Friday, June 08, 2007

Free Write Fridays

Sorry to leave everybody hanging...it was a long day at work and I just had to catch a little nap, which turned into going through the bill drawer to file a backlog of stuff that needed to be filed (we're talking maybe 6 months' worth of stuff...) and that turned into eating.

And also, I tried to stick to my guns and pick a suggestion from Wednesday's blog, but the suggestion I got on Tuesday seemed like the best one for a Free Write Friday. I will certainly take notes and jot some ideas down for other suggestions, particularly Grammar Enhancing drugs and why a guy would not tell his deep love of Star Trek...er...deepest darkest secrets until Kathy and I...uh...he and his new wife were on the way from the wedding to the reception. Also, a vanilla flavored jelly bean with a fear of being eaten sounds too complex to be anything less than a feature length screen play. So, with that in mind, here I go.

The Winning Suggestion this week comes from molly:
Short story (b/c I find reading plays annoying)
Joe "Doobie" Dubinsky - 34 y/o male
Wedding band gigs are diminishing and he's contemplating next move.

molly wins a free dinner with me this Sunday.

===

June 8th, 2007

Aaron called Joe Dubinsky from across the stage, as he had so many other nights, to kick off Proud Mary. "Doobie," he said, same inflection, the snare drum catching his voice and making it buzz. "Where've you been? I heard you moved to the citay!" As the vocalist in the band, Aaron pronounced the word 'city' that way whenever he said it or sang it, except when the band played Journey. It registered with Joe, but he didn't care, not like Vanessa, the keyboard player and lead female vocalist. It drove her nuts, and Joe suspected Aaron knew this, and did it intentionally. She ran the band, even though it had been Aaron and Joe who started it, with the help of Greg on guitar and their original drummer, also named Joe. Joe Casmus. He went by the nickname 'Skins' and had left the band all those years ago-Joe tried to remember the intervening sixteen years-just after high school, had gone on to music school, was now playing drums for Chris Isaak's tour. He had actually made it, achieved the dream to a point, even if it was playing in the shadows. Joe Dubinsky would give anything to be playing in those same shadows, even trade playing in the harsh light of the American Legion hall in...somewhere just outside of Minneapolis.

"Me? Yeah, I was in the city," Aaron responded. Greg played the progression, slowly, Vanessa accompanying on keyboard after the first phrase. This was one of the songs that she had fought desperately hard to sing, but in the end had conceded that it belonged to Joe. Not even Aaron would sing it the last time Joe had lost his voice. "I was in the city, but I just couldn't take it." This is not, Joe believed, where Tainted Batteries belonged. That had been the band's name, back in high school, and they played some battles and local hangouts, and when Skins left, they lost their conduit through which they got their gigs. Tainted Batteries had been Aaron, Doobie, Greg and Skins to the outside world, but Skins was all there was to the band on the inside of club politics. How much did the band want to get paid? Ask Skins. Where were they playing next weekend? Ask Skins. You wanted to know what the chord progression was, ask Greg. Lyrical question? Ask Aaron. Doobie stood and rocked back and forth, playing his bass. Don't ask him any questions. Anything else, ask Skins. Skins left, and the band nearly fell apart.

It was Greg who brought in Vanessa, the new found love of his life. Her brother filled in on drums, Pete, until he volunteered for the Peace Corps. They went through drummers like Spinal Tap these days. These days that had been going for fourteen years, when Tainted Batteries billed themselves as Heart Beat, a cover band that you wouldn't feel insecure announcing at a wedding. Just as a side gig, so they practiced all the standards, anything any of them could ever remember hearing at a wedding, but they kept playing their original tunes; Killed by Kind Words, Fishnets and Booze, Chronicles of the Loyal Frontiersman, just to name a few. Ask any of them to remember how those songs went, and only Skins could tell you, probably. Aaron, Doobie and Greg had long since given up hope, had put Tainted Batteries to rest. Vanessa had always added little to their existing repertoire, but had contributed a flagship gem, The Pocket Glove, which they had only played once live before the band became a strict wedding band. Now, each had separate lives and worlds in which they lived. Aaron, Greg, Doobie and Skins had lived for the band. Had lived by the band. Now Greg balanced a career in retail management with a precarious family life, including a fifteen year old daughter in trouble with the law. Aaron was a software engineer and stayed in Heart Beat out of sentiment. Doobie waited tables six nights a week and stocked shelves at a grocery store five days a week.

Doobie kicked in his bass, their drummer (their previous drummer's seventeen year old son who had a knack for rhythm but no dynamic range other than extra loud) started in with the repetitive 'chk-chk-chk-chk' of the hi-hats and the slap of rim knocks. "What are you going to do now, Doob?" Aaron asked, cradling the tambourine behind his back. Doobie began singing. "Left a good job in the city, workin' for the man every night and day..."

Aaron added his low "Rollin'" when required to, the song came to a slow halt, and the drummer did the kick in a way that would have made Skins cringe; too loud, too fast, too sloppy, too predictable. Doobie could hear Skins saying this in his mind. The band jumped in perfectly, the sync-unit that had at one time been Tainted Batteries needing little practice to maintain locked in to each other, and the song got into it's groove. This song kills at a wedding reception.

