The Blue Moon Review
 



The Old Farts Tour
by Nick Padron

I received a call from Wayne with more news on the group. Apparently, the agent he had been talking to about a possible European tour had called him back with a series of engagements in Britain and Spain lined up for us. Wayne had been calling me with weekly reports on the negotiations since our ten-year old CD had been reissued, but I had not given it much thought until now, thinking it would come to nothing, as usual. But it was for real this time, he said. “Better start dusting up your equipment, my man. We got places to go and music to play.”

“You sure?”

“I’ll fax you the contracts and see for yourself,” he answered. “We’ve never been offered this kind of money before.”

“Well, money isn’t what it was back in the eighties either.”

“Neither are we.”

At first, I had felt a little skeptical about going back on the road with the band. It all changed after my wife and I heard the digital remix of the original record. Even the songs I had hated before now made me proud of having written them. And what was best, my wife, my toughest critic, agreed.

“Why shouldn’t you be proud to play those songs again?” she said as we lay on our couch listening to the CD. “Those songs are your children, your creation.”

I remembered the lumpy feeling in my throat upon hearing her say it like that. I had to hug her and kiss her. I had never missed so much not having a child of our own before, hers and mine, a real child with whom we could share moments like these. “It would be a kicker to have a little one to play these songs to, that’s for sure.”

“Yes, it would be very nice,” she said, cuddling tighter. “Maybe we should adopt.”

“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said. She knew how I felt about it.

“Oh, I think you could be just as proud of an adopted child as you are of your songs.”

“You know I’m an old-fashioned boy. I like to earn it.”

We fell asleep in each other’s arms after another attempt at earning it.

The series of dates--for it would have been too pompous to call it a tour--were scheduled to begin in England and conclude with a concert in Madrid, Spain, where, for reasons unknown to the label, the group’s CD had sold an incredible ten thousand copies in two months--without counting bootlegs, calculated at another three thousand copies.

Rehearsals commenced in October and so did the arguments. The first crisis was a serious one. The problem was Wayne’s chops, or the absence of them. He had quit playing drums years ago and it showed from the start. Sammy’s case was the complete opposite, to him the bass was his life. He had never stopped playing and that too showed the moment he plugged his Fender Precision bass in his vintage Ampeg amplifier. We said nothing at the time, only winced at each other whenever Wayne’s dulled timing got in the way. Yet, we could tell it would eventually become a problem, maybe a big problem.

As for me, I still remembered my parts pretty good. I had made them up and had played them in every state of consciousness and far too many times not to be able to fake them when my mind went blank. Still, it took several finger blisters and much pain on my shoulder (anyone who has ever played a Les Paul Custom for ten hours a day knows the pain I mean) and many broken .009 strings, before my fingers loosened enough for me to feel in full control.

By the end of our third full-band rehearsal, everything started to smooth out except for Wayne’s timing problem. More and more I found myself worrying over every drum fill he tried; they always pushed us out of meter. I noticed the frustration building up on the rest of the band. I knew our pampering silence would not last long. Even our hired keyboard player had started to feel free to make faces.

To avoid repeating past mistakes, I decided to bring it up before it got out of hand. So, after that night’s rehearsal, I proposed the three of us should discuss it and find a solution we could all live with--hopefully, without too much pain.

Leaning on Sammy’s car outside Roxy’s rehearsal studios, I said to Wayne: “Listen man, this is a serious problem we got here.”

“Is it that bad?” he asked, switching from Sammy’s face to mine. “Why didn’t you say something before?”

“We felt bad, man,” Sammy said, grimacing as if it hurt him to admit it. “But your playing is killing us. You rush the tempo, make it drag after your fills...”

Wayne glanced at me. “He’s right,” I said. “I mean, don’t you see it? Don’t you hear it?”

“Hey Wayne,” Sammy added. “You know I love you and all that, but sorry man, it just can’t go on this way.”

I nodded my head in solemn accord. “We can’t go out and play like this. Sorry.”

Wayne glanced up at the night, drew a long, sad breath, but did not fight it as we had expected him to do. To Sammy’s and my surprise, and expense, he had already thought of a solution that we agreed with in the interest of fairness: a second drummer.

A couple days later, Wayne introduced us to the new member of the band, a young drummer from Jersey, a weightlifter-type with a great smile and furious chops, who had already learned our material from a cassette Wayne had given him. That night we drove out to Sage Diner on Queens Boulevard to celebrate and get to know the kid a little better.

Outside of certain details, there was little for us to know. We could see the kid was almost a replica of our hormone-rich selves when we started out: twenty-one and eager to start collecting on some of those fringe benefits of life on the road he had heard about for so long. Wayne advised him to stick with Sammy if he wanted to know how that worked. “But stay away from us,” Wayne reminded him, shaking his thumb between us and laughing. “Him and me, we got wives back home, so don’t forget it.”

