by Jon Worley
I barely made the noon checkout time. The clerk told me it didn't matter much, though, because of the snow. No one had left yet, and the manager had told the cleaning crew to stay home. While I slept, the storm that convinced me to ditch downtown had dropped another foot. I looked closely at the street.
It was plowed, salted and sanded. You could see the pavement. Cars were driving as if eighteen inches of snow hadn't fallen in the past 24 hours. These bastards really knew how to handle a snowstorm. Now, if the folks in Omaha ever figured this out...well, they have a few other things they should probably worry about first. I asked the clerk if he had heard how bad the roads in Nebraska were. He stared at me, not really understanding.
While I usually avoid staying at motels that declare themselves "American owned," I hadn't been able to clearly read the sign when I pulled in the night before. It was snowing, you might recall. So when I asked this white guy, maybe twenty-five, how the roads in Nebraska were, I assumed he knew where Nebraska was.
I was wrong.
"It's the state just north and east of here."
"Utah's north, man."
"Utah's west of here. Due west, actually."
Obviously, a conversation that I will be doomed to repeat forever in purgatory after I find out there is a God after all, and he thinks I am as much of an prick as my last girlfriend does. I quickly exited the conversation, dropped off the key and hit the phone. My handy-dandy AAA quick reference listed the Nebraska state patrol, and I ascertained that I-76 and I-80 were clear through to Omaha. Most of the snow out there blew into drifts and didn't stick much to the road. Sounded good to me.
I walked into the Dome Room a little after eight. Some band was doing its sound check. Kyra was reading the Lincoln paper, as usual. She had this odd thing against the Omaha paper. Never told me why, either. But every day she drove to some rest stop near the Platte river and picked up a Lincoln paper. Told me it was her "daily commute." More like a way to get out of the club, since she lived in a second story apartment above the place. Kyra was weird, but in a useful way. She had this thing for Galliano bottles. In fact, she invented a new drink one night as we were fucking. I didn't clean the bottle off, either. Maybe the patrons are still getting a little eau de Kyra with their Harvey Wallbangers. I didn't think I'd ask.
Most club patrons don't arrive until right before the show, and certainly not before the club "opens." At night spots, though, the "opening time" is pretty fluid and doesn't have much to do with the entrance being unlocked. The doors to the Dome Room were open from whenever Kyra got back from her paper run or when I came in until the last person left (usually me). If you show up at two in the afternoon, you'll probably be able to have a nice chat with the owner of the place, as long as you don't mind the endless interruptions of phone calls, beer suppliers making rounds and hangers on (folks not unlike yourself). We had countless college kids wander by from day to day. Some wanted jobs, some were starfucker wannabes (which meant they were at the wrong place, period) and some just wanted a place to hang out and liked the ambiance. We never kicked folks out of the office. If we didn't want them there, we'd merely ignore them. Most got the hint.
As I walked into the main room, the band members kinda glanced my way as they were making the requisite sound check noises, and Kyra glanced over. She immediately smiled. After reminding myself that the point of this visit was rest, not recreation, I trotted over to her table.
"Hey, boy, how's L.A. treating you?" she shouted over the monotonous noise.
"Why do you think I'm here?" I responded, just as loudly.
"You didn't quit?" she asked, not knowing the answer.
"No. But you wouldn't believe the shit I've had dumped on me."
I related the whole plan of signing three bands and getting three albums ready for June shipment and where I stood with all that. She knew about the Killer Posture deal, though she didn't think the band was ready. I told her I wasn't sure, either, but I sure wasn't trying to screw them, either. She smiled.
"If memory serves, that wouldn't be the worst of their problems." She gave me her pick-up smile. It has a little crinkle in the left (her right) corner of her mouth.
I tried to ignore it and stick to my plan. "Their biggest problem is going to be coming up with forty minutes worth of music in the next two weeks."
"All their songs don't suck," she said somewhat defensively.
"No, not at all," I said. "That's not the point. They have to get the songs into album shape. You know how those guys like to fuck with the arrangements all the time."
"Yeah. And now they have to put them down in a way that they can stand playing over and over forever."
"Well, actually, I don't care what they do on the road right now. But they are experiencing the psychic pain of turning their movie into static frames. And we're not talking about people with a great sense of reality."
She laughed. "But you think they can make it?"
"They're as good as anyone else, if that's what you mean."
"No, I mean do you think they'll make it?"
"Fuck if I know. And I already told them that. It's a big-ass crapshoot, and if they hit snake-eyes they're totally screwed."
"You don't have to tell me." She glanced up at the stage, where the band was finishing up."
"Who're they?" I asked.
"Prancer. A local band. They'll be opening for Jaundiced Heart tonight."
"Jaundiced Heart? Really?"
"Yes, THE up-and-coming punk band of this week."
"They don't have a labelmate touring with them?"
"When this tour was booked a month ago, no one had heard of them. Funny what two weeks of massive MTV play gets you."
"Not funny at all. I'm gonna be scraping my marketing folks for that soon enough." I stopped and watched the band prop their instruments up against the speakers and prepare to hit dinner. "They any good?"
"Sure. You're gonna stick around for the show, right?"
"That's the idea."
"Maybe you'll sign them tonight."
She laughed again. "Don't be silly."
The lead singer walked up and thanked Kyra for the opening slot. He seemed nervous, and he had good reason: If things went right, there would be 500 people at the show, and enough would hear Prancer's set. It was a make-or-break kinda deal.
"Phil, I'd like you to meet Earl. He worked here last year as my assistant. Now he's an A&R guy at Reverb Records."
I should note that Phil treated me with respect and even a little awe. He was acting sorta shy with Kyra, but with me he got all reverent and stuff.
