Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Wedding Crashers Meets Almost Famous

(This is partly what I've been doing instead of blogging. In addition to looking for an agent, custom-writing and emailing query letters and putting the final touches on American Zen, I was occupied all day today and most of tonight writing a new chapter that I think will help delineate the dynamic early in the book between the members of my fictional band, the Immortals.

Billy's the hotheaded drummer looking for a way to get back at his childhood friend Rob for something that happened at a gig a week before. The boys are in Worcester doing a wedding and Billy seizes an invaluable opportunity to get some wicked payback. Dave's the leader of the group and a nervous Nellie when it comes to keeping control over the guys, which doesn't always happen. Jo Jo the keyboardist, a sweet, gay romantic is otherwise a major character in the novel even though he's hardly mentioned in this chapter. Rob is the usually laid-back bass player who helps give the story its title. Mike, of course, is the group's lead/rhythm guitarist/vocalist and is the narrator.

This new subchapter is supposed to delineate the sometimes easygoing, sometimes tempestuous relationship that the tortured, abused Billy has with even his closest friend Rob. This subchapter, still very much a first draft, takes place just before Mike and Rob track Billy down at his father's garage in 2008.)

Worcester, MA, June 10, 1978

“Hey, here’s an idea,” Billy said while setting up his crash cymbals. “Why don’t we have the wedding photographer snap a shot or two of us? You know, for publicity.”

Dave had already had it with Billy on the ride to the rented Eagles reception hall in White City. All he could talk about was all the potential pussy to be had in all its taffeta-clad tackiness. And, so as not to single out Billy, it ought to be said that Rob and I began wondering aloud what our prospects were of finding jealous, marriage-minded maids of honor looking for some rock and roll lovin’. Whatever he may or may not have thought of it, Jo Jo kept his thoughts to himself.

“Billy, the wedding photographer is getting paid to take pictures of the bride and groom and the guests, not us.”

“Yeah, I know that,” he replied as he tightened a wing nut. “But just a shot or two. Slip her a few bucks on the side. I’m sure we’d all kick in and that she’d appreciate it.” He looked at us for confirmation but didn’t seem to get any.

Dave’s only response was to give him a “I don’t want to talk about this, anymore” look as he extended and locked a mic stand.

As much as the idea somewhat appealed to me, I detected one flaw in Billy’s scheme. But before I could say anything, Rob beat me to it.

“Billy, are you sure you want to have a picture taken of us dressed like this?”

Our drummer looked down at his tight denim jacket then his wrinkled white dress shirt and novelty tie that he borrowed from his old man. It was black but with a topless Hawaiian hula dancer listlessly gyrating before a palm tree. Then he looked at the rest of us and muttered, “Yeah, you got a point, dude.”

We were a motley and hopelessly mismatched crew at best. With our haphazard, random assortment of wedding apparel, our parody of fashion made us look like five bank robbers who hastily knocked off a Goodwill store to throw off the police. Rob’s clip-on tie looked almost like a bolo tie as it bounced on his huge chest. Lacking dress pants, he thought he could get away with tight black denim slacks. Considering that the wedding guests arrived at about the same time as us, no one was close to changing out of their wedding duds and we looked conspicuously casual. We were hoping that when everyone finally dressed down, we’d blend in better. But somehow, I doubted it.

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have time to prepare a better wardrobe. The couple had been planning the wedding since 1977 when most of us were still in high school. The Gunderson gig was the only one we got through a band member other than Dave. After our group was formed in mid March, Rob had pressed the groom to hire us on account of him being good friends with his kid brother (who was also the best man). Rob’s folks were even there for the wedding and reception.

The only two of us who looked reasonably cool were Jo Jo and Dave, who both looked respectable in simple white shirts and a black and red tie respectively. As always, our front man donned his black leather jacket.

We other three looked pathetic when viewed either collectively or individually. I borrowed a light blue polyester leisure jacket from my dad (Yes, the stitching was even white) and a Navy blue tie in a strangled-looking version of a Windsor knot. When Billy had arrived at Jo Jo’s house, he looked me up and down and asked, “Who the fuck did your tie? Albert DeSalvo?” As he pulled out the tortured knot and started redoing it, I looked him up and down in turn, making note of the denim jacket and sunglasses perched on top of his head and had asked, “And who dressed you this morning? Roy Orbison?” I think he cinched the knot a little too tightly.

