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Becoming Layla (Part 2 of 2)

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

AKA: The time I was christened by groupie royalty.

Two years gone, and Layla was still the center of my world.

In those two years, my music taste had exploded. That’s what getting hundreds of records all at once will do! I felt a rare kind of excitement. It was whatever the young adults in the 60s and 70s must’ve felt when this music was first coming out. I familiarized myself with the scriptures, and I did so ravenously. Fleetwood Mac in both iterations: Peter Green and Buckingham-Nicks. (Sorry girlies...I prefer Peter Green's.) The Who, but only casually. Yes? Yes!

I became a full-blown Zep Freak. Joni Mitchell was my new best friend. I was capital-“o”-OBSESSED with Bob Dylan. And the Clapton fixation spilled over into Literally Every Other Project He Did Ever. Including, but not limited to:

  • The Yardbirds. Clapton left because they were getting “too psychedelic” – LOL.

  • Cream. Again, LOL.

  • Blind Faith. To this day, the creepiest thing any man has ever said to me was that I look like the girl on the Blind Faith cover.

I was now a walking Rolodex of all things rock-and-roll. But through thick and thin Layla was always the favorite. Little did I know me and that damn album were about to become impossibly close.

By the time our story resumes, I was out of college with a degree in art history. How austere. Maybe too austere for me. It felt like a child wearing daddy’s too-big hat and coat. My best friend moved to Boston to continue school. For the first time in four years I wasn’t living with my lifeline. To round it all out, I’d just broken things off with my boyfriend of one whole year; my longest relationship ever. As happy as we were, I felt myself becoming too reliant on him. It was hard but in the end it was the right thing to do.

Desperation hung thick in the air and I needed something to cling to. To lick my wounds, I decided to take up a book I’d been meaning to read for ages and the album that just couldn’t be beat. Nothing like comfort in familiarity, right?

Pictured: My copy of Wonderful Tonight on my doily-clad fold-down record cabinet, which I use as a nightstand. And behold, one of the greatest love letters ever written! Big ups to you, Pattie, I would not have had the will power to deny that!

If you take nothing else from this post, take these two things. Firstly: if you’ve been meaning to read Wonderful Tonight, listen to Layla while you do it. If you’re listening to Layla, read Wonderful Tonight with it. Pattie Boyd’s book changes the context of Clapton’s album in such a way that I felt like I was hearing it for the first time all over again!

The second thing I hope you take from all this: when destiny arrives on your doorstep, don’t you dare shut it out.

Around the same time I was wrapping up Wonderful Tonight, a series of events took place that lead me to somebody new. (A whole story in and of itself, it could absolutely be its own post.) At first I was terrified; gun-shy at the prospect of letting someone in again so soon. When I was complimented I’d panic and stop responding to his messages! But he was accommodating to my doubts, never pushing me to make any commitment I wasn’t ready to make. And he’s just so interesting! He’s an artist, a dreamer, and a damn good photographer. An uncut gem through and through. It got to the point where I could no longer deny him. What was that point?

I caved when Daniel nicknamed me after my favorite album.

From then on, something started that I could not stop: writing poems, singing songs, phone calls at all hours of the night. Abby slipped from my immediate consciousness as Layla was born.

Considering my passion for fashion I came up with Layla’s look almost immediately. Mod muse by day. Groupie goddess by night. Oversized furs, colored tights, chunky plastic earrings, mary-janes, velvet, and suede. Dreams of the West Coast occupied my mind as he started telling his friends about the girl out East. Amazing, kind, wonderful, groovy people were calling me Layla; people I’d never met! Everything was new and exciting and so was she. I was going insane, she was all I ever thought about anymore.

The whole way along I was encouraged – never influenced – by Daniel. I and I alone nurtured Layla as she grew. It was the kind of acceptance a young Abby had always longed for. Self-love didn’t come as easily as the wardrobe did. It’s not here all the way – it may never be. That’s one of the pitfalls of having a persona. Nevertheless, it was a big platform-shoe’d step in the right direction.

