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All the Funnest Music


From The Crash Palace, published by Coach House Books in January 2021.

In Golden, the day bartender propped open a back door with a four-gallon plastic pail of dishwasher sanitizer. “You’re early,” she said, wiping her hands on a black apron.

“We could get all loaded in early and be out of your hair before you open up,” said Wrists. “Squeeze in a line check and be tip-top ready to go when folks show up.”

“Pete deals with the bands and Pete isn’t here and there’s people in the bar.”

“How about we just unload then so we’re not worried about the gear in the van driving around town then.”

“It’s a fire exit. Don’t block anything.”

The bar was a big old ski tavern attached to a two-storey main-street hotel, with timber-frame beams, neon signs for brands of interior BC beer Audrey had never heard of, and old signs from ski hills: Widow’s Peak Double Black Diamond, Runway to Paradise Quad Chair. She sat at the bar and found an unfinished Sudoku puzzle in the paper while the Lever Men brought in the gear. She’d gotten to know the daytime smells of a bar over the last week, before enough people and their bodies and their new cigarettes came in and changed the chemistry of the air. Bleach and kitchen garbage, the previous night’s cigarette smoke, deep fryer oil, spilled beer. It was different from the hotel restaurant back in Canmore, stronger. The Lever Men finished piling the gear onto a short stage in the corner and Hector went across the street to get them all coffee in paper cups.

A girl with a blond ponytail and a puffy down-filled ski jacket came in and leaned on the bar. Waved at the busboy in the back of the room scooping ice out of the ice machine. Her mirrored ski sunglasses on her head reflected the bar lights’ orange and gold. She turned to evaluate Audrey and the Lever Men.

“What are you guys, some kind of rock band?”

Rodney turned around slowly on his stool.

“We,” he said, “are the Legendary Lever Men. One night only.”

“Lever men? Like, men with levers? Really?”

He swept an arm out to indicate something larger than the current room. “Famous from the St. Albert Hotel in Winnipeg to the Red Lion Inn in Victoria.”

She pivoted on her heels and leaned an elbow on the bar. “Are you one of those fun bands that play music people like to hear and everybody dances all night and it’s great? Or one of those un-fun bands that play music no one knows and it’s too loud so that you can’t hear your friends and couldn’t dance to it if you wanted to and people have to just wait it out?”

“We play all the funnest music beloved by the young people of today,” said Rodney.

“That’s right,” said Dick, “the funnest.”

She looked at Audrey. “Are you the singer?”

“She’s our manager,” said Rodney.

“Ah. I see.”

Around eight o’clock, the bar filled up with off-duty chairlift attendants, between-shift busboys, and just-finished day staff from the other bars and restaurants up and down the strip. They chattered in Australian and Quebecois accents and drank pints of dark beer between sticky shots of cinnamon schnapps and Jameson’s whisky. Everyone was wearing down-filled vests and toques despite the increasing heat. Audrey sat at a corner table, watching. Across the bar, Hector and Dick played pool with a group of young women, all of them laughing and drinking. The girl with the ponytail racked up the balls and bent over to break, staring across the table at Hector. He looked back at her with a cartoon fox look, a look she hadn’t seen on any of the Lever Men before. His whole face transformed with the look he gave the girl in the ponytail while she broke, making him into some other, different man that Audrey had never seen before.

“Hector Highwater,” Rodney’s voice said out of the PA speakers. “Richard Move. Hector Highwater and Richard Move to the stage.”

When he climbed onstage, Hector whispered something in Rodney’s ear. Levermann rolled his eyes. Dick Move held his hands together prayer-style.

Rodney sighed and jerked his head toward Wrists.

The drummer just shrugged when Hector talked to him. Then he stick-counted a quick four and they all started up a country and western train beat, Rodney chick-chick-chicking a couple of palm-muted chords.

The crowd looked up from what they were doing. Audrey watched. Usually they had about thirty seconds of attention before they lost a crowd.

Dick Move went to the microphone at the front of the stage, cleared his throat, and started singing “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Someone in the crowd cheered.

