By Joseph Garraty
Like one of the main characters in my novel, Voice, I play guitar in a local rock band. Also like that character, I’ve played a lot of crappy gigs. The similarity ends there—I’m generally a nice guy, and Stephanie Case is, well, neither of those things, and that’s just for starters. But the lousy gigs? That’s something that ties all rock musicians together. Every time I meet a new musician, we get to trade horror stories. A few examples:
1. I played a venue one time where the roof leaked. That’s not so bad, huh? Maybe it wouldn’t have been, if I hadn’t been standing in a puddle of water with an electrical cable running from the guitar I was holding to a 100-watt amplifier—which, I noted with horror about halfway through the show, was also standing in a puddle of water.
2. My band showed up to do a soundcheck at one venue, only to discover that the sound guy was in jail. I admit, that was so ridiculous it was kind of funny, and an episode inspired by that actually made it into Voice.
3. When one of my bands was just starting out, we got thrown out of a venue for not bringing enough people to the show. I’d never had that happen before (it was completely humiliating), but some of my friends later told me it was kind of normal at this particular establishment. The guy who ran it, Big Lou, bore a remarkable similarity in disposition and appearance to Jabba the Hutt, and he’d attained a reputation for being a complete jerk to most of the local musicians.
4. Three vocalists, one mic. Obnoxious? You bet. Funny to watch? Oh yeah. We fell all over each other trying to get to and from that mic stand. The bits with three-part harmony were particularly entertaining. I’m lucky I didn’t accidentally club someone to death with the headstock of my guitar.
That barely scratches the surface. I’ve also had to turn away a boatload of drug pushers, deal with an astonishing variety of equipment failure (nothing like screwing around with a bass amp that won’t work when you’re twenty minutes into the set you’re supposed to be playing), fight with sound guys that took an immediate dislike to me or somebody else in the band, and the list goes on and on. I’ve put on transcendent performances to empty rooms and mediocre ones to packed houses, and (occasionally) vice versa.
What does any of this have to do with writing? Atmosphere. Vibe. Voice, if you will. Verisimilitude. From the standpoint of research, Voice was one of the easiest things I’ve ever written, because I’ve experienced so much of that scene. And for me, there are few tableaus quite as evocative as the stage at a sleazy bar two minutes before showtime. The gear is set up, the lights are down, there’s maybe a half a dozen people nursing their drinks and shooting glances toward the stage, wondering what they’re in for. Just offstage, the band is tuning up.
And if I’m there, I’m grinning like a fool—because in these dark, out-of-the-way places, despite the grime and the horrifying bathroom, despite the drunk who won’t stop pawing you and the sound guy who turns you up until you feed back like crazy or turns you down until you can’t hear anything, and despite the fact that you’re about to bust your ass for two hours for six bucks, you never know when something magic might happen.
I guess I do have something else in common with Stephanie Case. We’re both made to play seedy dives.
I’m cool with that.
Joseph Garraty is an author of dark fantasy, horror, and science fiction. He has worked as a construction worker, rocket test engineer, environmental consultant, technical writer, and deadbeat musician. He lives in Dallas, Texas.
His latest book is the horror novel, Voice.
You can visit his website at www.josephgarraty.com.
Connect with Joseph at Twitter at www.twitter.com/JosephGarraty.