The interlude in between acts of the untitled coming of age story. Words subject to change as I’ve never actually written a journalistic story about a gigantic rock star committing suicide in the middle of a stage during a live performance of a song he fucking hated. But, I’ll try.
Leslie Adams is staring at me, though not for the first time.
Yes, that Leslie Adams, the Leslie Adams of the golden voice, the Leslie Adams of the band Nautilus is staring at me. If I were a younger journalist, if this were Jim or Jimi or Paul or Ringo, my courage would have streamed down my leg, quickly belaying my lack of confidence. But, that was thirty years ago, and today, some petulant, spoiled fucking brat thinks he’s going to wait me out. I ask my typical questions; “Tell me about life. Tell me about the road. What’s your writing process?” trying to fish something useful. Instead, I get shrugs and eyerolls.
We are in Cleveland, a city alive with live and love where on every corner seems to have a music club slash bar slash bingo hall, a town wherein they love their Cleveland Indians and sing songs about their Cleveland Browns. Leslie Adams, blows upward toward his hairline, his hair scattering from his face for a moment before falling over his eyes, shielding him from my unimpressed glance.
Adams, the twenty-five year old wunderkind, with a gold under his belt with Madonna as a backing vocalist on a new song she wrote on a whim especially for him, who sings on no less than four new albums predicted to be smash hits has gone from kind, quiet, unassuming to bratty, childish and as described before, petulant in less than a year’s time, thanks to the runaway success of the multiple Grammy winning smash hit of 1994, “Paint It.”
Rock Magazine: Tell me about Paint–
Leslie Adams: Fuck you and fuck that song.
LA: I’m a rock and roll singer, alright? Do you understand that?
RM: Yes, I do.
LA: That’s why I’m fucking here. You want to interview me, but, what you really want to know is about that fucking song.
RM: You won’t answer any —
LA: Because everything’s going to lead to that song. What’s my motivation for the lyrics? Why’s it such a departure from the hard rock of the rest of the album? Are there more songs like Paint It coming? Are those your next questions?
RM: No, you haven’t ans–
LA: And I’m not going to. No one cares about us as a band. No one cares about our process. No one cares about “The Blindness” or “Black Within” or “Wasted This Life”. It’s all about “Paint It.”
RM: You sold almost eight million singles in just the first month. [ed. current sales of single as of publication top sixteen million singles, two months after this interview]
LA: Eight million assholes.
RM: That’s not fair.
LA: Not fair? Not fair is that I lost my best friends because of that song. Do you remember them, Telly?
RM: Of course. Jerry and Louie. [ed. Jerry Trimble and Louise “Louie” Pescatore, of the duo Sun and Moon alt-rock performers in the mid-90’s who passed away of a heroin overdose]
LA: Right. Two people who decided that they could paint their windows black, and never see the sun again. Because no matter what, even if they see the sun, they’re never going to feel the sun. They were lost. Lost to drugs and life and this fucking hell we call humanity. How’s that fair? Those eight million people just heard words and decided “Hey, this is a cool tune.” The Radio guys said “We really wanna play Nautilus, but the rest is too risky. Here’s a safe bet. Here’s as far as we’re willing to go.” And yet, I dug into my soul for this song.
RM: Seems you’re still digging in.
LA: How so?
RM: I’m just a journalist. I report what I see. But, what I see is some whiny brat who can’t appreciate that of that eight million in sales, even if just one percent became true fans of Nautilus, that’s eighty-thousand people. And there’s bound to be more. But, you don’t like that one song hit it big? Why’d you write it then?
LA: Because fuck you.
RM: Mature. Good for you. You think you’re the first testy rocker I’ve ever met?
LA: No. Please compare me to everyone else. I implore you to do that once more.
RM: Implore? I don’t think you’re old enough for that word, sport.
LA: Fuck you.
RM: No. Tell me about “Paint It.”
LA: Fuck you.
RM: Tell me about how you wrote it. What’s your process?
LA: Fuck off.
RM: What was your motivation for the song, Leslie?
LA: Fuck you. Roger?
RM: Are you planning on releasing another ballad, just like “Paint It”?
At this point, I am escorted from the room at gunpoint. I would later realize, through the chaos, that the gun pointed at me was later the gun that Leslie Adams, the petulant child, the spoiled brat of Rock and Roll would answer his critics would use to end his life, here in a small club just outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
There is an iconic photo, passed through the wire services taken almost immediately after Leslie Adams pulled the trigger and turned the Triumph Theatre in Parma Village, Ohio into a scene of chaos. Through the panicked crowd as Adams’ hand lay still, curling a microphone, a sixteen year-old boy from High Hills, OH named Larry Stolarczyk stared forward at Adams in wide-eyed disbelief. His friend, Walter Staniczyk, also of High Hills, buried his horrified face in Larry’s shoulder. A third boy, Tim Sobczyk reached onto the stage toward Adams’ hand.
