It's usually a large white guy that waives me over. I usually have a drink in my hand. Water, rum & coke, weed & lemonade, pick your blood thinner. Somebody's usually in my ear about where the hell I'm goin' with all this- what's the next step? what happened to your bassist and guitar player? when are you guys gonna blow up?... for none of which I have an answer. Our bassist suffers from amotivational syndrome, aka he smokes ganja everyday and is limited to the ambition of a 3rd string Detroit Lion. The guitarist would rather deliver pizzas than hit the road, of which I don't blame him, but won't drop a line when all of this finally does connect and land in the lap of America. The drummer just got re-married and lives in the heart of Iowa, Rock Rapids... but he still has the fire. The fire of unfinished business, the fire that revenge is made of, the fire of any down trodden/trivialized faith or peoples oppressed to pieces. Call him the one man Gaza Strip, and music is his weapon. Then there's the piano player, diagnosed with autism when he was just a tike, and hasn't gotten a reconsideration since, or been inclined to know just how socially advanced or behind he is... at this point what the f--- does it matter, the kid's a musical genius. He doesn't answer to anyone but his parents and me. That's obviously a blindsided arrogant thing to say, but I've traveled the earth with kid for so long that there's things between us that best friends don't know about each other, and things between us that brother's don't share with each other. Our relationship is beyond language, because trying to speak over blaring speakers is as pragmatic as fishing in the gulf, all it takes is a look to communicate on stage. Roll with a band long enough, you can have breakfast and hold an entire conversation with a few gestures. Why? Because it's all you've been doing on stage for the past god-knows-how-many weekends.
But here he is, waiving me over to meet with him. No drink in my hand this time, just leaning on a chair, voice shot to shit, big smile on my mug, and every intention to raise hell as high as it'll go tonight... within the boundaries of the queen back home, my family, and my own health. Self-destruction is fun, but we can credit that to 21-26.
I enter an empty room with chipped paint on the floor and walls. It's just us. So many folks in the bar, so much time put into this one night, so much alcohol spilled to the ground, so many posters and fliers, so much put into this one moment, so much for putting a price on your soul.
He digs into his pocket, and pulls out a wad of 1's, 5's, 10's and 20's... mostly 5's... and that's fine. "60 to security, and the rest for you". "Thanks", I say. "See you next time", he replies.
My grandfather's been part of this same exchange, and possibly someone else down the lineage, but so far it's just me and him that I know of. You enter the hall, perform your sound, get paid. Doc, my late grandfather, was a trombonist. It was different back then... way different, but I bet he had the same feeling in his gut. The same pride coarse through his artery when someone put cash in his hand after producing a sound that no one else could on that stage. Congrats, you just made a living off music... now, go do it again.
"See you next time"... it keeps bouncing off the thin walls of my skull. I wanted to answer him, but better it be private than public. So many groups exit and who the f--- knows if they'll be back. Ambition runs thin in this industry, pride breaks under the slightest of pressure. Dreams drown in good intentions. I take the man's statement as a dare. Door-Men watch everyone enter... and exit. So rock on Door Man, and I take your wager to return. And yes, you will see me again. The next show we throw down in this city won't be nice, simple, or settling. I'll see to it. No one else will but me. Please believe when we return to Milwaukee there'll be a line out the door for this show because what's going to ensue on stage will only be summed by nasty, dangerous, and off-the-cliff. Folks will leave thinking that performance should've been televised. Good night, Milwaukee, until next time...