By Gary Sohmers, 2017 copyright, All Rights Reserved
Chapter Two – Good Old Friend
Having moved five times before starting high school, my childhood did not include any long term friends. As my father moved us for his own opportunities to make a better life for his family, my ability to make friends was impacted since there would be new, different friends when we moved again. The good part about the moves was we moved to music scenes. New Orleans, Nashville, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. I was hooked by the sounds coming out of the radio in each stop.
Each move found me attempting to interact with strangers at my parent’s insistence. I stopped trying, and dug deeper into my anti-social introversion, concentrating on art, poetry, music and all things historical or cultural. My mom kept taking me to therapists to find a solution to what they determined was depression, although my father just expected me to grow out of it eventually if I learned his work and hustle ethic.
I tried to appease both, but withdrew, quit school and moved out, away from a loving family, away from comfort because it felt uncomfortable by that time not to move on every couple of years. I was conditioned.
Having never learned how to connect with a female friend either, since I had difficulty with males, I was never instructed clearly on the difference. I felt for females differently than I did for males, but was taught in the neighborhood that I had to hustle women, not become friends. Backyard chatter instructed that we’re supposed to treat them as the enemy, to be used and tossed away, to expect subservience and sex. It was explained as if rule of nature. Powerful take from the weak, and they expect it. I learned differently eventually.
Moving so much, I grew up without friends so to speak, so I developed a vivid imagination. I would often see these auras around everyone, that I began to refer to as “beasties”. The people I encountered were surrounded by these characters … some were cute and happy, but many would be encouraging their humans to express negativity, often with demeaning behavior or by bullying others. I could clearly see them, I assumed everyone could, yet I could not easily see my own.
I met Vibe one day at a guitar store after leaving high school, noticed his happy beasties and was amazed at his musical abilities at such a young age. He told me his whole life was the guitar and that would be all that matters forever. I immediately fell in awe of his commitment to a future with no clear path towards money, success or a sustainable life as I had been taught.
He was convinced, and would tell me that if he provided the correct vibrations on the strings, fingering the guitar properly, the universe would provide for him with dreams fulfilled. When I heard him play, I kind of believed that too. To me he was the Vibe. His beasties reflected a combination of pride, apathy and compassion, without negativity cluttering his aura. He was a role model to me of how to be a dedicated musician and proved over time to be a true friend.
When we decided to get serious about the business of music, Vibe introduced me to Radar and Sid, whom he had played with in his basement doing some hard rock and roll, some blues and some popular hits. It appeared to me that their beasties were happy with their humans, contributing to the fun in their lives, cooperating with each other to be in sync, as a rhythm section needed to be.
Once the four of us began to play, it felt really cool, like it was supposed to feel. Vibe always spoke of the proverbial success everyone in the music biz wants to attain and asked me to contribute some of my songs or poems so we could be an original act and not always be considered a cover band.
Once we built a repertoire of material, played a bunch of gigs and developed a following on the road, we met Bill. An accomplished award-winning multi-instrumentalist, orchestrator and composer who found us strangely appealing. He offered to help make our music more “accessible” to a larger audience with higher quality arrangements and production. Bill’s beasties were all joyfully focused on the music.
Vibe said it was fate and it all seemed to click the moment Bill sat in with us for the first time. We all became very good friends, trusting, copatriots on a mission to spread the music and a positive message. Enjoy life.
For this concert, it appears the business guys went all out for us, providing back-up singers, extra side musicians and a beautifully large stage in a picturesque environment adorned with flags and banners. The area in Central Park was much larger than we would expect to be able to fill, with vendors and artists scattered around the edges displaying their works for show and sale. The sun was shining, the squirrels were scampering around and there was a growing buzz as the audience filed onto the field.
In the distance were New York City skyscrapers, the epicenter of corporate life that controlled our entire music business, and was now controlling the world’s resources and commodities in everything. All being manipulated from inside those buildings just outside of this idyllic setting.
