“I am an honest man, I need to love you, I am a working man, I feel the winter too.” Big Country
The train rolled forward rocking me like a baby as trees, houses and electrical wires whizzed by me as fast as the flashbacks of my life. I sat there with the British tabloids, “The Star” and “The Sun,” on my lap. Using the cryptic clues, I tried to solve the crosswords like I had with Steve so many years ago.
Heading north out of London, the English countryside looks flat and industrial. There are vast quarries and industrial warehouses filled with machinery and grain. Miniature row houses line the sides of the railway until the scenery breaks open and the view of the farmland resembles a baby’s blanket covered with biscuit-colored Hereford cattle and sheep the color of clotted cream. In true storybook fashion, you are surrounded by climbing hills and gently sloping dales as the train arrives in the county of Yorkshire.
My destination was the great city of Sheffield. When I arrived, the sun shone brightly, especially for an October day in the north. Pulling my jacket closed, I exited the train car and searched for the interchange bus depot trying to find the Number 14 bus that would take me to the Wisewood Cemetery where Steve Clark, my true love and ex-fiancé, is buried.
Steve and I first met on the stairwell of my four-story Tudor walk-up apartment in Paris, France. It was early January 1983. An old friend of mine who happened to be managing a young British rock band named Def Leppard called and begged me to show the guitarists, Steve Clark and Phil Collen, around the City of Light. Knowing that I spoke French and knew my way around the intimidating foreign city, my friend was confident that I could keep these two English lads out of trouble. I remember dragging my feet at his request, having absolutely no interest in entertaining guys from any band, much less a “metal/pop” band! I had had my share of disheartening experiences with musicians already. They were exciting to be around, yet too self-involved and unreliable; besides that, my father was a musician and we had our own karmic axe to grind. Eventually my friend wore me down and I agreed to meet up with his “boys.”
I’ll never forget the moment I met Steve. Our attraction was surreal and intoxicating. He had an ardor about him that reminded me of a peacock spreading its feathers. It was love at first sight. I didn’t know anything about him other than the fact that he played in an English rock group that had just been on tour in America. I had no idea how popular the band was at the time because I had been living in Europe for so long. Popular music in Europe was what you heard in the discotheques late at night. The closest to pop music I got was while posing with the "Glam Queens," Boy George or Steve Strange, in fashion shows from Paris to London. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond in my own country, Def Leppard, with their hit song “Photograph,” had already become the hard rock genre’s equivalent of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
At that moment, I could not have cared less if he were a street-sweeper; something about him just stole my heart. He was bashful and bouncy at the same time. His hair was as shiny and blonde as flaxen waves of grain and his ocean blue eyes were as inviting as the Pacific itself, but it was his smile that won me -- a smile as broad, bright, and white as a low-slung quarter moon.
As our first date continued, Steve and his adorable band mate Phil, who was raised in the east end of London and spoke with a cockney accent, humbly managed to let on to me and my roommate, Valerie, just how much success they’d had abroad. They made us laugh with their nicknames and stories from the road. Together they were hilarious and charming. The press had dubbed them the “Terror Twins” because of their shenanigans on stage and off. Valerie and I were able to match “the twins” because we too, were “a team.” We shared the same “street kid” mentality, had the same instincts for survival and humor, and had already traveled the world together in our own professions as high-fashion models.
Across the dinner table that night in Paris, we were all surprised to find out just how similar our lifestyles were. While Steve and Phil were gearing up for their first tour in Japan, Valerie and I had already been there, done that.
Steve was the most sensitive man I’d ever met. He wasn’t afraid to show his feminine side, but that had little to do with his career, which was the most important part of his existence. He was very determined, almost competitive, about his success. Steve picked up the guitar as a young teenager, and his time spent practicing helped him escape from the world and later, his own father. He would hide out in his room, religiously practicing the riffs that his own Led Zepplin hero, Jimmy Page, had written. He played them over and over. When his father came home, Steve would stop playing long enough to determine whether he had been drinking. In most cases his father would come home drunk and pick fights with whomever was in his path. Steve learned to steer clear of that path, but his concentration became fragmented and his own playing became obscure. In his attempt to shut out his raging father, Steve found a safe place in his mind and in that small room, traveling with his fingers on the frets of the old Gibson Sunburst his very own father had given him. The riffs that poured from the tips of his strong masculine hands into heart-wrenching melodies were direct expressions of the anguish and trepidation that had been instilled in him as a child.
That intensity carried right into the romance that we would share. Steve sought to win my love by constantly sending me flowers, poems, presents and soft, sweet compliments. His gentle ways made me feel as precious and cared for as a porcelain doll. I reciprocated those gifts in much the same way, adding a maternal love combined with the very nurturing I, too, had missed out on as a child.
Like all young lovers, Steve and I had our ups and downs, but as the years of our relationship rolled on, our troubles weighed upon us like bags of lead. In true fashion of his ancestors before him, Steve had trouble with depression and the drink. He was on an endless mission to self-medicate, swallowing alcohol like an athlete gulps water. Neither one of us knew how deep-seated his drinking problem was, nor what other diseases might have caused his addictions in the first place. We had no idea that it would lead us both here, to this burial ground in Sheffield.