Black cinder blocks…
Loud music echoed through the air as Mr. Ketchum and I stepped into the club Seattle on Third Street in downtown Terre Haute. The club was pretty much the same as the thousands of other clubs that I had seen during my “illustrious” career. Set in an older brick building, the inside of the club carried the familiar motif: cinder block painted black. Ah, the black cinder block—a welcome sight indeed. That was my element. I had spent most of my life in places like this. Spent countless after-midnight hours bouncing from one set of black cinder blocks to another, refreshing my buzz with a new round of drinks at each stop. So to see that such a place existed in Terre Haute, Indiana meant that they had gotten at least one thing right. I had my doubts about the legitimacy of the other facets of this alleged music scene, but at least they had gotten the black cinder block right.
I actually felt a little better.
Like in many a small club, the furniture consisted of a bunch of mismatched tables and chairs that looked as though they had been purchased at garage sales. Above the bar, I noticed the logo for the club. I liked it. The logo looked as though it had been created by a psychopath and depicted a scene of an exploding Space Needle with shards of shrapnel coming together to form the word ‘Seattle.’ I glanced about the rest of the room. There was no real theme to the club. No neon lights. Only a few photos on the wall. No fake Tiki statues. Just the black cinder block walls and a bunch of mismatched furniture. Your basic no-frills club which, incidentally, is exactly the way that I like it.
At the far end of the club was a small raised stage which contained barely enough room for a band to squeeze together upon (I thought to myself that it was fortunate the nobody played piano in bands anymore, because a piano wouldn’t have fit in that area which passed for a stage). Along the side wall was the most important element of any nightclub: the bar. This was the key to any club’s
operation. It was a time-honored formula: people come to see bands; they drink. A club-owner judges a band’s success strictly by the take at the bar. If a band brings in big crowds, then that adds up to a lot of alcohol-purchasing bodies. If a band doesn’t bring in a lot of drinkers, then that band will not get the prime weekend gigs. It’s as simple as that. So in a roundabout way, every successful band started out as liquor salesmen. The best liquor salesmen get the best gigs. The best gigs are the ones which attract the Suits from the record labels who, impressed by the large crowd of slobbering drunks, give the band a label deal. All this attention by the record company catches the attention of radio stations who play the liquor salesmen’s record which catches the public’s attention and millions of dollars are made for everybody. The good liquor salesman is now a household name.
A few rows of tables were positioned close to the stage, and at one of these tables a young woman sat listening to the auditioning band. I could immediately tell that this was my subject, Samantha. She was just one of those people who you automatically know is the one in charge. The young woman had the same sturdy look as the man who had picked me up at the airport. She appeared to be somewhere in her mid-twenties, a little on the heavy side, though not terribly so, with mid-length auburn hair and dressed like a musician. She didn’t seem to notice that we had entered, although this was not surprising, as the sound of the music effectively crushed any sounds we may have made upon entering. I doubt that anything short of a firing squad or an airplane crashing into the building could have penetrated the wall of noise generated by those four young men on stage at that moment.
I decided that I would hold off on lighting up my next cigarette until after I had been introduced to this woman.
When the song ended, Mr. Ketchum called out, “Hey Sam” to his daughter. Samantha turned, got up from the chair and walked toward us.
She casually looked me over. “You’re older than I imagined,” she said dryly. And that was all she said. She threw out that nice little
tidbit, then let the air just hang there, waiting, I suppose, for me to fill it in.
So I filled it in.
“Yeah, I’m a lot older than I imagine too,” I said. “In my imagination I’m a lithe 20-year-old running through a field of daisies without a care in the world. I’m also 6’2”, rippling with muscles and hung like a rhinoceros.”
Then in the pause that followed I noticed for the first time that
the members of the auditioning band were merely standing on the stage looking at us. As I looked up at the stage, the lead singer said, “Yo, do we get the gig or not?”
“Well,” said Samantha, “that depends. I’m hoping that comment about bringing homemade pyrotechnics was a joke?”
“What? Oh, yeah. Of course.”
“Because if you bring so much as a match to that stage, not one of you will ever play here again. Understand me Mike?”
“Swear. It was a joke.”
Samantha turned back toward the stage and said, “Then yeah, I guess so.” The band jumped in excitement and Samantha had to raise her voice above their happy howls, “we’ll try you out on next Tuesday’s opening slot. It’s the worst time to be playing. Bring enough friends to see you and maybe we’ll move you to a better slot.”
“No problem,” said the lead singer.
Samantha turned her attention back to me. She extended her hand. “I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Samantha,” she said.
“Nice to meet you David.”
“Same here,” I said, noticing her surprisingly firm handshake “Well,” she said, “here you are.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “Here I am.”
We stood there for a moment in the strange silence of two people
who are basically sizing one another up. I have no idea what she was thinking when confronted with the sight of an emaciated-looking,
long-haired, nose-pierced, older-than-she-had-imagined music journalist.
But I can tell you what I saw when I looked at her. I saw determination. There are just some people who, when you look at them, you see that they have it. And I am convinced that this quality, above all else, is what makes the “successful” people successful. An unusual facet of my profession is that I tend to meet a lot of people who have come from nowhere and made it to the top of their professions. Unlike other occupations which you can be born into or educated into or fraternitied into, every successful band starts out as a bunch of dirt-poor nobodies. All of them. They are not born into this business, they fight their way into it. And one difference that I have seen between the million-sellers and the thousands of bands that go nowhere is that the top people radiate determination.
That’s not to say that they are necessarily good people, or intelligent people, or talented people, or even sane people (although neither are they necessarily not any of those things), but the one thing that most “successful” people I’ve met have in common is determination. That’s what makes them persevere through all of the bad things that would make others, like me and like most of the world, give up. That is what makes them not take “no” for an answer. That’s what allows them to shrug off rejection after rejection until they get a “yes.” That, above all else is why they succeed. And this young woman had it.
Around us the band was packing its equipment away and I noticed that the guy Samantha had been talking to was staring at me. He bounded up to us and asked Samantha, “Is this the guy?”
I looked at him, “The guy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “this is the guy. Leave him alone Mike.” “Dude,” said Mike, “you gotta come by and see us on… what
night was it?”
“I believe she said next Tuesday.”
“Right! Tuesday. Dude, you have to come!” Samantha looked at him: “Goodbye Mike.” “Oh right. Bye.”
And as Mike walked back to his bandmates Samantha turned and walked toward the bar. She reached behind the bar and pulled out a stack of posters. Then she looked down at my feet.
“Good,” she said, “you’ve got tennis shoes on. Wanna come help me put up posters?”
“Well, I haven’t even checked into my hotel yet…”
“Oh come on.” She smiled as she pulled out a can of glue and a few stiff brushes, “I’ve got a big, gluey paint brush with your name on it.”
“Well,” I said, “how could I possibly refuse an offer like that?”
I looked at the big stiff paintbrush and the stack of club posters and the sight brought the memories flooding back to me. There were those nights, eons ago it now seemed, when I had helped my friend Paul and the other members of Paul’s band plaster the streets of Los Angeles. As was the custom among bands, we would slap a poster upon anything that didn’t move.
My God, how long ago had that been? Thirty years? More? My God.