Simon’s knock at the hotel door was chipper, and he held a couple of Styrofoam coffee cups in Gordon’s face, presumably to make it that much more difficult to be smacked by his friend for such an early intrusion. “That’s very generous of you,” the singer grumbled as he set the drinks down by the door.
“Your treat. They came from your hotel lobby, so I don’t really know what the quality is like. I was actually hoping we could have a little talk.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“One where you wear a shirt and we go somewhere private.”
Gordon leaned back to check on Lizzie. The blankets fortunately covered her lithe frame, and she had drawn Gordon’s pillow over her face the moment he had left the bed. She could easily spend the next hour arguing that she had paid for the room and fully intended to get her money’s worth of sleep. “Liz, Simon and I are going to go get some breakfast. Do you want anything?”
Habitually she skipped the meal, and she responded with little more than a grunt. He took that as permission to go and located his t-shirt, then his jeans. The first two socks he found went on his feet, and then he slid into his battered sneakers without paying any attention to the laces. All told, he took three minutes to get ready, and it showed in how rumpled and bedheaded he was. To some, he may have been unpresentable, but his appearance hardly registered to Simon.
The promise of breakfast was enough to get the taller man’s stomach rumbling, and he had hardly stepped out of the hotel door before he was craning his neck to look for a place to eat. A diner with a neon light in the shape of a mug called to him, and he set off in that direction without consulting with his bandmate. As professional musicians on an amateur budget, they knew to make the best of every cheap, greasy dive they could find. Besides, he didn’t know where their other two companions were, and if they had to speak in private, then hiding out in a restaurant could only provide a good alibi.
“What’s up?” Gordon asked as he stepped through the door. The scent of burnt coffee and hot grease only made him more eager to find a table for a sit down, but Simon marched up to the stools that were at the counter. Their visit would be brief.
“We really need to talk about the band.”
“The Band. I think my favorite tune of theirs currently is ‘The Weight.’ What about you?”
“Don’t be such a smartass.” Simon was forever the voice of reason within the group, but that wasn’t always a comfortable title when he had to deal with realists and idealists who were just as stubborn as one another. “I got some news this morning.”
“Well, lay it on me.” Probably something about bounced checks, another lost manager who threatened legal action for payment or a venue that regretted to inform them that their show had been ousted by a regular client’s birthday party. Very little about their lack of progress could surprise him, whereas the specials for a restaurant he’d never been to had the potential to impress. The menu was stained by oil, which meant that the food was likely filling, good for mopping up hangovers or preventing them. That was something he could get behind.
“Did you even hear me?” Simon asked, a rare sharpness entering his tone. He knew Gordon and had put up with him at his worst, but sometimes his big brother patience could be eroded.
“No, I was too busy looking at the food. And coffee. More coffee and some toast would be heaven right now.”
“Fuck your coffee, and fuck your toast. Would you pay attention to me?” As a drummer, Simon had broad arms, and it took no effort at all for him to snatch the menu from Gordon’s grasp and then pin it to the counter beneath his brawny hands. “I said, we’re fucking charting.”
“Fuck your sense of humor. Right now is too early to crush the dreams of little boys.”
“I’m dead serious. Would I joke about this kind of thing?” He would. He had done so a couple of weeks ago, when they’d finally had a touch of airplay and thought they would be an overnight success after years of turmoil. It had been false faith more than a cruel taunt, but he had later played his statements off as dark humor.
“What chart then? When did this happen?”
“West Coast radio. It’s coming back east too. We’re getting more plays with a radio edit the label sent out.” Certain that he had the other man’s attention, Simon slid Gordon’s menu back to him. “The album’s starting to move. A thousand maybe last week, but it’s picking up. People have apparently been calling in to request us. By name.”
“Fuck off.” Maybe it wasn’t the most eloquent response to ever come from a songwriter, but Gordon didn’t know how to process the news. They’d had a miserable show the night before, he was on the borderline of being hungover, he was on poor terms with his bassist, and things were happening. What things? Far off things, things that were words and numbers and concepts. He really didn’t know how to process them. One second he was resentful that it had taken so long and they had so far to go to even justify staying in the game, and the next he was laughing hysterically because he had only ever wanted to have other people listen to him and get from his music what he did from so many albums.
