Can you scream and play the saxophone at the same time? I can. My father, the world famous scream-saxophonist, began to teach me the day I turned six years old. The technique takes six years and seven months of constant practice to perfectly master, and now at the ripe age of twenty-one, I have been fastidiously playing for about eight years. Over a hundred months of perfect playing is quite a rush. I am accomplished and I am alive, and my father’s lessons will not be lost on the world. The trick is getting as much air in your lungs as possible.
But by the third hour in the dressing room of The Calumet venue, I have begun to feel a little stir crazy. Andrew’s bald head and I sit in silence watching the crew clean up the stage over a fuzzy monitor. Jesus is late again. I get up.
“Andrew I’m going to get something to drink.”
Andrew is asleep.
With an hour left before the show I sneak out around the back of The Calumet. It isn’t dark quite yet, but the streetlights have already turned on, tossing an orange glow over the broken sidewalks and the wide streets that seemed to bulge towards the center.
After my two years spent deep in study at my college’s music conservatory, I decided to leave and settle in this town with the band. The place I live: an endless supply of potent inspiration. Cracked sidewalks, pot-holed streets, rusted signs… daylight exposes all the cracks and sours the air. But when the sun does set all of the cracks fill up, the edges are rounded, and the streets appear with a brilliant polish… the sky seeping in as blackness between buildings so that we now feel that the town is it’s own separate little room. Can you see it? You’re actually in a room, a room that exists for miles on end, and the air is warm.
In the warmth of tonight's air I strip my jacket and fold it under my arm as I walk. Inside the convenience store the large woman behind the counter blasts both the air conditioner and a basement free-jazz recording. I purchase a plastic bottle of cranberry juice. She smiles and winks at me.
And as I step outside the store something softly grabs at my ears. The sound of spanish guitar being played - a sound I have not been treated to since college. The sound is crisp yet soft; it consumes me. I follow it and it takes me to a small crowd of people saying things to one another like, “beautiful” and “crisp, yet soft.” Atop of the cracked sidewalk she sits and plays the guitar. Her dark skin shimmers slightly with sweat but she plays on with ease. When she finishes, people clap, and she looks up and meets my eyes.
As people start to move away and say more things, I ask the girl if I could sit with her and she nods. I ask her if she’s doing okay. She smiles and says that she is, and continues to play beautifully.
“When did you start playing?”
“My father started teaching me when I was six, and when I left home I just took it from there.” She spoke beautifully and crisply.
“You play very well.”
She smiles and it’s incredible, “Thank you.”
I wonder… what if she can play jazz guitar? Wouldn’t that be spectacular? She would make an excellent guest to the band tonight. A nice change of pace that we certainly all need.
“I can also play Jazz guitar.”
“Yes. Are you playing a show tonight?
“Yes, I am.”
“Could I play with you?”
“That would be very nice.”
Walking through the door of The Calumet’s dressing room my head briefly feels as if it is on fire, but the sensation quickly passes. She follows closely behind me and we are greeted by the sights of Jesus and Andrew. Andrew, with his iPod blasting some sort of loud sound into his ears with his eyes shut softly, and Jesus quietly tuning his bass. Jesus looks up and greets us with a smile.
“Hello,” he says, grinning with warm eyes, “who’s this?”
“This is our guest guitarist tonight.”
“Wow. That is absolutely wonderful.”
Jesus leaves to help set up on stage and I begin to unpack my saxophone and practice my scream scales. In between screams she asks me things. She asks about Jesus. I tell her that Jesus isn’t exactly the greatest bassist. But he was my first and my only roommate throughout college, and his creativity has been an undeniable force in the band. She smiles and looks at Andrews bald head. Andrew opens his eyes, smiles and waves to her.
The audience is wild, purgoufenously bloated with love, as they always are. They’re a hot red people, ready for what they came for. Ready to take their babes home tonight to watch them strip to their knees. They don’t live in this town, no, not these people. Later tonight she will ask me our band name and I will tell her that we don’t have one. She will ask how our audience finds us then. I tell her that they just know, somehow, and she says that that’s kind of annoying and I agree.
“What’s the name of your band?”
“Actually, we decided not to give our band a name.”
“A nameless band! How do your fans find you, then?”
“They just do, somehow. They have a way to them.”
“That’s kind of annoying.”
