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 In the Van on Comeback Road

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dannblood
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:36 am

Issue #25

It’s dark and silent where I wake up. My mind flashes back to the stage, blinking awake after getting cracked in the face with a beer bottle, but I know I’m in a different situation now. The trouble is, I don’t know where the hell I am.

A coffin? Am I in a coffin? Of course, sooner or later everyone wakes up in a strange place in the dark and wonders for a moment if they were accidentally presumed dead, put into a coffin and buried alive. It’s a scary thought, but after stretching out my arms and not finding a lid above me I breathe a sigh of relief and start feeling my way around.


I discover that I’m lying on a couch. Feeling dizzy, I get up and begin to inch my way across the cement floor. I can see a dim line of light beneath a door, up around eye level. I’m in a basement.

I try to walk towards the light but catch my foot on something and end up crashing over something metal and spikey. I can feel my fingers jammed in between little wires which I realize are bicycle spokes. This basement is a death-trap.

Christine must have put me down here. She’s the last thing I remember from the show the night before. I remember getting in her car, then nothing. Why the hell would she stick me down here in her basement? I drag myself over the pile of bicycles, moving towards the door. I catch my clothes in the pedals and get caught on the filthy chains.

God, maybe Christine never intended me to get out of this basement. Maybe she’s upstairs sharpening her knives, knowing I’ll never be able to find my way out of this bicycle-filled hell.

I make it over the bikes and crawl on my hands and knees toward the light, finally finding the bottom of the stairs. I crawl up until I reach the door. As I find the knob I hear muffled music and laughter from elsewhere in the house. Christine must have other lunatics with her as they prepare to sacrifice me to their pagan god. Hopefully they are putting on leather and vinyl bondage gear to perform their cruel acts of murder. Somehow being disemboweled by insane groupies would be easier to take if they were sexily dressed.

I open the door. There is a kitchen. The light hurts my eyes, but I can see a sink piled with dirty dishes. The place looks old and poorly maintained. I look at the clock on the stove. It’s four o’clock in the morning. Pizza boxes are stacked on the table. I flip the top one open. It’s empty. The bastards.

The voices are coming from down the living room. I peer around the corner. There are several young people sitting on the couches and on the floor. The table in the middle of the room is stacked with beer bottles and cups.

One guy looks up and sees me. “Holy shit!” he screams, jumping in his seat enough to throw beer on the girl sitting next to him. When he screams all the girls scream, then laugh. They turn around and see me standing there.

I walk into the room. “Well?” I say. “Who the hell are you people, and where the hell am I?”

The guy who screamed answers me. “Dude, what happened to your nose? Man, you scared the shi-ot out of me.”

“Not my problem, Mary,” I tell him. “Blame whoever it was that kidnapped me and stuck me in the basement. Now, one more time, where the hell am I?”

“Christine brought you here,” says one of the girls on the floor. “We thought you would want to sleep, so we took you to the basement where it would be quiet.”

“Kidnapping, unlawful confinement,” I say. “Where’s Christine?”

“Right there,” they all say, pointing to the girl curled up at the end of one of the couches. I didn’t recognize her because of the hood pulled over her head.

“What, is she passed out? She brings me here and then passes out? Where’s the phone? I’ve got to get out of here.”

“The phone’s been disconnected,” the girl on the floor says. “Somebody give him a cell.”

I get a phone from one of the wasters. I pull a number out of my wallet and call Wayne’s cell. There’s no answer. I call again and someone picks up. It’s Dave, the slightly vacant bass player from Machine Within a Machine.

“Dave, it’s Terry.”

“Oh, Terry,” he says sleepily. “Where are you?”

“At someone’s house. I passed out and some chick kidnapped me. Can someone pick me up?”

“Dude, we’re all sleeping. We couldn’t find you, so we just went to crash.”

“Is Jason there?”

“Yeah, he’s sleeping. Nobody is gonna come get you now man. You disappeared on us. Deal with it.”

“I got hit in the head with a bottle and passed out. Don’t make this out to be my fault.”

“Well, you left with the girl, didn’t you? If you want to get laid after the show that’s fine, but don’t expect us to pick you up in the middle of the night. Call in the morning.”

“All right,” I say. “Oh, and Dave?”

“Yeah?”

“Your band wants to replace you.” I snap the phone shut. “Asshole,” I mutter under my breath. I turn back to the group of drunks.

“Okay kids,” I tell them. “I’m here for the night. Is there somewhere besides the dungeon where I can crash?”

****

At ten o’clock in the morning there are hung over wrecks lying around on the living room floor. I call again and get Wayne, and he gives the phone to Jason. I explain what happened and tell him the address of the house.

I see Christine still sleeping on the couch. I touch her on the shoulder and she takes a deep breath. She slowly blinks her eyes open and looks up at me. “Oh,” she says. “Terry. Are you okay?”

“Why in god’s name did you bring me here?” I ask.

She rubs her eyes. “You fell asleep in my car,” she says. “I was worried, so I brought you here.”

“Why in glorious bloody hell didn’t you just go back in the bar and tell my friends?”

“I thought they would be mad,” she says with a yawn. “Are you mad?”

“You kidnapped me,” I say. “Yes, I’m a little bit mad.”

Half and hour later the maroon mini-van The Clutch Dogs rented pulls up in front of the house. It’s grey and raining out when I stumble down the front steps and get in the back of the van, slumping next to the piles of drum gear. Jason’s driving.

“Hey there, sunshine,” he says. “Bang some groupies?”

“No, I got fucking kidnapped,” I tell them. “I slept on a pile of rusty bicycles. Did I miss anything last night?”

“Nothing special, unless you count Mark here making out with some hot blonde.” He punches the Scottish drummer in the shoulder. “Didn’t you, Mark? Cheating on poor sweet Sarah, aren’t you?”

Mark looks awful, slumping down into the passenger seat. He looks like blended shit shaped into a person. “Aye, ah, I had a wee bit too much to drink last night, aye?”

Jason turns around and looks at my face. “That looks awful,” he says. “You’ve got two black eyes. Did you clean that thing this morning?”

“No,” I say. “Let’s get going. We’ve got what? Four hours of driving?”

“Give or take,” Jason says. He puts the van in drive and we start moving. “Are you ready for the good news? We sold like, like sixteen discs last night.”

“Really?” The disc that we brought along with us to sell has six tracks that we were able to salvage from the tape of our performance at The Strathmore Hotel. The costs of mixing the tracks and making a hundred copies went onto my increasingly stretched credit cards, so I am desperate about selling copies.

“Yeah,” Jason says. “We sold more than Machine did. I think Wayne was pissed.”

“Why didn’t they sell more?” I ask. “Did they put on a crappy show?”

“None of them got hit in the face with a bottle,” croaks Mark. “We totally upstaged them, mate.”

“Yeah,” says Jason. “You should get hit every night.”

Jason eases the van into a gas station parking lot. We fill the tank, get coffee and snacks, and then get onto the highway leading us out of Sudbury. A sign tells us it’s only 305 kilometers to Sault Ste. Marie and the next gig.

Jason sips from a giant coffee cup as he drives. “Do you know what was weird this morning?” he says. “I think the guys from Machine were fighting.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Dave seemed all pissed off and kept arguing with everybody. I don’t know what his problem is.”

I think about what I told him last night. “No. I don’t know either.”
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dannblood
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:37 am

Issue #26

Despite the big take-out coffees, Mark and I sleep most of the way to Sault Ste. Marie. Jason drives, plowing through 350-odd kilometers of undivided two-lane highway, where the speed limit sits at a plodding ninety kilometers an hour and the traffic is dominated by giant trucks. He even manages to make good time, catching up on the rented white van carrying our tour-mates Machine Within a Machine.


I manage to blink myself awake when we hit The Soo, tired and needing a proper meal and a good stretch. Jason follows Machine’s van when it pulls into a Tim Horton’s Parking lot. We’re due to eat at the venue before the show, so I’m not sure why we’re stopping, but I climb out of the van and stand shaky and yawning in the grey afternoon light.

Jason, Mark and I wait for the grumpy-looking members of the other band to get out of their own van and head inside. They get out and walk through the busy parking lot, not looking at or talking to each other.

“What are we stopping for?” I ask them as they pass.

“Bathroom stop before we start looking for the bar,” Gina says. She’s carrying her toothbrush in with her.

As we walk to the door, Wayne, Machine’s Singer, grabs my arm.

“Terry, can I talk to you a minute?” His grip on my arm is solid. Under his shaggy mane of curly brown hair his brow is furled and his eyes are serious.

“Sure.” Everyone else heads into the coffee shop, while Wayne leads me back behind The Clutch Dogs’ maroon mini-van.

“So Terry, listen,” he says, running his hands through his hair, “did you say something to Dave last night on the phone? He said you told him we wanted to throw him out of the band or something. He started complaining this morning, and now he’s bitching like he wants to go home.”

I shrug. “What do you want me to say, Wayne? Dave pissed me off on the phone, basically telling me to screw off if I need a ride. So I said some shit, yeah. I guess I shouldn’t have said anything, but I was pissed off.”

Wayne steps forward, grabbing me by the front of my shirt and pushing me hard against the side of the van. “Listen you washout, you fucking nobody,” he shouts, “I don’t give a shit what he said. You don’t fuck with my band! You want to call him an asshole, you call him an asshole, but don’t you dare cause trouble for this band. You think you deserve to be here? You’re here because Gina felt fucking sorry for you, and don’t goddamn forget it. You’re going to tell Dave you just pulled that bullshit out of your ass and that you’re sorry, you got it? Or I will leave you by the side of the road.”

He holds me there, and gradually slackens his grip, eyeing me keenly as he lets go of me. He takes his hands off my shirt and steps back.

I’m sure what to do. I don’t want to back down and be the meek little boy, saying sorry sir, it won’t happen again. Maybe I was in the wrong with what I said to Dave, but I don’t want to put across the message that I’m a dried up old waster with a limp dick and tears in his eyes. So I do what Bobby Metronome would do. I hit him.

It’s not the mature thing to do, I know, but I catch him with a quick punch in the face which sends him back a few steps. He doesn’t fall down. I’m quick, but not that strong. He touches his fingers to his offended cheekbone, and then runs at me.

Wayne puts his shoulder into me and sends me crashing back against the van, and we fall to the ground, grabbing at each other. We wrestle, rolling around in the parking lot, begging for some jerk to cruise in for a coffee and crush us under the front end of his Lexus. It’s not a dangerous match by any means, with the two of us rolling around and pulling at each other’s jackets, trying to get our arms free to punch while tying the other guy up so he can’t hit back: it’s a horizontal hockey fight on asphalt. We roll back and forth, me on top then him on top then me again. We carry on for maybe a full minute before we’re both too tired to continue, and we end up locked in a stalemate.

We lie there wordlessly for another minute, both of us trying to catch our breath before I ask him: “Truce?”

He gasps for breath, and then responds: “Okay, truce.”

We disengage and get up, doing our best to straighten up our dirty and wrinkled clothes. There’s blood running down my nose. The cut across the bridge of my nose split open again while we were rolling around. I guess we just stand there staring at each other, looking stupid in a parking lot. “Well?” I say.

“What?”

“Are we cool?” I ask. “About the fight I mean. What’s done is done.”

He nods. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Cool. Very mature. As for what you said before, yeah, I’ll talk to Dave. I shouldn’t stick my nose into your band’s business. As for the rest…well, you don’t fuck with me, I won’t fuck with you. So there’s no reason we can’t get along here.”

“Yeah.” He holds his hand out and I shake it, but I still see challenge in his eye, like he’s got it over on me now. Like he’s got the power, the authority, to take me out if he chooses. So I guess it’ll be up to me to make sure his head doesn’t get too big.

We walk into the coffee shop. The musicians are all waiting in line for donuts and coffee. I make straight for the bathroom to wash the blood off my face. When I get back out, the Machine Within A Machine guys have already gotten their coffees and left. Through the windows I can see them conferring in the parking lot.

Jason gets served his coffee and comes over to me. “Terry man, what took you guys so long?”

“Nothing. What did Wayne say to you guys?”

“Nothing,” Jason says. “He said he didn’t want any coffee and he kind of hustled the other guys out of the place. Weird, huh?”

Mark receives his drink, pays and joins us. “Why’re ye bleeding again, mate?” he asks me.

“All right,” I say. “Wayne and I just had a bit of a fight. Nothing serious, and everything’s cool, but we’ve got to watch each other’s back’s okay? We might not be a big happy family with the other band.”

“A fight as in a fight-fight, not a talking fight?” Jason rubs his eyes. “Oh great, Terry. That’s just…super-special.”

“No worries, boys,” says Mark. “It’ll be all right. No more hand-jobs from those bitches, that’s all, aye? No worries.”

I nod. Jason looks stressed, but I can’t be bothered trying to cheer him up. He wanted to learn what it’s like to be on the road. Well, he’s finding out.

Machine’s drummer Matt pops back inside. “We’re going to the venue. You guys going to follow us?”

*****

It takes twenty minutes (in a small city, I might add) for Matt, who’s driving Machine Within a Machine’s van, to find the club where the bands are booked. Jason continues driving our van, and as we roll up and down the incorrect streets on our circuitous path to The Firelight Bar I try and figure out what attitude I should take to the new information that I had gained from my brief battle with Wayne.

It seems the guys in that band have no respect for me, and by extension Jason and Mark, either as a person or as a musician. I am here because Gina feels sorry for me. Either that or she feels something else for me (love, murderous intent, sexual craving, etc.) and communicates it as pity. Either way, we do not have their respect and therefore we are not seen to possess value. The Clutch Dogs are completely disposable.

As we pull up at The Firelight, I feel the need to express my feelings. “Guys,” I announce from the back seat. “We must prove our value.”

Jason and Mark look at each other out of the corners of their eyes. They look confused and worried, like they think they might have to institutionalize me. I explain: “We have to be better than these guys. We must make them afraid of us, in awe of our power. And we have to outsell them. We need to become the alpha band of this tour. We must make them worship at our feet.”

Mark starts to laugh at my improvised little speech.

“We must be gods on stage,” I continue. “We must be much, much better than them, so that even though we are the openers we are the stars of the show, the band everyone talks about. Machine Within a Machine will hear the talk. They will understand what’s going on. And they will beg us to tell them our secrets. They will become our bitches.”

“I don’t think we need to be enemies with these guys,” says Jason. “Until today, everyone was getting along fine.”

“We don’t need to be enemies” I say. “We just need to be better than them.”

“You’re going to get us fired,” Jason says. “And we’ll have to pay our way home and end up losing a bunch of money.”

“Don’t worry about it, Guitar-star,” I say, sliding open the rear door. “Trust me, we’re going to blow these guys off the stage.”
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:38 am

Issue #27

We load our gear into The Firelight Bar. It’s not a bad place, although the stage is very small. It’s a long room with a lot of exposed brick and black paint. Judging by the Harley-Davidson posters on the walls, I gather it attracts a biker crowd. That’s all right with me. I’ve played for bikers. I doubt Machine Within A Machine has. I chat with the bartender a minute and confirm my suspicions. The place draws bikers, but also a lot of younger people who want to see live music. I figure The Clutch Dogs can please them all.


After our stuff is inside I collect Mark and Jason and lead them back to the van.

“Why out here, Taz?” Mark asks. “It’s cold. Let’s go sit inside.”

“I want a chance to chat without the Machine guys around. How would you guys feel about adding another song to the set tonight?”

Jason looks suspicious. “What song? One of yours?”

“No. This place draws the bikers, and probably a good number of older locals as well. I figure we should add an old blues rock number.”

“I don’t know, mate,” Mark says. “Sounds like, we’re trying to be crowd pleasers or some shite instead of playing our own stuff.”

“Not if we actually like the music. You guys listen to the old Stones albums?”

“Not much.”

“Just what’s on the radio.”

“Okay. Well there’s an old bluesy-country-rock song I’d like to try. It’s called ‘Dead Flowers.’ I don’t remember what album it’s off of, but it’s just three chords. If you guys are willing, I think we could pull it off.”

“It seems fake to me, Terry,” says Jason. “We’ve been working hard to play our own stuff, ninety percent of which I might add, is your music. Now you think the crowd might like blues, so we have to play a blues song?” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry man, but neither of us joined the band to play the blues. And I think you just want to suck up to the crowd to try and beat Machine Within a Machine.”

I take a deep breath and mentally sort through his objections. I wish I had cigarettes. “Okay,” I say, trying to keep my thoughts straight. “I appreciate your dedication to musical integrity and all that. I really do. However, throwing a Rolling Stones song into your set because you think the audience might like it hardly goes against the integrity of this band. We’re a rock band. I want to add a rock song. It’s bluesy rock, yes, but it’s still the Stones.

“Think of this as a lesson in showmanship,” I continue. “You might think it’s pathetic to try and be crowd-pleasers and suck-ups or some shit like that, but the fact is that we’re here to entertain the audience. If we were adding a song that we hated to try and please the audience, okay then, that would suck. If we were a death metal band playing Garth Brooks covers that would be fake, but we’re a rock band and I want to play a Stones song because I think the audience will like it. What’s wrong with that?”

They both remain quiet. “You’re a Sabbath fan, Jason,” I tell him. “That’s blues based rock too.”

Mark shrugs. “We’ve got no time to practice it, mate.”

“It’s three chords. We can do it. We’ll run through it a few times. If it sounds like shit we’ll skip it, but let’s give it a try, okay? Shit, trying new stuff on the fly like this is half the fun of playing shows.” I grab my acoustic out of the back of the van. “I’ll play it through for you a few times and we’ll give it a shot. We’ve got hours. Christ, it’s only five-thirty. C’mon let’s head back in.”

“Are you going to talk to the guys in Machine?” Jason asks. “Like, I know you want to kick their ass on stage and everything, but I really don’t want to go all the way across the continent without anybody talking to each other.”

I nod. “Okay. Yeah, I’ll say something.”

