By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
We are on tour, exiting the lobby of the Hilton, two blocks from the Hempstead Dinner Theatre. It's right before showtime. Bonnie and I rendezvous with her backup singers in the lobby. I personally pass out the girls' costumes from the one-hour French cleaners -- a standard poncely duty.
This is Bonnie's umpteenth backup duo since her original early-'60s girl group. These generic Bonettes are gorgeous Puerto Rican chicks, both 19, accompanied by their Italian boyfriends. Both guys have blow-dried coifs and three-piece vested suits, just like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the top film out now. They, too, are disco princes, each with his own Corvette.
It's raining outside. Boyfriend No. 1 pulls up to the entrance in his Corvette. His girl squeals, jumps in. Then Boyfriend No. 2 screeches his wheels to a halt, popping open the passenger door for his chick, who proudly hops in. And I'm standing there with Bonnie, who's in sequins, heels, and stage makeup. I'm carrying this tiny foldup umbrella, barely big enough for one, which I pop open as I lead her out the door. It's the longest two-block walk of my life:
"You mean to say, I'm the fuckin' star, and I have to watch my backup singers get into expensive cars -- which their boyfriends are considerate enough to provide -- while I have to walk in the fuckin' rain to my own fuckin' concert, in front of my singers, in front of my fans, in front of the whole tour bus! Do you know how embarrassed I am, what this makes me look like? Couldn't you have at least rented a car?"
"It's only two blocks. I should rent a car to travel two blocks?"
"If you knew how to treat me like a lady -- which you don't have a clue -- you'd have rented a limo. I'm only the fuckin' star."
"I spent my last 20 bucks just to get here from the city. I am totally broke."
"You ain't broke. You cheap! Where the fuck you get that umbrella?"
"It's a travel umbrella."
"You cheap, baby, that's all there is to it, too cheap to get a regular size. Tellin' you to your teeth."
I don't exactly manage Bonnie, which is the province of pimps. Usually former garage mechanics who shack up with some rising beauty queen declare themselves "manager," then fancy themselves show-biz impresarios -- until their big plans glean nothing. No, I'm a drummer -- something Bonnie doesn't even consider to be a musician. Bonnie's never heard me play, and frankly, I think I'd freeze up.
Friends and employers have stopped calling; they know I'm pretty heavy into this relationship. She always insists I make more time for Us. Tonight's the first family Thanksgiving I ever missed. Bonnie called me a child for wanting to go home to the folks. Thanksgiving was just another work night on her Ray Hayden Vaudeville Tour itinerary.
We enter the theater wet. Sure enough, some of the performers in the show see us walk in. Bonnie, radiating smiles, chats a moment with Joe Frazier, former heavyweight champ. His nightly job is to walk onstage, amidst applause, and lift Eddie Fisher up over his head as he sings -- reminiscent of the film scene in which Mighty Joe Young rises from beneath the bandstand, Atlas-style, holding aloft the pianist.
"Joe Frazier thinks you a fuckin' mo-ron," Bonnie tells me.
"Whaddya mean? We never met."
"You wanna go argue with Joe Frazier? That's what he said when he walked by: 'Is that your boyfriend?' He called you a that and gave me a look, like, "What're you doin' with such a loser?"
"What? He stands onstage every night like a circus ape."
"I'm embarrassed to face him again."
"I have to tour with these people. Throw that fuckin' umbrella away!"
So now I pace the Hempstead Dinner Theatre dressing room as Bonnie Hector and the Bonettes take the stage. A ponce in shining armor. I dread walking her back to the hotel, while the two disco boyfriends anticipate whisking their doo-wop dates to Long Island dance clubs. Spoiled Mafia grandsons. Though they're polite -- I'm with the star who employs their girlfriends -- they don't chat much with me. I've yet to spot Hayden: I keep an eye out for anything resembling a disco Jack Ruby. The three of us sit chain-smoking, as we have numerous times, in locker rooms at high school gymnasiums, armories, or wherever rock-and-roll oldies shows are held. As a backstage entity, you might call us The Bonettes Boyfriends.
Bonnie shares the bill with seven other nostalgia acts. Only Eddie Fisher, the '50s crooner who dumped his wife Debbie Reynolds to marry Liz Taylor, gets his own dressing room. For all this hard travel, Bonnie does only two songs each night. Always the same two, at every rock-and-roll revival or disease telethon. The same two songs, which were hits 15 years ago. But damned if she doesn't belt 'em each time, pulling out all the vocal trills she's famous for. She gets her ovation.