CHAPTER 4: SHINE AND FADE
I was still buzzing when Buck dropped me off at my mother's house
and it wasn't just from the celebratory 40-ouncers we downed at
Freeway's place after the gig. I still couldn't believe how well
our debut performance went at the Heartbreak Lounge. After having
fronted two other far more dysfunctional, far less talented bands
during my high school years, I had no idea it was possible to win
over an audience -- albeit a small one -- so quickly. Most of the
credit, obviously, goes to the Freeway factor. The dude could
flat-out jam plus he had that mystique about him that drew your
eyes just as much as your ears. But in my own head at least, I
knew I was a big part of it, too. For the first time in my short
life, the ideas were flowing, the bass lines were working and my
vocals were finding that edge -- the razor-bladed passion a
singer needs to shake listless, half-cocked concertgoers out of
their natural state of boredom and make them pay attention.
You've got to turn those random zombies of the night into your
zombies of the night.
We were starting to do exactly that until we ran out of time. The
Heartbreak guys only let us do five songs as the opening act. For
our next gig as headliners in two weeks, we would have to triple
that. Cover songs were always an option, but our new band seemed
to pride itself on being prolific right out of the gate.
Amazingly, we already had a handle on nine or 10 original songs
that we wrote in about five or six jam sessions the first three
weeks we spent together. Turns out Freeway could sing pretty
well, too, so he was doing lead vocals on several songs. It was
actually kind of a relief not to have to sing every song.
When we weren't jamming, we were all listening to as many Jimi
Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin and Doors songs as we could jam
into our car stereos, iPods and boom boxes. As far as we were
concerned, the late 1960s and early 1970s were alive again and we
couldn't get enough of it. When you really listened to those
tunes from those legendary bands, you realized how that music
still remains so much better than anything heard since, and
especially compared to the music of the 2000s. Two generations
later, we wanted to pick up where our blues-rock heroes left off.
We challenged ourselves to be that good. It was kind of like
attempting to climb Mount Everest. There it stood looming above
us. No, we may never get to the top, but the journey itself was a
noble one. And yet this undertaking was all kind of ironic, given
that the first kick in the ass out of base camp came from Uncle
Al. And that may never have happened had I not gambled and lost
so badly that I had to "borrow" from my senile grandmother.
As I walked through the side door and into the kitchen of my
mother's house at around 2:30 a.m. on the night of our opening
gig, I could hear my mother crying in the den. This couldn't be
good. She either found out about my theft or someone just died.
Turns out, it was neither.
"Ma, what's wrong?" I asked.
"Oh, it's nothing," she replied, squirming on the recliner,
turning off the TV and quickly trying to pull herself together
after another long Friday night at the Roxy. Even at almost 37
years old, my mother was still drawing dollar bills and 20s out
of men of all ages, though her powers now were significantly
diminished from the glory days of her teens and 20s. Being her
son, it's hard to describe your mother as hot, but she was --
long, black hair, voluptuous figure, olive Italian skin and soft,
stealthy brown eyes. Fortunately, I had never seen her dance and
do her thing at the Roxy. That would've sent me over the edge.
But I had heard enough stories. I knew she had been something of
a legend there for many years.
On this night, however, no longer in her many outfits of
seduction, Danielle was smoking a cigarette in leopard-print
shirt and blue jeans and trying to come to grips with a time she
always knew would come in her role as Destiny.
"Vin, what are you doing staying out this late?" mom asked,
trying to change the subject from her predicament.
"I told you," I said. "My new band had a gig at the Heartbreak
"Oh, that's right, Vin, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm a little out
of it. How did it go?"
"Really well," I said, sitting down in the rocking chair across
from her. "We blew the roof off the place even though there
weren't very many people there to see it. We were the opening
act, but in two weeks, we'll be back as headliners."
"Wow," she said, trying to be supportive even though she was
still half absorbed in her own thoughts. "That's fast. What's the
name of your new band, again?"
"Freeway & the Vin Numbers," I said with a smile.
She smiled, too, for a second, then the tears rolled down her
"I'm proud of you, Vin," she said in between soft sobs. "You're
making something of yourself. You're on the way up … unlike your
mother. I'm on my way down."
"Come on, ma, don't be ridiculous," I protested.
"It's true, Vin," she said. "They only want me dancing during the
day now. No more night dancing shifts. They want me to be den
mother to the other girls at night. Their putting me out to
"Sorry to hear that, ma," I said, walking over to give her a hug.
"Who knows? Maybe it's for the best."
"I know," she said. "I knew it was coming. It doesn't make it any
easier though when you start getting older. Let that be a lesson
to you, Vin."
"What?" I asked. "You want me to start my exotic dancing career
"No, Vin," she said. "Don't waste a second. Be great as fast as
you can because you won't believe how fast the time goes. Not
that long ago I was 18 just like you and I had everything going
for me, including a beautiful baby boy."
"I love you, ma," I said, hugging her again.
"I love you, too, Vin," she said. "Just remember, make the most
of yourself right now, when you're young, because the older you
get, the less people pay attention to you and care what you have
to say. I hope you have a lot of fun with this new band of yours
and you guys really hit it big."
"We're working on it," I said. "Will you come see us jam in a
couple of weeks at the Heartbreak?"
My mother wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks and perked up.
She was more stable than Uncle Al and I had given her credit for.
I had a feeling she could handle this tough transition time in
"Damn right I'll be there," she said. "I won't be a den mother
that night. I'll be mother to the rock star!"
We both laughed as the clock ticked toward 3 a.m. Wee hours or
not, I think it was the first time I had a major bonding moment
with my mother as adults.
And it made me even more determined to make sure we put on one
hell of a show for our second gig.