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"The Firing of a Wedding Band Drummer," short story excerpt

Thursday 7/8/21

It fell to me to fire Two-Tone, because I was his oldest friend, which if I’m being honest was a convenient cop out for the other guys, but they say a band is only as good as its drummer, which made Two-Tone an impediment. He used to be Keith Moon x Ginger Baker x John Bonham x Elvin Jones x Tony Williams.

How true is that? Well, not very. But he was a lot better than anybody else at the time that we knew, and people get to saying what they say. None of it is probed that much. It’s more about how it sounds, the words. Which is actually kind of fitting. “If it sounds good, it is good,” Duke Ellington said. And who wants to argue with Duke Ellington?

But I didn’t want to fire Two-Tone now that he’d gotten fat with his marriage over and he couldn’t move like he used to, because my marriage was winding down and I could be in the same place soon enough. I’d give him these pep talks about what the boys expected from his sound, which was my cowardly way of saying what they expected from him.

Really, though, it was like I was talking to myself. I think they call that projecting. When you get too far out ahead of things. And when you make someone else’s stuff your stuff. He’d have these depressing ass statistics, too, about how you’re such and such much more likely to have a heart attack because you’re a guy that lives alone after a certain age.

“Then you eat more and you drink more,” Tone told me, “and then it’s game up.”

I admit that I thought he sounded like a pussy when he talked that way. I wanted to kick him, shake him, stick my boot deep in the pussy and go, “Look, bitch, toughen up, you’re forty-seven, you’re not 107, we need you, I need you.”

All of that crap. I play bass so he was my rhythm section brother, and I could add something about that. Do a “I get you in a way that these other guys don’t, I know what you have in you, brother man” sort of deal that wouldn’t be entirely lip service. Say, ninety-five percent lip and five percent whatever is in a handshake between actual friends.

But I think if I would have kicked him he would have said some version of, “Okay” and “nice” and “you can do it again.” We had one of our worst gigs—yeah, it was only a wedding, but do you know how much it hurts to have for a bride to ask for their money back?—and finally I just said, “Get out, man, get the fuck out, go find a fucking bucket and a subway platform and drum there.”

We were still at the wedding drinking these pathetic beers they give you—the band is allotted ten—so that you blend in, I guess, between sets, but I bet they knew they wanted not to pay us by then. A wet rope could have kept the time better than Tone. We used to say that people were so horny for a dance at a wedding that a headless chicken could inspire them to shake their asses, but not us.

Tone was going to leave then and there, but I said, “finish your beer, man,” and then he had to finish the set with us, which was as awkward as you might imagine, because there was still that chance in all of our minds that maybe we’d get paid. I’m not going to say that the old thunder was back, or it was time to find the dude’s long lost crown as king of the polyrhythms, but he played with some punch, some pizzazz. That surprised me, and I thought about saying to the boys, “Hey, wait, how about a probationary period?” but it was too late.

My dad used to say, “You just think you’re living here.” He wasn’t talking about our house. Our town. America. Which meant something different anyway being black. It’s like when Miles Davis said that you can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker. He didn’t mean only four words—but all of the words that lived between those words, which were so real and powerful and actual that you didn’t need to see them.

I’d want to say “What are you on about, old man?” but he told me once and I didn’t have to ask after that. He said "you think you’re here, in the here and now, but look, there’s you over there, baker boy”—which was this weird term my dad used when he got deep—“and there’s you back in your past, and here you are tomorrow setting up what you’ll be next year and in a quarter of a century, if you get there. You mayn’t, and you may.”

He’d cap it like that, like he’d just stepped out of one of those Reading is Fundamental programs we had back in school. My dad was funny that way. Which sounds a little like a Billie Holiday song.


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