Welcome to Groove House

By Jill Meniketti

General fiction, Music & musicians, Literary fiction, Comedy & satire

Hardback, eBook

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1015
13 mins

Chapter 1

Mike Mays glared at Nick, the rhythm guitarist—his twenty-something, hired gun with tar-black hair veiling his dark eyes, and the shitload of hardware hanging off his face. Poseur.

“Face it, old man,” Nick growled. “You left your chops in the ’80s.”

“I got jeans older than you, ya little pissant.” Mike felt pressure rising in his chest. His breathing thickened. “Shoulda shipped your ass back to L.A. after the London gig.”

“I’ll be glad when this embarrassment of a tour is over.” Nick scooped up his skull and bones McSwain guitar and began noodling.

Bones, the frizzy-haired guitar tech for the tour, straddled the dressing room doorway in his combat boots, plaid shorts, and a Judas Priest T-shirt. “Okay,” he announced, “time to clear the dressing room.”

Mike turned and ogled the chick’s killer bod as she stood in her sexy red stilettos and her black lace skirt that barely covered her ass. One tug of the tie on her halter top, he thought, and her tits would come spilling out. He licked his lips. She’d be a tasty treat after the show.

She spun her back to him and he grinned as he ran his fingers over the bare skin above her ass. There it was: his own face staring back at him. He glanced down at the tattoo—the kid with pouting lips and long, puffy hair. Not bad, he thought, the jaw line looks pretty good and the eyes look okay. “Damn, they got my nose all wrong . . . too narrow.”

He turned and caught sight of Nick in the mirror. He’s about the same age as me in the tattoo, Mike thought, and then he glanced away from his own withered face and thinning hair. He turned back to the tat.

“I feel sorry for the poor bastard who has to stare at me when he screws her from behind.” Mike grinned as his guitar tech and backing band laughed—all but Nick.

The chick shifted her head back to check Mike’s expression, an auburn curl dropping to her shoulder. She handed him a black Sharpie. “Can you sign it?”

“I’d be delighted.” Mike caressed the colors on her skin and then scribbled his name above the tat. “How ’bout you come back after the show and we’ll see how great your ass looks on my face?”

The chick giggled and then hugged Mike as he planted a kiss on her cheek.

Then Bones ushered her out and poked his head back inside. “I’m off to the stage now. Need anything before I go?”

“A line of blow?”

Bones did a double-take.

Mike glanced at Dylan, the bleached-blond drummer. “Down boy. . . . No need to get on your AA soapbox.” Even though Mike didn’t believe in all that sobriety bullshit, he no longer did the hard stuff; it just took too much out of him anymore.

Mike felt a shiver when the roar of the festival crowd swelled into the dressing room. He glanced around the trailer—the same makeshift dressing room every band had that day, lined up side by side like an RV tailgate party at a Raiders game. He’d expected something more comfy, like the backstage at Shoreline Amphitheatre. . . . After all, it was his comeback tour.

He slipped to the back corner for some privacy and reached for the stage clothes hanging on a hook. He strained into his black leather pants and stretched into his charcoal tank top. On the floor next to his Harley-Davidson boots sat a jet-black eyeliner pencil and a plastic cup of Jack and Coke. He groaned as he bent over to get both, took a swig, and then grunted as he pulled on his boots. Guzzling the drink, he leaned in to the full-length mirror and pressed on the bags puffing out under his eyes. “Fuckin’ hell.” After trickling drops of Visine into each eye, he smudged on more eyeliner. His hair was looking so scraggly, so he fluffed it up and spritzed on another coat of hairspray. Taking a step from the mirror, Mike gave a final once-over.

He turned and then strutted through the dressing room casting a smirk at the three primping, half-naked, twenty-somethings who made up his backing band. He knew he was way better than these hired guns.

Dylan tapped a pair of drumsticks on his thighs. “Ready to rock, Mike?”

“Always. See you dudes up there.”

“See ya onstage, man,” said Lonnie, the bass player, spiking his blond streaks in the mirror.

Nick said nothing.

Mike flung the dressing room door wide open and paused, gazing at the surrounding mountains. He squinted toward the highest peak, which was crowned with a distant, medieval castle. “Sure ain’t got shit like that in America.” He looked back at Nick, but he had his head down, noodling on his guitar. Poseur, Mike thought, as he let the dressing room door slam.

Walking the backstage path past the artist catering tent, Mike fielded greetings from the other bands. When he felt an arm on his shoulder, he turned to face his manager, Bruce, in a white Panama hat and white button-down shirt, looking so outta place at a rock festival.

