Smoke and the sticky sweet stink of stale booze was all he could smell. Guess that’s what you get when you live your life in back alley bars playing music for a living. Garrett figured he had as good a chance of dying of lung cancer as anything else, even though he had never smoked a day in his life. As if on cue, a match blazed to life behind cupped hands. The cigarette flared with the first drag and a young man wearing a whiskery shadow on his face shook the match out. James Dean cool, he leaned, one knee bent, cowboy boot pressed flat against the brick wall. Garrett couldn’t help but smile. Once upon a time that was him. Supremely confident and naive all at once. Envy swelled in his chest at the freedom and possibilities embodied in that one languid pose.Acknowledgement passed in the form of a silent nod between the men as they shared a reprieve from the dissonance that was The Wreck Room. Band after band did their best to rattle the fixtures loose. Few patrons gave a damn about the music being played. Really, it was just a place for local bands to get some experience on stage before moving on to bigger venues. Hack, the booking manager, rarely even auditioned bands before assigning them a slot on the Friday night roster. No guarantees were ever made about the quality of the entertainment. Everything sounded better after a few drinks though. Crowds thronged the bar every weekend looking for a good time, or maybe just an escape, and found what they needed at the bottom of a bottle.
Garrett watched as the man flicked his half-smoked cigarette down the alley and crossed to the back entrance of the club. The stranger paused part way through the door.
“Hey, you’re here looking for bands to sign right?” Garrett didn’t know he was that conspicuous.
“That’s right.” he responded.
“Then you’d better get in here. We are about to own this place. You don’t want to miss it.” the kid grinned and passed the rest of the way into the club.
It was a statement that typically would have deserved scorn and derision but the tone spoke confidence without arrogance. There was a charisma present in the way he carried himself that required further exploration. Garrett made his way to the bar and ordered a beer. It was luke warm as usual. Nothing but class in this place. The din was overwhelming. Mostly drunks trying to make themselves understood simply by increasing their volume, and failing loudly. He leaned his back against the bar so he could see the stage, trying to ignore the horrific blonde dye job to his left and the cliche` leather clad biker to his right.
The kid from outside stepped on stage and took his place in front of the lead microphone. A solitary figure with an acoustic guitar. He strummed a single chord and began to sing.
“One note….ringing out….all alone….”
The crowd quieted noticeably, transfixed by the gravelly voice that demanded their attention. The bass player emerged and took his place on stage, laying down an understated bassline as the lead singer crooned again,
“Calling to…..the echo of…..my soul…
A stocky bearded man in a muscle tee mounted the throne behind the drums and let his sticks fall on the drumheads in a subdued rhythm.
“The key to….nothing and everything….
We live…..in the….in between….
The music paused as the lead guitar player approached, then nodded at the singer. The singer turned and nodded to the other two band members already on stage and the four men exploded into the chorus.
“Then the truth becomes clear
Like angels singing in your ear
The siren’s call draws you near
Praying its the last thing you hear
Before you’re bound by the strings”
The menagerie of people from all walks of life that sought to be lost were at once found in the lyrics. Their baptism defined by their silence. The band finished the song with a screaming solo from the guitarist and a cacophony of crash from the drummer. A moment of stunned silence deafened the room before an eruption of applause shook the walls. Garrett stood in shocked awe, watching everyone respond to this unknown band in the affirmative. He had barely paid any attention to what was going on up on the stage. His focus had been on the way everyone had been drawn in. That was the tell of good music. It could entrance listeners. By the time the first chorus was finished, every eye in the place was transfixed by the performers and every other voice was mute.
The band continued their set with the rapt attention of their newest disciples. Garrett observed each band member in turn. The bass player, lead guitarist, and drummer were not particularly remarkable in their appearance. They looked like he expected a band to look. Worn jeans, rocker tee shirts, Chuck Taylors or Doc Martins, and the obligatory tattoos and facial hair. Upon further consideration, the drummer’s beard was rather epic.
The lead singer, however, stood out from his peers. His clothes were neat and clean, as was his close cropped hair style. He sported no visible tattoos and the five o’clock shadow on his jaw was evidence of a recent shave. It was clear he spent a fair amount of time in the gym. The plain black tee shirt he wore was stretched to its limits across the expanse of his broad shoulders. His bootcut jeans were cinched at the waist with a black leather belt and opened to grey snakeskin cowboy boots. No jewelry adorned his person, with the exception of a watch on his left wrist. Garrett couldn’t be sure, but the watch appeared to be expensive. It seemed out of place in the current setting, but no more so than the singer himself. In that way it was aptly fitting. There was no question he had the looks to make it in the music industry. It would be easy to market him as a front man.
