The Boys in the Band
Nicholas Hughes, bass player for the Weekenders, had been in a lot of green rooms in the past three and half months, but this was the first that was actually green; faded, chipped, and stained with God knows what (alcohol? sweat? goat’s blood?), but still green. The furniture consisted of the kind of couches you’d find left out on curbs, an electrical spool used as a coffee table, and, in a desultory attempt at hospitality, a folding table with some food and drinks. Drummer Nate O’Neil, head recently shaved, napped on an ugly plaid couch and keyboard player Jonah Banks, a touring member, sat in a battered metal chair reading the paper and sipping bottled water. A devout Mormon, Jonah didn’t drink or smoke, serving as a kind of ironic, moral counterpoint to the usual tour debauchery. Guitarist/co-founder Colin Webster, Jr., son of the TV producer (“The Idiots of New Haven,” “Pirate Nanny”), was out, possibly trolling the bars. He didn’t know where singer/co-founder/heart throb Betsy Kane was.
Nick grabbed an Epiphone acoustic guitar and sat against the wall, aimlessly plucking. To break the silence, he asked the usually reserved Jonah the name of this club. They were in Portland, Oregon.
Jonah looked up and brushed his college student (circa 1992 : the grunge years) hair out of his face.
“Huh? Oh, I’m not sure. Something short. And a name. Like Smith’s or Jones’s or something.” He paused and scratched his patchy goatee. Since the beginning of the tour, all the male band members had decided to grow facial hair. Nicholas had cultivated his into a bushy Fu Manch that most often conjured up images of cops from 70s TV shows or child molesters who haunted zoos on free admission days. A friend sent him a yellow shirt that said “Moustache Rides: 25 cents.” Colin had actually begun to wax his, giving him the appearance of a silent movie villain or a French chef or maybe a villainous French chef.
“Do you mind if I play a record?” Jonah asked.
“Of course not. DJ Jonah in the house yo.”
Jonah smiled, but didn’t laugh. Everyone had their pre-show rituals: Jonah shopped for records, Nate got Thai take-out and slept, Colin went around town, sometimes with Betsy, who went to vintage and second hang shops looking for clothes. Nick did too, though usually alone. He was wearing a red snap button cowboy shirt with black bulls embroidered on the shoulders that he bought today at Goodwill. He named the shirt Ferdinand, after the children’s book.
Jonah, whose taste ran the proverbial gamut, pulled a record out of a worn sleeve and put it on the portable player, formerly of Bloomfield Middle School, he dragged everywhere. An old, weathered, authoritative voice came on, accompanied only by a slashing acoustic guitar. After a minute Nick asked, “What is this? I think I know it. It’s really good.”
“Oh, you like it? Yeah, it’s really good, isn’t it? It’s Son House live album. I’m kinda on an early Delta blues kick, which I know is funny because we’re not bluesy or anything.”
“It’s not that funny,” Nick replied, setting the guitar against the wall and getting up. The song was about death and love and loss. “More indie bands should listen to it. It’s authentic and pre-ironic. It’s about what’s real. It’s almost from a different planet.” He took a carrot from the paltry veggie tray on the table.
“Is it too early to start drinking?”
Nick joined the Weekenders about 7 months earlier. They were in the midst of recording their third album, The Long Goodbye, when their bassist and his pregnant girlfriend unexpectedly eloped to Baja. Nicholas had been playing in and around L.A. for close to two years and was, at the time, in a not-really-going-anywhere indie tiro, Agouti, whose key influences were early R.E.M., anything on K records, Charles Bukowski, and Animal Planet, from which they got their name. Their recorded output consisted of a self-released 12" EP, two singles, and a song on a compilation to benefit handicapped animals.
Though he liked playing music, even in a mediocre band with pretensions, minor drug problems and little sense of fashion or melody, Nicholas was contemplating bagging the whole thing and applying to grad school somewhere, maybe in film or graphic design.
