Snow falls briefly while we're driving into Calgary. We spend a long time arguing over a city map trying to make our way to the venue, and by the time we get there we're all bitter. I figure we're getting van sore, frustrated and sour from the closterphobia of being packed into the van for hours every day, arguing about nonsense and endlessly twiddling the radio dial hoping to pick up an FM signal hundreds of kilometers from nowhere. We're stiff from sitting on uncomfortable bench-seats for long stretches with nothing to do, weak from a diet lacking fresh fruits and vegetables, accumulating hangovers from getting pissed night after night.
The Guinness binge in the Irish pub in Regina led to a savage morning, and most of us skipped breakfast. We managed to force down some doughnuts in Medicine Hat, but a lack of real food all day has us weary and irritable when we finally make it to the venue where we're scheduled for the evening.
We stump inside and settle into a booth while Jason seeks out the management. The place looks pretty good. The narrow front area where we relax opens up into a broad theatre area. Actually, I'm surprised two no-name bands like ours would get booked at a place like this.
"Okay," Jason says, coming back from the bar where he conferred with the staff. "Everything seems cool. They'll have a sound guy here at eight o'clock. We're pretty much free until then."
I get up and stretch. "So we get some dinner then? All together or should we just meet back here later?"
"They have a kitchen?" says Mark. He has his head down on the table and his eyes closed. "I think I'll just eat here."
"Suit yourself," I say. "I want to stretch my legs. Anyone else?"
Gina gets up. "I'll come," she says.
"Me too," says Jason.
Matt and Mark stay behind in the bar while Gina, Jason and I step out into a chilly Western afternoon. We start walking up the road, eyes open for a place to eat. Jason falls into step right next to Gina. If she didn't come he would have stayed, I know it. I wish he could figure out that Gina and I are together.
I light a cigarette. Are we together? Hell, I don't know. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek last night, but what does that mean? I hate not knowing where I stand.
We find a family restaurant that looks half-decent. We get a table inside and order cheeseburgers and fries. The chat is superficial and irritating. Jason keeps trying to engage Gina in conversation, but she's tired and only half-interested. It's embarrassing. Have you ever been out with a friend and he starts hitting on your girlfriend? It's the worst. You want to crack his skull, but if you do anything he'll say 'What? I'm just hanging out.'
"So Gina," I say, interrupting Jason. "I think we ought to talk about this band of yours."
"What about it?" she asks, resting her chin on her hand. She looks burnt out. Still attractive, but burnt out.
"I'm worried about the El Grande Floyd Ciccone show next month. Here's the thing: you got that gig of the strength of the show you had with Wayne and Dave in the line-up. You had your show all set and you had you sound. Your band had an identity."
"Yeah," she says. "Then we went on tour with some prick from another band who fucked it all up."
Jason laughs and I give him a nasty look.
"Okay," I say. "I'll some of the responsibility for Machine's breakup but if your band was stronger it could have survived. I don't want to get into all that right now. My point is that your band doesn't really have an identity now. You don't have a singer and you don't have a front man. Front person. You know."
Gina nods. "I know. So we just have to keep working on it for the rest of this tour."
"Right. Here's my other problem with this. And tell me to fuck off at any time, but it's just my opinion, all right?"
The server sets cokes down in front of us. Gina takes a sip through her straw. "Go ahead," she says. "I'm listening."
"Who wrote all the songs Machine Within a Machine is performing right now?"
I nod. "Right. Now, I don't want to stick up for Wayne. I think he's a bit of an asshole, but at the same time, I've been in his position. He wrote all these songs and now he's not even in the band. So what happens when you go ahead and perform his songs at a big venue and get a lot of exposure? You go on to play more shows and bigger shows and you end up becoming successful. He ends up sitting at home with a fifth of scotch saying 'They got rich playing my songs.' It's the same thing that happened to me with Tremors of Intent. I wrote half their songs and they went and got huge playing my songs. I got nothing except for some publishing royalties. It's not cool.
"Besides," I shrug, "do you really want to succeed on his material? It's your band now, yours and Matt's, and whoever else you get to fill in the vacant spots. Don't you want the music to come from the people who are in the band now?"
Gina doesn't look impressed. "What's your point, Terry?"
I shrug. "I think you need to make some changes. Get a new singer, write some new songs."
She leans back and crosses her arms. "Oh, I get it. I see where this is going. Christ, I should have seen this. You want the band for yourself."
"What? Well shit, I'm already in the band. I want it to succeed."
"Hold on," Jason says. "Are you in the band, or are you just like, filling in in the band? Because seriously, are you in Machine Within A Machine or The Clutch Dogs?"
"He wants both," Gina says. "Don't you Terry? You want to sing for Machine so you can front the band at the Ciccone show and look like the big comeback hero. Show the guys from Tremors of Intent that you're not such a loser. Show your wife you're not a loser. Right?"
