I played nights in a grunge band, three privates from 2nd Ranger Battalion, nothing in common but music and machine guns, and it was the best band I ever played in.
We continually missed gigs because of deployments, and our security clearance did not allow us to call the bar owners to cancel, and this gave us a bad reputation on Pioneer Square, but there was nothing we could do about it.
We missed the good shows, at Larry’s Rhythm and Blues, the women with scraggly hair and flannel shirts, the guys trying hard to look filthy; and at the Underground, the basement stage, with the lights so low you could not see the crowd until the mosh pit surged onto the stage.
The best show we played was a block party at a squad leader’s house in Tacoma. Most of Bravo company showed up, a hundred Airborne Rangers in a suburban home full of beer kegs, and it was a guaranteed train wreck, and we provided the soundtrack. The tip jar passed steadily through the crowd, a Kevlar helmet with camo netting and go-fasters, and we made $932 in tens and fives and ones.
As the music and alcohol warmed the night–before the police showed up to shut the place down, clearing the last of the Rangers from the bedrooms and neighboring lawns, me and the guitar player throwing amplifiers into the back of a pick-up truck in the red and blue flashing lights—before all of that, the drummer and guitar player stepped from the stage to watch my solo.
I played Moonlight Sonata on the electric bass, tapped out like the keys of a piano on the fret board, six golden minutes of adagio sostenuto. The tension built achingly beneath the surface, the bass notes rattling the windows, the subtle intense climax, the long slow denouement, the final two chords lingering in the kitchen and living room, and every single note was beautiful.
At some point during the song the crowd slowed, stilled, quieted on the porch, in the badly lit back yard, everyone in the house quiet, perfectly still, shoulder to shoulder in a moment of pure beauty.
When I finished, I looked up at the silent faces looking at me, my brothers, and after a pause someone yelled, “That sucked! Play some Primus!” I hit the long slow slide into My Name is Mud, and slapped the percussive tempo, and the bone-cracking mosh pit recommenced.
Back at work, in the belly of a C-130, standing in the blue-lit dark with my parachute and my pack and my gun, waiting in line to jump into another rain-soaked night, the vibration of the airplane merged with the vibration of bass notes, and the flowing chords poured out of the opening doors, and outside the doors the high notes of the sonata rang in my head like bells above the whine of the propellers.