by Brandy Isadora
Altered / Arpeggio / Arsis
“Arsis is the unaccented part of a metrical foot.” Adam, the guitarist, explained it to me while he glanced at an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels sitting on the coffee table next to a tower of empty beer cans. He practiced his arpeggios on a beat-up black and white Epiphone while his gaze swept the room. “But we won’t be able to play in Europe, because they’ll think we named the band after our ass.”
We were nowhere near Europe. We were in the “green room” in a bar called Jack’s Shack in Jacksonville, Florida. Since the couch was missing a cushion, I perched myself on the arm and watched Adam’s nimble fingers dance over the strings.
Band / Bass / Brother
“The first thing you should know is that the bass is just a dumb man’s guitar,” Adam said to me in front of the bass player while they were stuffing their gear into a trailer.
“Two words,” the bass player responded, rolling his eyes dramatically: “Les Claypool.”
No one in the band really showed any animosity towards each other. They acted like brothers. They had known each other since the fourth grade. However, sometimes the teasing got too much. Tempers flared, especially when they were short on money and couldn’t afford food until the next gig. Just yesterday, the singer punched the drummer because he spent gas money on a round of tequila shots.
The drummer sprawled on the asphalt and laughed carelessly. “Ah, man. We have enough until tomorrow.”
They made up shortly afterwards. The drummer bought the singer a beer at the next stop, and they acted as though nothing had happened.
They really loved each other.
Cacophony / Chorus / Cluster
Dallas, the drummer, was the youngest member in the band. He was twenty-five. A cluster of tattoos covered most of his scrawny figure. He claimed that they reminded him that he had to succeed in music because he couldn’t fit in anywhere else. He had lost most of his hearing in his left ear, but he still refused to wear earplugs, because they made him feel disoriented.
“I used to sneak into scrap yards and run around hitting everything. Man, beating on tings is the best feeling in the world.” He stretched his body across the bed in a motel in Baton Rouge.
“So... you finally have a shower to use. You should take advantage of it,” I suggested.
He sniffed his armpit and shrugged. Then he sat up on his elbow, squinting at me. “You hitting on me?”
“I can smell all of you from ten feet away. I don’t think you’ll ever get the B.O. out of that van.” Though he smelled like the inside of a sweaty sneaker, I was too exhausted to care and collapsed on the far side of the bed. He rolled onto his side, sliding his hand towards me. “No,” I said again. “I’m just here to document your cross-county tour. That’s it.”
“What do you think about all of this?” When he smiled, it was the first time I noticed he was missing one of his back teeth.
“It’s exhausting. I don’t know how you keep going.”
He moved his shoulders up in a slight shrug, “I don’t think it’s so bad. I wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my life. I just want to play music.”
Daylight / Deep Purple / Dumb
The headlights stopped working. Every night while one of them was driving, I crouched in the front seat near a cluster of exposed wires under the dashboard. When a car was approaching, the driver gave me the warning, and I connected two of the wires to turn on the headlights.
Today it was the singer’s turn to drive. Everyone called him Birdie, but his real name was Bart.
“So what are you guys going to do when this tour is over?” I asked.
“Go back home. Take my old job back for a while. There’s this small shop that sells Asian imports. The pay is bad, but the couple who owns it are real cool about me coming and going. They always take me back.” He swallowed the rest of his Monster Java. Some of it dribbled down his chin, now spotted with stubble. He played with the radio dial until he found a station. The familiar chords from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” wavered over the tinny speakers. “This is the first song I learned to play on the guitar. Well, actually it’s the only song I can play. Hey, do you know the fastest way to shut up a musician?”
“How?” I asked.
“Put sheet music in front of them. None of these bastards know how to read.”
Ellison / Evade / Expression
Ellison Roberts, the bass player, was addicted to Butterfingers and roasted almonds. He didn’t like to talk much, but he’d share his almonds with me. But not his Butterfingers. No one was allowed to touch those.
I don’t know much about the bass, but when I watched Ellison pluck and tap the thick steel strings, I thought he played just as hard as Adam. Bass players don’t get enough credit. It’s always the singer and guitarist that the crowd rushes after a show.
