Chapter 17: We are only Human
The Lonely Players drive across a desolate landscape from Clovis to Albuquerque. Dwayne knows from other trips that, with some weather to look at, the open horizon and big sky could make for a beautiful drive. Today they have the sun beating down and nothing of interest brown to look at. The wind is slowing down the bus and they left Clovis later than Dwayne expected. It took far longer to record the “The First Time” now than it had twenty years ago with the Country Legend. He couldn’t help comparing the two recording events. Recording his first song with the legend had been the highlight of his young life up to that time. He went on to record several albums as a guitar player with the legend and several of his own songs were on those albums, but there is nothing like the first time, Dwayne thinks, understanding the irony considering the song title. Today is the first time Dwayne has recorded as the lead singer with his own band. It is the first time recording “The First Time” all over again. Twenty years apart and same song.
The primary reason it took so long was that, with the exception of Dwayne, no one else in the band had ever recorded. They were all nervous and jittery during this first time. The legend had recorded so many albums that he had a system down. Another reason it took so long is that the marketing person at the hotel didn’t want an edited version. There was to be no laying down tracks or splicing together sound. He thought it would feel more authentic if it was recorded as it was played. Dwayne wondered why they didn’t just record it live tomorrow night if that was the sound they wanted. Driving to Clovis took them a long way out of their way. The engineer was irritable about coming in on a holiday and not very helpful. The marketing director from the hotel had no recording experience. He had a sound he wanted, but struggled with putting his desires into words. They finally hit on a take where none of the band members felt they had performed too badly and where the marketing director thought the sound was raw enough. It was a lot of time invested in a one off recording which would play only on a few stations with the words produced by and hotel name ahead of it. Dwayne does think it is a novel marketing idea and that the hotel marketing director is making some smart moves to offset the potential losses from the cancellation of the other band. For Dwayne this recording is mostly for sentimental reasons. He wants a historical rendition of the way The Lonely Players are at this moment. He doesn't know what will happen after this summer, but he knew this summer was the end of the way he had been doing things for the last five years.
Dwayne wonders again about how sick Alex really is. He shakes his head thinking about it. His best friend and they can’t even have an honest conversation about something so important. The conversation in the hotel room yesterday morning had made him think about trust, about why people might have a hard time trusting him, about why maybe they might be right not to trust him, about what he would do differently if he was ever in love again, about his own mortality, about how unlikely it would be that he would fall in love again, and about how short and how long the years would be between now and death if he lived a normal lifespan. It was a lot to think about and he was feeling melancholy when he lied down yesterday for an afternoon nap. He had a better dream, though, than he had in a while. Now he can’t stop thinking about the dream. This time the him in his blue dreams came into contact with the woman in his dreams. She was standing with her back turned and his dream self went up behind her and took her in his arms. She relaxed backwards into his dream self arms. He wished he had seen her face. For just a moment, instead of seeing himself in his dreams he became his dream self and felt her leaning into him. He saw the word trust written in white. He started to read the words underneath the word trust, but was distracted by the smell of the woman’s hair. He whispered darlin’ and woke up. It was an amazing experience to be fully in his dreams again and holding the woman he had dreamt about now for weeks.
The bus stops at a travel station called Clines Corner for a bathroom break, gas and a quick sandwich. It is mid-afternoon and a couple of more hours to drive. He sees in the convenience store area a leggy woman with strawberry blonde hair. She is standing with her back to him and holding hands with a little boy. He wonders how it would feel to walk up behind her and wrap his arms around her the way he had done with the dream woman. The little boy breaks free to run to a man exiting the restroom. His father and her husband? If in his dreams he never sees the woman’s face, how would he know her if he met her? Alex is convinced she is a real woman who Dwayne will meet instead of a woman Dwayne’s imagination made up. Dwayne thinks he has imagined her, the way he had imagined the woman for whom he wrote “The First Time” years ago, to inspire some songs, but is frustrated he has not written any songs.
