Where bad turns to worse
I don’t write about my band much around here, but I have a band. For the past two years or so, I’ve been the keyboardist for a classic rock cover band. We’re not about to become rich playing, but we really getting in front of a crowd when we can. We love playing, and, according to those who we talk to in the crowd, that love of playing comes across. We’re out to have a good time, and it shows, and we like to think that those people who come to see us have a good time, as well.
I don’t talk about it here, though, because, well, I find hearing about bands mostly boring. I mean, we practice . . . we play songs that are somewhere between 15 and 50 years old . . . we try to get some new stuff in, but it’s the same guys, and mostly the same songs, and there just isn’t a whole lot to say. Gigs are fun, and while I’d truly love having y’all at a gig, we’re never going to tour, so we’re kind of relegated to those who are in the immediate vicinity. That means south-central Pennsylvania, western Maryland, and northern West Virginia.
Our last gig, however, had a bit of drama added to it. As I said, I’m the keyboard player . . . we have a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums, making a five person band1. During the show, the lead guitarist had
a bit far too much to drink. The last set, our most-challenging to play, he was playing sloppy. The thing is, we had a crowd that was absolutely into the music, and they, too had been drinking, and it was late . . . a little sloppy isn’t that bad a thing. Plus, our energy was high. This wouldn’t go down as our best show, but it would be far from our worst.
But, the night went on. Excited dancers offered to refill our drinks . . . and they were offering $1 shots at the bar . . . and the lead guitarist kept drinking. The thing is, he’s not, exactly, new to alcohol. But, he got sloppier. Our second-to-last song was a train-wreck, because he couldn’t keep the beat. The last song, he put his guitar down.
Now, this isn’t 100% foreign territory – we’ve always talked about emergency plans, in the event of a broken instrument in the middle of a show – it’s one of the reasons we have two “lead instruments” (myself, on keyboards, and the lead guitarist) . . . if one of us can’t play, the other can pick up the slack. It won’t be as good, but the show will go on. And the show went on, we finished the gig.
The lights came on in the bar as the crowd filed out and the lead guitarist went to the bathroom. We struck our equipment quickly & efficiently, leaving him alone. I figured he was embarrassed, and there was no point in belaboring that.
There were hushed conversations between the lead guitarist & each member of the band . . . I figured most were like the one that he said to me, that he was sorry he couldn’t finish the gig. But, then he left without getting paid, which was unlike him.
Again, I assumed he was embarrassed, but he’s the one who needs the band, financially. Four of us, and the sound man, we all have full time jobs. Waiting a little while to get paid for a gig isn’t a big deal to us — sure, it’s great to get paid the night you play, but, well, sometimes that just can’t happen. However, we always make sure that someone has the lead guitarist’s share, in cash, at the beginning of the night — he makes his money through playing, and waiting a week or two for money from a gig is a hardship for him. He left without asking for his share, and again, we thought that he was, simply, embarrassed, and wanted to get his way out without making a scene.
The week after the gig, we didn’t rehearse . . . if we ever rehearse, directly after a gig, it ends up being a “goof off” practice, anyway. But, we had a reason this time, the rhythm guitarist had an appointment for his “over 50 Roto-Rooter2.” But, in all honesty, the week off was probably good – if there were any high tempers, we had a week to let them down.
So, I showed up at band practice last night, the first one there, as usual. We rehearse at 5:30, but we’re, typically, all there just a little bit after 5, and start as soon as we’ve all arrived. While we’re waiting for the last member or two to get there, there’s a lot of bullshitting . . . talk of jobs, of household projects, of songs we’re writing, of other gigs we’ve had in the time off (I play a fair number of community theater shows, and with the symphony . . . the rhythm guitarist commonly plays for big events at military bases in the area, etc.). I sat, joking with the bassist & the drummer while the rhythm guitarist kept to himself. However, it was his house, and he always has a million projects . . . we all assumed that he was just finishing up something in his basement that he wanted to have done before he showed it off to us.
5:30 came & went without the lead guitarist.
A few minutes later, the rhythm guitarist came in to say that the lead guitarist wasn’t going to be there. We’d talked to the lead guitarist’s girlfriend, as the lead guitarist didn’t answer his phone, and, apparently, he just wasn’t going to come in. We don’t know if that meant “he wasn’t coming in yesterday” or if that meant “he wasn’t coming in, ever.” So, we talked things through, and found out that it’s possible that a fan of the band, who knew of the way the gig ended (though he wasn’t in the crowd), had been saying some pretty bad stuff about the lead guitarist. We found out that it was possible that multiple shots, beers, and rum & cokes might not have been the only thing in the lead guitarist’s system that night. We found out that the lead guitarist’s girlfriend had accused the bassist of hitting on her, months ago. We found out a lot of speculation, which meant that we found out that we needed to talk, as a full band, in the very near future . . . we have a gig coming up on March 24, and, while we can do something without a lead guitar, we can’t play a full gig without a lead guitar.
So, that discussion really wasn’t fun. But, the discussion was had, and there was still plenty for us to work on, even without a lead guitar . . . so why was the rhythm guitarist so melancholy? He’s the one of us who is most “down to business.” Something was up.
He pointed to the calendar, “Next week, we’re practicing,” he said. And then his voice cracked as he pointed to the week after, “I’ll be in the hospital,” he managed to get out.
It turns out that, during his “Roto-Rooter”, they found a tumor. It’s likely, but not definitely, cancerous. It’s likely confined to the colon and has not spread. But, there are no certainties just yet. In two weeks, he’s going into the hospital to have the tumor removed (he explained an option where they could biopsy it, but there’s a more-than-50% possibility of rupturing the colon during that, which means they’d need to do the full surgery, anyway, only in an emergency setting, and if the tumor is cancerous, he’d just have to go right back in, so they might as well cut it out as soon as possible). From there, we’ll know more – we’ll know if the tumor is benign or malignant. We’ll have a hint, if it was malignant, if he has spread beyond the colon. We’ll know his future treatment.
For now, we wait. And it sucks.
He’s saying all of the right things – He’s going to beat it. He’s not going to let bring him down. He’s going to use it as a catalyst to make himself healthier & stronger & he’s going to do more good. But, he’s scared. So are we.
Suddenly, figuring out how we might play a gig in March just wasn’t quite as important.
Last night, we practiced . . . we played every song in our repertoire that we could that wouldn’t have a glaring hole, should we be missing a lead guitar player. It was enough to fill a single set, maybe spilling a little into a second. Most nights, we play three sets.