The band ended their set with a thunderous drum smashing, guitar crushing finale. The crowd cheered like they had just been liberated from an insane asylum. They demanded another encore but it wasn’t likely. The band, ColdFire, had been travelling for six days straight and this was the second to last tour date. They had also done one encore already to sing their first hit song, “Love me like wood”.
Lionel took his ear plugs out and put them in his coat pocket. He flipped his notebook closed and waved a quick and polite index finger to his long time rock and roll bartender, Ellie. She came over to him with a smirk.
“Great show hm,” said Ellie as she poured Lionel another straight whiskey.
“I don’t know. It’s all starting to sound the same to me,” said Lionel.
“Right. I’m sure your old ass ears are just useless these days. That’s an unfortunate condition for a rock reporter,” said Ellie.
“You think I could get Workman’s Compensation,” asked Lionel.
“Could I,” replied Ellie.
Ellie smiled and turned back toward the throngs of concert goers trying to get that last plastic cup of lite beer before being rushed out into the streets by the bouncers.
Lionel lifted his rocks glass and toasted Ellie. He took a sip and put the glass back down on the aging wooden bar. The Panic Palace was a rundown venue full of ornate molding from the turn of the century that is completely wasted on the youth of today. It was probably wasted on the youth of yesterday too. The ceiling was ornately gilded with gold leaf and plaster, the columns were Roman Doric and the walls were framed with cherubs. There was some real majesty in The Panic Palace. Unfortunately, it was completely lost on the little metal head kid in the torn tee-shirt hovering near the overfull garbage can, looking like he was about to throw up.
A cute girl was vaping and rubbing the little metal head kid’s lower back, assuring him that she sort of cared. The vapor smoke smelled like cherry oil and wafted up toward the classic ceiling. She looked completely disinterested and simultaneously concerned. A group of similarly dressed kids, in sagging pants, ripped mesh tee-shirts, multi-colored hair, slight eye make-up, studded belts and wrist bands, found the cute girl and the possibly puking metal head kid. They were swept up in the movement of the crowd and Lionel lost sight of them. He wondered what the rest of their night had in store. He was reminded of when he was a young concert kid. He remembered the great shows he got to see, the punks, the rock, the rap, the crazy, the boring, and the sometimes death defying antics of post-show revelry. He hoped the kids would be okay.
The head bouncer/press coordinator for ColdFire, Cecil, appeared at the bar at Lionel’s elbow. He was a large, balding African American man whom Lionel had met many times over his years as a rock and roll reporter. They hadn’t always gotten along. He was a crafty old school player in the business and was an expert at promotion.
“They’re ready for you Mr. Grassler,” said Cecil.
“You can call me Lionel, Cecil. We’ve know each other for what? 15 years?”
“The guys are ready to see you,” said Cecil.
Lionel nodded and tossed back the last of his whiskey. He tapped on the bar and waved to Ellie. She winked at him as she counted money near the old silver cash register. Her tattooed arms a blur as she counted and straightened the crumpled bills of the average rock patron.
“What did you think of the show Mr. Grassler,” asked Cecil as he guided him through the dispersing crowd.
“Great, it was great,” said Lionel.
“The boys are hoping for a good review from you. They have a live album coming out in celebration of this tour you know. They’d appreciate a positive review in anticipation of that,” hinted Cecil.
“I’m sure they would,” said Lionel
Cecil guided Lionel to the back stage door and pushed it open. Lionel had been behind the stage hundreds of times. The veiled mystery of Rock and Roll had been pulled from his eyes long ago and he was no longer star-struck. He was no longer in awe of the amount of work it took to put on a successful show. He had a great appreciation for the road crews though and the technical skills they had, almost a reverence for their skills. It was something he didn’t think most of the musicians, at least the young ones, had any real appreciation for.
ColdFire were young but riding very high after being the featured song in an Academy Award winning film and having three songs hit the billboard in the top ten. They were all good looking, non-threatening, rock and rollers. They had adopted a sort of Alice Cooper/Guns and Roses look mixed with a hip-hop boy band with dyed unicorn hair. In fact, that was exactly how Lionel had initially described them after their first album. The boys were not all that flattered. Lionel had to laugh at them because they thought, they really thought, they were original.
Cecil led Lionel through the rigging and lighting effects up to the green room where the band was waiting for their interview. Lionel excused himself through the crowd of young groupies waiting to gain access to the band. He laughed a little at the thought that groupies were still a thing. Musical hero worship had always been odd for Lionel. When he first got to go backstage at a punk show and write an article for his college paper he remembered the utter disgust he felt for the way these women would throw themselves at even the most wretched of male lead singers. He walked out of an interview once as a lead singer was actively fingering a groupie while discussing the bands, “sound”. The young groupie was oblivious. It made Lionel really question his chosen line of work at the time.