The band members return to the bus. They are tired and each one finds his own space. Alex stretches out for a nap. Tom puts his headphones into his tablet. Henry texts with a woman he met last night in Santa Fe to encourage her to come to Albuquerque tomorrow. The band is planning a very small pre-concert birthday celebration for Dwayne’s fiftieth. There is plenty of space on the bus today. The interns did not come with them to Clovis. They took the train from Santa Fe to south of Albuquerque this morning for a Fourth of July carnival. They had become friends with the kids who were traveling to see the band. They were all going to the carnival together. Sounds like a better way to spend the Fourth than traveling on a bus, Dwayne thinks. Dwayne likes his spot in the far back of the bus when he is songwriting. He sits in a middle seat, his guitar in the seat on the right of him, his legal pad and different color pens on the seat to the left. He thinks about the fact that it is the last day of his forties. Tomorrow he will begin the decade of his fifties. A great way to go out of this decade would be to write a song. He looks down at the legal pad filled with doodling and random patriotic phrases for which he had no corresponding rhymes. A flying eagle, an unfurled flag- he had started to try and write a patriotic song this morning because the song he wanted to write wasn’t coming to him. He wants to write about the big issues he has been thinking about: life, death, love, friendship, trust. After seeing the word trust in his dream, he had tried unsuccessfully to write a song of trust. He also knows he has a rockabilly tune inside of him. It would be great, he thinks, to end this decade writing a really great song. He has never lived up to his potential after “The First Time.” He is due another one, isn’t he? One great song every twenty years? He then thinks again that at this point a poem would be fine. He continues to sit with his guitar untouched on one side of him and his legal pad on the other.
Outside of a town called Edgewood, they stop when their driver needs a bathroom break. When the driver returns forty-five minutes later, Dwayne thinks him a bit too intoxicated to drive.
Drivers are provided by the bus company as part of the rental agreement. They are often rotated out in different cities over the course of the tour. It is a complicated driver schedule which Dwayne is glad not to have to figure out. The system has always worked great. It means the band never really knew the drivers, but it also means that everything related to pay, room, regulations regarding overtime and such was handled by the bus company and Dwayne just had to make the one payment. In this case, when the schedule had changed at the last moment to go first to Clovis and then to Albuquerque during a holiday, the bus driver who had driven them to Santa Fe was already scheduled off and a replacement was not scheduled for two days. The bus company had to scramble for a driver and Dwayne realizes now that this bus driving system might not work well with last minute changes. He had not thought of that earlier. Stranded in Edgewood on a major holiday, it had taken over an hour just to get an actual person from the bus company in LA on the phone and then they had to locate a close by available driver; close by meaning a driver had to travel to them from Clovis. They had spent hours outside a fast food restaurant in Edgewood waiting for a new driver. Band members were tired and irritable when they arrived at the hotel in Albuquerque close to 10 p.m.
Their mood turns from irritable to boisterous when they see how posh the hotel is. These accommodations are far more luxurious than those to which they are accustomed. Certainly they are better than the motel in Santa Fe. Dwayne thinks of a long hot shower and stretching out on a quality bed with breakfast delivered to the room tomorrow. The thought makes him happy. He is turning fifty in style. The hotel concierge greets them. He summons the bell hops to take control of their luggage. He gives the bell hops his master key and tells them to take the luggage right upstairs. The band has two bedroom suites and the executive loft reserved for Dwayne. The Marketing Director has driven ahead of them and has been back for hours. The concierge asks the band members to please wait in the lobby. The Marketing Director wants to speak to them before they retire for the evening.
In the lobby Dwayne and the band sees the large publicity photos from the shoot the day before. The two portraits are on easels. One is a picture of the band. Alex and Dwayne are in the middle slightly facing each other. The two younger men stand on either side of Dwayne and Alex. Dwayne holds the dulcimer and Alex his fiddle. Tom has his bass and Henry his drum sticks. The second picture is of Dwayne’s face with his cowboy hat. Dwayne has never seen his face so big and is embarrassed. At least it isn’t a picture of his ass, he thinks. Tom takes pictures of both pictures and tweets them out.
