“Can I ask you a question, Taz?” Mark is sitting in the passenger seat next to me, his feet jammed up against the dashboard. I have no idea how he could be comfortable like that. The blood has probably been cut off and his toes are turning purple.
“Yeah man, what is it?”
He’s looking around out the windows. We’re plowing down the highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, a million kilometer stretch of undivided hell. It’s a desolate route. The only thing that has kept Mark occupied thus far is his constant watch for moose. There are continual highway signs warning of moose crossings, and Mark wants see one.
With an eye cast over his shoulder to confirm that Jason
is still asleep on the seat behind us, Mark
finally asks his question. “You like that bird Gina, don’t you?
A series of images flash through my mind: a tattooed and angry-looking Gina glistening with sweat as she shreds her way through a solo on stage with Machine Within A Machine, a gentle and affectionate Gina pressed against me in her bed, our lips pressed together, and at last a cold and distant Gina the next morning, towel wrapped around her naked form, telling me that she really doesn’t want any kind of relationship with me. My stomach drops at the memory.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’ve just like, seen you checking her out, you know? Staring at her when she’s on stage and that. I’m just curious, aye?”
I nod. “Right. Yeah, I like her I guess. She’s a good looking girl, right? But you know… well, you know how things are.”
“What, like, you being older than her?”
I shrug. “Yeah, I guess.”
“She really is the best part of that band,” Mark comments. We had sat through Machine Within A Machine’s set the night before at the bar in The Soo, watching and trying to take note of their stage show. We want to be better than them, so we have to know how good they are. Or how good they could be.
“I agree,” I say. “It’s like a female Johnny Ramone playing with a local pub band.”
Mark twists his neck around to look behind him, probably mistaking a tree for a moose. “Who’s Johnny Ramone?”
“Wha? Johnny Ramone. Johnny Ramone from The Ramones. You know The Ramones, don’t you?”
“Ach, I dunno, like, I’ve heard the name and all that. People say they’re so influential and all, but I don’t even know any of their songs. Like people say The Buzzcocks or Bad Brains and all those bands, but who ever really listens to them, you know?”
“I’m pretty sure you’re heard The Ramones. Probably a million times.” I start to sing: “Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I wanna be sedated…”
“Okay, Terry? Taz. Terry. I get it. Okay.” We go silent for a moment. Mark looks over his shoulder again, checking on Jason. Whispering, he tells me “I think Jay likes her too.”
I glance over my shoulder at our slumbering guitar-slinger. “Jay? Jason?”
“Hmm.” I focus on the road ahead. There’s a massive logging truck in my path, slowing me down, holding me back. It wouldn’t be safe to try getting around it. I don’t have the balls to try and pass it on these narrow, curving roads. This is a metaphor for my entire life. I don’t have the balls to get around the things that stand in my way.
“What makes you say that?” I ask Mark.
“I dunno. He looks at her the same way you do. He tries to talk to her, usually when you’re busy with something else. I just get gut feelings about these things, eh?”
“Right.” I feel dead inside. Yeah, I like Gina, but I had my shot with her and after one night she passed on me. If Jason likes her, why shouldn’t he take his shot? She’s fair game. I try not to show any emotion, but I feel like beating my head against the steering wheel.
I flick on the van’s radio and start scanning for stations. Mostly there’s been nothing but dead air for the last few hours. The scanner goes all the way through the dial without picking up anything on FM, so I flip to AM and begin to scan again. The radio picks up a station. It’s fuzzy, barely audible, but I can hear an old song.
“Hey, listen to this,” I say, turning it up. “It’s Ciccone.”
Mark stares vacantly at the radio. “Madonna?”
He shrugs. “The only Ciccone I know is Madonna.”
“Madonna’s name is Ciccone?”
“Her real last name, yeah.”
I shake my head. “Shit Mark, you know Madonna’s real last name, but you don’t know who The Ramones are? We are from two different worlds, brother. Anyway, no, this isn’t Madonna. It’s some old seventies shit. This guy’s name is El Grande Floyd Ciccone. Machine Within A Machine is supposed to open for this guy when we get back to Toronto next month.”
“Is that good or bad for them?”
Jason sits up in the back seat. “What’s this shit?” he asks.
“It’s Floyd Ciccone,” says Mark.
“Should I know who that is?”
“He was a big freak-out rocker in the late sixties and seventies,” I explain. “Think um, Tom Petty crossed with Marilyn Manson. Like a rock singer and song-writer like Petty, but a bit more outrageous like Manson. Sex, drugs, that kind of stuff.”
Jason yawns. “Tom Petty crossed with Marilyn Manson. I see Iggy Pop.”
