Why Don't We Do It On The Road?

10 days on the road with Friends Like These

No one buys any CDs. The Friends Like These T-shirts stay snug and neatly folded in their boxes. The band moves on to the next bar. If they can't play like rock stars, they'll drink like rock stars. "We have every flavor except tangerine," the bartender says of the tropical cocktail selection, but even in the first sip of my mostly-tequila-flavored concoction, I can taste tangerines. I can also taste strawberries, limes, unicorns, kryptonite, and the quadratic equation. After that, the details get fuzzy.

 

New York, part four

If you can't open your eyes when you're hungover, you're probably going to vomit. I understand this in the same way I understand that when I toss a ball into the air, gravity will bring it back to the ground again. What goes up must come down, Sir Isaac Newton says. And Jack Daniels says that when you've spent the last 24 hours gulping alcoholic beverages from a goblet the size of a preschooler's skull, what goes down must come up.

By 11:00 a.m., I can't recall what happened. John, however, remembers everything.

"Last night's show was bad," he says, venturing outside from the recording studio where we're hanging out in Brooklyn. We walk, although the sunlight is painful. "Last night makes me feel like I can't keep doing this. My wife called this morning and said I have a maxed-out credit card. I only spend that card on music stuff and alcohol. I'm more than a couple grand in the hole. We can't do this tour again."

We duck out of the sun. The closest shelter is a liquor store. John stands by a wall of cheap vodkas, trying to fix his sunglasses.

"When I was 20 years old, I was the young guy. In five years, I was gonna be the star. Now I'm 25. What am I going to be in another five years? Broke, still working a nine-to-five job, and still playing for a crowd of two people?

"My brother works for a video game company, you know. He wants me to write music for video games. Maybe I'll just move to New York and do that."

We pay for two six-packs, carting them back to the studio in silence. Inside, Adam, Matt, and Steve are waiting to record a song for the MP3 site eMusic, a company that has given Friends Like These free studio time for being one of the best unsigned bands on their roster. On any other day, this would be good news. But this morning, Adam sits grimly on the counter, swinging his legs beneath him, watching his feet move back and forth.

"So, we're recording until around 8:00 tonight?" Steve asks.

"Yeah," says Adam. "And then we're done."

"Until we play on Saturday night, right?"

Adam looks like he's thinking way past Saturday night. "No," he says. "After tonight, we're done."

 

Chicago

In Minneapolis, there are wives and girlfriends and clean sheets and home-cooked meals and freshly scrubbed bathtubs and lemon-scented laundry and high-quality stereos and telephone messages from good friends saying what's new and we miss you and when will you be back?

In Chicago, there is an opportunity to open for a group called Lust 'n Rust who perform what they call a "trailer park musical." They do this in full costume.

We decide to go home.

 

From Chicago to Minneapolis

No one feels like talking. The Dodge trudges along in silence until we can't take it anymore and somebody slips a cassette into the tape deck. On the speakers, a man is singing about New York City. Something about how the city swallows its nobodies, but the fact that most people are somebody there makes you want to return. That's what I get from the chorus, anyway. Then I recognize John's voice.

"We sound really good on that tape," says Adam, brightening up. "If people ask us why we went on tour, I'll play them that recording."

"Yeah," says John. "Next time we're in New York, we'll play it for all of our fans." Everybody laughs.

When we pull into a gas station, I catch John staring out onto the highway. "What happens now?" I ask him.

"I don't know," he says. "We go home, open a bottle of wine, and sleep in our own beds. We wait for things to get back to normal. And then we make it big." He's joking, and he's not joking.

"Do you still believe you can make it big?" I ask.

"Of course I do. I have to--all musicians do. If you can't believe it, you'll never play music again."

 

Minneapolis

If you can't spend your last five-dollar bill on a drink to throw at a heckler... I only remember half of that rule, and it's not the important part, anyway. So as I elbow my way through the crowd at First Avenue, I try to think of other ones.

If you can't play your best show for a crowd that isn't listening...

If you can't bear to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble your drum kit for the 185th time...

I don't know what comes next. If you can't do these things, what happens? Then the lights come up and the curtains pull back and there's John, Adam, Steve, and Matt onstage and I know what the last rule is. If you can't go on, you'll go on. Head down. Plow forward. Hope for the best.

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