Monday, September 20, 2010


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Review
After years of rock bands playing at Milwaukee's Summerfest, a minor incident has slightly marred this summer's festivities, and the event's pristine track record.

The Unknown Soldiers, a Doors cover band which was a last minute addition to the roster, in an all too good emulation of the sixties classic rock band, the lead singer exhorted the drunken crowd into a reenactment of the worst elements of a Doors concert. It's unclear if the audience reacted the way they did because they thought that's what was expected from them, or if they were genuinely moved by the band and the antics of lead singer Michael Desmond. Most of the crowd was seemingly oblivious to the danger, and no one was hurt. Otherwise, a good time was had by all.

By the time the bad reviews and fallout of the show came out, we were already back on our scheduled itinerary. Swifty forwarded the reviews to us. Despite the initial bad review of the Milwaukee paper, the 'riot', as they termed it, was nothing more than a few people near the front rushing the stage. The reviews from the outlying areas offered a bit more of a balanced look at the events and put them into perspective.

Afterwards the band became more distant. None of them said a word to me until they decided to confront me between sets of a show about a week after the Summerfest reviews came in. I was sitting in the backroom of the bar we were playing when all of a sudden all four of the boys came piling into the room.
“Are you trying to sabotage the shows?” Brian asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your little riot.” Johnny said, flinging the reviews at me. "We gotta talk about working some of our songs into the sets."
“I thought we did already?”
“No, you never bothered to answer us, you just mumbled something and walked off.”
"You're not ready and neither are your songs." I said, dismissively.
"What!" Brian said, genuinely incensed, "you can't even name one of our songs!"
"It doesn't matter, I can tell."
"What do you mean, you can tell?" Johnny asked. "You can't even tell us how to play your damn Doors songs and you have the nerve to tell us we aren't ready? We've been riding in that van for months now, practicing your Doors sets, then practicing our songs. Did you ever listen to the tape I gave you when we first met?"
"No." I admitted.
"And you managed to disappear with Caitlin Stewart when we played it for her."
“Did you tell her something to discourage her from calling us?”
“Did she contact you?” I asked.
“Obviously no!” Johnny said.
“Then she won’t.”
“How do you know that?” Mitchell asked.
“Because that’s how things work. If she was interested she would have called.”
"We just played in front of the biggest audience we're probably ever going to be in front of.” Johnny said, “what good does it do us to tour if people don't hear our songs?"
"You couldn't do your songs at Summerfest because we were booked as a cover band. And cover bands don't do originals. And you're right again," I said, "I can't name one of your songs, but I've listened to your rehearsals. You've never availed yourselves of my opinions and rebuffed my offers to help. I know a lot about this business and I can help you."
"Like you've helped us so far?" Johnny said, "all you've done so far is take advantage of us. You cut yourself a better deal with Swifty while it's us that's carrying the burden of performing. You treat us like roadies. You've never moved a piece of equipment that I'm aware of and your drinking is affecting the shows."
"All the reviews Swifty sent us are all about you and your 'antics'," Brian said. "How're we going to get more gigs if word is out about you?"
"I got you this far didn't I?"
"You've lucked our way this far. You only got us that first gig because you were friends with the bar owner."
“And this tour because he was friends with Swifty.” Brian said.
"All right." I said, straining to rein my temper in. "You wanna do one of your songs?" I asked rhetorically. "At the end of this set you can do a couple of your songs." I smiled, as I walked out the door and back to the stage. I was going to use everything I'd learned to make the audience do what I wanted. An exercise of power, if you will.

When we got on stage I stood off at the far end, doing my best Morrison scowl as the band plugged in their instruments. When they were in place, I walked in front of them and said.
"When the Music's Over." They started the song. I hung back listening as the music built, until it got to the part where I was supposed to come in, but I didn’t and they had to start over and they played it louder, but this time I wasn’t missing the cue because of nerves, it was on purpose I wanted the pressure to build until no one thought they could take it anymore, they hit the cue again and sustained the crescendo, I jumped at the microphone screaming "Yeahhhhhhhh!" And did the best show I knew how. I used every trick Morrison knew to whip crowds into a frenzy. I screamed, writhed, fell to the stage, jumped, until the audience didn't want to hear anything except another Doors song. I saw the band exchanging looks between them, asking themselves what the fuck I was doing, but they knew what I was doing and it was too late. Then I went into a Morrison rap.
"We have a special treat for you tonight!" The audience cheered, "right on! All right!" It was easy to manipulate them. At the very least their reaction was predictable.
"The band wants to do a couple of their songs!" I walked off the stage and Ghost Dance was received to a thundering silence. I watched the rest from the bar. Johnny and the band played loud, hard but it was empty, an empty gesture, the audience didn't move. A sea of blank faces staring back at them.
"Light My Fire, motherfuckers!" Somebody screamed.
'That'll show them who runs this band.' I thought.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Swifty had rented a van from the airport to the fairgrounds, we were driven straight to the backstage area. The backstage was all skeleton scaffolding that our equipment needed to be lifted onto, but the boys and the backstage crew would see to that. As I walked onto the grounds I felt like it was my triumphal return to Summerfest, though it played only in my head. It had been a long year since Deidre and I were here together. There was a row of bikers sitting on their bikes having a couple of beers. I crossed their gauntlet to jeers and catcalls.
"Lookit here, it's Jim Morrison." One sneered.
'Uh-oh,' I said to myself, not a very auspicious beginning for my triumphal return.

