The Emo Band


The most recent band I played in was a three-piece emo-type thing. As the guitarist and front man, it was my friend Hale’s project, really. He wrote all the songs and booked most of the shows. We practiced at his house. I played bass guitar. Trevor drummed. It was something to do.


When we were at our best, the shows were wild drunken parties, hundreds of people packed into a warehouse or bar, everybody climbing on each other’s shoulders, dancing, throwing beer cans, sneaking into the bathroom to sniff or smoke drugs in between sets. The music wasn’t absolutely terrible; it was always loud, at least. When I’m able to remember those nights, I almost start to miss it. It was a good time.

But the sad truth is that most of the shows (and we played nearly every weekend) weren’t like that. We were all usually too drunk or high to be any good. I’m not sure how we kept getting gigs. There was no magic in the world powerful enough to keep Hale’s guitar in tune. We almost never had the right equipment and were constantly borrowing pieces from other bands. We argued about set lists. We stumbled our way through shows, guzzling beer between every song and trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the crowd, not even our friend Chelsea, who came out and sang along every time we played. And then, as the last chord faded and I sighed with relief, Hale’s eyes would light up. “Let’s play an encore,” he’d say, brushing his stringy hair out of his face, seemingly oblivious to the torture we’d just put ourselves through. There was nothing more humiliating that playing an encore to the twelve people who were kind enough to stand and sip their beers through our set, clapping politely at the appropriate times. I’ve had my delusional moments, but I wasn’t that crazy. I’d unplug my amp and storm outside to smoke a cigarette. I can still see the look on poor Trevor’s face, glimpsed through a barroom door swinging shut: confused, pleading with me not to put him in the awkward position of having to choose between me and Hale. Sometimes he’d go along with it, and they’d play the encore, just the two of them. Sometimes they wouldn’t. I’d just light a cigarette and scowl. I felt a little guilty, but I refused to degrade myself for the sake of Hale’s horseshit rock star fantasy.

           
Once, Hale set up a show on the back patio of the coffee shop/bookstore the three of us worked at, but he spaced on telling me that he had done so. I found out when I came into work one morning and saw a flyer taped below the cash register. The stupid name of our stupid band, the Cormacs, in a huge typeface. The show was in two days. I ripped down the paper and stormed out to the patio, where Hale was already sitting at a table, carefully mixing kratom powder into a water glass. Even on his days off, he came in to work to hang out.


“What the fuck is this?” I asked. Hale slowly lifted his bloodshot eyes to my face and then let them fall to the flyer that I had slapped on the table in front of him. “I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to book any more shows without telling us.”

           
“Did we say that?” Hale asked. “Sorry, bro. I made a facebook event for it though, like a week ago. You didn’t see that?”

           
“I don’t have a facebook.”

           
“Oh right, I forgot.”

           
He drank his muddy kratom drink and made a face. He pulled a pouch of tobacco and some rolling papers out of his pocket.

           
“We had band practice like three days ago. Why didn’t you say anything about it then?”

           
He shrugged, rolling his cigarette.

           
“What if I had plans for the weekend?” I asked. “What if I was going camping or on a date or something?”

           
“Are you?” he asked, surprised.

           
“Well, no. But I might have been.”

           
This was a lie. I had almost nothing else going on in my life, which is why I hadn’t quit the band, no matter how many times I had fantasized about it.

           
“It’s just going to be here,” he said, gesturing to the small, empty stage that was mostly just used for open mic nights and amateur slam poetry events. “Neil said it would be chill.”

           
Neil was the general manager.

           
Of course he’d said it would be chill.

           
The show would happen after he’d already gone home for the day. I thought the open mic nights and slam poetry things were chill, but that’s because I never came to listen to any of them.

           

I groaned, thinking about performing in front of a crowd made up of annoying regulars and unsuspecting college kids who were just trying to get their homework done.

           

“Fine,” I said, “But this is the last time. From now on we book everything together. No more surprise shows.”

           

I went back inside and made myself busy alphabetizing the poetry section. I immediately felt a little better.

           

I loved alphabetizing.

           

It was the only time in my life that I ever got to put things into order instead of making a total mess of them.

           

What are you doing way over here, Ferlinghetti? Let’s get you tucked in nice and tight where you belong, between Farrer and Foster. There. Isn’t that better?

           

Joe, one of the regulars, came up and stood next to me. He sipped his coffee loudly.

           

“Hey Joe.”

           

He grinned.

           

“Where you going with that gun in your hand?” he asked.

           

I looked at my hand. I was holding a Rupi Kaur book. I fucking wished I had a gun.

           

“What?”

