Hours before the gig he had finally shaved off that stupid soul patch he had been sporting. He had tried for a Tom Waits vibe but he ended up looking like a douchy Dave Mathews. The black porkpie hat hadn’t helped at all.
He leaned into the mic and as much whispered as sang “remembering dreams like memories… weaving what was with what I wanted it to be… into an empty basket”.
He as much felt the distance between himself and the crowd as saw it. The lighting didn’t allow him to see much but he could feel them all out there. They were breathing together. In a rhythm that he controlled like turning on a tap.
Success wasn’t sudden but it was unexpected and it allowed him to revise a number of experiences to fit in with his bio. He had lost the love of his life to music. To the road. He had made a hard decision and now had to live with the consequences like so many troubadours before him had done.
But he knew it was a lie. He had lost her because she didn’t love him and no amount of hit records could change that fact.
“There is beauty in the heart of madness. Winding down. Winding down.”
He stood in the spotlight, bathing in the adoration that followed each song and quickly sneaking peeks at his watch. Somewhere on the East Coast events were unfolding just as they were playing out in his head.
He started another song about her and the minutes slipped by and his voice got tighter. The tension sat on his chest like a pair of double Ds.
“My heart in my throat and my dick on my sleeve.”
He asked the crowd how they were doing and a great applause rose up. The yelling and screaming and whistling swelled into a single passionate voice. He looked at his watch again.
He asked that the house lights be turned up. His lighting man, following the nightly script to the letter, hesitated and wondered what he was saying. Finally he did as he was instructed as the backing band stole glances back and forth as if each of them alone had somehow missed some change to the routine.
He cleared his throat and looked out into the sea of faces.
“Right now in New York City the girl who I love is marrying another man. Right this minute she is walking down the aisle and about to say ‘I do’ to him.”
It seemed impossible for so many people to be so quiet. They all stared at him. Mouths hung open.
“Most of the songs I’ve sung tonight are about her.”
Now they were all not breathing together. He looked down at his feet.
He had to admit that he had rehearsed this in his head but he couldn’t find the words he had chosen. He felt his bottom lip tremble slightly.
“I guess I’m not sure what good it does to tell you… other than to say that if I can’t share it with you then what good is all this anyway?”
There was a smattering of awkward applause and a few people he had never met yelled their support.
“She’s standing there in white. And I’m standing here in front of you. And I swear I would trade you all in a heartbeat.”
Suddenly it was all very real to him. He could see the grimy amps and the color gels hanging in front of the lights, waiting to make things red or blue. He felt like he should apologize or something to everyone for being honest in the middle of a show. Honesty was for the Bleeker Street bands, tucked away in small coffee houses, down dark stairwells and announced only by flyers pinned to telephone poles and abandoned buildings. This was supposed to be a rock show.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to play my opening song again. My ‘big hit’. Just me.”
As if on cue, a single spotlight shone down and the rest of the stage was lost in shadows. The guitar sounded like an old bus with faulty brakes trying to come to a complete stop. Without the thunder of the drums and the rumble of the bass the song lost of all its Top 10ness and instead became a lamentation. Maybe somehow she could hear him. Where there should have been a second verse there was only the choked and strangled sobs of a brokenhearted man. A longing that was communicated as clearly as any pyrotechnics.
He continued to strum the guitar even after the last words had been sung. On and on, slower and slower. On and on as if he couldn’t bear to have it end. Until he was sure that she had said “I do” somewhere in New York City.
He left the stage without another word and nobody had to tell the crowd that the show was over. Somewhere rice was going to be thrown. Any minute now it would fall to the ground in slow motion amid laughing and unbridled joy and nobody wanted to be there for that. They filed out in a respectful silence without the usual stamping of feet and holding up of lighters for an encore.
Back out into the real world that if only for that one night they all shared a little more intimately.