It's all about the sweat, the screaming. It's all about the music that's so loud it feels like an entity, a beast, like it's charging right through you in preternatural power, ready to run you and anybody else who doesn't surrender right into the ground. It's all about the sex and the drugs and the rock and roll. It's all about the howls from fans that sound like adoration, that feel a whole lot like love.
Lucius, pressed up against the stage by the writhing crowd, an entity unto itself like the beast made of many different organisms and consciousnesses, knew what it was all about. He was in a band too, after all. He watched his girlfriend Rochelle—who in reality was someone else at the moment, the persona that defined Naplash—up on the stage, at a bigger venue than his band had ever played. He watched her get everything he ever wanted. And more.
He guessed that Rochelle always interpreted his too-cool-for-school scowl as a put-on, not only so that he would appear to be the frontman of a sophisticated yet lesser-known band but also to differentiate himself from the adoring masses in any photos of the show that might crop up on the Web or in print. What she didn't realize was that his expression was genuine—the entire spectacle pissed him off. The guys who wanted to screw her. The girls who wanted to be her. Well, mostly the guys who wanted to screw her.
Lucius could have hung out in the greenroom for the show, with the rest of what he liked to mockingly call the inner sanctum, including a few members of his own band, sat and drank and smoked some weed, went tearing through the free food. But he didn't want to go back there, away from the action like some elitist, some glossy magazine wannabe whore. He wanted to be here, to gauge the reaction of the crowd. Not even that; to feel the energy of it. To understand without a shadow of a doubt how much further Rochelle had gotten in less time than he had spent in pursuit of his dream, clobbering guitar strings until his fingers were bloody.
Someone from behind spilled beer down his back and Lucius jabbed him viciously with his elbow. The guy went to make an aggressive pose and then stepped back. Lucius imagined himself having the disconcerting gaze of a sociopath. He wanted to say, "Don't you know who I am?" but shit, Naplash had actual corporate radio play and a big record deal as opposed to simple critical acclaim in alternative zines. He knew better.
They don't call it the greenroom for nothing.
Lucius was there waiting for Rochelle at the end of the set, and he saw her look for him, beaming, but the hangers-on surrounded her right away, as usual, enveloping her like a pack of voracious jackals. He helped himself to some of the food, which was nearly picked clean already.
"Oh," Rochelle breathed, finally stepping up beside him and throwing her arms around his neck. She smelled like sweat, pheromones. Those smells were triumph, and Lucius had to admit that he wanted to bottle that scent and save it for later, for a time when it had nothing to do with this and everything to do with them. She buried her head in his shoulder. "God, I missed you."
Lucius wanted to say, "Let's run away," but instead said, "You didn't miss me." He knew she was lying, that she wasn't even thinking of him while faced with the adoration of the crowd and the victory of a tight set. He knew she was amazing. Holding her now, though, felt better because she was real, and he was touching her, as opposed to seeing her command the stage, wearing next to nothing, an advantage he never had.
"I did miss you. I sing every song for you," she said, pouting just a bit.
"Ah, so that's your secret," he said.
"Of course it is," she replied, as some photographers burst into the room snapping pictures, celluloid soul suckers. He looked away.
Rochelle Elan and her boyfriend Lucius Gregerson, the caption read. The photographers had captured a fuzzy moment in black and white after all, and when Lucius surveyed his image he thought it looked like he was drowning although he distinctly remembered his thought at the moment: he wanted to break their cameras. He tossed the magazine across the table and lit another cigarette. "They spelled my name wrong," he said.
Rochelle frowned dutifully. "I'm sorry, they suck."
"Yeah, it's only Rolling Stone."
"Don't be mad," she said, pouring two cups of coffee. "It happens. Lots of times they only give me one 'l.'"
"I'm not mad," he answered.
"Okay, sure, but you kind of sound like you are."
"I'm always mad in the morning."
"Well, that's why we named Naplash after you." She sighed when he didn't smile. "I was so proud of that review of Carpe Diem,'" she said, referring to his latest album. "I mean, it's critically acclaimed." She looked young, dressed only in a T-shirt, with raccoon eyes from last night's makeup and sweat, her face a little pinched like maybe she had a victory hangover.
"You're publicly acclaimed." Lucius sipped his black coffee and shook his head a little, trying to clear it. "Don't be so apologetic, Rochelle. You're turning into a big star and that's not really anything to be ashamed of, you know."
"You're an artist and I'm shit," she responded, avoiding his gaze. "You know that's true too."
It was his only comfort, that evil thought that he often had, the one that he never would have said aloud, not to her, not to anybody. It comforted him sometimes in his darkest moments, when something twisted in his chest, something dark and frightening. "Yeah, you sellout," he whispered, and laughed.
She laughed too. "See, now don't you feel better?"
He hated to admit it, but he did.
