lj idol |week 30 | 931 words
It was a YouTube recording of Triangle Puppet that launched Jeffrey Waring's career. One day, he and his band were playing county fairs and high school dances, and the next, they were getting airplay and a blurb in Hot Pipes Weekly. It was the kind of lucky break that every would-be rock star hoped for.
The band itself was a revolving door of backup musicians, as Jeffrey had a tendency to be fickle. He also had no marketing sense whatsoever— back before Triangle Puppet made them famous, he used to change the band's name whenever they lost or gained new members, or on long afternoons where he simply got bored.
"You can't keep renaming the band," Bango Yevitz, the band's drummer, had said. "How can we build a reputation if nobody remembers who we are?"
Jeffrey had countered with, "Well, I don't think Wombat Circus is really 'us'."
"That's what I said last week, when you brought it up!"
Jeffrey and Bango were the band's only permanent members. That probably had more to do with the fact that Bango had been Jeffrey's best friend since childhood than with his impressive skills as a drummer. The week that Triangle Puppet became a hit, the band's name was Cyclone City, so they were stuck with it. Compared to some of the previous names, it was a blessing.
It was only a couple of months before interest in the group's song began to fade. Cyclone City needed another hit to keep them in the spotlight. Jeffrey turned over ideas, searching for the right combination of memorable melodies and drama that had defined Triangle Puppet, though it was hard to find new themes that fully captured the timeless ache of being the other man in a relationship (not the one who steals away the girl, the one who winds up alone in the end, which even heartless womanizers believed would someday be them). After a week of poking through ideas that would make a soap opera seem like Shakespeare, he gave up and tried another approach. He tossed around titles instead of themes, hoping to find the answer by coming at it from a different direction.
"Proletariat Holiday?" Bango said. "Seriously? That's gonna go way over the heads of, like, everyone."
"What about Mystic Turtle Sunrise? Or Esmerelda's Revenge?"
"Dude," Bango said. "The Sixties are over. And what the hell have you been reading? Or smoking?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The band did manage another hit, a surprising little breakout tune called Lemon Yellow Lunchbox. It was light, it was catchy, and it left Jeffrey undecided as to the kind of image he wanted for the group. The band was touring by now, and he tried one tactic after another, until Bango was forced to stage an intervention.
"You're wearing makeup," Bango said. "That is definitely not cool."
"Lots of performers do it. It's called 'guy'-liner!"
"It's embarrassing, is what it is. And what's happening with your clothes? It looks like you've raided a grade school Lost and Found box!"
"They're a little tight, sure. But chicks dig that."
"Only if they like dating toddlers who can't dress themselves."
In a compromised between emo and flannel, the band took to wearing black jeans and a variety of matching colored t-shirts that featured the band's logo. Bango said it was good for branding, but what did a guy with a name like that know about image and the consumer mindset?
Jeffrey went back to working on new songs. He tried light, he tried serious. He tried feel-good, speed metal, and fusion. He took a disastrous run at stadium rock, which the lead guitarist found so hilarious that Jeffrey fired him on the spot. Nothing seemed to gel.
The venues got smaller and smaller, the fans stranger and much less enthusiastic. Jeffrey practiced prodigious levels of denial, while the other band members began to reconsider exactly what it was they were doing. It was Bango who rendered the killing blow:
"Hey, this has all been great, and I totally appreciate you taking us along for the ride. But you know I've been dating Becky, and she's not comfortable with the traveling and the groupies. I think she's the one, though, and she won't marry me until I settle down. Plus, I kind of miss working as a cook, if you can believe that."
"Wait," Jeffrey said. "You're not…"
"Yeah." Bango nodded. "Sorry, man, but it's time. I'm leaving the band and going home."
Over the next few months, the other players left too. Jeffrey hired replacements, but it wasn't the same. All Cyclone City had left was a couple of hits and a name that used to mean something, back when all of it was real.
Bango went on to raise a family with Becky, and eventually become a chef. He still saw Jeffrey every couple of months, when they could manage it. They reminisced about old times, from the band's glory days all the way back to their early years together and things like the unfortunate second-grade incident involving frogs.
Jeffrey refused to be beaten, and kept trying to write something as successful as his two earlier hits had been. He continued to tour, accompanying himself on guitar after he could no longer afford a backup band. Sometimes he wondered whether he should have faded away gracefully instead of riding out the lingering dregs of fame.
But for now, as long as he could still get a gig playing a Holiday Inn or even a coffee house, he would keep his dreams of stardom alive.
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No voting this week—it's a Gatekeeper round. However, you can find all of this week's entries here.