We sat watching my famous uncle sing on stage from this worn wooden table, its latent splinters ready to impale at any given slide of the hand.
My Uncle Vern made a name for himself in the sixties, in the rock group named The Gosdin Brothers. He was even briefly a member of the Byrds when they needed a fill-in for David Crosby. Vern went on to become a country music mainstay in the 1970s and 80s, having had a handful of chart-topping hits. Unfortunately for him, it’s been quite a few years and divorces since his last hit songs frequented the airwaves. I and a few members of my family came to this unlikely venue to see him and his band play a few sets while he was passing through town. He had played at small venues such as county fairs in the past, but this place was about as intimate as it gets.
I do enjoy live music but I’ve not been a fan of country music nor my uncle’s croon, but my father asked me to come along and so I did. I was also distracted by my cousin’s girlfriend that joined us. Since my cousin is a lesbian, I assume it’s her girlfriend. She kept taking back my stolen looks and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was just my cousin’s friend and didn’t realize she may be on a date.
My father sat to my left, subtly bobbing along to the music. He was the real fan of my uncle’s work. He had his many albums on different formats including 8-track tapes. Uncle Vern was married to my mother’s sister in the sixties and seventies and I had visited his house in Atlanta several times as a kid. I was told not to touch any of his way cool guitars he had in various closets. Otherwise, it was an ordinary home and his kids played with Hot Wheels just like I did. I haven’t seen him much since the divorce with Aunt Cathy, nor did I really care to. I learned later that he had hired some thugs to visit an old business partner to send a brutal message that required a hospital stay. My father claims, he really regretted the whole incident and opined, “We all make mistakes we have to live with.”
There is no doubt my uncle has talent and his accomplishments are on par with some of entertainment’s biggest names, but as I look around this dusky bingo hall in nowheresville, Indiana, I can’t help but wonder why he’s slumming his skill here in front of 50 odd people at best. I was aware he had suffered a mild stroke a year or so back. Maybe he needed a safe place near his big fan and ex-brother-in-law for some sort of rehab gig. He surely wasn’t making enough money at $10 a head to equal even a payment on his marvelous tour bus.
I was set off that something wasn’t quite right with the whole show when observing the buff young guitarist with my uncle on stage. One of the reasons I like to watch live music is that I aspired to be a musician myself. I knew a thing or two about the guitar, and one thing I knew for sure was that the guitar licks this dude was playing were different than what was blaring out of his amp. Could it be he’s just eye candy for the ladies, and the guy jamming that solo is some homely dude backstage? That’s strange if true.
My sister sat alongside my cousin on the opposite side of the table, chatting at her through the entire first set. I was mostly able to tune her out, unlike those pretty brown eyes watching the stage from across the table. Try as I might to respect my cousin, I struggled to not be so obvious in my attraction.
“This next song is for my brother Bill, who’s here tonight. Stand up, Bill!” my uncle shouted.
My surprised father rose from the chair, saying, “Oh geez!”
My uncle then told a likely exaggerated story about them and humorous things that happened backstage at a concert in Los Angeles. He started the song strumming away on his customized dreadnought guitar, belting a playful tone in his rich voice. I started to enjoy the dedicated song, finding myself grinning and tapping a finger on my beer mug. He suddenly broke into banter extending the backstage story. I noticed that I still heard the guitar he strummed even though he had quit playing it to speak. At that point, I realized the music was being piped in. This was for show only. It’s mere theatre. I felt embarrassed for Vern. I turned to my father and told him what I saw. He looked at me and only shook his head. He wouldn’t hear of it.
I lost a degree of respect for my uncle right then. I felt like all of these folks here were getting ripped off. Music is hard work, and these guys aren’t putting in the labor. “So much for integrity,” I said under my breath. I scanned the room at all the other people around us as they cheered and sang along. All seemed entertained and unwitting, and like my father: uncaring of how the gears are greased as long as the machine works.
I caught my cousin’s friend looking at me, mouthing words to the song playing, “…you’re gonna love me tonight,” Her facial features striking in genuine delight. I smiled at her thinking maybe I had been a tad rough on my ol’ Uncle.
Admittedly, this is good entertainment even if recorded prior to today. It’s also fine if the drinks were mixed in a kitchen somewhere else. What difference did it make to the others in here? The result is the same. The music connecting with them or the distraction from screwed-up lives are no less real. No worse than watching special effects in films. It’s real if we want it to be. I decided to set aside any indignation I felt, giving in to enjoy the rest of the show with everyone else.
I soon felt my cousin’s friend rub her leg against mine under the table. When I looked up at her face, I knew it was on purpose. That was for real!
-Artist and Writer from Los Angeles currently living in Indiana- the bulk of my writings are short stories and poems that deal with a range of subjects including: emotional distress, strange happenings, thrillers and suspensestories.