A huge blast of sound flung out the arena door and ricocheted down the long corridor. Brutal powerchords interspersed with blistering arpeggios transcended the pounding bassline and the ballistic assault on the drumset. Just another night of heavymetal at the Civic.
The opening band's soundcheck was running late. Robert, the headliner's leadsinger, threw a hissyfit and delayed the whole process by almost half an hour, so they were just finishing their test after the doors had already opened. The usual knots of running, screaming teenagers, miscellaneously inebriated, had already staked out choice spots in front of the stage, and a few were wandering the halls. At the end of the hall on stage right, a lone security guard stood and took in the whole scene.
Willard hated these kinds of shows. There were times when working for Bill Graham Presents was heaven, like when it was a Grateful Dead show and he was given the privilege of working backstage. Now that was music! Yep, when it was a show like that, Willard just loved working for BGP. But tonight Willard resigned himself to an evening of bedlam.
The only reason he did them at all, other than the money needed to forestall the inevitable interment of his '73 Dodge pickup in an automotive graveyard, was to remain in the security coordinator's good graces and garner the choice assignments. Other than that, you couldn't chase him into a heavymetal show without serious motivation from a highvoltage cattleprod.
The fivefootten guard stretched indolently and scratched his belly, which was considerably rounded by beer and Doritos. Surveying the crowd moving about the hallway, he shifted his weight onto his other foot as he sentried the backstage gate of the corridor that ringed the arena. These little Metal brats weren't shit, he smirked for the third time tonight. Think they're so cool. Buncha little faggots waiting to happen, that's what they were.
To him, it seemed most everybody that liked this music was queer, especially the musicians. Take the headliner. The lead singer was a bonafide fruitcake, biggest weeniewagger this side of the Village. Everyone in the business knew, even if their fans didn't. And the opening band was pathetic: a bunch of out-of-the-closet freaks who made Willard respect the main act's singer more than he would otherwise. At least that pansy had the decency to hide his perversions.
Not so with that new group. Christ, they rubbed everybody's face in their sickness like they were actually proud of themselves. Willard thought he was pretty openminded—hell, he'd even quit using the word "faggot" in public—but these braindamaged misfits stretched the limits of his tolerance. And furthermore...
Hearing the click of approaching heels, Willard pivoted to face the corridor. There were two women headed toward him—no, check that. It was a woman and... some kind of dragqueen. The transister reached him first, crossing the short distance in a matter of moments, quickly in his face.
A noxious cloud of Budweiser breath rolled over Willard. He recoiled and tried arranging his face into a smile, but was unable to remember just how to do one. He gaped at the unusual specimen of femininity standing before him who was shortly joined by her companion. It flashed through his head that this was Jasmine, an underground film star very much in vogue these days in San Francisco.
"Hey, honey," she husked, a shemaled Brenda Vacarro, "you're kind of cute. Which way is backstage?" She grinned at him.
Willard's mouth worked soundlessly while he tried to regain his composure. He was not wildly succeeding. Willard was so unbalanced he forgot his standard request for a backstage pass. His trepidation was understandable; Jasmine shocked most people.
She stood sixfootthree and weighed in at 300 pounds, with breasts to give casaba melons a fit of envy. Her insanely coifed hair was as white as Peruvian nosecandy, and her makeup was heavy enough to protect a scuba diver in arctic waters. Yet even the thickness of her foundation could not hide the five o'clock shadow, massive bristles hunkered down in her follicles like ICBMs in their silos. Her dress was a sleeveless studded blackleather sheath that must have taken a superhuman effort to squeeze her monumental body into, and her earrings were tiny sterlingsilver chainsaws.
There was blood and vomit on her pumps—not her own.
She gazed deeply into his eyes while she lit a cigarette and waited for his answer, amused by the note of alarm as he started babbling that backstage was right through the gate.
"Thank you, sugar," she said, patting his cheek and taking the arm of her companion.
Willard's eyes gladly shifted to the other woman, and he began feeling normal again. She was breathtakingly beautiful, yet nicely buffed from pumping iron. Looking no more than thirty, she sported blackleather pants, cowboy boots and a redleather jacket. Her ultrablonde hair was ratted to awesome proportions, and she accessorized heavily with rock'n'roll trinkets.
