IX — I spent two weeks in hospital
I spent two weeks in hospital. I can remember getting there. I was in a garage near a hotel buying some chocolate. Listening to the birds singing on a warm dusty evening. The kids outside, particularly black kids, must have taken offence at something I said. First one I broke his nose, second one I broke his nose and the fingers on his right hand. Then they must have broken my nose and fingers. And now the doctor says I must be suffering from amnesia. A particular type of amnesia. So I can remember up to but not after. And the doctor tells me it may stay that way and that was three months ago. My memories started up yesterday. Got two and a half months unaccounted for. That’s a long time for nothing to happen; it needed filling in. So I filled it in as a roadie for some or other band.
A small time small town guitar combo wanting to be like they just started the whole thing off. Staring out the window of the tour bus listening to up-tempo piano pop. Coming over the radio. Sometimes I drove and sometimes I stared out the window in the side of the bus. Heat haze shimmering off the far desert. Sometimes I drank with the band; still on the road. When I drank tequila, enough tequila, the roadrunners would appear alongside the bus and race and make me laugh. When I drank gin I relaxed. When I drank wine I brooded. And the band were serious. They thought they were good and one day they’d be famous. So they drank and tried to get deep into the authentic thing. Down in their hearts they weren’t in it. Secretly they just loved music and each of ‘em in their own way wanted to be the top of their particular pile. They performed the characters associated with the music; culturally, affectively, stylized it just so. And that kind of got in the way of the group thing. They wanted to be famous, but good and famous; not just famous for the sake of being famous. The drummer loved his drums. He loved talking about the best cymbals to buy. He was working up from a good cymbal to the best cymbal: hand made by some old guy in a shed. One offs. The cymbal always highly polished and he really did care about it like it had some innate magic he could unleash. And he really could play. Every time he hit the cymbal he grew and looked a little different. But the drummer had a fuzzy kind of soul. Benign but fuzzy. So he was in on his drums and knew where he wanted to get and he knew he was part of a band and thought he wanted to make it in that quarter, but deep deep down he couldn’t fit the role. He had that split that people sometimes have. Whatever motivated him had turned into some rational end and that rational end had been set in some context. But with the drummer the rational end and the context were disconnected. And so it was with all of them. They should have all added up to more than the sum of the parts, but they didn’t; they added up to less. Each of them on their own, as just one part. But not together. And the drummer smoked too much weed. Not because he was stylizing in accord with the music; nothing to do with his role. He smoked it ‘cos he genuinely [liked] the cheap chemicals in his head’. And I was the roadie.
I humped the amps out of the bus and into the bars. I ran out the speaker cables and the mic cables in a neat line when possible. I taped them down. I put up the stands and there would appear a space which the band just had to step into. But the drummer always set up his kit because setting up the kit was mental preparation that the guitar and the bass could do without. They didn’t even tune their guitars. I’d do that. I’d sit on the amp and plug the guitar into a small grey tuner with a needle on it that moved to and fro. I’d always detune the string and work it up in pitch with the head. I liked to play a chord or two to see if it all fitted and then just to make sure I’d try just one string one more time to see if it was still in. And it generally was with the guitars being good and expensive. Out in the desert, where everything was as hot as hell all the time the strings had nowhere to stretch to; so they stayed in. The bus would pull up at the gig. The band would spill out; always excited; not yet bored with the monotony of long desert journeys, the anticipation of the night’s performance got them through. I was kind of the manager and roady in one; so I’d go in and find the owner or waitress or whoever I could find, get taken to the stage area, do a mental calculation about layouts and whether we were gonna fit, and then go and give the band the ok. It was a kind of ritual. The way it was done. The bus pulled up. I do the meeting. Get the kit and start about setting it up. The band would wander round taking it all in and every time they never at all seemed concerned about coming across all cool to the few drinkers hung around the bar; turning their heads with a just a dulled interest in the new faces wandering about. When the kit was set up I’d get the band together; round ‘em up for a sound check. Watch them strap on the guitars; adjust the amps just a little and jockey themselves into position. They played to a set list that didn’t need changing and‘d just crank straight into the first number.
