“You ready?” David asked.
“Would it matter if I said no?” Jacob replied.
David grinned. “Nope.” He slapped Jacob on the back. “Look alive, my friend. This is our last stop.”
Jacob narrowed his eyes. “What’s up with you? This isn’t exactly the greatest place to end a tour.”
“No, but I’m feeling sentimental,” David raised his eyebrows, “Besides, we’re in Oakland. You never know who might stop by.”
A knot formed in Jacob’s stomach and he felt a sudden pinch of doubt. “Who’s coming?”
“No one I know of, but whatever can happen will happen,” He saw Jacob’s unamused expression. “Murphy’s Law,” He added.
“No,” Jacob said, “that’s incorrect. Murphy’s Law says that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. It focuses on the negative.”
David waved his hands and scrunched his face, “Whatever man! I’m gonna head out there.” With that, he grabbed his guitar and went on stage. Jacob pondered his own words. There was a lot that could go wrong tonight. He reached into his jacket pocket and swallowed an aspirin. He could leave, just dip out, call a cab and go home. The guys would understand if he explained. That would be the smart thing to do. Jacob rubbed his cheeks. If he left, would everything have been for nothing? Not just this tour – everything. If he quit now, would he still be justified? He mumbled something about being an idiot and walked on stage with his stuff.
The crowd was small, but not that small. Small like sixteen years ago, but not eighteen. Eighteen meant something like ten to twenty people, some of whom would just be in attendance by happenstance, while sixteen was more along the lines of eighty to a hundred people who wanted to be there. Sixteen was a reasonable turnout and one that was to be expected at this age. Jacob doubted he and the guys could ever regress back to eighteen-small, because that was some open-mic coffee-shop shit. Sometimes though, just before a show, he wondered if it was coming.
The faces in the crowd cycled between red, pink, and indigo against the lights. The smallest venues always had regular dimmed lights – like regular yellow light bulbs but half-off, because those places were bars first and venues second. The largest venues, the concert halls and the amphitheaters and the arenas, all had bright, white stadium lights. Those lights were hot and they were always accompanied by bigger production accessories like fog, strobe effects, and flashing from the cameras in the crowd. The middle tier however, just had colored lights, and for some reason they were always red, pink, and indigo. Jacob thought he remembered green and cyan lights once, at a club in Santa Monica, but he was so shitfaced that all memories from that show were of dubious validity.
Jacob made an effort not to look at the crowd for too long, because the longer he looked, the more he ran the risk making eye contact with a fan. Once that happened, the fan would invariably smile and wave and maybe even shout something declaring his fan-hood, at which point Jacob would feel obligated to smile and wave and acknowledge the gesture. This would cause other members of the crowd to do the same, until it all spiralled out of control. Then Jacob would have to say something to them in order to maintain his stage presence or else suffer the guilt that came with revealing that he wasn’t who they thought he was, at least not anymore. He wasn’t there to do any of that. He was too old for that stuff, so he stared down at his pedalboard instead, checked his settings for a third time, and pretended to tune his bass. He didn’t have to be there, he could have said no to playing the show, yet there he was regardless. Jacob was there to play music. Nothing more, nothing less.
Jacob remembered the band’s first sold-out show sixteen years ago. They were all in their mid-twenties back then. No longer recent graduates, each of the guys settled into stable, well-paying day jobs which afforded them a big house with ample practice space, as well as extra money for better equipment, an infinite supply of beer, and coke for special occasions. They had recently recruited Chelsea, their second vocalist to the band and started recording their first album. Icarus Grounded was still riding on the success of their EP, but wanted to keep up the momentum with regular shows in the city while they conceptualized new material. The show was held on a Thursday night at a respected venue called The Sleepy Son, which was known for its broad selection of IPAs on tap, including Pliny the Eldest. Icarus Grounded headlined while a college-aged psychedelic band named Generizer opened for them.
