The roadies—known as the Three Stooges, Weazel, Skwerrel and Rodunt—finished setting the scaffolding on the stage. It was to be a wooden sculpture that provided a backdrop for the band and its work later that evening.
Weazel laid the long wooden poles on the floor. Skwerrel lifted them in the air. Rodunt fitted the poles into their notches. Then the three tied them together with heavy rope. When they finished with the frame, they brought out the instruments, first the drum kit, then the guitars and the bass. As they did, the backdrop painter came out, pushed a ladder against the sculpture and climbed. He sat his brushes and cans of paint on the shelf at the top, a flat plateau where he would sit that night and paint the backdrop as the concert progressed.
The stage manager, Dark Montana, went over to the side of the stage. He pulled a rope. Canvas unfurled swiftly behind the sculpture. It covered the back of the stage.
“Can you get to it, Flax?” he called out to the painter, referring to the canvas.
The artist was dubbed Flax Seed because he was a health nut. He had been on the road for so long, he couldn’t remember his real name even if someone had asked. That was the way of the road. Everyone had an alias. “Yeah, Dark,” Flax called to the Stage Manager.
“Good,” Dark said. The Stage Manager was an Indian from Southern India. He had been a cow in a former life. As a reward for a joke he played on a swami, dropping his cow turds on the swami’s head while he slept, Dark had come back as a guy everybody pushed around. Knowing his karma well, he often quoted you the chapter and the verse of the Holy Book of the Javas that foretold his fate, “There ain’t no free rides.”
The Three Stooges brought out the four mics, one for the drummer in the back by his drum kit, one for the bass close to the drummer, one for the lead out front. Over to the side stage left and all by his lonesome, one for the rhythm man, Slasher. They called him Slasher because he had a thing for knives. When he got loaded, he liked to throw them.
The band, The Birdmen of Alcatraz, had been on the road for almost fifteen years, with three platinum, a double plat and a gold under their belts. They had a following which could fill a stadium. They took the place of The Grateful Dead as the greatest of all the touring bands. They gave one hell of a show and they never played arenas. They liked small intimate venues holding less than three thousand. Someone had once said that a fan would have to sell his firstborn to get a front row seat. It was that hard to obtain a ticket.
Flax Seed left his brushes and paints on the platform and made the climb back down the scaffolding and walked over to the Stage Manager. His twin sister Wheat Germ, also very much into nutrition, joined the two of them. She was Pointer’s Old Lady. Pointer was the drummer for the band, The Birdmen of Alcatraz. The three looked around the stage. Flax was the first to comment.
“Man, this stage is so small Pointer’s going to be ramming his sticks up Deep’s ass. Isn’t there anyway we can make room.” Deep was the bass man.
“’Fraid not,” Dark said. “Deep’s just gonna have to live with it.”
“You know, that’s gonna put him in one piss-poor mood. Last time we played a gig this small he had the shits for a week.”
“That’s the road, man,” Slasher always pointed out to his mates. Then Deep would come back, “Well, it’s my ass.”
The Stooges finished setting the stage up for the eight o’clock show. It was three in the afternoon and they still had a sound check to go.
The Birdmen of Alcatraz were in the large dressing room backstage,waiting to do their sound and lighting checks. They slouched in their chairs as they reviewed the order of the songs for the gig.
Pointer was tapping his drumsticks against the side of his chair. As usual, it was driving Slasher nuts. The rhythm guitarist gave Pointer that look he gave when he’d had enough. Pointer stopped and dropped the sticks onto the floor.
“So, that’s it,” Pointer said, writing down the closer for the night.
“Wait a min,” Dietrich said and pulled an acoustic six stringer onto his lap. “I got a new song I think we ought to give a try out.”
Dietrich played lead. Nimble fingered and ripping up the fret of his Stratocaster, he shredded like he was the apocalypse. But he was no composer and the others knew it. He had tried their patience way too many times with his piss-poor songs.
This time it was Pointer who gave Slasher a look. It was an “Oh no. Not again” look. Pointer and Slasher were the songwriters for the band. Deep with his deep bass voice and Dietrich with his high-pitched tenor swapped off lead vocalist. They’d carved up the songwriting territory a long time ago. But, ever so often, one of the guys wanted to test the boundaries and tried to hone in on somebody else’s territory. Occasionally, when the tension became so tight, the others gave in. But this was not one of those times.
