THE ARTICLE UPDATED 09.04.2007
I sit in a backstage dressing room at The Royal Theatre, jamming quietly on my bass. It's a sweet instrument, a new Rickenbacker that I bought with the money I saved from the tour, and it's the first brand new instrument that I've bought myself in fifteen years. After dealing with repeated repairs to my old Gibson on the road, I decided it was time to treat myself to some new gear.
Mark is in the dressing room with me, sitting on the couch with his girlfriends Sara. They are both drinking hard, but that's okay because Mark isn't playing tonight. Tonight will be Matt's last drumming gig with Machine Within A Machine. In fact, it will be the last gig with anyone performing under the name Machine Within A Machine. After tonight, Matt will join the two guitarists I saw him rehearsing with months ago at the downtown rehearsal facility and Mark will step back in.
The others, Jason, Matt and Gina, are floating around the backstage area, taking in the scene and talking with the other musicians. We're the first act on stage, getting up there at eight-thirty, when the seats will still be mostly empty, and they have plenty of time to check out the buffet and mingle. It's exciting for them and I want them to enjoy it, especially Matt, who was very gracious in facing the odd-drummer out situation.
I plunk out the nine-note bass line from Pink Floyd's 'Money.' It's a very relaxed vibe, considering that this will be the biggest gig of any of their careers. Will it be the biggest of my career? Hard to say. I've played a lot of gigs. None of them meant much at the time, except for money in my pocket and a good time. They didn't build anything. This gig won't either, because we'll be performing as Machine Within A Machine for the last time, but it will be in front of a bigger audience than usual.
"You should be practicing the new songs, mate," Mark says from the couch. He's smiling and I know he's just kidding, but he's probably right. The set we'll be doing tonight will be nearly all new material. Since the Calgary show and our extended two-band onstage jam session, we finally realized that we basically had two half-bands. Combining was inevitable. Jamming and writing new material followed, and the shows in Vancouver, Kamloops, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Brandon featured us trying out more new, half-finished songs each night.
After tonight, Jason, Gina, Mark and I will start performing as The Clutch Dogs, with a dozen new songs to add to the band's repertoire. We're ready to take the next step, and we're willing to do whatever it takes to break through. If it means more touring, we'll do it. If it means working part-time jobs to pay for studio time, we'll do it. We're ready to do anything.
When the time comes, we head out onto the stage. It's a big hall, with a broad open dance floor in the front with seating rising up behind it. I've seen a few shows there, and I always wondered what the room looked like from the stage. It looks good, although I can see when I walk out on the stage that a lot of ticket holders haven't arrived yet. The crowd is thin.
I look around at the others. They are ready. Jason looks nervous, but pumped up. He stands on my right, Gina on my left. I look at her and she smiles at me. She looks gorgeous. Our relationship has progressed, not into an openly dating situation, but one to where we are becoming best friends. We sit in each other's apartments every night playing guitar until well after midnight and talking until the sun comes up. When the others are around she gives me knowing smiles and winks. We are taking things slowly, and that makes every move seem tantalizing and delicious.
Behind me, Matt bangs on the toms, warming up, getting loose for his final show with us. I turn and look at him. He smiles and nods. We are all ready. Bobby is in the crowd watching with Mark and his mates. Good to go, I think and step up to the microphone.
"One, two, three, four," I say calmly and we begin out first song, a new original that Gina and I wrote on the road. Jason starts to strum and Matt lays down the beat. I thump into the bass line and Gina slashes in with her guitar while I begin to sing:
Never bet against a bastard because a bastard don't like to lose, So don't bet against me or you're going to feel the screws.
Gina hits the main riff and we hammer into it, picking up the pace, and she starts to sing:
You never thought that we'd still be alive, but we're not afraid to die Better luck next time I guess, you bet your ass I'm all right.
We hit the chorus and she, Jason and I sing it together:
We will not be stopped, We can not be killed, We will not be found, We will not be stilled.
You say you don't like my looks, you say you don't like my style, Well you can kiss my ass because I'll be here a while.
I live my life in the gutter but I look up at the sky, You think I'll just go away but old rockers never die.
We will not be stopped, We can not be killed, We will not be found, We will not be stilled.
Matt and I pound the rhythm while Jason and Gina exchange solos, their guitar lines swerving back and forth through each other. We blast through it and scream out the chanting chorus twice more, at last bringing the song to a close.
