Why Don't We Do It On The Road?

10 days on the road with Friends Like These

Then they do. The bouncer informs John that the group who played before Friends Like These escaped with every last George Washington collected at the door. "Are you serious?" John, very tipsy, asks him, not at all rhetorically. "We drove all the way out from Minneapolis and we got paid zero dollars? We could have played on the side of the road and gotten the same deal, not to mention a bigger audience."

"Give us free drinks," he says, his voice breaking a little. "Give us five fucking dollars. Give us something. Give us our pride, at least. It's the principle of it all." The bouncer turns away.

No drink tickets tonight, then. No gas money. Not a word of thanks from the O'Brien's staff. But Friends Like These do earn five bucks.

The Pervert buys a CD.

 

Boston, late evening

"We don't care about the money," says Steve. He takes a swig from a bottle of sake and passes it back to John. Up on the roof of Matt's friend's apartment building, the crooked shadows of Dr. Seuss buildings scribble across the skyline. John looks as if he'd like to throw the bottle at them just to hear it break. Instead, he takes a drink. "We don't need a major label record deal," Steve continues. "We're doing this because it's fun."

The rest of the band just stares at him.

"The thing about Minneapolis is that you're not supposed to need a huge following," John says, breaking the silence. "No one wants to be competitive. No one wants to make it bigger than anyone else because if you do, you're an asshole. But really, when another band makes it big and you're still back in your hometown, you're the asshole."

"At some point, you start thinking that maybe you don't need your hometown backing you," says Matt. "You look at bands like Motion City Soundtrack and Har Mar Superstar who made it without a lot of press just because they never stopped touring. Then you start thinking, This isn't working for us in Minneapolis, so why not try it in New York?"

"We tried it in New York--that's what we did on our first tour," says John. "This is our second tour, so we're getting better shows because of that experience."

"We are?" asks Matt.

The band members look out toward the skyline. John passes the sake bottle to Adam. No one says a word.

 

New York, part one

If you can't shake the thought that last night was a nightmare, it's good to wake up in the city that never sleeps. New Yorkers would like you to believe that their metropolis got this nickname because its inhabitants are always so busy doing new and fabulous things that they don't have one free moment to devote to hugging the mattress. But the real reason nobody sleeps in New York is that it's too damn loud. Trash trucks, car horns, drunk girls, cat calls, loud dogs--the sirens can't silence them all. But sometimes, the bar's clackety ventilation system sputters out and you can hear a more reassuring sound: whooo.

"Whooo!" cheers a tattooed blonde at a Brooklyn bar called the Hook. She's watching John climb up onstage, and her jeans are so tight you can see her spleen.

"Hi, we're Friends Like These from Minneapolis," John says, delivering his catch phrase.

"Twin Cities!" cries the blonde. "That's where the Lutherans are! Whooo!"

"I'm Catholic," says John.

"Catholic! Whooo!"

A small group of sacrament-takers join in. There's a whooo for Matt, whose acrobatic movements suggest that he's paddling his drum kit upstream. There's a whooo for Steve, who struts across the stage with his best Jagger swagger. There's a whooo for Adam, who breathes into every la la la until the chorus expands and pops like a gumball bubble. And there's an extra-big whoo for John and his cowbell, the star of the show, who gets the spotlight at the beginning of "7th Street Queen."

When there's a whooo for a band up onstage in the 7th St. Entry, people might hear it in the bathroom if they're lucky. New York is closer to the ocean. Sound seems to travel differently here. When there's a whooo for a band onstage in New York, it's a whooo heard round the world. Hearing that whooo in Brooklyn after hearing nothing at all for three days is something that makes you believe all those beef jerky breakfasts and gas station campouts were worth it.

When we leave the Hook, rain is pouring down. We race down the street shrieking and laughing, our sneakers slapping against wet pavement, our T-shirts and socks soaked to the skin. Fat droplets of water hang from our eyelashes, refracting the streetlights. Everything we see looks like it's ringed with a thousand yellow moons.

In New York, you can run forever. The streets stretch out so far that the kids who live here have given up looking for the spot where the pavement ends. Maybe the pavement never ends. Maybe it just keeps going, up the sides of buildings and over rivers. On nights like this, I worry that if we follow one street long enough, we'll end up right back where we started.

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