Jack Ladder – Howler – Melbournese – August fourth 2017
I came in drunk. Having to piss out a dam’s worth of yellow. Security asked me to move the bottle I clunked down in the carpark when I climbed out of the Uber. I did so, and dropped it in the bin. “Sorry, buddy.” “No worries, mate, go in.” “Sorry, I just gotta piss so bad, man.” I ran, saw old friends at the bar. Dodged their eyes and headed for the bathrooms. Barely got my thing out and started pissing everywhere. Went on my jeans. A blotch could be seen where the black got blacker. I didn’t even feel the seal give way. It just gushed. Terror. I’ve been drinking too long, too hard. Have I done my bladder? This never happens. Alcoholism’s a rebellion that gets harder with age. I wash up feeling miserable. Hello friends at the bar. The whole usual thing happens. Kisses on cheeks. Can you get me a beer because you’re further up in the line etc. I get my beer. I pass a bag of shrooms around leftover from Autumn and I eat a few too. I have a cigarette. More grief from security. “You can’t smoke here. See that sign.” – man with Craig David-esque beard points to a little sign. “That side of the area is for smoking.” “Yeah, ok man. Whatever.” I head over. Other friends are there that have disbanded the bar in a different direction. There’s two groups of people sitting around. Nice. “I was told off for smoking on that side of the ledge man, so you’ll probably be told off again soon.” Shaq says. I smoke. “Errgh man, fuck that. This is bullshit. I’ll smoke here and they can tell me off when they notice.” Continuing the cigarette, the same Craig David comes up. “Hey you can’t smoke here. You have to smoke on that side.” “Ah, yes, of course. I can only smoke on this side of the ledge. It’ll stop all the smoke billowing in, won’t it? Smoke can’t go over there when I’m over here, right?” – I wave with my smoking hand toward the smoke free zone. Craig didn’t move. “Rules are rules, ay. Rules are just definitely rules.” He walked away. I smoked on the designated side of the bench. Drunk already. Been up since five and I was thinking about the drinking more than I was Jack Ladder, which was unlike me.
I kiss more friends on cheeks. Friends I haven’t seen in a while. “I’ve never seen him before” says Brenna. “Oh, you’re gonna love it. You’re gonna love him.” “I’ve never even listened to him. I have heard so many good things and I’m excited. I just know it’s going to be good.” “It will be. He’s a maniac. He’s a giant swaying genius on stage. Creeps around with his eyes. Looks down and at you all at once. He’s got this heavy snarl. He’s fucking fantastic. I dunno what it’s going to be like. I can’t remember when I saw him last, too long ago whenever it was. But I guarantee you’ll love it and you’ll love his music. He is one of my favourites alive. All my other favourites are dead.”
So, she is excited and I’m excited because now I’m thinking about Jack Ladder more than I am about the drinking. Darren says we should go in soon. I remember Emma Russack. I wanted to see her. We missed her. Shame. The next day I’d listen to her music. Watch and listen to her Youtube Channel for an evening. Let the good things soak in and feel melancholic for being so close to catching her, but being too caught up in the drinking and the friends to do so.