Our deeply rooted philosophy, and the bent of our new album, Sci-Fi Rock Opera, an opera about a sci-fi rock called planet Earth, was that the planet was being destroyed by some heartless denisons of those structures making decisions that affect all living things without concern of the repercussions.
But here surrounded by friends, we were getting to perform our best selling record live on this beautiful day to any and all who wish to hear it. Maybe those powerful decision makers in the tops of those concrete structures would hear it and get the message, but not likely. We rehearsed extensively to make sure that our audience will get the best show, especially since we now have all of these added singers and musicians.
We all felt incredibly lucky to be here, as Vibe felt it was our destiny, it was seriously against enormous odds that this moment would happen for all of these people assembled on stage, and now gathering in this audience, for this singular event in a specific time and place. Being beamed out through the internet, it was a global moment in time.
And she was here as well. One of the backup singers hired for the gig just happened to be someone special to me, so this may be where it gets a little complicated in explaining.
I met her one afternoon a couple years back prior to a show when we were barely an opening act. I was standing at the merchandise booth laughing with the salesgirl, when she walked up and asked about buying one of my band’s T-shirts. The merch girl asked her what size, and did she want it autographed, to which she laughed and said medium. She looked at the girl as she was handing her the $20 with a serious questioning look about whether she was in the band or just selling the shirts. Then she looked towards me.
Our eyes met, like they had met before, had met often, was calm, comforting and familiar. She smiled shyly, seductively, not sure who I was, how we knew each other or what to do or say next. I felt the same instant awkwardness, aware of the mutual comfortable discomfort, and smiled in return. Acting merely on impulse, I pushed her money and her hand away from the salesgirl, took the shirt and handed it to her. She appeared much younger than me, instinctually I slipped into my flirt mode, yet felt no other intentions than to make a pretty girl smile.
She was surrounded by smiling beasties, and some sad ones, but nothing negative. She seemed to have a special light in her that I could sense and I felt compelled to know her. Awkward again, I attempted to be suave, cool, adult and in complete control.
I introduced myself to her as the singer and songwriter in the band, tried to impress her with some standard bullshit that narcissistic ego maniacs would oftentimes use to woo the weak. She was not weak at all, she emitted enormous positivity. She introduced herself to me as an artist, singer and songwriter, champion of nature, lover of all animals and, relating figuratively, like the breeze enjoying movement. Her name was Terra.
There was something incredibly magical about her to me. As I tried to not allow my sometimes irrational beasties to negatively impact this chance meeting, I chose to give her my contact info if she wished to stay in touch.
After that chance encounter those years ago, that evening we performed as if I only hoped she alone was watching, and continued to hope throughout the night that she would contact me.
As a female for the human mating process she was younger than me, but these days it appears that age, like art, may be considered objective and timeless. I had a son with a woman twenty years ago, and although the female and I failed to coexist, my son became happy and successful in his own life and world. But that’s another story.
Back to this one, Terra contacted me alright, and we became slightly obsessed with each other for a while, until she burnt out on my energy, and needed to grow and find herself. It was difficult to lose the wonderful conjoining of minds, but it was best for both of us. She taught me a lot in a short time period about platonic love, realistic expectations, narcissistic personality disorder and preserving nature.
Anyway, Terra had been working as a singer and artist, and was hired by the producer to be one of the performers today, which adds to my happiness factor. As soon as we saw each other, we reconnected. During rehearsals a couple of weeks earlier, two years later, we could still telepathically communicate just as we felt we had before.
She was now much more poised, mature, comfortable with herself and ready to help make my lyrics and music affect the minds and bodies of my fans. It was a wonderful feeling emanating from her towards me. And for the appropriate reason, mutual respect.
The audience now begins to enter in larger numbers as I look out from backstage and see the size has already grown larger than was initially expected. The promoters had actually planned for that with added sound reinforcement systems out beyond the place we thought the crowd would dissipate. They were now at that point and the show had not even started. This may be the largest audience we have ever entertained, and we all felt the calm of professionals about to give them the most memorable experience of their lives.
