Clothes on her back, two guitars in the backseat (one acoustic, one electric), the run-down vehicle itself, and several hundred dollars from cleaning out her account via the cash machine on the way into work at the restaurant on the edge of her small town. And she still wasn’t sure she was going to go through with it.
Saturday night – Marshal allowed “light and low” electric instruments after 8 p.m., so she grabbed her electric. He’d agreed to “let” her play for zero pay between sets so long as she continued waitressing for wages as cheap as he could get away with. Oh, and she had to stick with lighter country standards, and had to do it in that soft, pleasant voice he called “lady-like”.
Her own stuff, her own style, only she knew about it.
Mom might have caught a note or two as she composed and practiced it in her room, always with the volume running through headphones. If she had, she’d dealt with it by pretending otherwise – same way she handled anything unpleasant. Dad certainly had not and would have hit the roof if he had. Just wouldn’t tolerate nonconformity in any daughter of his. Neither he or Mom greatly approved of her waitressing at a place that served liquor and hosted live music nor could they understand why, a couple years past high school, she hadn’t already married. What about that nice Petey who went to their church and whom she’d gone to the movies with a couple times and clearly thought more was going to happen that was or ever would. Every part of her life felt repressed, channeled, prescribed.
She’d plotted this night for months. Now, if only she had the guts.
Apron went around her waist at 4 p.m., right on time. Surprising how many people went for supper that early. Marshall was running his chicken fried steak special – that always drew the folks into the single dining room with the bar to one side and the tiny stage on one end. Larger, slightly younger crowd by five-thirty, six. Couples on dates by six-thirty. Band, ‘The Rodgers’, all guys over fifty-five, began tuning at seven-thirty. Traffic changed over to drinks and finger food. Eight o’clock, The Rodgers began their light set of country standards. Dad came in and perched at the bar, mainly talking to Marshall behind it. Petey was already there with a couple buddies, watching, smiling at her. Forty minutes and The Rodgers ended their first set. Now it was her turn.
She took up her guitar, caressed its smooth surface. First songs nice and light, soft ‘little girl’ voice she’d been coached in. Third number, nice and light, soft ‘little girl’ voice, but she’d deviated to Joni (hardly standard) and turned the volume on the guitar one notch higher. Dad looked annoyed. Marshall smiled as it ended but held his palm out and moved it down – the ‘lower volume’ sign. “Let’s hear some more Loretta”, he suggested in that voice that was not really a suggestion. Petey smiled and nodded. Just an extension of other’s will, she thought. No one is really interested in hearing me.
At that moment she lost all fear blowing up her life. All nervousness disappeared. Her intestines went iron. Her hand squeezed the neck of her guitar in a lover’s clench. If it had been a gun she was set to massacre the room. She cranked the volume all the way up.
BAAM came the first chords so loud half the room jumped. Everybody shut up. Marshall and her Dad both jerked their heads towards her, mouths agape, eyes wide. Loud, quick, driving chords followed. Marshall took a half step in her direction …
… came the first lyrics. She gave him a glare that froze him. That nice and light, soft ‘little girl’ voice was gone. This was Janis, Amy, Melissa channeled, less sang than shouted, less shouted than spat …
To how I’m telling you this works
She pounded that guitar, screamed at the mic, stopped her heel in time, gyrated her hips, shoved her pelvis towards the room and told them what she thought. Looked right at her Dad for the line …
Head up your ass view of the world
… looked right at Petey for …
Insignificant boring junk
… looked right at Marshal for …
Cheap-ass petty dictator ruling a deep-fried empire
And then she started cussing. Her fingers bearing down on the frets up and down the guitar neck in rapid strokes, reloading bullets. Frustrations, repressions, expectations violently rejected.
I will not be propagated!
Propagate yourselves away from me!
Away from me!
Away from me!
Take your tiny insecurities and
Propagate yourselves away from me!
BAAM BAAM BAAAAAAAAM she hit her last chords; let them hang and fade, finally slid her fingers up the guitar neck and brought it all to a close. Two guys in the back started cheering. The rest of the room sat motionless, in shock, literally and figuratively, white. She unplugged and headed to the door. Marshal gave her a dirty look. She gave him a dirtier one back. She jumped into her car, vaguely picturing her Dad’s confused, almost wounded expression, pulled the route to East Nashville’s alt rock scene into consciousness, and buried the throttle.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.