Nonfiction | March 01, 2003

(For Greg “Groundhog” Burns and Joe Strummer)

I HAD A SAGEBRUSH ‘FRO and Led Zeppelin in my eight-track when the Sex Pistols came to town. The Kingfish, Baton Rouge, 1978. A friend had dragged me out, despite my scoffing. Punks, which I’d never seen, and English punks at that. Before the show we stopped at the bar next to the club, where one such punk was cutting up. “That’s Johnny Rotten,” my friend said, nodding toward a puny, red-haired dude in leopard-print pants. “Kinda scrawny,” I said. Rotten cackled and tossed a sandwich at one of his tablemates. Their waitress showed up in a flash. “I don’t care what kind of pistol you are,” she said. “Nobody throws food in my restaurant.” Rotten laughed madly, then went to preen himself in a Jim Beam mirror. I snorted. We settled up and left to get a good spot for the show.

The Kingfish dance pit swam with creatures like nothing I’d seen: heavy unisex mascara, safety-pinned faces, studded leather. Onstage several battered amps and a tiny drum kit squatted beneath meager lights. I shook my head and sneered. I’d seen the buffalo, rattlesnakes and ten-gallon hats of ZZ Top’s World Wide Texas Tour fill the Sugar Bowl, seen a police riot when Lynrd Skynrd didn’t show, seen Aerosmith tear up City Park Stadium twice in New Orleans. Seen Zep and their lasers, the Stones and their inflatable penis. What was this lame shit supposed to be? The Pistols ambled onstage like a … well, like a bunch of punks, except for Sid Vicious, who staggered on shirtless, I NEED A FIX scrawled in black on his bony chest. The crowd greeted them with spit and verbal abuse, idiot homage really, but Rotten leered back with a defiance that no rock ‘n’ roll crowd could penetrate. The Pistols took a moment to plug in and toss some abuse back, then launched into their first song. Steve Jones’s guitar ripped like a dull meat saw. Paul Cook battered his kit. Rotten keened unintelligible lyrics, a sound I’d never have called singing. Sid’s arms hung at his sides.

It almost took my legs from under me—the most awful, beautiful anguish of broken machinery meeting human flesh. An orgasm at the center of a warehouse collapse, a miracle, every bit as powerful as the Southern Baptist preachers who’d been telling me I was going to hell since I was seven. A grin as big as sex spread across my face. I tossed my frizzy hair, banged my palms on my thighs, stared amazed at the meltdown spilling across the stage.

Rotten leaned out at us, spewing anger and disdain, straightened and stared with jaded disapproval, then turned his back and hunkered down as spit flew. Every rock-star pose, every fast-fingered guitarist’s neck diddle, every tight-pants strut I’d ever witnessed was being bludgeoned obsolete right before my eyes. The Pistols were ugly and fun and not virtuosic at all—just honest, raw, dangerous and sick with attitude. I am an antichrist. I threw my arms skyward. I was saved.
But I wasn’t sold.

* * *

Two years earlier, I’d made the short geographical journey from industrial north Baton Rouge to college-town south Baton Rouge. The psychological journey was proving much harder. Every step I took away from my blue-collar neighborhood toward the frat-boy-ruled world of LSU seemed a betrayal of my roots. I hung in a middle distance between working-class resentment and alienation from that very same working class, from my high school cohorts who used nigger like punctuation, the macho boys who’d kick your ass for acting too smart. “Fucking Einstein” a dude had called me once, just before he connected with my jaw.

Back in the tough industrial world of Red Stick, the Pistols were like a memory of an alien visitation. I couldn’t fully accept a music nobody I knew listened to, couldn’t see that the Pistols were the exact expression of working-class cynicism and anger that I felt. I mean, if my bighaired, air-guitar-playing, flannel-shirt-and-jeans-wearing stance was cool, how could these punks be cool?

