. . . It was a fairly typical Sixth Street place. A bar of course, and a stage about the width of the Blabberwagon's front end. There was an outdoor area with another bar, where drunk couples could go in order to hear each other, to slur a little lust to each other or illegally smoke.
The artist they had come to see was the rocker Benjamin Burns. He was playing as the boys handed their tickets to a wide, bald man on a stool. They got their hands stamped and held their half-made fists slightly away from their bodies while the ink dried. The stamp was black and roughly fish shaped with an all but inscrutable word beneath: “silence cone,” perhaps.
Rock poured out of the club, electric stuff with a pentatonic backbone; and so loud. It was perfectly normal that the volume of the music made it impossible to hear anything, sometimes even the music itself. Once they were fully encompassed by the Fly, Julio covered his ears and looked shocked. When he noticed Silas noticing this, he rolled his eyes and grinned comically, trying to recover his distress into a joke. Silas realized the boys might have been downtown only a few times in their lives. Or just once? Or never? No, never was impossible, but they doubtless far from being the eardrum-hardened stoic Silas was.
The music must be played at a volume capable of damaging the hearing of all those listening, even the bar staff at the opposite end of the room. This was weird law number one of the midnight music industry. It went unenforced but everyone abided by it, and they walked and swigged their drinks with grave reserve, for what else could they do when that shockingly pungent touch of machismo was so distinctly present in the atmosphere of the rock joints? At some venues it only floated around in thin whisps or strands, but when you happened to breath in a bit of it—whoa. At others places, it replaced oxygen as the primary breathable gas; they pressurized entire floors with the stuff.
Because the music remained unbearably loud without exception, Silas supposed the higher electricity bills were worth it for the clubs. The effect on the audience made up the overhead, as Burns’s crowd seemed to be demonstrating. In addition to whatever the blaring music did to the patrons’ hearing, it brutalized their nervous systems into an irresistible state of wakefulness. Wakeful souls were the kind who stayed out later, and kept buying drinks, and kept buying drinks. The hurtfully voluminous tunes would bless the unruly children of Austin forever.
Fourier seemed excited, even a little enchanted as he first entered and laid eyes upon Burns, source of the all-pervading harmonies. Based on his nearly boyish expression of intrigue, Fourier might also have been new to the scene, and Silas found a vicarious newness through him, which was pleasant—but went away when Fourier got a drink in mind. When the tall boy scoped out the shelves of bottles, Silas saw it was the kind of gladness that could only be born of experience. Tonight was for the ritual of the Night Out Drinking; his pleasure upon striding to the bar suggested a wise understanding of the rite. Soon they had their drinks in hand. Silas believed he could feel a plan in Fourier: he was going to dance soon. For now though, they all bobbed their heads occasionally and stared at Burns, less frequently at the people under the stage, the dancers, the jeans-and-t-shirted recipients of massive decibels. Most of the patrons did the modern freeform dance that Silas had seen practiced everywhere from LA to Japan. Vacant-eyed, disinterested, they were unusually graceful zombies. They moved more smoothly than that, but like zombies many did not know what to do with their arms. The dancers might have been playing some kind of don’t-touch-me game, or twisting away from invisible others among them.
Burns could play great solos,but a thousand rockers could play great solos, sixty or seventy of them right here in Austin. The musician had found what most of those others lacked: he could stalk around like an eighties punk while he did them. He was a stage presence too, a tall guy with long unkempt hair, going gray in places, now; a lanky man who seemed no less big for his thinness. He shared the stage only with an unknown drummer, so plenty of space remained for him to jerk around in, do his pacing.
His spasms became pronounced and unsettling throughout the song. It was on the edge of becoming embarrassing, but expertly Burns kept it just this side of easy to watch, somehow a complement to the music. At times, his thrusting midsection seem to lead the beat, speeding it. He was a wind-up toy that had received an extra twist in the back. Sometimes he slowed it, looking deadened: only his fingers and wrists moved while his guitar hung in his slack arms.
Julio could not have known it upon giving Silas the tickets, but Burns had been an idol of his early on. As a singer, he shared something with Bob Dylan: if you didn’t know how to sing, it was easy enough to shoot for his level of talent. Burns could do a gruff thing that made it sound like staying in tune didn’t matter so much, not with your voice anyway. Sometimes he slowed his gyrations to calm the music, and blued the Red-Eyed Fly into the pure minor.
He had measured Burns’s playing and that of other rock musicians against the same principles that his abstract, theoretical teachers had pressed on him during his attempt at a music degree. Later, and more like a philosopher, Silas had sought the most basic constituents among the quarter-beats and sixteenth-beats of these rock riffs. By what means did his notes and words merge so absolutely? Obviously, years of practice played a part, writing songs and playing. But after all those years of the right person practicing—did something like a formula come into play? Perhaps one that you internalized without knowing it as you wrote your songs? If so, were there primary patterns or units one could isolate, learn, and use?
He watched from the bar, looking down upon the dancers. Here at he bar, he and those he stood with were above those others, as was Burns onstage. Silas did not want to descend. For moments he nearly forgot that Julio and Fourier were with him. Talking to people felt wrong; drinking by himself and listening in on conversations felt right.
Silas felt he should try to meet Burns after the show, but he did not know what he would say—so was actually relieved that he disappeared quickly after his set. With the cessation of the live music, they could not speak. As they all talked and laughed about the usual bullshit, Silas also spoke with the bartender, an old acquaintance. The barman stood Silas a few free drinks. When he pretended to want to refuse, the barman said the owner would want him to have these drinks.
“He’d come say hi, I bet, but he’s got some pals here tonight. Maybe you know them.” The bartender pointed.
The owner was standing in a circle with friends. Donna was among them: his bassist in Hatfield Royalty, the band that had bought him the guitar. Silas had been on the verge of a pretty good drunk, but Donna caught him looking in her direction. He did not like the feeling of her sharing the room with his Taco Bell friends, and could only pray that she would not approach him. She would find a way to be subtly insulting. Fourier and Julio might not hear Donna clearly, and they might not realize she was delivering insults, for the insults would be ornately passive-aggressive and subtle. Nonetheless he dreaded the thought of his old and new lives coming together. . . .