“And our show tomorrow’s sold out.”
“I mean, it’s a hundred tickets or something like that, less the guest list. But when have we sold out of anything in the history of ever?”
“Never without our mums and dads going out to try to give us a boost.”
“Exactly. So people are hearing us, and they’re curious enough to throw out a couple of bucks.”
“So we have to make sure that we don’t sound like complete shit then.”
Gordon took in a deep breath. Drinking helped him to relax enough to perform in front of an audience, especially when crushing defeat was often such a likely result of the effort, but there were consequences. He became erratic, angry, prone to forgetting the words and failing to care about that. Making it through their brief sets was often an accomplishment when there were so many ways to destroy equipment, argue with the unwilling audience or just make a hasty escape. “I could maybe play this one sober. Mostly sober.”
“Good.” Simon was satisfied enough that when he spotted a waitress, he requested two cups of coffee, toast, sausage, scrambled eggs, and home fries. The generous spread of food meant that he was in a decent mood. “So that’s the first thing we had to cover.”
“Just the first? Christ. I hope the second involves buying cake and shoving it in each other’s faces”
Simon gave him a long, stern look that was interrupted by the arrival of their fresh coffee. Fortunately they had to pause to turn the dark liquid beige with milk and sugar. “We’re just on the right path and have to play it cool. You know how Keith would want us to handle this.”
Gordon pulled a face in distaste and tried to cover it with a sip from his mug. The java was too hot and burnt his tongue, but he felt it was appropriate karma. “I’m sure he’s formulating the perfect game plan to capitalize on this opportunity as we speak.”
“He’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about now.”
It was difficult to resist rolling his eyes, but he kept the gesture to a minimum. “Let me guess. You agree that I’m spending too much time with Lizzie, so I need to apologize to him and then reassess my priorities.”
“No. No, not at all.” This was normally the point when Simon would laugh and chide Gordon on his stubborn nature, but instead he was gloomy, subdued. “There’s been a lot of strife internally lately. I’m not saying that’s your fault. Sometimes it is, but we’re really losing focus. That’s fine when we’re just fucking up in front of ten people who won’t remember our name anyway. But this is a huge opportunity. Things could just fizzle out, or they could put us on a good level. I’m not saying rich, but we wouldn’t have to get day jobs. That’s enough for me. Or it could just blow up and be fucking huge. We don’t know yet.”
“But.” Simon rubbed the bridge of his nose and let himself lean more heavily against the counter. “The group of us, we’re not really working the way we should do. I don’t think that if we’re going to go on a proper tour, we’re going to make it without killing each other or ourselves.”
“What are we supposed to do about that then? Group therapy?” Yes, four men found it difficult to get along when they were in close contact with one another nearly every minute of every day. Gordon didn’t find that very unusual and didn’t know how to address the issue short of spending even more time together trying to just hug it out. Not exactly tempting.
“It’s Keith.” Simon’s words seemed to surprise even him, and he grimaced at the Formica as he spoke. “I know he’s been in this with you since day one. This is his baby as much as it is yours. But he’s just bringing everyone down all the time. I’m not sure his heart’s really in this, not to be in the backseat.”
“He’s not really in the backseat…”
“Don’t pull the humble brag shit on me, Gord. You’re the one writing the lyrics. What we do around that has to match up to what you’re trying to say. Like it or not, people are going to care about what you think or say or write more than the rest of us. Girls want to sleep with the singer and make him write songs about them. They don’t really care if the bassist writes an incredible riff that reminds him of her curves or some bullshit. This was his idea as well as yours, but he knows that from here on out, you’re going to get more of the credit. It’s fucking eating him alive.”
Of course they all had their inaccurate fantasies of what it meant to be in a band, but Gordon had never stopped to consider how they would impact one another. The attention from girls, well, that was flattering, but he had never topped to think about interviews or press attention on one member rather than all of them. It wasn’t like it much mattered. Until, of course, it did.