The show was amazing. Everyone there wanted to see them play. Not just their close friends. Not just the usual music-journalists. Everyone there had heard of them. The energy was unforgettable, so much so that Jacob still remembered the applause they received when they finished their closing song, “To the End.” He remembered the lights, the sweat on his brow and on his fingers, and how he almost tripped on a cord in the middle of their set. He remembered greeting the crowd at the beginning and hearing cheers before he could even introduce the band. Most of all, he remembered how into it David looked, radiating electricity with each note he played. He was tense and stoic, with his jaws clenched tight and his head bowed down. David looked mad, as if he hated being there, but Jacob knew him well enough to understand that his body language translated into pure, unadulterated pride. Jacob knew then, that he belonged with the band. Not just because of the fact that they were starting to “make it,” but because there are only a handful of musicians to have ever lived that can channel that particular level of emotion into their music. It’s one thing to be a brilliant songwriter, but being a performer on stage was a different feat altogether. David was both.
In that moment, Jacob could tell that the others saw something similar. He recalled how Chelsea smiled at David and surged a burst of passion into her voice. He recalled how Tony nodded in solid approval and weaved through his melodies on the guitar alongside David, performing one of their epic combos on the guitar. Ryan, their original drummer, was too zoned out to notice anything. The dude had some intense ADHD or something, but he was a fantastic percussionist. Jacob liked the music that David wrote – he would not have joined the band in the first place if he hadn’t, but that moment on stage was the first tangible indicator that his faith was well-placed. He went on to see that same phenomenon from David many more times over the years, and each one became a sort of checkpoint in Jacob’s mind. A milestone. In David he trusted, even now, so many years later.
“How’s everyone doing tonight?” David yelled to the crowd. They erupted into a raucous flurry of ‘woo’s’ and applause. Some guy in the back screamed “yeah!” David smiled and started setting up his effects. “We’re gonna play some songs for you guys tonight, if that’s okay,” the crowd cheered again, “because weeeeee looooove Oakland.” With that, their first song began. Jacob stood still and bobbed his head to the rhythm while he shook his guitar at random intervals to contribute to the ambience. He didn’t play much for this song – once the verse started, he played the five note sequence with one hand and walked over to the piano to get it ready for the rest of the songs. He did this sort of swaying back and forth movement like a good entertainer was supposed to do to show that they were ‘feeling it.’ Then he looked out into the crowd.
Muscle memory was a strange thing for Jacob. He was thankful for it, but he still found it strange. As long as he didn’t wander too far down the rabbit hole, he could set his body to autopilot and trust himself to play music properly while he dealt with the occasional flashback. He had always been prone to memory trips and instances of dissociation, even before he discovered drugs, so he wasn’t sure if it was his age or years of abuse that made them more frequent. Probably both. He normally did not have to worry about zoning out until at least the third song. Not tonight though. When Jacob glanced up to survey the faces watching him, his eyes caught a woman holding a baby towards the back of the venue. Who the fuck brings a baby to a rock show? That was something he never understood. The baby looked like most babies, but babies reminded him of Clarien. A sudden wave of regret swept over Jacob as he was brought back to the year of his son’s birth. Maybe if he had been present that day, he could have prevented his mother from naming him Clarien.
Lily had never forgiven Jacob for going on tour while she was pregnant, and although she did not include it in her list of grievances against him, Jacob figured it was probably one of the main reasons she divorced him several years later. She broke the news of her pregnancy to him right before their first world tour, thirteen years ago. It was just after the release of their second studio album. Jacob was ecstatic when he found out. They were going to have a baby! She told him that she was almost towards the end of the first trimester, but waited to tell him until then in case any complications arose. Jacob suspected for a while by that point, but was too afraid to ask in case she had just been putting on weight. His thoughts raced as he rambled about calling the label to see if they could book additional hotel suites for her to stay in, but she cut him off and asked him not to go.
“What?” He asked her, dumbfounded.
“Jacob, please don’t go on tour,” She said.
He shook his head and said “what?” again.
