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!)

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