I wasn’t expecting what I saw when I entered the bar. It was an ordinary Wednesday. Hot and humid courtesy of the El Nino the Metro is suffering from. Oh, I longed for the rains. I longed for the rains. I still do.
I had reservations in going and doing it, getting up there. The previous Wednesday’s debacle haunted my nights that week. The shame and embarrassment haunted me. People didn’t care, but I did. Those who heard might not give a damn, but I heard myself. I do give a damn. I screwed up. I faltered.
I went home to satiate my hunger. An empty stomach does no good to a broken man. I had just come from a retail coffee shop that I frequent to do some writing, and all I thought about was getting up there again. I thought about every single what ifs I can come up with. I thought about what would happen if I fail again. I thought about the failure on the drive home. I thought about the failure while eating. I thought about the failure while I was checking up on news that I’d missed.
And then I thought about redemption.
I packed my main weapon in its case. I considered bringing my secondary weapon, but no…no…that wasn’t me that night. I had to be one man. I had to focus on redeeming myself from the previous week’s failure. I walked back out into the searing streets, case slung over my shoulder, and drove off to Checkpoint.
The drive to the location was both forgiving and unforgiving. I was excited. I was nervous. The ‘what if I fail again?’ thoughts ran through my mind like an unwanted guest. What if I fail again? What if I let myself down again? With the previous attempt’s wound still fresh in my mind, I just decided to say ‘damn it all to hell, I’m doing this.’
I got to the venue and a free parking slot in front was non-existent. It was a Wednesday, that one day of the week where it’s usually dead. I remembered that there’s a new 24 hour gym beside Checkpoint and I just assumed that a lot of people are wary about their physical health nowadays. The security guard was courteous enough to guide me across the street to park my car. I got out of my car, grabbed the case from the backseat, slung it over my shoulders, and walked to the building, dodging rowdy tricycle drivers and errant car owners. If I had been run over that day, I wouldn’t have mind. I was on a mission of redemption. That’s a lot in itself.
I got inside the building and thanked the security guard. Walked over to the elevators that has a faulty ‘up’ button. Press. No. Press. No. Press. No. Press. No. I didn’t take it as a sign to retreat. Press. Ding. I climbed in and pressed on the ‘3.’ I turned around to the mirror to psyche myself up. “Don’t fuck up this time,” I told myself. “Don’t fuck up this time. Your life may very well depend on it.”
The elevator rose up and took me to the third floor where I heard loud music. Uncharacteristic for the Wednesday Acoustic Night. The PA system must be on, I thought. Just as I’m about to grab open one half of the double door, I heard a familiar voice singing from the speakers. A friend of mine from college. A good friend. Good singer. Great person. He used to be in a band where he did vocals. They broke up years ago and as far as I knew, he hasn’t sung since. I was always envious of him and his voice, like I do with many singers out there. The balls it takes to get up there to sing is unlike any other. But was it really him?
I finally opened the door and my suspicions rang true. There he was, on stage, singing his heart out. But before I ever got to lay my sights on the stage, I did a quick scan of the room and its patrons. It was fifty percent packed. I felt my heart jump. The case on my back became heavier. My throat closed up. It disappeared for a few short moments when I watched my friend on stage. For the time being, it wasn’t about me and my fears and my nightmares. It was about seeing an old friend do one of the things that he loves to do. The moment ended and all the fears and nightmares came rushing back in. I ordered a beer to take the edge off.
We ended up hanging out later on. I made my presence known and he spotted the guitar case on my back. I told him that I intended to go up there and sing. He was all for it. He seemed utterly excited to see me perform. I should have felt good, but it only made me more anxious.
The night itself was another battle with my anxieties. I was surrounded my people, new people, that made conversation. I tried to keep up, but the thoughts in my head were far too loud. The free beers that were generously offered to me wasn’t much help. I was too preoccupied with my path to redemption. Repeated questions of “oh, are you singing” were answered with “I don’t know yet.” It was a factual statement. I didn’t know if I had it in me anymore to sing. The night wore on and I felt my body crumple up, my mind closing in. I was tired. Sleepy. Scared.
When one of the performers was done, one that I had met earlier that night, approached me and asked if I was going to sing, I only responded with “no, it’s too late.” It was too late. Not in a metaphorical sense, but in a literal sense. It was almost one thirty in the evening and most of the patrons had already left. One would think that it’s too my advantage, but no, I was already discouraged. Until she insisted that I do. And for some reason, whether it was a sudden jolt of ‘fuck all’ attitude or I suddenly remembered the mission, I uncased my guitar and walked to the stage. Nightmares be damned.
I sang three songs that night. Relapse. Instead. Rushing Home. In that order. I wish to hell I had started with Instead, but the amount of songs that I could play was then unknown to me. I assumed that I could only sing one. I chose Relapse because that song is that one song wherein I get to release it all. The one song I use to leave my demons on stage and flipping them the finger while I’m walking away.
History has taught me to open with Instead. It’s a slow song. A slow burner. It flexes my vocal chords and warms up my voice. It effectively sets up the songs that’s to be sung afterwards. As mentioned, I only expected myself to sing one song, hence the song choice. My voice was wavering. I could hear myself in both the speakers and in my head. It wasn’t my best attempt, but God damn it, I didn’t care. I was still into it. I was still in the song. Where I was when I wrote it, the story I fabricated when it was penned, I was transported back to it. I was living the song. I was the song, most importantly.
The song ended and I had a crooked smile on my face. I did it. I redeemed myself, faltered vocals regardless. The few people who remained clapped and yelled for more. So I played Instead. Again, I was into it. My heart was into it. I was once again the song itself, living it, breathing it. And it was done. Applause. Yells of one more.
I wasn’t sure what to play next. I considered doing a cover, but my intention that night was to redeem myself. I had to play my own songs. It had to be my stories. “This is my darkest song,” I said to the mic. I tuned down my guitar’s high E string to a D, put the capo on the second fret, and started the fingerpicking of Rushing Home.
It led me back to the story of the song: A detached voice singing from the grave about a tragic relationship that ended in the final tragedy. Death. It’s about a shadowless man that caused the woman of his dreams to become careless and dangerous, flirting with Death every night before going to sleep.
I was there with you
Every night you were
Playing Russian Roulette
With the revolver
Your father gave you
Right before he died
I couldn’t stop you
I didn’t want to
Seemed like you needed it
You never once asked
Me to save you
So I became your guide
One rainy summer night
Fate finally won
Blood was everywhere
The bullet was through and through
I was embracing you
Karma got to me
It was me who
Drove you to this
I caused the miscarriage
The road was rain soaked
We were arguing
I did not see the signs.
Of all the songs I’ve written, that, along with Relapse, is my pride and joy.
I got off the stage after that with a rare feeling of accomplishment. The mission was a success. I have redeemed myself.
It was a good day. One that I hope I can replicate on the twenty eight when I have an actual billed gig on the very same stage.
Here’s to another victory.
* photos courtesy of the aforementioned friend, Jordan Chavez.