One night after a show, whose audience couldn’t have topped 50, including bar staff, Nicholas was drinking whiskey and bottled domestic beer and missing his photographer girlfriend, who was on a shoot in Joshua Tree, when his sort-of-friend-more-of-an-acquaintance-bit-of-a-nuisance Steve “Deuces” Wilder, a scenster/occasional singer/part-time artist (his preferred medium was spray paint and spoiled meat) eagerly approached him and launched into a typical brevity and focus challenged monologue.
“What’s up cowboy? Buy you a drink? Oh, I see you’ve got several. Word up! Listen, I know you’re in this band and all and that’s solid, but I know a band through the grapevine and whatnot…btw, why grapevine? Why not like through the palm trees? I guess that’s not as catchy and Marvin Gaye wouldn’t have sung about it. Anywho. Where was I? Right. What do you know about the Weekenders?” He pointed at him emphatically.
Nicholas finished his whiskey and somewhat blearily said, “Well, I know who they are. We played some benefit with them. Like a stop the bad shit thing. They’re the ones with the hot lead singer. I don’t really know what they sound like. A bit wussy, right? The singer’s got a good voice though, but I don’t really…Um, what’s your point man?”
Steve snapped his fingers like a used car salesman horning in on a sale. “OK, OK, here’s the deal: they’ve just lost their bass player. He eloped or died of bird flu or something and they need a new guy pronto and I thought of you. So you should totally hit that and call them. I’m pretty tight with Colin because I did a few of their videos and I’ve put in a good word and whatnot. I think it’d be excellent, solid.”
A few phone calls, a great deal of black coffee and late breakfast, and three hours later, Nicholas found himself, provisionally, in the Weekenders. He was surprised that they were familiar with Agouti and even said something nice about their 12". The following day, Nicholas went to a small Hollywood studio to play with them and have dinner. Though most of the album was done, Nicholas added a few bits here and there. The band rehearsed in a converted loft for a few weeks, played some shows in L.A., and then went out on tour, first supporting a veteran indie guitar band, and then on their own. This was the first time Nicholas had toured and he found it both exhilarating and exhausting. He took up smoking again, just to kill time, drank like a fish, improved as a bass player, and started to lose track of time and place.
Nicholas’s cell rang.
“Hey. How are you?”
“Good. Well, totally beat. We’ve been up super late. But it’s cool here. Where are you right now?”
“Maine or Oregon?”
“Oregon. I don’t think we’ll make it that far north. Maine, I mean. It’s the lobster state. Or maybe the… ”
“I was kidding. How’s Portland? I hear it’s wet and charming.”
“Yeah, it’s cool. I went to high school in Eugene, you know. It is wet, but in a good way. Lots of coffee shops and book stores and seasonal mood disorder. I found a kickass shirt at a thrift store.”
“Great. How much longer is the tour?”
“I’m not sure. This leg will be over soon. I think we do a show or two in Seattle and then a few festivals and maybe something else…Actually, I have no idea. Time gets all fucked-up, really. I’ve been making sketches of hotel rooms.”
“Yeah. They’re all the same. Like clones. Although this hotel, the Pluto or Planet or something, is cool, though it’s trying a little too hard.”
“Are you still getting along with everyone?”
“Pretty much. There are like little factions though, kind of like the Balkans. Colin can be kind of a prick. He picks up girls all the time and brings them to the shows.”
She laughed. “And the other guys don’t?”
“I don’t shag groupies. Jonah’s Mormon and Nate’s at least 70% gay. We’re not Oasis.”
“I see. I’ve been reading some articles about you guys. Betsy’s quite the poster girl for the shy, corduroy and hoodie indie boy set.”
“I guess she is. Our audience is pretty lousy with guys. And they all seem to think they have a chance with her because they wear black glasses and read Dave Eggers. You should read some of their e-mails.”
“Do you like her?”
“Yeah, sure. She’s, um, nice. A bit aloof maybe. But she’s the centerpiece of the band. They don’t come to see four guys with moustaches, which would be a great barber shop quartet name, by the way. Where are you anyway? I hear shit in the background.”