He had a gut-deep easy baritone, and after Johnny Cash they did Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, and Lee Hazlewood. They played these songs effortlessly, like they had been doing them every night for months. People clapped enthusiastically after each tune. In each song during the middle eight Rodney took exactly one step toward the crowd and whipped out a blazing hot solo, which became more dexterous and complex as the night went on. People cheered when the Lever Men started into songs they knew and they moved some tables at the front so they could dance.

The girls from the pool table danced right at the front, waving their arms above their heads.

They finished with “Waiting Around to Die” and a woman at the bar with skull-tight grey skin and a small dog cradled in her buckskin jacket clapped and cried.

Later, Dick sat down heavily across from Audrey. His face was flushed, his breath lit up with whisky fumes. He coughed and leaned into the table toward her.

“Audrey, here’s the thing,” he said, speaking slowly to assemble the words. “We’re going to stay late tonight.”

“We have to load out still,” she said.

“The thing—the thing about that. Heck and I we talked to them. Talked to them.”

“Talked to…?”

“The bar. Tender. Talked to him. He’s also,” Dick paused to grin, pleased with what he was about to deliver, “also the day bartender. See? Tomorrow. Day bartender tomorrow. So I’ve talked to him and we’ll leave the gear here and load out in the morning.”

She watched him and didn’t say anything.

“Okay, so we’re staying late.”

“The thing,” he said, then paused to figure out how to assemble the next sentence. “The thing, Audrey, is it’s better if… they’ve got rooms for us, maybe, maybe you just go to bed early?”

“Maybe I’ll stay,” she said.

Hector and Rodney sat down on either side of Dick, each of them with beer bottles. Dick took a beer and drank for a long time.

“Audrey,” said Rodney, putting an arm around Dick’s shoulder, “you’ve got a pretty good thing going right now, correct? Ongoing adventure, getting the van A to B, nothing doing beyond delivering us like mail wherever we’re addressed for the day.”


“So don’t change the composition. Got me? We’re going to stay late and maybe if you just go back to the room, then tomorrow we carry on and your good thing hasn’t changed.”

“What might change?”

“Let her stay,” said Hector, looking at her over his bottle. He gave her the cartoon fox look from before over the top of his bottle and she inhaled and sat up straight.

“You guys are going to be so drunk in about half an hour you’ll be passed out before I’m even done brushing my teeth,” she said. Dick chortled and drank his beer. Wrists went back to the bar and leaned over to talk to the bartender, who nodded, then rooted around under the counter and gave him something.

Wrists came back and put a hotel room key down on the tabletop. A plastic pine tree with the room number embossed on it. Dick got up and went back to the pool table, where the girls were doing shots of Jägermeister. Put his arm around the waist of the girl with the ponytail and started laughing at whatever they were laughing at.

“We’ll see you in the morning, Audrey,” said Rodney.

“It’s Lethbridge tomorrow,” she said slowly, chewing off the words, feeling her bright red cheeks and hating their bright-redness. “Which is stupid because we were in Cranbrook last night and Cranbrook to Lethbridge is an easy drive, and Revelstoke to Golden to Cranbrook would have been an easy enough drive, but you did everything in the wrong order, so we’ve got to drive all the way back we already came. But whatever. We’ll do it so you can get to Lethbridge in time to play for the dishwasher in the Lethbridge Shithole. We’ll take the Number 1 past Banff and then take Highway 22 down to Nanton. We’ll miss Calgary and all the city traffic that way. Then over to Highway 2 and it’ll be a good six-hour drive at least, so sleep in. Load your shit and I’ll meet you later.”

She got up and then paused.

“If you can play music people actually like, why don’t you?”

The other Lever Men all looked at Rodney, who thought about it for a while.

“It’s not about people, Audrey. It’s about us. We do things for us. You know how that is.”

She went up to her room and had a long hot shower. Then lay on the bed with her headphones on, listening to Link Wray as loudly as she could stand. Thinking about Hector’s fox face.

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Andrew Wedderburn’s debut novel, The Milk Chicken Bomb, was shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Wedderburn’s writing has appeared in filling Station and Alberta Views. He lives in Okotoks, AB.



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