Chapter Twenty-two: “Rat House”

THE SHOWCASE

Back home at the Rat House, after the short tour, we took stock of our situation. We had sold all one hundred records we brought, that was $500. For our eight shows we received an average of $50 per show. Our expenses: motel rooms, gasoline, meals, and u-joints came to $650. Total in the band fund was $250. With the cost of the records unrecovered nobody got any money out of playing the tour.

My unemployment was about to run out and my search for work accelerated. I started combing the want ads on a daily basis and sending out résumés. I had no luck. I wasn’t sure I wanted a job, I just didn’t want to starve or be homeless. This was something that could happen in Reagan’s America, what used to be called “shit out of luck” became homelessness. If you had a mental illness it was out on the street, a criminal record, out on the street, a streak of bad luck, out on the street. The street population swelled as the rich got richer and the poor got fucked over.

What little money the band made wasn’t enough for me to live on. We still had to pay for the record and getting $50 here and there from shows wasn’t going to cut it. We needed a record deal, a nice big advance from a major label. The NWMA showcase gig might just get us that deal.

The make or break event had arrived. After the record release and the tour I felt we were as good as we were ever going to be, so I promptly went on a three day bender. By the time of the show I was good and fucked up drunk and determined to put on the best show of my life.

The showcase was at a club close to downtown called The Vogue. This was the premier spot in town to play. It would be our first time there as a band. Of course, Eugene and I had been there many times on our various adventures to see bands like the U-Men, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, among other local bands, but also to see out of town groups too numerous to mention. Sometimes I’d sneak in a few small bottles of booze to drink, trying to save some money. I was caught once and ejected, so I sat in the car and listened to the faint music from the club in the parking lot. Eugene told me it was the best show he’d ever seen, just to rub it in.

We were given twenty minutes for our set, half the usual time, so I sat down with Clark and Eugene and we devised a set list of our best five songs. We’d close with our standby song, “Keep On Chooglin’”. We weren’t leaving that stage until everyone had heard the sound of One Hand Clapping.

The day before the show we had a practice session to make sure we were at our best. Howard even restrained himself from any dramatic drum parts, keeping a nice even beat with only a few flourishes. You can’t keep the horse in the corral all the time. We ran though the set twice at practice and we all agreed we nailed it, that it was as good as it was going to get.

The day of the show it was drizzling as we loaded Bill’s truck with our gear. We invited everyone we knew to the show and put them on the guest list so they didn’t have to pay a cover charge: Rob, Donnie the Vegetable Boy, Paula, The Dancing Maniac, Bill and Buzz, Eugene’s other brother Chuck, the whole crew. This was the culmination of months of playing and struggling. This was our apex, the paramount performance, and we were going to rock it good.

We got the invitation to play the showcase from the booker at The Vogue. He heard about us through Swizzle Stick, who was also playing the showcase. It’s usually a “who you know” situation. He also knew us from Audioasis, the radio show on KCMU, so he extended the invite. Also on the bill were Love Battery, Meat Cigars, Sunbats, The Gits, and Blood Circus: a nice eclectic show, psychedelic noise, pop punk, grunge and pure noise.

Arriving at The Vogue it started to rain. We quickly unloaded the truck and dragged our equipment inside. The place was empty except for the manager and a bartender. We were early. Eugene went over and introduced us to the manager. He told us the sound guy wasn’t there yet, but we could set up for a sound check anyway. The drums would be on a small riser and Howard brought a carpet this time, even though there was already one there. By the time we were done the sound guy had arrived and he started placing microphones by amps and around the drums. Twenty minutes later we were ready. By this time other groups had started to show up and they stood around watching as we played our song for the sound check. I could see they were nodding along with the song. I took that as a good sign.

After the sound check there was nothing to do but wait. I submitted our guest list to the doorman when he arrived. He looked at it and said there were too many people. I explained that some of those people were already here, that they were our road crew. He nodded and crossed Bill and Buzz off the list. That seemed to satisfy him.

