Matt Mitchell

Matt Mitchell is the author of The Neon Hollywood Cowboy (Big Lucks, 2021).

ELMO GLICK by Matt Mitchell

It was 1966, late winter, when a mild western breeze combed across the Pacific Coast. Elmo Glick, in a velvet tracksuit colored beige, sagged himself over the railing of his second-floor balcony. He wasn’t going to kill himself, no. He was more interested in testing whether or not he could accurately spit a clump of saliva into his treble-clef-shaped in-ground pool from there. The blob of grey cannonballing out of Glick’s mouth and then buoying in the clear-blue water and then thinly dissolving into strings of bubbly DNA. I haven’t had a real hit since 1962, Glick thought to himself. As he always did, every night. Glick was never known for being hip with the times, as he had spent the last number of weeks trying to write a chart-topper that involved a line about shaking your tailfeather. But it was that lack of hipness that put him on his second-story balcony, hurling spit-wads into chlorine-tinged waters.

He peeked into the bedroom to see Gaby still awake, reading from her copy of Goodbye, Columbus. May I have just one Coors, Glick asked her. No, your heart, she responded quickly, not even considering anything but that. Gaby didn’t want him drinking anymore, not after the thing with his ticker and all the outbursts. Bad heart, the doctor said. But Glick did keep a lone can of Coors in the way back of his garage fridge, behind a shelf full of Coke bottles bottom-marked Memphis, because Gaby liked the way Coke tasted where Elvis lived, much more than California Coke, so she used a portion of her Kiss Me Deadly earnings to ship them, by the case, cross-country from Tennessee. God gave you a wonky heart, so you better not fuss with it, Gaby told him from the bed.

But what god wanted and what god intended were two different things, and Glick thought, maybe, giving Presley a ring would change his mood. Ask him to come to Red Bird Records, Glick thought. Him and Presley always made hits together. Though, he knew Presley was probably near comatose, under heaps of satin bedsheets with Priscilla, rehearsing his lines for Clambake. Those were the Bill Bixby days. The Bill Bixby long before Bill Bixby was David Bruce Banner days. And Glick knew Presley would never abandon RCA, what with all the luxuries of putting out mediocre country-pop for salary pay and royalty checks. And Glick couldn’t offer that to anyone with Red Bird, because the label was barely breaking even off The Shangri-Las alone.

It was something of an anomaly, his songwriting. The weight of “Hound Dog,” how everyone thought of Presley and not Glick when it came on the radio. Seismic in legacy, for months you couldn’t walk past a store-window television set and see anything but the King shaking his hips while lip-syncing the tune, though maybe you couldn’t tell he was shaking his hips, because they were intentionally placed just off-screen. The way Glick surely regretted writing such a mammoth hit on his first go. It was he who discovered The Shangri-Las, and he who produced their first hit record. And then the next, and also the ones after that, too. But his credit on all those songs, much like his on “Hound Dog,” had been long forgotten, because his name was always smaller than the artist’s. And he couldn’t sing, a vacant quality Gaby reminded him about, from time to time, citing she would have married a bird if she wanted to bed a singer.

So Glick stood there, on his balcony, admiring the California cityscape beyond him. An arm’s length, it seemed. A whole world away, it was. Yes, he considered jumping, but couldn’t commit to it, because he was worried he’d miss the concrete and land in the pool, or, even worse, embarrassingly sky-dive into the deep-end diving board. He took a step back and glanced at the moonlight, a moonlight that somehow cut through the shuttering farm of clouds. There was a way about its glow, a way that turned the front part of his body blue. And it reminded him of that particular way nighttime broke into the church and onto Gaby’s face, as they danced their first holy-matrimonied dance. The way it turned her into a moon, a moon he longingly held in his tuxedoed arms.

But, as was customary at that time of night, what with morning beginning to inch its way up the coast, Glick left the glow behind, tiptoed through his bedroom, where Gaby was now asleep with Goodbye, Columbus tented on her chest. He inched down the spiral staircase, through the kitchen, and out into the garage. He opened the fridge door slowly and snaked his hand around the cavalry of Coke bottles, careful not to make any jagged noise by accidentally pushing two of them against each other. He grabbed the can and quietly sulked over towards a toolbox where he kept a spare can opener. As Glick always did, and maybe did too much, he pondered over which end to open, but chose the top, like always. He took a swig, feeling the frosted hops glide down his burn-swallowed throat. This must be what moonlight tastes like, he jokingly thought to himself, until he opened a cabinet by his Buick and fished around for the rest of the six-pack, and then considered that maybe every other can held the taste of moonlight, too.

Glick, with an armful of Coors, then backpedaled into his home, adjourning back up the spiral staircase and into his study, where all his achievements hung. There was a vacant shelf he had built above the fireplace for his Grammy awards, even though he hadn’t won any yet. A picture of him and Phil Spector rested on the wall behind his desk. Their friendship, Glick and Spector’s, had long fizzled out, but Glick kept the picture hanging to serve as a reminder that he is the man who made Spector. That when you think about the Wall of Sound, you better think of Elmo Glick, too. And it was Glick, that night, who stood before his wall of gold records, gazing for a particularly long time at the frame holding “She’s Not You.” His middle-aged face reflected off the brandished shine. From across the hallway, Gaby, awake now, groggily called him into their bedroom. But he told her no. Told her, I think I might write a song tonight. She hummed in half-conscience affirmation, knowing all too well the violence he inflicted on himself while not writing, before drifting back down into her pillow.

He closed his study door, played “I Wanna Love Him So Bad” by The Jelly Beans from his jukebox, a Rock-Ola he had personally installed and only filled with songs he’d written or produced, and kept writing the word “midnight” over and over again, like some kind of Wallace Stevens imposter, until he had written “Moonlight in My Arms” so big at the top of the paper he could barely fit any lyrics beneath it. So he put his pen down, drank another can of Coors that glided down his throat, and called it a day, because it had been so long since he’d even come up with a good title.

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