“I’m not going to travel the world with a baby inside me. I need you here with me,” she said. Her voice was firm. She had rehearsed this.
“But,” he stammered, “we leave next week! We can’t find a replacement on such short notice, and cancelling is out of the question.” Was this really happening?
“Well why not? Why can’t you guys just push it back?” she asked.
“What are you – do you even know what you’re asking?” Jacob was incredulous.
“I’m not going, Jacob and I really, really don’t want you to go,” her voice began to waver. “Please don’t turn the announcement of our baby into an argument.”
His mouth mouth dropped. “Are you fucking serious, Lily?” Boom. She burst into tears. There was no turning back, so Jacob continued. “Do you know how big our band is? Does the term ‘world tour’ not register within your head?” Lily had her face in her hands now. “Babe,” she wailed even harder at the utterance of the word ‘babe,’ “work with me here. If you have a solution, then we can figure this out, but it doesn’t seem like you bothered with an alternative before making up your mind. Me, on the other hand, can make all fucking sorts of accommodations for you.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jacob! You’re such an asshole, you know that?” She screamed at him.
Jacob threw his hands over his head. “Holy shit Lily, what in God’s name – have you gone mad?”
“You always do this! You always put the stupid band before our relationship!” She said.
Jacob inhaled and closed his eyes. “Lily, I don’t think this is quite the same situa-”
“Stop being so goddamn condescending, Jacob!” She said as she threw a remote at him.
It hit him square in the forehead.
Back in the present, Jacob flinched and snapped out of the memory. The song was over, but he kept playing the fade-out riff over and over. The rest of the band followed his lead and kept on with the extended outro, but when Jacob looked up, he saw the others staring at him in confusion. He played it once more before letting the notes ring out into silence. The crowd clapped and cheered. Jacob sighed and glanced around the stage again. Tony mouthed a ‘what the fuck’ at him, Freddy, their new drummer wiped the sweat from his forehead and rolled his shoulders, and Susan, their violinist smiled and waved at the crowd. David laughed into the mic and talked about how glad they all were to be there, to which he received yet another round of applause. Jacob shook his head and surveyed the venue again. The woman with the baby had disappeared amidst the sea of glistening faces. Jacob took a swig of water and rubbed his brow. There was no nostalgia that came with thinking of Lily, yet she found her way into his mind often enough for it to be bothersome. Clarien was barely a teenager now, but Jacob had not seen him in almost seven years. He shook his head and repositioned his microphone for the next song. If these were the kinds of flashbacks he would be having for the duration of the show, it was going to be a long one.
The argument with Lily was never fully resolved. He left for the tour before they made proper amends, but they kind-of sorted things out over Skype. He always offered to have her fly out to meet them and join the tour, but she refused. She never gave a real reason why. Jacob had a theory that it was just out of some weird principle. Lily never stopped hoping that ‘being in a band’ was just a phase for Jacob. She wanted him to have a stable, albeit less lucrative career, where he dressed up in a shirt and tie every day, dealt with fuck-os in a cubicle for eight hours, and came home to hump her for a few minutes before falling asleep. Maybe it was not as dismal in her head as it was in Jacob’s, but that was the gist of what she wanted. A routine. The American nuclear family lifestyle. It was no surprise then, that with each milestone of success in the band’s career, his relationship with Lily deteriorated. Jacob used to have a fantasy about an alternate universe Lily that was as stoked about music as he was and would follow them on tour. In his imagination, she would even play an instrument. Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire toured only a few months after she and Win had their baby, and she was a member of the band. Jacob never understood why Lily was so opposed to coming along. Lily gave birth to Clarien five months after their fight, one week before the end of the tour and three weeks ahead of schedule. They almost had another fight when Jacob found out what she named their son. Jacob blinked. They had started the opening to their second song. It was called “Hollow,” and that’s exactly what it was without Chelsea’s vocals.
