Sometimes you can't get away from these things. Or maybe you don't know how to, or maybe you don't really want to get away from them. Maybe you're telling yourself that you want to get away, but inside you know you really don't. You really just want those things to tell you that they want you as much as you want them. Maybe you just want to feel needed and appreciated. Maybe, but you'd be a really pussy.
What the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about the booze, the girls bumping into each other all around me, and some goof asking if I want to get up on stage and play bass with his band. These were the things I had thought I would take a break from by coming back to Rose Creek from Garrison Valley and its depressing little university. I've had enough of drinking all the time, getting hard times from chicks, and having to worry about some shitty band. I'm going back to my quiet little home town and relax.
So much for that idea.
Knelson, with his big poofy blond mullet, stood there smiling. He had just asked me if I wanted to hop up on stage and play a song with his cheesy (but very skillful) cover band, Crankshaft.
I grinned. Ah hell, it's nice of you to offer, but seriously, I suck. You guys are way, way beyond my level, and I would just end up making your band sound bad.
He laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. Okay, man. Let me ask you though, have you ever play a gig before?
Yeah, I said. Two.
Cool, he nodded. So you're good enough to get on stage. You must be good enough to play with us. No matter how bad you are, you can't just destroy us.
Come on, Eric, chirped in Robby, my redneck cousin. Get the f--k up there! I guarantee: you will score tonight if you get up there and play. Every chick will have an opening line to talk to you.
Yeah, that's the last thing I need, I said. Look, Knelson, it's really cool of you to offer, but I don't even know any songs. Unless you guys want to play Heroin.'
He scratched his chin and grinned. That might be a bit esoteric for this crowd. Come on, sit down with us.
We all had a seat around the table where the members of the band were resting. Knelson asked me questions about what music I played, and I told him a little about Riot Band. He listened with interest, and convinced me to come up and play one on stage during their second set.
Do you know That's What I like About You'? he asked, and then sang, Bam-bam-bim-bim, bop, ba-da-da-da...
Sure, I said, but I don't know how to play it. And I don't think I could use your bass anyway. It's um, it doesn't have... You know. I pantomimed playing a bass, with my left hand unable to find its place on the neck of the guitar.
Yeah, it's fretless. Don't worry about that, Knelson said. Come on back here.
He led me behind the big amps and the side of the stage. The band's gear was all there, and Knelson dug out a hard-bodied case. He opened it up and took out a purple Gibson bass, and yes, it had frets. But like the beautiful fretless he'd been playing, this one also had five strings.
Shit. Okay, I said. How do I play this thing?
He quickly showed me the simple bass line for the song, which required only three notes, and told me to simply ignore the big fifth string. He watched as I played the line, making sure I had it.
Cool, man, he said. You'll do fine.
I returned the instrument to its case. I guess, I said. But I've got to ask, what's the big deal whether I play or not?
I've played this same set with this band a lot of times, dude, he said. You gotta keep it fresh. I'm going to play harmonica while you play bass. We'll give you a signal to come up. Cool?
We returned to the table. I sat and sipped my beer while Robby, his bitch-bag girlfriend Brittney, and the members of the band chatted. I didn't talk much. From the instant I sat down, something had caught my eye.
The girl who had been dancing near me while the band was playing had taken up a spot near our table, facing nowhere in particular. She was stirring the ice in her drink, just sort of swaying, dancing in place to the music. It was some country shit, but whatever.
I couldn't quite remember her name. She'd been a year behind me in school, and I'd only talked to her a few times. Maybe Shelly? I couldn't be sure. She was dressed in black, with a low-cut top and faded jeans. She'd died her hair black too, which gave he an exotically ethnic appearance, like she was a vamp from Egypt or something. Her clothes were tight, as though she'd bought them before gaining weight, but she didn't look bad. She looked kind of sexy. And she was obviously trying to get my attention.
But f--k that, I thought. I needed female interference like I needed a kick in the sternum. I got up and walked past her, heading for the bar to get another beer. From there I just hung around on the other side of the room, drinking, watching the crowd, and waiting for the band's next set.
Shelly (if that was her name) stayed where she was for a few minutes and then drifted over to a table where she sat down with some other girls. I didn't want to be a dick. I just wasn't looking to hook up. You might say I was having trust issues with women. Hell, my left cheekbone still hurt from the fight with Jasmine.
I drank two beers in the time it took the band to get back on stage. They started to play, and I kept watching Knelson, waiting for a signal. He had the second bass up on stage, leaning against the amp behind him.
The second set was like the first: a blend of classic and contemporary rock, mixed in with a few up-tempo country songs as well. It was the least interesting music in the world to me, all the kind of stuff you hear coming through the ceiling speakers of the grocery store when you're doing your shopping. But it was fast and happy, and it kept the crowd excited. Everyone sang along to the songs they knew, swayed drunkenly to the ones they didn't, and kept drinking and trying to forget the shitty world that stood outside the bar doors.
