Jackson, an appropriate name for a rock star, you think? This was where he felt at his best, this was his time to be on top of the world. Here he was all smiles, comfortable, even relaxed, unlike in the real world, off this stage, and outside this place. A guitar slung around his shoulders or a sax hanging from his neck, take either of those away and you won’t find him up here in front of all those people. Hundreds of people out there looking up at the band - Aches-n-Pains. An appropriate name for a band of guys in their 40s and 50s. Only about half the spotlights were on before they started the concert and dance and Jackson could feel the heat from them already. Soon all those spots would be on and cooking the band for the next four hours. His whole body was warming up and he was feeling energized by the sounds from the people who came to see the band and dance to their music. It was going to be another night of fun, dancing, sweating musicians, and ear-splitting noise. He loved it. He reveled in it. That was where he belonged.
Two a.m. arrived quickly. The owners of restaurants and bars like this were always strict about closing time. They know the law said no more alcohol sales after 2 am so they used that as their closing time. They told all the bands to stop at 2 am. Not 2:05, not 2:10. That was okay with the guys because by that time they had baked long enough under those spotlights and were happy that they would be turned off. Those lights put out as much heat as they did light. The guys put down their instruments and walked to the bar where the owner gave a packet of money to Jimmy, the leader, and then gave all the guys shots of his best Tequila. It takes a little while for the adrenaline rush to come down, and the Tequila probably didn’t help with that, but it did give them all a chance to congratulate each other for another gig well-performed, another "audience" kept excited for an evening. Then it was time to pack up all the equipment and finally leave for home.
The drinking/self-congratulations part was always no more than 10 minutes, the packing part at least an hour. The driving home part could be anywhere from an hour to 5 hours. That evening’s show was halfway across the state and about 4 hours of non-stop very early morning driving, with tired eyes. They would watch the sunrise in their mirrors while they drove along the interstate. Nobody said much, and the ones who weren’t driving were sleeping. They didn’t have a luxury bus or even a small RV. They had their cars and a pickup pulling a trailer. This repeated 2 or 3 Saturdays a month, some weekends would have Friday and Saturday gigs, in different towns. It wasn’t the life of the glamorous international rock star. And that packet of money? That amounted to a hundred bucks, maybe a bit more, for each one of them. Hardly enough for all the time had that gone into the evening, but that wasn’t important, because being on that stage was where they felt the most alive.
Bar bands don’t make much money, but they do it anyway because they love playing music, they love entertaining people. Some guys like to show off their prowess on their instrument, but not Jackson. He preferred to be behind the others, but when he was at the front with his bass guitar, or sometimes a sax, he did what was expected, play and dance and bounce around on the stage like a superstar. The people loved it, they came to dance, but they also came to be entertained, and to forget about the week they had just finished.
Jackson pulled into his driveway around 7 am and found his wife, Brenda, in the kitchen preparing breakfast for her and the boys, Richie and Bobbie. They were both young musicians in the making. They and their mother never really paid much attention to Aches-n-Pains. That was Dad’s thing. They weren’t really into that kind of music, TexMex. Jackson had always wished, to himself, that the family would show some interest, but it just wasn’t there.
"How was the gig?" asked Brenda as she stirred eggs in a pan. Brenda may not have been interested in the band but she supported everything Jackson did in the band, allowed him to buy instruments, and whatever he needed for his "hobby", as she referred to it.
"Very good." He kissed her, hugged the boys, took a shower, and went to bed.
His day job was in a warehouse. He was the guy who took care of the paperwork for shipping the goods all over the US, Canada, and Mexico. He didn’t have the title of "manager" but he managed the shipping and receiving side of things. Not exciting, but it kept him busy for 9 hours a day. And, it paid the bills. Well, it combined with Brenda’s job paid the bills. The band money was just pocket money.
"Hey, Jackson! Come here," the boss yelled from his office.
Jackson put down his work, strolled to the manager’s office, and sat down, thankful for the chance to sit on a comfortable chair. "What’s up?"
"Friday is our quarterly meeting and I want you to do a presentation about the shipping department."
"What? Why me? I’m no good in front of crowds. You know that I become a nervous wreck when I’m standing in front of a group of any size."
Jackson’s boss knew about the band and had even seen them play a couple of times. He smiled and said, "Come on, Jackson, you’re great up there on stage. I’ve seen it, you love it, being in front of all those people."
Why did I ever ask him to come to one of our gigs? Thought Jackson. Then he came to a couple more. Now he wants me to give a presentation. This isn’t good. "Yeah, I’m good on stage, but that’s different," he said.
