Mar 28, 2007

Pot holes and back fires and eye balls and sattellites: a bootleg

The band was sitting in the back of the panel van on the floor. The van was humping the road in the dark in Ohio. Some college town show. The base player sat with his back against the spare tire. The drummer sat on the wheel well hump, hunched over. The inside of the uncarpeted van was dark except for the red light of the one working tail light shining through and up the one side of the black van with a stoplight glow.

The band was wearing suits. Which was uncomfortable. The van was uncomfortable. Both were D.B.'s idea and he was there, sitting cross-legged like a meditating Indian at a camp fire with his eye lids half-closed and his eye balls rolled up back looking up into his skull.

The base player had his gray tie thrown over his shoulder like the hang-low ears in the children's song and he'd spilled most of a malt liquor down the front of his shirt. The sax player was trying to light up a joint in the passenger seat but his fingers were fat, pinching the paper, and every time the lighter got near the dry end of the marijuana the vehicle jumped.

Pot holes and back fires.

Machine hadn't had a tune-up since '65. They hadn't seen a store or a house or a street light in a long time. The driver was hunched up over the wheel, hand on the three-on-the-tree stick and his left knee bouncing up and down. He was muttering. The sax player was swearing at his Bic.

D.B. just sat there. He heard nothing. Everything. Nothing. The white of his left eyeball was red in the tail light and his right eye was black in the bumpy dark. That was the last show.

Place they played that night was an L-shaped bar with a stage at the joint and, whatever, it was a show. Someone said they had a bootleg and the thing was amazing and it got talked up by the critics as this masterpiece crucial mythic moment. But it was just a shit show like all of them. The soundman was a idiot. The drummer regularly lost his rhythm. The base player drank too much beer. Some short-legged girl danced the whole time with her eyes closed, doing all those Phish and Grateful Dead wave-your-arms-and-sway-dorky-white-girl moves. You look at the critic's piece that week and he writes it up as another show, whatever. Stage antics that were nothing but junkie's jerks and little kiddy kicks.

Later, yeah, they write the myths. Later, sure. Then they say it like they saw Jesus raising the dead and feeding the meek. They act as if it was divine light coming down, but all of that was made up.

That night, as the follow-up act at a venue for half-laughing comedy stands, it was just a show. Then it was over. That was it: Good night folks. The band got back in the van and D.B. stood in the parking lot looking at the 2 a.m. weeds and a sattellite blinked off through a constellation and that was all.

Later came cult followings. Later the critics wrote columns for kids who hadn't been born when D.B. wrote his stuff. Later you had lead singers saying how they played his one album until the grooves became ruts. Later the sax player died in a single-car crash and the base player went through therapy and wrote a book.

D.B. didn't know any of this. D.B. grew cacti in a gravel patch back of his mother's place on the side of sand dune. They say he was a genius. He watched the prickly pears bloom.