“Oh, I’m on a beach. There’s a steel band. I’m really tan. I miss you.”
The door opened and Besty came sashaying in, wearing a paisley granny dress, a fuzzy hat, and a boa. She waved with her fingers and put a bottle of bourbon on the table.
“Hey Jonas,” she said. “How was record hunting?”
“Oh good,” he replied and handed over a few albums.
“Can I ask you a question Nicholas?”
Nicholas moved to the corner and crouched. “Um, sure. You sound a tad serious.” Betsy broke the seal on the bourbon and poured it into a red plastic cup. She looked at Nicholas and winked. He nodded and she poured another.
“A tad. I guess I’m wondering if we’re still… well, going out, for lack of a better term.”
He began to pick at the paint on the wall. “This isn’t really a phone conversation, Sam. I guess so. Listen, I’ll be home soon, I think. We’ll talk then.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry. It was a dumb question. I’m so damn tired. Have a good show. I’ll come see you in L.A.”
“Great. Have a good rest of the shoot and a safe trip. I’ll call you soon. Thanks for calling”
“Of course. Bye.”
“Bye.” He pressed off.
Betsy brought him the bourbon and asked in an insinuating voice, “Who was that?”
“Oh, a friend.” He smiled.
“Girlfriend?” She fixed him with her bright blue eyes.
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, she’s a friend whose a girl.” The sleeve of her slightly too baggy dress had migrated and a shimmery black bra strap was peeking out.
“Who you sleep with?”
He laughed nervously. “That’s getting a bit personal.”
“Don’t you trust me? Cheers to that and rock and roll.” He felt she was gently mocking him. Then again he felt this with most women; even half way through sex he wasn’t sure if I a girl really liked him. Sometimes they didn’t.
They clicked classes and drank.
Besty brushed her long, tinted bangs back and asked “What was the name of the Italian movie we were watching on the bus?”
“L’Aventura? It’s excellent, isn’t it? Antonioni’s one of my favorite directors.”
“Hmm. Colin got The Aviator for tomorrow.”
“They should’ve called it Hey, Get These Goddam Microbes Off Me!” Nicholas laughed at his own joke.
“I don’t get it.” She noticed his gaze and pulled her sleeve up.
“Oh, well Howard Hughes was a neat freak and he kinda went crazy…Just watch the movie and then I’ll make that joke again and you’ll think it’s really funny.”
“Mmm. OK then, I’m gonna do my make-up. What time is it?”
Nicholas looked at his non-existent watch. “7:10,” Jonah piped.
“Oh,” she said quietly, touching his arm. “Do you want to do ‘Sisters of Mercy’ tonight?”
“Really? Yeah, I’d love to. We haven’t really rehearsed. It’s not really a band song but yeah. And we need a xylophone. I’ve got it on my iPOD if you want to listen to it.”
“OK. We’ll go over it. It’ll be great.” She whacked him lightly with her boa. “Don’t worry bass player.”
She left and Nicholas felt the need for a cigarette. At the start of the tour, each band member had picked 2 songs that they wanted to cover. Nicholas’s had been the Leonard Cohen song and ‘Sin City,’ though they had mainly been going with Colin’s choices (he picked more than 2), which were 70s soft rock staples like the Eagles and Bread. Irony or no irony, Nicholas had never hated ‘Desperado’ so much.
“Yup?” He looked up from the paper.
“Was she flirting with me or teasing me?”
“Um, I’m not sure. Is there a difference?”
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“Don’t you have a stupid face? Sorry, that was rude. Damn. Sorry.”
“‘S OK. There’s nothing about us in this paper. Elton John is the cover of the arts section and some other guy reviewed a Crystal Method show.”
Nate woke up and yawned loudly. “Man I had some crazy dreams. Did you ever have that dream where you’re a tepee and then a wigwam?” He grinned like a smart ass kid with a firecracker and scratched his chest. “You ever had that dream Jonah?”
