By Roland Trenary
Third Saturday of the month and the first thing he needed to do this evening was carry out the “Cari and Friends Trio” sound equipment. To Vis, another royal pain in the butt. The sky threatened rain. Mosquitos were bloody murder. His hip was still bruised and unreliable. At least his print shirt was new, and loud.
So several lugs up the steep stairs as the only place to store all the stuff was the basement. His basement. Why his and not Cari’s or Bub’s? For some half-remembered reason. Now that he took a moment to think about it, maybe it all logically led to this. A simple case of grandfathering, as he had been the sound guy for the trio some fifteen years ago.
Actually, thinking back even a bit more…
Vis and Cari had first met at a life-drawing co-op. Way back when, like sixteen years ago. The co-op was small – five to ten artists drawing each session with half regulars and the rest from a pool of occasionals, plus a new recruit every now and then. Sunday afternoons from one o’clock to four they gathered in a drafty warehouse studio shared by three artists, two of whom were in the co-op and the other a silent partner.
The artists ‘drew from the nude,’ as they say. The co-operative part: everybody took turns being ‘the nude’ while the rest did the ‘drawing.’ (Vis sported a Studio Art degree from the University, but had never done modeling. He imagined he was up to the challenge, although that whole “inadvertent erection” thing made him a tad apprehensive. Cari had done a bit of modeling in her day, she’d claimed. She was cool with that. Cool or detached? Vis wasn’t sure which. Both were now much older than in those olden days, plus Vis held an additional four years. They each had discovered the drawing group from a bulletin board note hung at the radical bookstore and had turned up for their first session the same Sunday.)
But it turned out the co-op was hiring professional models now, instead of passing the baton around. Over the last several months, rumor had it, Benny had been the model so many times that a policy change had been instituted.
Benny was a sixty-something photographer who had never set charcoal to paper. He just set up a tripod and took a picture or two from time to time. If that seemed odd (which it did to Vis), no one said much. Models would sit for their ten- or twenty-minute poses and Benny would take one photo and then he’d just sit around or read a magazine or watch the folks at their easels. When the attendance had gotten sparse over a few weeks, Benny volunteered to do modeling, frequently. Very frequently.
So the co-op had started hiring from the modeling pool at the nearby University, then charging drawers three dollars per artist per week, or buy ahead ten weeks for a twenty (whether you showed up or not). Vis always bought the ten-pack and rarely missed a session.
Anyway, neither Vis nor Cari had therefore happened to see each other naked, or nude. That was probably for the best. Actually, definitely for the best, from Vis’s perspective.
The co-op threw a party a couple months after that first session, where a non-artist set up his autoharp in a corner and started playing. Just a skinny fellow sporting a jawline beard, leather vest hanging open, and jeans honestly frayed, whose singing was high-pitched and thin. His repertoire was primarily pop stuff from the previous twenty years, so everything was familiar.
Co-op Mistress Gloria came over to where Vis, Cari, and a couple others were standing, admiring each others’ heady Hawaiian shirts and skirts and sipping on clear plastic cups brimming with cheap white wine (Apple Farm?). Cheese cubes were precariously balanced on soda crackers on paper saucers.
Gloria proclaimed, “Cari, you know all these songs! Come on over and I’ll introduce you to Otto and you can sing with him.”
“Come on, Vis,” Cari elbowed Vis, her new friend. “I’ll bet you know these tunes too. Can you sing? Come on and show me.”
Well, she sure showed him first. She had a lovely voice, sultry but uncluttered, not quite Bonnie Raitt. And he treated her to his uncanny knack for adding a harmony part, right off the bat. It turned into a floor show with Vis, Cari, and Otto-on-the-autoharp running through Beatles, Stones, Marvin Gaye, and Beach Boys.
Though Otto was never to be seen after that night, Cari and Vis started hanging out outside of life drawing, to sing. Vis played guitar well enough so that, with a songbook or two, they could string a couple hours together without repeating a tune. But by the time they were getting pretty good, Cari bumped into an old friend of hers: Bub.
Vis was now working nights, so when a new musical duo was born called “Cari and Friend,” Vis wasn’t the “Friend.”
Soon that duo added Geoff, an even newer “Friend,” to play lead guitar. They started getting gigs as “Cari and Friends” and lonely, forgotten Vis still worked nights. By the time the night shift had shifted to days, Cari’s group was gigging monthly, renting a sound system from a neighbor.
For one gig, Vis filled in (a first for him) for their sound guy and, since he had a van, was asked to continue doing so, if he could also go get the equipment and return it the next day to the rental fella. Vis sneakily also started showing up at the group’s Sunday-living-room rehearsals, spontaneously throwing in a few vocal harmonies (about every other song).