Everybody wanted to know where they went and what they did. Often they saw girls wearing something similar to what Rochelle had worn during a show the night before. Sometimes he and Rochelle would be stopped for her autograph; Lucius hated it when she was swarmed by dumbstruck, lovestruck boys, but he equally hated it when the shrieks of girls pierced his eardrums, coming out of nowhere and disrupting the occasional false promise that life could be normal and anonymous, that he and Rochelle could go out in the city streets and have a private love that was only for the two of them. Sometimes she'd say, "Well, Lucius is in Interregnum. You should give them a listen sometime." Some of them seemed to make a mental note of that, an afterthought just to be polite, before returning to stargaze upon her. Most would just shrug blankly and ask to touch her hand one more time or hug her. It made him want to crack some skulls.
It didn't help when she tried to plug Interregnum, as much as she probably thought it did; it made what felt like injustice that much worse. So what if his lyricism rivaled Baudelaire and Byron. So what if a few lesser known critics said that Interregnum was turning rock and roll on its ear. If rock and roll falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it happen at all?
Lucius would jot down lyrical snatches on napkins in spare moments and realize that envy and Rochelle's screaming groupies obliterated the rest from his mind. He'd think back to just a year and a half ago, when he was the one who had a wild new band getting airplay on college radio stations, and she was a shy and sort of funny looking thing, who sang in his shower one day in the beginning. She just belted out a song while he was making omelets, something he did at the beginning of relationships, and he said, "You could sing in a band. Think about it," never realizing it would really happen. He had been slightly bemused when she said that a few friends of hers wanted to put one together, and he was even more shocked that she had so much heart, that she could suddenly have style, and, Jesus, where had that shyness gone?
Rochelle often said that he was her inspiration for self-improvement, to make herself someone he could be proud of. She would whisper in his ear at night after they made love, "Are you proud of me?" And at first, he really was, proud that she had come into his world, where she could have empathy for the creative force and the tough life of a musician, to put herself out there like he did, where so much is difficult and uncertain and most definitely random. He was proud that she had seen fit to emulate him.
Lucius was proud until he realized that by teaching Rochelle everything he knew, he watched her run past him, laughing (always laughing), making it all look so easy. And then he started having those wicked thoughts, like what felt like a massive epiphany: his misfortune was that he didn't have big tits and a nice ass and a beautiful mouth. His biggest mistake was the art and chaos that somehow seemed to relegate him to the dim corners of very few discriminating minds—after all, who really discriminates?—the dusty back pages of zines with little circulation. Soon she was going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and where did that leave him? He looked at her and thought she was going to enjoy the fruits of mainstream success—the paths where mediocrity took you to. He could always join her, hitch a ride on the tail of her shooting star. He could shake a tambourine, shake his ass, his title simply Rochelle Elan's Boyfriend... and Dancing Boy. He didn't want to. He also knew that in her shoes, he would have done the exact same thing: shoot for the top and never look back.
Lucius and Rochelle slept until noon for the first time in ages, after a night where, for once, she stood in the crowd at one of his shows, a small but loyal crowd that barely registered on the radar as she stood in the shadows, sipping beer and chain-smoking. There was nothing gourmet in the greenroom, just National Bohemian and some generic chips and salsa. He loved her for not looking down at the spread, he loved her while trying to forget who she appeared to be, while trying to remember who she really was. He loved that she was just wearing a T-shirt and olive green military pants and combat boots, her hair pulled back, almost like the old Rochelle as she took his place in the back.
It was the most he had ever loved her as he heard the appreciative applause, at a show so few people knew about, a show that so few people cared about, compared to any that Naplash put on.
Now, the harsh light of morning streaked through beaded curtains. Rochelle stroked his arm. "Last night was so cool. You guys were really great," she said sleepily, a smile in her voice.
"Yeah, we were pretty tight," he said, a vocal shrug.
"You guys were brilliant." She stretched, and then said nonchalantly, "Naplash is supposed to play at the MTV Music Awards."
Lucius laughed. The laughter just kept welling up, in his stomach, in his soul. Moisture squeezed out of his eyes. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah," she said. It was now obvious that her nonchalance had been an act, and that she wasn't at all happy about telling him this latest development.
"Damn, Rochelle, that's great," he said, kissing her. Lucius knew that he would make love to her now, and he knew it would be the last time. He knew he was going to steal that feeling from last night—that she was still who she had once been—and then he was going to walk away from the person she had become.
He was thinking Paris, Prague. He was thinking Tijuana. He was thinking Tokyo, Milan. Someplace far, far away, where he and his band would create their new album. His band mates wouldn't care. Interregnum wasn't big; there was nothing to lose. They'd carve their niche elsewhere. The album would be called Envy. Lucius had been writing it every single day, living it, as his soul got darker, as the cancer in his heart gripped him tight and made every moment bitter.
"I love you, Rochelle," Lucius said, holding her tight as she melted into him, comfortable and smiling. He knew what his note would say, left on the kitchen table, yesterday's news soon enough. It would say: You just can't touch a star, much less hold on to it. It's too beautiful, it's too hot, it's too fucking far away.
Title graphic: "Adoration" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2012.