It must have been around ’82, because that’s when I would have been depressed enough, and short enough on cash that I would have jumped at the opportunity Eb Strickland offered me. He’d been working the soundboard for a beach music group for decent money. His kid had some health problems that required him to stick close to home. Our drummer had been doing it off and on, but was afraid it was beginning to fuck with his chops. Eb thought I’d be interested in filling in since I obviously didn’t have anything else to do. It paid about $300.00 per job.
“Shit, Eb. I don’t know anything about doing sound. I just sing.”
“You know enough. Stand at the back of the hall and make sure it’s not hurting people. Pull the faders a little on the bassist. He sucks. Juice the reverb. Make them think they can play. These guys are completely tone deaf, and they’re dumbfucks. Tell them they’re great. They’ll give you more money.”

I was worried. But I worried all the time back then anyway. I smoked heavily and hadn’t yet discovered the wonders of food. The money they were offering made me worry, too. I was definitely the least musical member of my own band. I made up words and melodies to accompany their chord progressions, but if I thought too much about it, I realized they kept me on because I was the only motherfucker within a hundred and fifty miles who was needy enough to front a band without a guitar placed strategically over his junk, and these guys didn’t want to share the stage with any more guitars. They were major bitches. When I experience the occasional flashback of the shit we wrote, I cringe. I could have used more sexual experience, as well as a concise handbook of English Grammar. Most of my bandmates were in sore need of a spell of unremitting poverty and want. They were the kind of guys who probably view our output as some kind of legacy, and periodically subject their neighbors to the tapes.
“Why is the singer so shrill?” People will ask, but they will go unheard, as the bassist is transported back to the stage at New Delhi Sandwich Emporium, one of the last places on earth where capturing the sounds of the sigmoid colon on a fretless bass could get you fucked by a pleasantly chubby girl looking hard to get married.

I took the job, and drove to the beach music singer’s house. It was a brutally hot summer afternoon, and the 400 lb. beach music singer and I waited for the rest of his band to show up with the panel van, inscribed with the band name RUMOUR, underneath which they had recently added, in adhesive lettering, has it!
I was wearing a shirt my ex-girlfriend had given me. It was a gauzy Indian prince thing that showed my bluish ribcage and my tiny pale nipples, shrieking for oxygen and nutrients. If you were to hold a pistol to my temporal bone and force me put the same shirt on now, it would look like someone trying to strain an entire village’s yearly production of mozzarella though a decorative cheesecloth.
Rumour’s lead singer was already wearing a mozzarella strainer, but his was a champagne satin number with sweaty accents of dull margarine. The van was late, and we talked and drank beer while we waited. He was a nice guy, but he probably knew that since Eb put me in touch with them that I was one a them Pink Floyd listenin’ communists, and as I watched him work through eight beers in the space of half an hour, It occurred to me that Eb had set me up to be killed.
Maybe he saw something in my band that I didn’t, and it was worth getting me out of the way. He’d studied guitar with Metheny, and was pretty damn good. Maybe he was just killing me for the common good- at least the good of music.

By the time the van lumbered up in front of the doublewide, I was closing in on being shitfaced, and tonight’s singer had demolished most of a suitcase of Natural Light. The other band members were earnest fellows with similarly crimped ear length hair, dressed for an assault on a Bolivian house of prostitution. We climbed into the van and headed for Pinetops, NC.

I was beginning to sober up as we pulled into the driveway of the rec hall of some church. I’ve forgotten the name. The fact they had booze, as well as a rec hall with a stage and a dance floor sort of rules out the idea of Baptists, but the mood was right. Since I’ve got to make up some denomination anyway it would have to be Forest Primeval Baptist of Pinetops, LaCoste.
They had their own mixing board, a rack with some analog effects and other signal processing stuff. By no means state of the art, but better than I was used to. Someone had helpfully identified the effects patches on the faders, as well as indicating which were usually used for the kick drum, the snare, keyboards, guitar, their respective monitors, etc. The band just had to set their amps up and plug the appropriate mics into similarly labeled inputs in a module at the front of the stage. I was going to get $300.00 for fuck all. The soundcheck confirmed that the PA system ran pretty much on autopilot, and all I’d have to do was make microadjustments.
It also confirmed Eb’s ruthless assessment of the band, but I was too elated at being relieved of the burden of actual work to care. The analog reverb and echo effects would just make it sound like the blessing of the beasts day at Chartres.
And from the scores of drunks already milling in, it was apparent no one was going to give much of a damn anyway.
One girl staggered past me as I was trying to find the talkback fader, and asked a group of her friends “is that a girl? I can see her little nipples” before jostling a table filled with mixers near the beer kegs. “One a them Fags from ECU” one of her companions slurred. I went to take a piss preemptively, before more of them arrived to transform the bathroom into a slip n’slide of puke, or a place of aggressive male bonding, perhaps with dicks.