Meanwhile, a Baton Rouge scene was sprouting, mainly in a club called Damn Shame, but really anywhere the bands could get a gig. Loud, abrasive, eccentric, bizarre-looking people and bands like the Shitdogs, Jett Rink and the Solar Skates, the Times. I didn’t join in, but I kept my ears open to rogue radio signals—Elvis Costello, the Ramones, the Talking Heads. Then bands came to the Bayou, the bar where I hung. Jason and the Nashville Scorchers, the Red Rockers, the Gun Club, Translator, R.E.M. In my fiction-writing class I met a guy named Bill Davis, who led an edgy punk-pop unit called the Noise. Bill was one of the best and wildest performers I’d ever seen, bouncing and shrieking as he laid down demented Chuck Berry leads at light speed, or lying on his back with his head inside the bass drum as the rest of the band blazed through one of Bill’s smart-aleck originals. People acted crazy, shock-treatment dancing, pogoing, skanking, flailing without partners; there were no rules. After a while Bill and I got the idea we’d start a ‘zine, but when that promised to be too expensive and too much work, he came to my place near the bus station with another idea: “Let’s start a band. We’ll call it the Human Rayz. We’ll give ourselves Ray names like Ray D. Ator and use a drum machine.” We enlisted a bass player, Kevin Bourgeois, who had a four-track and a drum machine, and at our first practice wrote and recorded five songs. Next practice we wrote eight more. Then we booked a gig at a Women Against Rape rally and recruited the Noise’s drummer to supplement the drum machine. Butch the drummer showed up at the Bayou having never heard any of our songs. Bill told him, “Just play four-four fast unless I give you the sign, then play fucked-up.” During the gig, our pal Groundhog reclined onstage in a lounge chair, reading comic books. People laughed and shouted at us. I didn’t know a key or a chord. I didn’t know most of the lyrics I’d written. The assault of sound was beautiful. Within a year the Noise was dead, and the Human Rayz were recording in a country-music studio owned by a pillhead named Furr. We called him “Psychedelic,” a joke he didn’t get. We’d spasmed our way into rock ‘n’ roll.

* * *

Early on, Bill’s hyper schedule made it hard to write more songs; also, he was dissatisfied with my lack of musical knowledge. So I recruited a painter/actor/guitar player named Brian Storey to write with me. We came up with songs like “Quest of the Nubiles” and “Your Love’s a Bad Science Fiction Movie,” but Bill hated Brian’s thick-fingered playing. Practice became a battlefield of dueling amps, where I could rarely hear my vocals.

An old friend of Bill’s (we didn’t yet know he was literally delusional) lied enough about us to book the Rayz at a heavy metal club for three nights, for real money-—almost two hundred dollars. The night of the gig, Brian and Bill sniped at each other all the way to the club. When we arrived, we found an extensive list of “No’s” (No ripped jeans, No tank tops) evidently designed to keep the sleaziest bikers out. I scrounged up some paper and a marker and made signs of my own (No fun, No future) and, thinking I was cute, posted them on the sides of the stage. Before we played our first note, several long-haired dudes shot comments at me about how smart-asses got their asses whupped and how they didn’t need any queers in here (our short hair and thrift-store Lost-in-Space shirts evidently classified us), but that didn’t prepare me for the wasted guy who stumbled to the front of the stage midsong, brandished a knife and demanded we play ZZ Top. The place was filled with people, mostly jeering at us, but people nonetheless, so I just laughed and asked, was he going to kill us in front of so many witnesses. He seemed unable to process that complex a question. I turned and told the band to play ZZ Top. Everybody stumbled into “Just Got Paid”—a joke, but Bill yelled in Brian’s face, did he know how to play guitar? Brian threw his guitar at Bill and stormed out. The crowd cheered for the only time that night. I told Bill he was an asshole, but still, the whole thing seemed cool, unslick, wide open with potential.

We were fired after the first set.

* * *

Over time the lineup settled into Marina Del Ray (Bill) on guitar, E. Ray Sorehead (Ricky) on bass, Ray Penn Murder (Butch Golson) on drums and me, Ray Don Entebbe, on vocals and found percussion (cans, bottles, tables, an old Air Force marching drum, audience members). Our songs spanned a schizophrenic range of taste du jour: punk, high-tension pop, new wave, psychobilly, ska, trashadelic. The Damn Shame was long dead, and the town’s regular bars resisted booking local, original new music bands, so we were forced to create an underground scene wherever we could.

In deserted downtown Baton Rouge, a gay club called the Industry relented. The club was a block from the Mississippi River, beneath the glowing sky lit by Exxon’s and Allied’s flare stacks. Inside, a mirrored wall, a muraled ceiling and a bouncy, rickety, two-tiered stage gave the place a surreal air. After we started playing there, Saturday nights soon began to bring not only middle-aged businessmen, drag queens, a crowd with angular hair and striped, torn clothing but also a group of fundamentalist Christians who denounced fornicators and homosexuals at the bar’s entrance. To get to the door we waded through haranguing witnesses, me brandishing a velvet painting of a crying Jesus as protection. At the club’s entrance stood a dismembered mannequin nailed to a cross, which really got the Christians going. Then one night at an MDC gig, a group of hard-core punks beset the Christians, clawing at their legs and begging for salvation. Several of the punks sliced crosses into their foreheads and arms and tried to smear blood on the converters, routing them. After that, the cops pressured the Industry to send us all packing. During our final song at the club’s final gig, somebody bounced a full can of beer off my head, almost knocking me out.