           
“From the song, you know? Hendrix.”

           
“Right,” I said.

           
“I thought you would know that, man, what with you being a musician and all. I heard you guys are going to be rocking out on Friday night.”

           
“Joe, I’ve never rocked out a day in my life.”

           
Joe chuckled and nodded and kept standing there.

           
I turned back to alphabetizing.

           
Fucking Hale.

           
A little later on, I sent Trevor a picture of the flyer. He had the day off, too.

           
“Did you know about this?”

           
“Yeah, it was on facebook.”

           
“Dude this shit is unprofessional,” I typed. Then, “I can’t take the humiliation.”

           
He didn’t respond.

           
My lunch break came. I went to the pub down the street to get as drunk as I could in half an hour. Like alphabetizing, it was something I was good at.

           

 


On the day of the show, I met Hale at his house after work. He lived in a doublewide on the east side of town that his dad had left him in charge of when he moved back to Mexico. Weeds grew up and over the paving stones, and the porch was covered in empty beer cans and cigarette butts. We loaded the gear into my pickup truck.

           

“Where’s Trevor?” I asked. “How come I always have to carry his drums?”

           

“He’s going to meet us over there.”

           

We drove in separate cars to the show, unloaded all the stuff, and set it up on the stage. A few customers eyed us warily, but I was surprised at how many people were standing around like they were actually looking forward to seeing us play. Some of our friends and coworkers, regulars who were excited about not having to go outside of their comfort zone to see something new, and people who had apparently just seen the flyer and turned up. 

           

It was something to do.

           

I needed a drink. I walked to the gravel parking lot, retrieved the flask that I kept under the seat of my truck, and took a big pull.

           

I went back to the stage, where Hale was fiddling with his pedals and cables.

           

“You see Trevor anywhere?” I asked.

           

“Maybe he’s inside?”

           

It felt disgusting to play a show in front of all these people that I had to see every day at work. It was too exposed of a position, like standing in front of them butt naked. I didn’t want to be at the shop while I wasn’t on the clock, either. And I hated the idea that there wasn’t another band on the bill. The attention would be focused solely on us.

           

Truly, this was the kind of shit I had nightmares about.

           

“I’m going to go find him.”

           

I looked around, checking every table. No Trevor. He wasn’t sitting out front either.

           

I texted him, “yo dude, where you at?”

           

I went back outside. Hale was talking to Chelsea and rolling a joint.

           

When Chelsea saw me, she pumped her fist, excited.

           

I ignored her.

           

“Dude, Trevor isn’t here.” I checked my phone. “And he’s not texting me back.”

           

“I’ll call him,” said Hale.

           

He walked into the parking lot to do so.

           

Chelsea smiled at me.

           

“Excited for the big night?” she asked.


“I better go make sure the settings are right on my amp,” I said.

           

I kept my back to the growing audience while I pretended to fiddle with various knobs. There were probably fifty or sixty people there. I felt like there was a rock in my stomach. It seemed like an eternity before I heard Hale’s boots clomping over the plywood stage.

           

“Well?” I asked.

           

“He didn’t answer.”

           

“Why’d it take you so long, then?”

           

“I smoked that joint, bro. Ethan and those guys were out there.”

           

I didn’t know who Ethan was or who “those guys” were.

           

Chelsea walked over to the foot of the stage.

           

“Where’s Trevor?” she asked.

           

I groaned, took off my baseball cap, ran my fingers through my hair.

           

“He probably fell asleep or something,” said Hale.

           

“Well let’s go get him,” I said.

           

“Can I come?” Chelsea asked.

           

The three of us squeezed into the bench seat of my truck. I pointed us toward Trevor’s apartment building, which was only about a half mile away. I hoped nobody stole our gear. I imagined Ethan and those guys carrying it off.

           

“I can’t wait for the show tonight,” Chelsea said. “The Cormacs are, like, my favorite band.”

           

I grunted and turned up the radio. Jimi Hendrix.

           

The front door of the building was locked. Trevor’s buzzer was broken, so Hale tried to call him again. Chelsea and I walked around to the back and threw little rocks at his window.

           

“Trevor!” I called up. “It’s time to play drums!”

           

Nothing.

           

“Maybe he’s sick or something,” Chelsea suggested.

           

Maybe. Or maybe he thought this show was as bad of an idea as I did, and he was inside in the fetal position having a panic attack. That was probably more likely. None of us were exactly a shining example of good mental health, but Trevor’s anxiety was legendary, heroic. He’d once told me that he’d refused to go to a single day of his senior year of high school. His dad would drag him out of the house, force him into the car, and drive him to the school, but when they got there, Trevor would sit in the passenger seat and stare straight ahead. He’d just limp noodle. Eventually his dad would get tired and embarrassed, and they’d go back home.