Gradually and eventually, Vis got invited to abandon the sound board chair and come up on stage to add that third harmony vocal part. But he was still officially the “sound guy” only. That was less than satisfying to Vis. (Bub and Cari were unaware of this.) Soon that second “Friend” quit the band. (Either he wanted the band to get more gigs, or fewer, or something, but he was unhappy in his own way.) The now-duo desired to add a fiddler or banjo or bass, but Vis convinced them to try him out as a singer-guitarist-harmonizer.
He stuck, and good music ensued.
So now, fifteen years later, Vis still schlepped the speakers, stands, monitors, amp, mixer, mics, mic stands, cords, effects, signs and tip jars – up and down his basement steps before and after every gig. His lot in life, he surmised. He didn’t realize how fed up he was, yet.
Tonight they rendezvoused at The Cafe Oy-vey as usual, driving in seperately behind the building at the corner of Ceiver and Riverride.
“Hey, Bud, Cari,” said Vis.
“Hey, hi,” piped Cari.
“Hi. How’re you?” added Bub.
“Got all the gear, as per. Anybody you know coming down to listen?”
Bub was unloading his guitar from his car. “I think a couple, and my wife. Maybe another one or two.”
“Me too,” added Cari.
Vis admitted, “Nobody I know of, but we’ll see.” He grabbed a mic stand under his right arm, his guitar case in his right hand, and monitor speaker in his left. The first of four or five loads.
As they walked down the puddled, narrow, brick-walled alley that led to the back service door that they’d used for ten years and probably a hundred gigs, they each felt their own mingled rush of performance anxiety and headiness.
The door was locked.
“Don’t know. I’ll go around to the front,” said Vis as the other “Friend” banged on the door.
“Wait a sec.” Bub paused, flattened his ear on the scuffed metal, then banged louder. “They’re probably clanging the dishes around. Oh, here…”
The grey dented door slowly swung open a few inches and a voice crept out to them, “Sorry, closed.”
“Hey, wait! We’re the band! We’re playing tonight!” protested Cari.
The door opened just far enough, a round face with a lower wisp of neo-beard and a topping of corner-knotted bandana stuck out a couple inches.
“I’m the only one here! The other workers couldn’t make it, so I’m not opening tonight.”
“Wait, wait. Nobody told us! We’ve got people coming down to hear. To listen!”
“Look, I can’t do cooking and run the front counter and cleanup too. I can’t open. That’s it.”
“We have an audience coming. Can’t you just serve up the cakes and cookies in the case and keep the coffee machine filled? You could just do that. Our people don’t usually order cooked food anyway,” Bub offered.
“Yeah, our people only like desserts. You could handle that. We’ve got all our own sound equipment. It’ll work. We can make it work. Whaddya say?”
“Well, okay. I guess so. I just wish the other workers had showed up. I’m still going to have to do the cleanup and dishes and everything. Rats.” The young scruff-mudget let out a sorrowful sigh.
“No. It’ll be okay. And thanks, man. Thanks a lot,” chimed the band.
No one knew at the time, but that Saturday marked the beginning of the end for “Friends,” as Vis preferred to call the band. He wasn’t sure why the other two insisted on the “Cari and” part as their band name. That seemed too narrowly focused for a group where all the instruments, a third of the lead vocals and two thirds of the harmony vocals were provided by “and Friends.” Yet Vis appeared alone in that assessment, so it rarely came up in their band meetings or conversations. They each avoided conflict at all costs.
“We Can Work It Out” was pointedly not one of the songs in their repertoire, and never would be.
About The Author
Born in the first half of the last century, Roland Trenary has parlayed his modest Midwest upbringing into a modest 21st Century adventure.
He is creator of seven issues of the magazine Normal Bean, one acoustic album of self-penned/performed songs (Fever That Yearns), and several music-related videos on Youtube.
With over forty years of researching and collecting the artist Mahlon Blaine, he has gathered together Blaine’s definitive biography and bibliography (Mahlon Blaine ~ One-Eyed Visionary).
His novel of illustration adventure (Mahlon Blaine’s Blooming Bally Bloody Book) is on the Amazon charts, while he also continues to pursue an even newer career as a quick-sketch artist specializing in actors and musicians caught in the act of performing.
For the past several decades he has steadfastly maintained that his role as The King (in the Lincoln School 4th Grade production of the musical Rumplestiltskin) may have been his undoing.
This has yet to be proven.