"No, it’s not. It'll be a piece of cake for you! Remember, Friday, 9 am, be ready!" That was that. Jackson was already feeling anxious, nervous.
The days passed too quickly. Friday morning came too quickly and Jackson was waiting for his turn at the front of the meeting room. He was a nervous wreck. Hands sweating, forehead sweating, cheeks flushed. The one thing in the whole world he dreaded the most was speaking in front of a group. Any group of any size. Just standing up in front, all those eyes peering at him, some anxious for whatever he managed to stutter out of his mouth, others anxious for him to finish and sit down, and the few who knew about his anxiety of being in front of a group were hoping to see him flop like a fish out of water.
"Thank you, Jenny, for that report on accounts receivables. Now we’ll hear from Jackson. He’s going to fill you in on what’s happening in the shipping and receiving side of things. Jackson," The boss smiled ear to ear, held his hand out for Jackson, and passed the remote control for the projector to him, which Jackson immediately dropped. When it hit the floor the battery cover popped off and the batteries bounced out and rolled across the room. Now he was really nervous. "Shit! What a disaster! Right from the beginning!" He mumbled to himself.
He looked up at some shocked faces, some laughing faces, then realized he said that out loud. "Um, excuse me, sorry, I, I’m not good at this kind of thing."
He went on with his presentation, stuttering and stumbling, all the way through. His sweaty hands dropped the remote two more times during his presentation. He did eventually get through to the end and managed to finish it with a flurry of words that didn’t make a lot of sense.
Just for fun everyone stood up and gave him a standing ovation. Jackson wasn’t having any fun and stormed out of the conference room.
"Okay, that’s good for today, everyone back to work." The boss went to talk to Jackson before finishing his own day. "Jackson, you need to get control of yourself, of whatever this problem is. It makes no sense, you can play music in front of crowds but you can’t talk in front of crowds. I don’t understand that. Maybe you should talk to a therapist or counselor."
"I don’t need any of that, I’m fine. See you tomorrow," and he sullenly walked out to his car and drove home, mad at himself for looking like an idiot in front of everyone. He didn’t even play any music on the radio on his drive home.
Not every gig works out as planned, unfortunately. On another weekend they had a gig all lined up in a town about a 3-hour drive away. Jimmy even went to the town a few days before to do a radio interview and plugged the band for the Friday night dance at the Grange hall. It was the only place large enough in that little town to have a live band and a dance.
They arrived 2 hours early, set up all their equipment, and prepared for the gig.
Sonny, the drummer, looked around the empty hall and asked, "Guys, we are scheduled to start at 9, right?"
"Yeah, that’s what they put on the flyers and announced on the radio."
"Well, where is everyone?"
There were 4 people in the hall. And, they were there because they heard the band warming up as they walked along the sidewalk while they were passing the hall.
Jimmy got on the phone and called the radio station, "Hey, what did you guys announce for our gig? I was here on Tuesday and we told everyone it was on Friday, remember?"
"Yeah, sorry man, somebody screwed up at the printer. You know, they’re a small operation."
"What do you mean they screwed up? What’d they do? Print the wrong day?"
"Well, yeah. They printed Saturday."
"Shit! Seriously? How on earth could you let this happen?"
"Hey, I didn’t know until last night."
"And you didn’t think to call me? We drove 3 hours to get here. We set up the band, did sound checks, and now what? You’re going to pay for this, you know that, right?"
"Hey, it’s not my fault! Just cool off! Give me a few minutes, I’ll call you back, okay?"
The radio DJ called back about ten minutes later. The band members were biding their time noodling on their axes, waiting, "Okay, the printer admitted he screwed up and can pay half of the fee. That’s it, that’s all you’ll get. I had nothing to do with it. So, either you take the half or nothing. Or, you come back next weekend."
Sonny shouted at the phone, "We'll never come back to this podunk shit-hole town again!"
The next month the band was scheduled to play at an awards festival for TexMex music, in Texas. That was something they always looked forward to. This would be the third time they had played at the TexMex festival. They would be up on stage in front of some big crowds but this time Jackson would be with a saxophone in his hands, and the crowd cheering, dancing, and clapping to the music. The hot stage lights, big crowds, and the non-stop dancing - he was back where he felt the most comfortable.
"Hey Jackson, what would you do if we actually won one of these awards festivals and had to go up on stage without our instruments?" George, the keyboard player, loved to tease him about his insecurity.