“OK,” the kid said, bobbing his head like a boxer listening to instructions before a fight. “I’ll be cool.”

From then on, every crisis was infinitely more manageable.

The songs started to take shape. Having two drummers gave our show a thundering drive it never had. The kid’s impeccable timing worked like a click-track for Wayne to follow, a job he had no problem doing. It built up our confidence immensely, so that by the time we did our warm-up gigs out at a club in Long Island, we felt confident enough to work in some theatrics into the show. It ended up being our usual stage clowning and typical guitar-rock choreography that Sammy liked and that I did with him mostly to humor him. Though not too much, either, I had to remind him. I thought a measure of dignity behooved us at our age.

“You got to remember we’re no longer a New Wave band, we’re and Oldies Act now,” I told him.

“Negative,” said Sammy. “We’re a cult band. There’s a difference.”

“We sure as hell aren’t an Oldies act,” said Wayne. “For that we would have to have a top-ten song. Not just records that bubbled under Top Forty.”

“That’s right,” Sammy said. “Cult bands don’t need hit songs. We’re goddamn rock and roll myths, ageless.”

“Forever young,” threw in Wayne.

“Oh boy,” I said, laughing. “I think we better get some mirrors installed in this studio. You guys have seen our hairlines?”

“So we’re not thirty anymore,” said Sammy. “Big deal.”

“What do you mean? We’re not even forty anymore.” I laughed again.

From then on Sammy named our series of engagements “The Old Farts Tour.” But I had not seen him so happy in a long, long time, happy as we all were. And we had the right to feel that way too, for we were now twice the band we ever were.

We knew we had it right from the sound check at The Underground, our first date in London. We could hear it and see it in the usually unreceptive faces of the roadies and the jaded staff in the club. We packed the place up on both nights and the local rock press wrote some of nice things about the show and us in the days that followed. A few famous rockers visited us backstage on Saturday night, before and after the show, which boosted our confidence even further. They made us feel so good that we disregarded our own transatlantic pledges and let ourselves be carried away by some of the after-hour craziness. But we managed it well, every one of us, for neither our age nor the times were the same anymore--now women were fewer, drugs more dangerous, and sex could be lethal.

More dates were added to our mini tour. We drove up to Glasgow to do a one-nighter and another in Manchester. We never made it to Liverpool, though--our agent could not get us the money we needed. We came back to London and did our remaining dates. It did not escape any of us how lucky we were to be playing those songs thirteen years after we had recorded them. Even at our last night in London with the club half empty--because of a big soccer game scheduled at the same time--we played our hearts out and the crowd sang our choruses for us. Choruses only we had sang before in our shows and our records, but that had continued playing somewhere often enough for these kids to remember them and sing them back to us now, a magical moment for anybody who has ever written a tune.

Barcelona came next. By then, we could do no wrong. On one of our off nights Sammy and I did an interview at a radio station, during which I was required to speak English through a Catalonian interpreter because Spanish was forbidden in the station. The city was in full swing in preparation for the ‘92 Summer Olympics, still months away, yet we could sense the excitement of it as we drove along Ramblas, the heart of the city.

After a finger dinner of seafood in Barceloneta by the sea, our radio host drove us to a club near Paseo de Gracia where the local Pachyderm distributor had organized a party for the band.

Wayne and the rest of the group were already there when Sammy and I arrived. We went upstairs to a private area where the club’s manager and the record people held a toast for us. At some point while the party was going, Sammy came over to where a local rock critic and I had been discussing the ‘roots’ of our group’s music. I had downed so many Mahous and been passed so many canutos by then that I was ready to talk with anybody about anything.

Sammy came up to us arm-in-arm with a familiar-looking tall blonde, but I was in the middle of an important statement I wanted to finish making.

“Excuse me Sammy,” I said and then addressed myself to the critic again: “That’s not accurate. You can’t say we sound like Springsteen on ‘Edge of the Night’ anymore than you can say we sound like the Police on ‘Elena’ just because it’s a reggae-like tune. That’s not fair.”

“So who inspired you on those tunes?”

“Well, the Bobs--Dylan on one and Marley on the other. The same people who inspired Springsteen and the Police.”

“I think I understand what you mean,” the critic said. “But you must agree that all forms of art are rooted in tradition.”

“Oh, I agree with that OK. I think it’s inevitable.”

Our Catalonian critic then turned to Sammy, who was waiting to get my attention. “And you,” he asked with a scholastic air. “What is your philosophy of music?”

