"A new low, man, even for me. I’ve hit rock and roll bottom and I’m still falling,” my silver ponytailed fellow bar fly wailed.
Every grizzled head in Prostate Puffy’s Baby Boomer Saloon snapped around to find out what the ruckus was. I lowered my head and licked the salt off the rim of my third “house special” margarita—made with the finest no-name tequila Puffy could buy for cheap on his thrice yearly field trips to Juarez. Finally the other members of m-m-my generation who’d chosen this night and this bar to self-medicate returned to the women’s beach volleyball match on the twelve-foot-wide HD screen at the far end of the room.
“I mean, a musician’s gotta take whatever comes along to survive, right?” Eldon “Bottom Feeder.” Porterhouse drained his stubby-sized bottle of Blitz and signaled Puffy for another. He’s not called that, by the way because of his taste in seafood or marginal moral character. In musician’s parlance, the “bottom” is the bass line of a song. Eldon thrum thrum’s the low notes with the best of them.
Puffy dipped his hand into the cooler for Eldon’s beer. Note her that P.P refuses to knuckle-under to the craft beer craze. No Tutti-Frutti IPA or Avocado Ale at the Baby Boomer Saloon. Blitz and Olympia only. In stubbies. Which, considering it’s been decades since the companies have offered these brews, makes you wonder if Puffy, in a prescient moment, bought up a ****pot of it back in the 70’s foreseeing this moment in time.
It felt like the right time to commiserate. “Hey, a gig’s a gig, right? You’re a bass player. Somebody wants to pay you to play bass. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.”
He pushed his lips in and out as he reached to snag the replacement bottle Puffy opened and slid down the bar. Eldon’s voice fell to a mumble. “Another tribute band. Why me? Why always me?”
A little history here. I met Eldon in San Francisco in 1975 when he played bass with a hot psychedelic trio called “The Fig Pluckers.” When that band imploded after the lead guitarist and songwriter decided to cut his hair and sell life insurance and the drummer left for sexual reassignment surgery in Sweden, Eldon began nearly five decades of touring with groups that got paid to sound like bands that had hit the charts. Even if their fame was fleeting.
“Hey, it couldn’t be as bad when you played with the 1911 Chewy Fruit Corporation.” I tried to provide some perspective.
He glugged beer. “The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s fans were crazed,” he acknowledged. “One night we played ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I’ve Got Love in My Tummy’ 27 times in a row before they’d let us leave the arena.”
I marveled. “An arena? I didn’t know you played any arenas.”
He shook head, the silver ponytail bobbing from side-to-side. “Actually it was a skating rink. But a guy’s got to have a fantasy life, right?”
“Right,” I agreed. “So, what was the worst tribute band you ever played in?”
“The next one,” he growled. “If I decide to take the job.” He drank. “Who am I kidding? I’ve gotta pay my rent.”
“Was it the Grass Roots sound-alike band?” I asked.
“The Fescue Four? Naw, that was an okay tour. Hey we even opened for the Stones.”
“The Rolling Stones? Wow, I didn’t know that you’d—”
A collective gasp rose up from the crowd watching the beach volleyball. I saw a tall Amazonian yank up the top of her bikini and fist bump her partner as their opponents waved helplessly at the ball that skidded across the sand past them.
“Not the Rolling Stones. The Stolen Stones. Their tribute band at the time.”
“Oh.” I deflated.
“They weren’t bad. You know how somebody described Mick Jagger as a rooster on acid?”
“The Stolen Stones’ lead singer reminded people of a walrus on Quaaludes.”
I knew it would take at least two more ‘Ritas to erase that image from my mind. “So what was the weirdest cover band you played in?”
He thought about it. “Probably the “Ho-Ho’s.”
“As in who you callin’ Ho, Ho? What band were you—?
“The Go Gos. Ho Ho, Go, Go. Get it?”
“Almost. But they were an all-girl band. And you—
“Looked pretty damn fine in a mini-skirt. Or so they tell me.”
“You played ‘We Got the Beat’ in drag?”
“From Maine to California, Dude. The money was pretty good.”
I eyeballed Eldon and tried to imagine. “So how did that band break up?”
“Band manager said my beard had to go.” Eldon ran his fingers through his chin whiskers. “Hey, musically I may be a Ho, but I do have my pride.”
“Okay that was strange but which tribute band is the stuff of your nightmares?”
“So really, which was the worst of all of the bands you played with?”
Eldon drained half his and mumbled. “Kind of a toss-up.”
“Between” . . . I goaded.
“The Starchies.” He smiled at the memory. “Remember the TV cartoon show The Archies?”
“Vaguely. Wasn’t their hit called ‘Sugar, Sugar’?”
“That memory flogger just earned you another drink.” He signaled Puffy and pointed at my empty glass. “There never was a real group called The Archies. Somebody wrote the song for the TV show and they threw some studio guys together to record it. When it hit number one, they decided they needed to send a band out to tour behind it. Then, another genius in A and R figured out they could make more money with a dozen bands calling themselves The Archies, playing simultaneously.”
“And at the same time?”
“Give the man the Jughead hat.” He grinned and drank.
“And The Starchies?”
“We formed up about two years later. We wore clothes and styled our hair like the cartoon characters.”
“Which one were you.”
“Veronica. Smart ass. Anyway, the tour lasted for two months before the lead vocalist got a part in the Albuquerque production of ‘Hair’.”
Puffy put another salty-rimmed drink in front of me. I sipped it, made a face and thanked Eldon.
“And then . . .” He closed his eyes as he remembered, “There was the Phallic Pop-Guns.”
I tried to picture Eldon’s fingers flying across the bass during the Pop Gun’s version of the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ or ‘God Save the Queen’.
Eldon reached for a cigarette, put it in his mouth, then remembered the no smoking in public places laws. “Dammit.” He snorted before putting the smoke back in the pack. “They had Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten.”
“And you had—?”
“Vic Shiftless and Ronny Juttin. Actually it was a good gig for a while. The music was easy to play and all we had to do was flop our heads, snarl a lot and jump up and down to the beat.”
“How’d that one end?”
“I had to quit. Vomiting on demand was messing up my health.”
We drank in silence for a while. “So, are you going to take the job? The next tribute band?”
“Dunno?” Eldon was glum. “I may have to. I got nothing else going. And besides, they sent me a T-shirt.” He reached down for the case that held his bass, snapped it open, and reached in to retrieve a shirt.
A cheer erupted from the beach volleyball fans. I looked up to see two of the bikini-stuffed athletes flailing away at each other with a referee trying to separate them. One of them cold-cocked him and he hit the sand like a wet pelican that forgot how to fly.
When my attention returned to Eldon, he held up a plum-colored double extra large t-shirt that read _______________.
“Oh dear God no.” I said. “They’re really going to go out and tour as _______________?”
Eldon pulled out the bass and played a couple of licks from _______________’s quasi-hit record. “Fraid so. Time for me to go out and make a living as a cover band Ho.”
Now comes the reader participation portion of your reading experience. What did the caption on Eldon’s T-shirt read? What tacky piece of art accompanied it? And which abysmal band was he being paid to cover? Have fun with this and insert your creativity in a comment.