Billy realized that a picture taken of us in our half-assed concession to semi-respectability wasn’t such a good idea, after all, and dropped the subject. Better to wait until we were dressed like our usual selves before being recorded for posterity.

The bride and groom walked into the reception hall, looking chunky, cherubic and pink. They were still brushing the last few grains of rice out of their hair and Rob walked up to them to congratulate them and we followed him to compete with others to offer the new couple our own best wishes. Only he went to the wedding, since his folks were going there, anyway.

After the pleasantries were exchanged, Lars Gunderson informed us to not start playing just yet until everyone had arrived. Our set list wasn’t quite as rocking as it usually was, partly consisting as it did of romantic, make-out-on-the-dance-floor kind of songs such as “Whiter Shade of Pale” (the first song Jo Jo and I had ever played together outside of a school band), “Wonderful Tonight” off Clapton’s “Slowhand” album, and Elvis Costello’s “Alison” since that was the bride’s name (personally requested by the groom).

Yeah, the set list threatened to make us all sound like something you’d hear at a high school reunion at a Ramada Inn but we also did some of our harder rocking and wailing numbers such as “Karn Evil 9 Second Impression”, “LaGrange” and, of course, “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Plus since it was a wedding, none of us griped about having to rein it in a bit. In retrospect, I realize that we all had a soft spot for marriage and to a man hoped, despite our youth, to find that special someone. Besides, the Gunderson wedding reception was all about them, not us.

Rob had told us the day he got a firm commitment that they really wanted another band, a real wedding band, actually, but relented a month before the ceremony because the groom’s kid brother put in several good words on our behalf. To hear Rob tell it at the barn the previous May, Gunderson had either gotten sick of his baby brother’s lobbying for the Immortals or he used us as an excuse to save some money. We only cleared $125 but we didn’t complain about that, either, since we’d just gotten paid $50 a head the week before to do a high school graduation party. And it wasn’t always often that we got gigs on back-to-back weeks. The gig money plus our day jobs enabled us to start cobbling together more modern equipment and instruments.

When Lars told Dave to not start playing, our fearless leader suddenly looked quietly panic-stricken. Without us occupied playing just yet and alcohol and single women about, he automatically began imagining all the disastrous possibilities. The first person he looked at was Billy, who looked back at him and said, “What?” Dave dismissively shook his head.

“OK, go back and double check your drum kit. Rob, Mike, go make sure your guitars are tuned.” Jo Jo’s Farfisa was ready to go and plugged in so he wasn’t given any instructions from Houston Control Center. Obviously, he was the last one that Dave had to worry about.

“It’s OK,” the bride said, “You guys have go fun and start eating and drinking like everyone else. We’ll let you know when to go on.” She was radiant in her strapless wedding gown and ultra Farrah Fawcett hairdo and seemed like a down to earth country girl at heart. Dave awkwardly smiled at Alison and looked sorely tempted to say, “That may not be such a good idea.” But he simply nodded and smiled some more. By the time he turned around to give us our final subliminal death threats, the four of us were already bellying up to the buffet table. There was a cash bar set up at the Eagles reception hall but there was champagne galore and I think Dave preemptively detected them even before Rob and Billy.

After we’d distended our stomachs and split a magnum-sized bottle of discount champagne while Dave dourly watched us like a Mother Superior at a Catholic school dance, we went on. Before we’d played a note our ties were already cinched down (Rob pulled off his clip-on) and top shirt buttons unbuttoned. We started with “Whiter Shade of Pale” and everything went pretty smoothly. Mr. and Mrs. Gunderson had the dance floor to themselves while we did the Clapton song and her father took the groom’s place during “Alison.” Then we took a break and gingerly lurched toward yet another bottle of bubbly while Dave cleared his throat to no avail.