They always took a break after this song, and while Greg kept an eye on the number of trips their drummer took to the open bar, Aaron, with two open beers in hand, approached Doobie as he sat eating his lukewarm chicken dinner.

"Good set tonight, Joe." He sat down.

"Yeah. I guess." Joe toyed with his chicken, not wanting to starve and not wanting to eat it either.

"Everything alright, man? You're playing well and everything, but your eyes, man...it's like they're looking at something on the other side of the wall." Aaron handed over a bottle, and Joe took it without taking a sip.

"I got a letter from Skins," Joe said.

"Who?" Aaron asked, idly perusing the youngest bridesmaid, easily no older than 19.

"Joe Casmus. Remember, the drummer for Tainted Batteries?"

"Oh, shit, Skins! Wow. I haven't called him that...well, I haven't seen him since he graduated from Berklee or wherever he went."

"Berklee, yeah."

"Yeah. How is he?"

"On tour with Chris Isaak. He says their bass player isn't working out, and that they're coming through Minneapolis in a couple weeks. The fourteenth, I think. He sent me three tickets, wanted me to invite you and Greg."

Aaron mused on this thought. "Don't we have a gig?"

"This is our first gig in two months, man. Look, I know you and Greg are doing alright, but this gig money is pretty much how I keep gas in my car and food in my stomach. I've eaten nothing but Ramen and leftover baked potatoes from the restaurant for the last three weeks. I don't have money to go to concerts, and we don't have gigs to interfere. They're backstage passes and the price is right. Let's go see our old friend."

Aaron gave Joe a hard look. "Why did he tell you the bass player isn't working out?"

"He wants me to try out!"

"Did he say that? In his letter?"

Joe faltered. "Well, no, he didn't...look, it's a longshot but..."

"But nothing, Joe." Onstage he was Doobie, but it had been years since Aaron had used the nickname in public. "Didn't you respond to an ad last year in the City Pages for a musician wanted thing?"

"Yeah," Joe put up his defenses, knew what was coming.

"And didn't you pretty much make a fool of yourself?"

It was true; fourteen years as a wedding band musician had pushed the creativity and flexibility from his fingers. He went to the audition, played a few tunes for the band, was asked to jam and fell into the bass riff for We Are Family. He pushed the thought from his mind with a heavy sip of beer. "I didn't know those guys. I know Joe. It's Skins, man...you remember how it used to be? He and I could just jam for hours, start with one thing, take it in a dozen directions over the course of two hours, and come right back where we started, full blast, no need to review what we had done, and just power through. Man it was...electric. It was...awesome. Dare I say, phenomenal. I should have gone with him, think of the team we'd be today. We'd be...unstoppable!"

Aaron frowned, downed the rest of his beer. Vanessa was already back on stage, beckoning Greg and the drummer from the bar, where Greg was arguing with the bartender to take it easy on the kid. Their break would be over as soon as their CD they had piped into the PA system got through Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. "Do you really think that Joe Casmus, the backing drummer, is going to have that much say about who gets to play bass for Damien Rice."

"Chris Isaak."

"Whoever." The back-and-forth was playing, the speakers announcing that it was long ago and far away and so much better than it is today, and that it never felt so good, it never felt so right. Aaron stood. "Come on, we'd better get back up there."

"Not unless you promise me you'll go to the concert. Come on...he's our friend."

"No. He's our old bandmate. The one that got out and does it for a living. The one we haven't heard from in twelve years, until now that he's able to flaunt it back in his hometown he's going to rub it in our faces." With that, Aaron marched to the stage.

Joe sat there for a few minutes more, while Greg tuned up and the drummer fiddled, playing louder now than he had behind the band. Vanessa was quiet, and Joe knew that if he looked she would be boring holes into his skull with her eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter from Skins, the letter he had been carrying for three days, and read the sentence he had underlined.

"I think we're about to fire our bass player, but other than that, the tour is going really well, and I think you should definitely come to the concert when we're playing the Excel Energy Center on July 14th." Joe put the letter back in his pocket and turned to the stage, walking up the short steps and strapping his bass to his body.

"Well gee, Doobie, I thought you weren't coming back there!" Aaron said, and the reception guests laughed politely. The bride and groom were nowhere to be seen, long gone and probably already upstairs in their hotel room. "This one's an important tune," Aaron spoke to the audience now. "Grab somebody special, pull them in close and do what the music tells you." While the people scrambled in pairs to the dance floor, the band prepared to launch themselves once more. Doobie reached into his pocket one last time, and clenched the letter, removing his hand and placing it on his fretboard at the last possible moment before Aaron said what Doobie really wanted to.

"You know you make me wanna SHOUT!"


===

Oh man, that was fun! Let's do it again! Let's do it again!

Actually, I would like to dedicate this to the Best Man at my wedding, Zach Hartwig. We were that rhythm section once, the interlocked bass and drums. And this was kind of a cathartic sort of emotional release. Also, to Will Wilcox, who came closer to making it than any of the rest of us...well, you guys both rock, and I'm glad we got to make some music together. And I'm very glad we didn't turn into Heart Beat.

2 comments:

the wife said...

what an excellent story :)

Molly said...

Cathartic, eh? Do you think that was coincidental? Now... tell me about your relationship with your mother....