We head inside. After all of our gear is set up we start running through ‘Dead Flowers.’ It goes pretty well. It’s an easy strumming tune, and they both pick it up without much trouble. The guys from Machine Within A Machine sit crowded around a table talking quietly, sending occasional looks our way. I feel that they are plotting against us. Jason is right. As much as I want to be better than them, it doesn’t help anyone to have open war with them.

After we finish jamming through the tune, the staff of The Firelight Bar sets the seven of us up at a big round booth near the back of the room. A pretty waitress with her hair pulled into a long ponytail passes out a bunch of menus and leaves us there, with both bands jammed in together. It’s tense and uncomfortable. Because everyone is on edge, and everybody knows about the fight but doesn’t want to admit they know, we all stare maniacally at the menus as though we’ll see God’s words printed between the lines describing the Monster Chili-Burger ($11.99).

I can see that Wayne’s cheek is getting puffy and discolored where I punched him earlier. Sometimes he makes an action with his jaw like he’s yawning, but I can tell he’s really stretching out the sore spot. Gina won’t look at me. Dave, who I told was going to get fired from his band, won’t look at anyone. I lay down my menu.

“So, Dave,” I say. He looks at me and gives me knife-eyes, like he wants to have my entrails dripping from his bloody fingers and teeth. I cough. “I’m sorry about what I said on the phone last night. I was a bit pissed off that nobody was coming to pick me up, and all that. I had just tripped over a pile of bicycles in the dark and skinned up my shin, and with the bottle to the head I might have had a bit of a concussion. Besides, anyone would be pissed off after being kidnapped.”

“Oh Terry, you’re so full of shit,” says Gina, who looks hot when she’s angry (also when she’s happy, bored, concerned, focused, distracted, concentrating, confused, playing guitar and sleeping). “Nobody kidnapped you, you just passed out in some bitch’s car.”

“Well, even so,” I say, “I was angry and not quite in my right mind, and I exaggerated a bit. I’m sorry for what I said. No hard feelings I hope.”

“Exaggerated?” Dave says. “Don’t you mean lied?”

I sneak a little glance at Matt, who I clearly remember saying in front of a down-town rehearsal space that he wished I were the bass player in Machine Within a Machine instead of poor stupid Dave here. He doesn’t look at me, so I look back at Dave and shrug. “Whatever.”

That’s about all the conversation we have, except for awkward requests to pass ketchup. After the meal we bum around the bar, each band sticking together as the place begins to gradually fill with patrons. I was right about the crowd. It’s working class, and I see a lot of leather and denim, craggy faces and beards. The cougars come out of the woodwork, single women in their late thirties who no longer have to stay home with the kids and don’t mind going out and getting pissed and maybe latching onto a man for the night. I worry about Jason or Mark getting loaded and getting attached to one of these ladies. But after my escapades from last night I’m in no position to give anyone advice.

Mark, Jason and I manage to pass the few hours until show time with a few pitchers of beer. I write out the words to ‘Dead Flowers’, as best as I can remember them, and repeat them over and over again.

At nine o’clock we get up on the little stage. The crowd doesn’t pay much attention. They seem like after work drinkers, but I figure we can bring them around.

“Test. Good Evening,” I say into the microphone. Some of the younger patrons look our way. “It’s a pleasure to be here at The Firelight tonight. We’re The Clutch Dogs, and this is called ‘Knuckles.’”

We play through, hitting it hard, trying to get some attention. After that we do ‘Dead Fingers Play’ and ‘Runaway.’ Some people have stood up and are near the stage, but by and large everyone is still drinking at their tables. It’s discrimination, I figure. They’ve been programmed not to pay attention to opening acts. They think we’re no more that previews before a movie.

I turn away from the mike. “Okay boys. Let’s try ‘Dead Flowers.’ Jam it, don’t play it. If anyone wants to improvise, do it. Let’s have some fun.”

To the audience I say “We’ve never performed this next one before. It’s an old Rolling Stones song that we’re going to try out for you. It’s called ‘Dead Flowers.’”

There’s no response. I nod to Mark and we begin. It sounds all right, albeit a little clunky in the timing. We run through the opening lines a few times until I smile at the boys to say, yeah, that sounds right. I begin to sing and have to fudge a few lines to fill in the holes in my memory, but we sound good. Goddamnit, we’re a good band. I stand there, looking into the black depths of a biker bar in Sault Ste. Marie playing a song that Mark and Jason have never even heard before, and it clicks. We sound good. For the first time I think to myself, hey, we’re a good band.

And no one cares. There’s one chick near the stage that is swaying to the music, standing next to her boyfriend, but that’s it. No one else is paying attention. This bar is full of dead people.

We keep jamming through, and towards the end of the song Jason improvises a short solo that goes off pretty well. I’m proud of him, and Mark. They’re capable. They’ve taken another challenge and responded.

The song ends and there is a polite response. I shrug at the guys and they smile back. “Fuck it,” I say. “Let’s keep playing.”

We blast through the rest of our set, and by the time we hit the last song there are maybe a dozen people out of the full room standing up front to watch us. But we sound good. That’s what I tell myself after each song. These people aren’t paying much attention, but it doesn’t matter. We sound good.

Before our last song, I introduce Jason and Mark. “Stick around for Machine Within a Machine,” I tell the crowd. “They are the best of the fucking best of the best, and if I’m wrong then my name isn’t Broken-Face Joe.” We play through ‘Rockin’ In The Free World,’ get our final applause and clear off the stage.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:39 am

Issue #28

“Can I ask you a question, Taz?” Mark is sitting in the passenger seat next to me, his feet jammed up against the dashboard. I have no idea how he could be comfortable like that. The blood has probably been cut off and his toes are turning purple.

“Yeah man, what is it?”

He’s looking around out the windows. We’re plowing down the highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, a million kilometer stretch of undivided hell. It’s a desolate route. The only thing that has kept Mark occupied thus far is his constant watch for moose. There are continual highway signs warning of moose crossings, and Mark wants see one.


With an eye cast over his shoulder to confirm that Jason is still asleep on the seat behind us, Mark finally asks his question. “You like that bird Gina, don’t you?”

A series of images flash through my mind: a tattooed and angry-looking Gina glistening with sweat as she shreds her way through a solo on stage with Machine Within A Machine, a gentle and affectionate Gina pressed against me in her bed, our lips pressed together, and at last a cold and distant Gina the next morning, towel wrapped around her naked form, telling me that she really doesn’t want any kind of relationship with me. My stomach drops at the memory.

“Why do you ask?”

“I’ve just like, seen you checking her out, you know? Staring at her when she’s on stage and that. I’m just curious, aye?”

I nod. “Right. Yeah, I like her I guess. She’s a good looking girl, right? But you know… well, you know how things are.”

“What, like, you being older than her?”

I shrug. “Yeah, I guess.”

“She really is the best part of that band,” Mark comments. We had sat through Machine Within A Machine’s set the night before at the bar in The Soo, watching and trying to take note of their stage show. We want to be better than them, so we have to know how good they are. Or how good they could be.

“I agree,” I say. “It’s like a female Johnny Ramone playing with a local pub band.”

Mark twists his neck around to look behind him, probably mistaking a tree for a moose. “Who’s Johnny Ramone?”

“Wha? Johnny Ramone. Johnny Ramone from The Ramones. You know The Ramones, don’t you?”

“Ach, I dunno, like, I’ve heard the name and all that. People say they’re so influential and all, but I don’t even know any of their songs. Like people say The Buzzcocks or Bad Brains and all those bands, but who ever really listens to them, you know?”

“I’m pretty sure you’re heard The Ramones. Probably a million times.” I start to sing: “Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go, I wanna be sedated…”

“Okay, Terry? Taz. Terry. I get it. Okay.” We go silent for a moment. Mark looks over his shoulder again, checking on Jason. Whispering, he tells me “I think Jay likes her too.”

I glance over my shoulder at our slumbering guitar-slinger. “Jay? Jason?”

“Aye.”

“Hmm.” I focus on the road ahead. There’s a massive logging truck in my path, slowing me down, holding me back. It wouldn’t be safe to try getting around it. I don’t have the balls to try and pass it on these narrow, curving roads. This is a metaphor for my entire life. I don’t have the balls to get around the things that stand in my way.

“What makes you say that?” I ask Mark.

“I dunno. He looks at her the same way you do. He tries to talk to her, usually when you’re busy with something else. I just get gut feelings about these things, eh?”

“Right.” I feel dead inside. Yeah, I like Gina, but I had my shot with her and after one night she passed on me. If Jason likes her, why shouldn’t he take his shot? She’s fair game. I try not to show any emotion, but I feel like beating my head against the steering wheel.

I flick on the van’s radio and start scanning for stations. Mostly there’s been nothing but dead air for the last few hours. The scanner goes all the way through the dial without picking up anything on FM, so I flip to AM and begin to scan again. The radio picks up a station. It’s fuzzy, barely audible, but I can hear an old song.

“Hey, listen to this,” I say, turning it up. “It’s Ciccone.”

Mark stares vacantly at the radio. “Madonna?”

“What?”

He shrugs. “The only Ciccone I know is Madonna.”

“Madonna’s name is Ciccone?”

“Her real last name, yeah.”

I shake my head. “Shit Mark, you know Madonna’s real last name, but you don’t know who The Ramones are? We are from two different worlds, brother. Anyway, no, this isn’t Madonna. It’s some old seventies shit. This guy’s name is El Grande Floyd Ciccone. Machine Within A Machine is supposed to open for this guy when we get back to Toronto next month.”

“Is that good or bad for them?”

Jason sits up in the back seat. “What’s this shit?” he asks.

“It’s Floyd Ciccone,” says Mark.

“Should I know who that is?”

“He was a big freak-out rocker in the late sixties and seventies,” I explain. “Think um, Tom Petty crossed with Marilyn Manson. Like a rock singer and song-writer like Petty, but a bit more outrageous like Manson. Sex, drugs, that kind of stuff.”

Jason yawns. “Tom Petty crossed with Marilyn Manson. I see Iggy Pop.”

I laugh. “Like Iggy Pop, if he played his own guitar. Ciccone never got as big as Iggy did though. I can’t believe this is even on the radio. But if the guy’s still touring, I guess there must still be some people who want to hear him. Hell, I wouldn’t mind hearing him.”

*****

A few hours later we get to The Inn-Towner in Thunder Bay. It’s a nice change to be playing at a place with rooms upstairs. After sleeping in people’s living rooms and basements for a few days something resembling an honest-to-god hotel room will be a refreshing change.

We go in and meet the manager, who sets us up with a room. He gives us a couple of keys to room 226. Whenever Machine Within A Machine shows up, they will get 228.

The manager, a bearded heavy guy named Jeff leans in close to me and says “You boys mind your business with the other residents of the hotel. Most of them are members.” He gives me a little wink.

I nod as though I understand exactly what he’s talking about. Jason, Mark and I take our personal bags out of the van and head up to the room. It’s a bit dingy, with drab, out of date curtains and carpeting, but the beds look big and inviting. We slept on the floor of a guy’s living room the night before in Sault Ste. Marie, so even beds in dim old rooms look pretty good.

“So you guys make sure to mind your business with the other guests of the hotel,” I tell Jason and Mark. “Most of them are members.”

“Members of what?” Jason asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “The local bowling club, maybe.”

Mark laughs. “Or the Mafia.”

Jason: “The Hell’s Angels.”

I shrug. “Could be anything, I guess. Probably some kind of gang that doesn’t like to be fucked with. So no trashing the room. Hell with it. Let’s find a laundry place and get our clothes washed.”

A few hours later we’re showered, cleaned up. We’ve ordered cold sandwiches and munch quietly in The Inn-Towner’s cavernous bar. There is a big screen television showing the evening news from a station in Minnesota. We’ve picked up cases of beer and stored them in the room for after the show so we don’t have to subject ourselves to another night spent in a noisy bar until the late late time. The curious thing is that Machine Within A Machine still hasn’t arrived.

“It’s not like they could get lost,” Mark says. “It’s a single road that goes in the same direction for like, what, a million miles in a straight line.”

“They were ready to go when we left,” Jason says.

I wipe a blob of mayonnaise from the corner of my mouth with a napkin. “Maybe they had trouble,” I say. “They’ve got hours, really. They won’t get on stage until after ten. Then again, if they did have trouble with their van, they could be stuck pretty far between towns.”

“We should give them a call,” says Jason, looking up at the giant television.

“Yeah.” I head up to the bar. It takes some convincing to get the bartender to let me try a potentially long distance call, but after explaining that the band might need help getting here tonight he gives me a nasty look and tells me how to dial out. I try three times but there’s no answer from Wayne’s cell phone.

“So much for that,” I tell Jason and Mark.

“What do we do if they don’t show up?” asks Mark.

“They’ve got hours,” I say again. “They’ll make it.”

“We could play an extra set,” suggests Jason. “We’ve got some extra songs. A few covers. Terry, you know lots of songs you could throw in. Like you did that time in London.”

“Yeah, but we were headlining that time and the opener didn’t show. It’s different when you’re opening and the headliner doesn’t show.”

Jason shrugs. “Do you think anyone here would know the difference? Nobody knows who Machine Within A Machine is. We could say we were the headliner and that our openers didn’t make it. Then we could play two sets and get all the cash.”

I grin. “Maybe. If they don’t show up we’ll see what Jeff says.”

The big bar gradually begins to fill. It seems to be the main bar in the little city. We get our gear up on stage, do a sound check and wait for Machine Within A Machine. By nine o’clock there’s still no sign of them. I seek out Jeff.

“When the hell are those guys showing up?” he asks as soon as he sees me. “We need a band on stage in fifteen minutes.”

“I don’t know what happened to them. They usually show up right on time. They might have had some trouble with their vehicle. If you need to, we can pull double duty.”

“I advertised two bands. See these people?” he asks, pointing a finger around at the patrons. “They don’t like being lied to.”

“Well, I don’t have a magic wand to make those other guys turn up,” I tell him. “But if they don’t make it, we can put on a hell of a good show. I’ll keep your people happy.”

“You look like a fucking hobo,” he says. “Black eyes and shit. I don’t like it.”

I grin. I wonder how shallow my grave would be if I took a swing at this guy. “Look,” I say in a calm voice. “We’ll get up there and play our set. If the other band doesn’t show up by the time they’re supposed to play, we can go up again. We won’t play any songs twice. No repeated material. And we’ll put on a good show.”

“We’ll see,” he says. “But if the crowd is against you, don’t expect any help from me. And just so you understand, Thunder Bay has been the nation’s leader in violent crime for many, many years in a row.”

“Not a problem,” I say. I head back to the table. “All right boys,” I say to Jason and Mark. “Time to work out some set lists. We’re going to put on a show for these people.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:40 am

Issue #29

Mark, Jason and I sit at a table in the crowded Inn-Towner and work out two set lists. We figure we should save our best songs for the second set, so the first set gets all of our covers, including 'Sweet Leaf,' 'Rockin' In The Free World,' 'Runaway,' and for the second time in a row, The Rolling Stones' 'Dead Flowers.' For originals we add Jason's song 'Better Off' and four of mine: 'Rough Go,' 'Old Boots,' 'Thrown Away,' and 'Knuckles.'


To add a little more meat to the list, I press the boys to accept a song we've never played before: Bob Dylan's 'All Along The Watchtower.' Sure, Jimi Hendrix made it famous with virtuosic guitar playing, but really it's a simple three chord song that I figured the guys could hash out in a single go. After all, every single night in America someone somewhere is standing on a stage at a shabby bar's open stage jam night playing 'Watchtower' for the first time and doing a damn fine job of it. Jason agreed when I told him I would play guitar and handle all the solos and complex stuff. He would just have to thump out the three-note bass line.

The second set will only be necessary if Machine Within A Machine doesn't actually show up for the gig. We have three old Tremors of Intent songs, plus our new one, 'Redemption,' where I again take the guitar from Jason. The list is short, so our only hope is that we get a good hour break in between the sets where we can figure out a few more covers to slip in.

Jeff, the fat, bearded manager of The Inn-Towner keeps giving us menacing looks from behind the bar. "Okay guys," I say. "Let's get up there."

It's nine-thirty, and to be fair, the bar is full, but I'm a little surprised by how intense and violent Jeff seems. You would think a band had never been late before. And shit, Machine Within A Machine isn't even my band.

The bar staff turns on the stage lights and we climb up on stage and switch everything on. I pull on Jason's guitar and he slips my bass over his shoulder. I can't explain why, but the bass sits unnaturally on him. He may as well have a trombone hanging on a guitar strap. I don't know. Some guys are just supposed to play guitar.

We touch the strings to check make sure the levels are still okay from the sound check. Mark, as is his habit, bangs sharply on the snare drum five times, them does a quick improvised fill, making sure to hit ever drum and cymbal in his kit, which is made up of crap from the old Sears kit of his roommate's and quality older pieces donated/borrowed from Bobby Metronome.

People are looking up at us on the stage. Unlike the night before in Sault Ste. Marie where nobody seemed to care that we were on the stage, we seem to have a lot of eyes on us. I think for a moment about how to open. Usually it's "Good evening, something, something." I decide that's not the approach I want to take tonight.

"THUUUUUUNDER BAAAAAAAAAY!" I howl into the microphone. "THUUUUUNDER BAAAAAY!" I slash at the strings, sending a jarring strip of guitar screech through the room. I repeat it, let it reverberate this time, and repeat it again and again until I fall into the rhythm of 'All Along The Watchtower.' A savage 'A' chord. Another. And another. A savage 'G.' A savage 'F.' Another 'G.' Look on my guitar, ye Mighty, and despair.

Mark picks it up and starts banging the four/four beat, and Jason figures out where I want him. We pick it up, increasing the tempo, until I turn to the microphone and power out those prophetic words: "'There must be some way out of here,' said the joker to the thief…"

We slay our way through it, getting shocking power out of three simple instruments. I don't care man, you can have a band with three guitars, two drummers, a horn section, two guys on keyboards and a choir backing up the singer, but sometimes in a pub by the Trans-Canada highway, there is absolutely nothing that can match a trio just beginning to find it's true power and abilities.

When it's over Jason and I swap instruments. "That was fucking cool," he says. The pub is full of noise. There are cheers and whistles.

