Friends and Other Signs of the Apocalypse

"My name is A.P. Menzies and when I was a kid I thought I was an insignificant mass waiting to be blown away by a fiery volley of nuclear warheads."
- A.P. Menzies

Paying Gig

As a bass player it wasn’t easy finding a good guitar player or a competent drummer in Orange County.

Specifically, musicians that weren’t all into playing Bon Jovi or Ratt tunes.

I found a drummer named Ari. Short for Aristotle.

His mother was 64 or something, and he was only 17.

She was a member of a cult, and forced him to eat these pills called goldenseal or something. Nevertheless, he played without all that flair and had a simple philosophy. Stewart Copeland and U2 were his favorites. He copied their style flawlessly.

Anyway, he was borderline retarded.

He had a tattoo of a band called "Raw Truth" that he and his last guitar player carved into their arms with a razor blade. The band broke up but they still had their tattoos.

So whenever you’d get around to talking about forming a band he’d get all excited until he saw his crooked tattoo in the mirror and would mope around how Raw Truth was the best band of all time.

Despite the ghosts of Raw Truth hanging over me, I went ahead and started auditioning a few guitar players for our new band.

First was this German guy who was part of Ari’s mom’s cult. He was like 45 to our 17 and wore a fanny pack, a strange hat that was made from Inca cloth, all rainbowed out.

But he could play.

We got a gig at “The Barn” playing for free. The Barn was a frat house at Cal State Fullerton. When we got there everyone was practicing mountain climbing on the garage. Rappelling and traversing the cheap brick that made up the structure.

They put us in The Barn’s poolroom and we got through our set while ignoring the chants for Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask.” Our music was more groove-oriented since the German guy loved the Traveling Wilburys. He was all energized by the youth and was doing all these Chuck Berry moves. We both tried not to watch him. In the end it went down well with the mountain climbing hippyset that were present.

After the gig one of the frat dudes gave us a joint as a sort of tribute for our performance. We quickly went to the parking lot so the German wouldn’t see us getting high.

Halfway through the joint, the German guy walks up and sees us. He’s like all, “What are you doing?” And we say, ah, getting fucking high.

Needless to say this dude goes and tells Ari’s mother and all the other cult members about our drug abuse. Ari was forced to take more goldenseal.

Months past and we were able to see each other again. We went on another search for a guitar player in the Recycler. He was some husky dude from Orange Coast Junior College. He was this blues master. All he wanted to play was Stevie Ray Vaughan licks, which was cool I guess. I mean, we were able to adapt our style to fit his wild guitar solos.

After rehearsing for about three weeks, he announced he had some great news, that he had secured a paying gig for about $10,000 at the Harley-Davidson Convention in Palm Springs. This had to be one of the greatest days of my life. I would finally be able to tell my parents that I was a professional. It was a great feeling.

The day of the gig we packed Ari’s drums into his VW bug and I put all my bass gear into my Honda Civic. The guitar player carefully placed his gear into a brand new Ford 4x4. And we all headed off to Palm Springs.

I was last in the row of three cars and nervous the whole way. Thinking of all the Harley dudes cheering, you know, those Altamont tough guys -- and then those hot chicks in leather bikinis and cut-off t-shirts lusting over my Super Bass skills. I mean, how was I going to react to such worship. Totally lost in those thoughts, I hadn’t seen that we passed Interstate 10 and were driving in the complete opposite direction from Palm Springs.

So instead of Palm Springs we end up on the side of the road 65 miles deep into the Mohave Desert on some two-lane blacktop, with some iridescent green dune buggy guiding us off the road and deeper and deeper into the desert on some unmapped dirt path.

Well, the guitar player’s new truck handled the dirt roads like a champ. My ‘81 Civic and Ari’s 13x rebuilt VW did not.

At this point I want to kill this guy. I mean I can’t describe what 17 miles of dirt road will do to you when the sun starts going down. And there is no moon in the sky.

So it is practically dark when we arrive at some seemingly post-apocalyptic encampment with two motorhomes all strangely lit with a yellowish haze. They were parked in some yin-yang style in the center of this secret “off-roading” dream valley. I knew this cause the surrounding dunes were peppered with motocross dudes and ATC guys riding around like The Road Warrior.

This guitar player totally lied to us.

He wanted to get us to play some desert jam for his Uncle’s friend’s biker crew and didn’t care what he had to do. I mean, all I saw were Kawasakis. Not one Harley in sight.

No beautiful women in leather -- only dudes.

Ari was still driving ahead of me and I could see through his back window that he was pissed, while his arms spazzed out.

So the guitar player dude ends up pulling up next to one of the RVs and gets out to greet all these old men wearing colorful jumpsuits with motocross logos plastered on. They were all wearing some sort of do-rag, and were all unshaven.

Ari and I pull up beside a beat-up Honda generator that we were supposed to plug into.

We tell the guitar player we are going to turn around and go home, but he begs us to play our set since “we’re here.”

Right when I remove my amp from the hatchback, the frozen desert wind start kicking up and sand starts flying into my speakers. I have to cover it with a bed sheet from the RV.

Ari set up his drums.

We didn’t look each other in the eye we were so ashamed.

Our fingers were frozen and some freak handed us some Wild Turkey, which I drank for the first time at 17. Suddenly I had a warmth in me and could move my fingers just enough.

The guitar player’s amp malfunctioned and his bros tried to help him fix it.

So instead of waiting, the drummer and I start playing. And they were songs we had never rehearsed before. They sounded nothing like the blues-rock we had planned on rocking out with for the chicks and the Harley fanatics. There was something really different and honest about these jams. It was like we were both so angry we had finally found our sound, and it had nothing to do with stupid guitar players.

Just bass and drums echoing through the desert.

Occasionally we’d hear some guy on some distant dune hooting and hollering.

This went on for about 20 minutes until the guitar player finally got his gear hooked up and was ready to play. He turned to us and gave us a big thumbs up as if to say “Let’s Rock!”

That is when we unplugged all our shit and broke down the drums. As we were packing our stuff in the cars, he begs us to stay. We didn’t say a word.

The best part is right as we start to take off he runs up to Ari with a $50 bill in his hand all excited and says, “WE GOT PAID!” Ari ripped the bill from his hand and stepped on the gas, kicking all sorts of sand in his face. I followed right behind him.

We start driving away from the RVs with no idea of how to get back on the highway.

That’s when some BMX guy sees us and asks us if we need help. We ask how the fuck do we get out of here. That’s when he points to his right where we see the highway.

Turns out the camp was only a half a mile from the highway and we had taken some long way in so the guitar player could get his off road experience on.

We spent the $50 on gas, soda and cigarettes and went home.

At home I thought about the gig over and over again. I realized that in that moment of genuine fury we had come up with this honest and explosive music that would blow away everyone's mind and propel us to super stardom and fame.

So when I told Ari about my new plan to recreate that sound and take over the Orange County rock scene, he informed me that he already bought a one-way plane ticket to Dublin, Ireland so that he could hang out with Bono and The Edge.

He asked me if I wanted to go with him. I told him he didn’t know anyone in U2, let alone anyone else in Ireland. That he should seriously think this out.

But he didn’t listen.