I laugh. “Like Iggy Pop, if he played his own guitar. Ciccone never got as big as Iggy did though. I can’t believe this is even on the radio. But if the guy’s still touring, I guess there must still be some people who want to hear him. Hell, I wouldn’t mind hearing him.”
A few hours later we get to The Inn-Towner in Thunder Bay. It’s a nice change to be playing at a place with rooms upstairs. After sleeping in people’s living rooms and basements for a few days something resembling an honest-to-god hotel room will be a refreshing change.
We go in and meet the manager, who sets us up with a room. He gives us a couple of keys to room 226. Whenever Machine Within A Machine shows up, they will get 228.
The manager, a bearded heavy guy named Jeff leans in close to me and says “You boys mind your business with the other residents of the hotel. Most of them are members.” He gives me a little wink.
I nod as though I understand exactly what he’s talking about. Jason, Mark and I take our personal bags out of the van and head up to the room. It’s a bit dingy, with drab, out of date curtains and carpeting, but the beds look big and inviting. We slept on the floor of a guy’s living room the night before in Sault Ste. Marie, so even beds in dim old rooms look pretty good.
“So you guys make sure to mind your business with the other guests of the hotel,” I tell Jason and Mark. “Most of them are members.”
“Members of what?” Jason asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “The local bowling club, maybe.”
Mark laughs. “Or the Mafia.”
Jason: “The Hell’s Angels.”
I shrug. “Could be anything, I guess. Probably some kind of gang that doesn’t like to be fucked with. So no trashing the room. Hell with it. Let’s find a laundry place and get our clothes washed.”
A few hours later we’re showered, cleaned up. We’ve ordered cold sandwiches and munch quietly in The Inn-Towner’s cavernous bar. There is a big screen television showing the evening news from a station in Minnesota. We’ve picked up cases of beer and stored them in the room for after the show so we don’t have to subject ourselves to another night spent in a noisy bar until the late late time. The curious thing is that Machine Within A Machine still hasn’t arrived.
“It’s not like they could get lost,” Mark says. “It’s a single road that goes in the same direction for like, what, a million miles in a straight line.”
“They were ready to go when we left,” Jason says.
I wipe a blob of mayonnaise from the corner of my mouth with a napkin. “Maybe they had trouble,” I say. “They’ve got hours, really. They won’t get on stage until after ten. Then again, if they did have trouble with their van, they could be stuck pretty far between towns.”
“We should give them a call,” says Jason, looking up at the giant television.
“Yeah.” I head up to the bar. It takes some convincing to get the bartender to let me try a potentially long distance call, but after explaining that the band might need help getting here tonight he gives me a nasty look and tells me how to dial out. I try three times but there’s no answer from Wayne’s cell phone.
“So much for that,” I tell Jason and Mark.
“What do we do if they don’t show up?” asks Mark.
“They’ve got hours,” I say again. “They’ll make it.”
“We could play an extra set,” suggests Jason. “We’ve got some extra songs. A few covers. Terry, you know lots of songs you could throw in. Like you did that time in London.”
“Yeah, but we were headlining that time and the opener didn’t show. It’s different when you’re opening and the headliner doesn’t show.”
Jason shrugs. “Do you think anyone here would know the difference? Nobody knows who Machine Within A Machine is. We could say we were the headliner and that our openers didn’t make it. Then we could play two sets and get all the cash.”
I grin. “Maybe. If they don’t show up we’ll see what Jeff says.”
The big bar gradually begins to fill. It seems to be the main bar in the little city. We get our gear up on stage, do a sound check and wait for Machine Within A Machine. By nine o’clock there’s still no sign of them. I seek out Jeff.
“When the hell are those guys showing up?” he asks as soon as he sees me. “We need a band on stage in fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t know what happened to them. They usually show up right on time. They might have had some trouble with their vehicle. If you need to, we can pull double duty.”
“I advertised two bands. See these people?” he asks, pointing a finger around at the patrons. “They don’t like being lied to.”
“Well, I don’t have a magic wand to make those other guys turn up,” I tell him. “But if they don’t make it, we can put on a hell of a good show. I’ll keep your people happy.”
“You look like a fucking hobo,” he says. “Black eyes and shit. I don’t like it.”
I grin. I wonder how shallow my grave would be if I took a swing at this guy. “Look,” I say in a calm voice. “We’ll get up there and play our set. If the other band doesn’t show up by the time they’re supposed to play, we can go up again. We won’t play any songs twice. No repeated material. And we’ll put on a good show.”
“We’ll see,” he says. “But if the crowd is against you, don’t expect any help from me. And just so you understand, Thunder Bay has been the nation’s leader in violent crime for many, many years in a row.”
“Not a problem,” I say. I head back to the table. “All right boys,” I say to Jason and Mark. “Time to work out some set lists. We’re going to put on a show for these people.”
2006 © Nolan Whyte