Sammy, a whole head taller than all of us, squinted his eyes and rubbed his chin as if looking for inspiration.

“For me,” he answered. “There are only two kinds of musicians in the world: those who understand ‘Louie Louie’ and those that don’t.”

I nodded in profound agreement and so did the critic.

“That’s so true,” I said and looked at the blond Sammy had brought.

“Don’t you remember me?” she said.

Sammy flashed his rascally smile at me.

“Sure,” I lied.

“What’s my name?” she said.

“Ah gee, you can’t hold me to that. I can’t even remember my name. But I do remember you.”

I hugged and kissed both her cheeks and as I did, I made a face to Sammy and he came to the rescue.

“Of course he remembers you, Julia,” he said. “He’s never stopped talking about you.”

“You’re such liars,” she said with an even more familiar laugh.

I gave her a quick up and down and she came back to me. She was long-legged Julia from Amsterdam, the Dutch beauty who had traveled with me during part of our tour of Europe in ‘82.

“My Julia, you haven’t changed at all. I’m so glad to see you ... how long has it been?”

“It feels like an eternity. Doesn’t it?”

“Well,” said Sammy. “I’ll leave you two to your reminiscing. I got to go back.”

“Sure,” I said. “Me and Julia got plenty to talk about.”

It all came back to me, particularly the Nordic goddess image of her dancing nude to some Reggae music in that hotel over the canals, which stayed with me for so long afterward. I remembered how ambitious she was then, too, and how she tried for days to talk me into making her my business manager. She seemed less ambitious now, though, but only a little less. She was still interested in the business end of the music, except from a more distant, academic angle. But she seemed truly glad to see me again. We ended up downstairs in the disco area dancing and working up a sweat until we sneaked out and took a taxi to my hotel.

When we arrived at the hotel, we went into the lounge bar for a drink. There, I took a deep breath and informed Julia of my current status and lunged into a pathetic little speech on how much I loved my wife and how much I needed her to be supportive and not challenge my will power, until she cut me off.

“You’re so silly,” she said with a mirthless laugh. “You don’t have to worry. I did not come here for that. Your marriage is safe with me.”

With that understanding we headed up to my room to smoke some of the Moroccan stuff she said I just had to try. While I searched the content of the mini-bar, Julia took off her MC jacket and went to work. First, she pulled two cigarettes out of her pack and broke them open on the table, took her lighter out and heated up a chocolate kiss-size piece of hash into a gooey paste and mixed it in with the mound of tobacco shreds on the table. Next, she brought out a sheet of rolling paper as big as a napkin and rolled everything together into a gigantic trumpet-shaped joint that would have been the envy of any Rastafarian, and lit it up.

“I have a daughter now,” she said from behind a blue cloud of smoke. “She’ll be eight next month.”

“That’s wonderful, Julia. What’s her name?”

“Sara, and she is beautiful, soft and brown like her daddy. She’s at my mother’s house, back home.”

“And daddy?”

“I don’t know where he is. He lives in Amsterdam. He owns a coffee shop--well, he has two partners.”

“You see him?”

“Sometimes. He comes to visit Sara sometimes.”

“I have to tell you something,” she said as she stood up to make herself another Cuba Libre, her smooth white back to me. “I had to undergo an abortion after I left you that time.”

“An abortion? Come on, you’re joking.”

“Yes, about three months after we met. I had to do it. I had no other choice ... and no, it could not have been anyone else’s. I only tell you this because I think you deserve to know. It would not have been honest of me if I kept it to myself.”

“Jesus,” I stammered. “Why didn’t you write me or get in touch with me. Didn’t you have my address?”

“I had your telephone number in New York, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t have the child and... what good would it have done?”

“Well, for one, you could’ve told me,” I said. “What good is there in telling me now?”

Julia turned around to face me. “What would you have done had you known I was pregnant with your child?”

“I don’t know. But had you had the child I would have tried to be as good a father as I could be.”

“I don’t doubt that is how you feel now. Except, I don’t think you would have been a good father, or I a good mother then.”

“That’s your opinion.”

“I did it not because I wanted to, but because I had to, and I still think it was the best thing to do. Have you any children?”

“None that have been born.”

“Are you angry at me now for what happened so long ago?”

“No,” I admitted. “I’m angry at myself.”

“Don’t be,” she said, lying down next to me on the bed. “You must believe it was for the best.”

“For the best?”

“Yes, for you and for me.”

“I’m not sure if it was for the best. It certainly wasn’t for the fetus.”

“Oh don’t say that, please. It sounds awful. What would you have done if I had had the child?”

“Be the father, I told you.”

“I don’t think you would have been a real father back then. The distance between Amsterdam and New York was not the only problem.”

