Katya, the fan


katyaI used to manage a soul revival group out of Chicago called The Realistics. The bottom had fallen out of the industry and I was doing everything myself – putting out the records on my little imprint (Dupree Records), running public relations, booking shows, and even going out on the road as the tour manager. It was an awful, thankless grind, but we were getting traction and, I dunno, I guess I believed in the group.

Katya was the band’s biggest fan in New Orleans, maybe all of the south. She’d follow us around on tour, each night wearing the same little black dress, dancing her mind out. A couple of times she went back to the motel with Gianni Divine, the band’s frontman, but he wasn’t all that interested in making a groupie his steady girl. Mostly, she’d just hang out backstage and play the role of the band’s little sister, subtly watching Divine with hatefully jealous eyes.

At first I didn’t think much of Katya. Then l I shared a smoke with her outside a club in Memphis one night.

“You know,” she said, “You should sell the bowties as merchandise.”

“You don’t like the t-shirts?” I asked.

“T-shirts are fine, but the Realistics aren’t a rock band. They don’t wear t-shirts. They’re up there on stage in suits, advertising their look to the audience, but you don’t capitalize on it.”

I thought about it for a second. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”

“I know a place in Nashville where you can get those same ties, wholesale.” And sure enough, Realistics-branded bowties became our biggest seller. Somewhere along the line Katya became our merch girl and stayed on the road full-time, always pining for old Gianni Divine. She frequently came up with money-making ideas for the band and eventually I made her the tour manager. There was enough business in Chicago to keep me from going out on the road 250 days a year.

We’d speak every day on the phone and eventually I started to like her. After going over business items, we’d muse on every aspect of our lives; my failed relationships, her continuing obsession with Divine, the music that bound it all together. After a year-and-half of these daily tour conversations, I decided I was in love with her.

I told Katya this at South by Southwest that year, right before the Realistics were about to go on.

“I don’t know, Katya.” I said “It just feels like we’re already together. I just want to make it physical. I know you must feel it too.”

She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, Knox. I wish I did.”

As the band was playing I noticed a girl in the front row, dancing, making eyes at Divine. Before anyone knew what happened, Katya had sucker punched the girl and threw her to the floor, screaming, “Stay on the fucking ground, bitch.” All the while the band continued playing (I Can’t Quite) Keep It Together their most popular song.

It’s one of those songs. You don’t really know what it means, even though you’ve heard it a thousand times, but you still feel it nonetheless.

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