"That was nothing," I tell him. "After tonight, they're going to name a local holiday in our honor."

"All right, you bastards," I tell the crowd. "Taste my fucking knuckles! One-Two-Three-Four!"

I can hear Mark laughing behind me as we explode into 'Knuckles,' It feels really good to just slash through a fast, hard song, and even though it's often hard to get a pub crowd interested in an original (everyone just wants to hear 'Free Bird') I always get the feeling that with a simple, catchy chorus like 'Knuckles' has, by the time the song is over everyone will be singing along. Maybe I'm just crazy. I get romantic about good songs that way.

We hit them again and again, song after song. There is no let-up. People get up and dance to the slower songs, and they just stand and bounce during the faster ones. Even Jason and Mark look sweaty and frantic trying to keep up with the pace I'm setting. Where am I getting this energy? I ask myself. This is it: a packed bar loving the music I'm making. This is it. This is the absolute best.

We finish the opening set with 'Rockin' In The Free World,' and we get a huge round of applause. Jason and Mark get off, and I pause at the mike. "We'll be back in a while," I say, "unless the other band shows up and steals our spot." Just like I'd hoped, there are boos. That's it. They want us back.

Jeff is standing at the bar. He's not smiling, but he doesn't look all pissed off like earlier. "Was that all right?" I say.

"Okay," he says. "You've got the second set. Be back on stage in half an hour."

I turn and tell Mark and Jason. "Well down, boys," I say. "We've got half and hour to work out the second set."

Jason nods. "Maybe we should go up to the room," he says. "No distractions."

"We're no going to have a drink?" asks Mark.

"There's beer upstairs," I say. "Yeah. We should take a quick breather and work it out."

We head for the exit. As Mark and Jason slip out the door a hand clamps onto my arm. I look and see a buxom blonde with big hair standing in leather pants and a denim jacket. "Hey there," she says. I figure she's forty, and has probably been to bed with at least two hundred men. I bet she blew the minds of every single one of them. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?" she asks with a big smile.

I think for a moment about Sheila, my wife. Yes, Sheila is a stripper, but she's a stripper with class. This chick has 'tramp' written all over her, but she's hot enough to make me stumble on my own tongue. "I'm um, going uh, to our um…"

"Come outside and have a cigarette with me," she says.

"Yeah, okay," I say. We slip out the door into the hotel. Jason and Mark are standing there waiting for me, ready to head upstairs.

"Terry, what are you doing?" asks Jason, who is standing with his hands on his hips.

"I'm just going to grab a cigarette," I say. "I'll be up in a minute."

Jason looks at the woman. He sighs like a mother disappointed in her child, and turns to go up the stairs. Mark gives me a ridiculous grin, and then follows the Guitar-Star.

The blonde and I head the other way and step outside into the parking lot. There are a few others out there smoking. She and I step away from the group a little.

"What's your name?" she asks, pulling two cigarettes out of her pack. She hands me one and gives me her lighter.

"Terry," I say, and light up. I light her cigarette for her and pass the lighter back to her.

"I'm Tammy," she says.

Yeah, I think. That sounds about right. She looks like a Tammy. "I probably shouldn't be smoking this," I tell her. "This is the first one I've had in a few weeks."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have given it to you."

"That's all right. I was in the mood for it."

"You guys were great," she says. "You looked really hot up there."

"It felt good," I say. The cigarette burns my throat a bit, which is already raw from singing and screaming. Smoking is probably the last thing I should be doing if I have to sing again in half and hour, but the buzz is pleasant. It's funny how people don't mind long term decay in exchange for a few seconds of a pleasant buzz.

She stands with her jacket open. She has on a pale blue tank top with a plunging front that gives a generous view of her cleavage. There's a tattoo of a rose visible at the top of her right breast. It's about four inches long. Ten years ago it was probably only two inches.

"It's cold out here," I say. "You're getting a little nippley."

She looks down and sees that her nipples are indeed poking out through the cotton tank top. She pulls her jacket closed and gives me a reproachful smile. "Bad boy," she says. "You shouldn't be looking there."

Yeah, right, I think to myself. Then why am I standing here? I look up at the stars. Do I actually want something from this woman? Some physical contact? A make-out session and a chance to play with her big breasts? Or should I just flick away the cigarette and head upstairs and get ready for the next set? I take a drag. "Listen, I…"

She takes my free hand and guides it inside her jacket. She presses it against her breast. I can feel its softness and weight. Somewhere inside the breast I can feel hardness. I know that hardness. It is a breast implant. Again, with nostalgia and a heavy heart, I think of Sheila.

"I need to head inside," I tell her. "We need to get ready for our second set."

She smiles. "But I'll see you later?"

I'm not generally paying attention to what's happening around me, but I notice squealing tires and a van aggressively driving through the lot. It screeches to a stop not far from where Tammy and I are standing. I forcefully pull my hand from the inside of her jacket.

Matt, Wayne, Dave and Gina of Machine Within A Machine pile out of the van.

"Terry!" shouts Matt. "Jesus Christ, are we too late?"
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:41 am

Issue #30

I stand, blinking, dumbfounded to suddenly be faced with Matt, Wayne, Dave and Gina, all the members of the seven-hour-late band Machine Within A Machine. Tammy, the blonde cougar from inside the bar looks back and forth between the band and me. Gina is looking at Tammy with knife-eyes.

"Well," asks Wayne. "Did you guys play, or what?"


"Of course we played," taking a drag on my cigarette. "Where the hell have you guys been?"

"Oh hell guys, just grab our gear," Wayne says, "I'll go in and talk to the manager." He runs inside, giving me a suspicious look as he passes me.

"Shit," I say, and flick the cigarette away, running after him.

"Hey, wait a second," says Tammy, but I leave her behind. There are more important things right now then loose women with big breasts. I run inside the hotel and leap up the stairs two at a time. I run down the hall to The Clutch Dogs' hotel room and burst in upon Jason and Mark. They've just opened beers.

"Let's go, right fucking now," I say, panting. "Machine is here. If we want to play the second set we’d better get down there."

Jason shrugs. "If Machine is here, we don't need to play the second set, do we?"

I make angry fists. "God damnit, there’s no time to debate this. We’ve got to get downstairs and get onstage."

Jason looks at Mark, then back at me. "They'll kill us."

"Let them fucking try. Everyone in the bar will be on our side, including that fat hooligan manager. Come on, we've got a chance here."

They follow with their beers in hand. We get down to the bar, which is a raucous pit of bodies. "Shit," I think, pushing my way towards the stage. "People in Thunder Bay party hard."

I see Wayne up at the bar arguing with Jeff, the manager. Jeff is pointing and shouting, and Wayne has his hands up in the air, wildly gesturing.

Mark points to the two of them. "Hey Taz, do you think we should get into that?"

"No. Just grab the bartender who flipped on the stage lights for us before and tell him to flip them on again as soon as we're on stage."

"Aye." Mark dashes off towards the bar, the skinny Scottish kid pushing his way through the crowd. Jason and I get up on stage and grab our guitars.

"This doesn't seem cool, Terry," Jason says. "It seems like we're trying to fuck them over."

I nod. "Yeah, I know. Don't worry. We've only got four songs ready. By the time we finish those, Machine will be ready to play and we can just give them the stage."

"That's not what you're really thinking," he says. The crowd has spotted the two of us on the stage. There are a few whistles, a cheer. "You want to steal the spotlight from them."

"Yeah," I say. "I do."

The stage lights come on and Mark jumps up on the stage. He climbs behind the kit and bangs the drums while Jason and I turn our amps back on. The sound is good. I can see at the bar Wayne is waving wildly at me, gesturing for me to come over and join him and Jeff. Jeff is still shouting at Wayne and pointing up at us on the stage.

I see the rest of Machine Within A Machine entering the bar, carrying their gear. I turn and look at Jason and Mark. "All right boys," I say. "Are you ready for whatever comes next?"

Mark laughs. "Too fucking dramatic, Taz."

I look at Jason. He looks dead serious. "It's your call, Terry," he says.

I bite my lip and look out at the crowd. Jason's right. This could go very, very badly, depending on how I play things here. "Good evening, Thunder Bay," I say, and hit a random chord. "Our second act has arrived. The unstoppable Machine Within A Machine will be taking the stage shortly, and we're going to play a few songs for you while they get ready."

I look at Jason and he nods. "Okay."

We hit it and fly into 'Dead Fingers Play.' The crowd recognizes the old Tremors of Intent song. I can see people dancing. I can also see Wayne fuming. To the side of the stage Gina is tuning her guitar.

As the song nears its end, I can see that Machine is ready to jump up on the stage and start their set. The last chord of 'Dead Fingers Play' is usually sustained for a four-count, but as soon as we hit it I scream into the microphone, "'End of Us!' One-Two-Three-Four!" Mark and Jason pick it right up. I have to give them credit. I keep them on their toes on stage, and they always manage to respond.

I start singing, but from the side of the stage I can hear Wayne screaming at me to cut it short and get off the stage. I wait for Jason's solo to give Wayne the finger.

We finish the song and get a big cheer. "Okay, Thunder Bay, that's it for us. We're The Clutch Dogs and we've got CDs for sale. Machine Within A Machine is next." Jason and I unplug our guitars and we hop off the stage, making way for the others.

"You're an asshole, Terry," screams Wayne.

"Yeah, but I show up on time," I shout back. We get as much of our gear together as we can, leaving our amps and drums on the stage for Machine to use. We haul our guitars and other shit upstairs to the room. With everything safely put away, we head back down and check in with Jeff.

"Sorry about the bullshit," I tell him.

"You should have played your whole set," he tells me with a red face. "That guy's an idiot. But they're playing now, so I guess you missed your chance."

"Yeah well, we have to make it to Vancouver and back with those guys."

"I've got some friends that could take care of them for you."

"Um, no thanks. Do we settle up after closing time?"

"Yeah, come back and find me at about two."

"Cool." I join Jason and Mark, who are watching Machine Within A Machine. Wayne is screaming his way through a song. The band seems tentative and off-balance. I wonder why the hell they were so late.

The song ends. "I see The Clutch Dogs are still here watching us," Wayne says to the crowd. "I guess they want to learn something. No, just kidding. They are a great band aren't they?" The crowd cheers. "Man, they sure are assholes, though. You're a bunch of assholes, aren't you guys?" he shouts in our direction. Then he laughs, like it's just a good joke between friends, and they start their next song.

"Well guys, what do you think of that?" I ask.

"Let's set their fucking van on fire," says Mark.

"Naa, forget it," I say. "They're pissed off because they messed up. Really, we could have screwed them way worse than we did. We look cooler than they do, so Wayne wants to get the last word in. Let him think he's cool."

"This is getting worse and worse," says Jason.

"No man," I say. "It's getting funnier. We could keep this shit up all the way across the West. It'll make us stronger." I point up at Wayne, screaming into his microphone. Veins in his neck are standing out. "It'll destroy them."

Jason shakes his head and laughs despite himself. "Let's get drunk and sell some CDs," he says.

We set up at a table, and people stop buy to chat with us and occasionally buy discs. Machine keeps playing, and the insults that Wayne hurls our way get uglier. "This one is called 'The Queer Dogs,'" he announces before the band starts a number. The next song he declares is called 'Terry is a Dick.'"

"We've got to do something about this shite," says Mark, emptying a beer glass.

"Relax man," I say. "The more he insults us, the more he looks like an idiot."

After a few more songs I go to get a pitcher of beer. When I get back to our table, Jason is sitting there alone. "Did Mark go to the can?" I ask.

Jason looks at the seat next to him, as though he hadn't noticed our drummer leave. "I guess," he says. I look up at Machine playing and see Mark slipping through the crowd to the stage.

"Oh shit," I say. "Come on." I set the beer down and begin to follow Mark, trying to catch up with him before he gets to Wayne. The crowd is too dense however, and Mark is too fast. Before I can catch up with him, Mark climbs up on stage and fires himself like a missile, planting his shoulder into Wayne's gut and knocking him solidly on his ass. As the music crashes to a halt Wayne and Mark wrestle, with Mark coming up on top. He begins raining punches down on Wayne's face.

Dave whips his bass off and grabs Mark, pulling him off of Wayne. Wayne gets up, blood coming from a split lip, and begins kicking at Mark, whose arms are pinned by Dave. I climb up on stage and jump on Wayne. The two of us crash over the drum set, landing in Matt's lap. I can't quite tell what happens after that; the world suddenly becomes a tangled mess of elbows, knees, cymbals, drums, sticks and fists.

Gina and Matt manage to separate Wayne and me. Once again the cut on my nose re-opens, and Wayne and I both have bloody faces. Gina holds me from behind, saying into my ear, "Okay, just chill, okay, okay…" Matt is holding Wayne, although he looks too exhausted to fight any further.

I look over at the others. Jason has Dave in a headlock, and Dave has Mark in a headlock. The crowd is hooting, stomping their feet and cheering like the audience at a wrestling match. The bouncers, big bastards with shaved heads and beards show up and separate everyone.

Jeff comes forward. "You boys," he says, pointing at Mark, Jason and I, "go upstairs to your room. We'll look after your gear. And you assholes," he says to Wayne and the bunch, "Get the fuck out of my bar."

Jason, Mark and I do as directed, dragging our sorry, bleeding asses out of the bar, getting slaps on the back from people on the crowd on the way. We head up the stairs and into our room. Luckily we have plenty of beer. We sit down, open bottles and look back and forth at each other.

"Sorry lads," Mark says at long last. "I think I've done us in."

"It's okay," I say, pressing a bathroom towel against my bloody nose. "I think it was bound to happen sooner or later."

"So that's it then," Jason says, taking a long drink. "That's the end of the tour, is it? We can't go on with these guys now, can we? I mean, we might as well just head straight back to Toronto. And we only have what? Eighty CDs that we didn't sell?"

"Wait and see man," I say. "We'll work it out. When Machine booked the shows all the way across Canada, they said they had two bands. They can't replace us, so I don't see how they can fire us."

"Terry, are you crazy?" Jason shakes his head and stares at me like I'm a misbehaving child. "We just busted up a gig with a fist fight. We can't keep touring with these guys. Can't you see? It is over."

I shrug. "I'm not quitting."

The phone rings. I figure it will be Jeff. I grab it.

"Terry? It's Gina. We need to talk."
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:41 am

Issue #31

It's Gina on the phone. I look at Mark and Jason and they look back at me expectantly.

"Where are you?" I ask.

"I’m in the hotel lobby. The guys are arguing in the parking lot. We’re going to go sort this stuff out and see where we go from here. I just need to know one thing: are you guys willing to carry on, or is it just going to be more fighting and shit? Can we salvage the tour?"


I look at the guys again. They look back with bright eyes, all full of hope and other cheesy emotions. I know they would follow me to the bitter end. "Yeah, we're still in," I tell her.

"Okay, that’s all I needed to hear. I'll call again in a few hours."

I hear the click, but I say goodbye anyway and hang up.

"So?" says Jason. "Who was that?"

I tell them what Gina said. They nod, and we hang out in the room, getting drunk and waiting for her to call back. At one point we hear shouting beneath our window, look out and see half a dozen people scrapping it out in the parking lot. Man, what a town.

A few hours later I leave Jason and Mark drinking in the hotel room in case Gina calls and head downstairs to the bar to settle up with the manager. They’ve already locked up, but banging on the heavy wooden door brings one of the bouncers around. "Can I get in and see Jeff?" I ask him. Wordlessly he lets me pass.

The bartenders are behind the bar cashing out their registers. Another bouncer is sweeping. I ask at the bar and get directions to Jeff's office off a little hallway behind the bar.

I see him inside, his back to the door, counting stacks of bills. I knock on the open door. He turns and looks at me. "Oh. You came back."

"Sure," I say. "You said to come back and settle up."

He spins around in his swivel chair and folds his arms over his fat stomach. "Okay. But you're not going to like it."

I lean against the doorway. "How's that?"

"As far as I'm concerned, both of you guys, you and that other pack of assholes, fucked me over tonight. Those guys showing up what, four hours late? Then getting on stage and acting like a pack of assholes like that. Fuck them. They're getting nothing."

"Um, okay."

"As for you guys, it was your drummer who jumped up on stage and started that fight, so as far as I'm concerned you're lucky I don't call the cops."

"The cops probably stop by pretty often, don't they?"

He gives me a snarky look. "Don't get smart. You guys will get half."

"Half of what both bands were supposed to get?"

"No, half of half of what both bands were supposed to get. Half of your half. And if you don't like it, we can settle it outside."

I give him a hard look and think it over. Cops would be no help, and a parking lot settlement would not go well. Rock and a hard place. "All right," I say. "We'll take it."

"You've got the room, and the cost of that will be taken from your cut. Just to make sure you don't get any funny any ideas, you can get your money tomorrow when you check out."

"I thought the room was complimentary for the bands."

"Yeah, for bands that don't start fights on stage. Pricks like you can go fuck yourselves. You got anything else to say?"

I stand there like a dope. "No, I guess not."

"Then get the fuck out of here."

"Right." I walk back out of the bar and head up to the room. Mark is sitting on the floor in his underwear watching Jerry Springer on the television and Jason is spread out on the bed.

Mark looks up. "All right Taz?"

"We're not getting paid until tomorrow. The manager is pissed off about the fight, so we're not getting quite as much as we thought."

Jason rolls his head to look at me. "That's typical."

"Gina called," says Mark. "She's on her way here."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah," Jason says. "We'll see if she wants to play strip poker."

"Sure. It's a shame you'll be passed out drunk by then."

"Fuck that," he says, rolling into an upright position. "I'm good."

"Anyway," I say, cracking open another beer. "Gina's probably got more important things to talk about."

Fifteen minutes later the phone rings again. It's Gina, calling from the lobby. "I'll come down," I tell her. I get up and grab the last two unopened beers.

"Why'd you no invite her up here?" asks Mark. He looks as pissed drunk as Jason. And I probably look as drunk as they do.

"We'll just have a quick chat," I say. "Don't worry about it."

"I'm no worried. Ye've just like, got to be hospitable and all that, aye?" he slurs.