* * *

We played guerrilla gigs: a skankfest at LSU’s Episcopal Church with Bobbo and Da Pigs; in the bed of a moving pickup during the Krewe of Clones’ Mardi Gras parade; at an apartment-complex courtyard in Tiger Land—until the cops came. Finally we headed south to Gonzales, to a bar that Harry Dog and the Fleas had found, a faltering strip club called the Watering Hole, on a dirt road bordering BASF Wyandotte

Chemicals, the plant where my dad had worked since the ’60s. Out there, things cut to the core. Dancers piled onto the beer-soaked floor doing the Body during our psychedelic dirge “Bodies in the House” (“there were bodies in the house/but we tried not to notice”) and squirmed on their bellies like writhing maggots when Harry Dog and the Fleas covered “Human Fly.” Misfits of all stripes, from gay rednecks to eccentric Southern gentry, thrashed, pogoed and slammed. Punks stole mike stands; psychodramas erupted between Harry Dog’s girlfriends; Marina Del Ray played guitar while doing toot in the bathroom; Ray Penn Murder forgot his drumsticks and used a broken pool cue; I flew into rages; chemical stench tinged the air. It was all excess and aggressive music, but among the drugs, booze and unstable personalities, a fractured community formed.

Amazingly, our smart-ass pop single “Chemical Kids” (“I’m just a chemical boy,/I want a chemical girl,/I think we should go together,/ Won’t you go down to Love Canal with me”) scored heavy airplay on LSU’s radio station, and we began to get gigs at respectable clubs—obviously the beginning of the end. In the years since first seeing the Sex Pistols, I’d gotten married and divorced, had dived into and been spit out of a crazed relationship and had become a college teacher of developmental reading. My lyrics had turned dark and troubled: “Morbid Curiosity,” about a man voyeuristically searching for bad news about his ex; “Running the Fuse,” about too much cocaine, angry sex and lack of communication; “Thirty Minutes,” about nuclear war and ground zero for relationships—songs that were changing the Rayz’ jokey persona. The summer our single came out, Bill wanted me to travel to college stations around the country to promote the band, but to get myself level I took a trip to Europe. When I got home two months later, Bill had started the cowpunk and rockabilly band Dash Rip Rock. Bill had seen that I wasn’t ready to go on the road, and I knew that my talent couldn’t breathe in a band with Bill. Within months, the Human Rayz had been dashed—a necessary death, but even so, no less like a brother’s betrayal to both of us.

Those years, the early to mid-’80s, crackled and depressed like no others I remember until now. Our gloom over Reagan’s presidency and a predatory America made our small scene and the music we loved a refuge. Music and bands saved and defined us: the Cramps, the Clash, X, the Damned, the Leroi Brothers, Husker Dii, the Replacements, Evan Johns and the H-Bombs, the Ramones, the Jam, Joe Ely, the Blasters, the Minutemen, Dead Kennedys, Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, and on and on. Radical, rebellious, angst-ridden, retro, hilarious music we could dance to.

By 1985 I was desperate to have another band. For a year I wooed Boykin Short, a basketball buddy who was also my favorite guitarist (formerly of the Fleas). Boykin was technically brilliant but also damaged, bright, daring and inventive in the way of the great trashabilly and R&B guitarists. Ultimately I got all the Fleas—Adam on drums, Ron on bass and, as second vocalist, Liz, a woman with a piercing, barely on-key vocal like Exene Cervenka’s of X, my favorite band at the time. All we needed was a name. Then a friend told me a story about how she’d attended a repressive new-age high school in California. There the administration had demanded that the students “not listen to rock ‘n’ roll music because, in order to be holy, you needed to focus your energies on your upper chakras, and rock ‘n’ roll made all of your energy get trapped down in your lower chakras.” We were set.

The Lower Chakras poured off-harmonies, edgy roots-rock licks, do-it-yourself ethics, plenty of Busch beer and caustic postpunk lyrics and tempo through Marshall amps and came out with “36 Flags over Jesus,” about local celebrity Jimmy Swaggart and his massive compound on the edge of town. We released “36 Flags” as a single, and its success made us eager to record an album. We needed money and didn’t want to play frat parties, so we took on other strange gigs.