Here we stand, a group of good old friends, ready to entertain and educate. We get set to take the stage, surrounded by the sound crew, stagehands, security, hanger-outers and members of the organizations benefiting, or profiting from this show. It is still show business. My stage manager gives me the signal that every one of the crew members are in position, guitar and drum techs, main and monitor mix operators, everything is a go for launch. The set lists were taped at everyone’s feet, but it was to perform the entire new record release, in order, in two sets with a short break in between. We are rehearsed, let’s do it.
As we take the stage and plug in, the swell of initial recognition begins, as the audience shows their appreciation of our appearance, cheering encouragement.
The first song of the show starts off with Vibe strumming his guitar, slowly building in intensity. We can make this musical build grow as long as we choose based on the crowd, or the time. Sometimes Vibe plays at the crowd’s whim, stretching the harmonic chords’ repetition only to build anticipation. I move to the center of the stage with my guitar, joining Vibe. As the musical suspense builds, the bass guitar begins to throb a doubletime heartbeat note as the undertones of the kick drum and floor tom add sonic depth to the growing excitement.
The fans know the song, and are already enjoying the satisfaction of its familiarity, jumping with joy in the front of the stage and running with abandon at the back of the field towards the back of the crowd. I am feeling internal joy and pride being able to lead this band performing my songs for this purpose in front of these people.
Music and words can change minds, which can change behaviors, which can change the future of humanity.
At every show, I can see the beasties around our fans, around the business people, around everyone these days, and they were in the audience full force. Good and bad beasties here to have their kind of fun, which could be good or bad. This knowledge that bad could happen did not dissuade me from unleashing my beasties to be seen by all who could through my music and our show. Here we go.
On the side of the stage to our right, I notice a security guy with a crew shirt on who I don’t recognize, an older guy, white hair, who seems to be getting very moved by the building music. He dances with excited anticipation, as he must know the song, and must be with the promoter or someone on that side of this production. I make eye contact and all my senses tell me that he seems harmless surrounded by what appears to me to be a large amount of good happy beasties, somewhat similar to the ones I see around Terra on the opposite side of the stage. At this point, I can assume that this may be universal balance and my acceptance of the inevitable as real goes with the flow.
I signal the band for the musical change to start the song.
We drop down a chord, and initiate the rehearsed, but unpredictable, length pause. Something feels different than in rehearsal. There is a true moment of silence. Everything appears to stop. Even “time” appears to stop. All sounds appear to cease. The atmosphere is still. It appears as if the universe took a breath.
In this instant of serenity, Vibe and I stand motionless, happy to be together at this moment, at the front of the stage, arms raised in the air, quiet rush of wind blowing across our faces as we squint our eyes and hope for the best. Slowly the audience’s excitement begins to spill out as they start to shout, yell, scream and cheer. We stand.
With a massive windmill gesture Vibe unleashes the opening power chords of the song I wrote after a bout of sadness following the break up of a youthful romance when we first solidified the band’s current lineup. The crack of the snare powers the beat, emphasized by the throbbing bass under Vibe’s continued guitar ripping chording. I swing my arm in sympathetic mimicry windmills in tandem with Vibe and smile with the joy being created.
I look at the crowd totally engaged by Vibe, and look to the right to now see that crew guy is also swinging his arm in a counterclockwise manner copying our movements with solid air guitar style, now much closer to us. Feeling secure that nothing would go wrong from the beasties surrounding him and the vibrations I felt that he was giving off, I give it little concern. I also can sense some telepathic connection similar to what I have with the band, but believe I actually could have that link with all my fans.
The band shifts gears again, with the horn section honking a syncopated counter rhythm to the hard driving guitar bass riff driving the song. I step up to the front of the stage to begin singing, when out of the corner of my right eye I see the crew guy dancing towards me. He’s blissfully smiling, totally into the song as if he knows every beat by heart, and again did not add any concern. My fans are my family and he must be okay or he wouldn’t be in this position.
