She was my white trash vixen, my trailer park Aphrodite, hot as a dumpster fire and twice as dangerous.
I looked up from the sheet music at Matt. He had that look on his face, the same one as always, the whole, “Whaddaya think man, it’s pretty damn good right?” one. I hated that look; it made me want to punch Matt in the throat. Hard.
“So whaddaya think man? It’s pretty damn good, right?” he said, looking down at me from the stool he was sitting on in front of the couch.
It was everything I could do not to the vault up, bury my fingers in his throat, rip out his windpipe, and watch him gurgle to death in spasms on the floor. Instead I turned my eyes back to the papers, covered in Matt’s almost incomprehensible scribble.
THIGHS TO SQUEEZE ME, HAIR LIKE FIRE, I WANNA POUND MY AFRODITE, COME HIGHER AND HIGHER
“This is crap,” I said as I scanned the rest of the lines, “You used fire twice. It doesn’t fuckin’ rhyme. You even spelled Aphrodite wrong.”
“Nah man, I did that on purpose. It’s a juxtaposition thing, ya know?” he said. “She’s white trash but she’s got an afro, so she’s actually not white at all. It’s like yin and yang, total opposites but exactly the same, ya know? Its like a poem, man.”
“How the fuck is anybody listening to this going to know that you spelled Afrodite like this? It’s a fucking song, you idiot, not a book.”
Me, Matt and Stoner had gotten together about 6 months ago. I’d met Stoner at a gig over in Austin. He was playing at the Mohawk and I happened to be in the crowd on my off-night. The dude had some pretty great licks; he fingered that Strat and made it sing as well as anybody I’d ever heard. It was an older model, a ‘63, and brother, let me tell you, Leo Fender himself would have been proud. His jams absolutely soared, filled the room, and made you bleed a little on the inside. He was fuckin’ AWESOME.
I’d lost my lead guitarist not even two weeks before. The guy got his girl knocked up and decided he needed to get something steady going before the baby showed up. He was talking about getting a mechanic job over at the Chevy dealership on South Main. He’d heard they were hiring from a buddy who worked the showroom floor there. He’d gone to a vocational high school and had studied auto repair, so he figured he had a leg up in landing a position. It would be better than bagging groceries at the Piggly-Wiggly anyway.
Stoner was playing solo that night, so after he’d finished out his sets I walked over and introduced myself. We clicked right away, and it wasn’t too long before we were jamming together on the weekends. Before you knew it we were playing together every night, then started booking weekend gigs on a pretty regular basis. Between his sound and my bass and vocals we made a pretty good team.
But were missing one thing … the soul of it all, that which would separate us from the rest of the heathen hordes.
We had the sound and we had the drive, but what we didn’t have was the new songs. Sure, we could play covers. There’s nothing wrong with that; always crowd pleasers, and they help to fill out the nightly sets.
To make it in this business though you can’t just play. You can’t just sing your heart out. You can’t just riff as no one has ever riffed before … You’ve got to be special. To make it, you have to be you and not somebody else, no matter how well you can slide Freebird or hit the high notes on Don’t’ Stop Believing.
And lordy, how we wanted to make it. We even went so far as to take out an ad in the classifieds of all three newspapers in town and the ten or so little crappy ones that are in those small wire racks in the supermarket next to the ice machines. It read, “WANTED: Songwriter/Singer to join band; must be willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING and do ANYTHING to make it. Influences: AC/DC, Zep, Dead, Pink Floyd, Stones, Sabbath, Who”.
We ran that for three months. Got some bites, of course, but never found that perfect match.
Stoner had insisted on the do ANYTHING part and had said it with a gleam in his eye that spooked me a bit. He could be hardcore sometimes. I’d seen him punch a guy once for criticizing his picking style, and he didn’t just punch him. He PUNCHED him; set him out flat and then just stood over the dude and glared at him for a long while. Just when I thought he was done and was going to walk away, Stoner pulled something out of his pocket and bent down over the guy’s face. I looked and he had one of his metal guitar picks in his fingers, twirling it, then he put it straight between the guy’s two front teeth and slammed his hand forward, splitting his palate.
“Say something about my picking now,” I heard him mumble. Then he just got up and walked away. I had no idea whatever happened to the guy, but I’m sure it involved some orthodontic work.
A little while later we were at a bar somewhere, when Stoner blurted out, “16 years”. It came after a rough set at a club in Atlanta where the sound techs had not only totally screwed the pooch during setup, but then their board operator got lit and the club owner had to run things. It did not go well.
“What 16 years?” I asked.
“16 goddam years I’ve been doing this. 16 goddamn years doing club work, having to tolerate bullshit like these assholes. 16 goddam years doing what I love, but not getting anywhere with it. I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore,” he said as he drank from his pint glass, some dark beer with no foam filling it almost all the way to the rim.
I knew what he meant. It had only been around 10 years for me, but I felt the sting just as deeply as he did. I think everyone who’s ever been in a band has the same thoughts, the same feelings. You know you’re good (or at least you think you are) and all it should take is some more practice, some more gigs, just a matter of time and blood and sweat and pain but then someone will notice you, someone has to notice you, then baby it’s your time and your career will be in the stratosphere before you know it.
A man came to the stage one night
He smoked a big cigar, drove a Cadillac car
And said boys, I think this band’s outta sight.
That was the dream that Boston sang about, that was how it happened to them; why wouldn’t it happen to you? Why wouldn’t it happen to everybody?
But it didn’t, and sometimes that’s how life goes.
Then shit happens.
Matt stumbled into our inner circle following a gig over in Bayonne, New Jersey. The joint’s owner liked us (hell, everybody liked us) and asked afterwards why we didn’t play much of our own material.
