(Excerpted from my forthcoming ebook, My Life in Gigs)
The second set (commencing at 11:45pm) was already painful. This was a “I wanna go to sleep” pain, nurtured by stacking on this fourth gig in a day after three separate outdoor festival sets with different artists in the sweltering Austin, Texas summer heat. At least I was indoors now. But the fatigue was intense, reminding me of those poor British officers who were made to stand for hours in The Bridge Over The River Kwai. I was thirsty. I could taste the dust in the air of this rat trap of a basement railroad bar.
Somehow I made it through that second set upright and found a chair to slump into for a short nap, unconcerned about the possibility of falling asleep and sprawling onto the bar floor. As I dreamed of a Posturepedic sleep I was finally awakened by the bassist. “It’s 1:10, man! Time for our last set.” Yea, right. Because there are so many cultured listeners who must hear jazz at that hour. Because the trained ear prefers jazz at 1pm when the players are on the verge of dropping into a coma. Because no one ever has the wherewithal to say, “why?”
So I said, “why?”
They laughed at me with that “I know you’re just kidding” face and the “because it’s always been this way” hand gesture. Three tunes into that third set I was fighting off sleep less and less effectively. Now our leader calls Sentimental Journey and applies the “watching the grass grow” tempo. One minute in I was sound asleep, somehow balanced perfectly on the drum throne arms dangling limp at my sides. I heard the sticks click as they hit the floor but thought I was dreaming. They sounded like chopsticks, and I imagined the aroma of a nice stir fried rice cooking in the distance. Wasn’t that a nice little tune playing on the jukebox? Sentimental Journey, I think. It must have been a minute or so before the quasi-slumbering bassist spoke to me.
“Scott! Wake up!” came the urgent whisper. “Wake up, man!”
I opened my eyes to the dim light of the cave and realized that, no, I was not in a comfortable bed sleeping in the middle of a quiet Oriental restaurant, as I had imagined. I was still on the gig, my sticks on the floor, saliva on my snare drum, and a clueless band leader who later commented on the beautiful and unexpected space I had applied to the middle of his solo.