The crowd were locust. A buzzing riot, swelling over the barricade and hitting the lip of the stage. One great big mess of leather and plumage. Dozens of hands reaching out, fingers clutching for some connection.
The room was only lit by the beer lights. Neon signs covered in dust. I was looking out at the surprisingly large crowd when the spotlights came on and almost blinded me. The crowd was starting to get anxious, rowdy, hungry for something. I kept my eyes on my guitar pedals and my boots and the sticker-covered stage floor.
Every inch of the club was covered in band stickers. Some were torn and faded, ancient logos of forgotten bands. Some were put there that very night.
Somehow I thought New York City would be wildly different, but kids were kids. They drank beer and screamed just like everyone else. The club was different though. Somehow it was a little more real, a little more lived-in, older and somehow scarier. Somewhere between a gutter and a church.
The sound guy was a little more serious, too. Teddy said the guy behind the board had produced records we owned. That was something. We did seem to sound different up there that night.
While I was considering that, I heard Mark’s bass thud out a few random notes, then he moved the mic a little and said to the crowd, “this is our first song, Piss and Moan.” Teddy counted off, two, three, four, and suddenly we were into it.
I was still somewhat new. The original guitarist left halfway through the tour. I knew the songs and wasn’t a junkie, so they asked me to come to Cinncinati, then Dayton, then Columbus. Two months later we were in New York City, on a stage I had read about a hundred times.
The song started with a simple drum beat and Mark sort of talking indistinctly. I played something sort of jangly, pretty, complicated. Then, the time changed and I hit the distortion pedal, and Mark screamed.
I could see the crowd jump at the noise. They were into it. They were bouncing to the beat and thrashing around and hitting each other. I had to remember the changes, the chorus, but I kept looking out at the violence and chaos. My heart raced and my fingers felt numb.
By our third song, the pit opened up and I looked up to see a kid with a buzz cut in a plain white t-shirt with a bloody nose ram into denim jacketed mohawk. “Go back to fucking Queens, poser,” someone screamed at one of them. I kept playing.
The whole set flew by. Easy when your songs are all less than two minutes. Songs seemed to run into each other and before I knew it, Mark was saying “thank you, New York City,” and we were packing out.
In the back of the club, the din of the stage and the bar were dulled. It was all particle board painted back and covered in the ever-present stickers. We were standing where the Ramones had stood. Iggy Pop. David Bowie.
Mark smiled his missing tooth grin at me and peeled the back off one of our stickers, putting it between Hot Tuna and Gorilla Biscuits. We were gods; our names etched on the walls of the Pantheon.
We packed everything into the van and went back in to see the last band. The bouncer nodded to us, the bartender had three beers waiting for us, and as we walked to the stage, the crowd parted for us.
A tall pimpled guy with bad teeth rushed me, holding a cassette. “You fucked rocked. Sign this shit,” he said, passing me what looked like a photocopy of a photocopy of the band’s demo, which I hadn’t played on. Someone put a marker in my hand and I scribbled on it. It was my first autograph.
I turned to see Mark and Teddy laughing at me. “Sign my t-shirt! I love your demo!”
Assholes, but I didn’t let them get me down. I was a king, at least that night. I was living the thing I hadn’t even known to dream. I didn’t know what was next or if there would be another show, but as the next band started, I closed my eyes and tried to remember every sound, every smell, every moment of that night.