I leave and bumble down the stairs once again. Gina is waiting in the shabby brown lobby. She sees me and leads me outside into the parking lot.

"Do you want a warm beer?" I ask, offering her one of the bottles.

"Sure."

"So what happened?" I ask. "Why were you guys so late?"

"Oh god," she says, opening the bottle and taking a drink. "This is so ridiculous. So embarrassing. Wayne was driving and he got into an argument with Dave, who was sitting behind him. They were talking all sorts of crap about the band, about throwing him out because he's not a good enough player. See, we were all pissed off at you because you told Dave we wanted to find a new guy, but the thing is we'd actually talked about that before. So you saying it kind of brought it out into the open. But of course you don't want that to come out when you're actually on the road with the guy."

"Right. Well, sorry again."

"So anyway," she continues, "Wayne is driving, talking like he's the fucking king, my band this and that, and eventually they get to yelling at each other so much that Wayne is turning around to yell at Dave while he's going ninety on the highway. And when Wayne was turned around, Dave hit him in the face."

"People have a habit of that."

"Yeah well, it's not really the smart thing to do when the guy's driving. So Wayne hits the brakes and we go into the ditch. Christ, I still can't believe we didn't roll the van. We could have been killed, there's no doubt in my mind. So we hit the ditch and we can't get back out. And then we find that Wayne's cell phone is out of the service area, so we can't even call for help. Eventually we get someone to stop and they call. Then it's two hours before the tow truck shows up to winch us back onto the road, with all four of us screaming at each other the whole time. So there. That's why we were late." She takes a long drink.

"That's fucked up."

"Worst day of my life," she says. "We're stuck in a motel down the highway. And it looks like the band is pretty much done. Dave's going home no matter what happens, and none of us want to play with Wayne anymore, so it looks like he'll be going home too."

"So that's it?"

"Well," she says, shrugging her shoulders. "To tell the truth, Matt and I wouldn't mind carrying on."

I laugh. "You want to play shows with just guitar and drums? You're The White Stripes now, with no vocals?"

"Actually I can sing," she says. "I'd have to cut or change some of the lyrics and maybe a few songs too. But I can do it. If we can find a new bass player, we'll be set."

"Sure, but where are you going to find a new bass player? Pick one from a musician tree?"

She looks at me sweetly. She even bats her eyelashes.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me." I close my eyes and shake my head. "You're not serious. You've got to be crazy."

"Come on Terry," she says. "You know you could play our songs. You won't have to do anything fancy, just back us up. We'll play in the sound checks so you can learn the material. It'll be fine."

"The Clutch Dogs will kill me. Besides, you can't play shows like that without rehearsing first. It'll be a disaster."

"Well, we'll switch so your band will play second. That'll probably satisfy Mark and Jason. And we've got a free day before we play in Winnipeg, so we can jam all day tomorrow if you want. We can make it work. Come on, Terry. I really want to make this work. There's no way I want to go home. God, we're not even a quarter of a way through the tour."

"This is nuts." I shake my head, but my drunken brain is thinking, well, maybe. As well, I don't want to let Gina down. The thought also flutters through my mind that maybe, just maybe, I'll let her charm me with her beauty and abundant sexuality.

She has another idea. "Remember Terry," she says, "if Machine Within A Machine goes home, so do The Clutch Dogs."

Again, I laugh out loud. "That's a compelling argument." I have a sip and nod. "Okay. I'll see what the guys say."

"There's one other thing," she says. "Our van is on Wayne's credit card. He's going to take it back to Toronto."

"What, so you want to come in our van? That's a problem. How are we going to fit five people and all the gear, including two drum sets into our van?"

"We can make it work. Maybe Matt and Mark can figure something out about the drums."

"Sure, we'll just throw Mark's kit into the Lake of the Woods. Except that his gear is all borrowed. He can't ditch it."

"We'll work it out tomorrow. Here," she says, reaching into the inner pocket of her jacket. "Give them this as a peace offering." She pulls out a joint.

"You guys have pot?"

"Matt brought some, but he hasn't let anybody see it. Wayne was absolutely fascist about not having any drugs along." She passes me the joint. "Okay, so Matt and I will call you in the morning and let you know what's going to happen."

She walks away down the road. I go back inside. In the room, Mark and Jason have both passed out, Mark on the floor and Jason spread eagle across the top of one of the beds. I slip the joint into my guitar case and crawl into the vacant bed.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:42 am

Issue #32

I wake up ugly and hung over. The phone is ringing. I creep across the bed and fumble with the receiver. “Yeah. Hello.”

“Hi there, this is the front desk. Your check out time was eleven o’clock. It’s now eleven fifteen. Can we expect you soon?”

“Um, yeah. No problem. Five more minutes.” I hang up and look around. I'm on a bed in a crappy hotel room. The wallpaper is drab and vaguely vomit-colored. On the other bed Jason is spooning an underwear-clad Mark. For the first time on the trip I really, really wish that I had brought a camera.


“Guys,” I say as loudly as my dry, croaking throat can manage. “Guys, wake up.”

“Hmmm?” Mark notices the arm wrapped around him. “Git tae fuck!” He rolls away from Jason and off the bed, landing with a thump on the floor. Jason raises his head. He has a hard time blinking his eyes open.

"What?"

"Time to go, Guitar-Star. We missed our check out time." I push the blankets off. I fell asleep in my clothes and they are wet with sweat. "Gross," I mutter.

The phone rings again. I grab the receiver. "Okay, we're coming."

"What? Terry, it's Gina."

"Shit, you should have called us earlier. We missed our check-out time."

"Oh god, Terry, is this the first time you've stayed in a hotel?"

I sigh. Okay, that was a stupid thing for me to say. "Are you guys ready?" I ask her.

"We'll come around in about ten minutes. Will you guys be in the parking lot?"

"Yeah. We'll go from there to get coffee and shit."

"No," she says. "Shit before you leave the hotel."

"What?" My brain is working very slowly. "Oh, I get it. Funny. All right, see you in ten."

I hang up. Mark is buckling his belt. Jason is sitting on the side of the bed.

"I'm hurting," he says. "I'm a hurting unit. Rough. I feel rough. Did we drink enough last night? Christ, what a blur. We fought them last night, didn't we? I put Dave in a headlock. And you," he says to Mark. "You're something else, aren't you? I think that was probably the craziest thing I've ever seen. Jumping on stage to attack the band. When we get big we'll have to hire a lot of security so our opening acts don't climb on stage to attack us."

I get up and walk to the bathroom. Jason keeps talking: "But we had plenty to drink. And the crowd was on our side. That's it, isn't it? That's the thing, most people are idiots, but people can tell who's an asshole and who isn't. Or at least they can tell the right kind of asshole. Take a guy like Terry. Hey, Terry," he calls to me.

"What?" I'm pissing, but with the door open I can hear every word he says.

"You're an asshole, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I guess sometimes I am."

"Exactly," he continues. "Terry's a complete asshole, but he's the right kind of asshole, and people can tell if you're the right kind of asshole or just a piece of shit like, um. God, we had a lot to drink didn't we? What's his name?"

"Wayne," says Mark.

I flush, wash my hands and rub water into my face. The cut on my nose looks raw, like chewed meat. I wish I could go a day without cutting it open again. I dry my hands and walk back into the room.

"I think I might be sick," says Jason. "We should stop somewhere and get a big breakfast. Like a really huge breakfast, like, double cheeseburgers. Not fast food stuff, but greasy spoon road-side restaurant burgers the size of your head. If we could get burgers like that in a strip bar, that would be best. Burgers and naked women. That's what would make me feel better right now."

"It's wrong to view women as objects," I say with a straight face. "But that aside, I like where you're coming from this morning, Guitar-Star. Being hung over seems to agree with you. We'll have to get you hung over more often."

Mark, also looking wasted, gives me a more serious look. "So what's the score now, Taz? Are we going on, like, or are we finished?"

Jason looks at him and the silly, joking expression leaves his face. He looks at me expectantly.

"Okay guys," I say. "Here it is. We've got two choices. First, we can go home. Second, we can keep going, with a few minor changes to the arrangements."

"What changes?" Mark asks.

"Machine Within A Machine has split up. Dave and Wayne are taking their van and driving back to Toronto. Gina and Matt are willing to carry on the tour, but we would have to take them in our van."

"That would be tight, mate."

"Just the two of them are going to play?" asks Jason.

"I'm going to fill in on bass," I tell them. I shrug. "It's either that or we head home."

"Well," says Jason. "That makes it easy, doesn't it?"

Mark nods. "Aye."

We grab our gear and bags and head down the stairs to the lobby. The woman behind the desk takes our keys. She's a heavy woman in her fifties with colored hair and pronounced bags under her eyes.

"We'll need our money from the show last night," I tell her.

She pauses and gives me a long look. "I don't know anything about that," she says. "If you didn't settle up with the bar last night, you'll have to deal with them. We run the hotel separately."

I shake my head. "No, Jeff, the manager, said that we could pick up our money at the front desk when we checked out this morning. He was very specific."

She gives me another long look and then picks up the phone. She dials out, waits, and then starts asking someone on the other end about it. In a moment she hangs up.

"Nope," she says with finality. "You'll have to deal with the bar. Here's your bill. Is that on a credit card?"

I shake my head. "No, it's not. Our room was supposed to come out of the money for the show. Well, originally it was supposed to be on the house, but then he changed his mind and said it was coming out of our pay. Which you're supposed to have."

She sighs a big sigh like she's talking to an imbecile. "And we've already established that I don't have it. And I don't know anything about your room being paid for. If you want to talk to them about it, go ahead, but either way, this room needs to be paid for."

"Okay. I'll go talk to the bar." I leave Jason and Matt waiting and head into The Inn-Towner's bar. It's not busy. I few old boys have dropped in for lunch and the big screen is showing horse racing. The guy behind the bar hadn't been there last night.

"I need to talk to Jeff," I tell him.

"He's not in." The guy consults a schedule under the bar and then tells me Jeff will be in at eight o'clock tonight.

"I'm with the band from last night. We need our money. Who else can I talk to?"

"Just Jeff. You'll have to wait."

"I can't wait; I need to drive to Winnipeg. Call him at home."

He laughs. "No way. You'll just have to wait."

Slowly, with angry calm I repeat: "I can't wait. I need to drive to Winnipeg."

He shrugs big muscular shoulders. "I guess you're screwed then, aren't you?"

"Damnit," I mutter and walk back out to the lobby. "Okay guys," I tell the boys. "They've cheated us. They won't pay us and Jeff isn't back in here until eight o'clock."

They stand still for a moment. Jason closes his eyes and puts his hands up in the air. "Jesus Christ, what the fuck," he says.

"Calm, down," I tell him. "That's the name of our lord you're taking in vain." He looks at me really hard, trying to figure out whether or not I'm joking.

"So what do we do?" asks Mark. "Our gig in Winnipeg isn't until tomorrow night. Do we wait here all day? We could drive there tomorrow."

"I don't know." I shake my head. "I don't know. I'm sick of making decisions. What do you guys think we should do?"

Jason stands with his hands in his pockets. "Let's pay for the room," he says. "The maybe we'll see what Gina and Matt say about sticking around until tonight."

"Aye. Sounds good," says Mark.

I nod and dig the money for the room out of the band's profits. The woman takes the cash and gives me change and a receipt. We pick up our stuff and carry it out to our van. Machine Within a Machine's van is parked in the lot. Gina and Matt are standing next to it with all of their gear sitting in a pile. We see them and wave.

Jason, Mark and I drop our stuff next to our own van and walk over to where they are waiting. I can see Wayne is sitting behind the wheel of the van and Dave is sitting next to him. They are both wearing sunglasses, trying to look hard and angry and defiant. I'm fairly certain they both feel miserable. I bet they both regret saying they would go home. I bet they both feel like quitters.

I walk up to Gina and Matt and shake each of their hands. Jason and Matt follow suit, and we have a very congenial moment, right there in front of Wayne and Dave.

Matt turns to the occupants of the quitter's van. "Okay guys," he says. "I guess we're set. I guess we'll see you back in T.O."

"Don't count on it," Wayne says. He starts the van. I feel the urge to make a smart comment to him, tell him that if he doesn't have the head or the heart to survive the road, but I keep quiet. This moment isn't about me or The Clutch Dogs. It's about Machine Within A Machine breaking up, with half the group abandoning the name and running home and the other half pledging to carry on, rebuild the band and make a go of it no matter how cramped, uncomfortable and difficult it may turn out to be. It strikes me as funny that the two guys driving home together are the ones whose fight destroyed the group. I can't imagine anything in the world more uncomfortable than the drive Wayne and Dave have ahead of them. And that drive is almost twenty hours long.

Matt, Gina, Mark, Jason and I each pick up pieces of Matt and Gina's gear to carry over to The Clutch Dogs' van. Wayne puts Machine Within A Machine's van in gear and they back up, turn and drive out of The Inn-Towner's parking lot, starting off down the highway heading east. And just like that, it's not Machine Within A Machine's van anymore; it's an ambulance carrying two casualties of the road back home to recover in their own beds and wonder why they failed. We watch them go. No one says a word. We load our van.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:43 am

Issue #33

It takes a long time to wedge all of the gear into the van. With two drum kits taking up all the space at the back, we end up putting the guitars in the foot space of the second row. Luckily we have several hours reprieve before we need to actually climb into the over-stuffed contraption, since it's a unanimous decision that we wait until evening and get the money we're owed by the bar manager. We're making lousy enough dough on this trip that the idea of driving off and leaving a wad of it behind is repulsive.


We head inside The Inn-Towner's bar. It's a different place than it was last night, with the rowdy crowds and blood-thirsty thugs. There's sunlight coming in through a bank of windows and the patrons are freeze-dried looking old men in Freightliner trucker caps and plaid jackets sipping coffee or early beers. We get a table and eat greasy breakfasts, paying with band money and harassing the waitress for continual coffee refills.

The old men in the bar are watching horse-racing on the big-screen. Matt and Mark are bonding by comparing favorite drummers, but Gina, Jason and I sit there doing nothing. I get up and approach the bar.

The same bartender that I spoke to before is standing behind the till. He's a big, heavily muscled goon with a goatee. He's probably training for a career as a professional wrestler on days when he isn't tapping kegs. I pour on the charm and manage to convince him to let us set up on the stage to practice. He wouldn't even have to turn down the races, I tell him, and after some wrangling he lets us go ahead.

Matt pries his kit out of the van and Gina gets her guitar. I grab my bass and my acoustic guitar as well, anticipating a long afternoon of trying to learn Machine Within A Machine's songs so I can back them up for the rest of the tour.

"I don't know any of the bass parts to these songs," Gina tells me while we get in tune, "So you're just going to have to improvise from what I'm playing, okay?"

"Not a problem." We pull a couple of chairs off the floor and sit on stage facing each other, while Matt sits with a stripped down kit. We start the first song, Gina playing softly and slowly to let me pick of the rhythm and find what notes to play. It's a simple, repetitive song and I pick it up quickly. I remember hearing them play it full blast and it was a fierce rocker, but defanged I'm surprised at its simplicity.

We play, and I appreciate sitting so close to Gina. She looks me in the eye when she explains how changes are supposed to go. Her eyes are very clear. Very blue.

"Are you going to sing while we go through these?" I ask her, writing down some changes in a notebook. "It would probably be a good idea for you. Get back into the swing of it."

"Yeah, I guess." We start the next song. She and Matt play through it and I watch and listen, and they lead me through it again, breaking down the parts: intro, verse, chorus, repeat, repeat, middle eight, verse chorus, outro. Simple. We play it through and Gina sings. She sings softly, without much breath behind the words.

"Have you sung much before?" I ask here after we finish a third song. "You seem a little tentative."

"It's been a while," she says. We go through a fourth song, with me watching, listening, copying down some riffs and changes, and cringing as I listen to Gina try to sing.

Do you remember the first Police Academy movie? Probably not, since it was a pretty long time ago and not an especially high quality movie, although it was popular enough to spawn like, ten low-budget sequels and a television series. Anyway, there was the one police recruit who spoke in nothing but the quietest whisper through the whole movie. Then in the very last minute she catches the bad guy and screams out loud, "Don't move, dirt bag!" and everyone in the audience cheers because she finally said something out loud. And then Steve Guttenberg and Kim Cattrall make out.

Anyway, listening to Gina sing is a lot like listening to that one cop-in-training: she's so quiet that she drives you nuts, and the whole time you're waiting for her to just break through and blast it out. It's funny, because when she's speaking Gina has a clear, confident voice.

"Um, maybe we should get a beer," I suggest. "Loosen up a bit."

"Yeah," Gina says, looking a bit embarrassed about her singing. "Maybe that's a good idea."

We order a couple of pitchers at the bar and join Jason and Mark at the table. They look stone cold bored. Mark is reading a three day old newspaper he found lying around. Jason is watching horse-racing.

"Thank God someone finally suggested beer," Jason says as I set a pitcher down in front of him. "It's all I've been thinking about, but I didn't want you guys to think I'm a lush."

"Now I can't imagine your fine mother would raise a lush," I say, grinning at Mark.

"Why not? She put whiskey in my baby bottle and Schnapps on my breakfast cereal. Hell, I didn't know what milk was until I got pissed one night and woke up in the barn of a dairy farm."

"Will you listen to this guy?" I laugh. "Get him hung over enough and he turns into Rodney Dangerfield."

"I don't get no respect," Jason mutters, adjusting an imaginary tie.

"So Gina," I say, filling a glass for her, "do you think you'll be able to sing in front of an audience tomorrow night? I mean, no offence, but you seem a little rusty."

"Yeah, I'm wondering about that myself." She takes a drink and ponders the problem. "Maybe it would sound better with some effects. You know, add a bunch of distortion and chorus to the vocals. That would make it more the sound I want anyway. Faster, heavier, harder. Wayne was the one who wanted us to sound all 'alternative rock,' which these days actually means mainstream and boring."

"I can't disagree with you there," I say, passing a full glass to Matt. "But I don't think it's a good idea to try and cover up shaky vocals with effects. It's just a bit cheap, you know? Like a bad guitar player covering up deficiencies by using a pile of effects. You can still hear the problems."