“How’s the voice today?” Bruce asked, twisting his moustache as he glanced around the backstage area. Then he leaned in to Mike’s ear and hissed, “I worked my ass off to get you back on the scene, bud . . . don’t fuck it up.”

“I got it covered,” Mike crowed, as he dipped out from under Bruce’s arm. He glanced around and then lowered his voice. “Dude, I, uh, could use another infusion of dough. Landlord’s on my ass back home.”

“I told you, give me three good songs to send the label. Remember, we only have an option for another recording. If they don’t like what they hear, the deal’s over.”

Yeah, yeah. Mike couldn’t look at Bruce. When he spotted a break in the chain-link fence where he could peer out at the festival crowd, he turned and changed course. “Worked his ass off,” Mike muttered as he glanced back with a smirk to see Bruce herding his wife and two teenage sons toward the stage. He missed that hungry young Bruce who used to score hookers and blow, and could always squeeze an extra grand outta any promoter or record exec. Nowadays, he was pure business . . . that was, when Mike could even get him on the phone.

A crooked smile crossed Mike’s face as he glanced out at the massive festival stage. Always a rush to play the big stages, he thought. Beneath the colossal lighting rig, a red and black banner rippled in the warm evening breeze: GERMANY ROCKS. Thirty-four thousand energetic rock fans were jam-packed on the field. From the crowd’s center, thousands of rowdy fans—young and old—pushed forward, vying for closer range at the stage. Poor fuckers, Mike thought, meltin’ in the sun all day. Sweaty bodies near the front shoved and swayed and pressed from every direction; the diehard fans stood their ground, pushing back to maintain their small parcel of dirt among the herd. So glad, he thought, I ain’t out there with the masses.

At the chug of his guitar being checked through the sound system, Mike headed toward the stage, scoping out the untilled farmland and the mixing tower in its center. Onstage, the frantic changeover continued. Stagehands darted about, running cables, and swapping out amplifiers while a tech on the drum kit pounded out a line check for the sound man.

“Mike Mays!” a voice called out.

About to climb the tall stairs to the stage, Mike turned to see some dude with a buzz cut wearing faded jeans and a denim jacket covered with patches.

“Can you sign this?” The dude held out a silver Sharpie and a magazine featuring Mike, and then watched as he scrawled his signature.

Mike leafed through the magazine and paused at the festival advertisement. “Fuckin’ hell.” He was thrilled to get second billing, a position Bruce had miraculously finagled based on Mike’s legacy alone. “They been beggin’ me to come outta retirement for years. Got a killer band. . . . These cats kick ass, old school style. Ya won’t see nothin’ like this today.”

He flipped a few more pages, scrutinizing the album ads, mainly newer bands. He didn’t recognize the majority. Turning back to the feature, Mike winced at the photos. “Fuckin’ hell. Don’t nobody weed out the shitty shots no more?” He glanced at the German gobbledygook in the article and figured it was probably a rave, unlike the mixed European press reviews so far.

Mike’s backing band breezed by him, kicking up dust before they headed up the stairs. His eyes focused on Nick, that ungrateful little prick in ripped jeans and a T-shirt.

“These fuckin’ teenyboppers don’t know how to dress for stage,” Mike bitched as he readjusted his snugly tucked balls in his black leather pants. His gaze landed on the fan’s patch-covered denim jacket. Iron Maiden. Mötley Crüe. AC/DC. KISS. Whitesnake. MM—Mike Mays. “Fuckin’ hell.” Mike traced a finger over the silver and red embroidery. “Haven’t seen that patch since the ’80s.”

“You’re an icon,” the eager fan said in slight accent. “The best . . . lead guitar and lead vocals.”

Mike nodded. After all, the little ass-wipes who called themselves musicians these days had cut their teeth on his chops, as did most of the ’80s hair bands. Yeah, he knew his shit, alright.

The dude stood nervously wringing his hands. “Can’t wait to see you play again.”

Mike tossed him a nod. “Every interviewer on tour the last two weeks complained I been away too long.” He grinned. “It’s good to be back.” Between drumming up an occasional gig and noodling every day in his San Francisco apartment, he’d kept up his chops . . . always.

Mike returned the pen and magazine. “Don’t go sellin’ this on eBay now.” He leaned in to the window of a minibus parked nearby for a final glance. He fluffed his hair, tugging it forward to conceal the receding hairline. He angled closer, widened his eyes, and wiped a smudge of eyeliner. In the reflection he noticed the fan still standing behind him. He groaned. How do these fuckers always get backstage?