Dave, Jo Jo and I were talking about the songs in the back half of our set list when I noticed Billy sneaking off by himself toward the coat closet. He appeared to stalk the door then put his ear to it. When I saw him grinning wickedly, my first instinct was to keep Dave’s back turned so he wouldn’t go over to investigate. It was at that moment when I realized that Rob was nowhere in sight and I knew something was up.

Just because Dave had pulled only one practical joke on anyone in the group didn’t mean that we were similarly restrained. We used to spring the usual musician pranks on eachother such as restringing guitars upside down, actually snapping strings and, in one notable example of hyperactive dedication, Billy once packed every inch of the body of my Fender Classic acoustic guitar with chunky peanut butter, a stunt that must’ve cost him hours of free time and about two dozen jars of Jif.

But we never did anything to eachother just before and especially during gigs. We knew better. Or at least that’s what we all assumed.

While I kept trying to keep Dave’s attention occupied, I saw Billy pull a microphone off the stand and go back to the door. Pretty soon, gentle but amplified male and female moaning began to fill the Eagles hall while Billy was contorted in a silent paroxysm of laughter, the only time I’ve ever seen him laugh out loud. Pretty soon, even my rising voice couldn’t keep Dave’s attention as it was inevitably turned to the obscene sounds filling the hall.

The wedding guests likewise turned and Billy apparently had forgotten that there were children there, too. Pretty soon the moaning was joined by what sounded for all the world like pictures being taken with a camera. This suspicion was confirmed when we all heard a female voice coo, “I’ll make you an 8x10 glossy of that. You’ll need a big frame for it, though.” I suddenly realized the wedding photographer was nowhere to be seen, either. Oh shit…

“Oh, shit,” Dave echoed. “Where’s… where’s Rob?” He finally turned around and saw Billy doubled over with laughter, the microphone shaking in his hand but still trained on the door. “Oh shit.” He sprinted to the door while the moans got louder and a shutter closed again and again. Just before Dave grabbed the microphone out of Billy’s hand, the moaning was replaced with, “What the fuck…?” and the coat room door burst open, clocking both Dave and Billy. Rob’s black denim slacks were down around his ankles, his boxer shorts distended with rapidly-dying tumescence, and the panicked shutterbug in the closet with him was hastily pulling down the hem of her dress.

Jo Jo and I started laughing our asses off and we could hear Billy say, “That’s for the Cunningham gig last week.”

The last thing we heard was Rob growl, “You Irish prick!” before trying to run after him and falling on his face. He got up, and barely managed to pull his tight jeans approximately to his waist before giving up the chase as Billy was already in the parking lot.

Billy had decided that Rob getting some trim was too perfect an opportunity to let pass. He was getting back at him for cock-blocking him at the high school graduation party in Grafton just a week before. But Billy’s stunt was in poor taste for so many reasons, not the least of which being that there were a few kids there. Luckily, the children in attendance were young enough to be bewildered and didn’t know what the moans signified. The adults were another story entirely and they began rigging hasty explanations to their kids that involved everything from wrestling to food poisoning to a gentleman helping a lady get her coat on.

Dave finally got up off the floor and quietly put the microphone back in its stand. Billy cautiously crept back into the hall, still laughing like a ticklish fiend. Being the semi-professionals that we were, we finished the second half of our set list despite Billy, Jo Jo and I being unable to maintain a straight face. We even continued getting applause albeit subdued even though Rob for a change got more attention than either me or Dave. Luckily for us, he decided to forgo his usual Swedish patter. In this Scandinavian crowd, virtually everyone would’ve understood anything he would’ve said.

At the bouquet throwing, the one who caught it was Jo Jo. Amazingly, he didn’t actually knock any girls over as he lunged for it.

Packing up the van afterwards, Rob literally kicked Billy in the ass and actually lifted him off his feet for a half second. I shuddered to think what Rob would’ve done to him if his parents hadn’t already left. While Billy rubbed his rear end and scowled at him, Rob said, “Now we’re even. It ends now.” “Alright, alright,” came the timid response although none of us, least of all Rob, were very assured that it would be the last of it. At least for the sake of the group, we all hoped it would be.

