We each did a pretty good job of avoiding the other after that.
At one point all of us were sitting around sharing beer and stronger substances with the openings bands (you guessed it, like everyone else we’d met in New Orleans, they were ultra-friendly) and having a wide-ranging group conversation, but that didn’t really count as speaking to each other. Ziggy was discussing hair coloring with the keyboard player from one of the bands whose hair was a long, wavy, unnatural orange. I contented myself with a lively argument over the roots of modern surf punk. (“Come on, do you think it’s a coincidence that “pogo” and “gogo” rhyme?”) And then the first band went on, and Bart and Chris went out to watch. I moved myself to one of the side rooms to put my eyeliner on.
I sat in a chair in front of a mirror with the pencil in my hand and couldn’t bring myself to touch the tip to my skin. I pulled my hair out of its tie and let it fall around my shoulders. It was longer in the back than on the sides and too straight to do much but lie flat. I stuck it behind my ears and brought the pencil up to my eye again.
My heart just wasn’t in it, I guess, and I gave up without putting any on. I left my hair down and put on the “Loses An Eye” T-shirt. After I put my boots on, I tied my sneakers together by the laces and left the pair looped over the arm of a couch. I checked my strings and tuning, played a little on the Ovation with what sound was coming from the stage, a kind of funked up blues with a jangly guitar on top. I could go out and watch from the balcony, I realized, but didn’t feel the urge. Someone in the kitchen talked over the music, I didn’t know who. It didn’t much matter.
But eventually the moment came when we four were assembled to go on stage, standing in the little living room waiting for Ray’s signal, looking at each other and not talking. Ziggy, who preferred to be the last one onto the stage, spun in place and sneered at the painting hanging on the wall above the couch as if it were a mirror. Bart and I exchanged meaningless looks. And then I was going down the stairs with the Ovation in one hand and the banister in the other.
The club seemed bigger when full of people, as if it had expanded to fit them all. For some reason I kept thinking I’d see a familiar face if I looked hard enough, a strange illusion that persisted throughout the show as I’d scan the crowd in quiet moments, a deja vu-like feeling that was irksome rather than comforting.
Anyway, we played. The energy of the soundcheck was gone and this was serious work. “Welcome” felt strong but peaked too early, leaving the crowd sitting back and waiting for something more. We’d moved “Why the Sky” up in the set and I was unsteady through it, feeling uncomfortable and out of the groove. Bart crossed to my side of the stage after the bridge, and didn’t try to say anything or give me any meaningful looks, just stood by me, playing. We faced each other and played in unison, he nodding his head in time and me trying to watch his face and not his fingers. When the song ended he went back to his side. Work work work. Ziggy and I continued to ignore each other.
During the encore of “Candlelight” I started to get an idea for a song, just a vague concept really. I didn’t know what the song was about, only that the chorus would have the words “You Know” featured–two little words that carry so many different intentions.
And then we were done and I was sitting with one foot on the couch backstage with my chin on my knee and my sneakers hanging on the other knee, and staring into space. Bart sat down next to me and I said, “One step forward, two steps back.”
“What makes you say that?”
Someone with keys jangling from a beltloop brushed past us. “A few months ago, we would have said that was a terrible show. But now I’m like patting myself on the back for getting through it.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” he said, emphasis on “bad.”
“I hope no one was shooting video.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” he repeated, emphasis on “that.”
I looked him in the face. “Wasn’t it?”
He shook his head. “I bet if you did see video of it, you wouldn’t think it was so bad. Crowd ate it up.”
“This is stupid.”
I didn’t know. I felt tired. My post-show high had almost instantly become a post-high hangover. I stifled a yawn.
“Oh, come on, don’t make the pouty face,” Bart said, standing up and yanking on my arm to try to get me up, too. “Let’s go. There’s plenty of fun to be had in this town at this time of night. Let’s go out and have some.”
I made some lame sound of protest and he cackled, suddenly energetic. “Jeezus, Daron, at least try to be cheered up, will you? Did you ever wonder why your hair is always damp?”
“What?” I brushed my cheek with my hand, dislodging stray bits of hair that had pasted themselves there with sweat.
He shifted from one foot to the other. “Why your hair is always damp.”
“It’s because of that stupid gray cloud around your head all the time.” He was grinning and it occurred to me that Bart’s own post-show high had not worn off. “Put on your shoes. We’re going out and that’s final.”