XL

By MICHAEL ATCHISON  |  August 15, 2012

Bobby tapped his sticks together and said "one, two, three" and I raised my left foot high and stomped down on the "four" as we launched into a thing we were calling "Tender and Pitiful" in homage to lines stolen from Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon. "You won't take my love for tender/You won't take my love at all/You're a credit to your gender/You won't even take my call." It wasn't poetry, but it amused us, and it certainly rocked. The crowd ate it up, proving that both goths and sorority girls like a big beat.

We played ten songs in forty-five minutes, but it seemed to go so much faster. It would be a stretch to say we were good. There was too much calamity for that. But we were spirited. When things broke down, we just bashed our way through and managed to come out on the other side.

After "Wicked Gravity," I said "that's all the songs we know. Thanks very much. Good night." I floated back to the dressing room, buoyed by echoes of cheers and fumes of adrenaline. I had never felt so euphoric. I bounced around the space and asked rhetorically "is this what heroin feels like?" to which Hutch casually replied "this is more like cocaine."

We stayed in the back for a bit and had a beer, trying to come down a little. When we emerged, half the crowd had gone, but Carrie threw her arms around me, put her mouth to my ear, and said "that was the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I'm going home with you tonight." Eliza trailed a few steps after, gave me a goth high five, and said "really, dude, I never would have guessed."

A few minutes later, Kyle called us into his office. "Gentlemen," he said, "we had ninety-seven paying customers tonight. That's close enough. What are you doing two weeks from tonight?"

He handed over $48.50 in cash and said "be sure to bring the pretty girls when you come back."

• • •

We rehearsed every day and played the Goth three more times over the next six weeks. More than one-hundred-fifty people saw our fourth show. Eliza was in the front every time, and she scaled down her silhouette with each successive gig, opting eventually for a more business-goth look.

I bought her a drink after the fourth show and said "I'm glad you keep coming back to see us, but I don't really get it. It doesn't seem like we'd be your thing."

She recoiled as though I had made an accusation. "Do you like The Who?" she asked.

"Sure," I replied.

"You don't dress like a mod," she said. "Do you like the Sex Pistols?"

"I do."

"You don't dress like a punk. Do you like Devo?"

"Of course."

"You don't wear a radiation suit."

"Not often."

"Nobody's just one thing, David. I dress like a vampire. I like Abba. I like Sinatra. I like XL, and someday I'm gonna tell people that I was there at the beginning."

I went home that night and wrote "Hats Off to the Fat Girl," a Lou Reed-inflected tune that paid tribute to Eliza's spirit. I was writing a song or two a week while continuing to edit the ones we were already playing. I gave back the lines I stole from Costello and Zevon, and "Tender and Pitiful" became "Belle of the Ball." It was for every sorority girl who came to see us.

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