But what happened next changed my entire day, maybe changed my entire life going forward. As I explain to you and myself with hindsight, I realize more about the experience with every added recollection. Not being a fan of surprises, I prefer to have a production plan and execute it, with an agile openness to change, modification and improvisation with our band to entertain. But this was a super go-with-the-flow moment.
I step up to sing the first line of my song, as rehearsed, and the crew guy steps directly in front of me up to my microphone and sings my line as well as I might have, “Is this just an endless stream, another day get up and dream.” Slightly shocked but comfortable with the mood, I nod to the band to continue, smile at the guy, then look towards Terra standing next to an easel on the side of the stage, and sing the companion line, “In decision, in despair, a romantic’s life is just not fair.” She smiles back confidently, swaying with the rhythm, assuming it is all in my control.
The stranger jumps in with what appears like a real questioning tone, words I’d written for me to sing with my band, in front of my audience we worked so hard to gather and came for us to entertain, perfectly echoing our recording, singing, “Why must this happen day in and day out?”
Was my ego being affected by this unplanned affront or was the show under assault as this unknown element has decided to be part of what was a well planned show? I felt calm, as all I could sense from this guy was harmless curiosity, asking the questions I asked myself when I wrote these words. I continue to focus my gaze on Terra, singing towards her my continued question and aimed at someone who I hoped cared to be part of a solution. “Why must my hope always end up doubt? Is my fate just to be some unknown shroud?” I sang with the same emotion as when it was written.
Just as in the song, as recorded on our recent release and as it was written and rehearsed, Terra and I sing the lyrical doubt that is in my mind, “I’m not sure,” as our new band member is mouthing the words as if he deeply feels them.
Vibe then strikes the defining power chord that resonates with everyone onstage, and as I look out at the audience away from Terra’s eyes, I witness a sea of humanity, far beyond my expectations, also resonating with the vibrations.
We resume the guitar windmills together in unison, Vibe and I on guitars, including the mystery man with his imaginary guitar now clearly visible to me in his hands. I am not hallucinating at this time, because after years of psychedelic experiences I clearly know the difference, but his beasties were enough to convince me that I had nothing to fear. He moves towards me and sings my words to me with total conviction and curiosity, “If I could see what was wrong with you, I would understand.”
The audience has no idea this was not planned as it appears so smooth, and anyone in the know would continue to go with the flow if I did, so I respond just as rehearsed looking towards Terra and singing in response, “If I could see what was wrong with myself, I’d be more of a man.”
I turn to the stranger, make momentary eye contact and then we both turn to the audience. In a totally cooperative gesture, we extend our hands like rehearsed mirror images and sing the next line to the masses, “If I could see what was wrong with this whole world, I would lend a helping hand.” There was something magical about the way we sounded as one.
Pointing at the audience I emphatically sing my next line, “What about you?” looking at my new band member encouraging him to follow my lead. He looks to the mass of smiling faces, follows my encouragement to reach the audience with the same question he has of me, mimicking me with his own equally persuasive, “What about you?”
We then lock eyes. I feel an unusual, powerful link as we sing to each other, “What about you?” and, as rehearsed, the band stops dead, creating momentary silence. A vacuum of anticipation created, we conclude the sentiment with lyrical acceptance of the new reality presented, singing to each other, “My Good Old Friend.”
No, I don’t believe we had ever met that I could remember, but since I had performed hundreds of shows and met thousands of people it’s possible we were “old friends.” But whether we were or not, the feeling of comfort he gave everyone on stage while disrupting our show made me feel like it was another example of shit happens, so go with it.
The stranger had very long hair, aged by time to a dappled slate color. He was physically fit for a person who appeared to be much older than me, and definitely appeared to have been, or still was, a musician. His clothes were all nondescript, also resembling a grainy muted off white towards black, and hung from him comfortably below his grey T-shirt with “Crew” written on the reverse. He appeared to belong, appeared to know what we had rehearsed, and moved as if he knew where to be, in and out of the way.
