It was over in the time it took Ryan to smoke two cigarettes. He and Jed laid it all down, explaining their grievances, while Nick stood there with his hands jammed in his pockets, looking like he was getting dumped by the super-model girlfriend he didn't deserve. I think that was how we all felt. We all felt like we were getting dumped.
Their reasons were all straightforward enough. I stood accused of running a university college band like it was the most important thing in any of our lives. They said I had been an aggressive, menacing jerk, who pushed people around and used my physical stature to intimidate people into doing what I want.
They went on and on, and I stood there taking it. Ryan gave me a cigarette, and they kept talking: Ryan was pissed that I had somehow chosen myself to be the band's front man and de facto leader. Jed was pissed that we had still made no attempt to find a drummer to replace him. They were both pissed that we had somehow been very successful, but were managing to not have any fun at all while we were doing it.
I drank too much at the shows and caused problems. My constant girl trouble caused problems. My confrontational style caused problems. Somehow, every problem the band had could be traced back to me. That was how they saw it. Or maybe that was how I was hearing what they were saying. It was all pretty tough to sit through, and it was especially tough to hear since these guys were my main friends, not just in Garrison Valley, but in my life.
Ryan and Jed allowed me to respond, and I made some half-hearted attempt to explain and defend myself. Things weren't that bad, I said. We're putting too much pressure on ourselves, I said. You can't pin it all on me, I said. I'm only one guy.
"Yeah, we know," Jed said. "It's not fair the way we're doing this. But we're still in a situation where we don't want to keep playing together. I mean, it's not like we're firing you. We're quitting. We're not going to try and carry on without you. We just don't want to play."
I almost choked up when he said that. It meant the band was finished, one hundred percent. But Jed had quit before, and we'd been able to bring him back. It was Ryan that I was more worried about. He was the one who brought me into this, taught me to play, and had been my best friend for the last year.
I looked at him and tried to think of something to say, but what came out was the lame bullshit that a high school boy says when his girlfriend leaves him.
"Ryan, come on," I croaked. My voice was starting to break. "We're doing really well. Don't give up. If you guys would just tell me when I'm out of line, I would back off. I'm not trying to be a dick. Come on. Don't quit."
He looked away. "Sorry, Eric," he said. "When you threw the glass, that was the last straw. This whole night has been nuts. I mean, we worked so hard this week, and instead of enjoying it and putting on a really great show, we spent the night grumbling over t-shirts and yelling at each other. And I'm supposed to be doing this for fun, man. But it's become like a stressful job where I don't make any money. Seriously, between the freakin' gas station and you guys, I'm practically failing my classes." He held up his hands. "I'm out."
That seemed like the final word, and we all stood there. "F--k it," Jed said. "I'm heading back in. We can just run all our gear back to Nick's and pick it up later. Is that cool with you, Nick?"
Nick, who looked frozen, shrugged. "Sure. Just make sure you get it out of there before classes end. I don't want all your crap over there if you're really done."
With that, we turned and headed back inside. Without speaking we went to the back and began taking down our gear. It was a quick and methodical tear-down, and from there we dispersed to wait for Jed's buddy to arrive with the truck and take us away from what felt like the scene of the crime.
I sought out Nick at the bar. He was talking to Keith, probably telling him the band was backing out of Thursday nights. Keith looked serious as hell.
"Hey, Eric," he said when I slid in next to Nick. "Get you a drink?"
"I'll have another beer," I told him, and he brought out a bottle of my brand.
Keith leaned on the bar. "So you guys are out?" he asked. I could understand his worry. Here it was, at least half an hour after the second band finished, and his shitty little bar was still full. Granted, there wasn't much else happening on a Thursday night in Garrison Valley for people to rush off to, but still, these gig nights meant a lot of cash to him. Hell, he probably made as much money Thursday nights as he did the rest of the week combined.
I nodded glumly at him and took a swig of my beer. "I know. It sucks, eh? But you never know. We might work it out."
"Yeah?" he said. "And what happens if you don't figure your shit out?"
"Book these other guys," I said, referring to The Urges, our openers for the night. "And book the other bands that have been asking to play. You'll do fine."
He sighed. "Well, if you get it together, you can always play," he said, then moved off down the bar to serve a paying customer.
I turned to Nick. He had a gin and tonic with a little green straw in it, and he took a sip. "What about you?" I asked. "You didn't have much to say out there."
"What can I say?" he replied. "As you guys are always so happy to point out, I'm not an actual member of this band. I don't play an instrument. Seriously, what am I supposed to do? Talk everyone into not breaking up, just so I can keep coming to your boring goddamn gigs?"
"Yes!" I said. "Yes, that's exactly what you're supposed to do! Damn, Nick, you're supposed to be our manager. Start managing! Help us work it out. It's like you're giving up."