We play through the set, with Jason and Gina trading off lead and rhythm duties. He solos, she solos, she sings, I sing, and the focus moves back and forth as we each enjoy moments of leading the band. We play as a complete unit of powerful equals. It's brilliant. It's the sound I want: hard rock with an edge, each member contributing his or her own style. We strut, we show off, we play to the audience and to each other, and I know I've found the band I've been looking for my entire career.
As we come to our last song, I introduce the members, drawing special attention to Matt in his last gig with us. I announce that this will be the last appearance by a band using the name Machine Within A Machine. The crowd gives us a cheer as we move into our final song, a monster of crashing symbols and fast, heavy riffs. I sing:
It's time to dig my way out from under all the trash, Time to rebuild this thing I call a life, There are people and places that I'd rather forget As I clear away the trouble and strife.
But I will never forget this, I will never forget this, I spent my whole life either chasing or hiding, But I'll never escape from you.
We power through it and bring our show to a close, taking a bow and removing ourselves from in front of the crowd. We high-five, we hug, we pat each other on the back and tell each other that we are fucking great, and that we are ready to take on the world.
The second band of openers goes on stage and we return to the food and drinks area, nibbling on the buffet and opening celebratory beers. I stand munching on a handful of cheese snacks, listening to Jason's enthusiastic rants when I notice a man come in the room. He walks over to the buffet, picks up a paper plate and starts stacking himself up with chicken wings and dry ribs. A smile creeps across my face while I watch him. He's wearing old black jeans and a vintage Rush 2112 t-shirt, as well as a tan leather fedora with a long feather and cowboy boots.
I give Gina a gentle elbow. "It's him."
She looks over at the old skid. "Him who?"
"Him. Ciccone. El Grande Floyd Ciccone." She watches as I approach him and say hello. He smiles and we start chatting, and when he has a suitable supply of meaty snacks he comes over with me and I introduce him to the band formerly known as Machine Within A Machine, henceforth to be called The Clutch Dogs.
"I could hear you guys playing," Ciccone says, taking a seat on a folding chair. "You sound really solid. Like you really enjoyed doing it."
Ciccone tells us to call him Fred, and stays drinking beers with us. I ask him if he always drinks so much before a show. He laughs.
"Hell, son, I've been doing this for thirty-six years. Every two years I add another beer that I can drink before going on stage, so that means I'm allowed to have eighteen of them now. I usually don't, but I'm allowed to if I want. What's this, number seven? Not a problem son, not a problem."
"Sex, drugs and rock and roll, huh Fred?" Jason says.
"Yeah, sure," he says, lighting a cigarette, despite the laws which forbid indoor smoking. "Shit, I've done all three of those to excess. Once I smoked so much dope I went blind for two days. I've blown cocaine up strippers' asses through straws and I've fucked enough groupies to populate Glastonbury. I've had blowjobs while giving interviews, I've shot smack in airplane bathrooms. Shit, I've done it all. You get tired of it. Except rock and roll. I never got tired of rock and roll."
"Listen to the man," I say to Jason.
"Well, it makes sense, doesn't it?" Ciccone says, scratching his scruffy blonde beard. "You get sick of being messed up every day, and sooner or later you get sick of having a sore dick, if the lady will pardon my language. You never get sick of the music though. You never say, I'm just so sick of rock and roll, I wish I could just listen to some Classical music for a while." He laughs. "At least, I've never said that."
He gets up, his food eaten and his cigarette stubbed out among the bones on his plate. "Good luck to you guys," he says. "You've got a good sound. I hope you do real well. You'll have to excuse me now. I've got to go get changed." He tips his hat to Gina. "See you all later," he says, and leaves.
"Wise old man," I say.
"I like him," Gina says. "He's like a rock and roll Yoda."
Mark and Sara and Bobby turn up with their backstage passes. I ask Bobby what he thought of the show.
"It was good," he says. "Professional. Shit, I'd buy your album. You are going to record an album, aren't you?"
I look around at the others. They smile and say "Fuck, yeah."
"You heard them," I say with a smile. "Fuck yeah we're recording an album."
We drink and laugh and we go home late, satisfied, sad that the show is over but happy with how it went, confident that there will be many, many more like it. We're a rock and roll band. And just like the thousands of others like us, standing on stages all around the world every single night, we'll keep playing. Playing rock and roll shows is what we do.
2007 Nolan Whyte