For the second time, we had to talk Dave out of throwing Billy out of the group. I think his decision to not do so was rooted less in personal friendship and more in the fact that there wasn’t time to get another drummer and to familiarize him with our set list. We had a gig coming up in Loudon on the 4th of July and he was stuck with our psycho percussionist for better or worse. Besides, if he threw Billy out, he’d have to do the same to Rob and no drums or bass line would pretty much put the kibosh on the band.

We never did see the pictures that the wedding photographer took in the closet nor did we ask Rob if he ever got proofs.


At January 7, 2009 at 11:18 AM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

wow, even listening to the crickets chirping that's some good stuff.

ah well. shoot. keep working jp, it's looking good.

p.s. i'll see if the local tv station will burn me a disc of dani's debut.

At January 7, 2009 at 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, boy. A sneak peek!

Way cool.

Except for one picking of nits: that vocal mics, like a Shure SM-58, wouldn't pick up what's happening behind a closed door very well. Maybe a shotgun, but no one would sing into that. I kept thinking that the mic was placed inside the closet and kept getting surprised that it wasn't...

That's just my 20+ years of being a sound guy coming out. I'm still buying the book!

At January 7, 2009 at 4:48 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Hm. Maybe I can have Billy stick his hand in the door on the sly. That's easily fixable. Thanks for the heads up. (Where the fuck were you, Stevie? You're sleeping on the job!)

I have to admit, I'm kind of surprised at the almost total lack of response this post got. Granted, it's not political but considering all the well-wishers this novel supposedly has, I'd think that there'd be more comments. Just makes me wanna blog less than ever. I get virtually shut out no matter what I write. Hopefully, I'll fare better with agencies and publishers than I do here.

At January 7, 2009 at 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got home from work and had
a chance to sit down and give this a read. It's good. Keep up the
work. I've done a lot of band
recording and Comrade Rutherford
is right about the mic. You may
want to let a rock band producer
give this manuscript a read to make sure other small details are not overlooked. Publishers and editors may not have had the "band life" in their past.
OK feed us some more now that we're ready for the next gig and what happens....

At January 7, 2009 at 6:04 PM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i noticed the same thing about the mic, but figured why let a little thing like that get in the way of a good story.

if you want to have him figure out a way to do that, rather than the closet, have them behind a screen or something like in M*A*S*H when they put the PA mic under the cot...

At January 7, 2009 at 7:00 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...


Good recovery. Unfortunately, editors expect accuracy so we must deliver it. Did you have a good snooze?

Yeah, yeah, I was thinking about M*A*S*H* today while mentally reviewing what I'd written yesterday (the same day the epilogue takes place, btw) and it struck me that Billy's prank may have been both a little too over the top and unoriginal. I'm afraid I'd get charged with plagiarism and Billy would lose some sympathy since you can't write kids out of a wedding. The damned thing is I was even thinking of Frank Burns in the back of my mind while I was drafting out that chapter yet I still ran with it.

I don't know how smart it would be for me to put more chapters online. In the publishing biz, that can be a deal-breaker. Anyone reviewing the ms has to but Google the title and see if excerpts have been published online and I'd get crucified for either softening people up online or not divulging that parts are on the Internet.

Likewise anything short of posting chapters from the beginning would have no context aside from any expositional introduction and that's not the same as following the story from the start.

I wouldn't know how to go about finding a band producer but at least until recently I thought I could count on Stevie to call me on my fuckups, ahem.

At January 7, 2009 at 8:20 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Good grief. I knew it was too good to be true. Hansen, for Christ's sake.

At January 8, 2009 at 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, given the time frame of the story,and the movie MASH was released in 1970, the scene *could* be an homage to the picture...

The '70s were a lot more fun than the 'oughties'. Gags like that, getting caught screwing at a wedding seems a lot more likely in that era than now.

I kept seeing in my head Radar's hand putting the MASH mic under the test flap...

Maybe Billy could place the mic ahead of time, having noticed the looks between the leader and the photographer, and have him stationed at the mixing board cranking the gain...

What am I, some kind of book editor??? It's 4 PM already, I have to get to work!


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