Achilles’ Last Stand

By on Oct 21, 2013 in Fiction

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8

A band from backstage

“So can I see the tickets?” I asked.

“Roll up your window, at least. I don’t want them blowing out on the highway.” I grabbed the handle out of the glove box and started cranking. As I finished, he handed me a dirty envelope from his pocket and then spun the volume knob. The double-bass thunder of Metallica’s “One” was deafening with the windows up. On the envelope was a pre-printed return address that read “Elektra Records,” with what I assumed was a Los Angeles zip code. Indiana zip codes started with a four, so to me a nine symbolized the edge of the unknown. I spread the ragged flaps of paper. Inside were two Ticketmasters that read:

FRI JUL 17 1992 7:30PM


They were the clashing shades of yellow and orange that still represent escape from the mundane, if only for a night. (I suppose most people print tickets online these days, but who wants to stick an 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet of paper in the frame of their bedroom mirror?) For years, I’d seen old, creased ticket stubs on Jeff’s dresser, but never one with my seat. Section 1, Row C, Seat 19. If this had been all that was in the envelope, it would’ve been more than enough to excite me. What came next was like gazing at bricks of pure gold. Two backstage passes, bright purple, with a cartoonish rendering of the band and the words “ALL ACCESS” splayed beneath. Jeff had sworn me to secrecy about these, under penalty of frog-punches and Indian burns. The last item was a short note, scribbled on Holiday Inn stationary.


Been a long time, man. Sorry I ain’t been in touch. If you’re not doing anything, here’s a couple tix for our show in Noblesville. Be great if you could make it. I’d like to see you. So would Billy. Hope your good.

                                                – Port

I stared at the note, then risked turning the stereo back down.

“Why does Port want to see you all of a sudden?” I asked. “I mean, you haven’t heard from him or Sledge since they left.”

“First of all, his name’s Billy. It sounds stupid when you call him Sledge. And why does it matter anyway? You’re getting a free ticket and a backstage pass.” Jeff gripped the leather-wrapped steering wheel and focused on the road, winding past the coal tipples north of home.

“I just think it’s weird that they’re suddenly sending you this stuff is all,” I said. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Or piss him off.

“Why? You don’t think they want to see me?” He rapped his thumbs rhythmically against the wheel.

“I guess so. But I still wonder why.”

“Think maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m going? To find that out?” He gave me a “duh” sort of look, as if he’d conquered me with searing logic, and then punched me in the thigh with two knuckles. I didn’t push it. I barely remembered the guys. I’d only been 9 when they hopped that Greyhound. An occasional wrestling match on the garage floor was the most interaction I’d had with them, but so many nights I’d sit in the corner and listen to them practice: Billy’s harsh tenor filling the night, then pulling back into a smoky falsetto; Port’s slinky arpeggios. Jeff was solid on guitar, but I think I knew even then that he was the weak link. Not that I would have ever told him. He’d gotten better over the years but would never compare to Trent Lincoln, the Thor of guitarists. Jeff knew that but still despised his replacement. If a Dodge City video came on MTV, we’d both watch with rapt attention, but the first shot of Lincoln was always met with a hearty “motherfucker!” from Jeff.

As his ’65 Mustang roared out of Pike County, I watched the familiar slip away. The wild curves through mining country, Petersburg’s main street with its boarded-up shop fronts, the power plant’s dark smoke looming over the White River. Within an hour, I was as far from home as I’d ever been, and everything began to look fractionally different, like those old Zep album covers. We sang at the top of our lungs to everything the stereo offered. The sky was bright, the music was loud, and I was giddy for things to come.

After a couple of hours on the road, we were close enough to Indy for Jeff to check for some of the big city radio stations. At home, Garth Brooks had begun his ascendancy, leaving little reason to switch from cassettes over to the tuner. Jeff often talked about the great rock stations he’d heard in Indy over the years when he went to concerts at Deer Creek. It was like hearing Caleb’s report from across the Jordan. Sure enough, FBQ tuned in, a little fuzzy at first, just in time to catch the last chorus of “Love in an Elevator.” As its a capella coda wound down, it cross-faded into the hollow opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“Why they gotta keep playing this garbage?” he asked. “Talk about a downer.” I hadn’t told him that I’d nearly worn out a dubbed copy of Nevermind in my Walkman, because I couldn’t imagine anything he would see as more of a betrayal. He loved the pure adrenal joy of rock ‘n’ roll, even at its angriest, and grunge was about as joyless to him as a double-shift at the factory.

“It’s sorta catchy,” I said.

“Whatever, Mr. Broadway.”

* * *

We hit concert traffic before we even got off I-69. Jeff had planned to go backstage before the show, but by the time we paid for a spot in the grass, it was after seven. People poured through the turnstiles, some landing in the amphitheatre, others on the lawn behind it. Our seats were down front, upstaged only by the mosh pit, at the time a fairly recent addition to the large-scale concert scene and one that Jeff disdained. (“If I go to a concert, I want to enjoy the music, not get my damn ankle broken.”) Booze and smoke drifted on the breeze, and a sticky Midwestern haze hung over it all. We’d barely fought our way through the crush when the lights dimmed and from the darkness Billy’s voice boomed, “Back home again in Indiana, motherfuckers!” A childish grin crossed Jeff’s face as the crowd roared approval. With a deafening guitar riff and a burst of pyro that scorched my eyelids, the show began.

My regular readers (both of you) probably expect a concert review at this point. God knows I’ve written my fair share over the years, sometimes for the big mags, and more recently for crap websites. If I’m remembered at all, it’ll be as a reviewer, though I think we can all agree that, at best, I’m a poor man’s Lester Bangs, minus the porn moustache. Either way, if you look over my bloated corpus, you’ll find a shit ton of reviews. Some are glowing, but the majority are somewhere between uninterested and hostile. The truth is, most bands aren’t very good live. Especially today. Every trick in the book is conjured by the producers and the sound engineers on an album to convince us that the band of the week has serious chops, but put them on a stage and they’re lost. (I’m looking at you, Nickleback. But only because I occasionally get paid to.) Even truly great bands, the ones who once held tens of thousands in sway, the ones that actually have the chops, eventually start putting on mediocre shows. My guess is that when your biggest problem is whether your Lamborghini should be I-need-attention orange or midlife-crisis red, you’re just not going to care as much about seducing your muse. The best shows I’ve seen have all had one thing in common. The band was either hell-bent on getting signed or on the verge of breaking up. Complacency kills rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a violent art form at its core, and its energy is a byproduct of anger sublimating into ecstasy. But when a band stops trying to draw blood, it’s over. If you think I’m wrong, check out a Stones show sometime.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Chris Drew's essays and stories have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Big Muddy, Concho River Review, Red Wheelbarrow, and The Sycamore Review. He is currently a dissertator in the creative writing Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he has served as nonfiction editor for cream city review. Chris can be found on the web at