"You could go up on stage and I’d just watch from the crowd," Jackson replied, hoping such an event didn't happen.
"But the whole band would have to go up to receive the award."
"Well, then I suppose I’d take my sax up with me," he replied a bit too curtly.
"You really do need that to hide behind, don’t you?"
"I don’t hide behind it, George," snapped Jackson.
"Really? Then why would you take it with you?"
"I just feel better if I have it, or my bass. That’s all. Now drop it," Jackson quickly walked away.
"Fine. I hope we win that award one of these years."
"We all do," Sonny chimed in.
A year passed by at the next year’s festival, the band won! That meant they had to go up on stage, in the grand hall, to receive an award. There were thousands of people at the awards ceremony.
This worried Jackson because of his insecurity, or anxiety, whatever it was that he felt, he didn’t know the actual name of it, if it had one. He just knew he couldn’t go up there empty-handed.
"Here they are ladies and gentlemen, Aches-n-Pains!" The emcee made a really big deal out of winning the award and got the crowd to cheer even louder as the band walked up onto the stage. Except not Jackson, he stayed put in his seat, next to Brenda, holding her hand in a death-grip. This year Brenda actually went to Texas with him and watched the band perform, though she spent more time being a tourist in the town.
"Thank you, for this award, but hey, Jackson, get up here! We’re not complete without you!" He tried to hide behind Brenda. It didn’t work. She was too small for him to hide behind. To the audience, the bandleader said, "He’s a bit shy, believe it or not!" The crowd started chanting Jackson! Jackson! Jackson! He had no choice, he had to go up there.
Brenda pushed him, then took him by his hand and led him up the steps, and gave him another push. Jackson immediately went to the back of the group. The crowd cheered for the guys and they all waved and smiled back at the cheering people. Jackson couldn’t help but feel the pride well up inside him, but it wasn’t enough to get him to step out in front. Nobody cared about that at that moment. Brenda could see the fear in his eyes.
Back at the hotel that night, "Brenda, you shouldn’t have pushed me up onto that stage tonight," he told her when they were lying in bed.
"Oh, come on, Jackie, you had to go up there, you know that. The crowd wanted you up there. The band wanted you up there."
"I know, but it was terrible! I was sweating like a pig! My hands were shaking! My heart was pounding at two hundred beats per minute."
"Sweetheart, you really should talk to someone about this problem of yours."
"I don’t need a shrink."
"Not a shrink, baby, but some kind of therapist or counselor. I’m sure they could help you learn how to cope with your anxiety."
He had had enough of that subject, "I’m tired, let’s go to sleep. We can talk about it at home." He immediately put an end to the conversation by pressing his lips to hers, which was followed by his tongue. There was no more talking about that subject that night.
A week later Jackson and two other band members were at the local radio station doing an interview. The DJ asked "Where does the name of the band come from? Why do you call yourselves Aches-n-Pains?"
George started to give the whole history of the band, but it got to be too long, so Jackson interrupted, "The history is long and boring, it comes down to this – we’re a band of old guys and we all suffer from some kinds of aches and pains. That’s it."
The DJ laughed and said, "I understand that. So, tell me, tell your fans that are listening, what are the aches or pains you suffer, Jackson?"
Jackson curtly replied, "It’s not important".
"Sure it is, your fans want to know this stuff about all of you guys."
"I read our fan mail and I see the questions they ask, and you know what? They ask about the name of the band, but they don’t ask about what ails each of us individually." He was getting impatient and testy and the DJ noticed. Jackson got up and left the studio and the DJ continued asking the other guys about their aches and pains.
At home, Brenda wasn’t impressed and told him so, "Jackson! Why'd you do that today? During the interview? I can’t believe you responded like that. Both the boys were listening to your interview. And then you just walked out? Really? What got into you?"
"That DJ got into me, that’s what!" He poured a cup of coffee and stared into it.
She made arrangements for them both to talk to a therapist the next week. Jackson wasn’t happy about it but he did agree to go so long as Brenda was there with him.
As the sessions passed, week after week, month after month, Jackson slowly learned to control his anxiety and all that went with it. He was never as comfortable on stage without an instrument as he was with one, but that was okay. He could at least give a presentation without dropping the remote control 3 times and swearing when the batteries bounced out, even if his feet were non-stop bouncing a little, in his boots.
Brenda and the boys actually went to watch a few of his gigs, they never really learned to enjoy the music that he had chosen to play. But that didn’t bother Jackson anymore, at least they came to listen to the band, and him, play on stage. And that made him happy.