This story is fiction, but inspired by a real life experience during a review of Glasvegas at The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea. This story was also originally published in ALT-MU Magazine as a three part series.
The life of a music journalist always seemed glamorous. Free gig tickets, meeting your favourite bands, being the cool friend with the ‘plus one’. Unfortunately the reality is not so exciting. Once I get home, I have time for a quick bite to eat and a speedy change into a new bra and top before rushing off to whatever gig I have been obliged to attend that evening. Most of the time there is nowhere to sit and I can’t afford even one drink to take the edge off. I take notes on my phone, rush back to write up my first draft and then I am back in the office first thing to edit and publish my article on the magazine’s website. And so the cycle begins again.
By day I am in the office taking on whatever role is lacking. I was hired as a Sub-Music Editor but when you work for an independent magazine your job title means nothing. Last week I was doing advertising sales, this week social media management and next week apparently I am doing a full system data cleanse. Once I was even forced to wear the company mascot for our birthday party. Why ZAML Magazine has a Beaver for a mascot I will never know. Apparently it is ironic and funny. I was not laughing. It was hot, smelly and while everyone else sipped champagne and mixed with special guests, I was being grabbed for photos and repeatedly being told “Nice beaver love”. Not my idea of fun and certainly not the glamorous lifestyle I had imagined when I applied for the job fresh out of university. If you think ‘hat hair’ is bad, ‘smelly beaver hair’ is a lot worse.
Still, aside from the humiliation, schizophrenic office identity, late nights and early mornings; I love it. The experience of discovering new bands and artists live. Transforming the sounds and experience into words and getting the opportunity to interview artists that have the guts to live their dreams. These things make the rest of it worth it. I used to have the guts. I lost them somewhere down the line when my punk band, Mass Panic, disbanded. I haven’t sung a note in public for three years now and I have no idea if I will again. This job allows me to live my dream through others. Absorb their story and imagine myself, realistically or not, as still being an important piece of that world.
Tonight I am reviewing Glasvegas. I only ever do a quick Google before a gig so I have no idea what to expect. I avoid listening to their music and do my best to walk into the venue with a completely objective mind. Not only does this mean I am more likely to do an honest review but it also makes the experience more surprising. The only dinner options in the fridge tonight were dodgy ready meals so I am not in the best mood and still feeling a bit hungry. Smallest sweet and sour chicken ever! I actually had another shower tonight though and straightened my hair. Not sure why. I guess you never know when you might meet a dark handsome stranger in the crowd and I could certainly do with one of them. I have been single for way to long. I park up opposite the venue and routinely sneak a strong energy drink into my bag closely followed by a pack of Imodium. Without alcohol to keep me perky it really is my only option and energy drinks tend to give me the shits. It’s a vicious circle I live with everyday. Maybe that’s why I’m still single?
After pushing my way through a sold out crowd, I stand in the audience alongside the sweaty mob of eager fans around me. The raised stage begins to pound with light and smoke as the sounds of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven throb causing the floor to vibrate. A promising introduction for the cock sure band that now grace the stage and confidently ring out their guitars in distortion. The further into the set and the more I attempt to make sense of the clashing sounds and painful tones the sooner I realise that this review was not going to be a good one. I hate writing bad reviews and begin to have frustrating visions of me staring aimlessly at my laptop later tonight.
On a mission for objectivity and music reviewing victory, I visually probe the room. The ‘pick a mix’ crowd of indie folk Scottish trance rocking fans are swaying and chanting along with the belted out yobbish vocals. All totally and selfishly absorbed in the music. There is a small clearing formed by a stumbling man. He is casually dressed with his hoody up and his arms raised. I know him. I begin to subtly move closer keenly searching my mind for the name.
As I say the name aloud I notice a lump in my throat. It couldn’t be him. Nick was dead. He was only 23 when he committed suicide. He was part of an old group of friends from school. We used to meet up all the time, hang out, have a smoke and spend New Years together every year getting drunk on the beach. We affectionately called him ‘Nick the Nutter’. He was a character full of angst and a constant craving for escape, which none of us ever understood. Nonetheless we loved him. The ‘nutter’ part came from his obsession for guns. We all used to joke that one day he would come in with a machine gun and kill us all. I remember one evening he was belting out an Oasis song in the middle of our mate Oli’s living room. He was completely absorbed in his own thoughts and euphoria until Oli’s girlfriend came running in screaming for him to shut up. That is my last memory of him. The next thing I heard was that he had made his own gun and turned it on himself having downed a bottle of vodka. It was the most bizarre funeral I had ever been too. Mike wrote a song about him and played it on his guitar. I remember feeling guilty about the confusing emotions I felt as I watched him play. I always had a thing for Mike. One part of me was feeling numb and lost about Nick dying so young and the other was yearning to be close to Mike. To kiss his lips and feel his warm body against mine. To grab his long hair and nibble on his neck. I was feeling horny at a funeral. Not good. We almost kissed once. But every time he was single I would have a boyfriend and vice versa. Not meant to be I guess.