She shrugs. "What do you suggest?"

"Why don't we try playing a few shows as instrumentals while you get ready to sing?"

Matt jumps in. "We can't do that. Nobody wants to sit through a band with no singer."

Mark looks up from his paper. "Better no singer than a bad singer," he says. "It's like bad karaoke. Who wants to hear someone sing if they're shite?"

"And I'm not saying you're shit," I say to Gina. "All I'm saying is that we shouldn't rush it. Sing in practice and when you've got your confidence back, and then sing on stage."

"That's what I had to do," Jason says.

"Okay," Gina says. "But how boring will it be for people to watch a band with no singer? I don't want to put on a boring show."

"Would you rather put on a shitty show?" asks Mark.

"Look, it's all presentation," I say. "I used to play rhythm guitar for a band that had no singer. They made that their gimmick. They called themselves Heavy Metal Mime School and didn't say a word. They just dressed all in black, got up on stage and just played this super-heavy set, no vocals, not a word to the audience, and got off the stage. They had a bit of a following too. They had the presentation and the stage presence. They turned not having vocals into an advantage."

Jason laughs. "Damn Terry, how many bands have you been in?"

"I've been in a lot of bands. I got fired that one because eventually they decided we all had to wear white face paint like real mimes, and I wouldn't do it."

"Let's just keep going today," Gina says. She looks irritated. "We'll just play though the rest of the songs and we'll make a decision later, okay?"

"Okay, okay. It's your band, your decision."

We get back on stage and over the next few hours we work through the nine songs that Gina and Matt have decided to keep. We take a crack at running through the whole bunch of them one after another but it seems a little too much and we take a break.

I head to the bathroom for a piss, and when I come back out, Jason, Gina and Matt are up on the stage. Jason has Gina's guitar strapped on.

"What's going on?" I ask.

"We're going to try some confidence-building exercises," Jason says. He fumbles with his fingering for a moment and then starts to play. Matt picks up the rhythm and starts banging along with him. What's the song? I recognize it when Gina starts to sing. It's Roadhouse Blues by The Doors.

They play through it, and although Gina doesn't know all the words, she certainly sings the ones she knows with a lot more power than the Machine Within A Machine songs she was singing only a few minutes ago. They let it go on and on, repeating verses, Jason sometimes singing along.

"That's better, aye Taz?" Mark asks, watching them.

"Yeah. Good idea. I should have thought of that."

"No big deal," Mark says. "I think Jason's been itching to play along."

"You guys must be pretty bored."

Mark grins up at me like he knows something I don't.

The late afternoon turns into a jamming free-for-all, with the five of us rotating on and off the stage, playing all sorts of different songs. We eventually knock it off at six o'clock when the big muscle-head bartender asks us to knock it off for the dinner rush.

"If you want, you can play again in a couple hours," he says. "But give it a rest for now."

"You guys don't have any bands scheduled tonight?" I ask him.

"No. But that doesn't mean you're getting paid to play. As far as I'm concerned, we're doing you a favor."

When no one is paying attention, I grab Matt and ask him to step outside with me. We slip out into the parking lot. To my surprise, he pulls out a half-smoked roach and lights it up. "What's up, man?" he asks, holding the smoke in and passing me the joint.

I smoke it and pass it back to him. "I just wanted to see what you thought," I tell him. "We've been playing all afternoon. Do you think we can pull this off?"

He nods and takes a drag. "I think so. You're picking it up." He blows out. "As for vocals, I don't know. There doesn't seem to be a safe route here. Okay, granted, I hadn't heard Gina sing before. I thought she would be better. But either way, if we have her sing or if we have no singer, we're taking a pretty big risk. I think we should let her try."

"Right."

"The show next month is the big thing for us, really," he says. "The opening spot for El Grande Floyd Ciccone. I mean for us, this is all a build-up to that. And we've got to use these shows to find out if we can pull that off. Before, with Wayne and Dave, it would have been no problem. But now, shit. Who knows?"

He allows me another hit and then finishes the roach, flicking the miniscule stub away into the gravel. We head back inside and join the others to eat dinner, and wait.

*****

At eight o'clock I see Jeff stump in through the door. "Punctual bastard," I think as I get up. I go to the bar, where he's talking with the bartender. I call his name. He looks over at me and scowls.

"Is that your shit on my stage?" he asks, coming over.

"Yeah," I tell him. "We needed something to do all afternoon, didn't we? It seems you forgot to pass along the message about our money to the hotel desk. We weren't about to just leave."

He folds his arms across his chest. "All right," he says. "How much do I owe you?"

"You know how much you owe me." He tries to look pissed off, but I see a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.

"Okay," he says and heads to his office. About five minutes later he comes back out with an envelope. I count out the money and put the envelope in my pocket.

"You'll stick around, won't you?" he says with a grin.

"What for?"

"Well, as far as I can tell, you and all your buddies have been drinking. So I can't in good conscience let you drive away from here tonight. And your shit is on my stage. You might as well play tonight."

"I don't know," I say. "The money isn't very good here."

"Oh, I'm not going to pay you," he says with a smile. "But since you're stuck here anyway, I think I could swing a room for you."

"A free room for a show? That's not a deal."

"If you try and drive away from here, I'll have to call the cops. Drinking and driving is a serious offence. And," he says, leaning forward and sniffing at me, "cops around here don't care too much for pot-heads."

I think it over for a minute. "Cover our bar tab and you've got a deal."

"Steve," he says, calling to the bartender. "What's this guy's tab at?"

Steve checks. "Hundred and twenty-four fifty."

Jeff laughs. "Shit! You guys aren't cheap dates, are you?"

"Well, there are five of us."

"Okay. I'll even throw in another two free pitchers." I agree and we shake on it.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:44 am

Issue #34

I return to the table and share the good news that we'll get our bill covered, plus a room in the hotel for the night in exchange for a show. It's perfect. Who could say no? Hell, our gear is already set up on the stage.

"Damn, Terry," Gina says. "Couldn't we just relax for the night? You got the money, right? I saw him give you an envelope. Couldn't we just call it a night?"


"What, and pay for a room?" I hold up the envelope. "This is a quarter of what the two bands were going to earn for last night. We're way behind. Plus, we're in for more than a hundred bucks on food and beers for today. We need to play tonight just to break even on the day."

I look around the table. I thought they would all be happy, excited to play again, excited to get away with a free night instead of paying out the ass for beer, food and lodging. Instead, they all look tired, worn out and half drunk. I notice how dark Gina's eyes are.

"Did you guys sleep at all last night?" I ask her.

"Maybe two hours," she says. "We stayed up fighting most of the night. The sun was up when I fell asleep."

I look at Matt. He'd been up all night too, and had spent all afternoon drinking beer and playing drums. He'd looked fine only a few minutes ago, but now at the suggestion of playing a show, he looks exhausted.

"How do you feel?" I ask him.

"I'll do it," he says. "I'd rather sleep, but yeah, I'd also rather not pay for today."

"Fuck it," says Jason. He looks and sounds drunk. "Let's play. I'll play."

Suddenly playing for another crowded house with an exhausted, drunk band doesn't seem like such a great idea. I sit down and seem to sink into the chair. My head feels heavy. "Well shit," I say. "I just agreed to it. Can we do it or not?"

Gina rests her elbows on the table. "How much time do we have?"

"An hour or so, I would guess. We didn't get up last night until after nine."

She nods. "You get the room so I can grab a quick shower and I'll play."

I look around. "So everybody's in?"

"Hang on, Taz," Mark interjects. "Are we playing one set or two? Each band playing a set, or just one?"

They all look at me. I've become the link between the two bands and somehow the de facto leader of both. Even Gina and Matt are looking at me to tell them what to do, even though I've only been a substitute member of Machine Within A Machine for a day.

"Let's get both bands on stage," I tell them. "Machine can play through the songs that seem ready, and then The Clutch Dogs can get up and do their set. Sound cool?"

Everyone nods. I go and talk to Jeff and he takes me out to the hotel desk and arranges for a room. The five of us head upstairs and take turns in the bathroom, combing hair and tidying up. Gina goes in last and takes the longest, applying makeup to cover her tired-looking eyes. Jason and Mark head out to the van to get their own gear. Matt waits for Gina in the room, lying on the bed with his eyes closed. I head down to the bar.

It's getting close to nine, but the bar isn't nearly as full as it was the night before. A week night, predictably, would be quieter. But there are patrons, and the place has a buzz. People know the band from last night will be on again, I can tell. And they might be expecting fireworks like last night too.

One patron immediately catches my eye. Tammy, the big-breasted blonde who hit on me the night before is standing at the bar, sipping a cocktail through a straw.

I slide up next to her. "Hey there," I say. "Come back to watch the fights again?"

"Hey you," she says, slapping me on the arm. "I missed you last night. You ran off and didn't talk to me again."

"Sorry. We got a bit mixed up with band business. We didn't expect to still be here tonight, I can tell you that."

"So you're going to play again?"

"Yeah," I say, gesturing to the bartender to bring me a pitcher of beer. "Well, both bands are going to play. The one band will be a bit different. Some of them went home last night after the fight."

"I saw that," she says. "Your face was all bloody."

I shrug. "That's rock and roll."

I see Gina enter the bar. She looks great. Even on two hours sleep and after hours of playing guitar and drinking, she can put herself together when she needs to. I want to take her away from this shitty roadhouse, take her some place where we could be alone, maybe sit in the van, sit in the dark together all night.

She comes and stands next to me at the bar, giving me a cold look. "Hello Terry," she says. "Who's your friend?"

"Oh, this is Tammy," I say, trying to be casual. "Tammy, Gina. You would have seen her last night."

"Right," says Tammy. "Your band got thrown off stage, huh? That's too bad. I guess you guys are finished."

"No," I say, "Like I said, both bands are playing tonight." I can see that Tammy is trying to start something with Gina. Shit, I'd rather not have Tammy here at all, even though she's a hot chick that would be willing to hop right in bed with me. That would piss Gina off to no end, even though she says she doesn't want anything to do with me in that department. What's a guy supposed to do?

The bartender brings the pitcher of beer and I grab it. "Would you get the glasses?" I say to Gina, and to Tammy I simply nod. "I'll see you later. We're on in a few minutes."

Gina and I walk up near the stage. "She seems really nice, Terry," Gina says. "You two would make a great couple."

"What's with you?" I say, setting the pitcher down on a table. "If you're in a band, you talk to the people who are there to see you. You've never had to talk to some slob at a gig?" She doesn't respond, just sets the glasses down on the table. She goes to the side of the stage and starts tuning her guitar.

Jason and Mark bring in the gear and we get the stage ready, setting up the microphones and doing a rudimentary sound check. Matt shows up just as we finish. His eyes are red. "Are we all set?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say. "Where did you go?"

"Stepped out for a smoke," he says, giving a dopey smile. He climbs up on the stage and gets behind the kit. He bangs the toms, does a drum roll, pauses, does another long drum roll and watches Gina and I collect our guitars and climb up on stage. The bartender takes the cue and flicks on the stages lights. Jason and Mark take a seat at the table near the stage and pour themselves beers. I can see them whispering to each other.

I look at Gina. She looks hot, but tired and bitter. Not the way I would want her to look for our first show together.

"Are you going to sing?" I ask her.

"I'll give it a shot," she says, and switches on the mike in front of her. She steps up to it. "Check. Check, check." She looks at me and shrugs.

I look at Matt. "Count us in?"

Matt raps his sticks together four times and we begin the first song. We work through it effectively, and because Gina and Matt are so tight I manage to fall in with them and make it sound natural. I'm a bit late on some of the changes, but not enough to throw them off or make a real mess of things. But Gina doesn't sing. She approaches the microphone a few times and opens her mouth, but each times she backs away without making a sound.

I hear clapping when the song ends, but I see that it's mostly coming from Jason and Mark. Mark puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles.

"What happened?" I ask Gina.

"Nothing," she says. "You remember the next song?"

"Um, 'Burning Minds'? Yeah, I think so. We're going Dee, Gee, Bee?"

"Yeah." She gestures to Matt and he counts us in again and we run through the song. This time Gina sings, but not until the final two choruses. Her voices wavers, but she pushes through. The third song goes the same: she skips the verse, sings the chorus, sometimes skips lines and always sings in a soft, unsure voice.

There is some polite applause, but mostly people seem to be carrying on without paying much attention. It feels like playing with a cover band in the back corner of a pool hall, ignored and unappreciated.

I switch on my microphone. "Thank you," I say to the phantom clappers in the bar. I look at Gina, but she's looking away, tugging at her guitar chord. "We are the new Machine Within A Machine." Gina gives me a furious look and I back away from the mike.

We play through the remaining songs, quitting after eight. The sound was getting very loose and clunky, and Gina did not attempt to sing again. The last song drags and I'm glad when it's over.

Gina, Matt and I square away the necessary equipment. I leave my bass rig on stage for the second set with Jason and Mark, but I give Matt a hand moving his drums off. Gina and I manage to avoid eye contact while we clear off the gear.

When the stage is ready I sit down with Jason and Mark and pour myself a beer. Matt joins us. He looks like he's ready to fall over. "Where's Gina?" I ask him.

He shakes his head and swallows a mouthful of beer. "I don't know."

I take a long drink and get up. "Okay," I say, looking at The Clutch Dogs. "I'll be back in ten minutes and then we'll go on. Sound good?"

They agree and I head out of the bar and upstairs to the hotel room. As I expected, Gina is there. I can hear her inside the bathroom. From the sounds she makes I know she's crying. I knock on the door.

"Gina? It's Terry. Are you all right? Come on out, will you?"

"Oh, fuck off, Terry," she says in a cracking voice.

"Right. Look, it's not that bad, okay? It was the first show. And you haven't slept in two days. We're going to do it again tomorrow night and it will be light years better, you know it." I wait. She doesn't say anything.

"It's just too much emotion, right? You feel overwhelmed, and you're so tired it just gets to be too much. But it's really not that bad. You've never played a bad show before? Christ, I've been booed off a stage with my mom in the audience."

I wait. She still doesn't make a sound, and I ask her again to open the door. Just open up the door. Please. It's all right. Just open the door. Please.

She finally comes out, and she wraps her arms around me, pushing her face against my shoulder. She sobs, and I hug her, hold her, rub her back and say shhhhh, it's okay. It's okay.

Gina looks at me and kisses me on the lips. We hug again. "It's okay" I repeat. "You're just exhausted. You need a good night's sleep."

She lets me go, but we stand facing each other, holding hands. "I know," she says in a voice that is barely audible. "I'm being silly."

"It's cool," I say. "Look, I hate to do this, but I need to go back and play again. Do you just want to stay up here and chill?" She nods, and we hug again.

"Do me a favor, okay?" she says, as I turn to leave. "Don't talk to that woman. I know it's stupid, but I just hate her."

I nod and close the door behind me. I stand for a second and take a deep breath. I feel reenergized, a warm rush through my body as worn out nerves are revitalized by my feelings for the guitarist crawling into bed in the room behind me.

To me, there is only one thing that describes rock and roll, and that is urgency. If the music drags, if it becomes a chore, a struggle to make it through the song then it is not rock and roll. Rock and roll must have urgency and it must have force driving it, driving the players. Whether the song is fast or slow, the players must feel they are compelled to play. It is danger. It is need. Unless the music has the feeling that it is the only thing that can save you from death, than it is nothing. It is a waste.

With my thoughts lingering on Gina lying in bed with tear-reddened eyes, I lead Jason and Mark onto the stage. I look out at the audience and almost feel sorry for them, because I know they will never hear rock and roll played with such urgency and need as they will tonight. She kissed me. I nod to the boys and switch my microphone on. "Good evening," I say. "We are The Clutch Dogs."
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:45 am

Issue #35

Five people, one hotel room. Five people, two beds. Doesn't sound quite right, does it? The Clutch Dogs, plus a sordidly drunken Matt, return to the room at one in the morning to find Gina asleep on one of the beds. Where are the four boys to sleep? Certainly someone will have to crawl into one bed with Gina and the other three boys will have to have a sausage party in the other bed. Oh, the dilemma.


Matt starts shuffling toward Gina's bed. Jason grabs him by the shoulder and gives him a cross look. Mark slaps Jason on the shoulder to say that's not cool. Jason gives Mark a glare. No one will say anything out loud, to avoid waking up the sleeping Gina. It quickly turns into a silent pissing contest with each guy trying to climb into the bed and the other two trying to prevent it.

I go into the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. Shit, this is a mess. I go back out and the guys are doing a rock, scissor, paper contest.

"Guys," I whisper to them, "It doesn't matter who sleeps with her. It's just sleep. Mark."

"Aye."

"You have a girlfriend at home, right?"

He nods. "Sarah."

"Okay, you've got a girlfriend, so you can be trusted not to try anything stupid with Gina. You sleep in that bed." He nods and climbs onto the bed next to the sleeping girl. He's asleep before anyone else has a chance to pull off their shoes. Matt, Jason and I manage to squeeze onto the other bed and do our best to get comfortable without touching each other.

* * * * *

The next morning involves a lot of creaking, aching bodies stretching and popping and cracking, staggering to the bathroom, yawning and rubbing eyes. We manage to get ourselves washed and dressed and slowly move down to the van. We stand shivering in the morning wind while we load the over-stuffed vehicle.

Checking out of the hotel is no trouble this time. After playing two sets last night for no cash, we are back in the management's good books. So after stopping for a tank of gas and burnt-smelling takeout coffees we hit the highway heading west, leaving Thunder Bay behind at last.

The van is uncomfortably full, even more so because Gina and I have our guitars out in the back seat. With the two drummers up front, Jason, Gina and I sit in the back seat, with Gina attempting to teach me Machine Within A Machine's songs.

We put the distance behind us, and a few hours later we leave Ontario and pass into the province of Manitoba. Not long after that we emerge from the slow, winding two-lane highways that snake their way through the rock of the Pre-Cambrian Shield. The trees give way to rolling prairie and suddenly we start making good time. We find ourselves on the luxuriously divided Trans-Canada Highway, flying along at a good hundred and ten kilometers an hour in a nice straight line. And as cramped as we are, we manage to stay in good spirits, relieved to finally be moving.

