Happy To Hold On: Part Of The Act
Written by Dann_Blood.Part 1 of 4.
Darik sat on the couch, strumming his guitar. He'd gotten the instrument as a gift back when he'd been a full-time environmental activist. A joint was hanging from his lips. He was in a dank room in his small apartment. His meagre earnings from infrequent gigs were barely enough to rent this s--tbox, let alone pay for food and buy the occasional pot.
His strumming picked up speed. He'd moved to the Big City after getting signed to an indie label. What was their name again? S--t... Viro Records or something like that. Billy, a talent scout, had offered him a contract after watching him play at a Greenpeace gathering. He'd promised Darik lots of gigs and a chance to spread his message. And there were gigs aplenty for the first six months. A downward spiral in popularity later and here he was, one gig a month short of being able to survive. F--k Billy. F--king leech.
Darik's phone rang. He stopped playing and put his guitar down. He took the joint from his mouth and put it in an ashtray. Darik picked up the phone.
Darik? Darik! Hey man, it's Billy.
F--k that guy. Yeah?
Look, Darik, i've got big news. Big f--king news!
Darik waited expectantly. A few seconds later, he snapped well, what's this big f--king news!?
Wayne Hill. Wayne Hill man. You're playing on his show.
He hosts the Tonight Show. The big Tonight Show. Darik, man, you're playing on the Tonight Show!
Darik thought for a second. Wayne Hill... yeah, that chubby white guy he'd seen a few times on friends TV's. Occasionally had his image plastered on billboards around the Big City. But...
Why the f--k does this guy want me to play on his show? Darik asked flatly.
Their scheduled act on that day has pulled out! They were struggling to find a replacement and one of their staff suggested you.
Oh, k. Cool.
This is it man. This is your f--king shot. You won't ever get a chance like this again. You've gotta make this count Darik! You f--king have to!
Yeah, whatever. When is it?
A week from today. Show up to the TV studios you know, the ones across from the big insurance buildings? Darik didn't know. Show up there with your stuff in the afternoon, before it starts getting dark. You got that?
I'll cya there. Remember, this is it!
The receiver on the other line went dead. Darik put the phone down slowly. He turned around to look out the grimy window and only saw his reflection. A skinny white guy with blue eyes and dreadlocks looked back. He watched his face twist into a snarl.
Who the f--k does he think he is? Does jacks--t for me all this time and now he acts like he's giving me my last chance, he muttered. All he cares about is making a dollar off my name. F--k that guy.
He looked at his reflection a while longer, deep in thought. Slowly, a smile spread across his face. He turned and walked towards the couch, laughing silently. He picked up the joint, took a drag, and left it between his lips. He picked up his guitar and began strumming. Darik began writing a song.
* * *
He stood in the green room in the studio where the Tonight Show was shot, watching the commotion. All the stations staff were hurrying around making last minute preparations... except for a young woman, who was standing just outside the door staring avidly at a clipboard. There were a few other guests in the room, including a pretty but shit-for-brains blonde from some TV show and a bald black guy that was apparently a movie star. His bandmates were scattered around the room.
Blair and Hale were two baby-faced kids, both barely out of school and looking to gain a reputation on the local scene. They stood at the food table, eating compulsively. They were silent. Fabian, the elder statesman of the group, was talking to the shit-for-brains blonde. He was the only one in the group who'd played on the big stage before. Trey was talking to a security guard, supposedly the biggest guy employed at the studio and yet still smaller than Trey. Both Fabian and Trey had auditioned because of the casual gigging. Bet they'd be partying if they didn't know what Darik had planned.
They were all keeping their distance from each other. A solid week of practicing had taken its toll. Hell, it was a wonder they hadn't come to blows. Still, as Billy had said, this was their big chance. Ah, and here the slimy f--ker comes now, Darik thought.
Darik! Billy exclaimed as he walked through the door. The young woman outside jumped. Billy was stick-thin, with perfect hair and a perfect smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. He moved towards Darik, extending a palm. Been a while since we've seen each other in person, eh?
Darik shook Billy's hand. You're telling me, he said. He could see the faint hint of track marks on Billy's arm.
Ready as we'll ever be.
Billy flashed another perfect smile. Fantastic. I'll see you out there. Darik smiled back. Billy must have missed the carnivorous look to Dariks' smile, because he walked away and began talking jovially to others in the room. He didn't talk to any of Dariks' bandmates, though.
They waited. There was a brief rush when the show started, but that died down quickly. Slowly, the other people in the room started being taken out by staff with clipboards and microphone headsets. The clock on the wall continued ticking over. Blair and Hale started looking a bit green. Darik decided to step out for a minute.
He walked out of the green room. The young woman was still there. She started, scrambling after him.
Hey, you've gotta stay here until you go on!
I'll be back in time.