“It’s been fifteen years. Too long, yeah?”

Mike squinted toward the setting sun. Even after countless interviews the past two weeks, he still felt unsure how to answer that one. He’d never intended to stay away so long.

“Mike!” Atop the stairs, Bones lifted a guitar and motioned for him.

“Have a good show!” the fan said, raising the two-finger metal salute, as Mike climbed the stairs to the stage.

Mike stopped on the platform to catch his breath from the long climb. He veered away from the stagehands darting about, moving road cases, until he found his spot stage right and out of view of the rowdy audience. Like a runner warming up for a marathon, he shook out his arms and legs and stretched his neck. Mike tried to ignore the house music blaring through the crowd; he didn’t recognize the tunes.

The skinny tech held up Mike’s prized 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” guitar.

“Not yet, Bones.”

Bones held the guitar, patiently waiting.

Mike belted out a few shrill vocal warm-ups, then calmed down, mentally preparing for the moment. Smoothing his hands over his tank top, he glanced down and sucked in his stomach. He inhaled deeply and slowly expelled the air. Yep, he was ready. . . . Ready to prove to Germany that he could still rock. Like a king commanding his court, he reached out for his guitar. “Okay. Now, Bones.”

Bones lifted the flashlight hanging from his lanyard and aimed it out through the crowd to the mixing tower in the field. Flicking the light on and off, he signaled “show time” to the soundman. Then, for the final pre-show ritual, he adorned Mike with the guitar.

At Bones’s signal, the subterranean low-end quaked through the sound system and into the audience. Mike grinned. His pre-recorded intro triggered the crowd every time.

As Mike inched closer to entering the stage, he spotted two hot chicks in ass-hugging shorts standing in his path. He wiped droplets of sweat from his unruly brows and gave them a cocky smile.

With one arm cradling the neck of his guitar, Mike sauntered toward the women. He reached out his right hand and grabbed the fine ass of the blonde as he passed. The women giggled.

As the thunderous fanfare faded, Mike watched his hired guns seize the festival stage and strike the opening chords to “Lucky Night,” one of his hits from the ’80s. A crooked smile spanned his face when the crowd roared. A chill streaked up his spine as the chanting mounted: “Mike, Mike, Mike!”

The crowd volume swelled when Mike chunked out the opening guitar lick from offstage, and the cheers amplified once he swaggered onstage.

He sauntered to the microphone, center stage, screeched, and then purred out the lyrics. Pummeling the audience with song, Mike pointed at three chicks near the front, each perched on shoulders, teetering above the festival crowd. His fingers moved subconsciously across the frets as he watched one of the girls remove her bikini top and fling it onto the stage. When he ducked, grinning, the crowd whooped. Hell, yeah.

After striking the last chord of the song, Mike leaned on the mic stand, absorbing the love. When the applause dissolved, he rested both hands on the mic and yelled, “Hell, yeah!” He cackled when the audience repeated his cry. Then he glanced at Nick, but he was fiddling with his pedal board, ignoring Mike. Pansy ass.

Giving in to the spontaneity of a live show, Mike raised a clenched fist and repeated, “Hell, yeah!” and the audience again echoed it back. Goddamn, he still had it.

As darkness fell on the field, lights bathed the stage in yellow and blue. Alone in the follow spot, Mike clutched the microphone. “The San Francisco Chronicle once called me the ‘godfather of ’80s hard rock.’ ” He waited as cheers rang out. “But ya know . . . I was around before all those ’80s hair bands. . . . Here’s one some of you old fuckers might remember from 1979.”

The crowd howled.

Midway through the fifth song, Mike suppressed a powerful urge to cough. He pinched out a few lines and turned from the mic. But when he resumed singing, his voice cracked. Fuck! It cracked again. Between lines, Mike twisted from the mic and coughed up a glob of phlegm. As he spit, he spotted the two hot chicks mock-gagging on the side of the stage. Turning back to the mic, he continued singing, but the nagging urge to cough was hellbent on upstaging him.

From what he could see beyond the photo pit and the barricade that separated the audience from the stage, the first several rows of adoring fans cheered wildly, disregarding the few coughs and the wheezing that had started to plague his performance. The crowd sang along, pumping their fists in the air. As Mike screeched out the lyrics, he noticed several chicks in front clasping their hands, as though pulling for his voice to behave. But onstage to his left, the sentiment proved different as Nick glared, obviously bitter.