A familiar song reactivates my present mind and I realise it’s the song played at his funeral, when they carried in his coffin. Nick must have liked Glasvegas. The dancing man in a hoody turns and seems to recognise me.
Time slows; the music becomes muffled, the clashing sounds distant and lurking in the background waiting to pounce. As I walk further towards him, he opens his arms as though beckoning for a hug. It was definitely him with his dilated pupils and friendly aura. With a sudden rush of confident certainty I rush forward for a hug.
‘What happened, I thought you were dead?!’ I say as I leap towards him.
‘Oi love, I ain’t dead!’ The man pushes me away and laughs with his mates
‘Sorry, too much cider.’ My face flushes with embarrassment.
Shit. I just hugged a complete stranger. I’m going mad! I quickly find a spot far enough away to escape their glares and turn my attention back to the stage. As I watch the lead singer reaching his arms into the air bellowing long drawn out tones, I realise that if Nick were here right now he would be in his element. Launching his voice into the air, like a missile for self-preservation – this would be his musical heaven and that was when it struck me. Just stop listening.
I grabbed for my phone and began writing notes:
‘Glasvegas make the kind of music that is enjoyed in a euphoric spaced out state, in the late night of a festival, by a strobe junkie ‘raver’ in a club and from anyone open and ready to be willingly absorbed into an alternative abyss of sound.’
I closed my eyes and attempted to let go of any musical knowledge or thoughts. Memories of Nick singing at the top of his voice echoed in my mind as I allowed myself to free fall into the clashing sounds, letting each and every note pluck at my soul and release any preconceived ideas. I thought about my old friends and how we had all lost touch after the funeral. Oli, Mike, Annie and Bishy. We went from being a family to being completely dispersed out into the world on our own individual journeys of self-discovery. Were we ever lost? Or have we all just found a new hiding place?
I couldn’t believe it. What was going to be my worst review ever, had turned into the most fascinating, transcendent live music experience of my life. I reach into my bag for my energy drink and drop the packet of Imodium in the process.
“Oh shit” I stoop to grab the packet but someone has already grabbed it. I rise to find the owner of the hand has a very familiar face.
“Hi Sarah. I see some things haven’t changed.” He rattles the packet.
I quickly snatch the Imodium from him and feel my face flushing red. He knew way too much about me.
“Erm, thank you. I mean, what are you doing here?”
He hadn’t changed. He looked like home with his floppy hair and dreamy eyes.
“Well I was visiting Nick’s grave today and I heard that one of his favourite bands were playing. Silly I know but I guess I wanted to feel close to him.”
“Yeah silly,” this was too bizarre. “It’s good to see you.”
There is an awkward moment that we both attempt to fill by staring back at the stage and bobbing our heads in appreciation. I wonder if he’s single.
“So, you here with anyone?” his words drown in the loud music.
“No I’m single.” The music goes quiet and I get a couple of funny looks from people around us.
“Oh I didn’t mean…that wasn’t what I was asking…”
Mike seems awkward and uncomfortable. I hadn’t seen him like this before.
“…I meant are you here with anyone at the gig?”
“Oh, no. I’m on my own, doing a review for a magazine.” I suddenly feel like an idiot. Why on earth would he still be interested in me?
“Wicked so you finally got to be a music journalist then?”
“Yep. Living the dream! What about your music?”
“Not so bad. Do a few gigs here and there.”
Another silence creeps in packed full with the raging crescendo of the bands final song. Some idiot pushes past me and knocks Mike’s pint over my chest.
“Oh shit I’m sorry.” Mike starts dabbing the drink off.
“Oi you, careful what you’re touching” I say, secretly wishing he would touch me more.
“Sorry. Not doing well am I?”
The crowd begins to make their way to the exit and close any gaps around us. Now face to face that old feeling of warmth and excitement engulfs my body.
“So you’re single?” Mike holds me closer and looks into my eyes.
“Yep, you?” I answer, returning his gaze.
“Very much so.”
My lips crave Mikes touch. My voice is only just audible.
“Right.” I search my mind for reasons not to kiss him and find nothing.
“Oh Sod it!” I say before grabbing him close to me and kissing him passionately.
We sink into an earth-shattering embrace. All of the old feelings flooding back along with a whole new rush of emotions. We finally break from the spell and return to the reality of an empty room. Mike is the first to speak.
“I think we better go before they kick us out.”
“Yeah,” I check my watch “It’s getting late.”
“Fancy a drink somewhere else?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Mike shoots me a smile that sends a shiver down my spine. Nick obviously wanted us to finally hook up and who was I to question him. Best review ever!