But you ca-
Darik whirled on her. Look, i've been playing in s--tty run down pubs for the last 18 months. I've had to eat out of the trashcan a few times. I'll be back.
He turned his back on her and kept walking, leaving the woman slack-jawed. There was a fluorescent exit sign above a door to his left. He pushed it open. Darik emerged from the hallway onto a fire escape. He leant over the railing, fishing around in his pocket for a joint. I've been smoking this shit too much lately, he thought. Seems like all I do.
He lit up. Took a drag. Breathed out. Took another drag. Breathed out again. He started feeling the effects, felt his muscles loosen up. He leant back a bit. Then threw up over the side.
What th- hey F--K YOU A--HOLE! someone screamed from below. Darik chuckled as he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. He raised his other hand to take a drag when he heard the door behind him open. He froze. S--t. He'd gone tense again. He felt his heart pounding in his chest, could almost see himself getting thrown into the back of a cop car...
He turned around. It was the young woman, still holding the clipboard. She grinned, let out a little laugh, then said It's fine. I've seen you do worse.
Darik looked at her quizzically. Slowly, he realised who she was.
So. You're the one that got us this gig.
She tucked something under the door that stopped it from closing, then walked over to Darik and stood against the railing.
Ya, pretty much.
He looked her up and down. Not bad.
Is that why you followed me? I mean, you could've talked to me in there.
I could've. But that door doesn't open from the outside, so I sorta had to.
Darik's eyes widened, and he shot a quick glance at the door. She was right. He looked back at her. There was a brief silence.
So... a fan from the old days, huh?
How far back?
She looked thoughtful for a moment. Ahhh... you were playing at a construction site. They were going to build a coal-fired power station there. Darik raised his eyebrows. Ahhh. Um. Oh. You were naked, and when one of the contractors showed up you pissed on him.
Darik whistled. Wow. That must've been five years ago. Want some? He held out the joint, but she shook her head. He shrugged. More for me. He took a drag, then asked So why did you end up coming to the Big City... uhhh...
Merissa. She blushed. I came because you came, she said softly. Darik looked at her in surprise. Ya. Though I had to find a place to stay, and that meant getting a job. Then I got a job, and that meant setting myself up. And then I spent so long setting myself up I forgot about why I came in the first place. I still went and saw you play a few times. It just... wasn't that important anymore.
Darik hummed to himself. Why didn't you leave?
Well... I dunno. I guess I forgot how, or got too attached or something. I just didn't think about it.
She looked at him for a moment, looked down, then looked back up. Ahhh... if you don't mind me asking... why didn't you leave?
He glared at her. It's just... ahhh... you said before that you'd been living out of the trash, and stuff...
Darik glared at her a bit longer before turning away. He sighed and leant back over the railing. I guess you're right about this place, he said. He snorted and spat into the alley below.
Y'know, I moved here thinking I was going to do something. I only signed to the label in the first place because that skinny f--ker tricked me. Told me i'd get a big following like I had before, that i'd have a big budget and a big audience. That I could reach out to people.
Y'know what I found out? That nobody gives a s--t. Everyone here is out to make a f--king dollar. They don't care about whether what they're jumping on is any good, just as long as they can squeeze it dry.
When I got here I was headlining at theatres and auditoriums. Now some of the guys that opened for me are selling out stadiums. They were rubbish. Couldn't play or write something original to save their lives. Worse, most of them were only popular for a few weeks before they were thrown on the scrap heap. Know how rich they are? They're so rich they're living on the street.
Darik realised that he was calm calmer than he'd been in a long time. He looked at his surroundings. Everything had an extra coat of dirt. The pollutants in the air were heavier. The whole world was darker.
Darik took a long drag from his joint before pinching the tip and putting it back in his pocket.
I'm sick of the Big City. After this, i'm out.
He stepped back and turned around, avoiding eye contact with Merissa. He pulled the door open and walked through. She didn't follow him. He strode down the hallway and back into the green room.
All of the other shows guests had gone. Dariks' bandmates were all gathered close to the food table, huddled around something. He walked over and saw Blair on his hands and knees, trembling. There was a pool of chunky vomit on the floor. Blair looked up, grinning.
Guess I shouldn't of eaten all that s--t, he said. His voice wavered. Hale knelt next to him, looking ready to throw up as well. It's alright, ey, you'll feel better now, he said uncertainly.
Darik looked at Fabian. He shrugged, and simply said Nerves. Trey nodded. As long as he don't piss himself on stage, he gon' be fine, he said.
One of the stations staff, complete with microphone headset and clipboard, moved forward from where he was standing against the wall. He wrinkled his nose. You guys are due out there.
Blair bowed his head. He heaved, and for a moment Darik thought he'd throw up again. Then he jumped up onto his feet and said Let's do this. They all looked to Darik. He nodded. Let's f--king do this.