“We’re still looking for the right guy, the right fit,” I’d explained, having been down this road before. The words and notes come easy for some people; others can only play and sing.
“I got a regular here, he’s ah’ight, youse should talk wit ‘im.”
And so began our introduction to Matt Brigmann. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’d written a few songs early on that had been picked up by somebody at Sony Records and eventually recorded by somebody else a lot more famous than Matt. He had a decent voice and had given it a go solo, but nothing ever came of it, so he was back on the bar tour doing what he could, standing in when somebody needed a backing vocal on short notice, peddling a new tune every other year or so. The saying goes that if you can strike gold once, there’s always a chance it could happen again, so Matt kept at it.
I wouldn’t say we struck it right off the bat, but Matt was an alright guy and he blended in easy enough. There’s always a burst of creativity when you start something new, and sure enough once we got down to it he penned a real beauty, an over-the-top hair ballad that would have been right at home in Whitesnake’s repertoire.
The very next gig that we played, Matt was with us on vocals and we led off with that song.
We absolutely fucking rocked it.
The crowd went freakin’ nuts, jumping and screaming and spilling their drinks everywhere. We even got a few more boob flashes than average, which is always a good sign, and much appreciated.
Man, this was right.
We rode that wave for 6 months or so, leading off with that song before moving into our covers. On the side Matt was penning more new material, and I’ll tell ya, some of it wasn’t half bad. We merged those into our shows and slowly, very slowly, started to gain a name for ourselves.
This was it. This was our time. Stratosphere, here we come.
Then, just as quickly as it had begun, Matt’s creativity dropped off. He still wrote stuff, but it wasn’t anything special. We let it slide at first, because hey, everybody runs hot and cold streaks, nothing wrong with that … as long as you come out on the other side and get back to where you were.
But Matt wasn’t doing that.
Which brings us to today.
A hand reaches across my shoulder from behind and lifts the sheet music off my lap; it’s Stoner.
“Lemme see this crap,” he says, then walks around the couch and drops down beside me.
I study his face as he studies the newly penned Afro-fucking-dite homage. I know what I thought about it. I’m pretty sure I know what he’ll think as well.
Poor Matt has no idea.
WHITE TRASH VIXEN, YOU’RE GONNA BURY ME, TAKE ME ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN, MOMMA LET GO
I’M DYING HERE WITH YOU, JUST CAN’T GET AWAY, WHITE TRASH VIXEN TAKE ME ALL THE WAY
Stoner glances at me out of the corner of his eye. I know that look; this will not end well.
“Are you pulling my fucking leg?” he asks Matt, looking him square in the eye.
“Whaddya mean, Stoner?” Matt asks, oblivious. He has no idea what’s coming.
Turns out he wasn’t the only one; I had no idea what was coming either.
“THIS IS ABSOLUTE FUCKING GARBAGE!!! This SUCKS!!! YOU SUCK!!!!” Stoner roars, and before Matt can utter a sound in response, Stoner is off the couch and tackles him full force backwards off the stool. They flail over backwards together, Matt slamming his skull hard into the wooden floor, Stoner now straddling him, throwing sheet music down into his face.
“How the shit are we going to play this! It’s fucking AWFUL! We brought you into this band for one fucking reason and that fucking reason was to write fucking songs and sing! Do you understand me, you hack piece of shit? Do you fucking understand me?!!” and at that moment I knew this was going to go too far. 16 years of pent-up frustration was coming out, and it was all coming out at Matt. Right here.
Before I could do anything, Stoner starts pounding on him, both fists, straight to the face, as if he was fighting for his sister’s honor or something.
Matt didn’t make a move to defend himself.
That’s when I saw it, the little bit of red coming out from under Matt’s skull, leaving a tiny crimson patch on the floorboards.
I finally pull my stunned ass up off the coach and lunge at Stoner, wrapping my arms around him, trying to stop the beating and pull him off and save Matt’s dumb ass; easier thought than done.
Stoner shakes loose, flings his left elbow back and catches me square in the jaw, knocking me back to the couch. I feel the blood in my mouth, the loose tooth … son of a bitch. Blotches of black float in front of me and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna pass out, meanwhile Stoner is still beating the shit out of Matt, who’s face is rapidly converting to a featureless pulp while the floorboards now boast a distinctive crimson halo around his head.
I gotta stop Stoner, gotta do whatever it takes.
Gotta do it now.
I reach over and grab Stoner’s Strat by the neck like a baseball bat, then swing it at Stoner as hard as I can, like Johnny Bench going for the outfield upper deck.
The sound it makes when it connects with the side of Stoner’s head is a resounding “THOCK/CRACK” combination, and right away I know it’s over. A huge chunk of the Strat’s body actually breaks clean off (forgive me, Mr. Fender) and Stoner goes down right beside Matt.
All of this happened in less than 30 seconds.
I knew what had just gone down.
I knew everything had just changed.
Boys I think this band’s outta sight had just taken on a new meaning.
I didn’t bother checking Matt; he was dead, there was no second guessing that. I did check Stoner just to be sure; maybe the two-inch deep dent in the side of his skull wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.
That was two hours ago. I’ve since cleaned my shit outta the apartment and taken off. I’m sure somebody will find them eventually, probably when the rent’s a month or two past due and the super comes up and uses his master key to take a look. It may look like they beat the shit out of each other at first, but the coroner will figure out there had to have been a third person; dead guys without faces can’t swing Strats.
No doubt my name will come up, and they’ll search.
But I’ll be long gone by then, other side of the country or something. Lay low awhile, then get back into the scene. New name, new band. Maybe I’ll find an ad in the classifieds somewhere that reads something like, “WANTED: Bassist to join band; must be willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING and do ANYTHING to make it.”
Shit, I got that covered.
Story by G. Howell White