A restaurant in downtown Gonzales, a provincial Cajun town, hired us to play on the street for two days and nights during the Jambalaya Festival in order to, as our employer said, “attract thirsty people.” We knew that the crowd would be a mix of families, bikers and drunks, but we knew enough Stones, Kinks, Creedence, other ’60s rock and Nuggets that we thought we wouldn’t get fired. Our stage turned out to be a ten-by-twelve flatbed trailer with shin-high railings. There was barely enough room for our equipment and PA, much less five band members, but we kept laughing, “Easy money,” as we crammed everything on and rigged the tricky power supply from the restaurant.

* * *

The first day and night were low key; most of the crowd streamed past and ignored us. Groups of bikers were the only ones who liked how odd and obnoxious we were. The restaurant’s main business didn’t seem to be food service but rather a steady trade in men who disappeared into the two-story building for long periods. Off and on, heavily made-up women came out of the restaurant to stand around the stage and smoke before disappearing inside again. We knew there was gambling in back, but what else we could only guess. Nicky, the shorter, nicer of the two brothers who’d hired us, came out once in a while to nod and tap his foot. The jambalaya was spicy, meaty. The beer was icy. The Louisiana sky hung pale and warm.

The second evening a bunch of friends from the old scene came out, so we cut loose long strings of thrashy, big-guitar originals: “Fishin in the Lake of Fire,” “Admiral Blackie,” “Tiger Beach.” We drove the families off, and when Nicky came out he didn’t nod or tap. Off to the side, a gaggle of rowdy drunks kept screaming that we sucked, but then bobbed their heads and stagger-danced every time we played. I trashtalked them, goading them to ask for “Free Bird,” then, when they finally did ask, flipping them off and saying, “Here you go, won’t cost you a thing.” Still, they were cool until the middle of “36 Flags,” when the song morphed into a requiem of “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and the spirit possessed me.

Earlier we’d thrown a few singles to the crowd, and now the ringleader held his away from his body like a turd. Even in the dim streetlight, his complexion deepened from drunken ruddy to bloody rage. I was busy driving demons from people’s foreheads, one eye on the ringleader, when he threw the record to the ground and stomped it, grinding his heel and then grabbing it up like Moses raising the tablets above his errant flock. He sailed the record at me, then charged the flatbed. I was ready to kick him, but my brother the ex-cop and another large friend named Huckaby headed him off. I stopped my “healing” and started talking peace and love fast through the PA, trying to calm the factions as Gonzales police waded in. Finally everybody settled down, and we finished our set, but boss Nicky scowled and stood with crossed arms while his brother fumed.

“Oh, boy,” I said to Boykin as he unplugged. “Time to collect.”

“The deal maker,” he said and smiled. “If you’re not back in a half hour, we won’t be waiting.”

Nicky and his brother silently escorted me through the restaurant into a smoky room where several men were counting stacks of money. They told me to sit in a chair in a corner as they went over to the money counters. Nicky and his brother bookended an older man in sunglasses at the table, whispering to him and glancing at me, then took their seats. I remembered how that morning, driving I-10 to the gig, we’d seen a vulture on the shoulder tugging what appeared to be a long red ribbon away from a dog’s carcass. Closer, we saw that the ribbon was the dog’s intestine, stretched twenty feet and still unreeling. Our friend Beverly had gagged. I’d swallowed hard and laughed.

Nicky motioned me over. I took a seat across from him, his brother and the older man in shades.

“This is the man from New Orleans,” Nicky said. I nodded, but the man kept his visored face tilted to the money in front of him. “We agreed to four twenty-five, right?” Nicky said.

“Six seventy-five,” I said.

The dumber, bigger brother leaned toward me. “You calling Nicky a liar?”

“That’s what we agreed to,” I said.

The brother leaned closer.

“Calm down,” Nicky said to him, and the brother backed off slightly. Nicky said, “I don’t remember that agreement. I remember what I remember.” He glanced at the man from New Orleans, then fixed on me again. “What’re you gonna do if we don’t give you the six seventy-five? You gonna sue?”

You get used to being ripped off when you play rock ‘n’ roll. I knew the band wouldn’t like getting shorted, but we could all live with it. And after playing for two straight days, the great ringing in my ears had created a calm isolation. Plus, I didn’t think these people would gain from beating my ass. I shrugged.

