So the New Times music editor calls up to inform me of a couple tribute bands playing at some horrible yuppie hellhole in Scottsdale. "Tributes" to Van Halen and Mötley Crüe called Atomic Punks and Shout at the Devil, respectively.
Like I care.
I hate tribute bands on principle. They offend me. For one thing, guys in these groups have figured a way to preen for babes simply by living vicariously through their worthless heroes. Not only is this uninventive energy, it's also utterly pathetic. They'll probably get laid, too. I'm sure their sycophant shtick gets them the chicks. The last thing I need or want is another sad reminder that horrible men get beautiful girls.
And worse, Mötley Crüe and Van Halen tributes? I hate the real bands; why would I want to see some low-rent knockoff? And it's not that I'm a snob. I just hate bad taste.
Of course my editor is well aware of my stance with trib bands.
"I want you to go and do a piece on these bands," he said. "Just go and goof on 'em, Blake. You can at least do that."
I held the phone away from my ear and fumed. The guy is into seeing me squirm. Worse, he sensed my, uh, hesitation. He's quick that way. So he threw me a bone. "New Times will even get your bar tab. You can't turn that down."
"New Times will pay my bar tab?" I asked, skeptically, eyebrows raised. "That smells like rotting fish."
In the past, I've been known to run New Times bar tabs well into the hundreds of dollars. Sometimes I would buy rounds for strippers. You don't know the wonderful bliss that occurs when you mix a company tab and glittering go-go girls. But that was before New Times caught wind of my game. Word passed down through the ranks that there were to be no more expenses paid to Blake. But I know that good things only come in glimpses. You must grasp them and milk them for all they're worth.
"I don't think so," I told him. "Bar tab or no, I ain't partaking in any Crüe/Halen circle jerk. And since fuckin' when has New Times agreed to pay my bar tabs?"
"Don't worry about the tabs, dude. I'll take care of those. But if you don't go to Scottsdale, if you don't write about these cock-knockers, you'll have to go peddle your shit elsewhere."
"Dude. Fuuuuuck yoooooou," I howled, enraged now. The gut full of beer gave me confidence. "I'll go above your head and take this to the real editor."
"Try it, pal," he said, snickering. His voice was low, curt and annoying. A voice of smugness. "That guy could care less. You haven't been getting any letters lately. You know how it is. Nobody cares about you around here once the letters stop coming."
I slammed down the receiver. I knew what I had to do. I had to go and withstand those intolerable cover bands. I had to, or else it was one less freelance check. One less way for me to survive. The writing gigs have been drying up lately, and I couldn't afford to lose another. My recent firing from a cushy position reviewing porn movies was a complete sucker punch. I had filed my reviews late every month until they fired me. The gig was a real cash cow, too -- 75 cents a word goes a long way in a life like mine. Now it's back to counting nickels for 40-ouncers. Back down to King Cobra from Bud. And friends, there's no going down from King Cobra.
Getting fired from a major adult magazine is one thing, but I'll be hellbound if a pissant music editor at some local dishrag weekly is gonna ruin my life.
He's always telling me to do shit like this. He once had me go listen to country music in a shit-kicker bar. I did, got drunk and wound up with a caved-in nose and a torn ear. He knew it would happen. He's a clever prick that way. A conversation with him is often burdened with underlying manipulation, subtle schemes and just plain weirdness. What's funny is how the guy gets the hot chicks. I don't how the hell he does it.
Anyway, only after a front-tire blowout traveling at a 75 mph clip in the old LTD -- damn near flipping the thing -- with an open 40 between my legs, a smug doorman and a randy stripper calling me "dork face" did I discover there was no Atomic Punks/Shout at the Devil show after all. No show, therefore, no story. What I did discover from the self-satisfied doorman was the concert was indeed scheduled to happen, only a week later than what I had been told.
My impish editor sent me knowing full well there was no show. He did that on purpose, to get me to squirm, to suffer. He gave me a date and time and place, wrong on purpose. He knows the horrible two-hour drive from my trailer to Scottsdale, through the searing hot sun and with no A/C. He knows this.
After getting the hell out of Scottsdale, I wound up at a strip bar on Grand Avenue in west Phoenix. I hate strip bars; there is no better place for self-torture. There's an insanity involved in frequenting strip bars, a certain kind of pathology. I continually go into these places expecting different results. But things always end the same. I enter with this sense of childlike wonder, a yearning for some kind of gutter life affirmation, half wanting to be put to my knees by the authority of erotic beauty, half wanting to marry the first girl to bat an abused-childhood eyelash in my direction. What ultimately happens is I walk out smelling like vanilla, down a hundred bucks and saddled with this horrible, horrible longing. When I get home, I'm somehow able to move my hands, my arms and my fingers, but all I can do is just lie there, numb, cowering in some grim melancholia. I'll be just a drink away from going under, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, yearning for some girl I could never have. Never once could I have the girl. Never.
That insanity is exactly what happened the other night after the I went to see the Atomic Punks/Shout at the Devil show.
I swear, next time I'm down in that horrible furnace known as Phoenix, I'm gonna kick my bony editor's ass. Show him some glorious agony. I won't survive another night like this one. And why is it only losers get the chicks?
Picture this: acres and acres of rooftops the color of vitamin-rich piss in gated communities and sparkling SUVs on endless webs of freeway. Cash-heavy dot-com schemes. Seas of men in lawyerly suits with go-getter expressions, and female bank tellers so fretted and faceless that 10 seconds after a face-to-face transaction, you can't even recall the timbre of her voice, the color of her hair, the way she moved her lips while counting out the bills in front of you. Strip-mall coffee houses full of people carrying $200 backpacks wearing khaki and designer socks. Blue skies, always the blue skies. A suburbia so laborless and effortless and soft and bleached that nothing can ever happen. A real sham. And the sham triumphs. Hence, Matchbox Twenty and Mad Season.
I ask myself, "Where is the life?" There has to be life somewhere.
Somewhere to Elsewhere
I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I had the disc in hand, but I just couldn't bring myself to drop it into the CD player. I thought of something Oscar Levant once said, about how he can stand anything but pain. I understand that. I really understand that now. I didn't want the pain, so damn tired of the pain. I mean, this is Kansas. That horrible band christened after an inconsequential splotch of land in the middle of this horrible continent. What could be more painful than the promise of that?
The promo photo that came with the package featured a guy donning a swashbuckler eye patch. The youngest figure in the photo looks two years shy of 100. The jacket lists a song called "Icarus II." Some ironic clairvoyance there, at least.
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Millionaire milk-white mooks miming the once-substantive and lovely ghetto song, and doing so with ridiculous trailer-park posturing. A horrible mockery of poverty and black culture. It's the waltz of the mook and the kids love it.
The mook shall inherit the earth.
Brave New World
Wow, this record at times sounds a lot like Foghat. Foghat? Now there's something to think about. The opener "The Wicker Man" is eerily reminiscent of "Fool for the City." My older brother would go see Foghat on bills with REO Speedwagon at international speedways. Iron Maiden makes me wish Foghat would come back. It all makes me miss my brother. I would go see a Foghat tribute band any day of the week.