The Marketing Director comes out and shakes their hands all around. He reminds them their rooms and food are comped and each room has a complimentary bottle or two of Irish whiskey. Dwayne had been asked in a newspaper interview what his favorite alcoholic beverage was. Someone from the hotel had done their homework. Dwayne asks about tickets at the venue for tomorrow night. Did they have to refund a lot of money due to the other band canceling? The marketing manager says it had been quite a busy couple of days for everyone involved and they did have to refund some tickets, but quickly started selling them after Monday’s media campaign. Dwayne is relieved. He always wants people to earn a little cash when they book his band. The Marketing Director informs them that he came back from Clovis to find out the venue was near capacity. Dwayne asks him to repeat. They have already sold upwards of 950 tickets. Their hotel is booked to capacity. The Director is pleased with himself. His plan to offset losses has resulted in a profit.
Dwayne begins to discuss with the band the changes they might need in order to play to 1000 people: double the size of their ever largest audience. He is distracted from the attention they seem to be attracting from the bar adjacent to the lobby. There is a crowd of women staring at him. He waves to them awkwardly. Two young women with raven color hair in short shorts, T shirts and bright colored boots run over to the band. One woman turns around and raises the back of her shirt to show him the tattoo on of an eagle on her lower back. It looks fairly new. Dwayne smiles politely. There is a strong smell of alcohol coming from the women who might have been attractive if they were not so intoxicated. The woman without the tattoo is very tall. She is easily as tall as he is. Her breasts are large and it is clear she is not wearing a bra. Young ones, Dwayne thinks, barely drinking age. The one with the tattoo tells Dwayne that they are big fans. Dwayne says thanks. More people from the bar seem to be staring and he becomes concerned about a scene. He motions for a security guard. He suggests to the band that they should go to their rooms. The tall woman asks if they can come up to the room and party with them. Dwayne says no, not this time. Then both women lift their shirts over their heads to expose their breasts.
Hotel security quickly steps in to “help” the young women to put down their shirts and moves them away from the band. Another security guard suggests it would help them out if they could escort Dwayne and the band to the rooms. The four band members gather in one of the suites. They are shaking their heads and laughing while describing the women’s breasts. Alex pours them each a drink from the complimentary bottle of Irish whiskey.
Henry: Did this type of thing happened to you in the day, Dwayne, in Nashville?
Dwayne: Not to me and not to anyone in the band that I knew. Women would throw their panties and bras on stage all the time. Not at me. Well, a funny thing is one time a man threw a pair of boxer shorts on the stage and they landed at my feet. I was teased for quite a while about that.
Alex: Come on. Won’t hurt anything to share some stories of your misspent youth with us.
Dwayne: Truly, we were pretty calm in the sex department. Women who would come back stage would get back because they had drugs. That was our priority. We used a lot of cocaine. It wasn’t good. Some of the men would, you know, share the women among them, but I never was interested. I had a woman back at home. I didn’t need that.
Tom: But you don’t have a woman back at home now and you’re the star.
Dwayne: Those women have fathers, you know. You think they would like to see them acting like this.
Alex: Ok, Professor, no one asked them to show their breasts to us.
Dwayne: Hey, you guys know I like my fun. I have never hurt for companionship and I’m grateful for all the gals, you know, but we can’t let something like this take control of us. You could start thinking, especially at my age, that you need them younger or you need two to three at a time. You start adding a bottle, a little weed, a little cocaine, you start thinking you can order women from concierge services or describe what you’re looking for to the backstage security. You feel strange tonight you want one tall or really short or with a bigger butt. You feel lonesome you want someone who looks like your high school sweetheart. You start thinking about sisters or mother and daughter combinations (Dwayne realizes the three men are looking at him open mouthed). I am not telling you what I have done, but what I’ve seen done. We could call up that concierge tonight probably and have him search the bar for our specific desires and bring them up. You start thinking about women like that and pretty soon you start thinking of yourself as trash as well. Lots of ways to become obsessed and distracted when you are on the rise and on the road, but it’s not where we want to go. It’s not who we want to be.
Alex: (to lighten the mood) Ok, but if some twenty-one year old girl wants to flash her boobies at you, you don’t mind if this old man stands beside you and looks.
Dwayne laughs: Well, we are only human.