“I would have been a father to my child, believe me. Problems or no problems. You don’t know me that well.”

“I don’t know you, period. That was also why I had to do it. And I am not going to let you make me feel badly now, after the hell I went through in those days. You don’t know me either.”

“Look, I don’t blame you for anything. You did what you had to do. But I didn’t. You didn’t give me a chance. You should have told me.”

“There would have been nothing you could do.”

How old would the kid be? I thought. Almost ten years old. My god. I could have been a daddy for that long.

We said nothing else afterward and I fell asleep, thinking about it. When I woke up it was dark and Julia was not in the room. I looked around, hoping she might have left me a note, since I had no idea of where to get in touch with her. But she left none. I went back to bed and thought about the kid I never had.

The next two days stormed by like in a dream. My most vivid memory of our Madrid concert at the cavernous Sports Palace came on our second encore. All of us were standing on the side of the stage, listening to the rumble and clapping of the audience outside as we dried ourselves up with towels and drank from plastic water bottles. We could not decide which song to play now. We had done every song in our catalogue and we were in trouble.

“Let’s do ‘Edge of the Night’ again,” said Wayne, out of breath and smiling. “They love that one.”

“Nah,” said Sammy barely perspiring. “We can’t repeat songs.”

“Why not?” asked Wayne.

“Look at them,” Sammy said, pointing at the roaring crowd. “You said it in New York. They want rock and roll, so let’s give it to them.”

“So what are we going to do?” The rest of us wanted to know.

Sammy glanced at me, a sly smile on one side of his mouth.

“What?” I said. “You want to do our old rock and roll medley?”

“No way,” said Wayne. “We’ll sound like a bar band.” Then to me: “What do you think?”

“Why don’t we just go out and ask the crowd?”

That was exactly what we did, and for the next forty minutes it became a request-and-play thing between the audience and us. We almost ended up having to do the show all over again for them.

By the time we were back in our hotel, I was feeling everyone one of my forty-three years. I begged to be excused on all the after-concert merrymaking the promoters had planned for the band and, to Sammy’s amazement, I also passed on the two gorgeous Madrilians he had rounded up for us. We understood then that a long-standing tradition had come to an end.

I went straight to my room and collapsed on my bed. I could not recall that typical end-of-the-tour blues hitting me this hard before and this soon. I could not stop thinking of Julia and what it might have been: a boy or a girl? I felt awful, unable get it out of my mind. I called my wife in New York. It was nine p.m. there. She had that sweet raspy, sleepy voice of hers when she answered.

“What? Were you sleeping already?” I asked her.

“No, I just fell out watching TV.”

“You miss me?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you really?”

“Yes, of course. Is anything wrong?” she wondered.

“Why you asked me that? Everything’s fine. The gig went like a dream. The crowd went nuts. They made us play just about every song twice. Would you believe it? Now everyone is downstairs celebrating, but I’m very tired. So I came up to my room.”

“That’s wonderful. I’m so glad you called. But hey, if the concert went as well as you said, maybe you should make an effort and join them. It’s your last night and you know how touchy Wayne can get.”

“Nah. He’s fine. It’s OK. It’s just...”

“What’s the matter, sweetie?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I’m OK, really. Babe ... Do you blame me ’cause we can’t have any children?”

“What? Are you all right?”

“I’m all right. I just wish we could have a kid.”

“Me, too. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know. I wasn’t always this way. You know that don’t you?”

“Oh boy, you picked a hell of moment to bring that up.”

“Never mind. I just wish I had known you ten years ago.

“What happened, Sonny?”

“Nothing. I guess I’m just coming down from everything. I’ll see you tomorrow. You’ll be at the airport?”

“The flight is coming in at six o’clock, right?”

“Right, at six. Love you babe.”

“Listen love,” she said. “Why don’t you go down with the others and get drunk? You’ll have a six-hour flight to sleep it off later.”

“You’re telling me to get drunk? That’s a new one.”

“I’m just sorry you’re feeling bad and I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“Ah, don’t worry. I’m just exhausted. I think all I have to do now is put my head on the pillow and I’ll go out like light.”

_____

Composer, musician, and writer Nick Padron lives in Madrid and Miami. To date, he has published over one hundred musical compositions, including a rock opera based on Carols Castaneda's Don Juan series. His writings include comedy sketches for television, interviews, and music reviews. his short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Full Circle, So Be Review, Prose-ax, and The Barcelona Review. He has completed a novel, Sembrar, and a novella 'It Tolls for Thee,' ( a sequel to Hemingway's work) rated number one at Zoetrope All-Story. He is currently at work on his second novel.

 

 

 

 

 


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