In The Van On Comeback Road. Part 5

author: Nolan Whyte date: 04/03/2006 category: fiction
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We drive to Sarnia, Ontario, ready to play a big Saturday night show. I hope it will be a big show anyway, although I'd be satisfied with a show that goes off without any major theatrics or dramas, and with as little bullshit as possible. A nice clean set. That's all I'm hoping for. The atmosphere in the van is absolutely poisonous, and has been for the whole drive north from Windsor where we played last night. Bobby, Jason and I are all hung over, and I made the mistake of laying into guitar fuck-up extraordinaire Jason and little too much and a little too early in the trip. I gave him shit for all the mistakes he keeps making during the shows, not figuring them out and correcting them, not practicing during downtime, and not following our instructions and advice. Basically, I explained in great detail what a clown he's been during this little tour, and what he needs to do to clean up his act. Jason responded by flying off the handle about how Bobby and I are screwing him on the money side of things, and that the percentages we agreed to before heading out are totally unfair. I didn't admit this during the argument, but he's pretty much right. We're splitting the money 40-40-20, with Bobby and me each getting forty percent and the rookie getting twenty. We also agreed to split the expenses evenly, which means the kid would probably only be breaking even on this trip. Since he knew he was unproven as a guitar player, he was happy to come on the road with us just for the experience. But now the kid is spending so much on drinks each night after the show, he has to dip into his savings to cover his share of the van rental, motel rooms, and so on. He flipped out over this in the van, screaming at us from the back seat about how we're screwing him, and somehow implying that he would be playing better if we were paying him properly. I called bullshit on him, and told him that he had it backwards: if he wanted to get paid more, he would have to improve his shitty performance. Bobby stayed pretty quiet during the argument, continuing to write in his little notebook, while Jason and I screamed at each other. We eventually fell silent. I drove and smoked cigarettes while Bobby wrote and Jason sat fuming in the back. As we pass a highway sign that says Sarnia 20 KM, Jason reaches into the pile of gear in the back and grabs the acoustic guitar out of its case. He checks that it's in tune, and begins noodling. I take a drag on my cigarette and hold my tongue, resisting the urge to tell him that he should have been doing that for the whole trip. He should have been practicing and cleaning up all the problems he has with the songs we perform night after night, especially his awful solos. He plays for a while, buggering around with stuff I don't know. He eventually settles on a little riff, gently running back and forth over it. I don't recognize it, but I know it's not one of the songs he should be practicing, and I lament the fact that I'm driving, so I can't turn around and put out my cigarette in Jason's eyeball. Bobby seems to recognize it. In fact, he starts whistling along with it. It begins to bother me that it seems so familiar, but I can't place it. Suddenly Bobby starts singing out loud: Shed a tear 'cause I'm missing you, but I'm still alright to smile and I get it immediately. I drag on my cigarette and flick the butt out the window. I look at Bobby. He's singing with his eyes closed, belting it out. I look at Jason's face in the rear view mirror. He's hunched over the guitar, rocking back and forth a bit, and I can see a smile at the corners of his mouth as Bobby sings. I crack up and laugh, and begin to sing along in the second verse. We all start singing together when we get to Paaaaay-tienceyea-ah Bobby does his best Axl Rose impression and we sing the song through to the end, and after we trail off, the three of us remain silent. Nobody wants to say a thing to mess up the moment. We arrive at about five o'clock. We're playing a hotel bar, a real working class place. We talk to the manager, who tells us where to drop our gear. There will be three bands, he says, and we'll be on last. The first band is local kids, and the second is another crew from Toronto. Apparently Saturday night is pretty manic in the place and three bands is not out of the ordinary. I shrug. Sounds good to me. As long as they pay what we agreed to, I don't care if there are twenty bands. The sound guy won't be in for a few hours, so Bobby, Jason and I sit down and order some sandwiches and fries, along with a few beers. It's weird, because we've got a semi-good vibe going after the spontaneous Guns'n'Roses sing-along, and none of us want to talk and piss the other guys off. We sit quietly for a while until I decide to try and make a peace offering by buying a pitcher of beer. I know Jason's short of cash and pissed off about it, so Bobby and I trade off buying rounds a few times and let the kid drink on us. We get loosened up and start making friendly talk, going on about music without getting stressed out about it. It feels good to relax and just chat. Around seven-thirty the band from Toronto rolls in. They're called Machine Within A Machine, and haven't been gigging much. Like us, they're trying to play out-of-town shows around suburban Ontario to get their act together before they try to impress anyone at the clubs in Toronto. They lug their equipment in and sit down with us to have beers. The four of them are younger, around twenty-two or twenty-three (about Jason's age) except for their guitarist, who is a foxy punk chick who's maybe twenty-six or twenty-seven. She's got dyed purple hair and a nose ring, with dark Goth makeup. If I had to guess, I would say there are probably a few tattoos under her brown hooded jacket. She says her name is Gina. I don't remember the names of the guys in her band, although they all seem to be nice enough fellows. I guess I just don't care that much. Jason picks up on the hotness of Gina immediately, and starts asking her all sorts of questions. Her avoidance and disinterest is comical, but he keeps at it. Poor guy. It goes something like this: Jason: So, what kind of guitar do you play? Gina: I don't know. A black one. Jason: How long have you been playing? Gina: A while. Where's the bathroom in this place? Jason: Over that way. So, you live downtown? Gina: clomp, clomp, clomp (the sound of Gina walking away from the table). Pretty soon Bobby turns into the hero of the table, when the guys from Machine Within a Machine figure out that he was in a big name band for more than a decade (well, medium-big name band, anyway). They start asking him all sorts of questions, which he doesn't mind, mostly because of all the beer he's drinking. He keeps trying to change the subject and talk about his new career writing sci-fi novels (a few of which have done quite well, by the way). The guys respond by saying things like Yeah, sci-fi, cool. So, what was the biggest band you ever played with? Around eight-thirty we do our sound check. We move our gear off and Machine does their own sound check, followed by the openers. Half an hour later, the openers get up and start playing. The room is still mostly empty, but people are trickling in. The openers (I forget the name they use) play a set of eighties hair metal tunes in some kind of tribute to glam. We keep on drinking and watching them, making jokes and trying to figure out what the hell they're up to. Sincere tribute? Ironic merry-making? There are five young guys in the band: singer, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard player, all maybe twenty years old. They're dressed like the kids in the pop-punk videos that are out nowadays, like skater kids or something. We laugh and make fun of them, unable to reconcile what we see on stage with the straight-from-1985 sound. To be fair though, they play pretty well. The guitarist absolutely nails the solo for Smokin' In The Boys Room. They play for half an hour and clear their gear off the stage. The guys from Machine Within A Machine get up to set up their own gear and we wish them luck. I get up to go to the washroom and I'm surprised how hard it is to keep my balance. I look at my watch and realize that it's almost ten o'clock. Somehow, Bobby, Jason and I have been drinking for nearly five hours. I clue in and realize the room is getting full, and Machine Within A Machine is getting ready to play. As soon as they finish, we'll have to get up there and perform for a full house, and I am completely pissed. I stumble towards the bathroom wondering how the hell we're going to get through this. To Be Continued 2006 Nolan Whyte
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