The boys had, with money saved from Christmas and mowing neighborhood lawns, purchased first row tickets for a band they’d loved since before The Red Record, as the second album from Nautilus had been affectionately been known thanks to the red on red cover with a stylized Nautilus logo in the right corner.
I have, before publication of this article, been given every chance to paint Leslie Adams in a more charismatic light, to preserve some dignity for the dead. I have been asked to tone down my vitriol for the auteur, the wannabe rock star with a single platinum record under his belt before he allowed fame to get to his head. I have been recommended that I would be well served to remember that there are eight million fans who purchased that record that Leslie Adams hated and that a significant many will buy this publication, that has been in print since the year 1962, when my friend Darren Lewis and I went to our first rock and roll show at the age of seventeen and ended up travelling a few days with a band who gave us nothing but a glimpse into the rock and roll lifestyle we desperately wanted.
To you, I offer no such painting, no such toning down, and will refuse such recommendation to paint Leslie Adams as anything more than the miserable, worthless, terrible pain in the ass he deserves to be remembered as. If this is my last article for this magazine, then so be it. But, I will not allow those who seem to control records control my opinion of Leslie Adams.
And while I think of those three boys, who will forever live as the boys who stared into Leslie Adams dead eyes, I cannot in good conscience not speak of the man Leslie Adams became without telling you the Leslie Adams who used to be.
Six years ago, I happened upon a show in my hometown of West Nyack, NY. I had been home visiting my sister and her children when her son Thomas, a nineteen year-old pre-med who’d always thought my job was more glamorous than it actually had been asked me to accompany him to a rock show to see two bands. The first was forgettable, a typically too New York for New York band.
But, the second band was Nautilus.
Despite the plodding guitar, the rat-a-tat-tat-tat-a-tat-tat double bass drum and the predictable bass line, the voice that rose above touched me somewhere deep. That voice was, of course, Leslie Adams, a fresh-faced nineteen year-old kid from Thomas’ high school. “This guy effing rocks, Uncle Telly!” he screamed into my ear. I almost heard him over the sound of this voice, the voice.
After the show, we made our way backstage and shook hands with the band. Leslie knew me immediately and hugged me, warmly.
“Telly Turner!” he exclaimed. “I’ve read Rock Mag since before I could remember. Holy shit, you’re here.”
“Holy shit, you’re you!” I squeaked. I’d seen the Beatles first few shows in the US, was at Woodstock (both times), the first Lollapalooza, and held Elvis’ dead hand. I’d never geeked out about some no-name singer before, ever.
We struck up a fast friendship and as soon as Paint It was released a change in his demeanor was immediate. Leslie lamented that they weren’t some “fucking balladeers” and knew that at that point they were “too fucked” to be a rock and roll band again. Leslie tried everything he could to rock more, rock harder. He dabbled in coke, and when that didn’t make him feel rock star enough, he started freebasing crack cocaine. He lost thirty pounds and two teeth and alienated even his best friends.
Backstage, just before our confrontation written previously, a decision was made with the surviving members of Nautilus; those being David Rabbit, guitar, Rock Swain, drums and Paull Rabbit, bass; that after this show, Nautilus was taking a break. Before I was escorted out of the room, Rock threw a punch at Leslie, who fell to the ground despite not being hit, tears in his eyes. The room stopped, and Leslie looked at me, screaming to get that “faggot fuck” out of the room.
And despite the climate of the room here in 1994, I can confirm: I am a quite happily gay male and that Leslie Adams, for a considerable time was my lover, lasting from the time we met up until before the Red Record was released. If the animosity from our conversation is apparent, this is not from a lack of trying. Leslie and I were much more casual, even after the album released, but his A&R people insisted he be seen less with men and more with women as us ‘fags’ didn’t sell records.
It was then that Leslie fell in love with his quite-too-soon-to-be-wife Amber Anderson, a beautiful blonde who became a friend as well. And at the risk of sounding like a jilted lover she became the object of my jealousy as well.
In truth, our relationship had always been explosive, and I had every expectation that I would be able to apologize for being so confrontational the day after October 11th, 1994. There was every reason to think that Les would grab the back of my head, pull my forehead to his, and look in my eyes, a smile on his face. He called this his “owl face”. He would hoot twice, kiss my cheek and all would be forgiven.
My forgiveness will never come. But in the eyes of his public, he is likely already forgiven, his body barely cold and buried an hour north of his hometown of New Orleans. And Leslie Adams is tortured as the words of “Paint It” are sung in his memory.
Which is a shame — “The Bounty of a Man” was always my favorite.