I take a deep breath and try not to get pissed off and defensive. "Look, I'm filling in on bass for you until you get another bass player. And I hate to point this out again, but you don't have a lead singer either. You've got a big show coming up, and you've got no singer and all of your songs are by a guy who isn't even in your band any more."
Gina shakes her head in anger. "So what, you think you should sing and we can perform a bunch of songs you wrote instead? Doesn't that just make it a Clutch Dogs show?"
"Fuck no," says Jason. "Terry isn't the only member of The Clutch Dogs."
"Just calm down, will you both? I'm trying to be constructive here. I'm not suggesting"
"You're suggesting you front both bands," Gina says.
"God, this is just like before," Jason says. "You know he originally wanted to call us 'The Terry Wilson Band.' Can you believe that shit?"
"Jesus, this has nothing to do with that," I say to Jason. "This isn't just about gratifying my ego. I don't want us look fucking stupid on stage at a big concert because we don't have an act. No singer, or"
"I'm singing," Gina says.
"You are not a fronting singer," I tell her emphatically. "Once again, you're a great guitar player, but"
"But you're the only person who can sing, right Terry? Fuck." Jason shakes his head.
"Just say it," Gina says. "You want Matt and me to be your back up band. You want that show."
"Jesus Christ!" I look at Gina. "I'm trying to help you." I get up and walk out of the restaurant.
There are cabs lined up at the other end of the block, so I walk down and climb into one. "Take me to a strip club," I tell the driver.
I get a hamburger and fries watch the girls dance. I drink beer after beer in the god-awful place, where they clearly decided to stop redecorating in the mid-seventies. They even have orange shag carpeting on the walls behind the stage.
The girls aren't bad though. I sit long enough that the girl who was on stage when I first arrived marches out in her tiny pink dress for a second go. "Fuck," I say, getting up. "I sat through the whole rotation."
I pay and leave. Outside I light a cigarette and check my watch. It's eight forty-five. So much for sound check. I check my wallet and realize I'm down to small change. All of my bills went to food and beers, and my one and two dollar coins went to the girls on stage. I can't see an automated teller anywhere around. Looks like a cab is out of the question.
I start stumping down the road, heading back the way the cab that brought me came. I figure I can make it back to the club in time on foot. I wouldn't be so stupid if I were sober, but with several hours of beer drinking behind me I march along, guessing at each corner if it's the right place to turn.
Machine Within A Machine is supposed to hit the stage at ten and The Clutch Dogs at eleven-thirty. I walk through the downtown area wondering if I'm supposed to be downtown at all. I cross a bridge, turn back, and ask myself if the cab crossed a bridge on the way to the strip club. I keep walking, figuring I must be going the right way.
The snow starts falling again. My fall jacket is too light and I start shivering. I pull my collar up and jam my hands deep into my pockets and walk, wondering why the hell I bothered to leave the restaurant in the first place. What was the point? Was I trying to prove something to Gina and Jason, or did I just overreact? Were they being bitchy or am I the bitch? I start tearing myself apart with embarrassment and drunken self-doubt.
At nine-thirty I finally decide that I'm ass-fuck lost, and I manage to flag down a cab. I ask through the window if he'll take a credit card. He will, so I get him to takes me to the venue. I sit in the cab trying to warm up, listening to the country music on the radio, full of stupid shame.
I pay the driver and walk into the club. It's packed. There are lots of men in suits and lots of drinking. It looks like New York in the Eighties, except with cowboy hats all over the place. I stop at the bar and ask where the bands are, and the bartender directs me to a dressing room near the washrooms. I head back there and try the door, but it's locked. I knock and knock.
They make me wait a long time, but finally Mark answers the door and I slip inside. Matt, Gina and Jason are all there in the tiny space. They stand there with crossed arms and angry looks.
"Why didn't you open the door?" I ask them.
"Where the fuck have you been?" Gina shouts. She's all dolled up in her stage makeup and a tight black top.
"I had some thinking to do. We're ready to go, right? Did you guys set up my rig?"
"Yeah we did, asshole," Jason says. "And thanks a lot for your help."
That does it and I snap. "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, you fucking charity case? Remember, you fucking rock star wannabe, you're here to play your guitar. That's it, you ignorant fuck. Don't give me any shit."
"Oh, fuck you Terry."
"What are you gonna do Jason, fire me?"
"Okay, let's all just calm down, eh?" Mark says. "It's no big deal. We've got a gig, and all."
Jason keeps his challenging stare. I don't move. The silence is evil, and the shame I had when I arrived is gone, replaced with rage. I want to just lose it, flip out and start punching everyone in the room, then run out into the crowd and start punching random cowboys. Jason stares at me and I stare back until Mark puts his shoulder against me to turn me toward the door.
"Come on Taz. Let's grab a beer." He pushes me back out the door and we head out into the crowd. "Fucking mad," he says, his arm around me.
2007 Nolan Whyte