A hick preppy wanabee girl was milling around in the hallway to the restrooms, drunk, and visibly upset. “I want talk to Eddie. Ask if Eddie’s in there”
“OK” I said.
As I swung open the door, she shrieked “Eddie, you motherfucker! Get out here!”
“You heard her Ed!” I said as I turned around to walk outside to look for a dense planting of shrubs.
“Thank you.” She said, and looked at my chest.
I wished I had selected a different shirt.

I’d had my experiences with the idle children of big tobacco farmers. They were a particularly noxious blend of ignorance, a false sense of entitlement, racism, and enthusiasm for shitty music . Beach music in particular still strikes me as a pidgin variant of R&B: gutted, bleached, and strung up to flap in the same lugubrious shitholes you find the Confederate flag. It’s the black music of the late 1940’s stripped of its grace and elegance, and rededicated to a class of people who will end up drinking away their parents’ money, selling furniture or insurance, and then grifting off a church somewhere until they collapse under the weight of their own rot. It’s a signifier for people who have chosen to follow the path of musk scented dumbfuckery through the stale, smoky loins of legions of sad hookers suffering from caries to an unmourned, untended grave.
I dislike it.

The band handed me their set list; twenty five three-minute verse chorus –verse chorus –verse chorus songs that I was doomed to hear repeated for four and a half hours. But $300.00.
My own shitty band rarely cleared two hundred dollars a gig, and half the time the club owners skipped near the end of the final set to go pack their sinuses with whatever blow the Outlaws motorcycle gang was cutting with Meth, PCP, or Dursban and dumping by the truckload at Lejeune. Everyone I talked to that ran a club was an inappropriately coiffed puddle of mortuary wax looking for nineteen year old pussy when they weren’t gunrunning, and I later learned that mindset extended to every frontier of the music business. When the walls of feces began tumbling in on themselves in the aughts, I was surprised, but only mildly.

As the show got going, I began to root for the band, despite their awfulness. Mainly I was hoping the singer could make it through the setlist at least once without a pulmonary embolism. He hit his notes, but struggled getting there. It was a style that Michael Bolton cashed in on later. Witnessing an obviously unhealthy man’s body resist his efforts to sing was painful. It made me wonder if I had that big vein that ran up between the eyes, deviating to dump some blood into the region of the left eye (Why not the right? Where does it get its blood?) across the forehead, and into the hairline, to the sweat glands, which converted the blood into a shower of sweat that soaked the guy’s entire upper body. At one point he was listing so badly I thought he was about to drop. He signaled he needed a little more monitor, then gave a thumbs up. I gave him some echo and tried to increase his presence a little by pulling the faders back slightly on the drums and bass. The bassist appeared confused, and kept trying to adjust his amp volume. After awhile I found that if I cranked his monitor up slightly disproportionately, it helped mollify him. He had that deep self love that’s typically the reserve of singers. Maybe I was punishing him for my own transgressions. Did I give a fuck? No. I had another beer.
It did nothing for the headache that was starting to set in. I switched to a soft drink mid-beer. During the break I went to see if there was any club soda at the mixer table.
“You guys are sounding really good” I said, thinking how much easier this part of the job would have been if I were still drunk. “I boosted the monitors a little, otherwise you were pretty much set.”
They were pumped. Even the bassist. The drunks in the audience gave them huge whoops every time they played “I Love Beach Music”. I drank glass after glass of soda water and shredded a bunch of cocktail napkins nervously. I nodded and smiled. Someone placed a drunk girl beside me at the mixing board. She had a bucket.
“We gone get her a ride home. She drove from Ahoskie.”
“ A date!” I thought to myself.
I tried in limited ways to make conversation while I repositioned her and the bucket a safe distance from the board. Fortunately she must have left most of her stomach contents on the floor of the women’s, and was now only dry heaving into her bucket while the singer bellowed ”You can almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell!”
At one point I watched her wretching and told her, “I know exactly how you feel. Let’s get the fuck out of this place and go to Ahoskie. Or fuck it. Let’s go to Kinston. They’ve got a motel with a drink machine.”
Her ride finally showed up , but they’d forgotten the stretcher, so I helped carry her as far as the double metal doors that opened onto the parking lot. Some of the partiers were sitting in their cars, the engines running. They probably thought they were driving home already. Pinetops was in need of a lot of dumb luck. They had plenty of dumb.

As we broke down the equipment and the singer sat gulping air, trying to stave off cyanosis, the guys gave me the money, and a RUMOUR has it! T-shirt. I felt slightly guilty, having done next to nothing for it. I wondered if most of the drunks would manage to get home before we got the equipment packed up, and if the van was strong enough to take a hit from a Trans-Am travelling sixty miles an hour through a four way stop.

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