Fretting

"We have mortgages, high cholesterol, and I swear I have arthritis in my fingers. Our sixth CD is due out this summer."

Once we've discussed rust and gaskets, the guy invariably asks what I do. Hell, it can't be this. So I tell him I'm in a band, and he tells me his brother-in-law plays bass at the First Baptist Church in Garland. I fight the temptation to roll my eyes and tell him, "No, a REAL band."

I wish the Old 97's had an iconic song, like Deep Blue Something. I could just sing a little "And I said, 'What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?'" We don't, however. Not even close. Instead of explaining about the CDs, the touring, the fans and the press, I give him what he wants. I tell him I've been on The Tonight Show, The Late Show and Conan. Look: Jay Leno's autograph, right here on my piano.

For the first time, he looks interested. I tell him the name of the band again.

The author with his son Audie, 3. "He's been bargaining with me all week about how long I can go, how maybe he can go, too."
Mark Graham
The author with his son Audie, 3. "He's been bargaining with me all week about how long I can go, how maybe he can go, too."
"For the millionth time, I think of these guys as my family": Murry Hammond, left, and Philip Peeples, right.
Stewart Ransom Miller
"For the millionth time, I think of these guys as my family": Murry Hammond, left, and Philip Peeples, right.

"Olds 97? Yeah, I think I've heard of you. Y'all ever play out at Rusty's Bucket in Rockwall?"


Later, the van stops at a Wal-Mart, and I remember Heather's birthday. "Ken, you are such a half-ass," says a little part of my brain. "Getting your poor, hardworking wife a birthday present at Wal-Mart!" But I'm not even gonna go there. Instead, I enter the great hunting grounds of mid-America. Thirty minutes later, I emerge with faux leopard-skin house shoes, a card and a mailer. I'm not proud. I'm just trying to be a good person.

January 22, Philadelphia. "What We Talk About."

The drive to Philly is dull. I can't get my mind off home. I reconsider the band thing: How long can it go on? Why do I do it? Will anyone listen to the music in the future? How about this whole downloading thing--good for me or bad?

Rhett breaks through my fretting festival. "Talk to her, talk to her, talk to her, try to kiss her, and then she beats you off."

He's been buried in the PC game The Sims all tour.

"You just have to keep doing that until your love rating gets high," he mutters. "Then she'll make out with you."

Even for a lead singer, Rhett is a babe magnet. They throw notes onstage. Make signs and T-shirts. Some cry. Most just seem to get very nervous when he's around. He's been writing and performing songs since he was 15. The only thing he's ever had resembling a real job was a two-year stint as the doorman at Terilli's. He's somewhat of a legend in the metroplex, and lots of ink has been devoted to him. But check this out: He's a pretty good athlete. A decent basketball and roller hockey player. He's actually a good quarterback who can throw a nice 50-yard spiral. Whenever I tell people, they seem incredulous. Go figure.


Each night, during the guitar solo in "Murder (or a Heart Attack)," I play the notes to "Nickey Nickey Noo Noo, Stick Your Head in Poo Poo." I loved this when I recorded it and love to play it every night on tour. It reminds me of home and my little family tucked in their beds. I look out at the bobbing heads and think, "Not one of them knows what I'm thinking right now." It's my little secret. (So don't tell them, OK?)

There's a 12-year-old boy who looks kind of like me in the front. After we bang the last chord to "Timebomb," I go over to him, bend down and squeeze my pick into his hand--my best Mean Joe Greene impersonation.

January 23, Washington, D.C. "Question."

Best show of the tour, hands down. It used to be tough for us to even get booked in D.C., and to sell out the 9:30 Club, its largest venue, feels great. Murry's wife, Grey Delisle, has flown in to open the show. My best friend Jamie from high school is there. Onstage I think about the night he and I played "You Can't Always Get What You Want" on our guitars in my parents' garage at 1 a.m. My dad appeared in his underwear, yelling something about growing up, how it was too late to play guitars.

Still not sure if I can agree with Dad. I think 1 a.m. is about right.

The band is juiced. We have blood in our eyes, and for the first time on the tour my fingers feel quick. The crowd is interesting, too: A girl in an Oakland T-shirt demands Rhett get a haircut; two gay indie rockers hold each other tragically and sing along; a big bald guy air-guitars my solos and accepts high fives from his friends at the end of each song.

Philip and Rhett worked out something for the encore. In the middle of our mushiest love song, "Question," a family friend of Philip's gets down on one knee. She says yes, and the crowd roars.


After the show, I'm signing autographs when a couple approaches. The girl's had a few and tells me she left her CD at home. Could I sign her boob?

Had I been wired to a polygraph, the needles would have swung like whirligigs in a hurricane.

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