As they stepped past the guard through the door, Jasmine winked at him. "Maybe I'll see you on the way out, Cutie," she growled fetchingly.
A wave of dread enveloped Willard once again. "B-but, I need to see your backstage pass!" he sputtered.
"Honey, I'm a good friend of the opening act."
As he watched the two of them disappear backstage, Willard knew that had to be true.
Jasmine snickered quietly as they left the guard in their wake. "Yeah, he's cute, alright," she smirked, "if you think a bulldog's butt is cute. Do you know where we're going, Dea?"
"I think it's over there," she replied, pointing across backstage. "I think."
"Well, let's go. I need a goddamn beer."
After several minutes of fruitless searching, Jasmine became frustrated. "Which way to Hospitality?" she screeched to nobody in particular.
The few people who weren't busily scurrying off to do something looked at her in a panic and scurried off in search of something to do.
"Hey, I'm serious," she hollered. "I need a—"
They spun around to see a sixfoot blonde with violently teased hair skipping toward them. Her blackspandex bodysuit was adorned with heavymetal leather doodads and lengths of chain that clinked with every movement. She had a big smile of her face. Then she saw Dea and froze, statuelike.
"Baby, you know how much I love you. Please forgive me." Dea started to cry as she stood over the sobbing blonde transsexual who was her girlfriend... whose face sported a red mark from Dea's backhand just minutes before. She reached down to stroke her girlfriend's head and watched in dismay as she shrank back. Dea momentarily loathed herself. She groped for comforting words and drew a blank.
"Why, baby? Why?" the transsexual woman's sobs were tapering off. Though she stood three inches taller than her lover, she was incapable of hitting back. Fighting was just not in her repertoire, one of the many reasons she'd changed her sex to female. As a woman she felt better about not fighting.
"I—I don't know, darling," Dea haltingly told her. "Something just gets in me. I get real angry, and the next thing I know, I'm hitting you."
"You don't really love me," the TS sniffled. "I could never hit someone I loved."
"Baby, I know you," Dea replied with a sad smile. "You couldn't hit someone you hated. I've never known anybody as gentle as you. I feel like such a bitch—treating the woman I love so badly. And I do love you. I do."
"Maybe so," her lover said, wiping the tears away, "but that mean streak of yours scares me. Even without the cocaine, you can be really mean to me, Dea."
"I promise you, sweetheart. Never again."
"Sure, sure, sure," the TS mumbled, her eyes downcast. Dea placed a finger under her lover's chin and gently raised her face. "I promise," she repeated and then softly brought her lips down on her transsexual lover's mouth.
The tall blonde quickly recovered, and her smile widened again. She ran into Jasmine's outstretched arms. She'd known the famous queen for years, long before either of them gained celebrity. Circe had happily put her and a guest on the backstage list for the show. She hadn't counted on Dea as her plus-one, however.
"Circe!" Jasmine happily cried out, crushing the singer to her ample bosom in a bear hug. "How are you? Are you excited?"
"Oh, hell yes!" the blonde transsexual enthused. "I never even imagined I'd be playing the Civic! Shit, I used to work here for Bill Graham ten years ago. But nobody remembers me."
"You were a man ten years ago," Dea reminded.
"Yeah, that's true," Circe admitted, gunning her a neutral look and looking back to her filmstar friend.
"So where's the hospitality lounge, honey?" Jasmine rasped. "I need a goddamn drink, and I think your ex here wouldn't mind a brew herself."
"Of course," Circe bubbled. "Where are my manners, anyway? Come on."
In two minutes they stood in the doorway of one of many backstage rooms. Musicians, techies, groupies, admin types, and others milled about in assorted states of intoxication, clutching plates of food they were too distracted or wasted to eat. Jasmine spotted the hosted bar and made a beeline for it, Circe and Dea in tow.
Fortified with several bottles of imported beer, they wended their way to one of the whiteplastic picnic tables and joined the other members of Circe's band, who were attempting to relax after their hurried sound check. They were an amazingly eclectic mix of musicians.