Gina and I go through the songs again and again until our fingers get tired and clumsy. Jason, jammed against the wall with Gina and her guitar next to him, looks uncomfortable but doesn't complain. I don't say anything, but I think he's okay with the situation just because he's squished in close to Gina.

Winnipeg is visible for quite a while as you approach it. The tall buildings of the downtown area loom hazy and blue long before you reach the outskirts of the city. We drive in and park at a service station and refresh and orient ourselves. We pull out the city map and plot a route to the club where we're booked.

I stand in the parking lot stretching out stiff joints while Jason, Mark and Matt pore over the map. Gina comes out of the ladies room and joins me.

"Hey," she says. "You okay? Time to take you to the retirement home?"

"I didn't expect to hear age jokes from you," I say. "Besides, who likes sitting in a van for six hours?"

"I'm just teasing. So, um, are you cool with what happened last night?"

Shit, she wants to talk about her feelings. What do I say? Don't say too much. Don't give away your feelings, just act cool, and see what she thinks. "What, about the kiss?" I say. "Yeah, I'm cool. Um, whatever happens, right?" There, that should be suitably vague. Too bad I don't have the guts to just say how I feel.

But how do I feel?

"Right," she said, slowly nodding. "Well, I think it would be pretty weird if we started doing anything here on the road, you know? Like with the five of us jammed into one van and all, it might be a little funny. Do you know what I mean?"

Yes, I know what that means: rejected again. "That's cool," I say. Nice. It almost sounded like I meant it.

"Let's just try and get the show together, okay?"

"Absolutely," I say, but I'm thinking I'll get another chance with this girl. She can't keep kissing me and running away.

She walks away to look at the map with the other guys and I stretch out, looking at the traffic passing us by. It occurs to me that of course she'll keep kissing me and running away, if I let her. Because I've given her all of the power in the relationship. Because I've let her know that I'll do what she wants. This is not how to win a girl's heart. This will need more thought.

We get to the venue around six in the evening and find it locked. Matt gets out his list of contact numbers and once we track down a pay phone he calls the manager. We stand and listen while he asks when someone will come by to let us in.

"What?" he shouts, suddenly worked up. "No we fucking didn't! When? No! No, that wasn't us. No, we're here now. We're around the corner at a pay phone. Well, can't you un-cancel it?"

He looks at us and covers the mouthpiece. "Fucking Wayne called and canceled the show."

I take the receiver from him. "Hello?" I say.

"Who's this?"

"Hi, I'm Terry Wilson, from The Clutch Dogs. We're the other band. Look, Machine Within A Machine had to fire that punk Wayne the other day. It looks like he called you and cancelled the gig just to fuck us over. But we're here, and we're ready to play."

The manager doesn't appear to give a shit. "Be that as it may," he says, "I haven't got staff to open the club. We only open for events, and when your guy called and cancelled I told everyone that I don't need them. So whether you're here or not, I can't open tonight."

"You can call around and get a few people here. Come on man. We've been driving all day. Don't let some petty asshole use you to get revenge on us."

He gets quiet for a moment, and I wonder if I didn't go too far.

"Okay," he says. "I'll call around and see if I can get a few people. Call me in a half hour and I'll let you know."

"Thanks man. I appreciate it."

"Get your act together," he says. "This is the least professional thing I've ever heard of." He hangs up.

We spend the next half hour calling all the clubs and bars on the itinerary, checking which ones Wayne had called with cancellation messages. Of the twelve remaining clubs we manage to get through to seven of them, and of those seven, three got cancellation notices from Wayne. I manage to talk two of these places into letting us get our scheduled gigs back, but one refuses.

"Wayne doesn't fuck around, does he?" I ask, slipping my credit card into the pay phone yet again. I get in touch with the Winnipeg bar manager and he tells me he'll be around in an hour to let us into the back doors.

"I managed to get a skeleton crew together," he says. "You guys better draw a crowd though, because if nobody shows up to watch you, forget about getting paid."

"Okay. You had a place lined up for us to sleep tonight as well, right?"

"I did, but that's out of the question now. Sorry, but you guys will have to sort that out for yourselves."

I hang up the phone. "Okay, gig's back on," I tell the others. "I'm not sure if we'll get paid for it though, unless a whole truckload of people show up to see us. Frankly, I can't see that happening if word has got out there's no show here tonight."

Mark shrugs. "So how to we get the word out the show's back on?"

Jason shakes his head. "In a town where we have no connections and don't know anyone? With a few hours before show time? Good fucking luck."

"We should get a truck with a big speaker on the top like in The Blues Brothers movie," I say, but no one seems to be in a joking mood. "Okay guys, it's not the end of the world. The important thing is that we've got a place to play tonight. Let's focus on that."

We check into a budget motel not far away, taking another bite out of our budget. After a meal at a fast food burger joint we meet the manager at the back of the club. "We'll open at eight," he says, unlocking the back door. "First band is on at ten-thirty, second at midnight. Cool?"

We all nod. "Cool."

We load in and sit in the empty bar for several hours, waiting and hoping a crowd will appear. We buy a few beers and endure bitter looks from the few staff members who turned up.

At ten-thirty Matt, Gina and I get up on stage. Half a dozen people have drifted in. We plug in, switch on and start playing. Gina's a bit closer to the microphone this time, but still sings quietly and without any guts. I bite my lip as I play, knowing this isn't working.

When The Clutch Dogs get up on stage at midnight the crowd has ballooned up to a full dozen. We play our set and I'm happy with how we sound. It almost sounds good enough to record. Too bad there's no one here to listen to it.

At two in the morning we head to our crappy hotel room. The others look discouraged, but I've played this kind of gig before. Bad gigs happen, empty rooms happen. That's touring. I decide it's a good time to pull out the joint that Gina gave me a few nights ago, spark it up and pass it around. It takes a lot more bad jokes, but eventually I manage to cheer the two bands up and get them laughing about the gig instead of pissed off at what appears to be another defeat.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 01, 2007 7:46 am

Issue #36

Wednesday morning has us driving west, blazing at top speed along the Trans-Canada hell-bent to arrive in our next gig-town, the mighty metropolis of Regina, Saskatchewan. None of us know anything about the place except that it's small and of little strategic importance. It is isolated, has produced a few good hockey players but no major rock acts, and has a funny name that rhymes with pussy.


I'm jazzed up, wound as tight as um, a guitar string, excited to be driving. This highway is perfect for me, with long simple straight-aways, good for passing farmers in half-ton trucks and moms in mini-vans. I want to pass people. I want speed. Jason is sitting next to me, staring blankly out the windows at the passing fields and bluffs of trees. Gina, Matt and Mark are jammed into the back seat. They play "I Spy" and "Punch Buggy" and a bunch of other games that kids play in the back seat on long car rides to drive their parents crazy.

It's pretty quiet up front until Jason starts talking. "You know what pisses me off, Terry?" he asks. "I nailed the solos last night. Every solo. Remember how you and Bobby gave me so much shit for being a lousy guitarist when we started out? I never made it through any of my solos. Well, last night I nailed every one of them and there was no one in the bar."

"That's touring, man," I tell him, swooping around a little red compact on a curve. "I guess the important thing is that you hit the solos. We have to think about properly recording some of this stuff. Especially now that you're playing it properly."

"It's frustrating though, isn't it? We played in Thunder Bay for beer money and then played Winnipeg for nothing because no one showed up. We finally start playing really tight sets, and we get nothing for it."

"That's how it is when you're starting out, dude. Don't worry. We're getting paid for tonight."

"Yeah, not much," he says. "Shit, I have to say, this is not what I expected. We're paying out the ass for everything. We're not even breaking even so far. Shit, where's the money? I figured on tour we'd be getting enough cash to fuck around a bit, you know? Have some fun."

"Well, we are getting drunk almost every night," Gina chimes in.

"Yeah, and it's coming out of our pockets. At least if there were some people in the crowd, maybe they would buy some beers for us."

"If we could manage to play a proper show for a full house," Matt adds.

"It's all philosophical, aye mate?" says Mark. "It's like, would you rather play an awesome show in an empty pub or play a shite show in front of a thousand people?"

"Or how about this," I add: "Would you rather play in front of a thousand people for twenty bucks or in front of twenty people for a thousand bucks?"

"I'd want the thousand bucks," Jason answers. "I'll play for free after I can afford rent on my own apartment."

"Okay," Gina says, "Would you rather play shitty wedding music in front of two thousand people or awesome rock in front of twenty?"

"I would play the shitty wedding music until everyone was drunk," I say, "then I would start with the awesome rock. People always get pissed at weddings. Sooner or later I could start slipping in the head-banging stuff."

"So what if it's a Mormon wedding and no one drinks?" Matt asks.

"I don't think Mormons dance," Jason says, "so I don't think they would hire a band."

"Maybe they don't dance, but they could still listen to a band."

"Who would hire a band if they couldn't dance?"

"Guys," I say, "I don't think anyone in this van actually knows anything about Mormons, so maybe we shouldn't make any assumptions about whether or not they dance or hire wedding bands."

"Would you do it Terry?" Gina asks. "Say the band doesn't make it. You keep getting older, and sooner or later the only place you have to play is in some shitty wedding band. Would you still do it? Playing waltzes for grannies to dance to? 'Love Me Tender'? 'Under The Boardwalk'?"

I smile and stare down the highway.

"Come on, Terry," she continues. "A nice powder blue tuxedo with suspenders. You could grow a little mustache. Probably get to kiss each bride. It might be fun."

"That ain't rock and roll," I say.

"Pardon?"

"I said that's not rock and roll!" I bang my fist against steering wheel. "Goddamnit! You fucking kids! You're not getting it!" I slap Jason's shoulder. "You! What the fuck are you here for?"

"I'm here to play guitar," he says, taken aback.

"Yeah, right," I say. "You're here because you want to get famous. You want to be rich. You think if you tour a couple times everyone will know who you are and you'll get signed to a big fat fucking contract and you can stop working. You can show up at noon for your video shoots and get blowjobs from different groupies every night. All of you fuckers. None of you get it."

They are all quiet. Shocked, I guess, and I don't stop. "You people are not paying attention! There are no agents waiting to sign half-assed wasters who think that they're hot shit because they finally figure out how to play their solos half-way through the tour. There are no contracts in our future. If we are here on the road playing shitty bars for whatever shitty money they give us, it's because we want it. We are a working band. We are playing rock and roll anywhere they will have us. This is what we are here for. This is not the means. This is the end."

No one says anything after that, all the rest of the way to Regina. I feel rotten, like the teacher who yelled at the class until the kids didn't want to learn anymore. But shit. All I want to do is play some rock and make some money. Why is that so hard?

The Trans-Canada Highway leads us right into the heart of Regina. We actually don't have to make a single turn until we are right downtown, half a block from the venue. It's a nice little Irish pub named O'Shanahan's. The bartender gives us the lowdown: one local opener, then Machine Within A Machine and The Clutch Dogs, then a local kid would take us to a house where we can crash for the night. After the fighting in Thunder Bay and the near-miss in Winnipeg it all seems too easy.

We do our load in and sit at a table to order dinner. Everyone is pretty quiet, and I figure they're all still bitter for my rant in the van. It would appear I've poisoned the atmosphere, so I get up. "I'm going for a walk," I tell them. "Ask the server to just leave my food, and I'll eat it when I get back. I won't be too long." None of them say anything, so I leave them and walk out into the city.

I figure it will be best to just let them cool out for a while, and talk through what I said. Maybe it would be good for them to spend some time talking about what a dickhead I am. Whatever it takes for them to get their heads together.

The front doors of O'Shanahan's look out into Victoria Park, a nice block of grass and trees. It's still green despite the season. There are picnic tables set out on the patio for the smokers. I look at them with envy and start walking, looking for a convenience store to get some cigarettes.

The walk lets me clear my head and think about the people I'm sharing a van with. These four people all have the same simple dream: they want to make a living playing rock music. If possible, they want to play at the highest level, become stars and play in front of huge audiences and make huge bags of money doing it. And yes, it is possible. Every year there are hot new acts that make it big, wankers from small towns in Texas or Connecticut or Missouri who get huge and live the dream. So what's the problem with dreaming?

The problem is me. Here I am, closing in on forty years old, and I've been playing rock music for my entire adult life. I'm an excellent player. I can write songs, I can sing, and I can play lead, rhythm, or bass guitar. I've been a part of several terrific bands and I've played with some outstanding musicians. And despite all that, I'm still at the bottom of the rock and roll food chain. And there are thousands and thousands of men and women like me all over North America.

It doesn't matter though, because I love what I do. No, I've never played in front of the huge audiences, and one look at my rat-hole apartment will tell you that I've never made much money, but it doesn't matter because I love getting on a stage and playing rock music, whether it's for five people or five hundred, beer money or a grand. I just want to play.

But guys like Jason, Gina and Matt? Would they stick around if they knew they would never make it big? Would they bother to play the music if it was just for the music and not for the dream? Mark would. I know he just wants to get fucked up and have a good time. But Jason has dollar signs in his eyes.

I come around a corner and spot a 7-11 a few blocks away. I go and get a pack, then cough while I stand in the parking lot smoking one. I had half a cigarette a few days ago with the blonde in Thunder Bay, but other than that it's been a while. And smoking after not smoking is disgusting.

I walk back to O'Shanahan's and I find my dinner waiting for me, my chicken burger and fries cold on the plate. The members of the band have headed upstairs to play pool. They can see me from the balcony up above but they don't acknowledge me, so I eat alone and head to the bar to read a newspaper while they relax.

A few hours roll by and I head outside for another cigarette. I see four guys sitting around one of the picnic tables. They have on black hooded sweatshirts, black jeans and runners, and two of them are wearing sunglasses even though the sun went down an hour ago. I make a bet with myself and approach the table.

"Hey guys," I say, "mind if I sit down?"

They all shrug and two of them slide over to make room for me on their side.

I pull out a cigarette. "You the band that's opening tonight?" I ask.

"Yeah man," one of them says. "How could you tell?"

"You look like a band. I'm Terry. I'm in one, oh, actually I'm in both bands that are here from Toronto."

"Oh, cool," they say and we have a round of introductions. This guy is the rhythm guitar, the drummer, blah, blah, blah. I can never remember names.

"How's the tour gone so far?" one of them asks.

I grin. "See this cut?" I ask, pointing to the jagged mark across the bridge of my nose. "That was from the first gig. It's gotten worse from there."

They trade looks that say oh shit.

"No, it's been great, guys," I tell them. "Some things have been fucked up, but we've played some good shows. Have you guys ever gone on the road?"

"Just short trips out of town. One or two hour drives."

"You've got to go on tour, guys. That's the only way to see of you're a band or just some guys who get together and play music."

"So how has your band held up?" the singer asks.

"I'm still not sure," I tell him. "You'll see tonight."

We sit and trade stories for a few hours before they head inside to set up their gear. They're good guys, and I wish them good luck. Before they leave me I ask them if they have any advice about the local crowds.

"Yeah," the drummer tells me. "Don't make any Regina-Vagina jokes. Shit, it's just not funny, but everyone makes the joke. Trust me."

I nod and they head inside. I sit for a few minutes and head in as well, heading upstairs to find my two bands.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Fri Mar 02, 2007 12:46 am

Issue #37

I stop at the bar and get a bottle of beer before heading upstairs to face my two bands. Shit, what drama. If I was going to be in a sitcom, I would call it 'My Two Bands,' and all of the stories would be about me getting routinely humiliated by the silliness of my band-mates. Oh yeah, and there would always be hot chicks around and I would never, ever get laid. That would be the most realistic show ever put on television.

The bar has gotten busier, filling up with a diverse crowd of working class punters, business assholes in suits and university kids dropping in after class. Upstairs I weave through the tables and get to the pool table where Jason and Mark, The Clutch Dogs, and Gina and Matt, Machine Within A Machine, are holding court. Jason sees me and snaps to mock attention, holding in his laughter. His rosy cheeks are a good giveaway of how much he has had to drink.

The four of them laugh, and I saunter up, trying to look cool and relaxed. As I figured, they've clearly been making fun of me. That's cool, as long as they've got their shit together. After all, I was a bit of an asshole blowing up on them all in the van.

"Hey guys. Having a good time?"

"Heil!" screams Jason, giving a Nazi salute. Great, they've been calling me Hitler.

"Okay man, none of that," I say, holding up my hands. "Someone might get the wrong idea. I get it, I get it. I'm an asshole. Just chill, okay?"

"Ah, it's no like that, mate," Mark says, coming up to put his hand on my shoulder. "We've just been like, trying to figure you out is all."

I nod and sip my beer. "Of course. Any big conclusions?"

Matt lines up a shot on the pool table. "Well," he says, "we think that you're a purist." He takes his shot, and the white ball fails to connect with its target.

"Yeah, that sounds right," I say.

"Yeah, and that's cool and all," Jason says, "Except that it's not always the most fun to be around. And sometimes you forget that not everyone else is a purist."

Matt explains further: "See, you asked Jason why he's here. Really, you were asking us all. He answered, 'I'm here to play guitar.' That's an honest answer. That's what he's here for. He's here to play guitar. She's here to play guitar," he points at Gina, who is standing back from the discussion, "and he and I are here to play drums," he says, indicating Mark and himself.

"See, it doesn't matter why I'm playing guitar, as long as I'm playing well," Jason says, picking up on Matt's line of thought. "Maybe I'm here to play guitar because, like you, I just want to play music in front of a few dozen people. Maybe I want to meet chicks. Or maybe I want to get rich and famous. Who cares?"

"All right, I see your point," I say. "And you think it's fine if you're playing here in Regina but imagining you're playing Shea Stadium."

"Maybe, but Terry, what difference does it make?" Jason asks. "As long as I'm putting on a good show and the people watching are having a good time, who cares if I'm dreaming about bigger things?"

