There was some mild applause from the crowd. I held down a soft D major chord, making an unattractive key change from the B-flat I had been playing during the introduction. LaShawn brought in a steady rhythm on the hi-hat cymbals. Budgie gave one of the tuning knobs on his guitar a hearty random twist then strummed an out of tune open chord, letting the aural discomfort loiter for a few seconds. That was a nice touch. He then began chugging a palm muted D5 chord and stepped up to the microphone.
Budgie had obviously forgotten half the words to his own song, but he covered his memory lapses with repetition, nonsense words, and by singing na-na-nah. There were a lot of na-na-nahs. For my part, I have forgotten most of the words he sang that night, but I can give you the first verse:
Well you know I’m feeling thirsty, and your mangoes are looking fine,
I’m gonna take my banana, and stick it in your blender,
Put your hand on that speed dial, and set it to high,
We’re gonna shama-lama strawberries, na-na-na-na blender.
It got worse from there.
At the start of the second verse, LaShawn brought in a standard drum beat, but he added an over-the-top fill every few bars. Rory played heavy eighth notes and was always a couple of beats behind trying to find the chord changes. In the chorus, I played right up the high end of the keyboard, giving some irritating squeals to compliment Nils’s guitar, which was turned up ridiculously loud. Post chorus, the song went into an instrumental break, with Nils playing a guitar solo involving two notes and lot of whammy bar work. During the solo, LaShawn dropped a drumstick; he stopped playing, stood up and walked around his drum kit looking for it.
During the third verse (the lyrics of which were ninety per cent na-na-nahs), I noticed a few people leaving the party, and a small, unimpressed group upending the barrels which no longer contained beer. I also noticed the man in the black cloak was gone. We forced our way through another chorus, a lengthy and highly repetitive second guitar solo, and then a final chorus that went up a step to the key of E. Budgie had not told us about the key change (and had probably forgotten about it himself until the moment arrived), and so he was the only one who played it; the rest of us persisted unaware in the key of D. As far as musical train wrecks go, this was the Guadalajara Disaster of 1915, only with about six hundred fewer fatalities. We hoped to keep it that way.
By the end of the song, about a quarter of the crowd was making (or had already made) its exit around the front of the house. The remaining three quarters stood there remarkably quiet. Perhaps these were people of extraordinary magnanimity (I think that fits. That makes seven), overlooking the atrocity that was our opening number, and offering Ninja Moustache a chance to redeem itself. Maybe they were the stubborn type, the kind of people who, having shown up for the start of a performance, were bloody well going to see it through to the end. Perhaps they were all tone-deaf.
Rather than launching straight into the next song, Budgie adjusted his microphone stand and then declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you we have run out of beer.”
What our awful music had achieved in part, the threat of sobriety completed—with a vengeance. With a chorus of boos and obscenity-laden accusations of betrayal, the entire crowd turned its back on us and funnelled away around the side of the house. We played them out with a painfully slow and out of tune rendition of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”.
Including the extended intro, we made it only halfway through the song before the last stragglers gave us the finger and disappeared to go live the rest of their lives. Budgie, Nils and Rory took off their guitars; LaShawn laid down his drumsticks and stepped out from behind the kit. I switched off the keyboard and joined them centre stage. Across the yard from us, lining the back of the house, stood fifty brutes in black jeans and jackets.
A fellow in a red track suit stepped out from between a couple of the big guys in black and barked a command. The men in black reached into their jackets, took out their firearms and levelled them at us.
“Uzis,” said Rory.
I felt queasy.
“Well, that’s it then,” said Nils.
“Are they going to shoot us now?” I said.
“Looks that way,” said Rory.
“Heads high, lads,” said Budgie. “Don’t give these bastards any satisfaction.”
He looked around at each of us with a smile, and a tear in his eye.
“Come on,” said LaShawn, “let’s give them a bow.”
He stood between Rory and me and put his arms around our shoulders. Budgie grabbed Nils and stood alongside Rory. I was terrified. My heart raced, my knees quivered, and my stomach churned. But in the midst of all that, another fear, just a tiny one, commandeered my body. It was the fear of being remembered a coward. I did not want my wife and children to have to think of me dying begging for my life, sobbing and pleading and soiling myself. And so I stood tall. We all did.
“That was hell of a gig,” said LaShawn.
Budgie smiled. “Yeah, not a bad way to go out.”
“Did you mean to drop your drumstick?” asked Rory, with a chuckle.
“Ah,” said LaShawn. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”
And so, with death imminent, we giggled amongst ourselves, all inexpressibly grateful to have each other.
Nils, Budgie, Rory, LaShawn and I stood in a line, arms around each other at the front of the stage like we were The Rolling Stones. And we took a bow.
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