There was something ethereal about Chelsea’s singing that no one else could replicate. Before she joined the band way back when, she was a fringe member of the group’s social circle as an acquaintance of Tony’s. David begged her to jam with them as soon as he heard her sing during a night of drunken karaoke, and after everyone else heard her voice at their first formal practice, she was in for good. Chelsea was an old soul and a free spirit – two things that helped shape the band’s unique image as they became more and more popular. Her gentle stage persona was the perfect contrast to the rest of the band’s rugged attitude, and even though she was the last of the original members to join, she grew to become the face of their music alongside David. Yet above all else, her musical prowess aside, she was a close friend to all of them. Even Lily liked her. Jacob’s marriage may have ended a lot sooner if it were not for Chelsea and Lily getting along so well. After she quit the band nine years ago, there were a few half-hearted attempts at finding a replacement, but none of the girls who tried out had the ‘spark’ that David was looking for. Icarus Grounded announced their indefinite hiatus not long afterwards.
David and Chelsea grew close over the course of their first world tour and began a formal relationship upon its completion. Everyone agreed to go on a short year and a half break from band life to give Jacob time to take care of baby Clarien, but they all remained in touch. In Jacob’s memories, this was probably the happiest period of his life. He and Lily put their problems aside, Tony got married and started up a side project, David and Chelsea were madly in love and writing new songs together, and Ryan took an extended trip to the UK. Their bliss was short lived, however. It was not long before David became antsy and jumped the gun with the announcement of another album in an interview with Pitchfork Magazine. Shortly after that, they were all back in the studio once more. Jacob’s marital problems came to a head when he revealed to Lily their plans for a second world tour. After a good amount of pointless fighting, they decided to separate. He blamed the split as the reason for his first foray into drug abuse. His memories of the tour were a haze of booze, pills, and coke, with intermittent periods of sorrow. David was his best friend, but he was too wrapped up in the music to notice how difficult things were for Jacob. Instead, it was Chelsea who kept him afloat. Jacob and Chelsea both felt the void from David’s distance as he consumed himself with his own creativity, and in his absence they became confidants for each other. Jacob recalled many nights when the two of them would wander off after a show and explore whatever city they were in. He confided in her his worries and regrets, and she confessed her growing frustration with David and the direction they were headed. A year after the tour, David and Chelsea had a huge fight. Later that week, Chelsea asked Jacob to meet at a cafe in Seattle.
“Is everything okay with you?” Jacob asked Chelsea after they sat down.
“Yeah. I’m fine. I mean, not with David, but I’m dealing with it.” She said.
“That’s good.” He nodded and looked out the window.
She seemed surprised at his nonchalance. “I just can’t deal with-”
“Hey, I get it. You don’t have to justify anything.” He gave her a solemn smile.
She looked relieved that he understood. “Thank you.” The two of them sat in silence for a while. Then Chelsea took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m leaving the band, Jacob.”
Jacob nodded again and sipped his tea. “I kind of assumed as much after hearing you guys,” His sullen eyes met hers, “What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“Like, are you going to still do music?” He said.
Chelsea furrowed her brow. “I – I think so. I can’t imagine not performing, you know? I just don’t know where to start.”
Jacob shrugged. “You’re a fantastic artist. People know you. You could find a back up band in no time.”
“What if I don’t want to find strangers?” Something in her tone changed as she said this.
Jacob raised an eyebrow. He realized that she had not asked to meet for the sake of comfort. She had a proposition. “Are you suggesting-?”
“I don’t know, Jacob. All I know is that you’re one of my best friends and if there’s anyone in the world who I can trust to help me start something new, it’s you.” She put her hand on the table, not quite reaching out, but prepared to.
Jacob clenched his jaw. “Chelsea,” He began, his voice was stuck in his throat, “you’re asking that we both leave David.”
Chelsea shut her eyes. “Yes, I know. I’m trying to think about what’s best for me though – and maybe for you too. I know you guys go way back, but hasn’t he seemed out of touch lately? It’s like he’s possessed. He’s not there for any of us. He isn’t the leader he used to be. I mean, look at you-”
Jacob bristled at her assessment of him. “What about me?” He agreed with everything she said, but she had made a jab at his pride, whether intentional or not. “Do you think I need help?” His voice came out louder than he meant it to.
