Chapter 4 - Drummers, cigarettes, nakedness and strong drink.
"Goddamn," I thought. It's been three days and I've only had an hour to sleep. My eyes were bloodshot and crusted around the edges, sagging, and baring the look of the deceased. I stood from my chair and felt the joints in my legs pop and snap like an elderly man plagued with arthritis as I went to the cupboard to find a can of soup to cook. I stood before the stove, watching the soup intently, eventually making it's way to a slow boil before I poured it into a red ceramic bowl to eat. I glanced out the kitchen window and glimpsed a world eclipsed in the cloudiness of deceit. I struggled to swallow the spoonful of soup and gave up after several lengthy attempts. There was a knock on my door and I sat, still, motionless, waiting to see if it was yet another trick my mind was playing on me. But the first knock was followed by a more assertive second, and a thumping third. I rose from my kitchen table to answer the door and tripped over guitars and scraps of lyrics scattered across my living room floor. The knocks continued all through my journey to answer that damn door. I gazed through the peep hole to find my agent Karla Vega, standing on the other side, irritated and impatient.
"What do you want?"
"Why don't you try that again a little nicer."
"What THE HELL do you want?"
"HA HA very funny James. You gonna invite me in?"
"I wasn't planning on it, but please do come into my humble abode."
"I don't know if humble is the word I'd use."
She stepped inside, an older woman in her mid-forties, but she had great legs. I have to admit I thought many times of doin' the goat on the cliff with her if we're bein' honest here. She sat down at my kitchen table, examined my freshly made soup and began to delicately consume as only a woman of age and grace could.
"So what brings you here aside from my soup woman?"
"Hey, didn't I just tell you to be nice?"
"Please don't speak to me like I'm a child. I'm not one of your boy-toy clients."
"Maybe I'd like you a little better if you were."
"I'd rather not. Get to the point, I'm busy."
"Busy what? Masturbating and eating? I've got a better idea."
"Yeah, what's that?"
"Well I got those pansies at Sabbath Records to give you a little more time to put that band together. They want to stick you with session musicians but they're not the most savvy negotiators."
"Maybe that's how we conned those bastards into signing me."
"It's definitely why they signed you but we've only got one shot at this James."
"Wait what? What do you mean?"
"It means you gotta get your shit together pretty quick here. Sabbath is going under and if they go under, we go under, along with any chance of success for you as a musician."
"And you as an agent."
"Sweety I've got enough ace's-in-the-hole to last me a million failures. You're just my favorite."
She put her hand on my thigh and slowly inched upward towards my waistline then into my pajamas, grabbing hold of me and smiling this real sinister type smile.
"Alright, well I'll give Fonz a call and I'll get working on that band. How long do I have?"
"One week honey."
She gave a quick squeeze to my testicles, smiled once more, then stood and made her way towards the door, lighting a cigarette as she walked.
"Make sure it happens sweety, because this is it."
"Is it really now."
She left and I was alone again in this big ol' apartment, so I went to the bathroom and relieved myself with thoughts of what her thighs must look like without that skirt. Oh how I missed having my woman. This image of her, one from our second date, kept popping into my head whenever she came to mind. It was of her sitting on my porch, the wind gently blowing her blonde hair across her shoulders, the sun illuminating her vibrant blue eyes, and that feeling of warmth I felt as I placed my hands on her waist and kissed her. But those times have come and gone and I've got no sympathy for people who dwell on the past. No sense in it really, aside from pleasant recollections.
I grabbed my bottle of rum and went back to the bathroom. The entire thing was tiled, walls and all, filthy with god knows what smeared across the walls and floor. I stripped down to the nude and caught my reflection in the mirror. There stood a man, worn and aged far past the age he actually was. It made my feel old, and that sad realization that your body is decaying came across me. I took another drink and stepped into my shower for the first time in weeks. No soap or shampoo just hot water trickling down my body as I stood there hoping to be at least a little cleaner. I stepped out and towel dried my long, scraggly hair, then the rest of my body and got dressed. I bundled up in layers of t-shirts, sweaters, and thermal underwear, grabbed my list of phone numbers, and headed out. Looking at the list, I ran down the names, and decided to call every single one, and have them meet up with me if they wanted the spot.
"Hey Zach it's nice to meet ya."
We shook hands and exchanged the usual pleasantries. We were in a practice space the record company rented for me and I had the drummers line up outside. A few seemed unwilling at the idea of having to actually earn their spot with me but when I mentioned the record and the tour they were quick to change their tune.
"I'm ready when you are Mr. Duke."
"Yeah gimme a second."
I lit a cigarette.
"Wait, you smoke? I can't be in a band of people negatively influencing me. You're gonna have to quit if you want me."
I looked around, not entirely sure he was actually talking to me. I pointed to myself and looked to him inquisitively and he nodded.
"Well that last guy didn't even make it to the audition. I hope you're ready to upstage him. Of course that really isn't saying much."
"I'm ready Mr. Duke."
I'd placed a large piece of cardboard outside the door that read, "Smoking and Drinking ALLOWED." This second fellow, whatever the hell his name was, didn't work out either. I called Alfonso and had him come down to help out with finding a drummer. Things dragged on for a few hours until finally, while I was out buying more rum, I got a call.
"James, I think we've got our guy."
"Do you now? Well I'll be there in a minute."
Inside, hunched over the drum kit, slovenly and black out drunk was a grizzly old man who wasn't really too old when you got a good look at him. At first sight he looked to be in his forties but upon further inspection you could tell he was only in his thirties. I was quite surprised to later find out he was only in his twenties.
"What the f--k is this man? You got us a drunk bum to play drums?"
"No. Just put your guitar on and you'll see."
"Jesus man, we're not that desperate, there is such a thing as a drum machine."
"Just watch already."
Alfonso flicked a rubber band at his ear and the drummer showed no movement, no signs of life at all really.
"Gimme a second to wake him up."
Alfonso hit the crash on the drums hard and our drunken bum drummer shot to life, slurring through the introduction, then, continuing to struggle he screamed,
"I need a beat!"
I looked to Alfonso and I must've looked intimidating because he turned away quick and gave a steady, pulsing, bass line. I joined in and waited to see what would happen. A slow rumble reached my ears and I saw the drummer, head cocked to one side like Ray Charles on drums, eyes closed, and within moments that slow rumble became a wall of sound. We had found our drummer.
"What? You don't think he's our guy?"
"No. You were right...again."
Fonz smiled, and kept playing, I joined in and we kept on going like that until the sun began to rise. We sat on the curb outside the building and watched the first rays of light pierce the horizon as we passed around a bottle of whiskey, each one of us nervous and excited all the same about how far we could take this thing. We all agreed this shower of light shooting from just over the ridge was a sign, an intense signal of the good fortune about to be thrust upon the three of us. And we bathed in it, we let it soak in, and for the first time in a years I felt peaceful with the prospect of happiness.