Emma’s been hired to ghostwrite the memoirs of the ex-wife of Davey Detonator, a deceased LA rock star from the 1980s. But Emma senses there’s something that tell-all Patti Detonator isn’t telling–and the secret may derail the project.
I squeeze into an empty parking space at the end of the cul-de-sac. I’m in a 1980s-era townhouse development in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the kind of shoddily constructed place originally marketed as “luxury townhomes.” The kind of place that quickly deteriorates once its initial inhabitants flee to better neighborhoods, until thirty years later it’s a shabby DelCo backwater filled with sketchy renters and occasional newlyweds hoping to claw their way somewhere better soon.
The second-to-last house belongs to Patti Jenkins Detonator Lyndall Amoroso Harvey, who is the subject of my visit. Patti had called me to talk about ghostwriting her memoir about her days as a hottie in the 1980s Los Angeles hair-metal scene and, specifically, her short, tragic marriage to Davey “Detonator” Lyndall, bassist for the Bomb Angels. The band had been one of the LA scene’s most spectacular successes and was also proof that it’s quite possible to neither burn out nor rust; you could simply throw a Mototov cocktail into an entire shipping container’s worth of July 4th fireworks and then randomly set off a second container’s contents bit by bit over the next twenty-five years. Most people my age (30) can’t name a single Kix song, and L.A. Guns couldn’t draw a draw a decent crowd to your neighborhood pizzeria, but people still talk about the Bomb Angels, though they never had an “Appetite for Destruction” like Guns ’N Roses. More like “Thirst for Drama.”
The townhouse door bears one of those handmade floral wreaths. I ring the doorbell, which is superfluous thanks to a yapping dog who frantically flings himself against the front window. Patti answers the door before he breaks through the glass.
“Hush, baby,” she says to the pom-pug-peke-cocka-poo. “Mommy has company!”
I’ve seen pictures online of Patti back in the day, with a frizzy blond perm and a stunning body. She’s now 54 years old, heavier, skin ravaged by cigarettes or too much tanning or Scotch; dressed in Target chic, her face overly contoured by one of those kits celebrities hawk on TV. She ushers me in while the dog, who looks like a wind-up toy, collapses into a basket bed.
The living room is also Target-chic, with a few frou-frou ’80s touches like porcelain geese wearing mauve and teal bows and some dried-flower arrangements that are really dusty dead-flower arrangements. An entertainment center spills over with vintage CDs, which suggest Patti hasn’t bought any new music since “Use Your Illusion II.”
I perch on her off-white couch, which is covered with dirty paw prints, and she sits across from me in a chair. She clasps her hands together. “I’m so excited. I thought up a title for the book last night.” She pauses dramatically. “ʽI Used to Be Married to a Guy in the Bomb Angels’!”
I smile and act like I know what I’m talking about. “Publishers almost always change titles, and that’s a bit long. But I like it for a working title. Certainly sums things up!”
Patti smiles back. “Now what do we do? I have so much to show you. Pictures, stories I’ve written down….”
My new ghostwriting career so far is limited to a few magazine articles. Paid music journalism has dried up, and though #MeToo has gotten me a few published feminist rants, it’s not a living. My friend Allie is a professional ghostwriter. She’s done some big stuff: books by a couple of famous politicians, a tech guru, and even a movie star. She has an agent, makes good money, and also puts out romance novels under a pen name. I just want to pay my bills and eventually find an agent myself. And publish Hail Satan, my novel about heavy-metal kids in Jersey.
Allie has prepared me well. “Basically, your marriage is a start for a memoir,” I tell Patti. “But we need to find a better hook to make it stand out. Could be a number of things: Small-town girl goes to LA, falls in love with musician, addiction and tragedy ensue. Or LA scene girl mixes with the best of the ’80s metal bands, has adventures, and meets the man of her dreams only to be disillusioned. We can explore some ideas.”
