For a flash fiction writer, writing about rock ‘n’ roll can be a blast. I have a flash fiction story for you about rock ‘n’ roll.
For years the Old Soldier tried to make it as a rock ‘n’ roll singer. I was a young man then and I sang lead for several local bands in the Pittsburgh area. Many of the musicians that I worked with were very talented. But none of the bands ever went anywhere. There were drug problems. There were personality problems. There were alcohol problems.
Now the only thing I have left from those days is my PA system which I keep setup in my living room and the following flash fiction story from the archives. Writing about rock ‘n’ roll can be a blast but not making it in the music business still hurts.
We practiced in the basement after the pizza shop was closed. Eric said he’d come down when we were all set up. Roger unlocked the basement door. Mark had his keyboard and I had my gym bag. Roger switched on the lights and picked up his guitar case and we followed him down.
Cigarette butts covered the floor. Three dark green garbage bags bulging with empty beer cans sat along the gray concrete walls. Other empty beer cans sat in the utility sink, on the amps and around the floor.
From a two liter plastic bottle, I poured orange pop into a paper cup. From a plastic lemon, I squeezed lemon juice into the pop. Roger tuned his six-string. Mark played scales. I said check several times into the live mike in the mike stand. Upstairs, the side screen door opened and slammed shut.
Greg and his wife Becky came down the stairs. He had two pairs of drumsticks. His hair was longer than Becky’s and hers touched her shoulders. Becky wore skimpy cut-offs and a bikini top. Greg sat behind his kit and started warming up.
I said, I’ll get Eric.
Upstairs, Eric sat in the semi-darkness. Four empty cans of cheap beer sat crushed on the table in front of him. He smoked a cigarette. Cigarette butts overflowed the tin ashtray. The pizza shop up front was dark, the curtains drawn tight against the sunlight. I wondered how much longer Roger could keep losing money. If he lost the shop we’d have to find another place to practice and to keep the equipment. We needed some gigs quick.
Eric, man, we’re ready.
I’ll be right down.
Are you straight enough to play?
Easy college boy.
He was hitting wrong notes throughout the first set. Then we took a break. Roger rolled a bit fat doobie and Greg and Becky started smoking it. Eric insisted on several hits. When practice resumed, Eric was chugging a beer between every song. He wouldn’t start a new song until he lit another cigarette. By the end of the set, Eric had to sit down and his bass sounded like shit. There was no third set. Mark hitched a ride with me back to the dorms. A gentle night rain made the streets glimmer in my headlights.
Mark said, We’re not going to make it. Not with Eric.
I’m so pissed.
Roger won’t get rid of him. They’ve been playing together nearly twenty years now.
Roger’s just as bad. He’s suppose to set the example. What does he do? Fires up a bomb.
You’re lucky. I’ve been going through this two years now.
I’m not putting up with it much longer. Where the hell does Eric get the money to stay wasted all the time?
His old man makes the rent and groceries. Eric and Roger deal what they don’t use. Weed, uppers and downers, smack and blow when they can get it. When Eric can keep it together he does odd jobs. He’s suppose to be something of an electrical genius.
I gave Mark a lift to our next practice.
In the car on our way over he said, Every year Eric signs himself in to dry out.
The sun was setting as we arrived. Roger came out the side door as we got out the car.
Mark said, How’s Eric?
Broke. And I won’t lend him any money. I’m taping us tonight to see if we’re any tighter.
I said, I’ve got a present for you. A box of garbage bags and some ashtrays.
Downstairs, I had everyone pick up all the butts and empty beer cans. We took all the bags out to the dumpster. Eric was extremely sober, and he didn’t like it. Roger gave him one of his Rolling Rocks.
I only have a six-pack, man. So make it last.
The tape was running. We got some real emotion going and Roger came in on the backup vocals. I knew now what I could and could not do. I wasn’t shouting, but singing under control with power from the diaphragm. I knew the muscles to use and my stamina was a hell of a lot better. Eric’s bass lines and Greg’s drumming gave a solid, pulsing foundation to build on. Mark’s keyboard chords were just the right volume and his solos were light and bluesy. Roger’s strumming got dirty but his solos were viciously sharp. The sound, our sound, a wall of sound gave an ache in the gut and shivers up the spine. The hair stood up on your arms. Who said an original band couldn’t make it in Pittsburgh?
In the car on our way back to campus Mark said, Just goes to show you.
I’m booking us as soon as possible. We won’t get any better in that basement.
That night I dreamt something was chasing me. I ran ran ran at night across this field covered in stagnant, slimy, stinking water. In the dream I couldn’t see what was chasing me, but it kept gaining on me. I ran stumbling to the edge of the field. I started climbing this dirt dike. I struggled to get to the top. The thing behind me started reaching out. I jerked awake. Daylight bathed my dormitory room.
Three days later, before going down to the cafeteria for lunch, I phoned Roger at the pizza shop. He wasn’t busy. I stood at my window, looking down at the sunny, crowded avenue.
All right, I said. Listen up. We set up between eight and eight thirty, go on between ten and ten thirty with a fifteen minute break every hour and quit at two. Cover is three; their sound man gets two off the top. It’s a Wednesday night the best I could do. They showcase their out of town and local name acts on the weekend. We’ll make dirt but it’s our first paying gig. We’ve got three weeks to get the word on the street. Pub is our responsibility.
Bad news, Roger said. Eric broke his leg.
He broke his leg?
Last night at a house party he was fucked up as usual and said the wrong thing to the wrong person and this brother bloodied his nose. They separated them. Eric went to leave out the back door and must have fallen down the stairs, out cold. Some kids on their way to school across peoples’ backyards found him this morning.
Get another bass player.
Most of the equipment is his. He’s not going to let that happen.
After the call I stayed at the window, looking down at the sunny avenue. There was a knock and I said to come in. My girlfriend came in. We were going down to lunch together. We stood looking down at the avenue with our arms around each other. She looked up and said, The band?
The next day Mark and I walked down the avenue to the hospital to see Eric. We sat in chairs at the foot of the bed in the white room. The other bed was empty.
Mark said to Eric, How’s it going?
Pain. I’m in lots of pain.
The bed was in a sitting position. Eric’s right leg was in a cast on a couple of pillows. White stubble covered his face. When he spoke, I could see he had a dry mouth but he was on a liquid restriction.
He said, Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. I’m going on the wagon. I’ll be ready to play in no time.
In the hall, Mark and I waited for the elevator as hospital staff walked past.
Mark said, Think he can do it?
We stood in silence.
Well, I said. I’ll tell you.
He looked down at the floor. I know, he said. You stayed with it longer than I thought you would. I’ll give you that much.
He offered his hand and I shook it.
If you like sex in your flash fiction, click on the Sexy Stories tab at the top of the page.
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