Jonah looked confused. “Um, no Nate.”
“Huh. Well, I guess it mean I’m too tense! Two tents! GET IT?!” Nate exploded with laughter and almost fell off the coach. “Whoa. Man, I should be the warm up act. Remember that comedian in Boulder who opened for us and made jokes about Sonic Youth? He sucked butt.” Nate had decided to wear a series of semi-ironic band T-shirts for the duration of the tour. Tonight’s selection was a size too small, faded White Snake T with a snake suggestively sliding into a woman’s decolletage.
“Wait. I got another one. How is cafeteria coffee and Ginger Baker alike?”
Jonah shrugged. “I don’t like Cream. They ruin Robert Johnson and Skip James.”
Nate suddenly looked pissed. “Yeah, well that’s not the effin’ point. It’s a joke. And I hope you’re fuckin’ happy that I said effin’ because I know you don’t like swearing Jonah. So the least you can do is go with me on this fuckin’ joke.”
Nicholas asked, “How Nate?”
Nate turned towards him. “They both suck without Cream!” He slapped his leg. “They need to update that joke. Wait.” He held up a finger wrapped in athletic tape. “How is Coldplay like getting kicked in the nuts?” He looked to the ceiling for a punchline, then shrugged.” I can’t think of a punchline.”
“How about getting kicked in the nuts is less self-righteous and boring?” Nicholas offered.
“Nice try. Maybe something with free trade or sounding like Radiohead’s bedwetting, short pants wearing gay cousin… “
Colin burst through the door, his vintage fedora at a rakish angle, and yelled “What’s up bitches? Whoo! Got some ladies coming to the show tonight! Oww!”
Nate made a face at Nicholas and asked, “How’d that radio spot go?”
Colin took a swig off the bourbon and wiped his mouth with a silky scarf. “Pretty good. Man that DJ-Klaus or Hans or whatever-sure liked Depeche Mode. He wanted us to play that b-side cover of “Just Can’t Get Enough” that we did like 1,000 years ago. We didn’t!”
“Maybe next time we can come.”
Colin shrugged. “They said to bring just us. I can’t help it. It’s not like it was that fun. DJ’s are tools. Did anybody listen to it?”
Everyone shook their heads expect Jonah. “They played you between that Hasidic reggae guy and Fall Out Boy.”
Nicholas left to explore the rest of the club. He came out onto the stage. A short haired blonde woman wearing an oversized striped sweater was playing a black Gibson and singing. Nicholas leaned against the wall. The song sounded familiar.
After she finished, she spoke into the mic, “How was that?”
“Good,” a voice shouted from the back.
She idly strummed a few chords and turned, noticing Nicholas “Oh hi. Are you the roadie?”
“Hi. What was that song? I think I know it. And no, I’m not the roadie.”
“It’s New Order.”
“Yes! Right. ‘Temptation.’ Great song. Peter Hook is one of my favorite bassists. Well, him and Sting.” He paused for a laugh. She looked curiously at him. “Are you the opening act?”
“I must be. I’m Max.” She had a low, film noir voice, almost free of inflection. They shook hands. “You play bass?”
“Mostly. I’ve been learning steel guitar though. I might go country and western, get some sparkly suits made by Nudie Cohen.” He paused again, “Is it just you or do you have a band?”
She gestured at the empty stage. “This is it. Sometimes I play with people, like my guitarist boyfriend, but this was kinda last minute.”
Nicholas nodded and looked out at the club. It was small, but reasonably clean and cozy. “Do you have records?”
“A couple. I just did an E.P. They’ll be for sale. You should buy one.”
Nicholas smiled. “Maybe. If you buy one of ours. I co-wrote the b-side of our new single. It’s about Klaus Kinski. The German actor.”
“That’s nice. I like to write songs too.”
Nicholas wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic or not. She unplugged her guitar and placed it in a stand.
“OK, well have a good show. You’re welcome to have drinks with us after the show. We do get a bit wild though.”
