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THERE'S NO TIME LIKE THE FIRST : What Stewart Knew Is Still True--All We Need Is a Friend to Lend a Guiding Hand

March 31, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Maggie May put down her London Times and sighed at the latest news of Rod. Another of his long tours was ending; two more dates to go. In an arena in California, it said, a place called Anaheim. Could it be near Disneyland? She had always so wanted to go there but never got the chance. Ah, well.

She picked up the paper again and rustled it with a shake of age-spotted hands. Peering through thick spectacles, she returned to the part about Rod joking on stage about his pretty young wife. Every show, it said, he would quip about how his Rachel was just a year-old baby in nappies when "Maggie May" made him a star.

The morning sun, when it's in your face, really shows your age . . .

That line was a bit cruel of him, Maggie thought. She had only just turned 38 the spring--oh, it was more than 30 years ago!--when the dear lad appeared. He was so apologetic about kicking his football into her rosebush, but witty, too. Eighteen, he was. She smiled with the memory of how he started coming over after work--he wasn't really in school, then; poetic license, you know. And not much with a billiards stick, either, if truth be told. He would ring at her door, holding a football and an armload of LPs by Muddy Waters and Sam Cooke. He would play those records for hours. When it was nice, they would go outdoors and put the gramophone in the window, and Rod would practice his soccer, dancing to the beat of American rhythm and blues and kicking the ball against her garden fence without breaking rhythm. It seemed he loved his football as much as his music. But if you asked Maggie, Rod loved romance best of all. He'd literally crow with glee at the idea of loving. That's why she called him her little rooster. Could it be he was thinking of her when he got that famous haircut of his? That came years later. When Maggie knew him--1963, wasn't it?--he wore a Beatles shag.

They had long parted by the time Rod wrote the song about her. He left her in late September--the song was accurate about that much. But the Rod of "Maggie May," and, for that matter, all of his early records, was so like the boy she had loved. Such a hunger for experience. Such an eager youth, who wanted to go places, feel feelings, get it all down, and have a laugh along the way. Warm, brilliant records, they were, and that voice, singing those lyrics, gave you the sense of someone piecing out life the way we all have to, letting himself feel sad, but never forgetting to keep his chin up. Every picture tells a story, don't it? Yes, you could get through life with an attitude like that.

Maggie thought back on how she didn't care for it at all when Rod started acting like such a peacock, flaunting his starlets and his high life. Oh, maybe she was a little jealous, but the truth is that celebrity is such a dull story to tell. She much preferred the hungry, eager, down-to-earth young fellow of "The Rod Stewart Album," "Gasoline Alley" and "Every Picture Tells a Story" to the glamorous bon vivant he soon became.

Rod hadn't always been one to flaunt himself so. Why, she'd heard that the first time he went to America, with the Jeff Beck Group, he was so frightened he sang from the wings, and they had to push him on stage. Maggie wondered whether Rod's young wife had even heard the albums he made with the Beck Group, "Beck-Ola" and "Truth." Some of the best stuff he'd ever done.

Yes, Maggie had privately cringed to see Rod lose his bearings. What was he thinking, singing "Hot Legs" and "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy," and putting his starlets in his videos? What was the use of hiring backup bands as slick and impersonal as a London street in a downpour?

The old warmth could still come through, though. Maggie remembered how proud she was when Rod sang "The Killing of Georgie" in 1976. They're making such a fuss now about that American, Tom Hanks, playing a doomed gay man in the movies. Times were different when Rod sang "Georgie." It took real courage for him to write about a homosexual character with such sadness and affection. He suffered for it, too; there were vicious, degrading rumors of a sexual sort. Maggie would be the first (yes, literally!) to attest that nothing was further from the truth.

She read everything about him and bought all his records, but she never went to one of his concerts. She would have felt odd, sitting there. What if he saw her and recognized her? What if he saw her and didn't? So she watched from afar. Lately she had seen the "Unplugged" show that played on the MTV. As she watched, she found herself wondering: Who does Rod think about now, when he sings of sunlight on an aging face? Why, he's 11 years older than I was then; next January he'll turn 50. Ah, he probably wouldn't want a card from me.

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