“Okay, what you got?” Slasher asked, knowing that Dietrich wouldn’t shut up until he auditioned his new tune. Despite his Scorpio personality, he’d been born on the Libra-Scorpio cusp and he had enough of a Libra in him that made him take the effort to keep the peace. But he never was happy about being a bi-cuspid.
Dietrich plunked the strings on his guitar, then said, “It’s called ‘The Ahnold Song’.” Then he began strumming the stings of his guitar and singing in his high pitched tenor: “He’s the terminator, / he’s the gubernator, / he’s coming with his shock and awe. / He shut the liberals down / in L. A. town. / Now he’s going for Arkansas. / He’s come real far this Austrian superstar. / He’ll make those demos cry. / With brains in his muscles / and muscles in his brains, / he’s no girly-guy.”
“No, man, no way,” Deep, Pointer and Slasher said at the same time.
“Politics ain’t our gig,” Deep said. “Save that for your solo CD.”
Dietrich’s face showed his disappointment. “But our solos never go anywhere.”
Outside the venue, the band’s fans, who were called the Alcatraz Birdwatcher Society, had been showing up all day long. Though the auditorium could only hold a couple of thousand, there were at least five thousand, maybe more fans outside. And more were coming every hour. Speakers would pipe the band’s music outside that night. As they waited, the atmosphere, as at all the band’s concerts, was turning into a circus—with jugglers, sharpshooters, fire breathers. One guy even ran a rope between the auditorium and the sports arena next door and was walking it.
Mona Manhattan, aka Patty Schumbler, worked her way through the crowd. She’d been a Birdwatcher for almost ten years, since she was sixteen, since she first heard the Birdmen of Alcatraz on the “Eagle Eye.” Her best bud Eloise Macy gave her the band’s first CD, “A Crack in the Sky”, for her sixteenth birthday. When she heard the songs, its angst overcame her. “Eagle Eye” was a perfect song. From that moment on, Mona forsook all other bands, all other music. She just knew their songs were speaking directly to her. She played their CDs so much her mom banned them from the house. Like so many other Birdwatchers, Mona found a way to get a daily dose of the band. To go without a feeding of “Cheepers Creepers” for twelve hours was to “just die” as she put it. Mona Manhattan attended her first Birdman of Alcatraz concert when she was seventeen.
She always loved the circus outside the concert hall when the Birdmen came to play. In some ways, the concerts were anti-climatic. The real action was the parking lot. Over to her left was Harry the Knife Thrower. His favorite band member was Slasher. Mona loved Deep with his eye patch over his right eye, the one that Slasher had taken out five years before after an especially exhausting tour.
Inside, the sound check, the lights check, the instrument check was over. All that was left was to wait for the concert. Each of the band mates skulked away to their individual corner of the dressing room. This was “hurry up and wait” part they all hated. It was like being on death row and taking that long, slow move down the hall to the chair. For the next three hours the tension would build inside each of them until it was just about ready to explode. But it was all well worth it. As one of the Birdwatchers had been quoted by a local newspaper, “It is a thing to behold,” this concert.
Dietrich had an upset stomach. He took no food, just the milk in the pitcher on the table at the back of the room. He poured himself a glass and drank. He went over to a corner and pulled himself into a full lotus and began his practice, counting down the way his yogi had instructed him. He ignored the crowd, filling the room.
Slasher did not like to be alone with his thoughts before a concert. The large dressing room was packed with reporters and Birdwatchers. He moved easily through the crowd and found the Johnny Walker Red which he would consume by concert time.
Deep went into a smaller dressing room and there on the table were the dozen red roses his wife always sent him just before a concert. He walked over to the table, smelled the roses, then opened the bottle of red wine on the table, poured himself a glass and took a sip. It was a good wine, this red. Then he sat down in a chair, picked up his David Copperfield and began to read. It was a good way to pass the time before his steak came. As he sat there, he brooded. Fuck it, I’ll just quit. That’ll teach them.
Pointer walked out into the hall and into Wheat Germ’s arms. He kissed her hard, then the two searched for a place to be alone.
It was seven-fifty. Just before he left the dressing room, Slasher, as he always did, drowned the last swig of the scotch from bottle, opened a second bottle of the Red and poured it over his head, then he smashed the empty bottle against the wall. It was time to go kick some butt.
The four Birdmen—Deep, Dietrich, Pointer, Slasher—met behind the stage and formed a circle, arms length to arms length, each man’s hands on the shoulder of the man next to him. They stood there that way, holding themselves for several minutes, the tension building up. Then Slasher broke the silence. “Let’s lock and load.”
They turned and walked out onto the dark stage.