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To Andrea - A Story About the Big Shows

When cutting a piece of Gâteau St. Honoré, you better make sure the knife is wet with hot water and the angle is just right or the cream sticks to the blade and the slice falls apart on its way to the plate. Total pain in the ass.

I was completing this task, thinking about the Sinsemilla spliff waiting for me at home, when the bell above the coffee shop door jingled and a teenaged girl walked in. I recognized her straight away. She was about 17, tall and gawky, with thick glasses and tight, dark curls. When she saw me standing behind the counter in my dingy white apron, she froze. Her eyes opened wide as her mouth fell agape. "Are you … are you from that band?” “Maybe. Depends what band.” I was a 19-year-old kid trying to sound cool, but it came out petulant. “From the Bryan Adams concert.” “Yeah, that was us.” “I knew it!” Her knees were literally knocking together now. Her breathing was rapid, her cheeks and neck flushed crimson. “Would you … can you sign something for me?” As she opened her purse with trembling hands, a waft of bubble gum, lip gloss and menthol cigarettes perfumed the air. She found a scrap of paper and thrust it toward me. “Can you make it to Andrea?”

A couple of nights before, I had stood on stage at the Pacific Coliseum in front of 16,000 screaming rock n' roll fans, and this same teenage girl, Andrea, had been looking up at me from the front row. My band, L. Kabong, had been hand-picked by music mogul Bruce Allen to open the show for Bryan Adams, who was touring to support his hit album Reckless. Bruce had seen us in a local “Battle of the Bands” called “Spotlight ‘85.” In the finals, we lost out to a group of veteran musicians called MT Vessels, old timers in their 30s. Musically we were very eclectic; a raggedy hybrid of funk, reggae, acid rock and blues. Lots of long guitar solos and extended jams. MT Vessels were right in line with the sounds and trends of the 80s, and their playing was tight and polished. The judges chose the slick pros with radio-ready songs, but the crowd and music critics booed their decision. Bruce took heed and phoned me at my office, which was my bedroom in my parents' basement. “We’re gonna see how you do in the big shows,” he said. Me and my friend Shael, who was also 19, had been writing tunes together since grade 10. He was a humble, freckle-faced “Ginger” in denim overalls, but if you closed your eyes and listened to his singing voice and the sounds he wrenched out of his Fender Stratocaster, you’d swear Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix made a baby. Bill was 20. He had dirty blonde hair and dressed like Joe Strummer from The Clash. A lifeguard during the summer months, his sinewy body never stopped moving. He careened between sax, rhythm guitar, keyboards and percussion. He didn’t play any of those instruments particularly well, but he attacked them all with fearless commitment. Onstage, he appeared to be constantly on the verge of either an aneurysm or an orgasm. Bill did very well with the girls.

Donny, our drummer, was only 16. The son of a black, travelling jazz pianist and a white single mom, the kid was a maestro. Rocking a fedora and a confident grin, he played his Pearl kit with sensitivity and authority. At pre-gig sound checks, nightclub staff would wander out from the kitchen to bob their heads to his syncopated beats. I was the bass player, dressed all in black with an over-sized candy apple red Schecter bass slung around my shoulders. Musically, I was the least experienced member of the band, but I had the discipline to hold down simple grooves all night long. I had the chutzpah to hustle up the band’s gigs and make sure everyone showed up on time, too. Most importantly, I wrote lyrics for Shael’s soulful, dynamic chord progressions. That made me feel very valuable, because Shael was The Man, and I was his partner. As the son of a sociologist and social worker, perhaps it was in my DNA to try to make socially relevant statements. Looking back, however, I was no Bob Dylan. My “protest” lyrics, like My Money, were excruciatingly on the nose.

He paid his way through school and bought a better mind/but he landed with a headache in the unemployment line/took a job he didn’t believe in/for a man he didn’t like/he didn’t want to do it/but he had to, to survive Perhaps my “personal” lyrics were coming from a more authentic place. Like She’s Bad News, which I wrote about the girl who broke my heart and tore my face open. She’s a weed on the street from the cracks in the concrete she appears/she’s an automatic weapon’s detonation if you get too near My high school sweetheart/muse tended to consume more than her share of Smirnoff on weekends. That’s when her shadow side would emerge with a vengeance. One Saturday night at a rich kid’s pool party, she spied me glancing at another girl’s butt and sank her fingernails into the flesh between my nose and upper lip in a jealous, drunken frenzy. Everyone looked on as my blood dripped into the illuminated water. It took a long while for those scars to fade. In the coffee shop, Andrea fished a pen out of her purse and told me how to spell her name. Last time I saw her, she was beaming up at me from behind her big square framed glasses, preening flirtatiously as L. Kabong raced through our set, adrenaline on overdrive. Our songs bounced around the rafters and echoed back at us, drowned out by the high-pitched, shrieking monkeys on the moon cacophony of the masses. And through it all, whenever I looked down, slightly stage right, there was that girl with the glasses, dancing, clapping and cheering me on. I was the most inhibited and least charismatic performer in the band, but for whatever reason, she picked me out of the line-up and locked onto me. Maybe she liked shy, short bass players. Or maybe I just happened to be the guy closest to her side of the stage. Now she was towering over me in her high-heeled ankle boots, a sheen of nervous sweat on her forehead as 3 or 4 customers sat at little round tables, reading The Georgia Straight or gazing out the front window as they sipped their coffees. I had never written an autograph and had no idea what to say, so I scratched out “To Andrea” and signed my name. Then I wrote the name of the band, in brackets, under my signature. I handed her the piece of paper and she held it against her flat chest, smiling with her eyes closed. “Thank you so much.” That’s when a customer called out from his table. “You got my cake coming or what?” Rattled, I delivered the forgotten St. Honoré slice to the guy by the window, then went back to my position behind the counter. Andrea stood there staring at me, her big, brown probing eyes magnified behind her glasses. “Your band is like, so radical. How come you’re working here?” What was I going to tell her? That the 500 bucks we got paid to open for Bryan Adams was the most we’d ever made? That we had to split it between the 4 guys in the band, the sound man, the lighting guy, and pay the agency 10 percent? That even though I was living rent-free in my parents' basement, I could barely afford bass strings, weed and gas for my rusted out old Chevy Vega? That Bruce Allen’s Second in Command phoned me the day after the show and told me, “Art is something you hang on the wall – you guys will never get anywhere until you come up with some hits”? “Just helping out a friend,” I said. Andrea looked at me for a beat, then nodded almost imperceptibly. We both knew I was lying, but why break the illusion? The bell jingled as a quartet of customers piled into the shop. The after-dinner rush was on and a lot of fucking cake would need to be cut.


Ben Immanuel

On stage at "Spotlight '85"

Donny, Bill, Shael, Ben

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