"Yeah, well," he said. "I can't really disagree with them. Like Ryan said, I've got end-of-semester school work, and I'm spending all my time hanging around watching you old ladies nag at each other. It's not that much fun right now, and you have been pretty difficult to handle. You seem to have this idea that everything depends on you, and the world will fall apart if you don't make everything happen, and a person like that can be a real pain in the ass."
"Hmm." I took a sip and tried to process his words. Suddenly I had serious questions about my self-image. I perceived myself as a strong, silent type. Could I actually be a noisy, complaining drama case? "I guess that wasn't the way I saw things," I said.
We got the equipment back to Nick's and I tried to open discussions again, but I received a whole lot of cold shoulder from everybody. I finally decided to hell with it and I started walking back to my own apartment.
* * * *
Over the next few days I was in an emotional dead zone. I went to Friday's morning class and spent the rest of the day sitting in The Market, reading my textbooks and drinking coffee, waiting to see if any of the guys would show up. They didn't. But it worked out pretty well, anyway; I nearly got caught up on my reading while I sat there for six bloody hours waiting to see a face.
And after that, I started filling my days hanging out with Lise, going to my boring classes, and working my shifts at the convenience store. I didn't go out very much otherwise. I felt hollow. The band had formed the center of my social interactions. Suddenly I wasn't seeing the guys most afternoons, and I wasn't having coffee or beers with Ryan some nights, and there were no rehearsals, no nothing. It was very depressing.
But on top of that, the band had really been my whole reason for being in Garrison Valley The job at the convenience store obviously meant nothing to me. I certainly wasn't there for school anymore. Why was I still attending the two courses in which I was enrolled? Because I paid for them, that's why.
But there was Lise, and she definitely meant something to me. She was hugely sympathetic with me over the breakup of the band, and was genuinely saddened by it, and that meant a lot. And a lot of the time that I would otherwise have spent with the band, I started spending with her.
On Tuesday I called Ryan and Jed and asked if there wasn't even a chance we could still do the next show at Jake's, but they all answered with a resounding "No." After that, I figured there was no point in delaying the inevitable. I went over to Nick's and picked up all my gear, including the bass. I knew the bass actually belonged to Ryan, but I figured he would want me to keep it with me. As far as I was concerned, Riot Band wasn't finished for good. There was always the chance things could change.
That Thursday I went to Jake's to see what the scene was like. The Urges were playing again, and to my surprise, they had an opening band with them as well.
I found Keith, and he had a smile on his face. "The Urges invited the second band," he told me. "Everything has gone okay. There doesn't seem to much of a drop-off in the crowd, which is good."
I looked around. There didn't seem to be any drop-off at all. It was the same crowd as before.
"Was anyone surprised we're not playing?" I asked.
"If they were, they haven't mentioned it," he said.
I thanked him and asked for a beer. We'd been paid out for our last show, but drinking on a tab was such a habit at Jake's that it didn't even occur to me to pay. "Three-fifty," he said and I looked at him blank-faced. He shrugged. "What the hell," he said. "One for good times," and he walked away.
The openers were finished, but The Urges hadn't gotten up on stage yet. I mingled in the crowd, greeting people and talking about the end of Riot Band. It seemed like everyone not only knew that we weren't playing, but also that we were finished as a band.
I moved to the end of the room and found James and the others getting ready for their set.
James got a sympathetic look on his face when he saw. "Hey, Eric," he said. "Sorry to hear about Riot Band."
"Shit," I said. "How does everybody know about it so fast? I haven't seen you all week. I can't believe there's that much word of mouth about it."
"Well, everybody here would know," he said. "They're your crowd, right? But it was also in The Typesetter yesterday."
I slapped my forehead. The band had split up right in front of Emily, who had been absolutely trolling the gig for something to write about. We'd served her up a big juicy piece of copy for her shitty student newspaper, and now the official story about the split would be whatever she wrote.
"What did the article say?" I asked.
"It was pretty gossipy," James said. "They talk about the band splitting up right on the night that you start having openers, like the pressure of competition broke you up or something. Ryan, your guitar player, is quoted a bit. The chick who wrote the article called us to ask about the whole thing, but we didn't really talk to her. We didn't want to look like vultures, you know?"
"Sure." I shook his hand. "Thanks. Have a good show, all right?"
I stayed and watched, slowly nursing the free beer. Since I was just barely squeaking by, I didn't have spare money for a second. It had always been easy to get hammered when it was the band's money you were spending. Now, I didn't even really feel like drinking anyway. Even though I knew so many faces in the bar, I was alone, and although the band was great, I couldn't enjoy the show. I was too preoccupied with the opportunity I'd blown with Riot Band.
2010, Nolan Whyte