strings were tugged, feet were stomped, heads were banged, and drums were beat to pulp. it was all raw, chaotic energy for the boys on stage, especially tonight being their first time taking their talents to a 10,000 capacity venue. matthew, the self titled leader of the band, gasped for air after every note, beads of sweat rolling down his neck. the girls in front row were taking it all in. sucks to be them when dear matt isn't exactly attracted to their kind.
the drummer, merlyn wood, sat shirtless at his kit. he started the show fully clothed, but ended up stripping for the encouraging crowd that seemed to be chanting his name whenever he looked up from his musical gaze. that's what he says every time. it takes probably about four people giving him a slither of attention for him to get lost in it, a higher high than the exclusive rockstar blunts he gets daily supplies of.
the guitarist, ciaran mcdonald, wasn't as enthusiastic as the rest of the band, normally staying put on his assigned stage spot. quiet for an alleged star, and should be putting his all into it since that's what the people pay to see, they still love him regardless. or maybe the people want to see ciaran half asleep, probably more drunk than sober, run his fingers through the strings of the overpriced instrument a couple of times. what would I know?
matt used to be the guitarist until the lead vocalist overdosed while performing. he had to be escorted by minimum five venue employees and a few roadies. I can still remember his body going limp, perfect celebrity poster to a helpless rag doll in under a second. one of the many reasons matt stopped doing drugs while performing. I wasn't emotionally affected by it, nor was the rest of the crew. the guy was a proper asshole.
now, they're on their final song.
matt tells the crowd, encourages them to 'sing along if you know the lyrics' and to clap to the beat. ciaran kicks in first. matt is now bobbing his head, leaning his head back, and letting the sound fill his body. he's a musical genius, knows exactly what notes, chords, beats, tunes, shakes, rattles, and pows go well together. matt's singing a cover of one of his favourite songs. his lips glossy, hair nappy, and— is he crying?
"I can dim the lights and sing you songs full of sad things," the crowd echoes back, some choking on sobs exactly how an exaggerated writer would describe it. reddened faces, and porcelain doll like tears. it's not really poetic or anything. I watch this all from the side of the stage, ready for one of the members to give me a signal so I can sweep in and either hand them a towel, a water bottle— or maybe even a tissue, in matts case.
"I can serenade and gently play on your heart strings. be your valentino just for you,"
thousands of voices mimicked, each with a different meaning to their words. posters were held up, crowd surfers settled, and people swayed their arms in the air.
left to right, left to right, left to right, left to— you guessed it— right. I spot a girl putting her bra back on somewhere near the centre of barricade. the atmosphere wasn't as sexual, and angry as the other songs. it was a sweet, and soft ending to a night no one will forget. a night that will be passed on through generations, stories told over camp fires to grandchildren in twenty years, or stories that will be shared at a night club across the globe. who knows how this night will impact someone. I'm betting half of my budget that a few people out there don't even know who this band is, and what their deal is. though, I'm also betting the other half of my budget that they will walk out of this venue with a new favourite.
with the final lyric, matt breaks the seductive glare from the crowd, and fixes it on me. he's staring, microphone in hand, panting, sweating. his eyes gleam and sparkle alongside the stage lights, flickering with a fire that wasn't apart of the special effects for this song.
one of the sound techs taps my shoulder, "do your job?" it's now that I'm realizing matt was giving me the signal, and not lovingly staring at me during a love song. I snap out of my gaze, quickly rushing over and handing him a towel. his skin grazes mine for a split moment. I nearly freeze.
I'm not in love with the man or anything, I just deeply appreciate his existence. being gay now a days isn't easy, so I have tons of respect for him. deep, deep respect. nothing more. it's the seventies, after all. discrimination is waiting for you at every street corner. in the end, i'm a towel boy, and he's a world known star that probably has minuscule interest in someone like me.