“I’m not gonna do anything,” I said. “What can I do?” The whole table looked at me, then at each other, blanked by my response. “We played music the whole time we were supposed to. I think it’s fair you pay us what you said.”

“That ain’t what we said,” spat the older brother.

Nicky held his hand up and studied me a second. Maybe he was recalling his earlier foot-tapping, thinking of how he’d smiled during “Fortunate Son” or how I’d stopped the riot I’d almost started. Whatever his thoughts, he said, “Let me talk to the man from New Orleans. Please wait in the restaurant.”

I walked out front, amazed at having stumbled into this amateur production of The Godfather. The woman behind the counter handed me a beer and winked. “Y’all played good,” she said. I smiled and raised the bottle to her. A second later Nicky came out with a wad of cash.

“The man from New Orleans said we should split the difference. Here’s five hundred twenty-five dollars.” I almost said the difference had been split mostly his way, but I could tell from his eyes that I was lucky the Man had granted us this and not sent out the other brother. Nicky shrugged, looking strangely sorry. “Business is business,” he said.

How could I argue?

* * *

While playing in the Chakras, I had begun teaching high school. The kids were great (we even played a raucous gig in the gym for the science fiction club dance), but the teaching load was deadening. More and more I felt out of sorts, like my life was two sizes too small. I hadn’t written fiction in two years. After a weekend as Andre Dubus’s driver, I applied to the MFA program at the University of Alabama and moved to Tuscaloosa. One night in workshop my first semester, the professor, red-faced and shaking, tossed my manuscript to the center of the table. “This,” he said, “is hyperbolic crap.” That was the high point. From then on, I steeled myself for workshop with early Soul Asylum, the Ramones, the Celibate Rifles’ “Turgid Miasma of Existence”—angry fortification and purging. Weekends when I could, I drove six hours each way to Baton Rouge to gig with the Chakras. Near the end of my first year, I read Ted Solotaroff’s “Writing in the Cold” and decided to take a leave of absence to try and get the Chakras on the road.

* * *

Back in Baton Rouge I worked odd jobs and sponged from Boykin and Liz while we searched for a bass player and a drummer who could travel. We fired our friend Ron and Boykin’s brother Adam, found a great bass player, Mike “Cornbread” Traylor, and started going through drummers. Then, after months of failed drummers, I decided to go back to Alabama. Almost immediately the drummer we’d been needing, George Brown, hooked up with us. I left for school again anyway.

We recorded over the summer, and that fall my friend Geoff Schmidt made the twelve-hour drive with me two weekends to finish mixing. Our album came out underproduced (my fault) and poorly pressed (not my fault), but our small label, Martini Records, managed to get us distribution that brought reviews from around the country and strange fan mail from as far away as Bulgaria and Greece. “I very much like your yellow record,” one postcard said.

My fiction writing still bumped along, but the writers I admired at ‘Bama came down front at our gigs, swilled beer and shook booty, supporting me. Three carloads of my pals made the trek to Baton Rouge for the Chakras’ annual Electric Living Room Cool Test gig, a spoofy homage to the Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests and an attack on the smug apathy that had begun to dominate audiences and that reminded us of the period before punk blew things open. Before the gig at the Bayou, we painted the furniture onstage tacky psychedelic colors, covered the walls in aluminum foil, rigged blacklight lamps, creating a kitschy living room where willing audience members could lounge. The band set up on the floor so people could mingle and perform with us. The only drawback was that the spilled beer on bare cement caused me to be so violently shocked that the mike stand jolted out of my hands and seconds literally disappeared. The band and a good many audience members wore pajamas and bathrobes. One dude fell off a coffee table and gashed his lip. Poet Buck Downs slept through the roar of “Phosgene Baby,” a song he’d written lyrics for but had never heard. And a wasted former Vietnam door gunner wigged out and tried, for no reason, to attack Tony Earley, who compassionately held him at arm’s length until a friend ushered the man away.

* * *

The Chakras gelled with Cornbread and George, but Boykin and Liz split as a couple, turning every gig and infrequent practice into a breakup brawl, often using embittered new songs about each other as weapons. Finally, after months of agonizing, we kicked Liz out of the band. I returned to Tuscaloosa carrying a load of guilt and, evidently, a case of bad karma. Sprinting down the basketball court, I collided with a shorter player, who’d spun and stopped unexpectedly on a fast break; his head cracked me in the throat so hard I collapsed to the floor, unable to speak, barely able to breathe. A doctor at first thought my larynx was cracked and made me sit in the infirmary for four hours in case I started suffocating, but luckily I was only bruised. Still, the blow knocked out my voice for two days and took away half of my already limited vocal range for the next two years. I had just enough left for rock ‘n’ roll.