"Baby, we are going to be awesome!" Dea exclaimed, hanging up the phone and taking a strong pull off her tumbler of Cabernet. "I was just talking to this drummer who's perfect for us. His name's Troy and he kicks ass."
"You've heard him before?" Circe asked her lover.
"Yeah, when he was named Helen."
"You're kidding. An FTM drummer?"
"Like I'm telling you, he's perfect for us. I swear, with the collection of musicians we've got, Ladybug will put Boy George to shame when it comes to controversy."
"You aren't kidding. We've got a butchy lipstick lesbian who plays kickass lead guitar, me singing, Vanda—a transsexual streetwalker—on bass, and now maybe this new character... I'm telling you, the tabloids won't let us alone!"
"Don't get too overconfident, Babypie," Dea admonished. "We've got our work cut out for us. Vanda needs a lot of work. Frankly, the only reason she's along is because you insisted and because I think she's got potential. We've all got a lot of work ahead. And to be brutally honest, my dear, you're going to have to work hardest of all. You're not a trained singer, you've little band experience, so you're going to have to hustle your cute little butt off. 'Good enough' will never do. 'Good enough' won't get us signed. I don't care how controversial we are."
"Well, maybe I'm not good enough for you," Circe pouted.
"Nonsense. I've heard you wail. You've got a good, strong voice."
" A male voice." Circe could have won an award for pouting.
"Yes, it's deep, but so what? You're not the only woman with a deep voice. Okay—you used to be a man. So what? You're my girlfriend, and Ladybug's lead singer, so get over yourself. Okay?"
"Okay," Circe smiled a little grudgingly.
"Good girl," Dea said, picking up a sawedoff plastic straw and the small mirror from the coffee table. "Want some more?"
"No, go ahead, baby," her lover answered. "I've had enough."
"Suit yourself." And with that, Dea hoovered up the rest of the white powder, retrieved her red Kramer electric, and carried it into the other room to practice.
"Hey, Jasmine, Dea," smiled the guitarplayer. A fiery redhead handled Flo, she was only member of Ladybug who wasn't transgendered.
"Long time, no see. I'm happy for you guys." Dea remained a friend despite Flo taking her place in the band a year ago.
"You guys," Jasmine began, ripping the cap off the bottle and taking a healthy slug as it foamed over from her enthusiastic handling, "I'm so fucking proud of you. They said you'd never get signed. They said you'd never get a major gig. And here you are, finishing a national tour right where you started! I'm telling you, you guys are making history!"
"We almost didn't get this tour," Circe put in. "If Troy hadn't been cool enough to put off chest surgery until next month, who knows if we'd gotten the chance? I mean, we didn't expect the CD re-release so soon."
Troy, a female to male transsexual, had scheduled a bilateral mastectomy right before the record label had approached them with the contract. They'd remastered and distributed the band's selfproduced CD and scheduled the tour in record time. He decided a chance like that was worth postponing the procedure, thereby distinguishing himself as the only drummer to do a major tour with a full beard and breasts.
"Why do you think I did it, you ditz!" Troy said good-naturedly. "Besides, with the money we're getting, I can afford the best surgeon."
"Hell, for that matter you can afford a penile implant," Vanda giggled. She was a pal of Circe's they'd recruited from a Tenderloin streetcorner to play bass. Her musical life had been strictly dilletantish before joining Ladybug, but with coaching she'd risen admirably to the task. And she looked great.
"Vanda, that's all you think about!" laughed Flo. "Admit it, you're hot for him."
"Maybe once he loses those tits."
Jasmine laughed with the rest of them and leaned back, beaming widely at her friends. She took another historic chug. This was how the world was meant to be. Her friends making it big time, a nice scene backstage and enough beer to enjoy it by. Things might have been perfect except for the vibes between Circe and Dea. She wasn't really surprised.
"Hold it! Hold it!" Dea yelled, grabbing one of Troy's ringing cymbals and waving her arm for the band to stop playing.
