Chapter Twenty- Showcase showdown at Slowhands
I had many nightmares dealing with the fateful night in question. But no matter how many times it replayed in my head— the numerous dissections and analyzations — it always ended the same way, a chaotic deconstruction, an unavoidable road to disaster, and the death of hope. Ah . . . to sleep perchance to scream.
It came upon us so fast, everything happening now seemed a blur in comparison. Back then, even Grub’s sudden desire to leave, mere weeks before the nerve racking event, the frantic search for a successor, and the relentless rehearsing of a new percussionist, Alistair Pare` III, could not displace the ultimate despair to come, on a fateful, cold, February night.
Alistair, who we came to know as Arsehole Party, seemed to be a suitable replacement for Grub, however, his love of liquor presented itself as equally formidable. We all had to bite our tongues, to the point of severing our muscle of the vernacular and rendering ourselves mute, in order to salvage one last spin at the roulette wheel.
Alistair was a quirky, stout fellow in a shit-brown pork-pie hat, John Lennon glasses he called spectacles, and deerskin muck-lucks with fuzzy off-white rims. Those damn boots never left his feet even in the dead of summer. He was the crowning definition of obnoxious; spouting his pseudo bastard offspring of Aussie-Cockney-South Africanus. Out of us all, he seemed to grate on Skunk the most with his boozing, womanizing ways. Skunk was a tough chick, physically and mentally, yet many of the rehearsals nearly brought the two to blows over the minutest of details. But Arsehole Party could play, and was the only drummer we auditioned who could follow a click track. Such was the necessary evil of the intricacies in the music we played. With time winding down to a crucial gig, our choices seemed severely limited.
We would be performing at Slowhands, considered to be the club to showcase for record industry types. It was to be a wondrous night. A night where we put all the criticism to bed- the proclamations of: we were too unprofessional, we just couldn’t get it done, and we folded under pressure. The Oral Blondes were going tabula rasa with a big fuck you. Our stage show was going to be unlike anything seen before in a small club; a musical and visual onslaught. Alice Cooper had once said, you should give your audience something different to look at in every song and we intended to follow his words to the letter, with specially built lighting, fog machines and various props. As a bare-bones Grunge style rained supreme, we were going to make a triumphant return to a theatrical vogue of presenting our music amidst a set design in an urban jungle motif of neon blues and greens. All of which, would be brilliantly lit with black-lighting.
We had worked hard to make sure the elements would be in place by the big night and with the stress culminating into excessive evenings of endless rehearsals, I fought a battle with a creeping cold as the showcase approached.
The big night arrived and after a brief sound-check I swallowed the appropriate pills and elixirs to click my immune system to autopilot. I felt I could make it through the performance with my chemical, zen remedy.
Arsehole Party sought me out as I was sucking back a lozenge of honey and lemon. “Ello mate. I was wonderin’ if I could trouble you for an advance on tonight’s take to fill my yawning gam?”
“Wha? Are you azgin’ be for bunny to eat?”
“Something like that. Yeah. But not for rabbits mate. . . sustenance . . . of, let’s say, a more spiritual nature.”
“Neber knew you were a vegetarian.”
“Oh mate yer nose is on the loose.”
“Yer drippin’ mate. Give it a good blow. There’s a lad.” He smacked me hard on the back and I nearly choked on my lozenge. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my nose. I reached into my pocket and peeled Alistair three twenty’s. I thrust them into his hand like I was trying to rid myself of a bothersome bellhop.
“Thanks mate. Get some rest. You look knackered. I’ll see you when they shave a quarter off the ten.”
I was about to ask him what the hell he was talking about, but he’d waddled off with a happy whistle, so I retired to the dressing room. As Arsehole Party, I think, was trying to say, I needed my rest. Tonight was a big night for the Oral Blondes, perhaps the biggest to date. Agents, Managers, record company A&R’s had all R.S.V.P.’d. They would be in attendance among a sold out show of family, friends and fans. Even Alice and her three identical siblings had made the trek to witness the becoming. With a little over an hour to go and my nose beginning to clear a little, I ventured down to check the progress of the stage readiness. I found Doc and Skunk pouring over last minute set-list changes. They were both in stage clothes. Doc had his usual white Doctor’s coat and black leather tie with white keyboard keys imprinted down its length. Skunk was in a red blouse tucked into a short black skirt with matching nylons that disappeared into red high-tops. Chas, Mayor, Skids and Blood Monkey crawled like ants over the stage checking and double checking all the connections.
