I return to the table and share the good news that we'll get our bill covered, plus a room in the hotel for the night in exchange for a show. It's perfect. Who could say no? Hell, our gear is already set up on the stage.
"Damn, Terry," Gina says. "Couldn't we just relax for the night? You got the money, right? I saw him give you an envelope. Couldn't we just call it a night?"
"What, and pay for a room?" I hold up the envelope. "This is a quarter of what the two bands were going to earn for last night. We're way behind. Plus, we're in for more than a hundred bucks on food and beers for today. We need to play tonight just to break even on the day."
I look around the table. I thought they would all be happy, excited to play again, excited to get away with a free night instead of paying out the ass for beer, food and lodging. Instead, they all look tired, worn out and half drunk. I notice how dark Gina's eyes are.
"Did you guys sleep at all last night?" I ask her.
"Maybe two hours," she says. "We stayed up fighting most of the night. The sun was up when I fell asleep."
I look at Matt. He'd been up all night too, and had spent all afternoon drinking beer and playing drums. He'd looked fine only a few minutes ago, but now at the suggestion of playing a show, he looks exhausted.
"How do you feel?" I ask him.
"I'll do it," he says. "I'd rather sleep, but yeah, I'd also rather not pay for today."
"Fuck it," says Jason. He looks and sounds drunk. "Let's play. I'll play."
Suddenly playing for another crowded house with an exhausted, drunk band doesn't seem like such a great idea. I sit down and seem to sink into the chair. My head feels heavy. "Well shit," I say. "I just agreed to it. Can we do it or not?"
Gina rests her elbows on the table. "How much time do we have?"
"An hour or so, I would guess. We didn't get up last night until after nine."
She nods. "You get the room so I can grab a quick shower and I'll play."
I look around. "So everybody's in?"
"Hang on, Taz," Mark interjects. "Are we playing one set or two? Each band playing a set, or just one?"
They all look at me. I've become the link between the two bands and somehow the de facto leader of both. Even Gina and Matt are looking at me to tell them what to do, even though I've only been a substitute member of Machine Within A Machine for a day.
"Let's get both bands on stage," I tell them. "Machine can play through the songs that seem ready, and then The Clutch Dogs can get up and do their set. Sound cool?"
Everyone nods. I go and talk to Jeff and he takes me out to the hotel desk and arranges for a room. The five of us head upstairs and take turns in the bathroom, combing hair and tidying up. Gina goes in last and takes the longest, applying makeup to cover her tired-looking eyes. Jason and Mark head out to the van to get their own gear. Matt waits for Gina in the room, lying on the bed with his eyes closed. I head down to the bar.
It's getting close to nine, but the bar isn't nearly as full as it was the night before. A week night, predictably, would be quieter. But there are patrons, and the place has a buzz. People know the band from last night will be on again, I can tell. And they might be expecting fireworks like last night too.
One patron immediately catches my eye. Tammy, the big-breasted blonde who hit on me the night before is standing at the bar, sipping a cocktail through a straw.
I slide up next to her. "Hey there," I say. "Come back to watch the fights again?"
"Hey you," she says, slapping me on the arm. "I missed you last night. You ran off and didn't talk to me again."
"Sorry. We got a bit mixed up with band business. We didn't expect to still be here tonight, I can tell you that."
"So you're going to play again?"
"Yeah," I say, gesturing to the bartender to bring me a pitcher of beer. "Well, both bands are going to play. The one band will be a bit different. Some of them went home last night after the fight."
"I saw that," she says. "Your face was all bloody."
I shrug. "That's rock and roll."
I see Gina enter the bar. She looks great. Even on two hours sleep and after hours of playing guitar and drinking, she can put herself together when she needs to. I want to take her away from this shitty roadhouse, take her some place where we could be alone, maybe sit in the van, sit in the dark together all night.
She comes and stands next to me at the bar, giving me a cold look. "Hello Terry," she says. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh, this is Tammy," I say, trying to be casual. "Tammy, Gina. You would have seen her last night."
"Right," says Tammy. "Your band got thrown off stage, huh? That's too bad. I guess you guys are finished."
"No," I say, "Like I said, both bands are playing tonight." I can see that Tammy is trying to start something with Gina. Shit, I'd rather not have Tammy here at all, even though she's a hot chick that would be willing to hop right in bed with me. That would piss Gina off to no end, even though she says she doesn't want anything to do with me in that department. What's a guy supposed to do?
The bartender brings the pitcher of beer and I grab it. "Would you get the glasses?" I say to Gina, and to Tammy I simply nod. "I'll see you later. We're on in a few minutes."
Gina and I walk up near the stage. "She seems really nice, Terry," Gina says. "You two would make a great couple."
"What's with you?" I say, setting the pitcher down on a table. "If you're in a band, you talk to the people who are there to see you. You've never had to talk to some slob at a gig?" She doesn't respond, just sets the glasses down on the table. She goes to the side of the stage and starts tuning her guitar.
Jason and Mark bring in the gear and we get the stage ready, setting up the microphones and doing a rudimentary sound check. Matt shows up just as we finish. His eyes are red. "Are we all set?" he asks.
"Yeah," I say. "Where did you go?"