Gordon tried to connect the dots on the counter in front of him using his finger. “Do you want me to try to talk to him then?” The rage that he’d felt earlier had dissipated into a sort of pity. There was precious little about Gordon’s life to envy, so the thought that one of his old friends could look upon him with that resentment chilled him to the bone.
Simon shook his head. When their food arrived, he busied himself rolling sausage from one end of his plate to the other. “I’m not sure this is something that will go away,” he admitted. “It’s not just that need for recognition. He’s kind of…disillusioned, I guess. When you started the band, you were just students. You were ambitious. Now you’ve gotten to know each other more. He sees you as a liability and thinks there are better frontmen out there.”
The allegation stung, even secondhand. He thought that he was doing the best he could to make the music that he was passionate about while still remaining as sane as possible. Having others see past his performance of keeping it together just made him feel all the more frail. Still, he saw Simon’s point. Such distrust would tear a band apart. “So what do we do?” he asked, his mouth feeling dry no matter how much tea he poured down his throat.
“Well, we’re in the middle of a tour. We can’t go shaking things up at the moment, and we’re all under a lot of stress. Maybe things will get better in a few weeks.”
“And if they don’t?”
Simon finally stabbed his toast into the beans, smashing some of them against the bread. “You know exactly what I’m saying here.”
“We have to sack him. Can bands our size sack people?”
“I don’t think it matters if you change your lineup every week when you have as many listeners as we do,” the drummer pointed out.
The possibility of firing Keith gave Gordon a thrill that immediately kicked his guilt complex into high gear. If only they were rid of the bassist, no one would be left making cruel jabs at Lizzie. Most of the cutting remarks would be gone, and they could focus on making better music rather than obsessing over past mistakes. He had shared the dream with Gordon years ago, but it was clear that their fantasies no longer overlapped the way they once had.
Gordon took a deep breath and found himself nodding. It would be difficult, but there were plenty of people out there who could play bass as well as Keith or even better than him. They needed the freedom to allow themselves to be a better group. And really, they would only resort to that action if Keith gave them no other choice. They were powerless. He controlled his own fate.
“What do we do in the meantime then?” he found himself asking. It seemed deplorable, plotting against someone he’d soon share a van with, but then his thoughts went back to Lizzie. To imply that she was a slut was unforgivable. A grown man ought to know better.
Simon shrugged and did his best to try to eat. If they had to pay for the food they’d ordered, there was no point in letting it go to waste just because they couldn’t stomach their own conversation. “Do your best to get along with him. It couldn’t hurt to apologize to him for last night. You’re proud, but so is he.”
“And what do I say? Sorry I don’t have the same opinion of my girlfriend that you do? Sorry I fell in love with someone you don’t approve of?”
The drummer’s eyebrows arched up a bit at the mention of love, but he didn’t ask about it. There were only so many big life discussions that could be handled before ten in the morning. “I think just calling yourself a prick and saying sorry will suffice.”
The frank language had him laughing before he even felt his muscles relax. There was much to be excited about, he had to remember that, and if they had to take drastic measures within the band, well, that wouldn’t come for months yet. Just knowing that Simon had noticed the tension and was on his side made things easier. “I guess I can do that, but if he’s a dick to Lizzie again, it’s going to be him or me. I hope you know that.”
The drummer’s face was pale, but he nodded. “I figured it would be that way, or else I wouldn’t be having this discussion with you.”
“So, out of curiosity, why go with me rather than back him?”
“Well, you have to be a madman to want to be in the limelight the way he seems to want to be. Plus you’re not the first dude in a band to have a girlfriend. She hasn’t tried to design a new logo or make us buy designer wardrobes. She’s harmless. She makes you happy. Not a lot does. I don’t see the point in keeping you miserable. Even if it kind of makes you write better songs.”
Love songs had never been his forte, and the reminder had him jabbing his elbow at his bandmate. He felt grateful that at least one of them seemed to understand him. “Just for that, I’m going to write a love song about you, and it’s going to go top ten. No, top five. You won’t be able to escape the fucker.”
“I welcome you to fucking try it,” Simon quipped as he signaled for the check.