A few weeks later I returned to Baton Rouge to croak through our first gig without Liz. The dancers squirmed on the packed floor while we grooved onstage, free at last from the domestic smolder we’d suffered through for a year. Despite my voice, it was one of those great nights, four people in perfect sync, sprinting through an obstacle course and carrying the audience with us.

Then, three-quarters through the first set, one of our bright yellow albums sailed above and into the audience. I raised my eyebrows at Boykin. Liz? Oh well. The gig was going great. Who cared if Liz gave records away? And who could blame her?

Between songs, a friend squeezed her way to the lip of the stage and pointed at a knot on her forehead. “Liz hit me with a record,” she said. Then she bent the album like a book cover. “And it’s broken down the middle.” Between sets I almost got in a fight with Liz’s new boyfriend; then we finished the set and went back to Boykin’s to unload equipment. When we got there, I stared at the boxes of albums in our practice room.

“Boykin,” I asked, “does Liz still have a house key?”

He nodded. Boykin, my girlfriend, Colleen, and I lifted record after record and examined the creases, shaking our heads. Three hundred broken records.

Colleen bent one back and forth as if playing an instrument herself. “Think of how satisfying each snap must have been,” she said.

I did. Then I thought of the hole I’d have in me if the band had kicked me out. Thought of the two other friends we’d kicked out to go on the
road, though we never really had gone on the road. Thought of how I’d felt betrayed when the band played our album-release gig without me on the night my mother died, rather than postpone it. Thought of how bands are like a marriage. The vows are your promises to meld talents and tastes to create something together, no matter how much the others might differ with your vision, no matter how much they get on your nerves. Thought how messy the divorces can be; and then, for no particular reason, remembered Nicky saying, “Business is business.” Before the next Chakras’ gig in Tuscaloosa, our friends made jewelry and Christmas ornaments from the vinyl fragments. I watched and laughed but didn’t join in. Finally my friend Val Vogrin came over to me, wearing a necklace of record shards. “It’s a good record,” she said, “but now it’s a much better story.”

After a couple more years of “reunions” and “final gigs,” the Chakras called it quits. Rock ‘n’ roll had helped me find the voice I’d lacked when I walked into the Sex Pistols’ storm so long ago—a more honest voice, no matter how flat, damaged, or off-key.

My rockadoozy wasn’t over though. Friends from several bands asked me to be Judas in their bar-band production of Jesus Christ Superstar. When that fell through, they asked me to front a band called The Irascibles, a pop-garage group that would play revved-up threechorders a la the Miracle Workers, Lyres and Cynics. “Three chords and a pile of dust,” Dan “Electro” Hall, our drummer and main songwriter, called it. We clicked right off, our T-town friends and dance-starved strangers packing in close to the stage, sweating through a ‘Bama spring and summer, bobbing their heads and swilling beer, singing along on the floor and joining us onstage for the Damned’s “Stranger on the Town” and Deep Purple’s “Hush.” During an old Human Rayz song, I encased myself in a Hefty bag and slowly stretched my way out, a crowd favorite but a little risky in ragged bar air and ninety-five degree heat.

At the end of the summer, I moved to my new teaching job in Connecticut, but I still go back once in a while to play. And it strikes me that the more I know about myself, the more I need simple, direct, live music. Music that urges expression, sweat and rowdies pressing the stage. Music like the Swinging Neckbreakers, the Woggles, Mudhoney, Sweat Bee, the Roebucks, Jot.

I go back, and sometimes the band members don’t see each other until we’re onstage at the Chukker. No practice, just some beer and loud talk for inspiration. Above the dance floor, the two-bladed fan wobbles as the heat gathers in the folds of the parachute bunched on the stage walls. I duct-tape set lists to the wall and smile, think how lucky I’ve been to live this mirror-star dream in front of like-minded people.

The crowd gathers down front, yelling at us, setting their drinks in lines on the lip of the stage. Jay plugs in and tunes his guitar. Robert adorns his organ with deodorizer crowns and adjusts his sunglasses. Brian (or Greg)—the bass player of the evening—swills beer and hangs loose until it’s time. I stand stage-front and wrestle the mike stand to make it reach as high as it can, antagonize the people in front, then turn to the band. Dan plops down behind his small, vintage drum kit, the meager stage lights reddening his face.

“One, two, three, four,” he yells, clicking his sticks.

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