Selected Vaporized Excerpts
CBGB’s was a dingy, beer-soaked nightclub whose outsized reputation belied its shabby appearance, but Nigel was comfortable in the smoke-filled, crowded atmosphere that reminded him of the London dives where his career began. Famous as a place where punk bands punished their audiences with assaults of sensory-numbing distortion, disaffected teens, rudderless toughs and androgynous posers reeling from alcohol, snappers, and ecstasy vied for floor space with head-butts, knees, and elbows. Spit was interpreted as a sign of approval, and mayhem was the preferred form of social order. Only the hardiest patrons survived more than a few nights at the legendary club, and in spite of the incorrigible crowd choking on fouled air, every band that played New York wanted to gig there. The tiny stage was unseparated from the open floor by a twelve-inch riser, which gave the anarchic revelers direct access to the performers, who occasionally had to use their instruments to defend their territory. For reasons known only to a few, the club had become a filter for acceptance into the elite world of road-worthy bands with major label backing. The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, and many others earned their fame there, and commanding the stage, controlling the audience, and making it most of the way through their set was a rite of passage that proved that they were tough enough to endure the brutalities of the career they thought they wanted. The gale force hostility of a rowdy audience who encouraged failure was an effective winnow, blowing uncertain motivations and unsure performances off the high-profile platform of lowbrow accomplishment. Record company scouts, talent agents, band managers, club operators, studio owners, equipment company representatives, promoters, and marketers judged the winners and awarded the prizes. Devoted fans, girlfriends, relatives, roadies, drug dealers, and hangers-on lent some sense of restraint to the performances, mixing seamlessly with the social miscreants, narcotic agents, code enforcement officials, collection thugs, libidinous teens, and parents looking for runaways. The fact that this chaotic assemblage of crossed purposes actually recurred with predictable regularity was as much an indicator that marked what many had come to call “the decline of western civilization” as it was a testament to the unfathomable instincts of the human species. Like Woodstock before it, but on a much smaller scale, CBGB’s had become a microcosmic convergence of social dichotomies that had mutated into an evolutionary expression. Everyone knew that the culture of excess and the revulsions it precipitated were symbolic of something poignant, they just weren’t sure what. Philosophers, sociologists, criminologists, and psychologists exerted their disciplines shoulder to shoulder with writers, videographers, and photojournalists who documented and studied the phenomenon.
In the Studio
“I, I know that you’re lonely,” Jon sang along with the only lyrics he was sure of while Dennis worked the sounds into a pulsating, coherent whole that basked them in the super realism rarely heard outside a tuned control room. Elevated by her marijuana intake, Monica lost sight of earth and drifted into the musical atmosphere. Jon scribbled words in the empty border of an advertisement in a Mix Magazine with a pen he had found. Then he tore out the page and peeled some splicing tape off the roll next to the two track and, operating wordlessly in a routine they had developed over the years, nodded to Dennis as he went into the studio. A squat, chromed Neumann U67 was already hanging upside down from a giant Atlas boom stand.
“Speak to me oh great one,” Dennis intoned through the talkback as Jon adjusted his headphones.
“Oh I, I know that you’re lonely.” Jon sang the words over and over again in time to the music until he entered a state of vocal readiness.
“A little more for the level devils. Is that as loud as you’re going to go, Joe?” Dennis asked, backing down the gain in anticipation of the answer.
Jon moved closer to the mic and delivered his new B section lyrics with a breathy urgency that crept into Monica’s panties. “First I’m gonna pick you up by your lace and squeeze you real hard.”
“Five fingers, Romeo,” Dennis reminded him. Jon put his hand out sideways, with his thumb touching his lips and his pinky touching the pop screen in front of the microphone. He taped the new lyrics to the pop screen stand and stood with his legs apart like a gunslinger at high noon as the intro rolled by. The red record light lit and he fired away.
“Oh I, I know that you’re lonely.
But I, I know what to do.
And you, you don’t want to listen.
But you, you’re missin it too.”
"Seven hundred midgets on the sidewalk all were busy talking.
When the parks let out the candles started streaming up the avenue.
Twenty minutes later in a service elevator I saw you talking.
I'm wondering about something I’m supposed to do,
"Oh I, I know that you’re lonely.
And you, you know that it’s true.