"Think about it like sleeping with a girl," I tell them, careful not to look at Gina. "If you're in bed with a girl, then you should be paying attention to that girl. You're there with her. You shouldn't be thinking about sleeping with a better girl or thinking like she's just practice for other girls. You should be trying to have a good time with her and make her feel good. Sure, lots of people fantasize when they're having sex. But is that what you want to do? What if you end up with that girl for the rest of your life? Do you want to spend your whole life wishing she was better? Of course not. You should enjoy being with her."

I look them each in the eye. "Do you get it? I just want you to be thinking about the here and now. Enjoy what you're doing in the moment. Don't worry about getting rich and famous. Play the music because you love it, not because you think someone is going to put you on T.V."

They look at each other. No one says anything.

"I'm not trying to give you shit, guys, I swear to god I'm not. But um, I won't bring it up again, okay?"

There's a stray chord from below as the local band gets their gear together. We move over to the rail. The balcony overlooks the stage area, so we've got a good view as they set up. People start to jockey for good places to watch.

"I'm going for a cigarette," I say, and slip away from them. I head back down and outside. Outside I pull out my pack and light one up. A moment later Gina appears at my side.

"Hey," she says. "Can I get one of those?"

"You don't smoke," I say.

"Come on," she says. "Just let me have one."

I sigh and pass her one. She takes my lighter and lights the cigarette. "So," she says, blowing smoke out. "Did you mean everything you said in there? You never think about anyone else during sex?"

"Generally not," I say. "It's tough to remember. It's been a long time since I've had sex."

"That's hard to believe," she says. "You seem to have a girl following you around every night."

"Come on. What about you? Did you think about someone else when you were sleeping with me?"

"Um," she looks around, as though she's thinking hard. "No, I don't think so. It's hard to say. I was pretty high."

"Right." I sip my beer. "You sound like you've got some regrets."

She shrugs and doesn't answer.

"Hey," I say, trying to change the subject, "I think you should use the effects on the vocals tonight. You've got pedals, right?"

"Well, yeah, but they're guitar pedals. I don't know if that would work really well, but I could give it a try. Why the change of heart? I thought you said the effects would seem cheap."

I look her in the eye. "Can you take it?"

"What do you mean?"

"You sound terrible," I tell her. "You're a great guitar player and you look terrific on stage, but you can't sing. Eddie Van Halen did not take over for David Lee Roth. He went out and got another singer. But you don't have time to get another singer. If you're going to sing, you'll need something to fill out the sound. I don't know. Maybe if you throw in some chorus effects it'll give it an art-rock sound or something."

She looks away and nods, takes a drag on the cigarette.

"I don't want to hurt your feelings," I tell her. "I just want what's best for your band."

"I know." She sighs a long sigh. "Okay. So we'll use some effects pedals. Do you want to do some backing vocals?"

"I could do some 'Oi, oi, oi' shit, but I barely know the names of all the songs, let alone the words."

She shrugs. "Every little bit will help, I guess."

"I'm sorry, Gina."

She drops the cigarette and grinds it out with the toe of her boot. "It's okay," she says and smiles, although it seems like she might cry. "Just do one thing for me." She pokes a finger in my chest. "Never, ever compare me with Eddie Van Halen again." She grins at her joke and walks back inside the bar.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with being compared to Eddie Van Halen," I say to nobody in particular. "Damn kids."

Back inside, the local act has started up and I take a spot on the main floor of the back room. The stage, such as it is, stands only about six inches higher than the floor. With plenty of kids already in there to watch, I need to stand at the side by the entrance to the men's room to get a good view. The four guys are playing hard, fast rock. Very guitar-heavy. Plenty of distortion and speed. Very, very cool.

The singer starts going about his business, screaming out his lines. "These guys are fucking cool," I say to myself before sneaking upstairs to catch up with the others.

We watch the show, clap and whistle between songs, and after forty-five minutes the band finishes their set. I head downstairs and shake their hands while they clear their gear off.

"Think we can top that?" I ask Matt after we start setting up our gear.

"Maybe if we still had the full band together," he says. "No offence, but we were way better on stage with Dave and Wayne."

"Yeah. Do you think I should play rhythm guitar instead of bass? Make it sound a bit heavier, a bit thrashier?"

He gives me a sideways look. "Just like that? Just try it out tonight with no practice?"

I smile. "Naa, I guess not. I'm just thinking."

Gina walks over with the bag of chords. "What are you guys talking about?"

"Nothing," I say. "You ready to kick some ass?"

"I guess so. I'm going to use a pile of effects."

Once we're set up, Mark stops by the side of the stage. "Hey Taz, Jay and I are going to head outside, have some beers, like. Have a good one, aye?"

"You guys aren't going to watch?"

"Eh, we've seen it, right mate? We're going to take it easy."

I shrug. "Okay. Try not to get too pissed."

He winks and heads off. The sound guy nods to us. Machine Within A Machine turns on all the necessary switches, counts in and starts the first song.

It goes pretty well. Gina only sings in about every second song, and when she does sing she uses such heavy effects that her vocals almost come through like another instrument, distorted reverberations echoing through her slashing guitar lines. It sounds pretty cool, actually. Chick industrial.

The crowd isn't behind us like they were behind the local guys, but that's okay, because we sound better than we did the night before in Winnipeg. It seems like shitting directly on Gina's self esteem went a long way towards fixing the band's sound. And goddamnit, the crowd may be only half-way into it, but I am, and I have fun. During the songs when Gina decides not to sing and just focuses on playing her guitar, it almost looks like she's having fun too.

We finish the set and get friendly applause. A few people high five me, which is cool. Gina gets a lot of positive attention from the young men in the audience. She smiles and chats with them while tearing down her gear.

I help Matt and Gina get rid of their stuff, leaving my bass rig in place for The Clutch Dogs set. Mark and Jason don't come back in, so I head out to the deck to find my band.

Outside I look left and right down the patio, through the people crowded around the picnic tables and further down the sidewalk in each direction, but there's no sign of either of them. I begin to slip through the crowd, wondering where the hell they might be. After going back and forth down the line I finally head back inside and go front to back through the bar. I look upstairs and even check in the can in case they both got the shits at once, or something ridiculous like that. I go out the back door and check the van, but they're not there. I walk back out through the front door, light a cigarette and think.

The front doors of the bar look out across the street into the park. I'll be damned. You can't see very much because of the hedges and trees, but suddenly it becomes very clear where Jason and Mark are. I walk across the street and find the entrance to the walking path, entering the darkness.

I walk aimlessly around, peering behind trees and listening for voices until I spot them, standing with a group of young guys by the war memorial in the center of the park.

"Guys," I say when I get close. "What the fuck are you doing? We've got to get ready to go on."

"Shit," says Jason, checking his watch. "Is it time?"

"Of course it's time. What are you guys doing? Smoking up?"

One of the other guys, a kid probably in his late teens with spiked blond hair and a lip ring nods to me. "Yeah. You want in, man?"

"No man, we've got to get on stage right now." I give Jason and Mark hard looks. "Let's go."

The guys say thanks to their new buddies and follow me back to the bar. I jam my hands in my pocket and stomp angrily through the people to the back of the bar. Shit, I think, how do I get stuck with such meatheads? One minute everything is good, the next moment someone is doing something stupid.

Jason and Mark finally get in and we get our gear set up. Jason slings his guitar on and Mark gets behind the kit and bangs the drums a bit.

I look at Jason. "Feel good? Having fun?"

He shrugs. "I'm cool, man."

"Good. We're in front of a good crowd tonight. Let's see if you can nail your solos again."

He grins and looks away. He gets fucking high before the show. Rock star fantasies.

"Mark? You ready?"

He's droopy eyed and smiling. "Aye, mate." It looks like it was good pot they smoked anyway.

We hit it and hammer our way through the set, getting cheers. I focus on the songs and keeping the beat steady, hitting the high notes and trying to make everyone in the place jump up and down. It works, and it's so much fun that by the end of the set I'm not even pissed off at the boys anymore.

We end up staying and drinking pints of Guinness until closing time, laughing and talking with the crowd. It's a good night, making up for a lot of the shitty nights we've gone through.

At three in the morning we leave and a staff member drives us in our van to a house where we crash on an assortment of couches and floor mats. Before going to sleep I stand in the bathroom brushing my teeth. In the mirror I see Gina walking up behind me.

"I think we sounded good tonight," she says.

I spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink. "Yeah, I think so," I tell her.

She wraps her arms around my waist. She rests her chin on my shoulder and we look at each other in the mirror. "Thanks for being honest with me," she says.

"It's cool. I want you to be successful."

She kisses me on the cheek and leaves me to finish brushing my teeth. When I walk back out into the living room where we're sleeping, I see her on one of the couches, already asleep. Mark is still awake, and he puts up a hand for me to high five as I walk past him to my own temporary bed.

"Good times tonight, Taz," he says.

"Yeah. Goodnight, Mark."
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Mon Mar 12, 2007 6:43 am

Issue #38

Snow falls briefly while we're driving into Calgary. We spend a long time arguing over a city map trying to make our way to the venue, and by the time we get there we're all bitter. I figure we're getting van sore, frustrated and sour from the closterphobia of being packed into the van for hours every day, arguing about nonsense and endlessly twiddling the radio dial hoping to pick up an FM signal hundreds of kilometers from nowhere. We're stiff from sitting on uncomfortable bench-seats for long stretches with nothing to do, weak from a diet lacking fresh fruits and vegetables, accumulating hangovers from getting pissed night after night.

The Guinness binge in the Irish pub in Regina led to a savage morning, and most of us skipped breakfast. We managed to force down some doughnuts in Medicine Hat, but a lack of real food all day has us weary and irritable when we finally make it to the venue where we're scheduled for the evening.

We stump inside and settle into a booth while Jason seeks out the management. The place looks pretty good. The narrow front area where we relax opens up into a broad theatre area. Actually, I'm surprised two no-name bands like ours would get booked at a place like this.

"Okay," Jason says, coming back from the bar where he conferred with the staff. "Everything seems cool. They'll have a sound guy here at eight o'clock. We're pretty much free until then."

I get up and stretch. "So we get some dinner then? All together or should we just meet back here later?"

"They have a kitchen?" says Mark. He has his head down on the table and his eyes closed. "I think I'll just eat here."

"Suit yourself," I say. "I want to stretch my legs. Anyone else?"

Gina gets up. "I'll come," she says.

"Me too," says Jason.

Matt and Mark stay behind in the bar while Gina, Jason and I step out into a chilly Western afternoon. We start walking up the road, eyes open for a place to eat. Jason falls into step right next to Gina. If she didn't come he would have stayed, I know it. I wish he could figure out that Gina and I are together.

I light a cigarette. Are we together? Hell, I don't know. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek last night, but what does that mean? I hate not knowing where I stand.

We find a family restaurant that looks half-decent. We get a table inside and order cheeseburgers and fries. The chat is superficial and irritating. Jason keeps trying to engage Gina in conversation, but she's tired and only half-interested. It's embarrassing. Have you ever been out with a friend and he starts hitting on your girlfriend? It's the worst. You want to crack his skull, but if you do anything he'll say 'What? I'm just hanging out.'

"So Gina," I say, interrupting Jason. "I think we ought to talk about this band of yours."

"What about it?" she asks, resting her chin on her hand. She looks burnt out. Still attractive, but burnt out.

"I'm worried about the El Grande Floyd Ciccone show next month. Here's the thing: you got that gig of the strength of the show you had with Wayne and Dave in the line-up. You had your show all set and you had you sound. Your band had an identity."

"Yeah," she says. "Then we went on tour with some prick from another band who fucked it all up."

Jason laughs and I give him a nasty look.

"Okay," I say. "I'll some of the responsibility for Machine's breakup but if your band was stronger it could have survived. I don't want to get into all that right now. My point is that your band doesn't really have an identity now. You don't have a singer and you don't have a front man. Front person. You know."

Gina nods. "I know. So we just have to keep working on it for the rest of this tour."

"Right. Here's my other problem with this. And tell me to fuck off at any time, but it's just my opinion, all right?"

The server sets cokes down in front of us. Gina takes a sip through her straw. "Go ahead," she says. "I'm listening."

"Who wrote all the songs Machine Within a Machine is performing right now?"

"Wayne did." I nod. "Right. Now, I don't want to stick up for Wayne. I think he's a bit of an asshole, but at the same time, I've been in his position. He wrote all these songs and now he's not even in the band. So what happens when you go ahead and perform his songs at a big venue and get a lot of exposure? You go on to play more shows and bigger shows and you end up becoming successful. He ends up sitting at home with a fifth of scotch saying 'They got rich playing my songs.' It's the same thing that happened to me with Tremors of Intent. I wrote half their songs and they went and got huge playing my songs. I got nothing except for some publishing royalties. It's not cool.

"Besides," I shrug, "do you really want to succeed on his material? It's your band now, yours and Matt's, and whoever else you get to fill in the vacant spots. Don't you want the music to come from the people who are in the band now?"

Gina doesn't look impressed. "What's your point, Terry?"

I shrug. "I think you need to make some changes. Get a new singer, write some new songs."

She leans back and crosses her arms. "Oh, I get it. I see where this is going. Christ, I should have seen this. You want the band for yourself."

"What? Well shit, I'm already in the band. I want it to succeed."

"Hold on," Jason says. "Are you in the band, or are you just like, filling in in the band? Because seriously, are you in Machine Within A Machine or The Clutch Dogs?"

"He wants both," Gina says. "Don't you Terry? You want to sing for Machine so you can front the band at the Ciccone show and look like the big comeback hero. Show the guys from Tremors of Intent that you're not such a loser. Show your wife you're not a loser. Right?"

I take a deep breath and try not to get pissed off and defensive. "Look, I'm filling in on bass for you until you get another bass player. And I hate to point this out again, but you don't have a lead singer either. You've got a big show coming up, and you've got no singer and all of your songs are by a guy who isn't even in your band any more."

Gina shakes her head in anger. "So what, you think you should sing and we can perform a bunch of songs you wrote instead? Doesn't that just make it a Clutch Dogs show?"

"Fuck no," says Jason. "Terry isn't the only member of The Clutch Dogs."

"Just calm down, will you both? I'm trying to be constructive here. I'm not suggesting--"

"You're suggesting you front both bands," Gina says.

"God, this is just like before," Jason says. "You know he originally wanted to call us 'The Terry Wilson Band.' Can you believe that shit?"

"Jesus, this has nothing to do with that," I say to Jason. "This isn't just about gratifying my ego. I don't want us look fucking stupid on stage at a big concert because we don't have an act. No singer, or--"

"I'm singing," Gina says.

"You are not a fronting singer," I tell her emphatically. "Once again, you're a great guitar player, but--"

"But you're the only person who can sing, right Terry? Fuck." Jason shakes his head.

"Just say it," Gina says. "You want Matt and me to be your back up band. You want that show."

"Jesus Christ!" I look at Gina. "I'm trying to help you." I get up and walk out of the restaurant.

There are cabs lined up at the other end of the block, so I walk down and climb into one. "Take me to a strip club," I tell the driver.

******

I get a hamburger and fries watch the girls dance. I drink beer after beer in the god-awful place, where they clearly decided to stop redecorating in the mid-seventies. They even have orange shag carpeting on the walls behind the stage.

The girls aren't bad though. I sit long enough that the girl who was on stage when I first arrived marches out in her tiny pink dress for a second go. "Fuck," I say, getting up. "I sat through the whole rotation."

I pay and leave. Outside I light a cigarette and check my watch. It's eight forty-five. So much for sound check. I check my wallet and realize I'm down to small change. All of my bills went to food and beers, and my one and two dollar coins went to the girls on stage. I can't see an automated teller anywhere around. Looks like a cab is out of the question.

I start stumping down the road, heading back the way the cab that brought me came. I figure I can make it back to the club in time on foot. I wouldn't be so stupid if I were sober, but with several hours of beer drinking behind me I march along, guessing at each corner if it's the right place to turn.

Machine Within a Machine is supposed to hit the stage at ten and The Clutch Dogs at eleven-thirty. I walk through the downtown area wondering if I'm supposed to be downtown at all. I cross a bridge, turn back, and ask myself if the cab crossed a bridge on the way to the strip club. I keep walking, figuring I must be going the right way.

The snow starts falling again. My fall jacket is too light and I start shivering. I pull my collar up and jam my hands deep into my pockets and walk, wondering why the hell I bothered to leave the restaurant in the first place. What was the point? Was I trying to prove something to Gina and Jason, or did I just overreact? Were they being bitchy or am I the bitch? I start tearing myself apart with embarrassment and drunken self-doubt.

At nine-thirty I finally decide that I'm ass-fuck lost, and I manage to flag down a cab. I ask through the window if he'll take a credit card. He will, so I get him to takes me to the venue. I sit in the cab trying to warm up, listening to the country music on the radio, full of stupid shame.

I pay the driver and walk into the club. It's packed. There are lots of men in suits and lots of drinking. It looks like New York in the Eighties, except with cowboy hats all over the place. I stop at the bar and ask where the bands are, and the bartender directs me to a dressing room near the washrooms. I head back there and try the door, but it's locked. I knock and knock.

They make me wait a long time, but finally Mark answers the door and I slip inside. Matt, Gina and Jason are all there in the tiny space. They stand there with crossed arms and angry looks.

"Why didn't you open the door?" I ask them.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Gina shouts. She's all dolled up in her stage makeup and a tight black top.

"I had some thinking to do. We're ready to go, right? Did you guys set up my rig?"

"Yeah we did, asshole," Jason says. "And thanks a lot for your help."

That does it and I snap. "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, you fucking charity case? Remember, you fucking rock star wannabe, you're here to play your guitar. That's it, you ignorant fuck. Don't give me any shit."

"Oh, fuck you Terry."

"What are you gonna do Jason, fire me?"

"Okay, let's all just calm down, eh?" Mark says. "It's no big deal. We've got a gig, and all."

Jason keeps his challenging stare. I don't move. The silence is evil, and the shame I had when I arrived is gone, replaced with rage. I want to just lose it, flip out and start punching everyone in the room, then run out into the crowd and start punching random cowboys. Jason stares at me and I stare back until Mark puts his shoulder against me to turn me toward the door.