I always set the mix desk up to the front and right if I could. Ideally I needed to be slap bang in the middle of the room but that wasn’t gonna happen. The mixer desk sat on a small table with me on a small metal fold out chair; seat the size of a saucer and covered in imitation zebra hide. I didn’t need to check the instruments one by one unless the drums needed mike-ing up extra, and I only did that when the mood took me. I preferred to check the band as a whole; listen to the whole thing; balance it all out as one. I’d watch. Waiting for the thrill to take over; the point at which they began to spill out of themselves and merge into something unseen in the spaces between their physical bodies. But they never did. You could stop and focus on any one instrument and it’d make you smile. Even the dullest of drunks could appreciate the riffs and licks shot off a smooth bullet, but you couldn’t step back and hear it all merge and get fused with the people stood next to you. You ask somebody after the gig what they heard and they always said the same thing: he was good or that guy can play. But you never got anything about the band as a band. That’s why they’d never get there.
One particular afternoon in one particular desert town: the bus rolls in dragging the desert behind it. It’s all kind of orange soft looking; the rocks weathering up some aluminium mineral; out in the heat. The bus smokes diesel; mixing it with the dust cloud like it’s gonna take shape and grant some wishes; or turn us to stone pillars like those out there. So this bus rolls up onto Main Street looking for The Club; a popular venue music. And other things. The desert folk come a hundred miles of an evening to watch a rock band tear up the stage. A country band. Any band. It’s on Main Street; the only street in this strung out place so we can’t miss it. The white buildings of Main Street peep through the orange dust that’s all about. People go about the day; in and out of the shops to pick up their brown-paper bags of groceries or maybe some new material to replace the curtains washed just once too often. Large cars and pick-ups pull in and out of the diagonal spaces lining the street. And half way down is The Club. I swing the bus right up outside no problem. Main Street. Some desert town. I look back to the band; half asleep. Smoking. Eating a slice of last night. The drummer raises his eyebrows; meaning: here we are again, but it’s ok for now. I don’t mind it. This is excitement.
The door whooshes open. I climb out the seat and jump down onto Main Street. A bill on the black double door proclaims the band plays tonight: Good music. A killing good time. The foyer smells of stale beer stale cigarette and I call out for some attention. Oddly enough it’s not unpleasant but familiar and friendly. The Real Deal is just down the street, on the edges of town. The Real Deal was just around the corner. On the edges of this town and every other town. The Real Deal was a life of cheap food and ragged trousers with no laces in some brown boots. The Real Deal played a badly tuned cheap electro guitar or soft wood acoustic cigar box three string that wouldn’t stay in. Hot or cold. This wasn’t some contrivance. No simulation of a simulation here. He walked with a limp. He used a stick and his shapeless booze breast sagged down to his sagging belly. He didn’t shave. He smoked all day and his cigar box always sounded slightly out of shape. Discordant. Not in that ‘it all comes together’ when we play pre-planned discordant. Disturbed. Dissonant with himself and everything else. Lyrics that didn’t even try and conceal the rape, the murder, the aimless desire. What he had on mind. What rippled through this vibe and connected it to the environment and the people was the violence of the thing. And the honest indifference of one person to the next. If the vibes barely hung together in the wood-shack juke joints it was a true reflection of a people that didn’t hang together either. An uneasy sense that at any point the music could flip into a mess of noise and the tune would be gone. Replaced by a black scribbled space. An uneasy sense that at any point the people could flip into a mess of noise and be replaced by a black malevolent scribbled space that stared past you and then came back round and settled on your left hand side. You were now the object of an attention that wished you harm simply because that was the nature of the thing. Nothing personal. These men wouldn’t make it past fifty five. Their wives seldom made it past twenty. They told their wives to fix their supper. Told their wives to take off their clothes. The laid out drunk on white lightning and when they stumbled back into the thing they would punch their wives to death, just so they could lay back down again.