May 2018

by Marshall Chapman

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

Some people don’t like to be touched. I am not one of them. Back in the day when I was playing rock & roll across the American landscape, my first order of business upon arriving in any new city was to find a good masseuse or masseur.

But back to not being touched. My good friend and Vanderbilt classmate Ruthanna Jolley (yes, that is her given name) cannot stand to be touched. Once while staying at her home in Atlanta, as a parting gift, I took her to a local spa. Because she was my friend, she surrendered to having a massage. But I could tell she hated it.

“How did you ever conceive children?” I asked.

“Oh, well, that’s different,” she said.

My top-three massage experiences from my rock & roll days are as follows:

1) Memphis, Tennessee
I was staying at the Peabody Hotel. Exhausted from the day’s travel, I called the health club as soon as I checked in. Fortunately, they had an opening.

My masseur looked to be 18. His name was Bernard. He never said a word. No plaques on the wall proclaiming his proficiency. Bernard didn’t need any of that. That’s because Bernard had the gift. Words fail in describing this experience. To quote an old friend from South Carolina, “If it gets any better than this, it’s not much more.”

2) The Great Lakes School of Massage—Cleveland, Ohio
I found this place in the Yellow Pages. No appointment was necessary, so I took a taxi to the listed address.

This so-called “school” was in an old warehouse with an interior that looked like a library that time forgot. Massage tables lay waiting between rows of books with plastic replicas of human body parts serving as book ends—a heart here, a leg there, an elbow over there. If that wasn’t odd enough, the hands on the clock across from my massage table ran backwards. At any moment, I expected to see Rod Serling walk in. But instead, I got an old woman bent over a walker. She looked older than Methuselah, as she slowly step-clicked her way toward my table. How is she going to give me a massage without first dying of old age? I soon found out. Her boney hands were so strong, I thought I’d die from the pain … and the pleasure.

“You should come back on Thursdays,” she said after it was all over. “That’s when the blind boys are here.” I could only imagine.

3) The Osaka Health Spa, New York City
Okay. I’m out of room. I could probably write a book about this one, but I’ll try and fit it into my next column. Till next time …

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit

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