AZ posts an unresolved reflection on an acquaintance’s puffery, prompting a recollection of my own on the theme.
During the tail end of high school and early college, I was friends with a street drunk named Freddy, “Freddy the Biker,” to give his full moniker.
“I’se just a broke-down ol’ scooter tramp without a scooter,” he’d say, by way of intro or explanation. Fred was originally from “the Region,” the megaplex around Gary, Indiana, and had run with a few MCs, according to him, over the late sixties to late seventies. When I knew him, he was a profound alcoholic prone to passing out and wetting himself. Despite this, his weatherbeaten face and inexhaustible repertoire of entertaining stories of rock and roll shenanigans – and his happy willingness to buy booze for underage drinkers – endeared him to my social circle.
One of the many things Fred claimed to have done in his life was to have worked as a roadie for innumerable rock bands. Among others, he claimed Metallica, Iron Maiden, and the Sex Pistols, on their sole American tour until reforming in the 1990s. The Pistols claim, for sheer improbability, was subject to the greatest interrogation and elaboration.
Before I met Fred, I had a photo poster of the Pistols taken during a concert presented in Austin Texas during the 1979 1978 tour. In the shot, Sid Vicious, the band’s second bassist, is caught mid-pogo, and his feet are clearly visible. He was wearing full-height engineer boots, the motorcycle boot that has a single buckle and a clearly defined block heel. Full-height boots reach to protect the entire calf and shin.
This image formed my idea of desirable footwear and for twenty years thereafter engineer boots were my preferred footgarb.
The day I first set steel taps to resist the rapid heel wear on the heels of my first low-rise engineer boots, I slipped and stumbled at a party in front of Freddy. He remarked, laughing, “You need to learn to walk on steel, boy!”
That night, I pressed him, disbelieving, about roadie-ing for the Pistols. He told me that it was a fun gig and that “the boys” were just folks. Except, he said, for Sid.
Fred claimed that Sid was the nicest kid most of the time, but that sometimes he would “get an idea” and that you couldn’t talk him out of it. The particular example he gave was that in Austin Texas (a city place I knew the band had played but which I did not mention to Fred), Sid had admired his motorcycle boots. They were, it seems, high boots that Fred had just bought, happy to have the money for some durable footwear. Vicious, it seems, would not be put off, and he badgered Fred into giving him the boots.
When I heard this story, I was utterly skeptical, but suspended critique in respect of Fred’s entertainment value. A few years later, I heard that Fred had died of complications from an infection brought about by an untreated cut on his foot – he’d contracted gangrene and the amputation came too late to save him. He died, and I understand was buried, in New Orleans, a perfectly appropriate place.
Years later, I read Jon Savage’s detailed account of punk rock, circa 1974-1980, England’s Dreaming. In the book, Savage incorporates an anecdote about Vicious on the US tour, in which the Pistol badgers an unnamed roadie into giving up his brand new pair of calf-high motorcycle boots just before the band’s Austin Texas show.
Freddy, here’s to ya.