You already know how I am. I only tell the truth in my stories. (Mostly). So maybe this time I told a big lie, just so I could tell an even better story that is actually (mostly) true. Was it worth the sacrifice of my soul? It’s up to you.
Jim Ottea and I had been cruising Colorado for several days, him on his Yamaha FJR, me on my BMW K1200LT. After nearly two weeks on the road, the ride was almost over, but the fun wasn’t. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not over until it’s over. People have gotten hurt trying to prove us wrong.
We had been leaving our bikes low enough to kiss the pavement near Telluride, riding from Silverton to a small town called Ouray (pronounced “OO-ray”) where the cuts are nice and the drops are steep. The roads were so good that we spent two days on them, staying more than one night in a nearby town so we could play the 550 highway over and over again.
Arriving in Ouray on our last day in the neighborhood, I pulled off the last hairpin and pulled up alongside Jim at a roadside stop, Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gada-Da-Vida blaring. speakers in the Beemer.
“How many times have you listened to that record?” Jim asked, possibly annoyed that he’d been blaring it for the last 3 or 4 stops. (I’m also not sure he was entirely comfortable with my desire to play my ABBA CD every time we pulled up near the Harley guys in their leathers and rags.)
“About seven,” I replied, “I found it this morning in my CD case. Pretty good stuff, huh? Ever heard this song?”
Jim snorted and I continued, “The drum solo is good for 20 miles, even on these twisty roads.” I turned it up a bit more for her to enjoy listening to, just in time for the grand finale of the song.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he made a face, obviously jealous of my six-CD changer. I shrugged and we got back on the road and out of town, heading towards Gunnison and heading east, the general direction of home, although neither of us wanted to face that horrible fact, not yet.
The next day we were heading to the Royal Gorge by raft, although we didn’t realize we were going to because, conceptually, such an adventure hadn’t occurred to us yet. We stopped at a small park where the Arkansas River storms past a wooden deck overlooking the water. On the platform was a boy in his early 20s, taking pictures of the whitewater rafters as they splashed in the rapids below (to sell at outrageous prices when they returned to the rafting company headquarters).
As Jim headed back to his motorcycle, no doubt to see where he could mount a 6-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 boy said to me, out of Jim’s earshot, “did anyone tell your friend he looks like a rock star?”
I leaned back against the railing, soaking up all the heat from the sun, and replied nonchalantly, “It’s funny you mention that. Who do you think he looks like?”
I already knew where I was going with this. I’m Bad Ted, and this was too easy.
“Well, I’m not sure, but he looks familiar. He just looks like a rock star I might have seen somewhere.”
“Someone recently said that he looks like Keith Richards,” I suggested. “Do you think?”
“My, yes,” agreed the boy, encouraged now. “Hey,” he added, more hopeful than doubtful, “it’s not, is it? Keith Richards?”
“Nah,” I laughed. “But…” I brought it out as if hesitating to reveal a really big secret, then relented.
“Have you ever heard of a band called Iron Butterfly?”
“Yes…?” (“Come on,” his eyes pleaded, “you’re going to tell me he’s really cool, right? I KNEW IT!”)
“Have you 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 the drums too.”
“Ask him for his autograph when he gets back, he’ll be happy to give it to you.”
Around this time, Jim strolled back down 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. I think he wants your autograph.”
We close our eyes. Jim looked at me in disbelief: poor man, he has some trouble getting over his own deep-seated senses of honesty, fairness, and righteousness.
“You have to be kidding,” his piercing eyes accused. “No, I’m not kidding,” my conspiratorial wink replied. “You’re in it whether you like it or not.”
“Sign an autograph for this guy,” I said out loud, “He’s a drummer too.”
I then explained to the boy, “Jim is embarrassed by that drum solo. He thinks he’s immature and childish now. But believe me,” I assured him, “you can still learn a lot about rock ‘n roll percussion from that classic In-Solo.” of battery A-Gada-Da-Vida”.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, I’m not a drummer, but to my credit I thought maybe it might be true when I said it.
“I can’t believe this,” Jim muttered. I don’t remember if she actually said it out loud or just hinted at it with another piercing look of deep disappointment at me, but I wasn’t about to take any of it. The game was on, and it didn’t matter in any case: Celebrities are known to be shy and sometimes reticent. Jim’s goofy performance now could only enhance the farce.
The aspiring drummer took out a pen and paper and even a clipboard, unable to believe his good fortune on that happy day.
To his everlasting shame, Jim completely fell for the evil spirit of the thing. His reluctance was quickly resolved promptly. Bright-eyed Jim Ottea (Wow! The REAL Jim Ottea, it’s HIM, man!) graciously produced an autograph that could one day be worth hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, if he ever really does something himself. .
Meanwhile, I grabbed the camera and captured the moment, as Jim, with a bold hand and proud flourish, cheekily autographed: HA! Take this:
Stick with it, kid.
Jimmy “rotten” Ottea
The two spent the next few minutes discussing the subtle differences between traditional drumming styles versus I don’t know what. I must say that Jim held his own in the conversation, even though he had no idea what the hell this excited young man was blabbering about. For the most part, “Jimmy Rotten” just nodded sagely and grunted in a manner befitting the consummate professional. I was very proud of him at the time.
And, of course, he offered the boy much encouragement. That’s important to young people, and Jim is a loving guy.
Now, I have to admit that before we left the scene, we told the boy the whole truth, explaining that it was all a harmless joke.
I should admit it, but I can’t, I won’t, we didn’t. We never confess anything. The way we saw it, why ruin a dreamy young man’s big day, just to save our own wretched souls?
And now you know the truth about the lie. I swear.
Ted A. Thompson [http://www.phfft.com]
PS On our way home two days later, halfway across Kansas in 104 degree temperatures on the unholy flat, scorching, grueling interstate through the midwestern prairie, I pulled up next to Jim in my motorcycle, matching his speed at approximately 85 MPH.
I got his attention with my horn, smiled, and as he watched and wondered what I was doing, I put the Beemer in cruise control and pantomime wild drum moves with my arms, fists clenched tightly around imaginary drumsticks.
It was a close decision. Somehow, Jim kept control of his bike, but I almost lost my good friend on the wicked Kansas asphalt.