Scents of fresh cigarette smoke mingled with stale beer and dry sweat; the same scents that greeted Ethan every early afternoon at work. The painful truth of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle was that it didn’t really exist, never had. In fact, one of the few things it accurately claimed to have was long nights and late mornings, and even those weren’t the same, really. Fringe benefits, Ethan called them, hard truths of sound engineering for the local dive.
That’s all he could ever think to call the Club. It had an official name, but nobody used it– a claim to Ethan’s generational droves offlowing apathy. The Club wasn’t a club. It wasn’t even a bar, though it had one. It was a collection point for the aimless and brainless to nightly smash into each other. If they weren’t doing that, they were smashing other shit into their brains or veins. Regardless of its seeming differences, the road taken was always the same: ride the groove of the latest, least-audibly offensive metal jocks stuck in Podunk like the rest.
Every night was roughly the same. Unless the joint was bust from a cancellation, the band or bands arrived, set up, ran sound check, then lingered until their slot whilstdoing their best not to drink away the night’s profit. Most did. If, after the long wait, they were still fit to play, they went onto the makeshift stage and did their best to murder a set or two. By the end of it, the drinkers were drunk, the stoners were high, and everyone else was everywhere in between.
More often than not, Ethan watched from behind the mixing board. Drugs and booze made their way through the crowds. He could always tell the inebriated minors from the crowd; they didn’t move in time with it, as if knowing they stood out and completely incapable of helping it. No one cared. What was a few wasted teenagers to a crowd?
It wasn’t just the music and intoxicants that drew the kids either. The girls did their best too. If the bartenders and concession girls didn’t appeal, there were always the few regulars– cougars and their younger counterparts on the hunt for more stamina and cum than brains. Sometimes, even the occasional flamer or dyke surfed the crowd. Like the others, they too, found their select few to get something from or give something to.
Ethan still laughed at the thought of his closest brush with the rock ‘n roll lifestyle: He went to piss, walked in on a freshmen poking “Lightning Lucy.” She was fast, easy. Before Ethan knew what was happening, he was suddenly double-teaming Lucy with the freshmen– who was more and more jealous of the fact.
But Lucy was quick and easy because she wanted to be. It made life easier. The last thing she wanted was strings. By the end of it, Ethan figured he’d done the kid a favor: gave him a story to tell and made the break easier. The last thing anyone wanted was a love-sick hanger-on, Lucy especially.
That was the closest Ethan had come to the rock ’n roll lifestyle he’d been promised. Even then, he had a hard time believing it had happened. Life was hardly as fast and easy as the legends made it sound. Mostly, it was standard fare; sit at a board, keep the lights green, and ensure no-one skipped out on the tab.
Maybe that was why it felt like every other day to Ethan. Maybe it was just his generation’s total apathy from the knowledge that they’d missed “the good ole’ days.” Maybe it was nothing, or everything, or some of one thing and a little or none of another. All he knew, was after the fact, he knew even less than he’d thought he did.
He took his place behind the board to watch the lights. The latest incarnation of wannabe rock-star nobodies were on stage. They droned on with the same bullshit metal sound Ethan heard night after night. There was nothing original in town nowadays. The only thing that distinguished one set of screeching vocals and open-string pounding from the next were the various shades of gray eyes or their faces. The bands around were as dead as the horse their music beat.
The guys on-stage that day were no different. The only thing even relatively noteworthy was their singer’s utter lack of vocal enthusiasm. He looked like a caricature of late Floyd-era Syd Barret; on stage, head down, guitar hanging; no life whatsoever to him. The only real indication of his continued existence was the noises emanating from below his head. He seemed to be doing his best to do nothing at all, and was succeeding expertly– not that he’d have noticed nor cared. Someone had left a hang-dog expression hanging too long, and this was the result.
The drummer finally exploded with rage, angry at another night potentially ruined. It was then the singer came to life… in the most awful way Ethan’s apathetic generation could muster. He rounded toward the drummer, suddenly raised a loaded .45.
Where it came from, Ethan still wasn’t sure, all he knew was the sound of a round fired off into the drummer’s forehead. Then another, into the bass player as he booked it for the door. The third cut down the rhythm guitarist at the edge of the risers. After him, one-by-one, went all of the crew and the hangers-on that had tried to flee but weren’t quite fast enough.
The barrel angled onto Ethan and the frozen, deer in the headlights expression remained unchanged. The rampaging frontman stopped, stared. To an outsider, he looked as if trying to decide if Ethan were a man or an armless marble statue. Something suddenly shifted in the guy’s face. The gun turned on the shooter, and the guy let himself out as he had his mates.
Through all of it, Ethan was frozen, petrified. Terror had coursed through his veins. He was terrified, of course, but also utterly confused and entirely confused. A creature of such despair and hang-dogged emptiness had managed to erupt into a ball of fire. It was as if the last pocket of existence inside a formless shell had burst forth to ensure it be remembered, for good or ill. It was safe to say it had completed its task.
Ethan was more concerned for himself; a dozen people were murdered in front of him, and he could do nothing but blink. For a while, he wondered if someone had slipped him acid or peyote again. Instead, the police and EMT’s arrived to find him standing, staring, traumatized.
It took a long while to coax him back to reality. In the end, he returned from his curious fugue state unharmed carried on with life. The Club eventually began functioning again too, as much as it could be said to. Ethan wasn’t sure what life he nor it led, but something told him neither qualified as rock ‘n roll.