Patti uncrosses her legs, which are not half-bad for a woman in her 50s. I recall a photo I saw of her in Duff McKagan’s lap, one of those legs slung over his shoulder, a stiletto-heeled sandal dangling off her toe. “Whatever you think will work. I just want a bestseller so I can move to Florida. Get a nice condo in South Beach.” She sighed. “Or at the very least, make enough to keep paying off this house. I got laid off a couple of years ago—I was an office manager—just after my third husband left, so I refinanced, and now I owe a ton. My current job doesn’t pay very well, and my hours just got cut.”
“I’ll be honest, Patti. Memoir is a hard sell, even celebrity-related stuff, unless it’s current. 1980s nostalgia is getting passé, and even the ’90s are peaking. But if we find a good hook, we’ll do some sample chapters and an outline, and then approach agents and publishers. We’ll go through what you have and think up something unique that might catch some interest.”
Patti jumps up. “Of course, Emma. Come in here and we’ll spread out my stuff.”
Two large plastic tubs and some shoeboxes are on her kitchen table. She opens one of the tubs. It’s chock-full of photos.
She passes me an 8×10. “I thought this might make a good cover.”
It’s Patti in skintight pants, lace-up platform boots, and a fuchsia satin bomber jacket over a gold lamé bustier that’s overflowing with boobage. She’s wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and making the duck face.
“Publishers determine the cover, not authors. But we can certainly suggest it.”
We go through more photos: Patti with her posse of girlfriends prowling Sunset Strip in 1986; blurry concert shots of some pretty famous bands; party photos of dudes doing lines of coke off women’s breasts. Everyone is wearing bright colors and pants so tight I wonder how they ever peeled them off to have sex. Or even to use the bathroom.
I look at a group shot that features of a couple of members of Poison along with assorted girls. Patti is kissing Rikki Rockett’s cheek. He looks indifferent and is fondling another girl’s thigh. Probably why I’m not being asked to write “I Used to Be Married to Rikki Rockett.”
“Here are some stories I wrote.” Patti opens another box and pulls out a pile of looseleaf sheets. “Just trying to remember some of the crazy stuff. The fun we had.” Then she touches another box, one we haven’t opened. “And the sad stuff. Maybe we can talk about that another day?”
“Sure. May I take these with me? Might give me some ideas about structure. And…” I hesitate. “I will need to corroborate as much as I can. Meaning I may need to talk to people you’re still in touch with from the scene, the surviving band members, even Davey’s family.”
Patti swallows and looks a little distressed. “Well, okay. I don’t know if some of them will talk.”
“Leave that me.” I get up. “I’ll call in a couple of days and touch base, okay?”
Patti leads me back to the door and embraces me. “Oooh, Emma, this is going to be awesome. It’s hard to think about Davey, but I think I need to confront it. All my therapists said so.”
The tiny dog wakes up when I shut the door and hurls himself against the window again. I can hear him yipping as I walk to my car.
Patti’s stories are a mess. Clumsily written, they veer from mundane to funny to horrifying. There are enough anecdotes to set the scene for the early chapters. But we’ll definitely need more than decadent LA party tales to sell a book. It’s all been done.
I do more research on the band before I call Patti back. Most people know the basics: Two DelCo boys meet behind an illegal teen band venue in the early ’80s when one bums a cigarette off the other. The boys’ names are Rex Loomis and Dave Lyndall. Dave plays bass. Rex doesn’t play anything, but he has astonishing vocal range and can howl like Robert Plant. After high school graduation, they take off for Los Angeles and join bands that don’t last past the second rehearsal. Eventually they run across kindred spirits: Drexel Colby, Mike DeBonis, Harley Haydon. They call themselves The Do-Whats at first, but eventually they morph into the Bomb Angels: singer/songwriter Wrex King, lead guitarist/songwriter Drex Rox, drummer Mikey Bone, guitarist Harley Hell, and bassist Davey Detonator. Wrex and Drex collaborate on some incendiary riffs and killer lyrics. They’re better musicians than many of their peers. They’re all good-looking. Wrex and Drex ooze so much charisma it puddles on the floor with the sweat of their fans. They quickly rise to the top of the LA rock pile.