As I climbed the stairs to the backstage area my fears were allayed. Summerfest was a big ticket production, there were production assistants and gofers rushing around with walkie-talkies showing the bands where to set up. After talking with the stage manager they had a PA show me where the dressing room was.
“Wait here, one of the production assistants will come and get you five minutes before you go on.“ I finally felt like I was making it to the big time.

I sat in the dressing room in a studio chair in front of a theatrical mirror, listening to all the hustle and bustle happening around me, running footfalls on the metal scaffolding, someone yelling for someone or something. But I was in the calm eye of the storm, I wasn't nervous, I couldn't even remember the last time I was nervous. I reflected on how far I'd come from being part of the milling crowd to setting myself above the crowd, but I was also aware of how far I still had to go. I wondered if Deidre was somewhere out in the crowd. There was a knock at the door.
“Yeah?” I said. A woman peeked her head in the door.
“Make-up?” She asked, “you want a little make-up it’ll make you shimmer and the people in the back will be able to see you.”
“Sure.” I said.
“OK, just sit back in the chair and close your eyes. I did as she said, and I heard her put a few things down on the table and then I felt the make-up caressing my face, and she continued to talk, “I have to kind of sell the idea of make-up to the male bands even in this day and age it’s hard to get men to put on a little base, if only they realized Elvis wore make-up.” This was part of the seduction and I knew it, the woman running her hands over my face, an intimate act, one that you could get used to very easily. There was a knock at the door.
"Ready Jim?" A woman's voice asked, as she opened the door.
"Lets go!" I said jumping out of the studio chair. The PA led me through the maze of the backstage area until we, at last, arrived in the wings of the stage. From where I was, I could see the band's equipment was already on stage. It looked woefully small on a stage out in the open, not enclosed in a club. I wondered if the amps were big enough to pump out a loud enough sound. The boys were nowhere to be seen.
"Is my band here yet?" I asked the PA. She whispered into her walkie-talkie before saying,
"They should be coming up on the other side any second now." And as I looked across the stage to the other wing I saw the boys come up the stairs.
"There a lot of people out there?" I asked, trying to make small talk.
"Uh-huh." She said, distractedly. Then I heard the stage announcer say,
"Ladies and gentleman, The Unknown Soldiers!"
The PA said, "go."
"Thanks." I said. As I walked out onto stage the band came out from the opposite wing and took their places at their instruments. I took my place at the microphone and for the first time I was able to see the whole audience. There was literally a sea of people in front of me. It was then that I truly understood what was meant by the phrases 'a sea of humanity', and 'an ocean of people.' They ceased to be several thousand individuals, they became one thing, a new creature to do with as I pleased. Suddenly, I knew what Morrison knew. You become part of a crowd, faceless, anonymous. The individual becomes lost, you lose your self in a crowd, free to do as you please, free to live your dreams, free to enact your nightmares, all bets are off, there are no limits, no laws. People do things in a group they ordinarily wouldn't do. There are no witnesses, there's truly safety in numbers. I could make them do whatever I wanted, I could make them wave, I could make them dance, I could make them riot or I could throw them away. It was the door to power, the power that despots and rock stars know. There’s always been something of the fascist about Rock 'n' Roll, that’s probably why every rock opera is about exactly that, a charismatic leader with a small band of followers to assist. The Who understood this with Tommy, Bowie and 1984, hell, even Styx understood this.

Arguably, one of the reasons Morrison may have wanted to start a rock band was to prove some of his theories. Morrison thought crowds, like individuals, could be neurotic and like individuals, they could be cured. In college he tried to enlist some friends in an experiment to see if they could make a crowd riot by placing his friends throughout the crowd and shouting slogans at appropriate moments. His friends thought he was crazy and refused to participate, so he couldn't prove his theories until he was in The Doors. Morrison saw music, theatre, poetry, film, and the neuroses of crowds as a crossroads. The crossroads is the place where magic is practiced, the crossroads is the place you can sell your soul to the devil to play the blues, the crossroads is the place where a cure can be effected. Morrison consciously provoked riots. Later rationalizing it, by saying, 'I thought we ought to have a riot. Everyone else did. So I tried to stimulate a few little riots.' But later saying, 'it got to the point where people didn't think it was a successful concert unless everybody jumped up and ran around a bit.' I decided to see if I could do it. Finish the experiment to see if it was something inherent in Morrison, or if it was the neurosis of the crowd. The crowd was the right size and temperament, and they were ready for it, maybe I could cure them, maybe I could cure myself, I discovered power.