Ladybug's other members glared at Dea. This was the fifth time she'd slammed brakes on the song this rehearsal. It was hot in the practice studio, and tempers were thin. While it was true she was the only one of them with quantifiable professional experience, her relentless perfectionism did, at times, drive her bandmates batshit.
"Now what?" Circe demanded.
Dea was satisfied with the others on this song, but the blonde axeslinger seemed perpetually unhappy with some of Circe's vocals. Ever since they started work on this new song two weeks ago, the TS just couldn't please her.
"The chorus, Circe. You keep anticipating that first line."
"I thought I was supposed to anticipate it."
"No, that was before. We're trying it on the beat now."
"Well, if you wouldn't keep changing things," Circe said heatedly.
"I'm just trying to give us a chance. If you had any experience," Dea countered, "you—"
"Girls—Girls!" Troy broke in smoothly. "Maybe it's time for a break, huh? Okay?"
"Yeah, no shit," Dea said, her voice flat, but with an edge of disgust. She flopped on the couch, retrieved a brownglass vial from her leatherjacket, flipped over her guitar and began chopping up small rails on the back of it.
"You sure that's a good idea?" Circe asked accusingly.
"Why not?" her lover shot back. "I'm not the one who doesn't know what she's doing. Remember, I'm the one who put this band together. I know what my parts are."
"And everyone else's," Vanda muttered.
"What was that?!" Dea's voice was laced with razorblades and brokenglass. Nobody said anything.
"Has anybody got a problem?" she insisted. "Huh?"
Circe spoke up. "Yeah, I think so. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks you get too pushy. Who thinks you're some kind of know-it-all. And if you ask me..." Circe trailed off, seeing the fire building in her lover's eyes. Dea had exploded more than a few times recently, mostly in the privacy of their apartment. Several times, Circe had found her face stinging from Dea's open palm.
"Let me tell you," Dea began, her voice cutting angrily. "With the exception of Troy, and she—I mean 'he'—has only been in two, nobody here has any real band experience. I've been in working bands, played cover tunes on the road, done studio sessions, and I know what it takes. I'm telling you all, we're going to have to be awesome to get anywhere, and it's starting to sound like nobody's willing to do the work."
She stared back disgustedly at the defiant glares from all sides. "To tell you the truth," she continued, "I'm starting to not care anymore. I think I'd rather be playing disco in a bunch of little dives on the road than nursemaiding a bunch of untrained musicians who resent my coaching and help. Especially a transsexual who just can't sing."
"Hey, wait a minute," Troy growled. "You can't—"
"I can and I will. I'm wasting fifty bucks a month toward this studio, and even worse, I'm wasting my time. To tell you the truth, I'd rather be doing something else with anybody else." And with that she vacuumed up the lines from her Kramer. Dea rose and returned her instrument to its case, switched off her amplifier and stalked out of the rehearsal space.
Two days later, after blacking Circe's eye, Dea pulled her equipment out of the studio and her belongings from the apartment. In a week, Dea had disappeared from San Francisco—it was rumored she fled to Los Angeles—and nobody heard from her for months. Instead of breaking up, the remaining members of Ladybug advertised for a new guitar player and discovered Flo a month later.
Eventually Dea had phoned Circe, drunken longdistance calls begging the transsexual's forgiveness. She didn't even care about the band anymore. She just wanted her girlfriend back. Circe was tempted to try again. In her experience, most lesbian-bent transsexuals found a dearth of willing partners, and she was lonely. But then she remembered their last fight, the mouse that persisted two weeks, and decided she wasn't quite lonely enough to take the chance.
It grew quiet at the table. Everybody picked up the shift in atmosphere, and an uncomfortable silence settled in. Although Dea and her former bandmates made peace when she got back to town, she and Circe had never surmounted ultrareserved cordiality the few times they crossed paths. Dea kept a low profile while Ladybug went on to do the tour.
"So what's next?" Jasmine finally asked, breaking the tension. "You've got the album out, doing great. You're winding down your tour. Where do you go from here?"
Circe answered, taking on band spokeswoman. "Well, Troy's finally getting his mastectomy and then going to Tahoe to rest up."
"Yeah," the bearded drummer smiled, "and see how much money I can lose in those casinos while I'm there."