When the set entered the halfway point, though the cracking persisted, his voice full-out failing in spots, Mike’s drive remained steadfast. At the end of “Slave Driver,” he paused and muttered to the audience, “I must be allergic to Germany. I know . . . I need some of that kick-ass cough medicine you guys make—Jägermeister.” He turned toward his tech and commanded into the mic, “Bones, get me a shotta Jäger.”

Bones scrambled off.

“Hit it, dudes!” Mike barked to his band as they launched into the next tune.

He eked out the lyrics, focusing his eyes on his anchor point—the tits, still flopping to the beat in front. The hacking persisted. After coughing his way through a blistering guitar solo, Mike turned his back to the crowd and stepped toward Dylan. “Dr-u-u-u-um solo-o-o-o!”

“Now?” Dylan exchanged puzzled looks with the rest of the band.

“Do it!” Mike rasped.

Chunking away at rhythm guitar on the other side of the stage, Nick narrowed his stance before he bowed out of playing and yielded to the drummer.

Guitar dangling from his torso, Mike bolted to Bones’s guitar tech station and out of view from most of the audience. He kicked a road case and bent forward, resting his hands on his thighs.

Bones rushed to Mike with a shot of Jäger.

“I don’t want that shit!” Mike pushed it away. “I need a boost. Get me Gatorade.”

“Gatorade?” Bones shrugged, set the cup of Jägermeister on a road case, and scrambled off again.

Mike’s head reeled for a dizzy second. The chick with the tat hurtled into his thoughts. That fuckin’ tattoo. He rubbed his temples as the cartoonish image haunted him.

Bones returned with a bottle. “All they got’s Powerade.”

Mike motioned for it. He slammed back the blue liquid and shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was resorting to sports drinks. What a pussy.

Mike blotted his face with a towel. “After all these years,” he said to Bones, “I’d better not be gettin’ nodes.” He lifted his hair and swiped the towel across the back of his neck. “More brew,” he ordered.

Bones dashed to the thermos near his tech station, filled a plastic cup with the brownish-green liquid, and rushed the cup to Mike.

While Dylan battered the skins, Nick stormed across the stage and glared at Mike. “What the fuck?”

“Just gimme a minute.” Mike lifted the concoction to his lips.

“That nasty potion ain’t doin’ shit.”

“I been drinkin’ this herbal brew since you were in diapers, shithead,” Mike snapped. “A hot fuckin’ groupie in Poughkeepsie turned me on to it. Done it every show since.”

“It’s bullshit. It reeks, dude, and it don’t work. It’s superstition.”

Mike sipped the hideous elixir, but he suspected Nick was right—it didn’t do shit for his voice. Maybe it never had.

Nick glanced at Dylan pounding out a solo, and Lonnie holding his bass, waiting on the other side of the stage. “Dude.” He turned back to Mike and shook his head. “This is like the fifth time in two weeks. It’s fucking embarrassing.”

Mike looked around at the bystanders onstage.

“Drink up.” Nick snatched the cup of Jäger from the road case and shoved it at Mike. “You need a miracle to get through this tour.”

Mike batted the cup from Nick’s hand. The nearby festival staff, other bands, and guests dodged the splashing booze, but watched the confrontation.

Nick leaned in close. “Butch up and get out there.”

Mike watched Nick storm back across the stage. Disrespectful little prick. “This is bullshit,” he yelled to Bones. “See if there’s a festival medic who can shoot me with cortisone or somethin’.”

Bones scrambled off again.

While the drum solo continued, Mike spotted a pack of smokes by the guitar rack. That’d knock that shit right out, he figured. Grabbing the lighter next to the pack, he lit up, planted his ass on a nearby road case, and hurriedly puffed smoke. He coughed again, spit up a hunk of phlegm, and wiped his mouth with the towel. What the hell? He stared at the blood dotting the white terrycloth. Then he glanced around.

Dylan locked eyes with him. Mike nodded, flicked the cigarette from his fingertips, and regained his composure. He stood up and sashayed back to center stage, damned determined to finish the song . . . and the show.

Mike soaked up the applause. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he glanced down at the set list. Three-quarters through. They were in the home stretch.

As the band rolled directly into the opening chords of the power ballad, fog flooded the stage, dancing in the colorful lights, swirling around the musicians.