Planes Are A Problem

The next big gig we had was Milwaukee's Summerfest. Swifty must have had a lot of connections in the Milwaukee entertainment industry. He'd managed to finagle us a spot in Summerfest's lineup. I didn't know if there was a open spot until the last minute, or if we were a last minute replacement for a band that canceled. Whichever the case, the problem was that we were nowhere near Milwaukee. We didn't have the time for an overland haul across the Midwest. Everyone and everything squeezed into the van for a prolonged period. Fleeing the scenery, the only breaks long enough to fill the tank, empty our bladders, and grab a sandwich, all to arrive at the gig tired, smelly, and more pissed off at each other than the normal road irritations. It would've been the Battan Death March of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The airplane lumbered onto the runway. As we taxied, Mitchell started one of his informative travelogues.
"Did any of you guys ever see the movie Alive? Where the plane crashes in the mountains and they have to eat each other." No response. Everybody had become used to Mitchell's musings. Recitations that had pretty much had become part of the background noise. Undaunted, he went on, "I read somewhere that landings are controlled crashes."
"Shut up!" Brian snapped. "What are you? The bearer of glad tidings?" Mitchell picked up the sarcasm in the comment. It was true, the track record wasn't very good for rock bands in airplanes. Just ask Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Lynrd Skynyrd, or Ricky Nelson. Most of the big bands rely on them for touring, smaller bands use them infrequently, except for emergencies like we had. With every bump and tussle of the plane, all I could think of was Buddy Holly, and the little splatter of a footnote we'd make in the annals of Rock 'n' Roll if we crashed. Not even an answer to a trivia question. We couldn't pass up playing in front of an audience that size. The payday was a little better than we were used to, which justified all the effort. Swifty had rented a plane, and like the van, it was just big enough to fit all the equipment and us, and fulfilled a rock truism, the smaller the band, the smaller the plane. I just hoped the plane was in better condition than the van. I sat looking out the window imagining I was a real rock star on tour. Then the engines throbbed with pent up power and the plane jumped and raced like an animal that had remembered its purpose, speeding down the runway until it pulled itself into the air.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The New Beginning

The next morning, I joined the band for breakfast at the local Denny's, something I rarely did. They all stopped talking as I sat down at the table. I was overwhelmed by the clatter of silverware on plates, the smell of eggs, sausage, toast, and pancakes. The table was a collection and confusion of plates, cups of coffee, glasses of soda, and syrup.

I watched a father and his children. He was letting the kids try some of his breakfast he put a little something on his fork and reached over to put it in a child's waiting mouth. The gesture reminded me of a bird feeding its young. I remembered the warm morning at the breakfast table at the house the day after playing 'The Place'. It was the beginning and maybe this could be a new beginning for us. Out of the clinking and clanking of the dishes I said, "HEY!" A little too loudly, my actions seemed jumpy, even to me because I was trying to act normal and everything just seemed out of proportion. "I have an idea."
"About what?" Brian asked.
"Well, uh, I think I can help your band out."
"Ghost Dance you mean?" Johnny asked.
"Uh, yeah," I said. I tried to smile as nonchalantly as I could manage.
"I was thinking my voice has gotten really good and you know I can do a good show. What I'm trying to say is I could be your lead singer. I could, well if I was the singer that would free up Johnny to play more complex and intricate leads." They all nervously looked at each other, I looked to see if I could see the communal mind at work.
"Your voice doesn't really fit the sound of the band, or the music we play." Brian said.
"You make a fine Morrison," Mitchell said, "that’s fine for the cover band stuff..."
"Well, maybe I can do something else then."
"All the positions are filled." Ian said.
“Look,” Johnny said, “you’ve done a lot for us, getting us out on the road, and we’re having a lot of fun, and we don’t even care that you cut yourself a better deal with Swifty, but you’re not letting us play our songs, we’re not getting any exposure, when this is over we’re right back where we started.”
“Yeah, why couldn’t we have played one or two of our songs last night?”
“That would’ve been major.” Brian agreed.
"What else do you have to offer us?"
"I can manage the band when we finish this tour. I can show you things you don't understand or don't have a lot of experience with. I know about the music business."
"What's this knowledge and experience you keep talking about?"
"I've read a lot of books about the music industry."
"The music industry you read about is twenty years gone dude."
"I see." I said. I went back to my room.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Orleans

Our next stop on the tour was New Orleans for the Blues and Jazz Fest, which was a pretty prestigious gig for a small club band like ours. We, of course, were a warm-up act. More like the warm-up for the warm-up act. The headliners were supposed to go on at ten, we were scheduled to go on at seven. Two or three full acts before the headliners.