I greeted my band-mates. “Are we all set?”
“I’ll let you know at the end of the night,” Skunk spat. She headed off to tune guitars and check pedals.
“Waz with her Doc? Time of the month?”
“Arsehole Party, what else? Ever since that buffoon came in, there’s been tension between those two, you know that.”
“We have to ged through tonide Doc. Then we can make a serious decision on widge way we wanna go.”
“I think Skunk will save us the trouble and kill him after the show. Where is that idiot anyway?”
“I doan no. He should be bag from dinner by now.”
Doc grabbed at Blood Monkey’s arm as he passed by. “You seen Arsehole Party?”
Our crew member looked back at us from his boyish freckled complexion. “No, but I think Alice was talking to him earlier. She’s in the downstairs bar.”
Doc and I left the stage area and traipsed down the steps to the lower bar where we found Alice on her way up. Her long brown hair bounced and shimmered with each step.
“Alice have you seen our drubber?”
“Of course you are.” We continued downward. “Damn quadrublets. I can’t tell them apard with their shoes on.”
“Now is not the time to be thinking of your foot fetish Sparky.”
Amid the mummer of voices under the inflection of overhead televisions, a cumulus of blue smoke, and the clink of glasses, we found Alice at the bar- at least I hoped it was Alice? I gently touched her shoulder. “Alice?”
“Of course. Who did you think I was, John?”
“Have you seen our drubber?”
“Alistair, our drummer,” Doc translated.
“The strange dude in the Eskimo boots? Yeah he was in here earlier. Tried to pick up my sister Lindsay until I intervened. He thought he was seeing double and excused himself. He seemed half in the bag John. He wandered out the front door. Haven’t seen him since.”
“Oh that’s just marbelous. Did he say where he was going?”
“What do we do? Doc?”
“Order a drink.”
The bartender approached us. “You looking for your friend? That crazy guy in the hat and muck-lucks?”
“Yes! Do you know where he went?”
“I’m not sure but I think he said something about heading across the street to the Cerberus for a night cap.”
“Night cap? Je-sus It’s 9:15,” Doc protested.
“It’s another bar on the east side of the street a few doors down.”
“Thanks. We’ll try there.”
Doc and I turned and bolted out the front door. Barlow’s white doctor’s coat billowed out behind us like we were super heros rushing to save the world from certain destruction. I could feel the constricting of my nostrils as the cold began to work its way to the surface again at full force. The scraping of my voice was also beginning to grate and I cleared my throat with a hostile grunt. The smoke-filled atmosphere of our environment hadn’t helped. Down the street we could clearly see the marquee touting the entrance to the Cerberus under a blinking, neon, three-headed dog.
“Hair of the three-headed dog that bit ya,” Doc said.
“Dis is all my fauld. He asked for an adbance and I gabe it to him. I should have knowed he’d spend it on his liber.”
“Sparky, I can’t understand what the hell you’re talking about. Let’s go get that imbecile and bring him back to Slowhand’s before you catch your death of cold.”
As we approached the entrance of the Cerberus, a figure who sat against the front stoop, shrouded in a grey blanket, with his head bowed, reached up his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you.”
Doc thought it was an adoring fan and shook the man’s hand. The derelict looked up from his five o’clock shadow, now well past eleven, and grabbed Barlow’s mitt with vice-like pressure. He brought his other hand up to strengthen the clasp and a toothy void opened up beyond his withered, char pei-like face. He refused to let go. “Give me money. I’m sick.”
