About ‘Condition Oakland’
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TRACK 2 – CHAPTER SIX: SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Charlin started coming to practices after our first show. If we practice at Mark’s house, Charlin is usually there, and when we’re at my house, he usually brings her. We start to have fun together, me inviting her to come up and sing on a song, her making up words that are usually hilarious. Charlin is really outgoing and energetic, and she and I soon have a special camaraderie, the way we kid around and share jokes. She’s always punching me in the arm or karate kicking me, wrestling me to the ground. And Mark loves it, he isn’t really an overly jealous guy, because Charlin and he have such a laid back relationship. They trust each other.
One night Charlin goes outside to smoke a cigarette and I follow her, because I feel like smoking. Suddenly we are outside alone.
“Can I bum a cigarette?” I ask her. She hands one up to me, a Parliament. I take it and light it with her lighter. “Thanks,” I say, after that prolonged first drag, smoke emerging as I speak, then jetting out. Sitting on the curb next to her, beneath the streetlight I look out at the night, not really looking at this night but looking at all nights. I return her lighter. “So, what do you think of the band?” I ask.
“You’ve got potential, kid.”
She calls me kid, even though she is only a year older than I am. She thinks since Mark has some seniority over the rest of the band because of his age, she has some, too. But I like it.
“I can see you guys playing bigger shows than that church thing, definitely. But you’ve got a lot of work to do first.”
“I know. We do.”
“You know? I wonder.”
She points up at the moon like she‘s laughing at a friend doing a trick. It’s surprisingly large and almost bright red, deep red.
“There are so many bands out there. And they all think they’re worth listening to. But they’re not. At least most of them aren’t. There are so many unremarkable bands. Most of them you’ll never hear anyway. But, I see what you’re trying to do here. I can tell what you want, the way you think. To quote a great band… ‘You want everything all of the time.’”
“Don’t be idio-teque,“ I say. I sit there, not sure what to say. Feeling like she has me pegged, and since I am pegged, the life in me involuntarily wriggles around it. The Radiohead song she mentioned plays in my head. “I don’t want everything all of the time. I just want something always.”
Her eyes trail away, but not to nowhere. “Yeah. I know what you mean.
“I believe you guys could be one of the great ones,” she says.
“That’s the only thing I know how to aim for,” I confess.
“You need to know what you want to do. If it’s what you even want, you have to consider your… I hate to say this word, but I have to: You have to consider your marketability. I mean, that’s just the truth. You have to be able to sell yourselves to people, and then popularity won’t be a problem. If you’re willing to work for it. If that’s what you even want.”
I’m sitting there on the curb, elbows on my knees. I take a long drag, then shoot the smoke upward. I turn to face her.
“I’m willing,” I say. “And I agree with what you’re saying. But I don’t want to limit this band by being concerned with whether we can sell it or not. I’m more concerned with actually being about something real than being about something that’s saleable. I guess I’m being idealistic, and I know you don’t mean we should ‘sell out’ or anything, but sometimes the way things are really piss me off, and I don’t even want to be a part of that. The whole music as a business thing… it’s so similar to other things, and… I just wish we could bypass all of that. Even though, I am a really good businessman. I always win at Monopoly.”
We both smile and her head falls between her knees, laughing with a hint of delerium.
“ I just want, you know, to transcend the bullshit. To just have every concert be us and new friends. Stay true. Can I say that?”
“You can say whatever you want to. And that’s the whole trouble.”
She stubs out her cigarette on the concrete and then gets up and goes back inside. I look down at my hand and watch my cigarette smoke itself.
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