I woke to the warm moist gulf air, speeding down the highway towards the French Quarter. This gig was a bit of a treat for us, we were going to stay in a real hotel room in the Quarter, as opposed to some motel off the highway. It was still early morning and as usual everyone in the van was quiet. During the drive I hadn't said much, brooding. My brother and sister were right about one thing, I could find myself standing on the side of some windswept road while the band could go on to find themselves on the threshold of a career. I busied myself watching the fleeing scenery to distract me from my thoughts. Even though Texas and New Orleans weren't that far apart, you can tell Texas is part of the southwest, dry, hard, and the vegetation is scraggly, while New Orleans is verdant. Every quarter mile was looking more and more stereotypically like my conception of Louisiana. There were the trees with moss hanging off them. From the back, Mitchell read a monologue from a guidebook.
"The moss are actually lichens with white flowers that are slowly killing the tree." We passed an ancient ruin covered with moss, its cement wall blackened and weathered. The way the window was shaped, in a cross, made me think it had once been a church, or maybe a Spanish fort replete with ghosts, guns and gold. I let all the images burn in my romantic imagination where they glowed with a pirate light. There were some mausoleums on the right, and more guidebook discourse from the back, "all the graves have to be above ground because New Orleans is six feet below sea level." The van rounded a curve as we whisked passed the Superdome, thoroughly ending my romantic visions of the past.
"The Superdome..." Mitchell read.
"Hey, let me see that guidebook." I said. Mitchell passed it forward and I leafed through it. "It looks pretty complete, chock full of information."
"Yeah, it is.." he stopped as I rolled down the window and threw the guidebook out. "And boring. You act like a tourist and you are a tourist."
"You act like a tourist and you are a tourist?" He said, mockingly, as if the words were something alien. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"We‘re explorers, not tourists."

After we checked in at the motel, the boys went to take showers and get cleaned up, I went to the bar to have a beer, it was cold and one of the best beers I‘ve ever had. We were supposed to meet 'the girlfriends' for breakfast later. 'The girlfriends' didn't travel with us to all the gigs, just the bigger ones, or when the boys got lonely, they'd never been to New Orleans before and they all were excited about seeing the city. Of course they couldn't travel with us in the van, so they were coming separately.

New Orleans was like Jim Morrison, swampy mystery and a controversial history, like the flowers slowly killing the trees. But New Orleans was a double-edged sword for Morrison. After one trip he said he enjoyed the city's sights and sounds, and visions of Victorian spaceships. But it's also where The Doors had their last concert, where Morrison pounded the microphone into the stage until it splintered and Ray Manzarek said he literally saw Jim's spirit leave his body.

I wanted to see the Mississippi before anything else. I wanted to lose myself in its mysterious waters, to stand on its shore. As I wound my way through the French Quarter it occurred to me that these were the stones of the steps that Indians and pirates had walked, where Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson had made war plans, the same quays where Abraham Lincoln landed and watched the riverboats load and unload cotton, and of course where the darker history of slavery was plied. I went over the top of a rise and before me lay the Mississippi. It looked like quicksilver from where I was. I watched the boats skating across the water like insects that never break the tension of the surface or they're engulfed and drown. There are certain geographical sights that impress upon you their sense of history. Iconic locations, that when you mention them they conjure concrete images in people's minds, triggering a sense of awe and adventure, which have been drawing people to them for centuries. Places like the Amazon, the Seine, the Alps, the Nile, the Rhine, and the Mississippi. It's dark, lapping waters that flow through America from top to bottom, the waters that inspired Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams. I wondered, do these places naturally inspire awe in us, or is it the history we inscribe on them?

I'd told Ian that being out on the road touring was accomplishing something. But was it true for me? I knew it had been at first with the rehearsals, then the gigs at 'The Place,' I knew I had accomplished something, but the night after night routine without anything new happening? I could see the far away end of the tour, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but where would that leave me? In whatever city the tour ended in? Or wherever the very finite money I would have left over would take me? Or with no prospect except to return to the life I'd known before. That would be nowhere. Could I somehow become part of the band? Or would it become every man for himself? The waters of the river lapped at these murky thoughts.

