When I first began blogging years back, I gave everyone I wrote about a pseudonym. At first, this was to provide my friends and family who might not appreciate being discussed in a public forum a layer of anonymity; later, it was just simple vanity – I thought I was being clever, so I stuck with the nicknames. Lady Fair, Best Bud, Burner, Other Brother, The Ex – all real people with real names I just don’t always use.
When writing, I refer to my ex-girlfriend as “The Ex” because I am simply not creative enough to come up with a better term that fits. She’s warm, friendly, outgoing, adventurous, loves hard, laughs easily, sexy when she wants to be, and fierce when she needs to be. As a girlfriend, she was perfect in every way save one: as much as I loved her, I wasn’t in love with her. Which means she was the perfect girlfriend, I was just a lousy boyfriend. The Ex is now with a great guy, and together they are raising a beautiful, intelligent daughter – that we’re still friends is more a testament to her generosity than my charm, and if it sounds like I’ve got a soft spot for my ex-girlfriend, that’s an understatement: I adore The Ex.
She does deserve a better nickname, though. I’ll work on it.
The Ex, her great guy and their beautiful, intelligent daughter made the long drive out to Eddie’s visitation Tuesday night. After my goddaughters turned them loose, The Ex was regaling me on Coco’s show (it was fabulous). The Best Bud decided this was the opportune moment to be, well, basically The Best Bud:
“So, yeah – why did the Other Brother ditch the Lady Fair and my boy here, anyway?”
I stared at the Best Bud; the Best Bud stared back.
“What? Oh, like I wasn’t going to ask?”
I looked at the ceiling while The Ex chuckled. She then explained the Other Brother had been confused when we hadn’t shown up at the Rose Room; between the hard drugs and the insomnia, she figured he just flat out forgot he was supposed to call. After a week of disappointments, this was a relief; I no longer needed to worry about being an unknowing participant in a passive-aggressive conspiracy. I wondered how long it would take him to realize the communication snafu, and then put that thought aside to concentrate on not blowing my two hymns in front of an intense family.
The memorial was beautiful. I didn’t screw up the hymns. The Ex admitted when she heard me talk about “the spirit of Christ,” she half-expected me to burst into flames right there in the chapel. I told her my black dress shirt had been baby blue when I left the house that morning. She smiled and patted my shoulder. The Ex followed us back to Nan’s and stayed with us and the family the rest of the night, talking with folks she’d just met as if they were old friends.
Did I mention The Ex is awesome?
The Lady Fair and I spent the next day out at Nan’s, keeping Matthew, Tammy and the girls company as the cared for Nan, making sure she ate, making sure the oxygen tanks were up to date, and any other various odds and ends they could think of. My goddaughters, Grace and Emma, were completely stir crazy after a week of being cooped up at Grandma’s, so sitting around Nan’s wasn’t anywhere near as easy as it sounds.
Our friends flew home Friday morning; I had a wine event to teach Friday evening; by late Friday night, my shoulders were up around my ears – a week worth of grieving families, speed-learning songs, and living on West Coast time had taken its toll on me. I needed a good cry, a bad drunk, or both. Come to find out, the Lady Fair was just as tore up – by the time she got home from work Saturday, she was a physical and emotional wreck: her head hurt, her stomach hurt, her eyes hurt, her body hurt, and fatigued from top to bottom. She didn’t feel up to driving to Wills Point, but didn’t want to admit she didn’t feel up to driving to Wills Point – she didn’t want to let the band down. I told her she had a few hours to see if she felt better, we’d make a call then; she curled up on the couch and went promptly to sleep. I headed into the office to make up a set list and download directions to the gig.
At 3 pm, it was clear there would be no cowboy-ing up – the Lady Fair was down for the count. Couldn’t blame her, so I didn’t blame her – I was reassuring her it was okay to stay home and recuperate when my little brother, Kelly, called.
“Hey, Dude! Ya’ll are playin’ the Pigsty! Damn! I wanna go!”
The little missus was staying put, so I had room in the Mustang. “So come on! You can ride in with me.”
Kelly needed to talk that over with HIS little missus, my sister-in-law, Dionne, who was busy at work – he’d have to call me back. Twenty minutes and a text from Pauly asking if I was on the way later, I kissed my sick wife good-bye and took off to my little brother’s house five minutes down the road. Kelly lives in what used to be my late grandmother’s house, which is always a little disconcerting, as I keep expecting to hear her voice and her yip-yip dog when I approach the front door. What was her front library is Kelly’s practice room, and wood paneling has replaced those creepy-ass needlepoint clown portraits in the living area. I didn’t see my niece, but Kelly and my nephew, Kevin, were lounging on the couch when I strolled in.