The first album is a major hit; KROQ radio does a double-shot of their songs every day at two. They have more girls than they can handle, and more drugs and booze. Wrex and Drex fall into a classic singer/guitarist feud, jealous of each other’s talents, fans, women. The other band members take sides, and switch sides. The second album is also a smash, but as the band hits the road nationally, things get uglier. Harley threatens to quit. Mikey OD’s and has to be detoxed. Drex gets arrested for throwing a bottle at someone. Nobody realizes amidst the chaos that Davey may have the most serious problems of all.
Somewhere around the time the fun lurches toward disaster, Davey meets pretty blond scenester Patti Jenkins. They fall in love. Patti patiently listens to Davey’s complaints and stories of band discord. She looks after him as he tries to stay out of the fray. On a weekend getaway to Mexico, they wed.
All too soon, Patti realizes she’s married an addict. The others begin to scare themselves straight, or at least functional. Wrex decides that drugs are the cause of all the band’s problems: When they started out, it was just a little cheap pot, an occasional line of coke, maybe a bottle of pills found in the Roxy dumpster, and everybody got along fine. Drugs (and women) have spoiled everything. He decrees that everyone has to straighten up, and this includes getting various romantic relationships sorted out “because the bitches are fighting, and then we fight too,” Wrex declares in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Davey can’t shake his heroin habit. He also can’t shake Patti, whom the other band members regard as a bossy nag who “spoils” her husband. They call her Yoko and try to get Davey to cheat on her. Finally, the band unites around one decision: Mr. and Mrs. Detonator must go.
How messed up do you have to be to get kicked out of the Bomb Angels in 1989?
With a new bassist in place and everybody reasonably sober, the band begins the 1990s with a promising new record. But a worldwide tour raises the same old problems between Wrex and Drex. After a spectacular backstage fight in Japan, all five band members are arrested. Wrex and Drex never speak again. The Bomb Angels are over—for a bit.
Contracts signed while the band members were under the influence of stardust and blow are a little vague about who owns the actual rights to the band. After a decent interval, Wrex finds an entirely new group of musicians to go on tour with him as the Bomb Angels. Everyone, especially Drex, raises hell, but Wrex got there first and is legally permitted to use the name. The others drift off to the usual washed-up-rock-star futures: producing (Drex), suburban fatherhood (Harley), session work (Mikey), and sad drugged-out decline (Davey).
Broke and broken, Patti and Davey move back to DelCo so Davey’s concerned family can stage an intervention. After several rounds of rehab and relapse, Patti and Davey split up. One day his mother finds him collapsed on the floor. At the hospital, no drugs are found in his system except a prescribed antidepressant, but he’s had a stroke and is partially paralyzed on his left side. His speech is slurred, and there is possible brain damage. He can stand but finds walking too difficult and won’t complete physical therapy. He confines himself, mostly, to a wheelchair, watching TV all day. His parents finally persuade him to check into a stroke rehab facility, where he overdoses on prescription painkillers, dying at age 33.
I go back to Patti’s with a few of the anecdotes I want to use picked out, but still no hook. I raise the corroboration question again.
“Well,” Patti says, looking flustered. “I kept a diary; will that help, you know, authenticate things?”
She presents me with a five-year diary, which I take home. Unfortunately, it’s not much help. Patti’s diary entries consist of things like “Went to the Roxy,” “I HATE CHERYL!!!!” and “Screwed Bobby ❤ ❤ ❤.” There is a bit more about Davey; clearly he resonates more emotionally than her other flings. And she does worry about him. “What to do about Davy he’s messed up I’m so freaked out.”
I tell her I have to attend my cousin’s wedding in LA (my parents are paying for my flight, since it’s a mandatory family event). I can stretch the trip out a few days and try to catch up with some of the band members and others from the era. I see something like fear in Patti’s eyes, but she nods, petting her dog and telling me to have a good trip.
I contact every surviving member of the Bomb Angels and some assorted acquaintances to line up interviews in LA. Wrex’s people email back immediately: Wrex King will not discuss anything about any former band members, end of story. Funny thing because he manages to reel off an insult about Drex or Harley nearly every time he opens his piehole in front of a journalist.
