I knew a wedding DJ once who claimed he could reorder any space based on the songs he chose to play. It’s all just an algorithm, higher math, the music of the spheres; if you know the right sequence, you can move anybody anywhere. We were sitting in a bar one night and he told me he could pair me up with any girl in the room for fifty cents, two plays on the jukebox. The only woman around that night under sixty was my best friend’s girlfriend, Cecilia, and for once I had better sense than to get tangled up in that kind of hoodoo with the likes of her.

I had a band that wasn’t really working out at the time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about songs. We’d been gigging around St. Louis for weeks now, but the machinery of the local music scene was complex and obscure. The problem was largely mathematical, bodies and space. I figured I could change the songs, and hence the audience. Slowly, over the course of a few sets, we tightened the screws one by one. Louder here, faster there: tiny increments. The crowd began to shift. The room darkened slightly with the clothing, a few scenesters and granola-heads moved back and gradually out the door, or peered in off the street and decided to move on. Black shirts in, khaki shorts out. My friend the wedding DJ would have been impressed. We were still barely audible and largely ignored. It was the head bartender who finally caught on. His tips dropped below some critical threshold and a little alarm klaxon went off behind his ear. He raised his head and turned his laser eye out to the crowd, the band, me. I nodded and shrugged, and he turned his laser eye back to his designer gins and thousand mixers, and I knew that very shortly we were going to have a problem.

I liked the local black shirt suburban punks in spite of myself. There were never more than two or three of them, just outside the glass. They watched for a moment until the doorman moved them along. These kids showed up to a show already disappointed, already angry. They ponied up their five dollars to see a thing they hadn’t seen before. They wanted the genuine real and received instead an honest fake. Now they wanted blood, a goat to pin it all on. I put my head down and played, trying not to make faces at the kids who gathered outside the lounge. It was them I wanted. I gnashed my teeth and leaned into my bass.

The next night I got what I wanted; a few skinhead punkers snuck past the bouncers. We were off on the fastest number we had, a kind of pseudo-ska number I’d written a few summers before. It was a slow night and the bouncer was occupied with something in back. These two punks heard the song and stuck their heads through the doorway. It was a good song, derivative or no. I gave them a little head jerk, and in they came. Use the right tool and no force need be applied. They made shapes in front of a couple of middle-aged business women near the front. When the song ended a minute or so later, we had nothing suitable to follow it. The only song we had left in the set was a grungy ballad, a cover. They scowled and hissed, and the bigger of the two let fly an enormous wad of spit. He’d been sucking on a blow pop—next I saw it was a great red ball of goo, aimed straight at Waylan. I moved to interpose myself, such is the love of a bass player for his drummer, but I was a step too slow. It caught him full on the left lapel of his fuzzy gray blazer. He jerked as if shot, spun slowly on his stool. He stood up mid-song, but the poison dart worked fast. The fight just seemed to go out of him. He wilted back down on his stool, and finished out the song. The bouncer grabbed the two punks and tossed them out the front door. Later, Waylan sat on his stool while we broke the gear down around him.

“What’s wrong with your people, Russell?” he said, rubbing at the stain. “It’s not civil.”

[Continued in Confrontation 114]

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