“Let go of me ya crazy fool! Sparky. Shit!” Doc tried to pull away but the old man clung to him like a virus and Doc started to drag him across the pavement. His blanket slid from his shoulders to his legs, fanning out like a peacock tail behind him. It exposed a ragtag outfit of drab browns and ripped wool. Doc continued to pull away violently dragging the derelict with him in staggered bursts. Had I not felt so rotten I might have laughed at the sight. But there was no time and I was in no mood.
“Get him off! Get him Off!” Doc screamed.
The derelict wheezed. “Give me money!”
I shoveled another load of stones from my vocal passage. “Doc! Quid clownin’ around. This is nod helbing. Led him go!”
“He’s the one that won’t let go Sparky! Ow! He’s digging in his nails! Let go you fuck!”
“Please, just five bucks.”
Doc began to yank his arm with violent force but the derelict held on like a bear trap. The soles of his boots flapped like tongues as they skidded over imperfections in the sidewalk.
“Son of a bitch let me go!”
“Just a couple of bucks . . . a cigarette . . . anything. I’m sick.”
This incident was becoming annoying, so I turned back and did the only thing I could. I started to cough all over the man. “I’ll show you who’s sick. You crazy basdard.”
The derelict reacted like I’d just put out his eyes. He released his grip and recoiled into the shadows writhing in pain. Doc shook his fingers vigorously, flexing his injured paw. “Son of a bitch! My frickin’ hand.”
Come on Doc. Leds go find our drubber!”
We entered the bar. I popped another pill into my mouth along with a lozenge. Instantly I felt the vapors working their magic and my nose began to clear a little, allowing me to breath the sweet air of smokey blue, hovering in another layer of fog above our heads. The Cerberus was dank with battlements of near empty liquor bottles on an illuminated shrine before the seated worshipers and guarded by a husky partisan barkeep. His beard and belly fought each other for distinction bursting from his vest of denim.
“Excuse be.” He ignored me as Doc rubbed his wounded knuckles. “Excuse be!” I said again with sandpaper rasp.
The man finally turned in our direction. He approached us, and spread his huge tattooed arms out on the bar, as if he needed to prop up his uneven frame. “What can I get you guys?” He might as well have barked at us, his voice was so gruff. Suddenly my throat didn’t feel as bad.
“Inforbation. We’re looking for a hefdee chap with glasses in a porgpie hat and fuzzy muggluggs. Hab you seen him?”
“You guys police?” He looked at Doc. “Or doctors?”
“No. We’re in the ban thad’s blaying across the streed. He’s our drubber. We need to find him. We go on in— ”
“— Thirty minutes, give of take,” Doc added, as he kissed his swelling fingers. “Look at my hand Sparky. It’s starting to swell. I’m infected and will surly die if I don’t receive medical attention. Who knows what scabies that homeless dude transmitted to me in our contact.”
The barkeep said, “What’s a mugg-lugg?”
“My cohort here, has a cold. He meant to say muck-luck. They’re boots, fuzzy around the top, and look like the were shat out by a deer.” Doc informed the suddenly interested barkeep.
“You know what shit is?”
“You fuckin’ with me? Of course.”
One of the alcoholic devotees yelled from the end of the bar. “Hey I’m dry down here.”
“You’re also out of money!” The barkeep yelled back.
“Did you see our drubber?” I pressed.
The beard and belly returned his attention. “Drubber?”
“He means drummer.— Will you let me do all the talking Sparky?”
“No. I don’t remember anyone fitting your description who looked like he had deer shit boots on.”
I suddenly became concerned Doc had offended the bartender in some way and he had now decided to withhold what he knew.
“I saw him.” The alcoholic devotee yelled.
“The guy you’s lookin’ for: Strange fellow, little hat, glasses like John Lennon. Yup I saw him. He was in here about fifteen minutes ago. Bought some shots and a few beers and then staggered off. Never saw someone drink so fast. I like to take my time when I— ”
“— Did you see where he went?”
“Hey man, I’m a drinker, not a fuckin’ baby sitter.”
“Gib the man a drink on us.” I flipped a couple of bucks to the barkeep. He opened a
fridge and retrieved a beer, propping it in front of the informant in a geyser of foam as I honked into a tissue.