I actually saw Wrex and the current lineup of the Bomb Angels play in Philly about a year ago. I wouldn’t have bothered paying for tickets, but my friend Lindsey got a pair from a local radio station that was giving them away. Not to the 25th caller, or if you could answer a trivia question; they were just handing them out at the mall. So much for the legendary Wrex King and the Bomb Angels.
The show was crowded, though not at capacity. Wrex could still belt one out; his range had narrowed but guys half his age would still kill for the pipes he had left. He’d obviously started working out since the last tour in 2012, where he had performed in baggy sweatpants and gotten visibly winded just walking around onstage. The latest fake Bomb Angels, though, were pretty lackluster, perhaps chosen for looks rather than talent. The lead guitarist struggled to imitate Drex’s solos. The bass player didn’t whirl around like Davey.
The crowd was more interesting than the show. Many people my age seemed to be there out of curiosity, like me, or a need to cross a legendary band off the bucket list. Some people were openly disappointed that Wrex had gotten in shape this time because they couldn’t yell “Lard Angel” or “Train Wrex” at him. And a lot of the old timers treated the show like either a historical re-enactment, to be filmed on their phones, or some bittersweet talisman of youth.
Wrex had assured the audience that a new Bomb Angels record was on the way. Nobody seemed to care. It had been six years since the last one (now seven).
I had wondered that night why he hadn’t just started fresh when he struck out on his own. Surely his massive ego would be better served by making a career as Wrex King, rather than flogging the dead band’s name?
But on the flight to Los Angeles, it occurs to me that his narcissistic impulses were more satisfied with the thought that he alone WAS the Bomb Angels. And he’d never have to struggle to build a new identity for himself, the way his bandmates had. Perhaps Patti couldn’t let go of her identity as Mrs. Detonator either.
Drex Colby has agreed to meet with me at Starlight Studios, where he is producing a record.
Drex hasn’t done too badly for himself. He used Wrex’s hijacking of the band to paint himself as the white hat in the fight. Around the time he and Wrex had progressed from boffing scene girls like Patti to dating budding supermodels and B-list actresses, he had met a model named Arielle and eventually married her. Her entrepreneurial talents overtook her desire to pose on a car hood wearing nothing but cowgirl boots and lip gloss, so she started a successful chain of California health spas and was writing books about holistic wellness before Gwyneth Paltrow knew what “organic” meant. Drex and Arielle had also managed to raise two kids, one now attending Stanford. Drex is an in-demand record producer and still crunches riffs at charity shows and on other people’s records.
And he still oozes charisma, I notice when we shake hands. The curls are short and graying rather than black and flowing, but the bod is incredible, his gorgeous brown eyes are still piercing, and his cheekbones could cut a steak. I’m usually not interested in older men but if not for that gold wedding ring he’d be tempting.
“Patti.” He shakes his head as I start asking questions. “Maybe we weren’t kind to her, I admit. But she was hard to take. Huge sense of entitlement. Usually coked to the gills and lecturing us about being a bad influence on her previous Davey. I wrote ‘Cocaine Princess’ about her, you know. She got her hooks in him just before he lost interest in anything but where his next heroin fix was coming from, so she didn’t have to worry about competition.”
I ask him about a few of Patti’s stories. He laughs and smirks, “Really?” about one, denies another ever happened, and tells me to ask Harley Haydon about the third one, because Harley had witnessed the episode and always described it quite differently.
Harley Haydon meets me in a Burbank park where he coaches youth soccer. His son had played on the team, he explains as we jog up and down the sidelines during a game. He kept coaching even after his kid grew up.
“Wrex used to yell at me that I was disposable,” he says about the old days. “Maybe he was right. After I got arrested, I just couldn’t live with myself anymore, or the music business. It was a blessing to get out. The suits were ripping us off, the fans were sucking us dry, the drugs were killing us, and the women….” He shakes his head. “The women were all Patti Jenkins, full stop. Barracudas. Money, drugs, see and be seen. Yeah, we were no better, but the rest of us made it out one way or the other. Davey didn’t.”
