They could see the queue from down the street. It was a disorderly fox-tail of people pinned to the door of the bowling club, still in anticipation, the same anticipation which fired Jarrod down the street to join its end. Col called for him to wait. Jarrod wouldn’t. The guitars could already be heard above the crowd’s chatter.
He had bought the ticket from “Stax o’ Trax on Wax”, a mostly empty music store near his parents’ home, which for the moment, also served as his. The ‘stax’ numbered three, one for each of the musical formats. The ‘wax’ which had once predominated and gave the establishment its name, was reduced to a few Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper records. They had five copies of Wish You Were Here. Surprisingly, the guy at the store had heard of the Minute Minutes.
More importantly, the guy from the store had seen them back in 1998. To anyone else it was just a point on the calender thirteen years before now. To Jarrod, 1998 meant the guy at the store had seen them before they reformed, before they suddenly topped everyone’s best of list (including Jarrod’s. Though thankfully, before they were mentioned in Mojo or Uncut). 1998 meant he had seen them before anyone knew about them when they were a PhD student in logical philosophy, a secondary school teacher, a little known poet, an environmental engineer and by all accounts the heir to one of the city’s wealthiest families. 1998 was when they still belonged to this town. Jarrod – like almost everyone else – could only appreciate this more than a decade later.
Jarrod’s ticket now curled at the sides. The band’s name, the date and the venue scratched, barely legible. The swirling surging opening of “Vertigo Took Him” could just be heard. Those few bars had snatched his heart and made him at once despondent and devoted, despondent that such a band had been in his town the whole time and he hadn’t listened, devoted to not missing anything of theirs this second time. But the song which ultimately won him over was “Where are You Going, Niza?” His life would be meaningless if he didn’t hear that.
The crowd wasn’t moving, only thickening. A few more people were on the perimeter, bouncing on their feet, stretching their already thin necks to see inside. Only the black space of the entrance guarded by a bouncer was visible. Jarrod could just make out the lines “And he wants to fall / and he wants to fall” seeping out from the bowling club, muffled, half-strangled.
“So are they going to let us in?” Col said. Col had heard of the Minute Minutes, seen them in 1998, even earlier. He saw them at a uni band comp and when they played at a couple of parties, including one crammed into someone’s laundry. “The bassist sat crossed legged on the washing machine,” Col had said when Jarrod got the tickets. “The gig will be a fun. A bit of nostalgia,” Jarrod was glad no one was around to hear him use the word fun. Or nostalgia.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” said a girl standing right in front of them. “They don’t seem to be letting anyone in. The crowd hasn’t moved since I was here.”
Jarrod’s hand tightened on his ticket. It could have disintegrated.
Col chuckled. “It’s funny. They must have sold too many. Who’d think a band whose best gig was in a laundry would have too many people to go inside?”
“You were at the laundry gig?” the woman said and pushed Jarrod aside to get to Col. She looked at him as though he has the power to heal by touch.
“What was it like?”
“I don’t remember much. The bassist sat on the washing machine. Or maybe it was the singer. I mean the singer sat on the washing machine. Not the bassist on the singer.”
Col did that laugh again, so his belly rolled under the buttons on his cardigan and made them jiggle. Jarrod hated that laugh. And the buttons. They aged Col, and by association, Jarrod. The girl was not deterred.
“They might recognize you. They might recognize you and let you in,” she said and stopped to stare at Jarrod’s plump friend, her lips moist and slightly parted. Col shook his head and muttered but the woman grabbed Col. She announced they were friends with the band and as tenuous and fragile the fact was it levered a space through the people. Not one big enough to include Jarrod, though.
Soon someone pointed excitedly and said they were letting people in. The crowd contracted and just as readily sprung back to its original size and form. The message no one was going in was crowd surfed back. No bodies joined it. They were all to fixed on tip-toes, as though snagged on invisible hooks and just able to touch the ground.