Fear / Finger / Frets
Blood dribbled down the seventh fret. One of the calluses on Adam’s finger had cracked, spilling fat droplets of blood. My own fingertips began to hurt as I watched him play. He didn’t seem to care, or maybe he hadn’t noticed it yet.
Suddenly, he stopped playing and looked at me as though he had forgotten that I had been watching him. “Hey, how come you aren’t in a band? Don’t you play the sax or something?” he asked.
“The piano,” I corrected him. “It’s a little hard to tour with a piano.”
“Totally, man,” he said lazily. “That’s why keyboards are so much cooler. They’re even easier to move than an entire guitar rig.”
I bit my lower lip too hard. He probably didn’t care, but I didn’t want to tell him that I suffered from performance anxiety.
Gold / Gig / Guitar
In addition to his Epiphone, Adam owned a Gold Starburst Gibson that he wouldn’t let anyone play or even touch. It was his prized possession. When he took it out of his case, I tried not to stare at it. He only used the guitar for “important” gigs, though I never figured out what he defined as an important show.
When I was twelve, I bought an acoustic Washburn guitar at a garage sale. My mother never said a word about it. But a month later, it went missing. I have no proof, but I’m sure my mother got rid of it when she heard me trading my piano practices for guitar lessons with the next-door neighbor who impersonated Jerry Garcia for a living. She wanted me to become the next Oscar Levant.
Happy / Head / Houston
All of our heads are pounding, but we’re still feeling the residual happiness from last night. It was the first time on the tour that the band played for a packed venue. Birdie pulled over six times so one of us could throw up on the side of the road. I can’t remember all that we drank last night after the gig in Houston, but I do recall several six packs of beer. At least I remember a ribbon on the front of the can, but maybe it wasn’t blue.
Imperfect / Instruments / Interlude
“Music should be imperfect,” Ellison argued, admiring the instruments in the pawnshop. He repeatedly went back to the upright bass leaning against the wall. “Otherwise it lacks character.”
Adam knelt on the floor to examine a cherry red Kramer guitar. “No way, man. Shredding is about precision. That’s why we have to practice for hours every day.”
“Not all of us are wankers.”
That night, at a friend’s house, they practiced new material for their next show. Adam added an interlude, which was more like a solo that continued for several minutes. The others slowed their playing and then gradually stopped. But Adam didn’t know when to stop, and he kept playing even after the others went outside to drink and smoke.
Jenny / Jubilee
I told the band that my name was Jenny. My real name is Jubilee Winters. No one takes a Jubilee seriously. I don’t even look like a Jubilee. I wear all black. Even my naturally blonde hair is dyed black.
I like music, but I don’t feel it the same way these guys do. They feel it so strongly that they can improvise anything, any time they want. I can’t. I need sheet music. Structure. Rules. I don’t trust myself to write the music.
Key / Kit Kats
The gas station didn’t have any Butterfingers or almonds, so Ellison bought Kit Kat bars instead. This time he tossed me a pack and we ate silently, leaning against the front bumper of the van.
The flat desert surrounded us. The sun was on top of us, heavy and unrelenting. I could already feel the population of freckles growing exponentially on my arms and face. I sucked on the chocolate and instinctually fingered the keys in my pocket. I hadn’t used my keys in weeks, but I still liked to keep them in my pocket. I missed home.
Labor / Label / Leader
Everyone in the band had a different job. Birdie was in charge of “marketing.” In every city, Birdie posted hundreds of flyers in music stores, colleges, bars, and parking lots. The flyers were postcard size and in black and white. Birdie’s goal that summer was to sell over a hundred CDs
“What about the cafes?” I suggested.
“We’re a metal band. Metalheads don’t hang out in cafes.” He covered someone else’s flyer with his own. The lines on his forehead deepened.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m exhausted. Sometimes I just wish we had a record label, so someone else could promote us and we could just focus on the music.”
Copyright © 2019 by Brandy Isadora