I found the boys waiting for me outside the Court of Two Sisters. 'The girlfriends' had caught up with us, and they had all glommed together in the correct couplings. We walked through the wrought iron gate of The Court of Two Sisters, a large courtyard opened in front of us. There was a ceramic and iron fountain in the middle, musicians were wandering from table to table.
"It was a courtyard society." Mitchell said, reading from a new guidebook.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked.
"Store next door, a dollar and a quarter." He said, smiling broadly. I just shook my head.

As we looked over the menu, we were awestruck by the diversity and the quality of the food, omelets, quiches, aspic, mousses. We became instant epicureans, aficionados of food, detailing its lore and our favorite dishes. It was the first time in a long time we had eaten well. The boys loved the pate and aspic. The violinists, seeing a table of mostly couples, came over and serenaded us. It was the kind of gracious living I could get used to.

After lunch we were right back where we started, on the street in front of the restaurant. By now the quarter had awaken. The streets were crowded with people, alive and in motion. Bourbon Street was like the river itself, currents of people ebbed and flowed into sight and out. Swirls and eddies in front of the bars, strip joints, restaurants, and curious shops that lined the streets. There were mimes and shills trying to pull you into the strip clubs, while the main current pushed you farther down the street. The buildings were close together and ancient, with fancy iron railings surrounding balconies that were decorated with plants and beads. We moved down the street as a single entity with twenty eyes and arms reaching out from every direction trying to see everything, to experience everything, and absorb all the sensations at once. We followed the current down the street. Digging the sights, sounds, and smells as a group. We were a band that day.
"Let's get a beer." I said. I’d seen a few storefronts that sold twenty-ounce beers for a buck and a quarter. We each got the local favorite, Jax beer. I took a sip and almost immediately spit it out, "that's terrible." I said. I saw a homeless woman trying to cadge money for a drink from passersby "here baby," I said, handing her the beer.
"Thanks, honey." She said, her eyes lighting up at her new found bounty. She hooked her arm through mine, "want some company, sweetie?"
"No, thanks." I said, tearing away from her grip.

The good thing about the French Quarter, if you walk six feet you'll find a shop that has whatever you want, need, or desire, including Voodoo. Luckily, I saw a shop that had a hand lettered sign in the front window D-a-i-q-u-i-r-i. The lettering seemed deliberate, unsure of itself, like whoever wrote it wasn't quite sure how to spell daiquiri. Inside the shop there were about twenty soft serve ice cream machines. Each had a different flavored daiquiri stirring in it. From the relatively innocuous sounding, fuel injector to the more exotic like flaming-gorilla-tits. We quickly replenished our twenty-ounce beers with daiquiris. The boys were walking down the street, a daiquiri in one hand, their girlfriends in the other. Everybody was happy. I saw a couple of lesbians walking down the street and became enamored of young love. In the next instant I saw a group of women, each wearing a solid pastel colored dress with a silk ribbon sash slashing across their bodies, beauty contestants! I ran up to them and bowed, over exaggeratingly courteous, stepping easily into Morrison's persona.
"Hello, ladies!" I said, "where you all from?"
"All over!" They all shouted enthusiastically.
"All right!" I said. "You ladies wouldn't be going to the Blues and Jazz Fest tomorrow night, would you?"
"We are!"
"Come and see us," I said, pointing to the boys "we're a band, and we're playing there tomorrow. We're the opening act." They made some vague promises to come and see us and we continued floating down the street like flowers in a stream.

After another daiquiri, we had started running relays for more daiquiris. I found myself standing in front of the open door of a strip joint staring at a beautiful girl on stage dancing. I looked around, I was alone, people flowing around me. The band was gone, I'd become separated from the group.
"Come on in!" The shill said, "all the girls, all naked!"
"Do you like that?" A voice asked. I looked around. Alex had come out of the crowd and was standing next to me.
"Huh?" I looked around realizing I had been staring.
"I said, do you like that?"
"Sex is all I have time for" I said, smiling. She walked away shaking her head, and I went inside for a while.

When I came out it was late afternoon and I soon caught up with Ian and Alex, they too had become separated from the rest of the group.
"Should we look for them?" Ian asked.
"No, when lost in a wilderness the first rule of survival is stay where you are. Besides, it looks like this guy is going to be doing something soon." We had stopped in front of a big guy wearing a beret, a blue vest with a pack of Kools in the pocket, and a saxophone. He was messing around with his equipment, muscling some big amplifiers into position. He hooked up his amps into a ghetto blaster tape deck that had a stack of tapes in front of them. We sat on the curb to wait for the others, watching the jazz guy set up his equipment. On the sidewalk across the street a shoeshine boy seeing the growing crowd, stopped and was hustling passersby for business.

