Backstage, Concert Venue
Despite the ongoing cheers, I know two encores are the maximum for the girls, so I hand my guitar off to the roadie, gratefully accept a rag to wipe my brow, and take out my earplugs. Two hours of listening to an audience scream is fatiguing, especially when you know that no one is screaming for you.
Something blonde crashes into me. “Great show,” she rasps, before reaching into a nearby mini-fridge for a bottle of vodka. Her two sisters offer similar pleasantries en route to their private dressing room, where more booze undoubtedly awaits. I don’t begrudge them their need for relief and release. Tonight is the last night of the Canadian leg of the tour before we all fly to Copenhagen to play 25 European cities in four weeks. I take off my lanyard, which reads, “VIP--with the band” and stuff it inside my jeans and into the pocket of my Flight Underwear. The bamboo fabric stretches with the width of the ID badge and I zipper up, hoping to forget, at least for a moment, what it all entails.
A dank hallway leaves directly from backstage out the door. A small crowd is already gathered, but they ignore me completely and I easily melt into the streets to join the anonymous throng. My head clears and my ears stop ringing and I’m soon navigating Queen Street West, a curious mix of resources for indigents, all night food options, and hipster bullshit. As I walk, I reflect on what transpired to bring me here.
Istanbul’s Streetart Festival is the only celebration of its kind in Turkey, and since I was finished my stint as mayor of the nearby city of Ankara, I decided to earn some extra cash during the week long showcase of trinkets and insufferable short films. My guitar and I occupied a small corner. I’ve a particular fondness for Grant Green and was playing my way through what I remembered from his Idle Moments album when a man with small eyes and a long nose stopped me.
“My god,” he said. “You’d be perfect. Come on tour with Taste, won’t you?”
I had seen Taste months earlier on an episode of Saturday Night Live, which played on the small black and white television my cellmate had procured during our stint in prison in Vietnam. Three sisters played a kind of throbbing, pulsing rock from a bygone era. I turned in my Streetart Festival pass then, and Small Eyes Long Nose and I boarded a private jet to Los Angeles.
As we flew, he explained that Monica, the blondest of the sisters, played guitar for Taste on previous releases, but in live performance, tended to make sour, gasping faces while riffing. Her vocals had to necessarily take priority on this tour, he explained, and so could I learn the guitar part by Thursday? I obliged and joined Taste for state fairs, night clubs, and televised performances, but never for photo shoots or interviews. This suited me fine, up until the point that it didn’t.
Walking east on Queen West quickly transforms the scenery from art to commerce. A quick jaunt up to Yonge Street and down a block to Dundas have me in the belly of the beast. Lit billboards surround me from every angle. People mill about laden with shopping bags, though it’s nearly the middle of the night. The electronic advertisements surrounding me are such that everyone is visible as if by daylight, but bathed in neon green and orange, shop logos reflected in their shiny faces. High above me, recent promotional images of Taste, clad in H&M brand slacks and blouses, buzz and skitter back and forth. The effect is overwhelming. I run down into the subway.
I don’t know how many stops I ride for. At one stop, doors open and snatches of a familiar ballad pull me out the door and into the station. A young man is playing an old song, eyes closed, mesmerized. I recognize Nancy (With the Laughing Face), a Grant Green standard that spills languidly from his fingers and comforts me. I pull cash out of my wallet and lay it at his feet. He nods, appreciatively. I nearly start to walk away, but stop myself to slowly unbutton my pants. He continues playing, warily. I unzip my pocket and withdraw the lanyard and the small pencil I always keep in there should I happen upon a mini-golf game. On the back of the lanyard, I write the address of the hotel where Taste is spending the night, along with the note, “Small Eyes, Long Nose—this guy can do the job better than I can. He needs this more than me.” I lay the lanyard face down, obscuring the text, “VIP--with the band”, and climb the stairs into the much calmer night…