"Are you here to listen to Jaundiced Heart?" he asked.
"Nope," I said simply.
His eyes widened. "You're not here to listen to us?"
I tried hard not to laugh. I succeeded. "Nope. I'm just passing through. My job is a real pain in the ass, and I'm driving across the country to New York and back to try and blow off some steam. Of course," I paused just the right amount of time. "I'm always listening. I learned that working here. We got so many tapes of bands, way to many to book. But I listened to them all. You never know when a Mighty Mighty will turn up."
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones had just signed a major label deal, and they always packed the house when they came through. I first heard a tape in 1989 or so, and we got them every time they came through the midwest. Always a great show.
He appreciated the reference. "So what do we have to do to get signed?"
"Indie or major?"
"Different roads, man. Most of the punk labels are on the coasts, and you'll have to move there to get signed. They're almost all dependent on the local scene. Kinda snobbish about that sorta thing. Though A.T. does have a lot of bands that aren't from San Francisco."
"Fuckin' sellouts..." he muttered.
"Alternative Tentacles?" I asked, rather incredulous. "How's that?"
"That Jello dude, going on Oprah." I still have no idea how all this connected in his head. But doctrinaire punks are weird beasts, and I shoulda read this sign much earlier than I did.
"Um, yeah, okay," I said, not knowing how to respond. Phil didn't seem too concerned, and he said something to Kyra before wandering off to dinner.
Sellouts? This kid was asking me how to get signed to a major label, and he calls A.T. sellouts. Jesus, what a weird little fucker he was.
"Shall we?" Kyra asked.
Nothing like Taco Hell once a day to keep you regular on the road. This is pretty important to me. Kyra didn't have a problem with this, and so we ate while exchanging silly small talk. Very silly, very small.
She didn't even want to watch Prancer. "I'll hear them just fine up in my place," she said. "I need a nap." Her new manager had come in for the evening while we were eating, and she introduced us before retiring for a while.
"How'd you get a job at Reverb from working here?" Skyler asked.
Really. And he was born in Omaha. It didn't make sense, but I didn't press him on it. To be fair, he thought Earl was a pretty goofy name, too.
"I knew a couple of people in A&R there, and when they got fired they recommended me for a job."
"And the guy who fired them took their suggestions?"
"Absolutely. He's an idiot, by the way."
"Jimmy Weisberg is an idiot."
"A fucking rich idiot."
"There's a lot of those."
"He must know something to make all that money."
"Come on. Making money doesn't take intelligence. All it takes is an overwhelming desire for the stuff."
"I want money," he said. "Bad."
"But are you willing to get up at six in the morning every day, put on a suit and tie and rape people for money?"
He looked at me with a pained expression. "No."
"Then you don't want it bad enough."
By the time Prancer came on, about a hundred folks had shown up. They didn't seem to know the band at all. But Phil kicked the show off by ripping the mike off and hurling the stand somewhere off stage, and the guys ripped through four or five two-minute stabs at pop-punk glory. Not bad, I thought. Give `em a couple years and we'll see. I poured myself another beer.
Phil had started in on some rant. I'm not sure where it started, but I took notice when he pointed right at me.
"And that fucker there; yeah, that fucker there! He's the reason all these good bands are selling out. He's the devil, man! He's making bands sell their souls for major label money." Folks were looking at me funny, and I was trying to get through his little theatrical bit. Hell, I've been called worse things than the devil. The singer for Cloistered Nuns called me bad in bed. Now, that hurt.
So I wasn't all that concerned. Apparently our little conversation about Alternative Tentacles had gotten him riled up. I lost track of what he was saying for a moment, and then I noticed him pick up his plastic cup of water and before I could react, he hurled it at me! What the fuck?
"Gotta teach the man a lesson! Get the establishment out of music, and get the establishment out of here! We have to cleanse this stage for the coming of some true punk warriors! We must cleanse this hall for Jaundiced Heart!" The mention of that name brought a cheer from the crowd, and the beers and waters started to rain on me.
This was just a bit too far, I thought. And then this Budweiser bottle hit me on the shoulder. Hurt like a motherfucker. I jumped to figure out where it came from, and another bottle whizzed past my face. Okay, that was it. I didn't care if these fuckers sold a million records on their own goddamned label, I wasn't going to sign them. Attitude in a punk band is one thing; it's a good thing. And I'm all for an anti-establishment attitude. He was sorta right about what I did, but this assault was completely uncalled for. It was personal, and that crossed the line.
A couple seconds later the two bouncers were pouncing on people who were throwing shit, and the manager went up to the stage and told the band to get the fuck off the stage and out of the club. Phil had worked himself into a frenzy and he tried to attack Mr. Skyler. But Phil was a seventeen-year-old skinny fuck who was short to begin with. Skyler just stood there for a second and waited for the other band members to pull Phil off. The drummer appeared to be apologizing profusely, but by the expression on his face I could tell how that was going.
Prancer was off stage and out the back door exactly five minutes later.
"Jesus, Earl, that must have been weird."
"I can't recall anything like it," I said, leaning back in Kyra's bed. She had thrown my clothes in her washer and was cleaning up the nasty scrape and bruise that the first bottle had left on my shoulder. And yes, I was naked. Neither of us noticed.
"They won't play here again, that's for sure," she said with conviction.
"Oh, hell, just make sure they get rid of that singer before they do. I have a feeling he's about to find himself voted out of the band soon, anyway."
"Probably," she said, laughing as she wiped the last bit of blood from my shoulder. "What the fuck."
We didn't mean to. I mean, I didn't mean to, and I don't think she did, either. But when the sound of Jaundiced Heart started rumbling through the walls, it just seemed to make sense. And at that moment, a little recreation didn't seem like a bad idea at all.
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