest up. From that, came the scheming, neurotic, addicted Charlemagne Devlin. A Lucy meets Courtney Love.
LR: Your novel seems to be about rock stars trying to return to former glory, drug addiction, pride, the need for revenge, rehabilitation (from drugs and of reputation). Were there other books in a similar vein that influenced you?
MDH: For balls-out, truthful dark humor books about addiction, rehab, divorce, and dysfunctional relationships: Carrie Fisher – Postcards from the Edge, Hunter S. Thompson – Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Nora Ephron – Heartburn, Danny Bland – In Case We Die, Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday, Kristen Johnson – Guts, James Frey — Million Little Pieces, Karyl McBride – Will I Ever Be Good Enough?
LR: You are known as a hilarious writer with a scathing wit. Did you have to ramp-up the humor in places and tone it down in other places to achieve a balance between broad satire and heartbreaking reality?
MDH: Who ever thought scathing would be such a delicious compliment? Yes, going from high-jinks addict shenanigans to zero dark thirty was a challenge. My snags are always having too many one-liners. I throw out a dozen, and the first or the third one may have landed best and made my point. Then the imaginary hook appears from the wings and I know. I have to move on.
When going to the dark side, sometimes one sentence in either direction can kill the balance. I wanted to go as funny as I could, while revealing dark patches of reality, because both were very real to me, during that time. This story may not be entirely true, but I’ve lived that range of emotion. The ironic and absurd can be both hilarious and distressing. I’ve been both.
LR: Do you think weekend workshops, writers groups, and conferences have helped your novel improve, or are they more of a chance to socialize and catch up with fellow writers?
MDH: Wait, wouldn’t that mean more time with writers? Good God, man, who could stomach such a thing? Where is the nearest exit?
Almost all my friends are writers and authors now. Just happens. I went to a conference, I found my tribe. Done. A great conference, like Santa Barbara Writers Conference, still teaches me new aspects of the craft, gives me feedback from authors, readers and agents, so of course, they improved my novel, no question.
My writing group is the core of my tribe. They listen to my work, word for word, and tell me what they think. Are you kidding? For free. They’ve high-fived me when the planets have aligned – even for one line – and gave me constructive feedback when that black hole of suckage has knocked my story off its orbit. Their comments have gotten me unstuck. Totally worth sitting on a floor, snarfing down Cheetos while offering up my uncondomed soul for open critique.
LR: Who are some of your favorite writers, and the novels that have inspired you over the years?
MDH: Christopher Moore (A Dirty Job, LAMB), Dorothy Parker, (Best of Dorothy Parker), Kurt Vonnegut (Cats’ Cradle, Breakfast of Champions) Ken Kesey (Cuckoo’s Nest), T.C. Boyle (Short Stories), Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones Diary), Candace Bushnell (Sex and the City), David Sedaris (All), Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed), J.D. Salinger.
LR: After this book is published, what will you follow it with? Short stories? A different type of novel?
Short stories – observational humor vignettes – absurd, twisted, caustic, and irreverent of course.
Margaux hard at work with her two chief editors: Matthew Pallamary and John Reed.