Thursday, August 06, 2009


In the interest of 1) continuing to write in spite of writer's block (no way out but to write through it, I've come to learn) and 2) continuing to garner interest from my readers, something I've been working on for the book.


When Bravo Little Gavroche would go on tour, it was always Ryan who would set the schedule. He'd be the one on the phone with the club managers, the other bands (or their agents, if they were big enough to have one), the hotels, anybody else I may be forgetting. He'd then give each of us an itinerary. "And," he would always stress, "this time, we have to follow it. To the last letter." That last summer we toured was no different. What was also no different was that thirty seconds into the itinerary, we were already behind.

Johnny and I were sitting in Bingo, our van. We were parked on Tamm Avenue in front of Adam's apartment. The van was loaded with drums, amps, microphones, two of Adam's guitars (one electric, one acoustic), two of Johnny's basses, two guitars of mine (an electric and an acoustic, merely for back-up purposes) and four of Ryan's guitars (two electrics, one electric/acoustic and a fretless hollow-body electric he had built himself). Johnny had picked the short straw the night before, so he sat behind the driver's seat drumming his fingers out of time with The Cure as they quietly played over the speakers. I sat next to him in the passenger seat, tapping my fingers in time. Johnny honked.

"Let's go, Adam!" he said, to himself. After a second or two Adam emerged from the two-story brick apartment building onto a second floor fire escape, a soft guitar case slung across his back, the better of his two electrics, and in his right hand an overnight bag which held enough clothes to last him the first three nights of our two month tour. Even as he made his way down the steps, Johnny honked again. This time he yelled out the window. "While we're breathing, Adam!"

The back door opened and Adam laid his guitar in and haphazardly threw his clothes in, then climbed up and shut the door. "Sorry, guys, the dishes were really stacked up, I lost track of time."

"You should have been doing laundry, let Amy do the dishes while you're gone," Johnny said, checking the mirror and rashly pulling out into the street before a Honda, which honked. The equipment shifted in the back and Adam lost his balance and fell against the back doors.

"Jesus, Johnny, take it easy," I tried. "I'd like to get out of St. Louis alive and with everything in one piece, right?"

Johnny laughed a short, evil laugh. He looked at me and his smile turned sour. He elongated his syllables. "Sorry."

"Amy doesn't do the dishes on Tuesdays." Adam had regained his balance and made his way onto the rear bench seat. "We divide up the chores."

"You two are way to fucking cutesy and domestic," Johnny said. He pulled onto the highway and in a few minutes of reverent silence (you don't talk through a live recording of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" which had just started playing after The Cure) we were at the loft, which was close enough to the brewery that it almost always smelled of hops or barley. Not that any of us minded. Ryan was waiting for us, duffel bag in hand. We pulled up in front of the building.

"Running late, I see," he said as he lifted himself in through the side door and set his bag on the ground. "For a change," he added. I looked at Johnny, who was looking at Ryan in the rear view mirror, and I turned around to look at Ryan.

"Don't blame me," Johnny said defensively."

"Nobody was," Ryan said.

"No, that's bullshit; it's always my fault and I know that, but this time it's not. Ask Adam."

Adam leaned forward. "It's true. I had to do the dishes."

Ryan shrugged and put on a pair of sunglasses. "That's fine, Adam. I forgot it was a Tuesday."

Johnny broke a rule and turned the stereo off before the end of a Bob Dylan song. "What? So uncool! Every time, no matter what excuse I have, if I'm making us run late, you jump down my throat!"

"Johnny-" Ryan tried to say, but could get no further.

"But Adam or Elliot has an excuse and it's all, 'I understand guys. It's the third Wednesday of an even numbered month during a leap year, it could happen to anybody.' How do I get that kind of credibility?"

"Be on time, almost all the time," I said. He paused. "I know, right? The treatment sounds worse than the disease." Johnny shot daggers from his eyes at each of us in turn, faced the road and turned the radio back on. He pulled away from the curb.

"Johnny," Ryan said again, "I was trying to say that it's okay, this time, because even if you had been on time, we can't leave yet. We have to go to Eddie's."

"What for?" I asked, as Johnny maneuvered the van around a left turn.

"I'm picking up Tess."

The brakes squealed lightly as Johnny came to an abrupt stop at a red light. "Tess?" Adam asked in the following silence.

"That's what I said."

"You're bringing Tess?" I asked.


The first time Ryan saw Tess was at Eddie's Guitars on Manchester. This was before Adam had joined the band, and Johnny did the singing. We were all there, and though all three of us saw Tess and recognized how beautiful she was, she affected Ryan in a different way. We were fifteen, maybe sixteen, only there to buy picks and strings for an upcoming show, and while Johnny and I decided to leave and get some lunch, Ryan opted to stay behind. "So we can get acquainted," he said, motioning to Tess, who was behind him at that point. He had only taken his eyes off of her long enough to acknowledge that we were leaving and to let us know he wasn't joining, then his attention was once again riveted on her. Craig, the guy at the counter, merely nodded his head at this.