Eventually I thought of a last name for Miss Layla, should the opportunity to use it ever arise. Leighton; after British painter Frederic Leighton. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about him. That effortless grace he captured in his art was exactly the image I wanted to attach myself to. Plus, the alliteration? Too perfect. Yes, Layla Leighton, I could see it now! In my mind it adorned guest lists, appeared in lavish script on backstage passes fastened to one ankle. A name preceding me in other people’s publications. It could even appear in big letters across the front cover of a poetry anthology.

But as real as she was now, Layla felt like a title I could only assume in my wildest dreams. She was me, but she wasn’t for me.

Pictured: I found this antique ostrich feather boa at a flea market. Its little voice was just begging, “buy me...” For $40 I couldn’t resist!

Soon enough, though, the deal was sealed. Like love, Layla could no longer be refused. Destiny came in the form a holy-shit-that’s-heavy package sent all the way from sunny Los Angeles. Now, this gift was originally supposed to be a hand-me-down instant camera and a Marlene Dietrich compilation album. Just that, nothing more. But Daniel has the tendency to pick up things left and right that remind him of me. Over time the box grew in size like a squash forgotten in a garden. By the time it got to me it was heavy like one too!

I had an idea of what was hidden in this seemingly bottomless box. I’d seen it on a video call. Still, I was stunned to find the landmark memoir written by rock-and-roll’s most famous groupie, Pamela Des Barres. I’d been meaning to read it for ages and there it was!

In the very bottom of the box, wrapped up in a pink checkered shirt. My very own copy of I’m With the Band.

Pictured: the gatefold of Three Dog Night’s Suitable For Framing, from my personal collection. Listen up 19-year-old Abby, those aren’t “circus girls” – they’re The GTOs, and you can spot Miss Pamela herself on the fold!

The principle of the thing was wonderful already. I’d only briefly mentioned over the phone that I hadn’t read this book yet. That’s another thing about Daniel: he says he doesn’t have a good memory but he’s sorely mistaken. Mention one thing in passing and it’ll come back to you when you least expect it.

Still, nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotion I felt opening up the front cover to find, in Miss P’s own handwriting:

To a muse like me!"

Well, shit. If the Miss Pamela has called you Layla, then you simply must be Layla!

It felt like someone had strapped a backpack of bricks to me. If I wasn’t already sitting on my bedroom floor, I would’ve fallen right down! My book was signed to Layla!! And me, a muse? A real-life muse? You must be joking.

I’ve had songs written about me. I’ve seen and heard them, though none have come to fruition (meaning none have been recorded. But who knows? A girl can dream.) I can’t bring myself to call myself a “muse” because I just...can’t see myself as one. I look in the mirror and I still see an insecure little girl. Her mom says her hair is too curly for bangs...oh that is rich. She is terrified of people. Terrified of the world outside her four pink walls, though it may not seem like it. But here’s the thing: that little girl had dreams of fur coats and platform shoes. Of sequined crooners and guitar-wielders with wicked smiles. Being the girl that moved the soul. She always wanted to be that girl. Mind you, this was before she knew what rock-and-roll was. This was by instinct.

But now here she was, 22 years old, with those big bangs she’d always wanted. Confronted with being Layla. She was always there, swirling in the dreams of sequins and furs, but never had a face or name. Not until fate came knocking and she was given no choice but to assume the title.

Pictured: My copy of I'm With The Band. Pinch me, I’m dreaming!! Thank you Daniel and thank you Miss P!!

No, I’m not totally comfortable with being Layla yet. All that potential scares the shit out of me. Thankfully those glittery platforms still have some growing room. No, I’m still not sick of the Layla album...not yet at least. I’m still learning new things about it all the time. I found out last fall that “It’s Too Late” is a cover of a doo-wop tune! And the original is just as good! I can still, without hesitation, call Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs my favorite record.

And I can, without hesitation, call myself Layla too. Because Layla Leighton wasn’t the creation of some lover or admirer or friend: she was always there.

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking around for this long-haul. I promise it won’t always be this sappy.


- Layla


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