Ten Merciless Minutes

Our big debut, our very first concert was fast approaching. I was terrified. So, I quickly purchased another second-hand bargain basement drum set from back of a newspaper. And I connected it to the smaller piece of junk that I already played, to form a black and blue, mutant double-bass kit no serious musician could ever sit behind. My four cymbals were acoustically evocative of trashcan lids; the six tom toms were out of tune together and separately; the muffled thump of my two untuned bass drums were inaudible and my snare might as well have had a stuffed monkey attached to it.

The band was supposed to go on in the living room of Pastor Greg’s house, in front of a sliding glass door that beheld a swimming pool dominating the backyard. Greg played in a gospel rock combo and he ran a youth group that the rest of the band belonged to. Apart from my best friend Steve, who I forced to come along, I didn’t know a soul.

It was there on the little back patio next to a pair of chlorine-bleached, sun-blanched swimming trunks that my hands trembled while I assembled my pathetic gear. There were perhaps as many as seventeen people observing the spectacle, but it was seventeen more than I was used to playing for. The lighthearted, silly songs we’d once written were substituted now by a lengthy number concerning the Orwellian persecution of Christians set deep in the future. I had nothing to do with writing it or any of the other new material—I was such a terrible drummer that I was genuinely surprised the rest of the band showed up to take me and Steve to Pastor Greg’s.

Steve watched from across the room, trying to be supportive, in spite of getting pushed out of the band, a few months ago.

Gingerly I brushed a cymbal with a broken drumstick wrapped in duct tape. Somebody screamed in response. I was petrified and pulled back, afraid to go any further. I could let my enormous drum set work out the songs on its own, just like the player piano did at the mall. I knew if I tried to play a beat now everything would fall apart. Then someone else screamed, or did I imagine it? I had completely forgotten how to function—this I knew for certain.

Pat and Chad stood on either side of Neil, adjusting their amplifiers, tuning their guitars, being nervous too. Neil finally approached the microphone, his green bass guitar over his shoulder, left hand cupping the strings, anxiously:

“Hello. Uh, we’re called Lunacy.”

Someone videotaped it all, giving the eleven and twelve-year-old girls who crouched at our feet an excuse to behave as though we were The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Their mayhem, several times louder than our amplifiers, grew with every passing second as each girl attempted to out-scream her neighbor, making the performance bear a sonic resemblance to a series of car accidents. As each of our clumsy, cheesy little anthems stuttered to a halt, the explosive shrieking increased. And in the millimeters of silence you could hear a little glass bulb behind your eyeballs detonize with a muted, fizzling pop, as the will to live tendered its resignation. Like the crucifixion of a multitude of chimpanzees, I’ve still never heard such frenzied caterwauling, and I couldn’t count the number of mistakes I made, those ten merciless minutes.

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