The day was starting to melt into evening. Cool breezes were blowing in off the Mississippi, as the jazz guy started blowing his sax, an electric fuzz filled the air, or was it because of the steady stream of daiquiris? The music bopped and hummed in our ears. The crowd started to grow. Ian, moved by the music, cupped his hands and started jamming on a harp with the guy. He bopped and danced, sweating, following and filling in the jazz guy's leads. We were all into it, grooving, clapping, and laughing at Ian's exaggerated movements a satire of a rock star. The jazz guy seemed to be into it. He bopped to Ian's playing and even gave him space for a solo. In the middle of it, the rest of the band appeared, apparently resupplied and re-energized with alcohol. When the song ended Ian uncupped his hands, they were empty. He didn't have a harmonica!
"Wow! You were great!" We enthused, crowding around him. Almost leaving the jazz guy out of our praise.

After the jazz guy had finished his street side concert, we all dropped a few bucks in his sax case as he was taking down his equipment. It had gotten dark and the streets had changed. People were now dressed for the night, gone were the gawking tourists. The air had become chilly we ambled along letting the current of the crowd still carry us farther down the river, until we found ourselves in a darkened end of the Quarter. We realized we were all lost and didn't know how to get to more friendly environs. We found a well-lighted oasis and stopped to rest while Mitchell consulted his guidebook. Everyone was relieved it finally came in handy and that he had it. Ian noticed some street musicians playing under a street lamp, dressed in leather jackets, and strumming acoustic guitars an open guitar case in front of them for people's 'contributions' and 'donations'. They looked harder, more street worn than the saxophone guy. Ian went over to talk with them, I leaned against a street lamp farther down the street. I was tired and hungry.
"You kind of have the Morrison swagger." Alex said, sidling up next to me.
"I'm borrowing it, since he isn't using it."

From where I was standing I could see the whole intersection. On a side street I saw a drunk approach a cop, their body language was so distinct it was like a pantomime. The story wasn't that hard to discern. The drunk stumbled towards the cop. His lips, from this distance looked like they were moving in silent movie fashion, trying to make some point to the cop. The cop faced him and pointed in the opposite direction. The drunk submissively turned back the way he had just come. Ian and his 'harmonica' were jamming with the street musicians. Alex was talking with a couple of guys in biker jackets and the rest of the band sat on the curb, too tired to move. The drunk across the street was stumbling back towards the cop. Again, the cop warned the drunk off.
"What did they want?" I asked as Alex came back by me.
"Just some local creeps." I watched as the drunk approached the cop for a third time. The silent movie playing itself out, the cop turned around and knocked out the drunk with a single punch. The night suddenly had a surrealistically violent undercurrent. The guys who Alex had been talking to were hovering nearby sizing me up trying to figure out if I was her boyfriend and if they could take me. Alex was clinging to me, trying to look like she was with me as much as possible. The musicians weren't as tolerant of Ian's faux harmonica as the jazz guy was. Something in their demeanor was malevolent. Everybody could see it, except Ian.
"You better get him out of there." I said to Alex.
"What should I tell him?"
"You're tired and want to get back to the hotel, anything." Alex went over and whispered in Ian's ear while I kept my eye on the creeps watching Alex, and making sure the musicians didn't jump on Ian before Alex got him out of there.

The night ended sitting on a picnic table at the Cafe DuMonde, sipping hot chocolates and munching on beignots. The dark shore of the Mississippi only a few hundred feet away, those mysterious waters gurgling on, a void right in front of us.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