The staff member led them out in single file. They walked through a maze of hallways for close to a minute. It felt like an eternity. Darik barely noticed the people they walked past. A few whispered encouragement.
They emerged into an open area with a wall to their right. There was the muffled chatter of a crowd behind it. A group of people stood near the edge of the wall, looking out at the stage. The s--t-for-brains blonde waved at Fabian. Most of the others just smiled. Billy gave Darik a big wink.
Then they were on the stage, and the crowd applauded. Applause. How long had it been since Darik had heard a crowd applauding him? Too long. Fabian, Trey and Darik waved at the crowd. Blaire and Hale gave them a shaky look before busying themselves with their gear and staring at the floor. A chubby white man made his way over to them.
Hey guys. As you know, i'm Wayne, he said. How come they hadn't met him before now? He shook their hands. We're going back on in thirty seconds, you guys'll be ready?
Yeah, Darik said.
Wayne flashed a smile. Great. It was a big, perfect smile. Same as Billy's. He walked away from them towards a big desk, bantering animatedly with the crowd.
Darik looked around. Fabian sat behind his drumkit, twirling his sticks rapidly. Trey stood with his bass, immobile. Blair stood like a board with his guitar. Hale was just as still at his keyboard. Darik picked up his electric-acoustic.
Let's f--king do this, he whispered.
The theme music of the show blared through the speakers. The lights above the audience dimmed, and fluorescent signs that said Applause flashed on. And the crowd applauded. Wayne made open-palmed gestures towards the crowd. The applause signs went off. The crowd went silent too.
Hey everyone and welcome back, Wayne said. Now we've got a great band here for you tonight. Great band. So great, in fact, that they've written a new song especially for you tonight!
The applause sign came on. The crowd applauded. Darik sighed. So, the staff here could deliver a message without f--king up. He glanced towards the side of the stage. Everyone there was applauding too except Billy, who stood slack jawed. Darik grinned.
Not only that, but you can download it for free from their website, which you can find by following the links on our shows webpage.
The applause sign came on. The crowd applauded. Billy was now chewing on his closed fist.
Now, give a warm welcome, to Darik Parker!
The stage lights in front of Darik flashed on. He couldn't see the crowd anymore, but the disembodied applause was louder than before. He moved forward to the microphone, strumming a minor chord. He said, This song is called Blood Money.
And that was it. No turning back now. He snuck a quick glance towards the side of the stage as Fabian counted them in. Billy had his head in his hands. The count finished.
Darik began, fret hand a blur of hammer-ons and pull-offs. He moved up and down the fretboard effortlessly. Fabian was slamming his kit once every beat. Blair was hitting a chord, one-two-three, change, change-two-three-four, repeat. Trey was thumping along with him. Eight bars in and Hale joined, playing in sync with Blair and Trey. Four quick hits on the hi-hat and they exploded into the song.
Fabian set a fast paced beat. It would've been a standard beat if he weren't using every piece of his kit, sometimes doubling or tripling on his hit. Blair and Trey thrashed out the rhythm. Hale was playing a sweeping arpeggio underneath it all. Darik started belting out the lyrics.
Sack my home, Rob my grave. Take all there is then Piss on the ashes.
Nail me to a dollar sign And leave me to die It doesn't matter cos It never mattered from the start.
He held the note for a bar as Blair began soloing. He put his heart into it, throwing every bluesy clich he knew into it and topping it off with a magnificent bend.
No you don't care no more Cos you made your buck, and You don't care no more Cos you got your Blood Money!
Then into a (purposely) ill-placed bridge, slowing down to half time. Something in the room changed. A new flow of energy entered the world, sweeping everything else away. Darik felt himself immersed in the currents. He turned, and could see the rest of his bandmates were too. Sure, he was trying to end his career, but that didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was being here, now.
Blair and Hale started playing solo's interchangeably. Fabian went off, playing at an almost superhuman speed. Trey had disappeared, but his bass was still thumping away. The movement ended, but the feeling remained.
No you don't care no more Cos you made your buck, and You don't care no more Cos you got your Blood Money!
Yeah you got your Blood Money! You, all of you got it You threw us to the wolves Didn't stop to think or listen.
You got your Bloody Money, Stole it for yourselves and, You don't care no more Cos you got your Blood Money!
They finished, smashing through the last few notes and ending on a diminished chord. As it hung in the air, Darik spat Every one of you got your blood money, you all know it. And none of you care.
There was silence. The stage lights dimmed. Darik could see Trey standing among the audience. The silence held a moment longer.
The crowd exploded. A wave of sound hit Darik. He stood there, stunned, as the screamed applause nearly knocked him over. They think it was part of the act, he thought. Then he smiled. He looked around and saw his bandmates smiling too. Wayne Hill was thumping his desk. Billy was on his knees, crying inconsolably.
Darik turned back to look at the crowd. The Big City will bleed you dry, he thought. But sometimes it'll give you the world.