Chapter 11: Changing the Tune
Only a week into the eight week tour! It has been the most intense first week of any summer. Dwayne and Alex are sitting in the far back of the bus strategizing their next moves. It is exciting, sure, Dwayne admits. Sudden notoriety and full venues, requests for interviews, sudden social media presence, but Dwayne had a previous taste of fame and he isn’t really sure he wants this. Plus a full week on the road and not a word from him had found its way to paper. No song, no poem, not even a draft. He is concerned about the younger guys. Henry seems unaffected, but Tom is the one who found the videos online, saw how many people had watched, read the comments, started a web page and a Twitter account, @lonelyplayers, and even started a Facebook page. He has been taking pictures for the last two days and keeps posting them. He started a blog about riding the bus and the travels. What exactly is there to blog about? They are on a bus doing nothing but traveling. Dwayne is wondering, now, about the business end of the band. As the leader of the band, he has himself set up as a sole proprietor with a dba as the Lonely Players. He has a separate business account for the band. Essentially he owns the band and pays the band members as contractors. Now, he is going to need an attorney. What kind of formal band structure should they have? Do they all want to be “owners”? There was never any need before. Damn, the “band” lost money every year and Dwayne subsidized. Now, if they start to earn a profit...well, damn, it might just be more of a head-ache than it is worth.
Alex: What the hell is wrong with you? Tom isn’t whoring around or letting fame get to him. Did you even know that Tom is a writer?
Dwayne: A writer? He’s a computer programmer.
Alex: And you’re a damn college professor, right? Been on the road every summer for the last five years with the man. Have you ever had an actual conversation?
Dwayne: He’s quiet.
Alex: He’s a bass player. All bass players are quiet
Dwayne: He’s a little hard to talk to.
Alex: Let me fill you in. He’s a computer programmer who has been writing a science fiction novel for the last three years. The same damn novel he hopes to make into a series of novels. Writing it for three years. Now suddenly he’s writing something people are reading. He’s excited. He’s up to sixty people following this little blog, but he’s writing. He is seizing an opportunity. Do you think he really wants to play in this band his whole life? That’s not his dream. We’re lucky. Neither of us know a damn thing about promoting on social media. You have a natural promoter with all this geeky stuff. It helps the band. He’s having fun. Relax a little.
Dwayne: I’m not sure I want us to be promoted. Building a following kind of makes me nervous.
Alex: Why did you do that piece in Tahoe then? Been playing in Phoenix on their news program all week. The entire state of Arizona has seen it by now.
Dwayne: I thought it was just going to be a little interview on a local station.
Alex: Well, you turned on the charm for her, Professor. Clearly she was inspired by you. How was she by the way, Professor?
Dwayne groans. The moniker, “the Cowboy Professor”, showed up in a newspaper review following their Laughlin gig. The damn hotel clerk last night had called him Professor Cowboy when he checked in. Tom had shown him pictures on twitter #cowboyprofessor. Pictures of him on stage with comments about “arm pornography” and videos of him moving his ass. He hadn’t even considered social media when he agreed to be the front man. What the hell is arm pornography anyway? Women fantasizing about his arms? Absurd!
Alex: It was quite the piece, you know, all about building inter-generational community through musical storytelling. It’s like you were in a damn classroom, but with pictures of you shaking your ass and those puppy dog eyes of yours. I told Tom he should start a #handsomecowboyprofessor. He thinks you should do a regular podcast on musical heritage. You did this to yourself. Was she at least good in bed?
Dwayne: I’ve seen the piece, thank you. Who wanted me to move my ass to begin with?
Alex: Well, I guess I was right, front man! Seems to be working just fine, near as I can figure.
Dwayne: Is this what we wanted? Is this what you had in mind?
Alex: I didn’t tell you to seduce a journalist in Tahoe to get the best media coverage of your life. That’s all on you. I ask for the third time if she was good in bed.
Dwayne sighs. She has already called him. She has been asked to send her “reel” to Sacramento. It seems like she was getting what she wanted out of the deal. Glad he had been the right kind of handsome and smart at exactly the right moment for the culture for her to get her dream. Truthfully, he is happy for her. She thinks she might come to Tucson tomorrow night, but not for work. She wants to experience the success and see him in a moment she helped to create.
Dwayne: None of your business if I slept with her.
Alex: If? What the hell is the matter with you?
Dwayne: Stop asking me that. I can’t write. I haven’t written anything. I’m worrying about damn profit sharing instead.
Alex: Horrible. You could end the summer not being in debt. Horrible tragedy.
Dwayne: I’m spending my time trying to figure out how to squeeze in a radio interview in Phoenix in between the newspaper interview and the show, but I’m fielding phone calls from tomorrow night in Tucson trying to negotiate all of that...
Dwayne does seem a little frazzled. Alex and Tony have been on the phone several times this week. Tony might have arranged for the Tahoe interview, but he had not known what a slam dunk the piece was going to be. It was easy, Tony had told Alex, for him to use his connections to get the piece shown through-out Nevada and Arizona. Alex has had several conversations with Tom as well encouraging him to start the blog and the Twitter account. Even Alex, though, is surprised by how quickly Dwayne and the Lonely Players are getting noticed. The venue in Tucson had sold out quickly and the bar owner became concerned about security. They worked out a deal with an old movie set in Tucson to move the gig there and the bar is sponsoring it all. Alex knows that if they continue down this path, his plan will succeed. Tony is working on a scheme with some contacts he has with a PBS station in Arizona to film some of the Tucson gig. It’s working, but Dwayne, still unaware of his friends behind the scene efforts, is feeling the responsibility that comes with the increased notoriety.