“Thanks. I have plans.” Max smiled in that polite leave-me-alone-now way and pulled up her sleeves.
Nicholas watched her set from the bar. The club was only about a quarter full and inattentive. Her music, intimate and spare, sweet but with an edge, was such that it drew a listener in rather than pushed out and this wasn’t a very receptive crowd, all low murmurs, cell phones, and clinking glasses. Nicholas’s enjoyment was further hamstrung by Nate, who talked at regular volume throughout the set, mostly about the art gallery he wanted to open where patrons would be mugged and their possessions used in exhibits.
“I’m pretty sure it’d be illegal, but it’s pretty hardcore. People want real, people want to be taken out of their safe, crappy lives. This is effin’ combat art. Let’s see the douchebags at the Getty do that!”
Max finished a song and there was a smattering of applause. Nicholas and Jonas, who had each bought a record, were the loudest. She spoke quietly into the microphone, “Um, thanks for coming out.” She put her hands up to shade her eyes. “This is my last song. I have some records in the back. Thanks to the Weekdays for having me.”
“I’ve never had her,” Nate said with a leer. He elbowed Nicholas in the ribs.
“Ow. Quit it.”
“This song is for the boys.”
Nate hit Nicholas in the arm. “Hey, that’s us. Next time she should get our friggin’ name right. Actually, I like Weekdays better. Or just Weekend, like that nutso film you like. Or SkullFucks. That’s what we’ll call our doom metal side project. It’ll have umlauts, of course. And…”
“Shut up Nate or I’ll skull fuck you,” Nicholas said calmly, without looking at him. Max was playing the New Order song.
And I’ve never met anyone quite like you before
Nate took a sip of his PBR. “Sorry. I’ll never interrupt your girlfriend again Nicholas. Even if she’s standing in the way of the blood boiling genius of the SkullFucks.”
The Weekenders were on stage two hours later, following a few technical difficulties, a missing xylophone, and an argument between a rather drunk Colin and a rather irate Betsy. As with the other shows, the front, pressed up against the stag, and all that Nicholas could see, was packed almost exclusively with earnest, probably single indie-boys in their mid-20s; their collective black glasses wearing, cardigan clad, freindster heart going out to Besty, who held center stage like a diminutive, button cute Cleopatra. Nicholas usually stayed in back, close to Nate’s drums. He often looked down because the harsh stage lights irritated his contact and he had problems enough with sweat running into his eyes.
The band played 17 songs, covering all their albums, and returned for a three song encore. It was an appreciative, enthusiastic crowd and there were occasion calls of “We Love You Betsy!”
“Aw, that’s sweet. We love you guys too. Like we love our dogs and our cousins. Isn’t that enough? Thanks Portland. Good night.” She blew a few exaggerated, beauty queen kisses. Nichoals thought if she bared some leg she could probably incite a riot.
“Good show,” she said, wiping her face with a small towel, as they walked back to the green room.”
“Thanks. You too.”
“The Cohen was good. We’ll do it again Nicholas.” She patted him on the arm and he caught a pungent mix of sweat and perfume.
Back in the green room was a small entourage that included their road manager, some girls that were no doubt their at Colin’s behest, and what looked to be a few journalists, clutching small notepads and digital cameras. Nicholas went straight for the bourbon.
Nate sidled up next to him. “Goddamn son, you killed that Leonard Cohen. You and Bets have some serious rapport, like George and Tammy. Or Sid and Nancy!” He cracked up and put a hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. “Seriously, nice work.”
“Thanks man, you too.”
“I think we’re going to this strip club down the street. Wanna come?”
Nicholas shrugged, “Probably not.”
“Oh right, you don’t like girls.”
“Shut up. You like goats..”
Nicholas drank the bourbon quickly and since he hadn’t eaten much, felt it almost immediately. He fished his phone out of a carry on bag. It said one missed. It had been Sam.
 A medium sized, herbivorous rodent found in the forests of South America.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED