It’s a hard life, being in a band. With the sex and the drugs, with that good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll and parties that don’t end until the majority of the attendees are choking on their own vomit and pissing their stylishly dirty pants. Ah yes, it’s a hard, hard life. The adoration, the veneration…women throwing themselves at your wasted frame for just one shot at mothering your spawn –crack babies are all the rage, haven’t you heard? It’s a seedy environment, but none the less an environment where you feel just a little bit important to belong in. Come on, a band on the brink of stardom, and you’re part of that elite entourage. That’s enough respect and ill placed self importance to get you a few fucks and some free drugs. And really, isn’t that all that’s important in this life? Yes, to all of the above. And me? I’m part of that entourage, right place at the right time? Or maybe the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a matter of opinion, purely subjective. I happened to be best friends with the bassist, a friend from high school. You know, that type. It’s hard to imagine people like these ever having been in school, a road block on their fast paced rise to fame and fortune. Or at least a modest yet sufficient monetary gain. Once again, purely subjective and depending on what the general populace is feeling. Give me anger. Give me angst. Give me hoarse howling and give me screaming guitars. Give me a bass line that could cause an earthquake and give me drum solos that would make Mount Vesuvius quake with indignation. Blowing, erupting and sending molten lava over the boys that just want to rock hard. Give me fake smiles and cat calls, all the people pretending to like the disorganized shouts and shrieks –yeah, man, this shit is deep.
The setting is something comparable to a junkyard, mangy mutts and toxin enlarged rats and all. There is the distinct smell of sweat, ambition and that rotting aroma of people who pick their wardrobe by what articles of clothing smell the least bad. If you close your eyes and flare your nostrils, you can almost taste the alcohol on their breath. Something sticky and tangy, like shoving your face in a bowl of rotting tangerines. And the music, of course, is befitting of the junkyard environment. The music, nay –noise, reminds you distinctly of feral animals in heat. You begin to question how even the musicians themselves sit through this bullshit clamor four days a week –from four pm to eight pm. Right after they get out of their minimum wage, thankless jobs, and head to the store to pick up 40’s and a pack of Camel filters. You can’t be a rock ‘n’ roll musician without a cigarette hanging from in between parched lips and your eyes dilated like flying saucers. I pretend to like it, because he’s my friend. And it’s not all shitty, feedback reverberating chaos. There’s the strangely placed rendition of Freebird, nixing the Ronnie Van Zant, a.k.a. “Holy shit, I lost my voice but I’m going to fucking sing anyway”, on-with-the-show style. You can’t deny their enthusiasm, though. Conviction is one thing these boys don’t lack. Even with their nicotine stained teeth and dirty finger nails, there is something redeeming –endearing, even. Maybe it’s the fact that they are so focused on how many people will come to their show, that they forget that –oh god, maybe a talent scout will care that we’re vomiting on stage or, oh no, maybe punching that guy in the face was a bad idea. But, this combination of punk rock laced with thrash and guttural noises reminiscent of a voice cracking during the transformation of puberty appeals to a certain type of person. A very special and unique breed of deaf unto themselves.
We break for a cigarette, exactly thirty seven minutes into their jamming session. I’ve timed it before, and it seems that roughly between half an hour and forty five minutes, there is the predictable need for a cigarette. We’re in Tom’s house –conveniently his parents’- so smoking indoors isn’t an option. The small group and the three members of the band stumble out to the porch. Everyone, excluding myself, clumsily holding onto some alcoholic beverage of preference. I don’t drink that often, anymore, I feel it sullies my judgment…see the irony, there? Collapsing into whicker porch chairs –Andy falling backwards, he hasn’t mastered the concept of gravity and it’s delicate complexities yet –toppling backwards. “Shit, motherfucker! I spilled my fucking drink!” Tom looks at him with an inebriated, sloppy grin but a lazy disgruntled expression sparkles in hazel eyes, “Fuck you, my parents are going to smell that!” He quickly forgets the problematic event as he lights a cigarette and turns to me. His eyes sparkle with that sense of pride that you can only find it people who are fucked up beyond comprehension. “Can I bum a cigarette?” I hand him a Camel, and it takes three attempts before he can successfully light it. For a moment I understand why people have often commented on my taste in friends. Andy has returned from the kitchen, and with the dexterity of a man suffering from paralysis, begins to clean up the spilt liquor. I watch in amused curiosity, a slightly patronizing smirk on my face. Ah yes, our generation is going to be such an accomplished one. I can’t help but wonder if any of them are going to end up working office jobs in a decade or so, answering phones and assisting in clerical work –button up, starched white shirts with stiff collars covering up tattoos that would resemble a bad rash, or maybe some scarring skin affliction only found in countries south of the border. But mostly…I don’t give a fuck. I’m too busy blowing the smoke that is trapped behind the sheltered dome of my sun glasses to give too much thought to the warped and highly amusing possibilities of these boys’ future, or lack thereof.
More “music” commenced, several more cigarette breaks intermittently added. And, thank the fucking heavens, it was over. Four people –three people too many- were resting on Tom’s bed. Something of a toppled pyramid of grunge-y wannabe cheerleaders, several with less then subtle retching noises squeezing between spittle laced dry coughs. The type that remind you of a cat in the midst of procuring a fur ball. I’m undoubtedly the most sober person here, I have a strange resistance to peer pressure…but maybe that’s because I haven’t met a son of a preacher. I haven’t been taught yet, perhaps. But there was plenty of time for that, we were still young, regardless of how old and jaded we egotistically thought ourselves to be. Fuck, we couldn’t even legally buy alcohol yet…but us teenagers of the twenty first century were an extremely perseverant group despite our distinct lack for motivation. Eventually a decision is come to, a unanimous vote in our own personal wasted democracy. Our little group would make the ambitious venture to a city about half an hour south of our current location, and even more impressively, our transportation would be by train. It was risky, a raucous group of late teens being forced into the scrutinizing eye of big brother…well, we were just that type of dare devil. You can’t put a price on intoxicated adventures. We were the Christopher Columbus’ of our generation, we believed. Our ship made of empty bottles of rum and whiskey, a flag made of cigarettes dancing in the wind –we were unstoppable, we believed. No one and nothing could stop us from flying through life, even if it was more like falling. A kite made of rolling papers that had no choice but to plummet as soon as the wind gave up. But the comforting arm of supposed and assumed invincibility was enough to propel us through a world smattered with big bad wolves and monsters masquerading as peers (just like those pesky undercover policemen and narcs).
Several insistences on “quieting down” and “ugh, teenagers” expressions later, we reach our destination. A train station I know far too well, the one that reeks of piss, vomit and unsafe sex. The immediate unspoken consensus once we exit the train is to light a cigarette, and with an almost organized preciseness, a resounding chorus of flint sparking echoes in the tunnel. A Hiroshima mushroom cloud of smoke hovers above us like some rain cloud made of poison and addiction. Ah, addiction. You’re never too young nor too old to meet that beast, scythe included. The moderate trek through downtown takes us a good ten minutes, tops. We know these streets like we know our life carries an expiration date, some of us already beginning to spoil and grow unflattering forms of fungus’. Spores that rest dormant under the many layers of skin till they’re summoned by bad taste and unhealthy behavior, blossoming like weeds in a garden of unhygienic youth. My mind wanders back to their sloppy version of Freebird. The type you hear at three in the morning on repeat in bars. Attempting to execute some expulsion on the miserable drunkards, but instead of acting like a repellant, works in a similar fashion to those bug zapping lights. The drunkards, of course, being the insects that there is no insecticide strong enough to exterminate. The pests of the world are a resilient group, I’ve found. And my friends, my drunk and stoned friends, they oscillate between the vermin in the world and its brightest shooting stars. To me, they are beautiful. They are human, they are raw and they embody what humans are. Messy, glorious and dysfunctional. My friends in all their inebriated and slovenly glory, they are real.
The rest of the night is a blur, as all good nights should be. I vaguely remember a riverbed, still dry from the California summer. I can recall the jagged rocks and pillows of dead leaves littered and acned with cigarette burns. Somewhere along the way, Andy lost his jacket and Tom somehow managed to get a bloody nose. Someone ripped their pants with the jagged shark teeth edges of a broken bottle and I managed to burn myself with a cigarette. All these signs indicative of a night well spent, another adventure with the pirates of our generation. Pillaging, plundering, looting and debauching. We were oppressed by restrictions and regulations, but against all odds, I was free. We were free. And in the end, that’s what matters the most. Freedom.