We were playing in Austin, and like Madison, was the state capitol, and a college town on top of that. It was like a homecoming. It had a strip of bars that mixed the nightlife, there were students and an intermingling of people in business suits trying to fit in, they were the mirror reflections of each other, the students looking ahead to see what they‘ll become and the professionals dabbling in shallow nostalgia. Looking down the strip the neon gathered above the buildings, a reddish aura that hung just above the city. Swifty's strategy was to play a night or two in a club, then another night or two at a club farther down the strip or in the outlying areas and then another couple of clubs in Austin, and so on until we had maximized our presence at the clubs, as Swifty had put it. The clubs were packed, hot and sweaty, smoke filled. We played some of our best shows, the boys were learning how to play better, before they played well, but now they were mastering the intricacies. On the third or fourth day there was a knock at the door of my motel room. I thought it may have been Tom or one of the boys seeing if I was ready to go to lunch, a movie, or something. I opened the door and there stood my brother and sister.
"Ah, the infamous committee of two. No doubt sent by Dad to straighten me out."
"No, Mike, we saw your show last night." My brother said, in the practiced kindly bedside manner of a doctor, which he is. He still looked the dashing athletic college fraternity brother I remember growing up. "It's been a long time since I've been to something like that."
"How'd you find me?" I opened the door and they walked in, “have a seat.” I said, pointing to the chairs in the room. I sat on the edge of the bed.
"When you're a member of the local chamber of commerce, you can find things out."
"I forgot I was in your home territory."
"We really enjoyed your show." My brother said.
"I wish I could do something like that." My sister said.
"You're not the adventurous type." I said. My sister was shrill, her reasonable demeanor at the moment was a mystery. She was the oldest and quite a bit older than me, she always bore a motherly authority instead of a sister. She had long stringy black hair, a thin face and a thin body despite having two children, she was almost always dressed in black, and as a child, she conformed to my every expectation of a witch.
"Boy, I remember when I found you listening to my Sgt. Peppers album," my brother said, "I didn't think anything of it until you listened to it over and over again, and then proceeded to go through the rest of my record collection. You were a hip little kid."
"But then that interest just drifted away, like it always does." My sister said. My brother shot her a look, saying 'you brought that up too early'. He was forced to adjust his tack.
“And suddenly you just quit, what was that?”
“Because I knew I couldn’t create anything as elegant or eloquent as that, it seemed everything had been done, everything had been said, better.”
“Maybe,” he said, “but you still try.” He took a breath to think and I knew a speech was coming in his well modulated, well practiced bedside manner tone of telling a patient he has cancer. "Mike," he said "maybe that's the point. Your interest has always focused on one thing until you master it, but then your interest always does falter and drift until you find the next thing. Look, when I was in medical school I realized the world doesn’t need another doctor,” he paused for dramatic effect, “you have to make them want you, I didn’t have a practice I didn’t know how I would build one but I did, and maybe the world doesn’t need another doctor or lawyer, or another Jim Morrison, but it just might need a Mike Desmond."
"Mikey," my sister said without trying to modulate her tones at all, "with your degree you can teach, get something that has a future. And if you're really interested, you could even do something in the music field."
"When are you two ever going to learn?" I said, shaking my head sadly. "You were always Joe College Cool Guy," I said to my brother. I got up and started to pace the space between the bed and where my brother and sister were sitting, "and you two were always the favorites, tittering little secrets between you. I looked up to you, and it was always thrown in my face how different I was from you two, and how I should strive to be better. So I read and read until I became the smartest kid in class. And whatever I took up as a hobby, I worked at it until I perfected the skill. Most people get good at only one or two things in their lives. I'm good at everything I do."
"Mike, everyone knows all the hard work you've put in. We're just worried because someone as intelligent and gifted as you are can have so much more in life."
"You've never approved of anything I've ever done." I said.
"Michael, look, I had my wild and rebellious days, I just didn't rub it in Mother and Father's faces." My brother said, "and if you truly believe in what you're doing, what do you need any of our approval for?"
"At least get a trade," my sister said, "this can't last forever. I mean how much demand is there for a Jim Morrison impersonator?"
"I know it won't last, but by then I'll have used it as a stepping stone."
"To where?"
"I'm working on it!" I yelled and scared myself at the sudden defensiveness. "I don't know yet, I've made some connections. I just don't know how it's going to pan out yet."
"Do you and that band have any original songs?" My brother asked.
"They do, the band does."
They both looked at me, "are they any good? Do they have a future?" I shrugged my shoulders. "Do you have any originals?"
"You can't record an album of Doors songs."
"I don't want to be a singer." I said petulantly.
"Then what do you want to do?"
"I don't know. When this is over I'll probably go to L.A. and see what opportunities come up."
"That's it?" My sister said incredulously, "you're going to L.A. to see what comes up?"
"I met Ray Manzarek. Who knows, maybe he'll come see me and I can go on tour with them as Jim." By the look on my sister's face it was clear she didn't know who Ray Manzarek was. My brother, looked skeptical at this obvious fantasy trying to be the voice of reason, he decided to employ his world famous technique of Socratic questioning to prove his point, "what are you trying to create here, Mikey?"
"An experience." They looked at each other.
"An experience?"
"Something where everybody can say I was there, I saw that."
"And while you're creating an experience," my sister said, cutting quotation marks in the air with her fingers, "they're creating a career and building a life for themselves."
"It's my band, they'll do whatever I want." I said.
"At least until they get what they want, or get fed up with you."
"It seems to me they're using you more than you're using them." My brother said sadly.
"Michael," my sister added, "you could disappear from music tomorrow and it wouldn't be missed. There's no market to support you." As soon as she said it I could see she regretted it, but still, she had said it. I tried not to show my hurt.
"Sure, I could disappear tomorrow and no one would miss me, as you put it, but the world would never know what it missed."
"Mikey, if you don't protect yourself, they're going to end up with a career and you'll be left out in the cold."