I think that Harley might have his own book in him, and it won’t be a pretty story.
After a phone conversation with Mike DeBonis and an email exchange with the guy who originally replaced Davey (and got fired by Wrex after the Japanese debacle), I am no closer to finding a hook for Patti’s story.
But a few days after I return from LA, as I’m preparing to meet with her again, I get a cryptic text message from Harley. “Ask Patti about their wedding.”
So I do. She shows me photos of the crazy Tijuana bar where it happened and the drunk priest who couldn’t speak English. In the pictures, Patti’s wearing a white bikini top and a long black skirt. Davey’s eyes are barely open.
“I know it sounds crazy if you weren’t there,” she says with a sigh. “But it was romantic, in its own way. Colorful, not like the LA County courthouse or some cheesy Vegas chapel, you know? We were just there, having drinks, and he asked me.”
I don’t know what made me ask, just a hunch. “Do you have a marriage certificate, license, anything like that?”
I’ve struck a nerve. Patti mumbles, “Somewhere, I guess. I haven’t seen it since the divorce.”
“Bad memories, huh?” I ask.
“I don’t have ANY bad memories of Davey,” she snaps. “None. Bad things happened, but I loved him.”
I calm her back down by asking about another story she’s written for me, a pointless anecdote about Davey getting recognized in a restaurant and leaving through the kitchen. Her left eye is twitching. Something’s up.
The next time we get together, she slams a piece of paper in front of me. “Here. Mexican marriage certificate. It’s all in Spanish. I don’t know why you want to see it so badly.”
I remember enough high school Spanish to decipher it. Pretty routine. Along with the priest’s name, there are two other signatures at the bottom, “Patricia Elaine Jenkins” and “Davy Lindall.”
I look closely at the signatures. Patti’s and the priest’s are written in the same blue ink. Davey’s is in black. His legal name, I know, was David James Lyndall, and his stage name of course was Davey Detonator, with an “e” in “Davey.” I’d seen it without the “e” once before: in Patti’s diary. And I’d seen Davey’s handwriting too, on an IOU Harley had kept for old times’ sake. His writing was choppy and masculine, with squared-off lowercase letters. This signature is loopy, similar to Patti’s. With an open circle for the dot on the misspelled “i,” like Patti’s writing.
I look at her. She turns red immediately.
“Well,” I say. “We’ll have to change the book title, anyway.”
“I thought the band might respect me more if I was his wife,” she says, staring down at the table. “They didn’t. Davey couldn’t even remember the ceremony so he wouldn’t sign. But I lied to so many people, I had to pretend it was real and go through an actual divorce, and by then he was so far gone his mom wouldn’t let me see him. So I forged it.”
She looks up. “I know what you’re going to say. My best friend from the old days, Cici, told me I’d look like a gold-digger, writing this book after so much time passed. You’re such a professional, I figured you’d make it sound good. I really did love him, Emma. Davey will go down in history for being in the band, and since he’s not here to benefit, I thought maybe I could.”
We talk some more, until her dog shits on the carpet and she has to clean it up. We’ve put so much time and effort into this project, and still don’t have a way to frame it to be saleable.
Ultimately Patti decides to sell part of her story to a woman who is making a documentary about 1980s hair-metal groupies. There are no hard feelings between us.
Harley calls me. He is indeed ready to write a book, and hires me to collaborate. There’s a killer hook: The “quiet guy” from the Bomb Angels has the receipts. He was always the least wasted of the bunch, a hoarder of minutiae, and he kept a meticulous journal. Drex Colby backs the idea and may contribute as well. Mike DeBonis is enthused too. I have two agents and a publisher interested already and we haven’t even finished the outline yet.
Wrex King threatens to sue if we publish a word about him, but his own lawyer says he doesn’t have a case and any noise he makes just ensures more book sales.
So I’m sitting here now listening to the Bomb Angels station on Pandora while I email one of the agents about having lunch in New York next week. They just played “Cocaine Princess” back-to-back with Poison’s “Fallen Angel,” which is pretty appropriate. Maybe they’re both about Patti.