Mike wailed through the first lines of “Love Gone Wrong” but his voice cracked again. The stage smoke choked off his vocal cords. He turned to cough and focused again on the chick’s tits—his brass ring. Mike’s fingers glided across the frets on the breakdown. Grateful for the vocal break, he sauntered toward Bones.

“No cortisone,” Bones hollered.

Mike shook his head. “Cut the damn fog!”

Then he turned to the crowd and shredded a mournful guitar solo, as the band built to a climax. Adrenaline raced through his body. He dashed to the edge of the stage and lingered there, dancing his fingers across the fretboard, feeding the fans in front. He rocked his body to the beat, shaking the sweat from his hair. He spun in a circle and paused to headbang. He skipped toward the fans on stage left. Smack dab in the heart of his gut-wrenching guitar solo, Mike dropped unsteadily to his knees. The crowd cheered. Mike winced. He was gasping for air, and it spooked him. His fingers flailed across the frets until, mid-note, he drooped and teetered. As the weight of the guitar pulled him to the side, his vision blurred. He looked at the crowd. The tits were gone. He crumpled onto the stage, his guitar ringing out a melodic thud and landing with the neck pointing straight up. He thought he heard a groan from the audience.

The backing musicians stopped playing, abruptly ending the song. Mike could hear the distorted clang as Nick threw down his guitar. He lay on the dusty stage, conscious but weak, breathing uneasily. He could almost hear thirty-four thousand people catching their breath. In the front row he could make out a woman—about his daughter’s age, he supposed—wearing his current tour shirt. Next to her, a man and his preteen son lowered their clenched fists. Behind them, three biker-looking dudes with long grey hair looked on, mouths open. Then Bones appeared, lunged for the strap locks, and removed the guitar.

Four stagehands rushed onstage. A security guard from the pit below handed up a bottle of water to them. Mike tried to roll away from the audience. He looked up at Bones.

“Can you stand up?” Bones wiped the sweat from Mike’s face, and with it some of the bronzer smeared onto the towel. “Shit,” Bones said, wide-eyed. “Medic!”

While Dylan and Lonnie encircled Mike, Nick lingered on the fringe.

“You gonna be alright, man?” Dylan asked, moving aside as Bruce stepped in.

Bruce stood there frowning at Mike. As he rubbed the back of his neck, an event medic pushed past him. In a thick German accent he asked slowly and loudly, “Sir, do you know where you are?”

“Yeah. Germany.”

“Who’s the president?”

“How the fuck would I know who the President of Germany is?”

The medic continued, slower and louder. “Do you know your name?”

“I ain’t deaf.”

“Okay, sir, where’s your tour manager?”

Mike’s eyes pointed to Bones.

“Guitar tech, tour manager,” Bones explained. “We’re a skeleton crew.”

Mike grimaced when he heard a siren. The last thing he wanted was publicity that he’d gone down. He tried to push himself up but his muscles wobbled until his elbows finally caved to the stage. Within minutes an emergency medical team, armed with a stretcher, appeared on stage.

Nick tossed his arms up. “We’d better fuckin’ get paid.”

“Dude, have a heart,” said Dylan. “He’s sick.”

Mike groaned as the medics lifted him onto the stretcher. As they strapped him in, he heard someone inform the crowd that Mike Mays would not be finishing his set. He cringed when the audience reacted with a collective “oh.”

As the team hoisted the stretcher, the festival audience applauded. Eh, what the hell, Mike thought. He milked it and raised a weak metal salute to the crowd as the team transported him off the stage and toward the waiting ambulance.

On the ground he ignored the growing flock that had assembled backstage to catch a glimpse of a fallen rock star. Bones pushed through the onlookers and gripped Mike’s arm before the gurney glided into the ambulance. Mike clutched his shirt sleeve and pulled him close.

“We played most of the set,” Mike implored, “be sure ya get all of the dough.”

“I’ll take care of it, man.”

As Bones stepped aside, Nick barged through. He placed his hand on Mike’s shoulder and leaned in to his ear, glaring. “Metal Earth Records sure as shit ain’t gonna save your ass if you cancel this tour. You’d better fuckin’ pay me . . . or rest assured, I’ll come after you.”

As the ambulance doors closed, Mike overheard several bystanders.

“Dude should’ve stayed in retirement. . . . No way, he still rocks. . . . I hope he’s okay.”

Mike grimaced. Man, he thought . . . I am so fucked.

###

To read the full story of Welcome to Groove House, the hardcover edition and the ebook are available for purchase at the links on this site and bookstores worldwide.



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