"Stepped out for a smoke," he says, giving a dopey smile. He climbs up on the stage and gets behind the kit. He bangs the toms, does a drum roll, pauses, does another long drum roll and watches Gina and I collect our guitars and climb up on stage. The bartender takes the cue and flicks on the stages lights. Jason and Mark take a seat at the table near the stage and pour themselves beers. I can see them whispering to each other.
I look at Gina. She looks hot, but tired and bitter. Not the way I would want her to look for our first show together.
"Are you going to sing?" I ask her.
"I'll give it a shot," she says, and switches on the mike in front of her. She steps up to it. "Check. Check, check." She looks at me and shrugs.
I look at Matt. "Count us in?"
Matt raps his sticks together four times and we begin the first song. We work through it effectively, and because Gina and Matt are so tight I manage to fall in with them and make it sound natural. I'm a bit late on some of the changes, but not enough to throw them off or make a real mess of things. But Gina doesn't sing. She approaches the microphone a few times and opens her mouth, but each times she backs away without making a sound.
I hear clapping when the song ends, but I see that it's mostly coming from Jason and Mark. Mark puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles.
"What happened?" I ask Gina.
"Nothing," she says. "You remember the next song?"
"Um, 'Burning Minds'? Yeah, I think so. We're going Dee, Gee, Bee?"
"Yeah." She gestures to Matt and he counts us in again and we run through the song. This time Gina sings, but not until the final two choruses. Her voices wavers, but she pushes through. The third song goes the same: she skips the verse, sings the chorus, sometimes skips lines and always sings in a soft, unsure voice.
There is some polite applause, but mostly people seem to be carrying on without paying much attention. It feels like playing with a cover band in the back corner of a pool hall, ignored and unappreciated.
I switch on my microphone. "Thank you," I say to the phantom clappers in the bar. I look at Gina, but she's looking away, tugging at her guitar chord. "We are the new Machine Within A Machine." Gina gives me a furious look and I back away from the mike.
We play through the remaining songs, quitting after eight. The sound was getting very loose and clunky, and Gina did not attempt to sing again. The last song drags and I'm glad when it's over.
Gina, Matt and I square away the necessary equipment. I leave my bass rig on stage for the second set with Jason and Mark, but I give Matt a hand moving his drums off. Gina and I manage to avoid eye contact while we clear off the gear.
When the stage is ready I sit down with Jason and Mark and pour myself a beer. Matt joins us. He looks like he's ready to fall over. "Where's Gina?" I ask him.
He shakes his head and swallows a mouthful of beer. "I don't know."
I take a long drink and get up. "Okay," I say, looking at The Clutch Dogs. "I'll be back in ten minutes and then we'll go on. Sound good?"
They agree and I head out of the bar and upstairs to the hotel room. As I expected, Gina is there. I can hear her inside the bathroom. From the sounds she makes I know she's crying. I knock on the door.
"Gina? It's Terry. Are you all right? Come on out, will you?"
"Oh, fuck off, Terry," she says in a cracking voice.
"Right. Look, it's not that bad, okay? It was the first show. And you haven't slept in two days. We're going to do it again tomorrow night and it will be light years better, you know it." I wait. She doesn't say anything.
"It's just too much emotion, right? You feel overwhelmed, and you're so tired it just gets to be too much. But it's really not that bad. You've never played a bad show before? Christ, I've been booed off a stage with my mom in the audience."
I wait. She still doesn't make a sound, and I ask her again to open the door. Just open up the door. Please. It's all right. Just open the door. Please.
She finally comes out, and she wraps her arms around me, pushing her face against my shoulder. She sobs, and I hug her, hold her, rub her back and say shhhhh, it's okay. It's okay.
Gina looks at me and kisses me on the lips. We hug again. "It's okay" I repeat. "You're just exhausted. You need a good night's sleep."
She lets me go, but we stand facing each other, holding hands. "I know," she says in a voice that is barely audible. "I'm being silly."
"It's cool," I say. "Look, I hate to do this, but I need to go back and play again. Do you just want to stay up here and chill?" She nods, and we hug again.
"Do me a favor, okay?" she says, as I turn to leave. "Don't talk to that woman. I know it's stupid, but I just hate her."
I nod and close the door behind me. I stand for a second and take a deep breath. I feel reenergized, a warm rush through my body as worn out nerves are revitalized by my feelings for the guitarist crawling into bed in the room behind me.
To me, there is only one thing that describes rock and roll, and that is urgency. If the music drags, if it becomes a chore, a struggle to make it through the song then it is not rock and roll. Rock and roll must have urgency and it must have force driving it, driving the players. Whether the song is fast or slow, the players must feel they are compelled to play. It is danger. It is need. Unless the music has the feeling that it is the only thing that can save you from death, than it is nothing. It is a waste.
With my thoughts lingering on Gina lying in bed with tear-reddened eyes, I lead Jason and Mark onto the stage. I look out at the audience and almost feel sorry for them, because I know they will never hear rock and roll played with such urgency and need as they will tonight. She kissed me. I nod to the boys and switch my microphone on. "Good evening," I say. "We are The Clutch Dogs."
2007 Nolan Whyte