Our performance is horrible. We play and we play to violent extremes. Andrew uses his head on the cymbals again, which I have asked him not to do but it’s okay. Jesus wears his sunglasses the whole time and I scream up to the roof of the Calumet - this old rickety train car. But in the midst of the worst set we’ve played in a while, she plays her guitar. She feels the music, and it is perfect. Her dark fingers move over strings and mine over holes and key, like snakes through a beehive. Notes weave, love is conceived, and the audience eats us with their eyes.
The show ends and the audience leave in their hot red cars, whistling with burning energy in their bodies while tearing down the wide, bulging roads. Their screams echo across the sky in their departure from the town. Jesus says goodnight, Andrew is tired, and the two of them walk home together. And then there is her. We follow each other from the stage to the backstage hallway and we kiss each other. And as we reach the door to the dressing room, she looks at me and tells me she is fifteen, and I know I cannot make love with her.
So we walk the streets.
And while we are exhausted from the electric energy of performance, a feeling that feels something like passion keeps our feet moving. Moving past the shops and buildings that make up this place. And seeing all of this, I wonder if all the moderate success that the various store owners receive has made them happy. I look over at her, and I wonder if I am happy. I wonder if a life of outrageous experimental music has given me any more fulfillment than the confines of a heavily air conditioned convenience store. Once again, she meets my eyes, and she smiles.
“I’ve lived in this town for over a year,” I said, keeping her gaze, “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been all over. I came here to find an inexpensive place to live.”
I laugh, “Well we certainly have that.”
She lifts her eyes, “I also enjoy the warmth of the nights.”
“It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“It’s very nice. I used to never enjoy the nights. They always seemed to lack any sense of predictability. Have you found that at all? About the nights? I used to always hate it. But something changed. I’m not sure when it was or what caused it but suddenly I realized that I have been sleeping through the day and waking in the evening. Maybe I always was and I just thought that the day was the night. I don’t know.
But I think, with this change, I realized how much I loved nighttime. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like nothing in the night is real because everything is covered with these thick blankets of shadow. All the cracks are filled with the dark and the trees all look taller. But because of this, nothing is real, and because nothing is realm it’s okay that everything is unpredictable because it won’t even matter tomorrow! The curtain will be lifted tomorrow.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
There is a point where town stops and a desert begins. This is where the door to the room is visible alongside the highway that connects us to the rest of the world. But before the highway there are houses, and past the town and past all the houses, on the outskirts of town, is a dirt pathway tucked away by the night. The pathway stretches up and onto a small hill, past nothing and more nothing and nothing more. But it eventually leads to a house, a farmhouse. Over the last summer Andy, Jesus and I would use the empty home as a sort of rehearsal space. But ever since Andy got his own apartment, our rehearsals have moved there. I lead us up towards the house.
I tell her, “Over the last summer Andy, Jesus and I would use the empty home as a sort of rehearsal space. But ever since Andy got his own apartment our rehearsals have moved there.”
The moon isn’t visible for some reason and the farther we walk down the path the closer the empty farmhouse appears. A warm breeze blows. We walk in silence and her big eyes glimmer with the little light that exists. I tell her that I did not expect this at all and she says she didn’t either. She smiles at me and I smile back.
The silence is abruptly broken by a piercing, deep blast. Something feels wet and I look at her and half of her head is gone. Her one eye meets mine just before she falls to the ground. The sound rings out again, this time in total tangent with a thick piece of metal tearing into my face. And then there is nothing.
About fifty feet away, on the farmhouse deck, an overweight man shifts the red hot rifle from his grip and lets it rest at his side. He spits. “Can’t trust nobody these days. They tell me it ain’t true, but I see the evil burning in the eyes of these folks. It’s alive, I tell you. It’s a lack of respect, folks with no respect towards private property. Folks with no respect towards law. I won't take it no more. I will stand here on these warm nights and protect what is rightfully mine. I won't take this disrespect from these folks no more. F***ing n*****s.”
Silence creeps back and everything is the same. Soon my body will begin to decay into the soil of the man's private property. And as is the way of nature, she will soon begin her descent into the ground too. And if we are allowed enough time on the soil together, we will meld together in our separate decompositions and we will become one.
I wasted fourteen years of my life learning my musicianship, and seven more trying to make a living with it. I will never live again. I regret nothing.
Boogie Nights (or, Like Snakes Through a Beehive)