Sunday, October 7, 2012

Drunken Music

A few years ago, I was playing to a lonely crowd of three or four folks at Margarita Mamas, Channelside on a Sunday afternoon. It was a scorcher and I was not drinking anything but water and changing out sweaty t-shirts every thirty minutes or so. I thought it was going to be another uneventful day at the office. 

Then I heard the rumble below, a herd of frat boys wrestling and high-fiving their way up the stairs towards me. The smell of testosterone and unfettered douchery filled the steamy June air. They overtook the patio, passionately crushing Bud Lights and shots, encouraging each other to reach their fullest potential of drunken asshatness. I was instantly overwhelmed with drinks and Dave Matthew's Band requests. Though my current tone may suggest otherwise, I was actually enjoying myself at the time. We musicians are so vain and desperate for an ego stroke that we will take whatever we can get. I wasn't planning on drinking much that day, but it was hard not to with that crowd. They were giving indian burns to whomever didn't drink fast enough. 

Then the tequila came, and things went sour and fast. Bring on the pissing contest.

One of our fearless heroes had the brilliant idea to put some sweet-n-low into his tequila shot. He challenged his comrades to best this awe-inspiring display of manhood. Upping the ante, his friend decided to add hot sauce to the concoction of doom. Witness man versus booze. Four of them were up to the task and they each threw back a double shot of tequila, sweet-n-low and hot sauce shots, forcing down a swallow. Faces turned white. The brilliant inventor of this idea scooted his chair back and vomited all over the floor right in front of me. His friend, upon witnessing the upchuck, unleashed a vomit of his own. Then the guy next to him and the guy next to him - a vomit chain reaction of epic proportions. The floor of Margarita Mamas' patio was covered in chunky, steaming vomit. It formed a river that was flowing in the direction of my equipment. 

I jumped out of my chair, and started packing up my gear. I moved all my stuff to the corner, while the frat boys scattered, disappearing into the bathroom and running downstairs to escape. Within seconds the patio was empty, and the bar back was left to clean up after them with bleach and a water hose. Looking on the bright side, I got to go home early that day and still got paid in full, but I'll never be the same. I quit drinking at my gigs for a while and was kind of disgusted when belligerent people pressured me to guzzle. 

But the truth is, if you want to cut back on the drinking, nothing will test your resolve like playing music in bars. It's the ultimate bombardment of booze. Half price and often free drinks coupled with an army of drunks standing ready to purchase all the liquid you need to get as obliterated as imaginable; often, it's really difficult to resist the intense peer pressure. The bar flies expect musicians to be hitting the bottle hard. They practically require them to do so. Strange enough, there are those who would prefer to buy the musician a 5 or 6 dollar drink rather than put that cash into the tip bucket or buy a CD to support the music. Ironically, when the crowd gets drunk, the music sounds better. But when the musician gets drunk, well, you never know what might happen. Jim Morrison pulled out his penis and used it to play a piano solo. Steven Tyler stumbled off the stage and broke his collar bone. Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship started a riot after unleashing a drunken verbal lashing on an audience back in 1978. 

But I don't blame them. It's a hard life. Temptation to drink and party comes with the territory of being a musician. Some can handle it better than others, but the pressure is always there, relentlessly begging the musician to have a sip. There are many nights when I just don't feel much like partaking. I might be tired from the night before, or I have to do something in the morning. Maybe I just don't want it, or I'm trying to control myself. On some of these nights, I've been mocked and ridiculed - my very manhood questioned. It is a phenomenon that has baffled me for some time. Of course, it's all relative to the bar you are playing at and the type of people that hang out there. Some crowds are more aggressively alcoholic than others. 

But it makes me think back to being a kid. Back to the time when we didn't have to drink to have fun. We could enjoy the moment without changing our brain chemistry. Observe and enjoy the little things. Entertain ourselves with a stick or dirt pile. Be high on life. What happened to us? 

I'm not sure, but take it easy on the musicians. Sometimes we get drunk and act a fool, but we are trained to think that people want and expect that from us. 

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