“No, that’s not what I meant Jacob, but you and I would both be lying if we said you weren’t in a bad place right now. I’m not saying its David’s fault but he sure as hell isn’t helping.” There was frustration riddled in the compassion in her voice.
“Look, Chelsea,” He said, “I’ve stuck with the band through thick and thin. I gave up my marriage for this. For the music. If I quit and join you, who knows what will happen? What if we don’t make it? Would everything have been for nothing?”
“You’d still have someone who cares. We’d have each other.” She lowered her voice to a whisper.
Jacob was too stubborn to understand. “David’s my friend too.” Chelsea nodded and after a tense period of silence, she left without a word. It was a long time later when Jacob realized that she wasn’t just offering her friendship.
Another rush of guilt flowed through Jacob’s gut, along with a tingling numbness in his hands and feet. He staggered a bit as he finished their fifth song, but nobody seemed to notice. He muttered a ‘fuck’ under his breath and made his way over to his case. In the compartment meant for storing cables, he pulled out his bottle of aspirin and popped two more onto his palm. Being as discreet as one could be on a stage in front of over a hundred people, he dry swallowed and removed his guitar from over his shoulders. Jacob’s vision zoomed in and out, like a camera lens struggling to focus. He steadied himself and took a deep breath, then walked over and handed the guitar to David. In another time he would have done a quick bump, but it was his fourth year sober and no one he knew even came near him with drugs anymore. Jacob cracked his knuckles and sat down at the piano, then scratched his beard while he waited for David to shut up and play their hit, “Submarina.” David took a while to tune, so Jacob started playing the opening keys. The venue went quiet. After the second bar, Susan joined in with a violin and the two of them completed the movement’s haunting melody. This was how they started the song in the old days when it was still Chelsea on strings. As soon as they finished, Jacob muttered, “One, two, three-,” slammed the keys, and the rest of the band jumped in in an explosion of sound.
“Submarina” was about holding onto the things that mattered most. It was the first song on their third album – the one David wrote with Chelsea, and it was all Jacob listened to while in rehab. Things fell apart after Chelsea left, for the band and for its members. David lost a lot of his passion and it wasn’t long before the group disbanded. Officially he called it a hiatus, but the others knew better. Jacob was tempted to take up Chelsea’s offer after that, but he still saw it as a betrayal to David. Instead, he spent a few months getting clean before reaching out to Lily in a last ditch effort to reconnect with his family. Things were going smoothly for a while, but their previous turmoil never went away, and Lily filed for divorce two years later. It was at that point that Jacob hit rock bottom. He receded from everyone he knew, went off the grid, and did just about everything he could get his hands on. For three years, Jacob was a recluse. He sold his home twice, downgrading each time so that he could afford not to work, until finally he decided to hit the road. He drove all over the U.S., slept in his car and in shitty roadside diners, sometimes trying to write or play music on the street. Eventually even that came to an end. Jacob had just about run out of everything when he found himself back in San Francisco. Walking through Tenderloin one night, he wound up in front of The Sleepy Son. For the first time in recent history for him, Jacob felt something. It was only the faint murmur of nostalgia, but it was enough to pique his curiosity. He walked in and sat at the bar. Not long after that, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Jacob?” Came a raspy voice. Jacob turned around to see David, a look of bewilderment plastered on his face. Jacob said nothing. He couldn’t. He hadn’t spoken to David in so long and now, to be seen like this? “Jacob, what are you doing here?”
Jacob shook his head and turned away. “Leave me alone, David.” He managed to mumble.
David grabbed his arm. “Dude, don’t take this the wrong way, but what the fuck happened, man?”
Jacob recalled when Chelsea said something similar at a cafe, years ago. He had gotten angry then, but now there was nothing left to fuel those feelings. “I don’t know,” He said, “A lotta shit.”