I left The Vogue and went down the street to the Virginia Inn to have a drink without anyone looking over my shoulder or interrupting me. I decided to stick with beer, just enough to wash away the hangover and the sour feeling in my stomach. Binges were murder on my system. I drank my Grant’s Scottish Ale and tried not to get nervous about that night’s show. It was a huge deal and whenever I thought about the A&R reps in the audience I got butterflies. What if they liked us and wanted to sign the band? I wondered. What if our hard work paid off? Don’t think about it, I told myself, just let it happen. All you can do is your best.

Of course, the opposite could happen and they’d hate us and we’d never get another chance at stardom. This sent butterflies through my stomach as well. This whole show was making me nervous so I ordered another beer and tried to think about other things. The only other thoughts I had were about my unemployment and that didn’t assuage my fears any. It was a nightmare waiting to happen!I went back to pondering the upcoming show and trying to keep the butterflies at bay.

When I returned to The Vogue Swizzle Stick was setting up to do their sound check. I went up to them and thanked them for putting in a good word to get us this gig. We shook hands and I told them to break a leg. There were still two other bands waiting to do the sound check and another couple of hours before the show started. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d never been so nervous about a show before. I told Eugene about my butterflies and he confessed he had them too.

“What’s wrong with us? It’s just another show,” I said.

“Right!Exactly!This is just stage fright. Nothing to be nervous about. We nailed this set in practice. This is easy,” he said.

Clark came over and overheard our conversation. He suggested we smoke a joint. A feeling of dread passed over me.

“You didn’t!”

“I did. Don’t worry I’ll be fine by the time we go onstage.”

“Where’s Howard?” I said, panicked.

“Oh, he was with me and Rob and Donnie,” Clark said casually, as you might mention what you had for dinner. I was terrified.

“He didn’t smoke, did he?”

“Yeah, he did. Why? Do you think it will be a problem?”

“Yes I do. He never smoked pot before. He’s unstable enough, all we need is for him to not be concentrating on the drums and we’re done for,” I practically screamed at Clark.

“You’re over-reacting,” Clark said and walked away. I clenched my fists and went to look for Howard.

I found him outside in the parking lot with Rob and Donnie. He looked frazzled. I approached them and asked what was going on.

“He said he was nervous about the show so we had him smoke some pot to calm down,” Rob said.

“He doesn’t look calm, does he?” I said, “Howard, are you okay?”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” he said.

“Why not? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I want to talk to Eugene,” Howard said, “You just want to take Eugene away from me. I know what you are, you’re a rat and you want to take Eugene away from me.”

I went back into the club and found Eugene. I explained what had happened he went outside to talk to Howard. Once Howard saw Eugene he brightened up considerably. He gave him a big bear hug.

“Eugene, what does the chart say? Is this the day we’re going to make money?”

Eugene looked down at the ground then back up to Howard.

“Well, your ruling sign is in your money house so there is the possibility of wealth. If you’re talking about the band making money, the chart points to future wealth, but right now there’s a lot of activity in the creative house for the band.”

Howard seemed relieved and relaxed considerably, his shoulders drooped and he lit a cigarette. Eugene led him back inside.

“What were you thinking? Howard has never smoked pot before,” I said to Rob and Donnie. They shrugged.

“How could we know that? Clark was here and the big guy said he wanted to try it, to calm down. How could we know it would freak him out?” Rob said.

Back inside I watched Eugene talk to Howard to keep him calm. Ninety minutes until the show started and our drummer was whacked out of his mind, our bass player was stoned, and I wasn’t feeling all that great myself. I prayed we could pull it off, that we could put on a mesmerizing performance.

Eugene looked at me with sympathy. He told me that maybe I should smoke a joint or have a few drinks and calm down. I asked how Howard was doing and Eugene said that he was fine and that he just wanted to know that the planets were aligned for success. I wish I could be calmed that easily. I didn’t know what to think anymore.

Clark came up to me and we went to the bar for a beer. Ballard Bitter this time and I downed it in three minutes and ordered another. Eugene was right, just calm down and get drunk, it works for me. Why try to be something I’m not? I’m just the songwriter and guitar player, I don’t run the band. Why get all worked up?