Vibe struts to the front of the stage to continue the ripping guitar solo that is exciting the crowd. The stranger moves back to his previously held sidestage position, continuously mirroring my movements and gestures like he is in my brain and knows what I will do next. I move to the opposite side of the stage towards Terra, but his eyes meet mine again, and we feel as if he and I are looking into a reflecting pool of water. Is this just a cosmic coincidence that I would encounter such a person at this point in my history?
Encouraging the crowd with his guitar prowess and stage presence, Vibe brings the excitement up to the place when the horn section again joins the energy, bringing it all back to the crack of the snare drum. The brass musicians push their instruments, moving in syncopated dance steps. The music moves me to swirl as I sway towards the front of the stage.
As my lyrics come up, I feel camaraderie with my audience, and give my next lines singing the awareness of our current reality imparting, “The Earth spins round a day goes by, I’m feeling healthy I don’t mind.” Gesturing towards Terra with a nod, I see her rotating elegantly. Then with a nod to Terra I face the audience and sing defiantly, “Trying to make another buck, this modern world really sucks.” My message is understood by my fans and they respond with cheers.
The stranger looks to me for direction, but obviously doesn’t need it. The words and melodies flow from him in harmony, as we hold our hands up to the sky seeming to be questioning the universe together, we sing together, “Why must this happen, day in and day out?”
Directing my next line to Terra, I again musically question my future, singing, “Why must my hope always end up doubt, is my fate just to be an unknown shroud?” To which she responds as rehearsed, with a comforting answer to a tough question, convincingly singing a simple, “I don’t know.”
Vibe steps up between us, guitar slung low and volume turned up, breaking the drama created between the three of us with the power of amplified major chords ringing clearly like an anthem. I take his cue as rehearsed, step up front to join him as our newest band member steps up beside me. Again he inserts himself into my song, singing my lyrics directly to me as if he is challenging me to practice what I preach, “If I could see what was wrong with you I would understand,” but this time with the verbal strength of spirit and conviction.
And with a sense of submissive honor, I choose to respond humbly with the same confession wishing for knowledge, proudly singing my written lyrics from ten years earlier, “If I could see what was wrong with myself, I’d be more of a man.” Terra joins us out front and responds with loud proud vocal prowess, “And if I could see what was wrong with this whole world, I would lend my helping hand, but what about you?” while pointing to me. She is mimicked by the stranger again pointing at me and singing with full throat, “What about you?”
Then we all begin pointing to the audience members, shouting at them, “What about You? And You? And You and You and You?” inciting the crowd members who leap with joyous acceptance. They felt included. I could even see their beasties dancing.
There is communal joy in being part of a whole. And the whole continued to grow, stretching as far as I could see from the stage. Sure it was a free concert, but I felt honored that so many would attend to hear our performance.
Vibe also feels that this is a special moment, and moves forward again to excite with his masterful manipulation of his instrument. As he plays, the stranger dances, and Terra moves to an easel positioned back on her side of the stage. She begins creating a poster to reflect her and the band’s viewpoint, showing a beautiful rendering of Earth with Save The Planet boldly, yet neatly, scripted.
Joining Vibe at the center of the stage, I reach out towards the crowd as they surge forward to meet me, hands reaching towards us. The band builds to a peak, and stops, allowing me to musically scream with all of my power, one final attempt to reach everyone with, “What About Yooooooouuuuu?”
The band honors me with a most kick ass ending to my anthem, with the music getting faster and more intense, building to completion the audience’s energy level and enthusiasm, ending with a roar of appreciation. Vibe and I stand out front and gaze out upon the gathered audience, which has spread out as far as we can see.
The song’s conclusion is followed by a very long ovation. We look at each other, spin around to give credit to the rest of the performers, and at that moment together, we all feel that the destination is worthy of the journey when traveling with good old friends.