"Come on Taz. Let's grab a beer." He pushes me back out the door and we head out into the crowd. "Fucking mad," he says, his arm around me.
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Fri Mar 16, 2007 12:30 am

Issue #39

Mark orders a couple of pints, paying for mine since I blew all my cash in the strip club. I'm still amped up, riding a wave of anger and frustration. I rant to him about how I have all the responsibility of dealing with this disorganized group of kids when all they want to do is knife me in the back.

"Yeah, but look," Mark says. "You're older and you've been doing this a lot longer. So of course we're going to look to you for like, guidance and leadership, aye? But the thing is, we're basically a bunch of young rockers. Punks. And what do punks hate more than anything else?"

"Authority," I nod and take a big quaff of beer. "Right. Fuck, I wish everybody could see that we're all on the same team here. Where's the fucking trust?"

"Look, it'll be cool once we're on stage, right mate? If we can just get on stage we'll be fine."

We drink our beers and he buys a second round. We drink those. I feel pretty loaded. The time has come for Machine Within A Machine to get on stage, so we head back to the dressing room. Mark goes in first and I follow him. No one says anything. Everyone avoids eye contact.

"All right?" I say. "We go and put on a show?"

"Right," Matt says. He gets up and leads the way out. Gina follows, and I pause before going. I want to say something to Jason, but he sits with his arms folded tightly across his chest, staring at the wall. I think better of it and follow Gina and Matt.

It's a nice big stage, with spots for Gina and I set up at opposite corners. All of the gear is on stage, including both drum kits. Matt's is ready, while Mark's little kit has a sheet thrown over it. My bass rig is there. I sling it on, jack the cable in and switch on the amp. I test a string and get nothing. No sound. I check all the levels and try again: nothing.

"Bad cord?" I wonder. I can hear the hum from the amp. I pull out the guitar cord and tap the sensitive tip with my finger, listening to the "thup, thup" sound through the amp. So the cord is okay. Where's the sound?

"Gina," I call. "My bass is dead." I plug it back in and test it again. Nothing. I feel a panicked rush in my stomach.

"What?" She comes across the stage to my amp. "What are you talking about?"

"I don't know. I'm getting nothing here."

"Did you check the volume?"

I give her a sharp look. "Of course I checked the volume. The amp is okay. The cord is okay. It's the bass." I twist the end of the cord around in the jack and hear the electricity connecting, but there's no steady sound. "Fuck." I look up at her. "It's the jack. I'll have to take it in somewhere."

"Can you pull it apart and fix it?"

"Um, I could, but it would take most of the night. And I wouldn't want to do it here."

"Well, do you carry a spare bass?"

I shake my head.

"Goddamnit!" she shouts, stamping her booted foot on the stage floor. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

Matt comes over and asks what's going on.

"King Shit's bass doesn't work."

"Hey, it was fine last night," I say. "I don't know what happened to it. Look, I can grab the acoustic, or I can see if Jason will let me use his fakey-Fender."

Matt shrugs. "Okay. We go with two guitars and no bass. Should sound okay. Gina?"

She shakes her head in rage. "Just do whatever, Terry."

I hop off the stage and go back to the dressing room. "My bass is fucked," I say to Jason. "Will you let me use your guitar?"

He gets up. "What's wrong with your bass?"

"I don't know. The jack is fucked. I'll have to get it fixed later. Can I use your guitar for Machine's show or what?"

"Fuck Machine's show!" he screams. "What about our fucking show?"

"We'll work it out. Look, can I use your guitar or not?"

"Yeah, yeah, go ahead."

I go back out and get on the stage. Jason's guitar is there, so I hook it up and Gina and I get in tune. She gives me death glares the whole time. A crowd forms up around the stage and we finally get started, Matt counting us in and Gina hitting the power chords. I follow, playing rhythm behind her. Her guitar supplies the power, the melody, while mine fills out the sound. It works. It makes me think this band should have had a rhythm guitarist all along.

We're loose, all over the place at parts, but we get through the set without falling apart. I don't think the audience quite gets it though, and people come and go from the stage area. Applause is sparse after a few songs trail off instead of closing sharply, but considering how improvised it is, the set goes well.

We don't talk much after getting off stage. I go out to the van to get the acoustic for The Clutch Dogs set. Everyone avoids everyone else. Gina and Matt disappear into the crowd. Jason is nowhere to be found and I can't even see Mark anywhere. I figure it's best to leave them alone. I just hang around up at the stage and rig up the stage microphone for the acoustic so I have something to play for our set. I plug it into the bass amp and give it a try It sounds all right.

I talk with the sound guy until the time rolls around for The Clutch Dogs to get on stage. By that time there's still no sign of Jason or Mark or Gina or Matt. It's a big bar and I don't bother to go looking for them. They all have wrist watches. They know what time they need to be on stage. "Okay, turn it on," I say to the sound tech, and I head up on stage alone.

The tech turns the house music off and I get up there, pulling the acoustic on. I step up to the microphone, the stage lights on me. I give a few scratches across the strings and look out at the forming crowd. Where's my band? I wonder, but I don't ask for them by name. Instead I start to play.

So what do you play when you're feeling alone? What do you play when you feel like the people around you don't understand you anymore, like you've all become disconnected? You play David Bowie. You play 'Ground Control to Major Tom.'

I start strumming it, singing it with my angry rasp of a voice instead of Bowie's sweet tenor. I strum hard, laying down a more angst-ridden version of the song than anyone's heard before. I sing, I rasp angrily and desperately, hoping the members of my band hear this distress call. The audience takes notice. They stand staring, waiting. They all seem to know that this is not the way the show is supposed to start. They know something is wrong.

I get through the song and no one shows up. No Mark, no Jason. No Gina or Matt. What the hell, are they sitting in the van getting high? Or are they sitting in the dressing room saying, 'this will teach the bastard a good lesson.' Or maybe they've just said 'Fuck him, that's it, it's over.'

I get some 'Whooo-hoos,' and some applause when I finish the song. I drop my voice as low as it will go, and in a rasp I ask the audience, "So, what do you want to hear?"

"Frrrrreeeeeeeebiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiird!"

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," I say and laugh into the microphone. Shit, I guess that this is what it's come to: standing alone on a stage in Calgary, playing Skynard on an acoustic guitar for a room full of rich cowboys. It's not how I expected my music career to end. So how the hell does 'Freebird' go anyway? I know it starts in Gee.

I start fumbling around, working it out, skipping back and forth between Gee, Dee and Eff to work the fucker out. I find it, find the rhythm, and start strumming it out. Mark comes through the crowd. He climbs up the front of the stage, passes me and pulls the sheet off his kit with dramatic flair. The crowd gets a kick out of it and there's a cheer and some whistles. I look over my shoulder and watch as he starts adjusting the height of the high hat.

"If I leave here tomorrow," I start singing, and I see Jason coming up to the front of the stage. He climbs up, pulls his shirt off over his head and slings on his guitar, switching his amp on. He watches me strum and listens, picking it up. I watch him and he watches me. He's leaning forward like a sprinter ready to go. When I come back around to the beginning of the line, he hammers the strings once, sending a charge of distorted guitar power through the crowd, adding one thing to the song: BALLS.

Mark sorts his kit out and starts bashing a slow, heavy beat. It's the most fucked up, passive-aggressive version of 'Freebird' that anyone has ever heard. It would drive a Skynard purist up the wall and I fucking love it. The acoustic guitar and spare vocals backed by occasional power chords and this intense, cymbal-heavy crashing is retarded. It's fucked up, and I love the spectacle of it all.

We bring the song home and I look at Jason. He looks fierce and angry, and I smile at him. Goddamnit, Mark was right. I can't stay angry with these guys on stage.

"What do you want to play?" I ask Jason.

He shrugs. "It's your band," he answers.

"All right. Let's do your song." He steps up to the microphone and we play 'Better Off Not Knowing,' singing it together. We play through it, and then lay down 'Runaway,' 'End of Us,' and a few more before I notice Gina and Matt standing near the front of the audience.

"You guys gonna get up here and play, or what?" I call to them. They shake their heads, so I implore the audience, "Come on, let's get these guys back up here." Eventually Matt climbs up and gets back behind his kit. Gina gets her guitar on. We go double-drummer and play through 'Trying To Kick It.'

We jam through a sloppy mess of another hour and twenty minutes of rock, playing through all of our material including ridiculously long versions of 'Sweet Leaf' and 'Rough Go,' with Gina singing backup vocals for songs she doesn't know on the guitar. We finish up with 'Rockin' In The Free World' as usual, playing on and on, trying to implore the audience to sing along.

Musically it's a mess, but the audience digs the chaos and I have a hell of a good time. It's almost one o'clock when we finally get off stage, dripping sweat and shaking with nervous exhaustion. We get long cheers from the crowd when the stage lights go down and slaps on the back when we head to the dressing room.

Alone, locked into a little room together with a case of beer we look at each other.

"All right guys," Matt says. "Is it time to talk about our feelings?"

"Naw, mate," Mark says. "Let's just get pissed."

So we drink and laugh about it all, laughing about our petty fights and our ongoing arguments. We laugh about how they were all up at the front of the bar where the house music continued to play, so they couldn't here me when I started to sing the Bowie song. We laugh about my broken-assed bass and how really what each band needs is another guitarist, and what we should really do is spend some time writing some new songs instead of playing this same boring shit over and over. And we drink and laugh and tell each other what a miserable good time touring is.


Last edited by on Thu Mar 29, 2007 4:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: In the Van on Comeback Road   Thu Mar 29, 2007 4:12 am

Issue #40 - The Finally

I sit in a backstage dressing room at The Royal Theatre, jamming quietly on my bass. It's a sweet instrument, a new Rickenbacker that I bought with the money I saved from the tour, and it's the first brand new instrument that I've bought myself in fifteen years. After dealing with repeated repairs to my old Gibson on the road, I decided it was time to treat myself to some new gear.

Mark is in the dressing room with me, sitting on the couch with his girlfriends Sara. They are both drinking hard, but that's okay because Mark isn't playing tonight. Tonight will be Matt's last drumming gig with Machine Within A Machine. In fact, it will be the last gig with anyone performing under the name Machine Within A Machine. After tonight, Matt will join the two guitarists I saw him rehearsing with months ago at the downtown rehearsal facility and Mark will step back in.

The others, Jason, Matt and Gina, are floating around the backstage area, taking in the scene and talking with the other musicians. We're the first act on stage, getting up there at eight-thirty, when the seats will still be mostly empty, and they have plenty of time to check out the buffet and mingle. It's exciting for them and I want them to enjoy it, especially Matt, who was very gracious in facing the odd-drummer out situation.

I plunk out the nine-note bass line from Pink Floyd's 'Money.' It's a very relaxed vibe, considering that this will be the biggest gig of any of their careers. Will it be the biggest of my career? Hard to say. I've played a lot of gigs. None of them meant much at the time, except for money in my pocket and a good time. They didn't build anything. This gig won't either, because we'll be performing as Machine Within A Machine for the last time, but it will be in front of a bigger audience than usual.

"You should be practicing the new songs, mate," Mark says from the couch. He's smiling and I know he's just kidding, but he's probably right. The set we'll be doing tonight will be nearly all new material. Since the Calgary show and our extended two-band onstage jam session, we finally realized that we basically had two half-bands. Combining was inevitable. Jamming and writing new material followed, and the shows in Vancouver, Kamloops, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Brandon featured us trying out more new, half-finished songs each night.

After tonight, Jason, Gina, Mark and I will start performing as The Clutch Dogs, with a dozen new songs to add to the band's repertoire. We're ready to take the next step, and we're willing to do whatever it takes to break through. If it means more touring, we'll do it. If it means working part-time jobs to pay for studio time, we'll do it. We're ready to do anything.

When the time comes, we head out onto the stage. It's a big hall, with a broad open dance floor in the front with seating rising up behind it. I've seen a few shows there, and I always wondered what the room looked like from the stage. It looks good, although I can see when I walk out on the stage that a lot of ticket holders haven't arrived yet. The crowd is thin.

I look around at the others. They are ready. Jason looks nervous, but pumped up. He stands on my right, Gina on my left. I look at her and she smiles at me. She looks gorgeous. Our relationship has progressed, not into an openly dating situation, but one to where we are becoming best friends. We sit in each other's apartments every night playing guitar until well after midnight and talking until the sun comes up. When the others are around she gives me knowing smiles and winks. We are taking things slowly, and that makes every move seem tantalizing and delicious.

Behind me, Matt bangs on the toms, warming up, getting loose for his final show with us. I turn and look at him. He smiles and nods. We are all ready. Bobby is in the crowd watching with Mark and his mates. Good to go, I think and step up to the microphone.

"One, two, three, four," I say calmly and we begin out first song, a new original that Gina and I wrote on the road. Jason starts to strum and Matt lays down the beat. I thump into the bass line and Gina slashes in with her guitar while I begin to sing:

Never bet against a bastard because a bastard don't like to lose,
So don't bet against me or you're going to feel the screws.

Gina hits the main riff and we hammer into it, picking up the pace, and she starts to sing:

You never thought that we'd still be alive, but we're not afraid to die
Better luck next time I guess, you bet your ass I'm all right.

We hit the chorus and she, Jason and I sing it together:

We will not be stopped,
We can not be killed,
We will not be found,
We will not be stilled.

Jason sings:

You say you don't like my looks, you say you don't like my style,
Well you can kiss my ass because I'll be here a while.

I sing:

I live my life in the gutter but I look up at the sky,
You think I'll just go away but old rockers never die.

We will not be stopped,
We can not be killed,
We will not be found,
We will not be stilled.

Jeff and I pound the rhythm while Jason and Gina exchange solos, their guitar lines swerving back and forth through each other. We blast through it and scream out the chanting chorus twice more, at last bringing the song to a close.

We play through the set, with Jason and Gina trading off lead and rhythm duties. He solos, she solos, she sings, I sing, and the focus moves back and forth as we each enjoy moments of leading the band. We play as a complete unit of powerful equals. It's brilliant. It's the sound I want: hard rock with an edge, each member contributing his or her own style. We strut, we show off, we play to the audience and to each other, and I know I've found the band I've been looking for my entire career.

As we come to our last song, I introduce the members, drawing special attention to Jeff in his last gig with us. I announce that this will be the last appearance by a band using the name Machine Within A Machine. The crowd gives us a cheer as we move into our final song, a monster of crashing symbols and fast, heavy riffs. I sing:

It's time to dig my way out from under all the trash,
Time to rebuild this thing I call a life,
There are people and places that I'd rather forget
As I clear away the trouble and strife.

But I will never forget this,
I will never forget this,
I spent my whole life either chasing or hiding,
But I'll never escape from you.

We power through it and bring our show to a close, taking a bow and removing ourselves from in front of the crowd. We high-five, we hug, we pat each other on the back and tell each other that we are fucking great, and that we are ready to take on the world.

The second band of openers goes on stage and we return to the food and drinks area, nibbling on the buffet and opening celebratory beers. I stand munching on a handful of cheese snacks, listening to Jason's enthusiastic rants when I notice a man come in the room. He walks over to the buffet, picks up a paper plate and starts stacking himself up with chicken wings and dry ribs. A smile creeps across my face while I watch him. He's wearing old black jeans and a vintage Rush 2112 t-shirt, as well as a tan leather fedora with a long feather and cowboy boots.

I give Gina a gentle elbow. "It's him."

She looks over at the old skid. "Him who?"

"Him. Ciccone. El Grande Floyd Ciccone." She watches as I approach him and say hello. He smiles and we start chatting, and when he has a suitable supply of meaty snacks he comes over with me and I introduce him to the band formerly known as Machine Within A Machine, henceforth to be called The Clutch Dogs.

"I could hear you guys playing," Ciccone says, taking a seat on a folding chair. "You sound really solid. Like you really enjoyed doing it."

Ciccone tells us to call him Fred, and stays drinking beers with us. I ask him if he always drinks so much before a show. He laughs.

"Hell, son, I've been doing this for thirty-six years. Every two years I add another beer that I can drink before going on stage, so that means I'm allowed to have eighteen of them now. I usually don't, but I'm allowed to if I want. What's this, number seven? Not a problem son, not a problem."

"Sex, drugs and rock and roll, huh Fred?" Jason says.

"Yeah, sure," he says, lighting a cigarette, despite the laws which forbid indoor smoking. "Shit, I've done all three of those to excess. Once I smoked so much dope I went blind for two days. I've blown cocaine up strippers' asses through straws and I've fucked enough groupies to populate Glastonbury. I've had blowjobs while giving interviews, I've shot smack in airplane bathrooms. Shit, I've done it all. You get tired of it. Except rock and roll. I never got tired of rock and roll."

"Listen to the man," I say to Jason.

"Well, it makes sense, doesn't it?" Ciccone says, scratching his scruffy blonde beard. "You get sick of being messed up every day, and sooner or later you get sick of having a sore dick, if the lady will pardon my language. You never get sick of the music though. You never say, I'm just so sick of rock and roll, I wish I could just listen to some Classical music for a while." He laughs. "At least, I've never said that."

He gets up, his food eaten and his cigarette stubbed out among the bones on his plate. "Good luck to you guys," he says. "You've got a good sound. I hope you do real well. You'll have to excuse me now. I've got to go get changed." He tips his hat to Gina. "See you all later," he says, and leaves.

"Wise old man," I say.

"I like him," Gina says. "He's like a rock and roll Yoda."

Mark and Sara and Bobby turn up with their backstage passes. I ask Bobby what he thought of the show.

"It was good," he says. "Professional. Shit, I'd buy your album. You are going to record an album, aren't you?"

I look around at the others. They smile and say "Fuck, yeah."

"You heard them," I say with a smile. "Fuck yeah we're recording an album."

We drink and laugh and we go home late, satisfied, sad that the show is over but happy with how it went, confident that there will be many, many more like it. We're a rock and roll band. And just like the thousands of others like us, standing on stages all around the world every single night, we'll keep playing. Playing rock and roll shows is what we do.




The End
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