I was dreaming. We were on stage but it was some dive I’d never played before. Staashu was sitting down, playing concertina. I was behind his left shoulder with my big accordion. Maggie was there, wearing her Stratocaster and her Ramones t-shirt. Ndidi and Boom Boom were driving home the rhythm, loud and edgy. We were not your average polka band.
I was lost in the rhythm, shaking the bellows and man we were rocking. The dance floor was full and everyone was having a good time. Now this is where it gets strange. Everyone in the audience and everyone in the band, everyone except me – looked dead. Dead – like in some kind of cliché Hollywood way. It was like we were trapped in a bad zombie movie. Everyone was dancing and having a good time, but in my dream I was certain everyone was dead. I started laughing because it was such an absurd image, but nobody was laughing along with me. And then the music started changing. Boom Boom’s bass drum got louder and louder and all the other instruments got quieter and quieter until all I could hear was the loud thumping of the beat. Thumpa Thumpa Thumpa Thumpa.
I opened my eyes and the beat of the drum became a banging on my front door. My mouth was dry and my lips felt crusty. Every bang on the door echoed around my skull.
Lazy, are you in there?
Go away! I don’t want any.
Lazy wake up, man. Wake up! It’s me, Staashu.
Aw man. My head hurts. What time is it?
Lazy, open the door. It’s 7 PM. You were supposed to have all the equipment down at The Boneyard an hour ago.
I staggered out of bed, pulled on a robe and opened the door.
What the fuck, Lazy? Jesus Christ, you look rough. What time did you stop drinkin’?
I don’t know.
We got a gig tonight, as if you didn’t know.
Aw fuck, Staashu. About that….
Don’t aw fuck Staashu me, Lazy, pull yourself together.
I can’t do this, Staash.
The Hell you can’t.
Just go away and leave me alone.
Get it together Lazy. I’m not going anywhere.
Geez man, I can’t do this.
Staashu started opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen. Where do you keep the coffee?
In the…it’s in the bottom cupboard.
Go take a shower.
I need to sleep.
Go take a goddamned shower. We don’t have much time.
Reality began to sink in. We had a gig, our first gig, at an old dance hall called The Boneyard, a place that featured a steady diet of punk acts these days. I was supposed to pick up all the amps and other equipment from the practice space at the Polish Hall and get it over to the gig and start setting up. This was not my finest hour.
I don’t know what happened, Staashu.
He shot me a look, a really nasty one. I tried to duck but was way too slow.
Just go shower. I’ll have coffee ready.
Unfortunately the shower neither eased my mind nor made the pounding in my head go away. By the time I emerged, Staashu had coffee and a sandwich ready for me. He took the Crown Royal dead soldier from the kitchen table and tossed it in the garbage.
I can’t do this. I haven’t been on stage in a decade.
You should have thought about that before joining the band, Lazy. We’re counting on you.
You’re gonna play.
You’re gonna play. You’re gonna drag your sorry ass on stage and play your heart out. Then if you want to quit, quit, no hard feelings. Tonight you’re gonna play.
The truth was, I was scared, damned scared. I’d been on stage hundreds of times but today I was terrified. When I quit the music business I was running on empty, burnt out. I thought I was finished. I felt old. Of course, compared to the rest of the band, I really was old. What the Hell did I think I was doing?
We didn’t talk on the drive over to The Boneyard. I let my mind drift back to the last gigs I played all those years ago. It was a very dark time in my life, one I didn’t think about often. There was one thing, though, I could recall with certainty. People stopped coming to hear us play. That’s what finally finished it. People stopped coming.
It was obvious as we approached The Boneyard attendance wasn’t going to be tonight’s problem. Ndidi and Boom Boom had spread the word to all their friends, and it seemed like every punker in the city had come out for our little polka party.
Inside, I could see all our equipment was on stage and set up. Staash must have sent someone else to fetch it when I didn’t show. We walked back to the dressing room. I took a step in and just stood there, ready to take whatever abuse the band was going to hurl at me. I was feeling like an idiot. Maggie got up and gave me a big hug. Ndidi just grinned. Boom Boom looked at me and slowly nodded.
Fuckin’ eh. You’re here.
Yeah, I’m here. All those punkers out there know we’re a polka band, right?
Don’t worry about it. Just play hard like we been doing.
Staash gathered us around to go over the set list. His plan was to start the show with a long double-speed rendition of Who Stole the Kishka. We need to fill the dance-floor from the first tune. Take no prisoners, that’s what he said. My head hurt and I wanted to puke, but I didn’t. There was no place to hide.
We walked out on-stage without an introduction – which was ok since we didn’t even have a name yet. I could feel the party atmosphere in the air. The crowd, all decked out in leather and those Mohawk hairdos were loud and boisterous and clearly out for a party.
There was no turning back. The pounding in my head disappeared as I hoisted my big 35 pound accordion onto my shoulders and plugged in. Maggie and Ndidi faced one another and tuned. Maggie’s Strat was cranked right up, crackling at the edge of feedback. I turned to the drums and nodded. Boom Boom broke into an extended, intense roll then stopped it hard. I held out my arms, taking in the silence, counting to myself, seven, eight, nine, ten. Whoops and hollers from the crowd. Wait. Wait. Another second, the tension unbearable. I leaned into the mic.
One and two and….