Only one person freed himself from anticipation and stood on a nearby bench. He said to the crowd. “There are a hundred of us and only one of him.”
He was even taller than the others. He looked as though a group of people had grabbed him by the head and limbs and tried to pull him out of his black jeans and t-shirt with a paper-clip printed on the front. Jarrod was sure was too young to have heard the band before 1998.
Most of the crowd nodded as he spoke. A few of them could be heard agreeing with their rangy agitator. Then they looked over to the bouncer, who smiled reached out for the door and closed it with as much noise as its cumbersome frame would allow.
After a moment in which the agitator and the crowd looked at each other, the would-be agitator leapt from the bench and bound to the door where he hammered on it and demanded to hear “Underneath a Wooden Table”. He wailed that it got him through the end of high school. A few commented on what an obvious of song it was. Many more stated that clearly he had heard the band only recently.
But the agitator, who was now sprawled at the bottom of the door had pointed out, was right – united they could have broken through. The only problem was that whatever chain linked the passion and hysteria of one person to another had not been slipped over the people in this crowd. They were just lost in the bedrooms of their mind, built from the faint strains of the song on the other side.
The woman who had taken Col reappeared. Her eyes large and empty. She only blinked when she saw Jarrod.
“They let him in,” she said. “He said he knew the guitarist. The bouncer called the guitarist over and the guitarist beckoned him in. There was hardly anyone in there. It was almost empty.” At this moment she started to bawl, grabbing Jarrod’s t-shirt and wiping the scrunched fist of cloth into her face. “It’s empty and they were playing ‘The Shortness of my Nose’ she said as hers worked its way into Jarrod’s paper clip t-shirt. “That song got me through my first break-up,” she said.
Jarrod hadn’t even noticed that song. The band were now playing its final slowed and stressed bars. He could imagine them, each one bringing their hand down on the instrument, laughing at each other at the ironic theatrics, one or two of them, a little off beat. The woman and several other members of the crowd sang the final lines, all with the stupefied awe of people blessed.
“I suppose in a way this is their best gig ever” said another woman when the song finished. She had been one of the ones singing and was slightly younger than either Jarrod or his recent companion. “They’re missing out on the yearning, the ones inside, and the yearning is part of the band’s sound.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said the first woman, finishing off her nose on her sleeve. “What do you think?”
Jarrod decided to head off. It was no longer about the music. He just wouldn’t accept being locked out. He could not listen any more to the displays of anguish and consolation. He’d prefer to be at home.
The woman followed him and wanted to know what he would call a band if he ever had one. Her suggestion was Dawn Imperious. Typical, Jarrod thought. How more clichéd could she be. He was about to snort when he heard music.
It was coming perfectly through a the back of the club. About half a dozen people had realised this already. They put their fingers to their lips when Jarrod had stopped. The melody was even clearer than out the front. Beneath it, Jarrod swore he could hear Col talking. The band were playing “Franny Lit a Cigarette”, which reminded the woman of her sister. Jarrod wondered if this was the right time to ask her name.
“Maybe, this is better than the laundry gig,” she said, which prompted a muted discussion amongst the six others out the back. They couldn’t agree on either its merits or even its existence.
Until she mentioned it, Jarrod had pretty much forgotten the legendary event. Now, he looked up at the stars and at the empty bowling green and tried to imagine what the fabled room looked like. If he strained his mind hard enough he wondered if he could trick himself into believing he had been there, or inside. Anything said with enough confidence can quickly become true. He concentrated so much on this that he almost missed “Where are you going, Niza?”
“Finally. This is my favourite,” he said.
“Everyone likes this one,” the woman said, also looking at the night sky where maybe she had found the laundry he was straining to see.
He didn’t answer and went and sat at the end of the group. The woman took up position in the centre and started telling people a friend of hers was at the laundry gig. A joint was sparked and the night filled with its peppery smell. He stayed until they ended with “Uncle Blackbeetle was Dead”, not taking the joint, not speaking, wishing he could be anywhere but there.