We watched Meat Cigars and they played their usual eclectic mix of punk, pop, country, and blues. The crowd didn’t respond well to the group and I felt a twinge of nerves again. What if the crowd didn’t like us either? Well, we’d find out soon enough. They finished their set and we jumped onstage as soon as their gear was moved and started setting up. I caught the dancing maniac out of the corner of my eye and he fist pumped the air, signifying something, thanks for getting on the guest list or I can’t wait for your set? Something. I turned my attention to my effects pedals, I needed to concentrate on the show and not be distracted.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome One Hand Clapping!”

There was cursory applause and a few whoops and whistles from our fan base. I looked out from the stage and didn’t see anyone I recognized. The club was packed, wall to wall people, and some of those were A&R representatives, newspaper people, music magazine writers. This was the chance of a lifetime, at least for this year. One, two, three, four and we started in on “Blank Frank”. Nothing went wrong, Howard came in with the rest of us and played straight drums with no flourishes, no rolls, no counter-rhythm drumming. We were loud as always and noisy as hell. Clark’s bass filled the room, throbbing like a living being. I felt the vibrations in my stomach,. I played feverishly, I was in control. Eugene’s keyboards were clear and fuzzy at the same time and Ritchie was working the crowd. They seemed to enjoy themselves and when the song ended we heard a scattering of applause. Everyone in the room seemed preoccupied with being in the room, as opposed to watching us play. I was determined to change that.

Our second song was “Megaphone of Death”. People who listened to KCMU were probably familiar with it. It wasn’t in heavy rotation but we did get played by the DJs that liked local music. Some people started nodding their heads as if they recognized the tune. Paula came up to the front of the stage and gave me a big smile. I smiled back and got into the groove of the song. I gave it everything I had, feedback, waves of reverb, the works. This time when the song ended we received a stronger response, much more applause. We were getting to them.

Our third song was “Tremolo Migraine” and right from the start, with the tremolo going, I could see the audience paying attention. We went through the song effortlessly, all my effects pedals producing the right sounds, all perfection. I had reached my Zen. I was in the zone. The audience knew it too and we got more enthusiastic applause with some whoops and whistles thrown in.

Playing “Alma Mater Stigmata” I continued feeling elated and in the moment. The interplay between the instruments was perfect and Ritchie was giving it everything he had. When the song ended we only got some polite applause, as if the whole thing had deflated the audience, but it didn’t matter, I was playing for myself now, for my own enlightenment and enjoyment. Thus began “Keep On Chooglin’” and everyone of us onstage was brilliant. Bass followed guitar and replaced guitar as guitar took over for keyboard which took over for bass. All was one and one was all. We played the shit out of the riff and Ritchie sang the lyrics and blew his harmonica. When it came to an end everyone in The Vogue applauded and gave out whoops and hollers. We had won them over.

After hauling our equipment off the stage I headed for the bar. A celebratory beer was in order. This time the rest of the band joined me and we congratulated ourselves on a great show. Paula came up and gave me a hug.

“You guys were great!Good job, great show!” she said. More people we knew came up and congratulated us. Even Bill and Buzz offered their opinion, which was rare. We loaded the gear in Bill’s truck and he and Buzz drove off.

I drank my beer and ordered another. At some point I ran out of money, but the beers kept coming. We watched all the bands play and they were terrific. Although numerous people came up and said they enjoyed the show nobody from a newspaper, magazine or record company approached us.

The next few days were a blur. I sat by the phone hoping somebody would call and offer us a record deal or an interview opportunity, but nobody did. I went to the record stores to check on the single and there were still plenty of records on the shelf. The show had no effect on sales.

I ran into Swizzle Stick’s guitarist and he said that a representative for a medium sized record company gave them his card, but they hadn’t called him yet. They were waiting until the music papers came out with a review of the show. I had forgotten about that. There were still the reviews of the show and that could lead to some interest in the single and the band.

When Backlash and The Rocket came out I looked fervently at the show reviews and saw only a small mention of One Hand Clapping. They said, “A strong showing from One Hand Clapping primed the audience for more straight-ahead rock from The Gits and Blood Circus,” and “One Hand Clapping showed some chops, a band to look forward to in the future as they improve.”  My heart dropped, I had a sinking feeling it was never going to improve, that we just didn’t fit in and never would. What seemed like a triumph turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

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