Welcome to the Industry...
Updated: Mar 14
**adult language and content**
"The Entertainer" ringtone sang out from my LG flip phone in July of 2007, as I finished up my summer jobs in preparation for my senior year of college. That ringtone meant my boyfriend Walt was calling. I sprinted into my bedroom in my parents' house and closed the door to hear the news in private.
Walt and I had both been hired to work in a showband for Steven Mallard, and last night had been Walt's first gig with them. I wasn't on that date because I was a vocalist, and I needed another week of rehearsals before I'd be show-ready with the choreography and lyrics. Walt was a sax player, so he needed fewer rehearsals -- he could read his part out of a binder of charts. So last night he'd gone down to the annual North Carolina Liquor Convention without me, to perform his first show. I'd been eagerly awaiting the phone call he promised upon his arrival home.
"Waaaaaaallllt!" I exclaimed.
"Hi Jess!" he answered. His voice sounded worn, but relieved.
"How was it!?" I had no time for casual pleasantries.
"Terrible!" he exploded.
"What? Why? I thought you were comfortable with the charts."
"Oh, the gig? The gig itself was fine. I mean...I got really drunk on this unbelievable vodka they were promoting, giving out for free. I wandered out into the audience and danced all up on people at their tables during my solo, which I think Steven liked. But I was so drunk...I hope he doesn't think that's how I normally perform...but the whole band was smashed. Who knows how much anyone remembers of the gig. But..."
"Afterwards...well...they had me share a hotel room with that sound guy. All he wanted to do was get high until he passed out. So the room stank, but I was too drunk to care. At least he was quiet so I could sleep, until..."
"...until Steven called the room in a panic, telling us we needed to pack up and leave immediately to find another hotel."
"Well, according to the drummer... He and Steven were sharing a room. They decided to go get a pair of hookers, which they brought back to the hotel. Kyle brought his girl into the bathroom and let Steven and his girl have the bedroom. Probably because Steven's too damn fat to fit in the bathroom. But anyway...as Kyle puts it, he was getting things going with his hooker, when he heard shouting coming from Steven and his girl in the bedroom.
"The shouting turned into what sounded like a physical struggle, and Steven was saying, 'Fuck you bitch, you'll do what I want!' and she was yelling, 'Then you fucking pay me, you fucking bastard!'
"Kyle and his hooker opened the bathroom door, and saw Steven had pinned his hooker on the bed underneath him and was strangling her -- they could hear her gurgling and gasping, and when she almost passed out he finally let her go. Steven wanted to keep fighting, apparently over the price of going down on her or something...just...the whole thing makes me sick just thinking about it. I mean, Steven's married, Kyle lives with his girlfriend..."
"So anyway... Steven panicked and decided we needed to run and find a new hotel -- something about their pimp might come after them, or someone might've called the cops, so we had to go hide. The sound guy, who was high as shit, started freaking out when he heard the cops might be coming, saying he was sure to go to jail 'cause he was high and black, and I was worried I'd get charged with something for not turning him in for weed, or being drunk underage...it was the worst.
"So we drove around for like, two hours, trying to find a place to stay, making sure no one was following us, and the only open place we could get rooms at was this shitty motel. We went from this luxurious convention center to these crappy, disgusting old rooms..."
"So did you sleep at all?"
"Not hardly, after Steven's phone call."
Walt paused with a sigh. He was really shaken. I wasn't convinced that it was as bad as he said, since he tended to be a more anxious person than me, but then again, I hadn't been there. It wasn't great news to hear how my employer liked to act when his wife wasn't around, or that my new colleagues might offer my boyfriend a prostitute someday -- but I knew my own boundaries and I trusted Walt implicitly. I didn't have any worries other than the embarrassment of being publicly affiliated with people who acted like that.
"Jess," he began again. "I don't think you should do this gig."
"What? What do you mean?"
"Look at how they treat women! It might not be safe for you to be out on gigs with them! I mean, what if they decided..." his voice trailed off with tension.
I paused to think for a moment.
"I know my limits," I began patiently. "And if they ever pull anything sketchy on me, I'll just quit. If they choose to do this crazy shit on their own time, that's their prerogative. But if they ever make a move on me, I'm out."
"But Jess --"
"I'll be fine," I stated firmly.
Give up my first professional gig? Because musicians do sketchy shit? As if that's news... I NEED this gig! If I back out before I finish rehearsing, there's no guarantee that anyone would ever give me another chance!
"I'll keep the job," I reinforced, thus sealing my fate.