David pulled up a chair next to him. “Well where’d you go? Y’know, me and Tony – we tried contacting you a while ago but we couldn’t-” He stopped when he saw Jacob staring at him with glossy eyes.
“I fucked up, man.” Jacob pounded his fist on the bar and sniffed. “I fucked up. I mean, first with Lily – I never should have chosen between my life and – and hers but,” He trailed off and bobbed his head, “And with Chelsea. She was there for me, but I pushed her away too and,” He felt tears welling up in his eyes, “And why the fuck weren’t you there, David? Where the fuck did you go?”
David let go of Jacob’s arm. He took a long sip of his beer and stared at the counter. “I let you guys down.” He said. David took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair. “Plain and simple. I lost sight of what we were all about. I fucked up too, Jacob, I’m sorry.”
Neither of them said anything for the remainder of the night. Some indie band played a decent set while the two of them watched from afar. After the show, David asked if Jacob had a place to stay, and when it was clear he didn’t, urged Jacob to crash at his place. In the morning, they caught up. Jacob told David all the shit he’d done, and David brought Jacob up to speed. He and Tony landed jobs as producers at a label but David still yearned to play music again. David still hadn’t settled down, nor had he heard from Chelsea, and Tony was still happily married. Ryan fell out of touch with the guys, but David heard that he had died in a car crash a couple years back. David and Tony attended his funeral.
David offered to help Jacob get back on his feet again and figure out what he wanted to do. It took a while, but things started to improve. Jacob went to rehab for six months and landed a job as a studio manager where Tony and David worked. It was only a matter of time before the three of them started playing music again. They just messed around and jammed at first, but it was Jacob who brought up the subject of reformation, much to the surprise of the others. He reasoned that he had lost too much choosing a life of music to quit now and that it was too late in the game for him to do anything else. Even though he was only in his forties, Jacob felt and looked a lot older. David and Tony came around and promised Jacob that things would be different this time. So far, they had, but Jacob still felt the effects of his downward spiral. Before their latest tour, Jacob was hospitalized briefly. None of the other members new, as he kept it a secret, but with each show they played and each place they travelled to, it became more difficult to keep it together.
Jacob forced his eyes shut for the end. It was dead quiet again, except for his voice and the piano keys. After the sound of the last notes dissipated, he kept singing. David stepped back towards the mic and joined him, then Susan, then Tony. They all recited the final lines of the chorus together, over and over until even the audience joined in. Jacob clenched his fists in his lap. His whole body was numb now. He reached up to touch his face and couldn’t feel anything there either. While the crowd still sang the words to “Submarina,” David motioned to Freddy, who began kicking the bass drum in 4/4 time. Jacob braced himself for their last song, “To the End.” Susan came in with her violin and Tony used his Ebow to simulate the sound of another one. David started the bassline and Jacob joined the flurry with the piano chords. He was grateful that he didn’t have to sing on this song, because playing piano was difficult enough on its own while having a stroke.
The red, pink, and indigo lights swirled within each other as if to declare this show his last. The music melted together into a crescendo of emotion and Jacob could not tell whether the crowd was cheering or if it was just white noise. He was not even sure whether David was slurring his lyrics or actually singing. He looked out one last time at all the people who had come to see them play and tried to smile. Jacob thought he saw the lady with the baby again. He thought she looked a little bit like Lily. He thought he saw Chelsea in the front row, eyes wide, awestruck with their performance. She looked straight at him and her expression turned to worry. Unlike everyone else in the venue, maybe she knew that he was losing it. Maybe she was actually there.. His fingers danced atop the keys like they were supposed to, devoid of all sensation except for cold. He thanked his muscle memory for that. The room was spinning now. The lights and the sound blended together in his head as he closed his eyes. The music began to fade away into darkness and as the band reached the finale, he thought he felt the sudden, dulled impact of stone floor. It made sense to die on stage. It was the only justification for everything else. Jacob let go.