           

I admired his dedication.

           

I knew that’s what he was doing now.

           

He was inside being dedicated.

           

Being a limp noodle.

           

“Come on,” I said to Chelsea.

           

We walked back to the front of the building, where Hale was sitting on the steps and spooning some kind of dried green herbal powder out of a little glass jar and into a tight wad between his lower lip and gum.

           

“Any luck?” I asked.

           

He shook his head.

           

At least we wouldn’t have to play the show now, I thought.

           

But when we got back to the bookstore/coffee shop, Hale asked, “So what songs do you think we should do?”

           

I thought I might hit him.

           

Send that green powder flying out of his mouth.

           

Start punching and never stop.

           

But I calmed myself.

           

I said, “No, man. We can’t play without Trevor.”

           

“Sure we can. I’ll use my acoustic guitar. It’ll just be the two of us. A mellow little jam session.”

           

“You can play if you want,” I said, “but I’m not going up there.”

           

The idea of a “mellow little jam session” made me want to become a terrorist.

           

“Okay, bro. Have it your way, but you’re going to be missing out on all the fun.”

           

“Yeah,” said Chelsea. “You’re going to miss out on the fun.”

           

We walked from the parking lot to the patio. Chelsea took her position in the front row, I stood in the back, and Hale climbed on stage.

           

The crowd, which was significant in the small space, roared. Hale grinned and strapped his acoustic guitar around his neck. He held up his hand.

           

“Thank you very much for coming out,” he said. “I know you were all excited to see the whole band, but I’m afraid I’ll just be performing a solo set tonight. I hope you don’t get too sick of me.”

           

The crowd laughed, and I rolled my eyes.

           

“This song is called ‘I’m God.’”

           

I took a drink from my flask, cringing even though I wasn’t on stage. It was horrifying. I was certain Hale was going to humiliate himself.

           

But he started in. His guitar was only a little out of tune. His voice sounded good. People around me were smiling.

           

After a while, I stopped feeling nervous. Hale was actually doing okay. He really was a good songwriter.

           

He played all the songs that we normally played, plus a few I’d never heard before. He went on for nearly an hour, something at which I would have balked were I on stage, but nobody was getting bored. Not even me. I wanted to hear what he was going to play next.

           

He finished the song he was doing and said, “For this next one, I’d like to invite a special guest up on stage to play with me.”


I looked around, surprised. Who was it going to be?

           

Hale went on.

           

“Well, he’s actually not that special of a guest because he’s usually in the band.” Laughter from the audience. “Paul, where are you?”

           

Everyone started looking around. I gulped.

           

“There you are,” Hale said. “Come on up here.”

           

It was something to do.

           

I made my way to the sage, tripping as I stepped up onto it. The crowd laughed and then applauded.

           

I swung my bass over my shoulder and turned on my amp.

           

“What are we playing?” I whispered to Hale.

           

“Humanoids From the Deep,” he said.

           

I didn’t know that one very well. We’d only started practicing it a couple of weeks ago.

           

My expression must have betrayed my self-doubt because Hale said, “It’ll be fine. Just follow the changes and try to keep up.” He looked down at his guitar. “It’s, uh, in the key of F.”

           

I looked at his hand in confusion. He was making a G chord on the fret board.

           

Before I could tell him to wait, he spoke into the microphone saying, “Thanks for coming out, everyone. I hope you had as great of a time as I did. This is our last song of the night.”

           

Then he counted it off.

           

I was clunky at first, and I had to turn down my volume, which upon striking the first note overpowered everything else, but I caught on quick. 

           

Hale was singing with real emotion.

           

I snuck a peak at the crowd.

           

They were into it.

           

Chelsea was grinning.

           

Joe looked like he was holding back tears.

           

I started swaying back and forth a little. 

           

It would have been better with drums, but we sounded pretty good, considering.

           

It was more than a mellow little jam session.

           

It was magic. 

           

We were, truly and without reservation, rocking out.

           

I wondered which song we were going to play for the encore.





Nathaniel Kennon Perkins is the author of Put Me on a Dog Leash and Make Me Eat Taco Bell off the Floor (Hello America Stereo Cassette, 2021), Wallop (House of Vlad, 2020), The Way Cities Feel to Us Now (Maudlin House, 2019), and Cactus (Trident Press, 2018). His work has appeared in Triquarterly, Rejection Letters, 15 Bytes, Berfrois, the High Country News, and elsewhere.