"thanks," he says under his breath, a genuine appreciative undertone somewhere in there. I smile at him in a 'you're welcome' way, share a brief glance with the crowd, and make my way backstage once more. my six seconds of fame. someone in that crowd would seriously break the law to be in my position. I never knew I'd be the towel boy for a world famous boy band when I signed up. I just wanted some extra cash for summer, save up for decent clothes, and maybe buy my mom a new house in ten or so years.
in no time, the song is over, the crowd begs for encore, but there isn't one planned for tonight. merlyn says they should come up with a consistent set list for every show, but matt disagrees and that he'll get bored after one show. I don't pitch in often, but ciaran asked for my opinion on it, and I just shrugged.
matt kissed his teeth, not particularly at me, but the intention to make me insecure was there. merlyn sighed, ciaran pat my shoulder. It's odd that I remember the simple interactions and gestures. we don't hangout often, not like friends. I do consider us friends though, or maybe they just see me as a replaceable roadie that sometimes slithers across the stage to hand you a towel.
"thank you michigan, thank you! we love you! so fucking much!" merlyn says into his individual mic, eager for the chance to finally interact with the people that skyrocket his ego. matt sticks his arms up, revealing pit stains and neck sweat. it's gross, but the crowd goes wild either way. they all take a bow, smiling towards their fans, but not at them. ciaran does something like a wave, lifting his hand up halfway, and then giving up once he realizes all eyes are on matt, letting his hand go limp while he hangs his head. it's finally over! thank –fucking god!
"lennon! how'd I do?" they're backstage now, the crowd slowly dying down, and only the dedicated fans remain for a possibility at any sort of interaction. maybe they await for matt to come back out and sing an exclusive song just for them, or they want him to personally kick them out of the venue. either is as likely as the other. when matt is off stage, he is off stage. you can't pay the guy to go back out there for another second. unlike any other celebrity, he doesn't really like interacting with the fans. he loves them dearly, he's just not a people person. I don't have a doubt in my body that matt would rather cut his own tongue off than have to do meet and greets like the press always suggests. fan service isn't something you should expect from anyone but merlyn, and maybe their body guard, kiko. I don't think that's an english name. I'm really observant.
"amazing, you guys were great." dom is the most honest man I know. he's down to earth, generous with his words, and knows what to say and when to say it. "as always, but tonight felt different. is it because we're in michigan? I think so." he rambled, offering matt a cold beer, and a foldable chair. "yeah, probably. sweet, sweet michigan. also, no thanks. I'm heading out for a smoke." dom grimaced in response, rolling his eyes at the habit matt weighed down on the people around him. "anyone got a cig?" matt asked around, most people said no, apologized for the inconvenience, or offered to drive him to get some. "no, no, I need one now. can't wait any longer." so, with all my efforts, "I have a pack." I could almost physically feel the room get tighter when his globe-like hazel eyes met mine from across the room.
"hey, thanks kid." I'm only six months younger than him.
matt was by my side in seconds, taking the pack out of my clammy hands, and signalling towards the back door. "come with?" I almost said 'no, thanks' due to my immediate reaction speed to any question fired at me, but instead I follow him outside.
it's cold, snowing a little, and dark. the ground is slathered in wet, dirty snow, and it makes the soles of my shoes slightly damp.
matts hands are pale, knuckles a deep pink as he fumbled with the lighter in his hand. he hissed a string of curses, struggling. as if on cue, I grabbed it from his cold, cold hands, and started flicking the flare; he leans in, cigarette between his dry lips. it's an exchange strangers trade often, and I shouldn't over think it, but I am. his face is close to my hands, frowning a little as the flame flickers in the wind. his eyebrows are knitted together, and his hair sways gently as cars pass by.
"thank you." matt said, inhaling the smoke and letting it sit in his lungs for a little too long. "y'know, russell.." he pauses, looks me in the eyes, "it's russell, right?" "yes." he blows out the smoke, nods, nods and nods. "right." a wave of silence crashes over us, but it's not uncomfortable. maybe for me it's not. "you're not so bad." I look at what he's wearing, the same t-shirt he was wearing on stage. it's dry now, but I can't seem to understand how he's able to handle the minus degree weather. unlike him, I have a trench coat wrapped around myself, grabbing at the collar in an attempt to warm myself up a tad bit more.