Dwayne: 500 people. The capacity is 500 people tomorrow night and with the publicity and tomorrow being a Friday night. Can we really perform to that large of a crowd?
Alex: I have been working with your interns and Tom on lighting options and stage set-up. You’re not in this alone. We are all together on this.
Dwayne: But I’m the front man now and the band leader.
Alex: Doing a damn good job at it. Since we are getting some notoriety, there’s only one thing you need to do a little differently.
Dwayne groans. What now? Alex pulls a box from under the seat.
Alex: The Cowboy Professor playing at an old Western movie set before 500 people better be wearing a Cowboy Hat.
Dwayne: I can’t accept this. It’s too much.
Alex: You cannot wear that old thing you’ve been wearing. If it shows up on a picture on the internet it will be there forever.
Dwayne hasn’t been wearing a cowboy hat. He has a Lakers cap he wears when the sun is out. Guess it isn’t a good year to advertise being a Laker’s fan. He takes the Stetson out of the box. It is top of the line. Bet it cost a grand. He puts it on his head. It is the perfect fit.
Dwayne: It’s too much, Alex.
Alex: I got you into this. Besides I understand I’m going to be rolling in dough soon from profit sharing. It really looks good, respectable. We’ll have to discuss what songs to wear it on and when to take it off.
Dwayne groans again.
Alex: What the hell is the matter with you?
Dwayne: How about these kids, Alex? Do you think it’s safe for them?
The band met the three boys and one girl who had been following them since they left Lakeport. Brothers 18 (Frank) and 20 (Fred), their 17 year old sister (Jane) and a friend who is 19. These kids, in a car loaded down with camping gear, were driving around the Southwest following the band. They said they had been watching the band every year they played in Lakeport for the last five years. This year when they saw the band, they just decided this was how they were going to spend the summer.
Alex: Those kids will be ok and, even if they are not, it’s not your responsibility. Their parents know and approve. The Whitman’s checked it out with their parents. You gave the kids your cell number. Tom and Henry are watching out for them and your interns. Let them take care of the young’uns. Can you relax a little?
Dwayne takes off the hat and thanks Alex sincerely. Alex asks again, but this time a little more seriously.
Alex: What the hell is the matter with you?
Dwayne: You know I had a little taste of this before and I didn’t like myself. I didn’t like who it made me.
Alex: Just don’t become that person again.
Dwayne: Well, that’s easy enough.
Alex: Before you were chasing something, the brass ring; trying to grab your chance. Is that how you feel now?
Dwayne: No. I don’t give a damn about that really.
Alex: What are you chasing now?
Dwayne: The sound. You were right, Alex, about some of this. I like being the front man. It’s a kick knowing I control the show. If I’m having fun, the audience is having fun and I am having fun. Trying to play something different; chasing a sound. That’s fun.
Alex: Did you say I was right? I might need to hear that again.
Dwayne: I don’t know if we quite have the sound right. I was right about not bringing in any Southern rock. How about more Western- a Sons of the Pioneers song for tomorrow night.
Alex nods: “Cool Water” for summer in the desert would be good, but the kids like something a little faster.
Dwayne: I want to write something. Maybe a little Rockabilly song. I feel like there’s a rockabilly song inside of me, but I can’t get it out.
Alex: Ok- the sound needs to change a little more. How about the bigger crowds, the media?
Dwayne: Somehow it’s fueling the sound. There’s an energy to it. Seeing the momentum. If we don’t let it get us too big, you know.
Alex: You’re chasing a sound; not a dream of fame. It’s about the music, right?
Dwayne nods. One thing that isn’t different from last summer is that it’s about the music. One big thing that is different is how much he is enjoying experimenting with the sound of the music. There are a lot of stressors, but he is enjoying the music more.
Alex: It’s the difference from the last time when you were in Nashville. Don’t think of it as a rising star or chasing success, climbing the ladder, any of that. Chase the sound and let the momentum move you along. Like surfing, dude. Just riding the wave and what does it matter in eight weeks if you’re famous? That isn’t what you’re chasing.
Dwayne nods: Did you just say “like surfing, dude?”
The friends smile at each other. They look outside at the passing desert scenery which is worthy of a good cowboy song. Alex thinks, not for the first time this week, last time I will… He turns to Dwayne and smiles again.
Alex: So what the hell is the matter with you?
Dwayne: I’m having dreams, Alex, of a woman I don’t know and she is just surrounded by blue all around her.
Alex: Is she nude?
Dwayne: Hell, no she’s not nude? What the hell is the matter with you?
Alex: It’s someone you are going to meet.
Dwayne: If I do, I won’t know her because I can never really see her or focus on what she looks like. Damn it, Alex, I’m not writing. I thought being the front man would fuel the writing. I just worry if I will ever write again.
Alex: It’s the first week, Professor, and it hasn’t been a typical first week. Give it time.
Dwayne continues to worry about the expectations of the band, playing before larger crowds, the fear of failure. Alex is pleased. Everything is going according to plan.