Weird Gig #9
by Beth Lisick

I was sick and I was at work and the long paragraph of my misery was punctuated only by the phlegmy ellipses of mucous balls the size, color and, remarkably, texture of Lemonheads. I used to buy Lemonheads from the snack shack at softball games and it was during a game (playing third base for the Sunbeams) that I first tried to use a tampon because I heard they were for girls with an active lifestyle. I hadn't paid attention to the nice lady who came to class to show us how to use them. I simply stuck the thing in, slid the applicator into the other part and instead of pulling it out, I just left the whole thing up there and slipped into my striped Dolphin shorts. It was uncomfortable, but I just figured me and my active lifestyle would have to get used to it.

At one point during the game, as I was yelping and jumping up and down on the sidelines. I choked on a Lemonhead on account of all the excitement. I grabbed my throat and jerked my little body around on the dirt until somebody's dad clapped me on the back. In a moment of pure synchronicity that has not yet been equaled in my lifetime, the little candy pellet and the mis-inserted tampon popped out of my body at the same time. But let's move on.

Fifteen years later, I am sick and I am at work and the phone in my cube rings. Was I free to do a 20 minute spoken word set at a show that very evening? It turns out that the closing film at the San Francisco Film Festival was a Jim Jarmusch documentary on Neil Young. Instead of going to the after party, Neil was going to play a surprise show. You know, for the people. Could I open for him? Even though you and I understand that foisting spoken word on people who want to rock is neither an obvious nor wise choice, I croaked out a Yes in my trashed voice anyway.

The guy on the phone's name was Guy. He got the job finding the opener because the club he booked featured a lot of singer/songwriter types. I guess the festival people figured that since he had booked Jewel a few times before she was famous, when she was rolling through town in that van she lived out of, writing her book of poetry and eating out of trash cans, maybe he could work some magic for them tonight.

I had to be there in three hours. My former commune-dwelling children of the '60s bosses were ecstatic about the Neil Young part and let me off work immediately, telling me to buy tea, lemons, honey, decongestants and cough drops, which I mistakenly combined later with whiskey. Even though I felt like shit, it was a cool gig for to get even though it didn't make sense. I called my parents and they thought it was really neat until they realized it wasn't Neil Diamond, but some other Neil they had never heard of. (To my dad's credit, he later did an Altavista search.)

I got in my truck and drove home to Oakland, a 13-minute commute that always takes 45 minutes, left the truck running, ran in my house, grabbed my leather pants and got back on the freeway in a daze. I was barely hanging in there health-wise but had my thermos of tea, flask of whiskey and, in the passengers' seat, the stupid leather pants that I thought could shout "rock and roll!" for me, because I knew I was going to bomb.

By the time I got to the club, there was a line snaking around the block. Word had gotten out to the hardcore Neil fans and they were amped. I walked up to the door dude and said something like, "Hi. I'm Beth. I'm supposed to open up." He didn't have my name anywhere. "Well, where's your stuff?" he said as if I was bullshitting him. "Where's your guitar?"

"Um, I don't play the guitar," I said. "I, uh, talk."

"You talk?" he said. "You talk? Well, yeah, so do I. Blah blah blah. See? I'm talking!" This really cracked up his bouncer pals. Assholes.

Finally, after namechecking a few people at the club and the guy Guy, he let me in and told me to find Bill to let me backstage. It was a mob scene inside. People were doublefisting drinks, breaking out the pot, and giving each other hi-fives. The stage was already set up with the equipment for Neil's full electric band and I found out later that they picked me as an opener because I only required one electrical outlet.

I asked a million burly dudes with headsets if they were Bill before I found him. The crowd is already packed close to the stage. The lights start to dim. People are going crazy. A man walks out and says 10 more minutes and everyone boos. I find Bill.

"Um, I'm Beth," I say. "I'm going to open up."

"Yeah. Yeah," he says. "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah." There is a long pause. He snaps out of it like I just flipped a switch and says, "Uh, so. Where's your guitar?"

It is fair to say my reaction was a grimace. "I don't have a guitar," I tell him. "Didn't they tell you? Didn't anyone say anything?"

"No!" he says. "Why didn't you bring your guitar? You can't expect to show up and just use one of Neil's! What are you thinking?"

"Listen," I say, "I don't need a guitar. Just a microphone. I'm a spoken word...." I cleared my throat. "Performer." Ugh.

"Artist." God. "I just talk," I mumble.

Where the hell was this guy Guy? This was all his idea. I start panicking thinking Jesus, maybe Guy thinks I play the guitar, too. Maybe he saw me crossing a street somewhere holding someone else's guitar case.

I pass through security and meet Neil's tour manager. A cool guy offers me an Emergen-C and some ginseng.

"No, no thanks," I say and swig some whiskey to the dismay of all present in the alcohol-free backstage area.

He pats me on the back and says, "So, you got your guitar all tuned?"

I almost start weeping. I explain the talking thing. He says, "Well, we thought we were getting someone a little more professional and, you know, Neil's not even here yet but you're going to have to go on. People are getting restless. Will you please just go on and keep sing, uh, TALKING, until he gets here. Okay?"

My stomach is churning a pit of bile. My tongue is a heavy dry thing I don't know what to do with. The lights go down. The crowd cheers! And as they pick up speed into a chant of NEIL! NEIL! NEIL! I emerge into the spotlight to a resounding chorus of boos, without a guitar.


Beth Lisick is a writer and performer living in Berkeley. She is the author of Monkey Girl and the upcoming short story collection This Too Can Be Yours due out on Manic D Press this fall.