“Dude! I was just texting you – I don’t think I can go.”
We debated the merits of making the trip, how much I could cover versus how much he’d need to spend to really enjoy himself; how much recuperating his lovely lady would need from the gig he’d played Friday night after a long day dealing with the public. I mentioned to Kevin his own considerable musical skills had gotten him good reviews from the lead singer of Postpone the Nightmare, which surprised and delighted my nephew. Kelly double-checked with Dionne their monetary status, then doubled-down on staying put. I pointed to Kevin and told him to keep practicing, promised Kelly I’d give him a bigger head’s up on next year’s Pigsty date, then headed back to the Mustang to head to Wills Point. I’d originally intended on being there around 4 pm – it was now 4 pm and I was just hitting the highway. Best laid plans and all that.
The Pigsty Pasture Party is exactly that; it’s a freakin’ party in a pasture, a big, wide-open, dusty pasture. For 17 years now, the one-percenters have been gathering out in the middle of nowhere just outside of downtown Wills Point to compare scooters, buy patches, get tattooed, play biker games, drink, carouse, and listen to loud music. My bass player, Super Dave, has been attending the event for-freakin-ever, the last few years providing the PA and lights for the stage activities – once he joined the East Texas Garage Band, he corralled Pauly into helping him last year; and when last year’s entertainment did a less than stellar job (not their fault, their namesake had a heart attack the night before, was in ICU during the gig), the two of them gave the Pigsty’s founders a package deal that included my giving them a webpage and the band playing Saturday night. I’d been at last year’s Saturday events – been unimpressed with the entertainment, got roped into being a judge at the wet t-shirt contest, and had been pulled over for speeding/given a breathalyzer trying to get my late butt back to the Lady Fair – I was looking forward to improving my experience this year.
Only missed one turn getting out to the Pigsty, so it was just a little after 5 pm when I showed my band pass to the front gate. I parked the Mustang on the far end, awkwardly grabbed the set lists, my cowbell, my tambourine, my lyric books, and the band’s postcard leave-behinds, and headed towards the stage, figuring the crew was waiting on my ass to do the night’s sound check – I ran into Paul’s lovely bride first.
“Where the hell have you been? You’re an hour late. You missed the sound check.”
“Yeah, sound check was at 4 pm – everybody else was here in plenty of time. Where were you?”
Still in Mesquite, getting my ducks in a row. I’d assumed since the gig started at 7 pm, sound check would be an hour earlier at 6 pm, so getting there at 5 pm would be plenty early – I assumed wrong. Paul had told the rest of the crew sound check would be much earlier, no later than 4 pm, a good call on his part seeing how the band was an hour away from anything resembling a music store or Radio Shack. Somehow, I hadn’t got the message. The band teased me for being late, the wives teased me for being late, the girlfriends and the crew all teased me for being late – basically, the only people who didn’t give me a hard time about being late were the sponsors of the Pigsty, who had no idea when I was supposed to be there.
No Lady Fair, No Little Brother, and no sound check. My Pigsty 2012 experience was off to a fantastic start.
The crowd had started assembling and was pestering us to play by the time Reverend John came moseying up. I don’t know if he has any official standing with the event, but it was very evident Rev. John was the face and voice of the Pigsty. He made a couple of quick announcements, introduced the band and away we went. The outdoor stage is built in a T, with a wide back and a runway out in front – the band was in the crossbeam of the T with plenty of room to maneuver, a pleasant surprise; what wasn’t so pleasant was Pauly’s amps were pointed directly at my right ear, and Pauly was ready to play – first couple of power chords and I swear my right ear drum was bleeding. We finished American Girl and started into Can’t Get Enough – I grabbed the mic stand and started singing, growling “Come on, come on, do what you do,’ nailed the refrain, and then repeated the first verse for no reason whatsoever – missing the sound check had put me off my game. If the crowd noticed, they didn’t show it; Super Dave heard it, though; he grinned at me and just shrugged – live music, brah; dookie happens. By the time we got into Hard to Handle, the band had found the groove.
