The Feather Blouse (Los Angeles, 1972)

The Feather Blouse (Los Angeles, 1972)
            after “Garbo” and “Trouble in Shangri-La” by Stevie Nicks
by Michael Montlack

We were there what, fifteen minutes?—when they asked me to take it off. 

“Come on,” Lindsay whispered, jaw tensed. “A couple art shots the label won’t even use.”

Then why bother? I said. I cleaned like a gazillion houses to buy this.

The photographer emerged from behind the frame finder. “What’s the prob, Sweetie?” 

It’s Stevie—where’s the bathroom …

Inside, two girls, maybe sixteen, in matching halters and lace-up wedgies poured lines of coke from a champagne glass. “Groovy blouse,” one said. “Trippy turquoises … Peacock?” Was she high or just giddy being at this mansion? Who were these people milling about anyway? It was a simple shoot. Our first album. We weren’t anything special—yet. I turned down her line and opened the door to find Fred, a Polydor exec, in the corridor.

“Don’t get righteous now,” he said. “Wanna clean houses all your life? Or sing your songs?”

I leaned against the grandfather clock in the hallway. Felt the ticking in my spine.

“You could be Garbo,” he said. “Even Marlene. You could be Marilyn … or you could forget—”

The girls’ laughter, amplified by the bathroom tiles, startled us. I thought about my granddaddy playing those saloon dives when I was a kid. “Sing like you mean it,” he’d say, propping me on the bar. The crowd threw quarters at my feet. Was this any different?

Fine, I said. A few shots. Nothing too racy.

When I slipped off the blouse, Lindsay gave me those intense eyes that promised All of it for us, baby. The stylist combed my hair into a panel long enough to cover my right breast. I hid the left behind Lindsay’s shoulder.  “See?” he said. “I’m shirtless too.”

Please.

After fussing with light stands, the photographer looked up through his bottlecap glasses. “Don’t move, Sweetie.” He nodded to an assistant who switched on a fan.  My hair lifted. There was the flash, another. Another.

Of course the label went for it. Said they liked the lost look on my face. Even more than the nudity. But me? I don’t see Garbo. Or Marlene. I just see a featherless bird. Trying to take flight. 

***

Michael Montlack is the author of the poetry book Cool Limbo (NYQ Books) and the editor of the Lambda Finalist essay anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press). Recently his poems have appeared in North American Review, Barrow Street, Los Angeles Review, Hotel Amerika, and Painted Bride Quarterly. His essays have appeared in Huffington Post and Advocate.com. He lives in NYC.