"you're not cold?" I ask, aiming for conversation. he scoffs. "did you know smokers would go out in any weather condition just to fuel their addiction? we're not pussies. we're also respectful to the people around us, so we go outside to smoke." he says that like he speaks for an entire nation, swallowing his pride because it's nothing to be proud of, or to show off. I smoke, I know. either way, I hum in response, noting that he avoided my question.
a minute or so passes where the only sound produced was the flicker of a dying lightbulb, and ash burning through snow as it fell.
"I used to be a towel boy," he begins, and this, oh this catches my attention. I scan his face for a glimpse of any possible emotion, but there's none. stone cold, and grey. "fucking hell, I wanted to be just like the band I serviced." theres venom to his words, and maybe a tinge of bitterness laced. "was it good cash?" I quiz, curious to know how the future star was paid compared to me. "no, it was more like a distraction from the drugs. my brother offered me the job, so I took it." I raise my eyebrows and he mocks me like it surprises him that I'm surprised. maybe he and I aren't all that different.
"how old were you when you first..? if you don't mind me aski—"
"sixteen." matt interrupts. he doesn't want me to mention it.
matt pauses for a second as if he needs some time to think as to why he even started. "for the thrill." he settled on the thrill card, and it takes everything in me to not call him out on his bullshit because I know it wasn't for the thrill. "but I'm done with that shit. it ruined me. I still do cannabis here and there.. but it's medically prescribed." so, that makes it okay? I don't ask. how did we even get here?
"anyway, I think I'm gunna head back inside," matt puts out his cigarette, dropping it to the ground and swivelling the bottom of his shoe to make sure he isn't the face of the next wildfire. "unless you're up for one?" he asks, offering me a cig. his eyes glisten like he would get on his knees for an excuse to have another round. "sure." I can nearly sense his muscles softening as I take the tobacco stick from his pleading hands, watching intently as he shakily and eagerly pulls out another for himself.
he sighs deeply, looking off into the distance before leaning in again. I'm confused for a second, but he gestures towards the lighter and the cigarette between his lips. "you smoke a lot?" he now asks me, his words mumbled and compressed. "not a lot, but often. I really want to quit, but withdrawal is an ass kicker." I say, and he exhales. "ditto, I tried quitting last summer and ended up sprinting to a twenty-four-seven gas station at three a.m to stop my skin from crawling." we share a laugh, but nothing is funny. it's sad, really. I remember it too; the crew panicking when they couldn't find matt in his hotel room, the crew calling police stations to help them find their frontman, the crew becoming increasingly hysterical when there was less than an hour until the show in berlin was supposed to start. I also remember matt casually walking out of his change room, vocalizing to a song he desperately wanted on the set list, but ciaran refused to be backup.
"what'd I miss?" matt said, obliviously sitting himself down as everyone stared with jaws agape.
"where did you even go?" back to the present. "I don't really recall much, I think I might have fallen asleep in a ditch." he jokes, but the smile he pulls isn't one of warm memories. "it was bad." matt finally confesses,
"really bad. one of my worst withdrawals, I think." "there's more?" he nods, but I'd feel intrusive if I kept pressing questions against him like I've been doing for the past half an hour. I don't think I really took it into consideration on how he feels.
"I'm sorry if I'm pushing you with these questions.. just trying to converse." I say, running a hand through my hair as my opposite is stuck to my side. I talk too much. "it's fine, you're cool." probably one of the biggest compliments I've gotten since U2's limousine drove past me.
"I'll give my lungs a break," matts stomps on the stick, inches away from his last. I consider doing the same, but my cravings aren't settled just yet. "I'll see you back inside." he finalizes, his tone crisp and possibly hopeful, scuffing his shoes across the pavement as he made his way back to the venue. "I'll be expecting you at rehearsal!" matt calls out when he's metres away, hands around his mouth in attempt of gaining volume. I wave towards him, reassuring him that his expectancy will be satisfied. I never miss rehearsal. I'll be there.