At least, we had found the groove until the power went out a third of the way into White Room. I went for the high note and all the lights and sound evaporated. Pauly strode out to the far end of the run way, leaned over his guitar, outstretched his arms and screamed into the crowd “HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT FOR ROCK AND ROLL! LET ME HEAR YOU!” And all the bikers, biker babes, and biker rug-rats screamed back at Paul in exuberance. We’d blown a fuse – can’t get more hard-core than that. The crew fiddled, the lights, then the sound came back up, and we started White Room over again, sounding better the second time.
Five more songs, and we blew the fuses again.
Once the electricity came back on, we played one more tune, then I announced a break so Pauly, Dave and the crew could suss out the power situation. Twenty minutes later, we retook the stage, house lights up, chaser lights off. We kicked off our second set.
Or what should have been our second set – I’d printed a set list out, but we hadn’t followed it after the third song, we’d been bouncing around all over the three sets picking songs willy-nilly. In theory, this had seemed like a good idea – this was a fast and loose crowd, Pauly wanted to play it fast and loose with the music selection, keeping it light, keeping it fun; the practical application was proving the opposite, though – not following the set list was throwing the band off their game, and no one more so than Paul: songs he’d played for thirty years he suddenly couldn’t remember, not the key, not the melody, not the words (the fifteen seconds of sleep he’d gotten the night before in his tent at the Pigsty wasn’t helping none). I’d call a song, Paul couldn’t remember the key; Paul would call a song, Gary couldn’t remember the melody; Dave would call a song, I’d repeat verses when I knew what the next verse should’ve been, the words just didn’t form right. What should have been a cakewalk was turning into a struggle for no good reason at all, though you wouldn’t know that listening to our crowd – the bikers were loving us, warts and all. On our worst day, we were still far and away the best band the Pigsty had ever booked.
We played a blistering version of Zeppilin’s Rock and Roll loud enough to be heard from downtown Wills Point, took a bow, then started breaking down the stage for the adult biker contests to come, the Ugly Ass contest and the Wet T-Shirt contest. I’d been roped into being a judge last time around, an experience I didn’t want to repeat with a sick Lady Fair waiting at the house – I grabbed my instruments and song books, then booked off the stage. I chatted with our hard-core fans who’d made the trip east, answered a couple of questions, kissed Margaret on the cheek, then stumbled out into the darkness to locate my Mustang. Show was over, I needed the love of an ill wife and major amounts of beer – time to head home.
After my last Pigsty experience, I promised the Lady Fair that I wouldn’t be drinking and I certainly wouldn’t be speeding – neither she nor I both wanted a repeat of my 1 am trooper stop, sobriety test and speeding ticket from the year before. I made my way out of Wills Point and into Kaufman County as if I were driving through a school zone, so imagine my complete freakin’ surprise when I saw rollers in my rear view mirror in downtown freakin’ Terrell.
One of the bulbs on my back license plate was out. I got a written warning. Must’ve been one slow Saturday night for law enforcement. I’d failed to keep my promise not to get pulled over. My desire for large amounts of cheap beer increased.
Around 5 pm and well after the Cowboy’s ugly win Sunday, Pauly called. I asked if he got any sleep, did he make it home okay – he answered he kind of slept, he’d been home since 11 am. Then he told me I’d missed the third set.
What third set?
“Yeah, Rev. John and Hooker came up, asked if we play some more – looked around and you were nowhere to be found. Margaret told us you’d left. The band had to do the last set without the lead singer.”
I’d been told we were done when the boobie show started, so when the crew pulled back the monitors, I boogied – didn’t check with Paul, didn’t check with Dave, didn’t tell anyone in the band good-bye, nothing. Just grabbed my stuff and left – evidently, I’d also left the band high-and-dry.
“We did half-dozen songs, managed without you… though we’ll never attempt Sweet Emotion when you’re not around again – that was a mess.”
“Damn, Paul. I’m sorry. I swear I thought we were done.”
“It’s all good.”
It may have been all good for Paul, but it wasn’t all good for me. Over an hour late for the show, missed the sound check, forgot the lyrics on more than one song, left before the show was over… if you didn’t know any better, if you were just keeping score on paper, it would be easy to assume I was the asshole passive-aggressive prima donna Lead Singer of the crew. And the last person I want to be in this band is that guy.
The Pigsty wants us back for next year’s event, so for the East Texas Garage Band the weekend was firmly in the Win column; for me personally, 17th Annual Pigsty Pasture Party had been an epic bust. And while a lot of it could be explained away by the memorial, the hymns, the sick wife, even the week of long nights, it doesn’t matter – I want to be a professional singer, and a professional singer is professional no matter what the circumstances.
Gut check time.