The band played a six song set and was ushered off stage by a standing ovation from the raucous crowd. Garrett met them in the prep room. That it smelled worse than the alley didn’t escape his notice. It was a cramped space with an old leather couch in one corner and dorm room refrigerator in the opposite. The beer stained carpet could easily have been installed in the seventies from the looks of it. Burn marks peppered the walls, furniture, and floor. Too many cigarettes to count had been ground out purposefully on every available surface. A generation of malcontent expressed one scorching at a time.
The band filed in, still euphoric from their performance high. The drummer headed straight for the little fridge and, much to Garrett’s surprise, grabbed water, not beer. The others all followed suit. None of them seemed surprised by his presence, almost as if he were expected. Before he could even introduce himself, the drummer, who looked like a 5’6” version of Bluto from Popeye, flopped down on the worn leather couch and said, “You’re Garrett Pearce right?”
“That’s right,” Garrett’s surprise was evident on his face, ”How did you know that?”
“Tommy there is a big fan of your music,” the drummer responded, indicating the lead singer with his beard-hidden chin.
“Ha, I don’t have any music anymore. Let alone fans.” Garrett deflected the praise, as was his habit anytime he was recognized for his music.
“Well don’t tell him that. I’m Rudy by the way.” He stuck out what could only be described as as a paw. Garrett shook it, and got the overpowering grip he expected from a drummer.
“So we’ve got Rudy and Tommy. Who are your other partners in crime?” Garret asked, turning his attention to the two guys keeping either arm of the couch from running away.
“I’m Gibbs,” said the man on the right.
“Is that your last name?”
“No, short for Gibson.”
“You were destined to be a guitar player, weren’t you?” Garrett shook his head.
“Never heard that one before.” Gibbs rolled his eyes.
“Guess I had that coming. Sorry.” Chagrin colored Garrett’s cheeks.
“It’s cool. You aren’t the first. Before you ask, no, I don’t play a Gibson either. Too fuckin heavy.”
“I figured you were smart. Your T5 is gorgeous.” Garrett tried to make up for his earlier faux pas. A guitar player was always more proud of his guitar than anything else. It was such a personal choice. Like choosing a wife. If you were well matched, the music was magic. If it was just a little off it was a fight for as long as you both shall live. Gibbs’ grin told Garrett all trespasses had been forgiven.
“How long have you been playing?” Garrett tried to build upon the foundation of good will he had established.
“Since I was about ten. My brother tried to learn but didn’t have the patience for it. So I inherited his guitar when he quit. I was a little more persistent.” Gibbs’ grin was proud but not in a boastful way.
“Lucky for me that you were.” Tommy chimed in from his perch atop the fridge.
“You’re the genius. I just didn’t want to do my homework.” Gibbs shook his head.
“You give me too much credit. This is a family. It doesn’t work without all of us.” Tommy’s response surprised Garrett. It was rare that a frontman gave a damn about anybody else’s contributions. If they wanted to succeed they did, but it meant having a bigger picture perspective. Not being afraid of being overshadowed. Both atypical qualities for a wannabe rockstar. It was refreshing.
“And what about you? You inherit your bass from a relative?” Garrett jabbed at the only guy left that hadn’t spoken up.
“Hell no! I lost the coin flip with Gibby over who was gonna be the guitar player. Pretty sure the bastard used a two-headed quarter. I’m a better guitar player than bass player, but definitely a better bass player than Gibbs. I’m Ivan by the way.”
“Sounds like every bass player I’ve ever met,” Garrett laughed, “Definitely the best name for a bass player I’ve ever heard though.”
“Without a doubt! I call my style Ivanic.” Ivan tucked his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans and puffed his chest out.
“Clearly you’ve thought this through.” Everyone was laughing at this point.
Had these guys not been able to play a note they still would have been a blast to hang out with. The fact they were the best band he’d heard in years, maybe ever, just made it that much better.
“So what do you guys call yourselves? I didn’t catch it at the beginning of the set.”
All eyes found their way to Tommy. Garrett was certain this would be important. He wasn’t disappointed.
“Well Mr. Pearce, our band is called Purpose.”
Garrett felt a chill run the length of his spine. He knew in that moment he had found what he had spent the last decade looking for. He had found Purpose.