saturday night, saturday night
The lead singer, Cara, likes to photograph her audience. I've learned to avoid the feedback loop by picking a nice side spot at the bar. Here, I'm just another shadowy face, a friend who hangs out with Colter between sets once a year, contributing surprisingly good gig photos for the band's website.
Colter's the only one who recognizes me. That's fine with me. I like my anonymity on ice, thanks.It's odd to think that there are thousands of cover bands, just like this one, playing in every major American city tonight. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of people above age 25 whose sole Saturday night desire is to go to a familiar bar and hear familiar music while dancing with someone perhaps not quite so familiar.
The bass player has a thin sheen of sweat around his temples halfway through the first set. Never let it be said that playing in a cover band isn't work. The cords of muscle and tendon that jump into heavy relief with his stringed tug-of-war are testament to the exhausting, detailed work it is.
I said I'd only stay through the beginning of the second set. I'm rethinking that half-hearted excuse at the moment. It's not the excitement of the music; it's the urge to not go home. Not just yet. Just one more song. The dancers seem to share my opinion.
First set ends. Dancer-man in the blue-white striped shirt and wandering hands becomes yet another corporate drone introducing another ex-co-worker to his new girlfriend. Disappointing. He was more honest as he groped for a disco-tinged piece of his girlfriend's ass on the dance floor.
The girls are in their clubbing clothes , but this is a yuppie bar. The men are wearing casual-Fridays, colored work polos and khakis. Their beer is domestic; their tabs payable by Visa. This is a Bud Light crowd; play 'Funky Cold Medina' and the thirtysomething men scuttle from their chairs, reluctantly trailing behind scantily-clad girlfriends as they shimmy onto the dance floor.
Why are they here, if not escapism? Why else would they pay to sit in a bar to replay familiar music, if the old wasn't somehow just a little more comforting than the new?
Time's up. Colter catches the lobbed signal from the drummer. Break #1 is over, and it's time to return to the stage. He's asked if I'll photograph him with his new purple guitar early in the second set. I'm trying to finish a paragraph in my trademark looped scribble before the lights come back up and it's time to play photographer again.
Note scrawled and left on seat: "Photographer sitting here - please don't take this seat! Thanks!"
Do the posh yuppies in the audience know how those on the other half of the stage live? The bassist and the guitarist both have full-time day jobs. They share an apartment whose kitchen sports neo-collegiate collections of empty international beer bottles and music magazines. If gigging was a living, they wouldn't be sharing an apartment on Kavanaugh. Instead, it pays for equipment upkeep and the occasional new toy or two.
The dancers have no idea that the curly-headed guitarist is considered by most of his friends to be the most obnoxiously talented guitarist they've ever known. Even if they did, they wouldn't care.
Part of me aches to see Colter on stage like this, because his talent is wasted on this room. He's the kind of man who has a gaggle of female friends who are always a little too much in love with him for their own good (and, conversely, not quite enough in love with him for his own good). This guy has talent. Serious, obnoxious, you'd-hate-him-if-he-wasn't-so-sweet talent. If there was justice in this world, he'd be playing his original music to crowds jammed and silent, ready to pay attention to nuance and intonation, and appreciate them for the deliberate choices of musicianship they were.
But this is not a perfect world, and we are scribblers, he and I; scribblers who have piles of incomplete music, night jobs in cover bands and half-finished novels. Reality, like an untouchable blonde, is never quite so glamorous as it looks from the back of the bar.
* * * * *
Twelve hours after the gig, we are hiding out in his favorite coffee shop down the street. I am carefully breaking my chocolate-chip cookie into manageable bits and submerging them briefly in my ultra-hip coffee mug before letting the chocolate dissolve in my mouth, coating my tongue with the mingled, bittersweet flavors of coffee and chocolate.
The caffeine speeds our conversation a bit, like a cassette player subtly pulling a tape faster and faster as it reaches the end of the side. We will say everything we can think to say, and then we will click to a halt, finish our coffee, and head back to the Kavanaugh apartment for side B of this conversation.
It is one of those stereotypical Arkansas weekends; a day of equal temperature and humidity. Eighty-three degrees Fahrenheit and eighty-two percent humidity makes for air so thick and still it coats lungs and skin alike with a sheen of miserable sweat. The full-blast air conditioning condenses the air into its solid and gaseous components, and returns only the gaseous portions for our breathing pleasure.
We talk. Mutual friends. (Hi, Heath.) The difficulty of getting paying gigs. Felines. The inexpressible difficulty of the lifelong shy admitting that, the overwhelming majority of the time, a person can be an observer or a participator. But not both. We both secretly suspect we're either doomed to a life of heedless action or mindful stasis.
We go back to his apartment, and he picks up his guitar. I realize that I can sit in this conversation and analyze it, plan about how I will write it later when I return to Alabama, or I can decide to put down the scribble tool that is my mind, and enjoy the day.
With that thought, the notes end. Even I have my priorities.