After maybe ten songs Knelson stepped up to the mike. He couldn't see me in the audience, so he simply announced, Eric, you're up after this one.
I slugged back my beer and worked my way through the dancing crowd to the foot of the stage, standing off to the side.
The band was playing Hair of the Dog.' Suddenly Shelly was there, standing right next to me. She nudged me with her elbow and called up (I was much taller than she): Hey Eric. How's it going?
Good, I said, and looked back up at the stage.
You're back in town? We were standing right in front of the speakers, and she had to practically scream to be heard.
I smiled and nodded. She smiled back. She stood and watched the band, trying to dance sexy. There was a lot of shoulder-movement, I presume to make her breasts jiggle around in that top. She was giving me a pretty good view of her cleavage.
The song finally ended. Knelson nodded to me and I climbed up on stage, squeezing between the guitar player and singer to get back where Knelson stood next to the drummer.
He plugged the amp cord into the purple bass, which I slung over my shoulder. Knelson touched the knobs on the amp and told me to test it. I touched a string and the amp emitted a powerful rumble.
Sweet. Knelson got up. You remember how to play the song?
I nodded. E, A, D, A.
Right. We play it fast, so just don't stop, okay?
We've got a local boy up here tonight, the singer announced. Everyone, this is Eric. She turned to me. Eric, where you from, hon?
Rose Creek, I said.
Okay, Rose Creek, kick ass. There were cheers and boos. Small towns all hate each other.
The drummer tapped the snare and we started to play. I bungled the simple line a few times as I tried to fall in with the guitarists. Knelson was right; They did play it fast. Really fast. But I finally got it, and we started playing along, snapping through the bouncy song.
Knelson slid up next to the singer and started playing harmonica while she sang. The song really flew, and it was all I could do to keep in time. I did blink up and look out at the crowd a few times, although each time I nearly lost the beat. But one thing I did see when I looked out there was Shelly, standing near the front, shaking it, bouncing in front of me.
We played the song through. My arm hurt like hell from trying to keep the perfect beat at such a high speed, and I quickly gained a new appreciation for cover bands. They weren't just a bunch of copycats, doing it the easy way by ripping off other people's songs. It took everything I had to try and keep up.
At the end of the song there was applause. I pulled off the bass. Thanks, Eric, cooed the lady singer. I nodded and climbed down off the stage. It wasn't like at Riot Band's last gig. No one patted me on the back here. No one really gave a shit.
I made my way to the bar and ordered a beer. Robby arrived and punched me in the arm. Cool, man! he said. You know, I halfway thought you were full of shit when you said you could play, but that was pretty good!
Thanks, I think.
Shelly was there too, grabbing my arm and pushing against me. Eric, that was soooo good! I didn't know you were a musician.
Um, well, I am. Kind of.
You looked sooooo good up there! Do you want to dance?
I held up my bottle. I'm just going to drink this.
She smiled up at me. Okay, but come dance when you're finished, okay? Then she ran out onto the dance floor, turned toward me and started grinding down, trying to show off her curves, before finally turning away toward the band and the stage.
Hot damn, Robby said. She'd let you f--k her in the middle of the dance floor if you wanted to. Jeez, did you two used to go out or something?
Naa, I said. Actually, I'm not sure what her name is. Is it Shelly?
Right. I don't know what the deal is. She never even looked at me before I left.
I guess you're a new face all over again, Robby said. You know how it is around here. The chicks get so bored of the same old guys. Why don't you go dance with her? She's not bad. Kinda hot.
I took a drink. I'm coming off a bad run of relationships.
Yeah? You had a girlfriend at school?
A couple. I broke up with one chick just a couple days ago, actually. Or she broke up with me.
Robby shrugged. I don't know why you don't just go dance with her then. Me, I'm going to try and get those two home tonight. He pointed onto the dance floor where Britney, his own girl, was attempting a sexy girl-girl grind with another heavy chick. By comparison, Kelly looked pretty good.
We finished our beers and Robby immediately went onto the dance floor after Britney and her friend. I looked at Kelly out there, still swinging her hips around, acting sexy. I figured why not, right? What's the harm in having a bit of fun? Maybe I needed to stop being such a dick.
So I went out onto the dance floor and grabbed her around the waist. It was pretty direct, I'll admit, but she immediately started dancing along with me.
Okay, now here's where we take a little trip down memory lane: Do you remember when I first started telling you this story, back in the winter? I was all pissed off because some guy in the bar had been making out with my ex (the guy turned out to be Jed), and I went outside and met Ryan, who was about to get beat up because he had hit on his band-mate's girlfriend. You get the connection?
There had been a strange series of meetings like this. Jasmine goes on and on about how much she hates all of her ex-boyfriends, and it scares me into not telling her I'm leaving town. It's all about relationships, man, and it was about to bite me in the ass again.
I'm standing there with my hand's on Kelly waist, when who should push in but Kelly's current/ex-boyfriend? And man, does he look pissed.
2009, Nolan Whyte