Aspen, CO – “Faking it” -The Howlin’ Wolf – July 24, 1999

You never know about the loyalty of your bandmates. All you can do is commit wholeheartedly to them and hope they do the same for you.

It was a rainy day in Aspen and Delluchi took the mountain roads slowly in the damp, blue light.  Brian asked if he and I could meet up for coffee before the gig.  He wanted to discuss schedules.  I met him at a coffee shop near the venue and slipped into a booth like a well-worn jacket. Brian looked uncomfortable like he had to pee.  He didn’t beat around the bush.  He asked if I’d mind him doing some “fly dates” from next tour.  “No problem,” I said, “as long as they don’t conflict with any of our shows.” 

“A fly” date is a one-off played with another band.  A highly coveted musician, like Brian, might be offered compensation plus airfare to make another band’s gig while out on the road with their main act.  It’s common enough but feels akin to a spouse asking for an open marriage.  It’s a bit of a warning signal to a band leader that their bandmate is thinking about jumping ship soon. But not Brian.  We were too tight for me to have to worry about him… I thought.

The bigger problem was apparent as soon as Brian extracted his list of fly-dates from his coat pocket.  Most of the dates conflicted with our gigs and Brian shouldn’t have been surprised, as the majority were on weekends (the most well-paid dates for a band).  Screwing up his face and swallowing hard he prepared to answer my questions. 

“Who are these with?” I asked, wondering which band was ugly enough to poach my drummer right from under me.

“The Freddy Jones Band.” Brian was talking fast, the way an adulterous husband might admit his infractions to an angry wife.  And I was an angry wife.  Once you start touring as a band it is almost like a marriage. You’ve chosen each other as partners and invested time, energy, and money into knowing not only the songs by heart but each other’s hearts— your quirks and foibles, wishes and dreams.  You’ve committed to growing something special together and rejected others who’d wanted the gig. As a band, you become each other’s people. You’d do anything for one another—But it was becoming apparent that Brian might not see it that way.

“It’d be really hard to turn down these dates,” he told me, “they’re offering $400 a gig and flying me out.”

“You know, this doesn’t make me feel so good Brian.”  I kept my eyes down on the paper as though a volcano weren’t erupting inside me—as if I could see anything other than red. “You made a commitment to be on tour with me for August and September and after that, to make a new record with me and now you’re telling me, after dates have been contracted, that there are other things you’d rather do?”  I was at my boiling point.  “No, no, no Brian, this doesn’t make me feel so good.”  I was getting worked up and my voice was betraying my easygoing demeanor.  “You would go back on your word and leave me high and dry just ‘cause another band is paying more?  That’s shitty Bri.” 

Brian looked like something sad picked out of the one-dollar pile at a thrift store.  I felt sad and angry that I wasn’t enough for him—that my loyalty and commitment to him were unrequited. I went on, “I think it’s great you’re getting other jobs,” this was a lie—a last-ditch effort to appear laid back. “I support you to do your fly-dates, but not at the expense of shows you’ve committed to with me.  I don’t think you understand how many people’s schedules I have to juggle in order to make a tour happen Bri.  I go to each and every one of you well ahead of time to get your blackout dates—your weddings, birthdays, other scheduled jobs —and I accommodate all of them.” 

I handed back Brian’s Freddy Jones dates, extracted myself from the booth, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes.  The sound of warm laughter and cool jazz returned to the room.  I looked down at Bri, looking down at his paper, and said “Please respect your word.”

I knew it was the beginning of the end for us.  You can’t put that genie back in the bottle.  Once a new shiny band has started flirting with your drummer and that drummer’s flirted back, it’s hard to regain trust.  I just hoped Brian wouldn’t screw me over—that he’d keep his word and get us through September and the next record.  He said he would.  I trust him.  I have to.  I hugged him.  He felt slightly hollow.  I said I’d meet him at the venue and took a walk around town to soothe my nerves and reclaim my heart.

As I walked, the sky came down on me.  I didn’t care.  All I could think about was wanting to quit music and trying to find reasons not to.  The rain pounded on my head and I wondered how I’d pull myself together to play a concert in a few hours when I felt so utterly hopeless. People in their Aspen whites scrambled from outside tables, wine glasses still in hand.  I watched them duck under awnings, embarrassedly laughing, they pulled their slightly transparent clothing away from their bodies and took new seats inside.

The Howlin’ Wolf

The confidence and gusto I needed to perform was not in me. I met the band on stage a few minutes late, but I my tears along with my self pity had dried up. I refused to let anyone know how beaten I felt. I owed it to the rest of my band and to the audience who’d graciously filled up the joint to pull myself up by my bootstraps and that’s exactly what I intended to do.

“Sometimes you’ve got to fake it ’til you make it,” my mom’s always said. And sometimes faking it feels as hard as dragging your ass back from the dead. But you do it and then you do it again and again and again and that is what it’s like to be a struggling touring musician. There are no training wheels. You have to build your own wings as you’re falling from the sky. It’s a path full of broken hearts and bruises and fears and embarrassments and betrayals and then, there are moments of pure bliss—an unexpected break, a perfect gig, a bubble-induced laughing fit, a moment of true camaraderie and connection with your band and audience that surpasses any religious experience—and it’s enough. It’s enough to keep you afloat until the next time you have to fake it— for the next time you have to drag your ass back from the dead.

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