“Ok, yeah let’s go in. What’s the time?” “Almost 10:30.” “Ok. We are going in now” Friends split up. “Drinks.” My girlfriend and I order beers. “Two. One won’t last. I’ll meet you at the entrance. I have to piss again.” Wet toilet papered tiles. Piss flows as if it was never held in. Water poured into a glass with no bottom. Feels like not pissing. Terror again. I exit the bathroom. An arm goes around me. “Shot?” “Yes” I huddle the bar with Carl and his date. They’d never met before. “And a drink?” “Uhh, vodka. Thanks.” “Vodka?” “Yeah, vodka?” “Shot vodka?” “No, tequila.” “Ok, shot tequila?” “Yeah.” What do you want to drink?” “Vodka. Vodka with two ice cubes.” “Vodka?” “Yeah.” “What vodka?” “Any vodka.” I remember he is buying. “Actually, don’t worry. There are beers for me inside. Tequila is fine. Forget about the vodka.” Tequila comes. “Chin Chin.” And we drink tequila. Squeeze the lime. I don’t look for the salt. “I have to go. I’ll meet you in there. Stefania is waiting.” “Ok, we are coming.” “I gotta go now. She’s been waiting.” “Ok.” “Ok, thanks. Nice to meet you” I wave to his date. “Sorry.” “Where have you been?” “I had to do a shot.” “What?” “Carl bought me a shot. I met his date.” “What’s she like?” “I dunno, fine. Attractive. Does shots.” She hands me a Brooklyn lager. I drink it and she shows the ticket lady the ticket and we walk in and I help guide her toward the middle. A little bit to the front. Not as much as I want. But she has space to see with no tall heads to block her. I stay behind. Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders are on stage. Lights flick blue, red, purple. There’s smoke hissing around. I’m tripping out a little. I yell in Stefania’s ear, “He’s so good. Look how tall and handsome he is. His presence is real. He’s born to do this. It’s fucked. He’s a rockstar and he couldn’t not be. He has to be.” She turns. Looks up nicely, trustingly. Eyelashes lick eyelid lips – “His amazing.” My arms around her waist and I look behind. There’s the faces I know. The faces I’ve seen this band with two or three times before. I want to be with them too. The yearn. But I’m good. What I need is here. And music opens up into a cerebral firework. Crack and pop and boom, and I feel the colours rain down. I see Donny Benet. Old Donny Benet. So grand to see his mustachioed face shining and his head and curls glisten in the dancing of sound and light. No Kirin J Callinan. I didn’t expect him. It’s Ok, but the balance isn’t right. Not what I’m used to. I’d been spoilt in the past. But still, I’m spoilt now. The band shifts into Her Hands. Jack Ladder’s silhouette casts its shadow upon us all. We sway. All the audience sways. The place is a dreamscape of people hollering and whistling and wooing over him and the mood lapping him up and the music thudding and sliding us all together and tearing us all apart. I lose myself for songs. Things twist into each other. I twist into Stefania. The crowd shifts around like puzzle pieces knocked off the coffee table and I pick up the pieces that’re my friends. We’re now nearby each other. I hug them. Arms around them. I say things I don’t remember, deep into their ears. I hold Stefania close. But some song is playing that insights a groove in me that I know well and knew before, and know somehow with them. She gets shouldered by an eager stranger too tall for her vision. “NOBODY BLOCKS MY GIRLS VISION!” Stranger can’t hear, or stranger doesn’t care. I reach. Hands caught. Slapped down. “Sloan!” “How’d you know I was gonna hit that guy?” She looks. Eyelashes lick at her eyelids between black dotted diamonds that sparkle, goddess and holy in the spinning purple lights and smoke machine hews. I wasn’t gonna hit him. I hadn’t thought so far ahead. I just wanted him to know that nobody does that. He’s moved on. Or maybe we have. But she’s got sight and that’s good enough. Jack Ladder says something charming draped with humility into the mic and the clapping crowd swoon and clap scattered applaudments into his direction. Thanking him for his genuinity. For his capability. For his ability. For the Dreamlanders.
The piss strikes again. My bladder feels like it’s about to pop wide open in my gut, flood my veins, spill out into the walls of my skin and make me into some kind of pissy swelling waterbomb. Why now? I curse my youth. My unending excess. If I die now it can’t be here. There’s all these people. All these people I don’t know. There’s all this music. Its loud. I’ll make a scene. I’ll choke and gasp, fall down. The music will stop. The music might not. I’ll be carried out. Piss covered pants. Black jeans now all black. Black unfaded from wear. Black jeans brand new, just covered in piss and belted round the waist of a dead and betrothed man that just wanted to be alone. “I fucking have to piss again. So bad. I can’t hold it.” I yell over woos and bassing noise. “You can’t hold it? Are you OK?” “I’m fine I just fucking have to piss.” I kiss the little quivering cheek of my dear girl and push past people that don’t want to be pushed. I run for the toilet. Run. Piss paper toweled tiled floor everywhere. Under my shoes. Fumble belt buckle. Reach in. Pull the thing out. Let it go. Feel no relief. None of that muscle tension relief. I just see the stuff gushing out and know it’s better. And it goes, but I’ve pissed longer before and without so much terror. The terror gets worse. Terror. I zip and belt up. I feel I’m gonna die the next time I have to piss. I can’t be sure I’ll make it to the fucking toilet. I can’t go back in. What if I die? I can’t die with all those people around. I need to be alone. If I’m about to die the best way to die is all alone with a good drink. An any-priced drink and a god damn cigarette. Oh, but Stefania? I don’t want to do that to her. Alone is right. I think of the scene in Donnie Darko at his psychologists and he says he remembers when his dog died. She crawled under the house. Why’d she crawl under the house? To be alone. And I’ve always thought of that, and it seems like the right thing to do. To die alone.
