Waiting for the Man

By eleven o’clock, when we were supposed to play, Artie still hadn’t showed. About a dozen or so disinterested-looking New Yorkers had and the room looked a little bigger with people in it. Jeremy shrugged, indicating the empty stage with a jerk of his head. I held off until 11:15 when Ziggy stepped up on the stage and began to sing an a capella version of “Candlelight.” For one rare moment I was on the other side of the invisible wall that separates performer from audience, watching him, soaking up his stage presence. He was on tonight, even the heads of the gossipers at the bar were beginning to turn. And then I stepped up beside him and into the world on that side. Bart followed my lead.

He circled around the chorus again, and I joined in with a twangy riff. It was a sweet interpretation of the song, and I had visions of us doing it this way in front of thousands of people, with lit candles in their hands, singing in one voice, “Candlelight, candlelight…” It was joyous and mournful at the same time.

I let a note trail off and a smattering of polite claps brought me back to the room, but I kept seeing it with a double-vision of my dream of someday’s success. I hoped it was a good omen and not a delusion. Ziggy introduced the first song in the set list. I kicked on the drum machine with a foot pedal and we got down to business, revving the volume up with “Welcome” and not letting it back down.

I didn’t even notice Artie had come in until we were nearing the end. He and a few other people, some in businesswear, were shuffling their feet in front of the bar. I had no idea how long they had been there, or if they had just come in. I forced myself to take my eyes off of them. We finished “Walking” and the other two looked at me. “Go straight to the encore” I said, not sure if they heard me. I riffed out the opening of “Desire” so it didn’t matter. I felt suddenly as if every note I played had to be imbued with some extra significance. What that could be, though, I didn’t know: what did they want? What could they be listening for? I closed my eyes but that scared me, so instead I looked at Ziggy.

He had put the mic into the stand and was singing with both hands at his throat in a sensuous hold, his eyes half-lidded, then closed as he slid down deep into the bottom of his range. My hands kept playing but the sense that I was in the audience returned. I did not take my eyes off of him until he opened his and was saying “Thanks for coming, this is our last song.” I played the opening note without realizing it, and then looked back at the gaggle of execs Artie had brought in. Some of them were nodding their heads in time. I hoped that was a sign they were into it, not that they were trying to look like they were into it.

And then it was over. Jeremy applauded loudly, shouting “Alright!” Then he switched the tape player on and went back to tending bar.

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