"You'll probably come back even richer," Circe told him, continuing. "Let's see... Flo is going to Hawaii with her lover for a month. And Vanda says she's going to take some art and music classes at City College..." The blonde TS trailed off uncertainly.
"What about you, Circe? What are your big plans now? Whatever you want to do, you can certainly afford it."
"Hell, I don't know... I mean, ever since we started gigging around town, getting signed, doing the record, going on tour—that's all I've wanted to do." She paused to take a massive gulp of suds, killing the bottle. Circe reached for another and managed to drain a third of it before Vanda touched her forearm.
"Hey, lighten up, girlfriend," the bass player smiled. "We still gotta show to do."
"Yeah, you're right," the blonde TS sighed. "I just... I never really thought about what's next, you know? I'm feeling kinda bad all of a sudden. For no good reason. I mean, it's only the end of a tour, right?
"In a way it's kind of depressing, having it end, because I really don't know what I'm going to do with myself now." She paused as a sudden tear slipped down her face, and she wiped it away. "I guess I'm just going to be by myself somewhere. I kind of thought I'd be with somebody by now. You know, someone to enjoy it all with, but I'm still alone."
"Awww, Baby," Jasmine soothed, "you're still the hopeless romantic. No wonder you sound so good singing those love songs you do. They couldn't be more from the heart."
The blonde transsexual could only nod as she fought back the deluge. She tried hard and failed not to look at Dea while her L'Oreal'd sockets brimmed with ready tears. Circe's exlover bit her lip and glanced sideways at Jasmine who nodded back at her.
"Hey guys," the large queen said to the other band members, "I think we should give Dea a minute with your front, you know?"
They got up, patting their blonde singer on the shoulder, and went to raid the hospitality tables anew.
Dea slid next to Circe as the rest of the band departed. "You know, baby, I really miss you. I know I treated you badly sometimes, and I just hate myself for it. I don't even remember what that last fight was about."
"It's not even the fight. It's that mean streak of yours."
"That's not fair. Everybody gets angry sometimes. Sure, sometimes I got tweaked and my feelings came out badly. But you know how much I loved you, how protective I was of you."
"Yeah, when you weren't kicking the hell out of me. Baby, don't think I forgot. All it takes is enough booze or cocaine and you turn into... Mrs. Hyde or something. I can't take your violent bullshit. I'd rather be alone than live with that again." Circe paused and then laughed through her tears. "But the worst was your criticizing my singing. Baby you can slap me around a little, but don't trash my music!"
"I've changed, baby, I swear it. I quit doing coke six months ago. I really don't even drink much any more. But tonight, well, I got all nervous about seeing you again. I guess I knew I was going to ask to come back. I promise, I'll never lay a hand on you again."
Circe looked deep into Dea's troubled eyes, swayed by the apparent sincerity in them. Still... "You've made that promise before. Can you keep it this time?"
"Cross my heart and hope to go hetero," Dea solemnly assured. "Believe me, I'm done with all that craziness. Honestly."
Circe looked across the room to her chums who were pillaging the trays of hors d'oeuvres, and smiled as Troy gave her a thumbs up. "Well, I guess if we started slowly, and I mean slowly, I guess... Oh hell, I miss you too, you mean bitch. You know I still love you."
She reached over to embrace the blonde guitarist who all but squashed her in a tight hug. In a moment they were lightly kissing, and after a few tender brushes Circe found herself pulling back somewhat reluctantly. "I'll call you tomorrow," she said.
"You don't want to be with me tonight?" Dea pouted.
"Of course I do! But I said 'slowly' and I meant it."
Dea smiled briefly, "Okay, sugar, your terms... Hey, what am I getting so pushy about? You're the big rock star!"
"And don't you forget it," Circe grinned, getting up. "I gotta go fix my makeup for the show." She leaned over to peck Dea on the lips. "Love you, baby," she said and walked away.
With a frustrated sigh, Dea started to reach for her beer. She froze with her hand on the bottle which had a few swallows left in it, and contemplated knocking off seven or eight more of its siblings.
"Screw it," she said, flipping it in the trash. "I've had enough."