Monday, May 26, 2008

Hilarious return of the classic: first day of tour, just a few hours before the show starts, in some town that looks cousin to Blacksburg or Bloomington or possibly Athens. I’m in a new band with Matt and two other guys. I’m the just-singer. I make a set list of all Alice In Chains covers and I am more excited about this set than I have been about any show in the last few years. Maybe ever. No seriously, maybe ever— I’m better at this now, I’ve never been less afraid of audiences or more convinced that I know how to effortlessly put all the effort I can into leading them right up to my rib cage so they can peek in between the slats...

I close my eyes and visualize how nuclear the room will go when we hit the opening notes of “Would?” to start our set. I run over the lyrics to “Rotten Apple” and “Brother” in my head, focusing on my favorite verse from each song so that if I get nervous and forget some words, I can just repeat those really awesome verses every time. It wouldn’t be so bad:

“My-eye-eye-eye-eye /
gift of self is raped /
My-aye-aye-aye-aye /
privacy is raped /

(I know this maybe isn’t the actual line here but it’s how I always sing it)

“And yet I find, and yet I find /
repeating in my head /
If I can’t be my own /
I’d feel better dead.”

(The “Brother” verse I like is, of course, the bit that talks about the bloodstained roses “because my hand is / pulling them hard as I can.”)

I could sing those verses over and over and I could make the crowd love it— we could make the songs twice as long and I could sell it, I know I could have them singing along with me and we’d take it up a notch every time, until everyone in the room knew exactly what the fuck we were singing about and why, until the guys in the band would just kinda stop playing and just stand on the stage baffled and amused by the sea of heads roaring the same words, no longer needing the crutch of the drums and distorted guitar to be able to feel the song happening. I hope to God no asshole starts clapping when they do that— when they stop playing their instruments I’m sure some turd will start the clap which will spread like syphilis through the crowd, turning my huge wall of voices into some gospel parody, I’d have to do something to make sure nobody clapped when the guys stopped playing…

But in the back of my head I know that Matt’s not going to want to play even one Alice In Chains cover, that very shortly I’m going to have to sing at least thirty straight minutes of brand newborn originals whose tunes I am, at that moment, unable to conjure mentally— Layne and Jerry are wailing away in there, my skull is the only practice space they can meet up and jam in anymore. I am powerless to evict them while they are singing together, I wouldn’t do it even if I could, I just won’t, I can’t even imagine a song that has nothing to do with bloody hands or gifts of self…

I walk across the stage, surveying the monitors and the outlets and nodding to myself and mumbling like pediatricians sometimes do during exams, not really talking to anyone, just trying to bring all the authority I know how to wield here to the front, to the ready. I still have my set list in my hand, and when I turn to look at something on the stage behind me I turn fast and deliberately and the paper makes a crinkling noise as it moves in the air. I talk to the sound guy and anybody else he talks to, looking as fast as I can for things besides this show and this stage that we might both like to talk about and really digging, not letting the conversation end at the first convenient spot or even the second— I talk and talk as if I had forgotten we were even there for a show, as if the concept of treating a sound guy like a waiter or butler had never even occurred to me and all the while I’m trying to tactfully discern whether he’s a pothead or not. When I gesture, I gesture with the hand that holds the set list and it whups and whaps whenever my hand flies out in some direction. My set list is written in Sharpie, and I still have the Sharpie in my back pocket, and some distant part of my brain wonders whether it’s our team’s only Sharpie, which would of course mean that if somehow the set is decided by whichever list looks the best at a real fast glance, there would be no choice but to at least open with “Would?” and see how it goes…

Do the other guys know the notes and chords and shit for “Would?” Matt almost certainly doesn’t, but I know he’s good enough that he could fake it if he wanted to. At this point I admit to myself I will probably not even bring up Alice in Chains to him, I will probably hide this set list in my bag and look at it again when I get home…