“Thanks my friends.” He raised the beer to a salute then swigged back the frothy beverage. He paused for a moment to savor the taste before setting the brown bottle back in its resting place of wet, stained coasters.
“The strange fellow you saw, where did he go?”
“I didn’t really see.”
“That was money well spent,” Doc lamented.
“But the way he looked, I’d say check the alley. Not steady on his feet. Know what I mean?”
“Come to think of it,” the bartender interjected, hoping to goad us into buying more drinks. “Yeah. There was an odd guy in here recently.”
“Thaggs. Come on Doc.”
“Is there a doctor in the house? I think I’m hemorrhaging internally.”
I grabbed his good arm and directed him toward the door. “Hemorrhage later.”
The alley was dark and filled with scurrying noises and dried rivers of potent urine amid rotting garbage. In the distance a siren howled as it sped off to some unknown destination and sent shivers of apprehension up my spine.
“I don’t think he went in there Sparky.”
“We won’t know if we don’t look. Maybe we’ll run into someone else that can helb us.”
“I don’t think we’re going to find another bartender in the alley and I’d sure like to avoid any more derelict encounters.”
“I don’t like the thought of looking in there either. As I see it we don’t have much choice. Time is running owd.” Cautiously we moved forward into the darkness. “Lizzen for retching. I’d might be him spilling his guts.”
“Have you seen him drink Sparky? The boy can hold his booze.”
“Lizzen for him pizzing then.”
There was a sudden clank of metal and I spun around to see Doc inspecting inside a trash-can. He looked up at me, the lid still in his hand. “You never know. It was worth a shot. Check the dumpster.”
So there Doc and I were on the most important night of our career checking trash receptacles for our AWOL drummer and calling out into the darkness to be received by silence.
“We’ll probably laugh about this one day.”
Doc lifted another lid from a trash can and peered inside. “You say that about everything that happens to us. We’ll probably laugh about this one day.” He shook his head from side to side in a mocking gesture. “Right now we have to find that frickin creep or there will be no one day.”
We reached the end of the trash cans. A brick wall signaled the end of the alley.
“Doc, we’ve looked everywhere. He has to be back at Slowhand’s. He knows, even in his condition tonight is important. It’s all we’ve worked toward. I don’t think he could’ve gone anywhere else. I say we go back. If he’s not there, then we have to cancel, there’s no other aldernative.”
The thought of telling everyone they had to go home was not a prospect I relished. I knew how damaging it would be to any hereafter we thought we might have. We were all running on frayed nerves and I didn’t believe we could survive another setback like the one this would create.
Doc and I found ourselves in the main room with the stage in view. The room was nearing capacity and there was a buzz of electricity running through the club. “Where the hell is Arsehole Party? I tell you Doc I’ve never been more nerbous about a gig then I am now and it’s all because of him.”
Chas turned to us from the console, his bald skull gleaming in the dull light of the club. “Fifteen minutes guys.”
“Great! Well that’s it Sparky. We have to postpone the show.”
“Doc, a few more minuds.” My nose was beginning to close again.
“But you just said . . . I don’t see any other choice, do you?”
“No, you’re right. I’ll get Alice to tell the manager.”
The Mayor approached from the rear and stood along side of us. He seemed rather glib. There was a twinkle in his eye and it shone out from his reddish bush of hair. “I found Arsehole Party.”
“Really? I don’t know whether to murder that prick or kiss his bulging ass?”
“Perhaps you should reserve your judgement until you see him, Doc. He’s in the dressing room.”
“Why? What’s he gotten into?”
I let out a long groan and tried to suck air in through my nostrils.
“It’s better if you just go see for yourself. — John, you sound like shit. You going to be able to sing tonight?”
“Mayor my throad is killing me can you ged somethink to sooth it? We’ll be up in the dressing roob.”
“I gotta tell you Sparky. I’m a little frightened at what we’re going to find.”
I didn’t say anything but I shared Doc’s pessimism. This was not the time to have to deal with a new problem especially one Arsehole Party had created.