“It would be nice if just once we could have separate rooms.”
Jerry smiled; that big, toothy, showbiz grin that lit up rooms and made crowds clap and whoop before he’d even said a word. “Next tour, man. Next tour. At the Ritz.”
Barry sighed and hefted his case up onto the bed nearest to him. He looked around at the shitty hotel room the three of them would be sharing tonight. It was exactly as shitty as the one from last night, and doubtless would be matched by an equally shitty room tomorrow. Shitty was what Barry had come to expect, if not quite accept.
“Next tour”. He’d heard those words so many times they’d become a comedy catchphrase. One more likely to provoke tears of desperation than laughter.
There was a time when they’d sounded hopeful, and even true. Ten years ago, before the internet really tore the arse out of record sales, they’d had a bona fide hit. Date Night, a perky little upbeat number that was actually about wanking, had been everywhere for a few months. Tesco had used it in a TV ad. They’d performed an acoustic version for Phillip and Fern, live on daytime telly. It had sold extraordinarily well, and it looked like their big break. They’d never told anyone what the words really meant.
And then there’d been all the unpleasantness with John.
By the time they’d righted the ship, they’d had to play catch up with a public who’d already moved on to the next big thing, and record sales had gone down the crapper. The only way to make music from money now was to tour, so tour they did, and continued to do. An endless merry go round of budget hotels and toilet venues. Jerry refused to play support slots, insisting they were a headline band. Barry wasn’t sure it really counted as headlining if it was a tuesday night at Maidstone sports centre.
Geoff seemed unflappable in the face of all this. Where Jerry, a lead guitarist to the bone, played the “fake it ’til you make it” game and lived in a constant state of denial about the hopelessness of their situation, Geoff was all drummer, and as such simply didn’t give a shit. He’d already put the kettle on and started flicking through the channels on the TV, wondering aloud if they had any pay-per-view porn.
And then there was John. There on the screen, shirtless, dancing around like a sexy scarecrow, singing a song that seemed to be about car engines, if Barry was hearing the words right. Something about carburetors. Behind him were two pale looking nerdy guys playing, for fuck’s sake, fucking laptops. From the sound they were producing those fucking laptops apparently contained a string quartet, a seven piece drumkit with a kickdrum the size of Switzerland, and a washing machine full of windchimes. The tune sounded like one long intro.
Jerry disappeared into the bathroom and locked the door.
They’d had to kick John out of the band. His partying was just too much, and his ego was out of control. It had been a choice between kicking him out or splitting up completely. But watching him on the TV now, Barry realised once and for all just what a mistake that had been.
Sure, Jerry had stepped up to the role of frontman admirably. He could sing, maybe even a bit better than John, and Barry wrote all the lyrics. Technically they were a better band now, and Jerry had charisma and presence on stage. He knew how to really warm up a crowd.
But John knew how to set them on fire. He was doing it right now, to a crowd at some festival, broadcast live to this shitty little TV in this shitty little hotel room in this shitty little town.
Barry slumped down on the bed and pulled his hipflask from his pocket. He took a big gulp of the cheap whisky it held.
The song finished. After the screams of the audience died down, he could once again hear Jerry crying in the toilet.