First I’m gonna pick you up by your lace and squeeze you real hard.
Then I’m gonna take you to a different place and XXXX on your face."
Rivalry at The Black Sheep
Freddy twirled his neon-tipped sticks before clicking them together for the count-off. The guitar player grabbed the downbeat with a whole-tone slide, and the keyboardist used his left hand to sketch out a mid-tempo minor-key progression. High octave keyboard string pads, played with his right hand, set the tension, and the bass thump followed Freddy’s one and three kicks. The guitarist stabbed upstroke chords on two and four, and Freddy let the syncopated energy build before coming in with vocals. A clever three-note, pre-chorus riff, played in unison by the keyboard and guitar, ratcheted up the dramatics. The momentum elevated as Freddy delivered a plaintive lyric about coming home and the audience was sold and delivered. All the small talk stopped as the performers preened, stretching their moments with extended keyboard, bass, and guitar solos. The barrage of inspired playing overwhelmed the defenses of the girls in the front row, and they joined the faithful in rapture. Freddy’s drum solo at the seven-minute marked the highlight of the number, and the rest of the shortened set was a meandering coast down from the emotional heights of the opening jam. The audience’s energy subsided along with the performers’ until everyone was thinking about the time and tomorrow. The last song rocked to a false close with contrived staccato urgency, then revived itself, only to die again a few more times, unconvincingly, like the villain in a bad western. When it was finally over, everyone, including the band, was relieved that it was. The polite clapping was not accompanied by calls for an encore. It was way past time to go and everyone had had enough.
The room was cooler than the rest of the factory, and it had its own distinct smell. Jon had helped Mak prepare the mixture before, but he hadn’t spent much time in the chamber by himself. It always seemed like a very strange place, and the intensity of the odors added to the sense of secrecy that hung in the air. A large hollow granite tub that looked like a sacramental basin sat on an iron pedestal in the center of the floor, and a heavy smoked-glass globe light hung over it like a foggy full moon. Bright lights could change the chemical composition of the formulas, so all the activities in the room had to be done in the half-light of ritual remembrance. A six-foot-long rustic wooden ladle, along with other sifting and stirring utensils, stood leaning against the rails of an open-sided box like patient acolytes waiting in a pew for the sermon. Large jugs of rosewater and rectified alcohol were positioned near the mixing basin, dwarfing the smaller urns of infused oils that were gathered in a pre-ceremonial congregation.
Nearby, Anthony Pecorino parked his Caddy on the street around the corner from Draper’s office. His passenger, a career criminal with burglary skills, closed the door quietly and walked toward the three-story building with a small satchel slung over his shoulder. Detectives Ailes and Ferguson stopped two blocks away and watched through binoculars as he made a wide loop around the premises without leaving the sidewalk. Evening courtesy lights lit the front entrance, and only one office in the corner of the ground floor had the interior lights on. The front door was open and the burglar slipped inside and up the stairs to his target. Taking no time to open the locks on the office door of a suburban accountant, Emilio tongued the back of his remaining teeth, looking forward to the challenge of a tasty safe. Anthony’s directions were perfect, and he had no trouble finding it behind the flimsy metal doors of a vertical filing cabinet in the left side office. The double tumbler vault with four-inch-thick sides and interior hinges was built to impress its owners and protect its contents from amateur thieves, but provided little resistance to “Emmy the Key” Lugano. Two small holes, drilled through the steel reinforced leaded doors at the precise right spot, were all he needed to disable the dials. The side bolts clunked back to position with a quarter turn of the heavy t-shaped handle. Emilio gently removed the wrapped powder bundles he had come for and placed them in the cloth bag he carried with him. Out of curiosity, he lifted one of the odd glass bottles and held it up to his flashlight for inspection. It was full of clear liquid. He didn’t know what it was but figured that its presence in the safe meant it was valuable, so he made sure the top was on snugly and placed both bottles into his carrying bag. The bottles made noise when they bumped together, so he put the bags of powder between them and zippered them into the side opposite his tools. He closed the safe door, shut the filing cabinet, and left the office less than ten minutes after he had entered. Returning to the dusk of the street, he walked casually until Anthony pulled the car up alongside him. Emilio got in, and they eased away from the crime scene like a boat observing the harbor speed limit.