“Life goes on day after day
Hearts torn in every way
So ferry 'cross the Mersey
'cause this land's the place I love
and here I'll stay...”
It could have been Molly Malone’s. Or maybe it was The Drawing Room. I doubt that it was The Roost, but when you were a drunk like I was a drunk, it all gets a little cloudy. Anyway, I heard “Ferry Cross The Mersey” tonight. It was a big hit for Gerry & The Pacemakers in 1965 and it shook loose a misplaced memory of an evening, not unlike a thousand other evenings, that found me in a Hollywood dive.
On my right that night was this older cat from England. All whiskers and ratty tweed, hovering somewhere just above us, but still down low. We were shooting the breeze in that peculiar way that long-tenured alcoholics often do. Five minutes of silence, followed by a single sentence of proclamation (or resignation), most times a little too loud. It might be answered, and then again, it might not.
In these darkened rooms, the jukebox would roar out a set of 3 songs when the barkeep decided things were a little too quiet and someone on the wetter side of the bar decided to part with a quarter. We'd been through “Mustang Sally” and “Willie and The Hand Jive” and they breathed a breath of half-life into the melancholy for a fleeting moment. It was just after this musical wave had crested when out poured “Ferry Cross The Mersey”.
“Life goes on day after day...” , the Wurlitzer crooned. From a sideways glance, I saw that my merry old neighbor perked up from his hunched over pose that seemed designed to protect his cocktail and raised his hand.
"That Gerry Marsden was a gentleman,” he bellowed.
Heads turned about the room like an unplanned alarm had gone off. Just as quickly our shipmates steered their focus back to the task in hand. But I'm a young man in an old man's bar and I've got a lot to learn. And clearly there was a story here.
“So, you knew Gerry Marsden,” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied. ”I knew the whole lot of them.”
He leaned in close enough that I could tell you what brand of gin he was drinking. “I managed a club in London when the whole pop thing started to explode in the sixties.”
My blood, awash with the demon, but still forever thirsty for verse-chorus-verse was alive now. ”Really. So who are we talking here?”
“Everyone from The Stones to The Who to The Hermits.”
I stared back at him, a thousand questions running through my solid state transistor mind.
“Ok, so let's start with the marquee names. Lennon?” I asked in an open-ended manner.
“An arsehole” he replied.
I smirked, thinking how disappointed I’d be if he’d said anything less.
“What about Jagger?” I asked.
“He’s another one. Fucking dandy riding Brian’s coat tails. They did him in, they did. He had all the talent.”
One after another, I would ask and eventually get a summary assessment of the entire lexicon of Nineteen Sixties British Pop. I was told in no uncertain terms that they were lacking, rude, smug and worse. Still, I dug deeper and he seemed genuinely surprised at my interest and relished telling me what he knew of the more obscure bands I’d inquired about. At that point in my life, I’d met a few of my musical heroes and knew that he was, for the most part, likely not exaggerating in his details of their boorish behavior. But it’s only rock n’ roll and the denigration of what amounted to my surrogate family as a child was starting to wear a little thin.
“Listen,” I said quietly, “Ray Davies.”
He raised his eyes and with a telling bit of snark on his mouth, was about to speak, when I stopped him cold. I stood up from my stool, filled with all the rage that a boy raised on public school lunches and Top 40 Radio could muster.
”Goddamn it, Man,” I shouted. “You Really Got Me! All Day and All Of The Night! Waterloo Sunset! Waterloo Fucking Sunset! I don’t care what you’re about to say regarding Mr. Raymond Douglas Davies, but he gave us Waterloo Sunset.”
Again, the bar went pin-drop silent like it does when the Devil has his way with the night. But we were both smiling now and he softened as he chuckled at my mock outburst. I smiled and tipped my hat. Then I held my glass up and started to sing.
“Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night…”
He smiled, raising his glass and joining in with me as the other patrons looked incredulously on.
“People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset
I am in paradise.”
And with our mildly tuneful, acapella rendition of the story of Terry and Julie (right down to the “sha-la-las”) complete, we returned to our drinks. And to the solemn silence that is expected in this late night hall of worship.
“That Gerry Marsden was a gentleman,” he whispered one more time before last call.
Lyrics quoted from “Ferry Cross The Mersey” by Gerry Marsden and “Waterloo Sunset” by Ray Davies.
Dennis Hernandez was born in Los Angeles, California in a small hospital surrounded by used car lots and newly built tract homes. Restlessness in his DNA, he lives half his life in airport terminals, coffee shops, mid-rate efficiency suites and rental cars. He remembers things, sometimes correctly. He has written some of these things down. Some of these things found have good homes in print and online at Drunk Monkeys, Electric Windmill Press, Cadence Collective and Kind of a Hurricane Press.