ColdFire was sitting in the quiet green room. None of the young ladies had been allowed into the holy of holies yet. The band barely stood up as Lionel sat down on the well worn leather couch opposite the band.
“Lionel,” greeted Mick, the lead singer, real name Brian.
“Nice to see you again Mick,” said Lionel as he stood and stretch his hand out.
“Yeah, great to see you too,” said Mick without getting up and returning the gesture of friendship well acknowledged for thousands of years.
“Hey lads, see who’s here? It’s the ultimate Rock critic, Lionel,” said Mick to his band mates.
Lionel waved at the four other young men, hovering around Mick like flies on shit. They gave half mumbled acknowledgements of Lionel and then went back to drinking a beer, lighting a joint, adjusting themselves in their tight pants, and picking at the incredible buffet spread.
“Right, so… how do you guys think the show went,” asked Lionel.
“Oh, you know, I felt like we really connected with the audience. Like, I felt like, for a moment that they were part of the band too,” said Mick.
“Is that what you are going for with the forth coming live album? To make a connection with the audience?”
Mick gave a sideways glance to Cecil. Cecil didn’t even move from his position at the door. He was ready to get Lionel out and the sexy girls in at any second.
“I don’t think we need a live album for that connection to exist. We have a connection with our fans that is deeper than any album could, you know, like, make,” said Mick.
“So you felt like the show tonight was something like a spiritual connection,” asked Lionel.
“Yeah man,” said Lenny, the bass player, real name Gordon.
Lionel looked over to Lenny, who was uncomfortably adjusting himself in the tight leather pants he chose to wear. He continued to speak as he adjusted himself.
“The crowd man, they’re like our blood and the more they get into what we’re doing on stage the more I want, we want, to give to them. It’s like a whole spiritual circulatory system,” said Lenny.
“Oh man, write that down man! Spiritual Circulatory System, is a great song name,” said Glennick, the lead guitarist whose real name was actually Glennick.
Glennick pointed at Lionel and waved his finger at him.
“No writing that song name down now Lionel. We can’t have the other bands stealing our ideas,” said Glennick.
“Right, off the record. No problem,” said Lionel.
Lionel hadn’t even taken his notepad out. He didn’t need to take any notes about this band. They were just another pretender to the Throne. Another group of privileged kids with music industry connections through their families who were slapped together to keep the music money machine going.
“So, I wanted to ask you about your song, “Closed Mainline”, and the dedication you made Mick, during the song tonight. What was that about?”
Mick sat forward on the opposite old leather couch. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. The rest of the band, especially the drummer, Chato, froze in place at the buffet.
“You heard that,” asked Mick.
“Well, yeah, I thought everybody did. It was just a curious spot in a song for a dedication,” said Lionel.
Mick looked at Cecil and motioned for him to go out of the Green Room. Cecil nodded and stepped outside, calming the remaining groupies that they would be allowed in any second.
“You couldn’t have heard that man,” said Mick.
“Well, I did. And to tell you the truth, I’m sure my readers, and the public in general would like to know why you thanked Hitler and Satan in the middle of your song,” said Lionel.
The room filled with tension. Chato dropped the finger sandwich he’d been mauling in his fat mouth. Lenny stopped rubbing himself, Glennick stepped forward toward Lionel.
“You shouldn’t have heard that, man,” said Mick.
“Well, I did. I’ve been coming to shows a long time. Hell, even before you were born and I usually hear the things no one else does. You’d be pretty impressed at what I’ve heard over the years,” said Lionel.
“Would we,” said Mick with a sneer across his face.
Lionel stood up from the couch. The band was staring at him as he stood. He adjusted his jacket and started toward the green room door.
“I don’t think you’re going to make your deadline,” said Mick.
“Oh, I think I will,” said Lionel, “you really think you’re the first band I’ve interviewed that made a deal with the Devil?”
Lionel opened the inside pocket of his jacket and took out the silver crucifix he’d received from the demon slayer. It shimmered in the low light of the Green Room and the boys of ColdFire stepped backwards from Lionel.
“Have a great rest of your tour boys,” said Lionel as he pulled open the green room door. The groupies rushed in and Lionel ducked through them and made his way from backstage. He hoped Ellie was still at the bar. He hoped he could get another drink.