I always thought that eye makeup would be as garish and obvious to the wearer as it was to an onlooker—like horn-rimmed glasses or mirror shades or something. I was wrong; once the mascara and eyeliner and eyebrow pencil and whatever else were on, I forgot about them. Which meant that I got a mild shock every time I glimpsed my cats-cradled self in the men’s room mirror. My hair wasn’t long enough for head-banging and not the slightest bit wavy, so Tollman had slicked it back with some sort of goop. He’d tied a brightly colored scarf to each of my upper arms, too. I may be scrawny but if there’s one thing playing a lot of guitar gives you it’s biceps.
I tried to be invisible as I searched along the back of the stage in the dim lights for a good place to tape a set list for myself. The crowd was out there, drinking, smoking, laughing, on the other side of a chain link fence that separated stage from dance floor. The club was called “The Cage” and I felt like a circus animal up there, dressed in orange and fluorescent pink, getting ready to play a gig with a band with the fucked-up-edly spelled name of Tygerz Claw. (I think the theory was that if it worked for Def Leppard, and Led Zeppelin before them, it could work for these guys, but I didn’t ask.) The Cage was a far cry from the home town bar where I’d played as a kid; in fact I’d call it downright scuzzy. They had Metal Night every Thursday, and Doors and Zep cover bands on weekends, and punk all-ages shows on Sunday afternoons, and for a town like Providence–which had a lot of local music and some legendary great clubs–the Cage was about as low as it got prestige-wise.
All of which I was trying hard not to think about, and which I would forget as soon as we started to play. I taped down my set list and took a quick look at my guitar in the stand, a Korean-made Fender Strat that had been mine since Jersey. It was the kind of guitar a teenager could afford by working after school at a dinky suburban music store, trading work for equipment and lessons because there was no one else around to teach him and because he wanted to spend as little time at home as possible. I resisted the urge to pick the guitar up and play a little, just to make sure everything was working right. The clock on the wall, caged in its own round mesh like the clocks on school basketball courts, said it was 8:35.
The set times were listed as 9pm and 11pm but of course the management wouldn’t let us on until ten, on the universal night-club theory that people would drink more while waiting around. I stood off to the side of the stage while fully-clothed bouncers and stage crew type guys, with heavy bundles of keys hung from their belts, went up there from time to time with self-important strides. I wished I was wearing a shirt and jeans. I wished I had something to do to kill the time. I didn’t want to approach the bar for a beer and risk getting asked for I.D. They didn’t know me in here and the bartenders didn’t know I was in the band. That left me with two options—stand out here in the jukebox noise shuffling my feet, or sit in the backroom with the guys more. I’d never learned to smoke (cigarettes, that is) and vaguely wished I’d brought my other guitar, my school guitar, an $800 Yamaha classical with rosewood fretboard and faux ivory pegs, to play. (I’d have to be crazy to bring it to a place like this, though.)
I decided standing around brooding about what to do other than stand around was another easy way to get sucked into a downward spiral, so I went back to the guys. Dave, the guitar player who’d broken his hand and who I was replacing tonight, had arrived and was regaling the others with the story of a motorcycle accident. From what he was saying this wasn’t the accident that hurt his hand but was from a couple of years ago. He waved a Rolling Rock in the hand that had no cast. Dave wasn’t gigging tonight but he was dressed like he could have been, a scarf around his hair, artfully ripped jeans over colorful tights, a red tank top cut down the sides. Ron, the drummer, was tapping his sticks on his thighs like he was playing along to a Walkman, though he wasn’t wearing one. The song coming from the overtaxed PA system in the club was Quiet Riot “Cum On Feel the Noize” (fucked up spelling not being limited to band names) and I could see that wasn’t what Ron was playing. Dave and Doug got talking about some other people they knew, and Tollman wanted to know how Dave’s brother was doing in the machine shop where he worked, and so on and so forth. I was pretty used to sitting around with a bunch of people a lot older than me, listening to them talk, I guess. I sat there, occasionally laughing in the right places, while the other three shot the shit, Ron counted out time on his leg and we all waited for ten o’clock to roll around.
Later, I would stand at the sink wondering what to do about the mess all the inevitable head-thrashing and sweat had made of my hair. By halfway through the second song, the goop had disintegrated, leaving my hair hanging in pointy, wet-looking strands all around my head that poked me once the stuff dried. I would stand there at the mirror between sets and debate the merits of running my wet hands through it or just dunking my head into the sink. Add to this the fact that as we we’d come off stage I’d made a terrible mistake: rubbing the sweat out of my eye with the back of my hand and, not knowing better, giving myself a raccoon eye. This would all happen before midnight. The set itself was fine.
I can sympathize with the waiting around. My ex was in a band and I remember getting to the club at 6:00 to set up and do sound check before the club opened at 7:00. Then waiting till 9:00 or 10:00 for the show to even start knowing you wouldn’t be getting out of there till 2:00 am. It was always worth it though. The music always is.
And there’s so much waiting around. It’s easy to see why people in bands drink too much, get into drugs, etc. There’s nothing constructive you can do with yourself while waiting around. What, like I’m going to knit a sweater? I guess if I don’t mind that the sweater is going to end up smelling like cigarettes and beer? Yeah, no.
I so don’t miss going home with my hair and clothes smelling Iike smoke. I’m glad most clubs have banned smoking now.
It’s a lot better from the stage, too, nowadays. Until we started playing places that were smoke free I had no sense how bad the air was.
Amusing note from Massachusetts. Marijuana was decriminalized here in 2012 so nowadays people smoke it pretty brazenly at home… but not in public because smoking of ANYTHING is so strictly banned.
I know how my throat would hurt the next day from hanging around that much smoke. It just now occurred to me how bad that must have been for singers. Most of the singers I knew back then smoked themselves so they weren’t complaining about it.
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I have now read all 673 posts and am starting over. My God.
“I tried to be invisible as I searched along the back of the stage in the dim lights …”
“All of which I was trying hard not to think about, and which I would forget as soon as we started to play.”
“… another easy way to get sucked into a downward spiral …“
In music theory this is known as vorimitation. Spooky. Very very very very spooky.
Just started read-through number three. It’s worth it. The “goop” reminded me of the scene from “There’s Something About Mary” when the girl blends in the “goop” in Ben Stiller’s hair.
Never saw that movie, but yeah, there was goop, which came in a tube or a jar, or mousse, which came in a thing like a whipped cream can. (And hairspray, which came in a can, but was only useful for putting up a mohawk.)