I paced the room more frantically. I looked at them and looked away. My feelings were running wild within me until they burst out, "I never felt like I was part of your family."
"Mikey, that's not true!" My sister said, "we treated you better than a sibling. We treated you like a child of our own. We've helped you, given you advice, nursed you along. We probably did more than we should have."
"It probably isn't true," I admitted, "but it's how I felt. I didn't fit in the mold of the rest of you. I felt like I was someone different and that I'd been placed there by mistake."
"A mistake?"
"You know, like something outside of us all placed me there to be raised by Mom and Dad, but not of them."
"Mikey, that's ridiculous. It's almost crazy."
"I was an accident. Mom and Dad never paid that much attention to me. And you two were off at school, I'm more a product of the books I read and TV. This band will change me. It'll get me what I want." I looked at the both of them, they still didn't understand, "sometimes I did things because that's what I thought was expected at that moment in time, I guess like an actor, I don‘t want to act any more, I want to be, it‘s like from lead to gold. I don't expect you to understand. Morrison had the same thing with his parents and family."

My sister looked aghast, "let me get this straight Mikey, you're nursing some resentment against Mom and Dad because Jim Morrison did? Is that what you're saying?"
"Oh, Mikey," my brother said, "who knows what the real situation was with Morrison and his parents. Maybe even his family didn't know what the problem was, no one may ever know for sure. Maybe it was nothing more than a misunderstanding of youth, as I get older I understand why parents have to do some things that children don't understand. I realized that a while ago and I've made my peace with Mom and Dad."
"You've forgiven them?" I asked.
"Maybe forgiven isn't the right word, but understanding that led me to making my peace with it."

Suddenly they both looked sad. They realized they'd done their best, but nothing would be accomplished. There was nothing else they could say except what would be regretted by everyone concerned.
"This mess is your doing and it will be your undoing." My sister said.

The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

One afternoon I was sleeping when someone started pounding on the motel room door.
“Go away!” I yelled as I rolled over, the room was dusky, I had pulled the drapes tight to keep the light out. Someone pounded on the door again. I got up. I padded over the matted brown carpet, and opened the door, Tom was standing there without a shirt on. The light assaulted my sensibilities, it took me a minute to comprehend why it should be light out while I was sleeping, there really is something vampiric about the lifestyle of being in a band, if you see daylight you either shun it or you know it‘s been a late night.
"Yeah." I said, sleepily.
"You gotta come to the other room, we have an emergency."
"What kind of an emergency?" I asked.
"I don't know man. Ian says he's quitting the band and going back home."
"Shit." I said, "does anybody know why?"
"No. He's been babbling, but not making any sense. Just something about the price being too high." I threw on a shirt, and ran hot footed across the cold concrete sidewalk to one of the boy’s rooms. All of them were sitting around Ian who was sitting on the bed sobbing while the TV blared in the background.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"He broke up with his girlfriend."
"Or she broke up with him."
"That's all?" I asked, sitting next to him. He was pale, his face was all washed out from his tears, "c'mon buddy you can't let something like this knock you down." No reaction.
"We've been telling him that for like two hours now." Johnny said.
“Ian, can you tell us what happened?” I knew if I kept asking questions that as soon as I broke through and got an answer the rest of the story would come flooding out.
"I, I can't live without her!" He sobbed. I could see he was making an effort to contain himself.
"Of course you can. You were able to exist before her, right?"
"OK, now listen carefully and do everything I tell you, OK?" He looked up and shook his head 'yes', "I learned this a long time ago, cry." I said. A couple of tears ran down his cheeks, "C'mon cry!" I yelled. "Didn't you love her?"
"Hey, c'mon, man." Brian said, "don't be so cruel he's had a rough time of it already."
"You gotta get her out of your system." I said to Ian, and for the benefit of them all. "OK, now think of everything you did with her," I looked at him, he was trying to fall back into self-pity, "you thinking about her?" He shook a weepy yes, "think about every place you saw together, every candlelit dinner you had, the jokes you shared, the kisses you stole, the plans you made. Cry them out until there's nothing left."
He started sobbing loudly. "Why? Why? Why, doesn't she love me?" It was the heartbreak of the unanswerable question we all have one time or another. I knew that pain in the past, but steeled myself against it, in the present.
"Let the band be your armor against the loneliness of those feelings. Do you wanna be a rock star or not? Is it just a dream, or your destiny? You're out here on the road accomplishing something. Most people aren't doing that in their lives, you can't let such things alter your journey." Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
"I'm tired now," he mumbled, "I jus' wanna go to sleep." He laid on the bed in the fetal position, subdued.
“How long until the show tonight?” I asked, suddenly sleepy again.
“About four hours.”
"He'll be OK. Maybe a little vulnerable and raw for a while, but he'll be OK." That night we had one of our best shows because Ian had a little more emotional intensity in his drumming. A few weeks later the hole in the girlfriend troupe was soon filled with a new member, Cassandra, of all things.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)