"She's good looking for sure," he said. "But not to everybody. She's charmed quite a few guys come in here. Ryan's a little young, but, well, I don't know. She may be twice his age, but they do look...nice together." We agreed, but left to get lunch anyway.

Ryan kept going back, some weeks he'd be there every other day just to see her, to be with her. We started to worry. He even showed up late for practice one day. He barged in half an hour late, which was a problem back then because we used my father's basement to rehearse in, but when my father came home we had to stop. Time was precious. Ryan was excited, though.

"You guys; I wrote this song today," he said. "At Eddie's. Tess totally inspired me." This was the first time Johnny or I had heard the name. We liked it, but we liked the song even better. That was the birth of "Welcome to the Ballroom," the song which Johnny calls our panty melter and which my father referred to the week he died as a hymn for the Church of Rock.

After a month of Ryan visiting Tess at the guitar store, he came to practice one day with her. We were amazed. We needed to know why, and how he was able to manage it.

"I've just had my eye on her for a while, you know," he said later. "And I was in yesterday, and noticed somebody else eyeballing her. It was Eric, that terrible guitar player from that terrible ska band we played with at The Hi-Pointe. I wasn't going to let that happen."

We liked having her around; she had a good voice and was beautiful and somehow gave us a little credibility. If we came to a show and the manager thought we looked a little young and started trying to back out of the show, all Ryan would have to do is grab Tess. One look at her, and it was almost instant; if we had Tess with us, we were real musicians.

The problems started, though; she'd get trashed in the middle of a show and embarrass us. Once she fell apart onstage in the middle of one of the more quiet parts of the very song she had inspired. Similar things began happening when Ryan would bring her to rehearsals. The last tour she came on with us, she came completely undone onstage and we were almost asked to leave a club in Boston.

These are the points I tried to make as Johnny drove us on surface streets (which I know he had done to buy me time) towards Eddie's. Ryan would not be gainsaid.

"Look, if you look at the law of averages," Ryan said, "she's due. She's been a problem at every show she's been to in the last three years, but I've taken care of everything with that, so she should be perfectly okay this time."

"That's only sort of a good point. I could use the same argument and say that she's ruined every show she's been to in the last three years, so the law of averages states that she'll probably be a problem this time."

"I agree with the drummer," Johnny said, and we knew he was serious. Johnny never referred to us by name when discussing matters of utmost import to the band.

"Me too," Adam said. His arms were crossed in the rear seat.

Ryan looked desperately for an ally, but he had none in the van. "Come on guys." He looked up and must have noticed Johnny driving conservatively. "Hurry up; they close at five, that's in like five minutes. And I promise, this time, it will be different. Band vote?"

We nodded our agreement for the band vote. "Good. I vote yes," Ryan said.

"No," Johnny said.

"Abstain," Adam said. Ryan and I turned to look at him. Johnny joined us as he pulled to a line of stuck traffic. "What? This is a thorny issue. I love Tess, I do. I think she could be very good for the morale of the band, but she doesn't have the best track record. So abstain."

The traffic was moving again as Ryan and Adam looked to me. "Elliot?" Johnny asked, looking at the road ahead. I joined him to give myself something to look at while I contemplated which member of the band I most wanted to be murdered by that night.

"Fine. Johnny, get us to Eddie's." I heard Ryan give a triumphant "yes" under his breath. "But," I continued. " slip up. One embarrassing moment. She's gone."

"Agreed," Johnny said through gritted teeth.

"Acceptable," Adam said.

"Agreed, then!" Ryan nearly shouted. He looked very pleased.

We arrived at Eddie's just before it closed. "I'll run in and get her, then we can get on the road," Ryan said, flinging the door open and jumping out. He ran into the store.

Johnny turned the music up. "Riders on the Storm" seemed to seep from the speakers and hang above our heads in the van, ominous and foreboding. A minute later, Ryan skipped happily out the door of the shop, holding tightly to Tess. Together they skipped to the back, where he opened the door for her and picked her up, set her neatly next to the other guitars. He climbed in behind her and shut the door.

"She looks so good with the brass colored strings; it matches the volume knobs. So exciting!"

"What was she in the shop for?" I finally asked.

"New pickups, adjustment on the truss rod, the trim around the edge was coming up a bit by the neck pocket, and I got the output rewired." He giggled and carefully lifted Tess out of her case.

I had to admit, as I looked at her lit from the sunlight slanting into the driver's side windows, for a forty year old hollow body electric twelve string, she was incredibly beautiful.