Monday, February 17, 2014

Down To Earth

I have played this room million times, or I should say, others just like it. They have a secret factory in South Dakota where they are made and shipped out to tertiary markets around the U.S. They are produced to placate the masses so they can survive and get through the week. The fifth tier contenders come here to drink, play music, and work the bar, trying to erase the big dreams and faces of the ones that got away. The stage is a ten by twelve feet, and is twelve inches high. It was built with all the available technology any ten year old would have, to build a tree fort. It looks like a raft floating on a acid stained concrete sea, among the flotsam of mismatched tables and chairs. There is a small dance floor in front of it. I know it's a dance floor because there are no mismatched chairs and tables there. "Yes" I think to myself in silence, I have played this place a million times, like a reoccurring dream riddle from a video game I can't escape. I never seem to get passed this level of the game for long. I can't defeat the dragon at the gates of the tour bus and limo level. I hear the sad trombone from a seventies game show play the "Whaw, whaw, what wahaaaaaw" as my avatar returns to a different version of this little bar. Somewhere in here, I am supposed to unlock the code of ascension. The good news is; it's relatively quiet. After a brief chat with the owner, we decide to load in. The Shackle backs up the van and we start to ferret in the gear like zombies. As I pull open the door, the sound hits me like a wind from a fucked up hurricane. A loud D rated local bands demo is playing impossibly loud. There is one waitress, the manager and us. This a common phenomenon, all bars must play loud music when mops are being used or bands are setting up or tearing down. It is law.

Last night we played the Tara Plantation of Atlanta's live music scene; Smiths Olde Bar. It was once a must stop for many music icons. It has great sound, lights, technical staff and a authentic vibe you can taste like a popsicle. The walls are covered with stickers and you can hear the ghosts of all the great bands, as you hang back stage. In it's hay day it was your passport to credibility in the south. Now the maiden still has good bones, but her dress is faded and her face shows the wrinkles of one who knows she's is no longer the southern debutante at the ball. Still, you cannot deny the honor you feel in her presence. This place has everything a good bar should have. It seems so simple but like love, it cannot be forced into existence, it just happens. Venues like her are struck by lightning. Legends and myths rise from these temples, like smoke from camp fires. Smith's has been dubbed the C.B.G.B's of the south for very good reason and like me she is hanging onto the denial, that dedication and love will be rewarded, but we both know it's not enough. The most one can do is look around during the glory days and try to remember the stories. The stories we recant after too many beers. Last night we played like the veterans we are, to a thirty percent capacity crowd that wasn't there to see us. The sound was great. We grooved like demons and sang like angels. We were met with applause and accolades and we were promised another date, in the hallowed main room upstairs. As we loaded out our gear, it began to rain. We carried our cases down the wet fire escape to our van. We drove home drinking the beers we took from our dressing room. The rain and cold air hit the van hard from the side like an omen, but I ignored it. These basking moments are few and even though they be drenched in idealism, they must be chewed slowly. You must savor the juice and it let run slowly down the back of your throat. They are rare birds in this game.

The Shackle is pissed about his mix position. It's in a closet/dressing room. Like me, he has come to the realization that this gig is something we never thought we'd do again. The Shackle works at high levels in the sound world. He has mixed stadiums and huge shows all over the nation. He thought his closet mixing days were over. He is perpetually positive and professional in the face of all kinds of indignities, but even he is showing doubt. He is an even share member of our team and a veteran from the days of limos and buses when I was the singer's manager. The Shackle was the front of house sound man I hired to take care of my boys, for a grand a week. We had deep pockets and an account full of record company money. I laugh at his contempt, because nothing will cheer you up like seeing the shared misery of a friend next to you in the quicksand.

We play our two and a half sets. There is about fifty people at the peak and we end with about twenty. Our singer and guitar player are pretty lubed up on Miller Lite and at the end it gets a little sloppy. The minute we finish playing, the local band demo begins to play again louder than hell through a speaker, three feet from my head. We force feed our gear and cables into cases. The bass player passes on load out and drives home separate with his girlfriend. We drag his name through the shit, as we throw cases in the van. I get paid after hearing a positive review from the manager. I know we will be back. We take perfect back roads, through the timeless rural landscape, towards Monticello and eventually Tallahassee. We make way too much noise unloading at three thirty A.M. in my quiet little neighborhood.

The next day dawns beautiful at noon. I make breakfast for Neil and I and he leaves to install cabinets on a Sunday with his Dad. I pull on Lycra, pump up my tires, and head out to cleanse my lungs of smoke, and my head from the gigs. I am trying to sweat off the clown paint, from my two nights at the circus. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and cool, as I meander around the east side paths for three hours and twenty eight miles. It is obvious, to me and everything in the woods, another spring is coming. My sins of pride and grandeur are washed away and I am reborn. Tomorrow I will rise like Lazarus, and go to work, like the whole caper never happened. I will cycle my lights out in my office and recharge them for that evenings night ride. Soon the time will change and all my rides will be in sun. The visions of the night will fade and another season will decay. There will be other rides in the woods, and gigs like this weekend. I will string them together, like beads on a rosary, hoping for redemption wherever I can find it.