In mortal bravery, I lean on the bar and forget I’m about to die. “Hey, a glass of your darkest rum, two ice cubes, and a squeeze of orange thanks. And just a touch of soda.” I’ve no idea where that order came from but it sounds right. “Just a touch of soda?” “Yeah, just a touch.” I make an imaginary cube between my index finger and thumb and shrink it down to a smaller imaginary cube and the girl nods. She seems nice. She makes the drink and puts the soda nozzle over the glass. “This much?” One squirt comes out. “Little more.” Another squirt comes out. “Perfect. Thank you.” I walk away remembering I am about to die and that this is likely the last drink I’ll ever have. I park at an empty table, a round table, and roll a cigarette in preparation. The zippo burns, big flamed bright, magic mushroom bright. The smell of gasoline crawls into my nostrils and tickles them. Ahh. I inhale the drag of a dying young man and hold it in a while longer than I’d done with any other cigarette that day. I sip the rum. This is the drink. And in some sort of self silence I think about Donnie Darko’s Dog and think about what Jack Ladder is doing now. What song is he doing? Where is everyone? I’m glad to be alone. The cigarette is almost at the bone and two Canadians or Americans sit down. “Mind if we sit here?” “Go for it” “Did you see the show?” I stub the cigarette out so it doesn’t continue to smoke off that filter burning scent in the ashtray. Smells like poison. “Yeah, but I missed the end.” “Oh, what? Why?” “I had to piss really bad.” They laugh and say oh my god and talk to me and they make me forget that I had been busy dying and it bothers me, but it’ ok. So, I decide to live a little bit longer and we talk about Jack Ladder and they show me a video of the final performance – Barber’s Son, and that might be my favourite song he’s done, so I don’t pay attention to the video on their iPhone or Samsung or whatever. “I want to meet him! We were saying we want to take a selfie with him. You should come! We’re too scared.” Her boyfriend or brother or whoever the other Canadian was, looked around ignoring her. “It’s not my thing, but you should, definitely. What’s there to lose. You only live once.” I sip the rum. She laughs and agrees. He is still looking around. The outside area is starting to fill up. There’s noise everywhere now. No chance to die alone anymore. “You think we should do it?” “Oh, yeah absolutely.” My friends come out little by little. Stefania sits next to me. “Oh my god! You missed the last few songs, Sloan! It was incredible. It was amazing! He lost it!” “That sucks.” “What happened. I thought you just had to pee?” “Yeah, but then I had this whole existential crisis and thought I was going to die. I’m fine now.” “Who are these people you are talking too?” “I dunno, two Americans. They showed me a video of Barber’s Son.” “Sloan! It was so good! I can’t believe you missed it.” My friends all said how good Barber’s Son was and I felt like I was tripping again. I leaned into the crevice of my seat and took a big lungful of smoke. “I think I found my drink. Darkest rum they have, two ice cubes, squeeze of orange and a touch of soda.”
The Canadian girl leaned over and I introduced her to Stefania. I couldn’t remember her name. “We are going to find him now. Sure you don’t want to come?” “Yeah I’m sure. Goodluck.” They leave and I move over and everyone piles into the round table booth. “I’m getting another one. Want anything?” “No, thank you.”
I lean on the bar feeling less alive than I did when I was dying. “Can I help you?” Different bartender so I tell her I’m fine. Push. Shove. Talk going around. She walks out a back door. “Can I help you?” I’ll settle. “Yeah, sure. Dark rum, two ice cubes and a squeeze of orange, and a touch of soda.” Now that I wasn’t dying it was no longer an any-price kind of affair. Last $30. “Yep, what rum?” “I don’t mind. Whatever.” “Bacardi?” “No, sorry. Not Bacardi.” “Havana Club?” “Urggh, yeah sure.” I give her cash. She gives me a few coins. I sip it on the way back and it’s not very good and I see Jack Ladder in the middle of a conversation. I walk up to him and put my hand on his chest “Thank you.” I look him in the eyes. My hands still on his chest. He looks at me, confused. I say it again. “Thank you.” Then I walk off, back to the round booth table and stand at the side and everyone is talking. “I just touched Jack Ladders chest.” “What just then? What’d he say?” “Nothing, he just looked at me funny. What would he say?”