Dan Yokum

Three of us are already on stage, our instruments ready, when the promotor announces the stars, the two sisters, Janie and Marie. They glide out from the wing, wave and smile at the roaring audience, and position themselves behind their microphones. Marie picks up her guitar, and Janie grabs her violin and flips her hand toward me, signaling me to start my slow, steady bass thump. The drums kick in, gentle at first, then the organ swell, and off we go. Marie says a few words to the audience, turns to us, and nods her approval to the other two. I only get a blank look that I try to ignore. She hits a few full chords, does some plucky thing with her pick and two fingers, and slides into a gorgeous opening lead. Janie comes in next, her violin swirling in and out of all the parts. Then the vocals start, the blended sister voices, and I ride through to the other side. They are so good, so, so good. Was I ever that good? Yeah, probably, definitely. Everyone said so at the time.

I’m hiding in plain sight. Even in a small band, with like five or six musicians, it’s still possible. A rhythm guitarist or low-key drummer can sometimes pull it off, but no one hides better than the bass player. The band knows where I am and it’s all that matters—and all I can put up with right now. I do my job and they absorb every steady pulse my fingers send out to them. I live in the groove, the glue that keeps them tight, the magic fixture between the rhythm and all the rest. It’s only my third gig and I think they already trust me, depend on me. At least, I hope so. I won’t let them down. I can’t let them down. But Marie’s look? I’m reading something into it that’s not there.

The audience, the fans, are a different story. They barely notice some new scuzzy-looking dude—long stringy hair, thick glasses, orthodox beard, clothes scrounged from the hippie farm—who stands by the drums, plays the low notes, hardly moves his fingers, no mike in front of him to squawk out harmonies. Even if I stopped playing mid-song, most of them would notice a change but have no idea what caused it. I’ve heard all the bad jokes and tropes about bassists but it’s where I gotta be right now. Hidden.

The venue holds a max of eight hundred and is mostly filled.  Near the end of the first set, the keyboard player, Louisa, picks up an accordion, moves forward, stands between Janie and Marie, and they go off on a few wild, interconnected solos. I want to be where they are, grab a guitar or mandolin or anything, and join the fun. I watch as the audience becomes increasingly unhinged—cheering, howling, swirling—and instead, I huddle closer to the drummer, ground my feet firmly on the floor, take deep breaths, and like a metronome, pound out simple steady notes. The front of the stage is a fucking addiction. It’s not safe for me up there.

When the song finishes, Janie gives Luisa a sweet hug and I catch the side of Marie’s face, her mouth in a frown. Maybe something’s up with Janie and Luisa that Marie doesn’t like but I can’t be sure. One thing I am certain of is that Marie and Janie are equals in the band but Janie, subtle, gentle, ethereal, is more of the musical director. Marie is everything else including the guard at the temple gate.

We finish our first set. I ditch my bass and hurry into a backroom that’s attempting to offer comfort: a mini-bar, vending machine, and worn-out couches. There’s a window to the outside showing stars and a half-moon and that’s nice. But no mini-bar for me, no pipes or joints or crunchy edibles if they’re offered. And they likely won’t be. Musicians who have their act together won’t make assumptions about a new unknown bandmate’s past level of crazy. Sobriety is a respected option these days.

Marie flies in and stands in front of me, hands on hips. “Good set. You were better than ever. But of course, you are.” She knows. “I’ll give you this, with that beard and stringy hair and the weird glasses, yeah, you fooled me. And the name change. No more Jimmy Lane, right? Earl Lockwitz now, just like your father. Brilliant.” Her pissed-off scowl displays the limits of her appreciation.

My voice squeaks. “Janie found me. It was her idea to sign me on.”

“She was obsessed with you. Thought you were the best. Wanted to be like you. Until…she didn’t.”

“Is that why you’re so angry at her?”

“Oh. Well. Aren’t you the observant bass player?”

It sounds mostly sarcastic but with maybe a touch of admiration. I hope. The room feels dark and claustrophobic and it hits me that my gig has likely just ended. I look down at her feet and hold my hands together like I’m begging. It’s not an act. Panic floods the edges of everything. “Marie, I’m so sorry. I really need this. Please don’t kick me out.”

I can feel her eyes on me, boring into me. “What is it you need here exactly?”

“I…I don’t know. I have to play music and I can’t play up there…”

Her voice is stern, commanding. “Okay. Here are the rules. First off, don’t ever think about trying to strike up anything with Janie. Off-limits.”

I look up at her, return the frown, shake my head. “I’m not doing anything these days along those lines. And with Janie? I know what her orientation is. It’s public knowledge.”

Now it’s her turn to look down. “Public knowledge,” she mumbles. “The public never knows shit about anything.”

“But Janie’s got something going with Louisa, right?”

She cracks a smile. “Goddamn. You really are paying attention.” Her scowl comes back. No, not a scowl. It’s more painful, desolate, desperate. “This one is non-negotiable.” She bends down and pulls up one of the legs of her jeans. I see the marks. “You don’t have to show me yours,” she says. “I know they’re there.”

She tears up and fights it back. It disturbs me, but only for a moment. She may be the alpha in the room but she’s suffered like the rest of us. “Janie, too?” I ask.

She nods and whispers, “One fuckup and you’re gone. It’s got to be that way.”


A few weeks later, we’re in a practice session, working on a new song. Something’s up that I don’t catch at first. Marie says, “Let’s switch instruments. I’ll play bass and you figure out the guitar part.” I know she’s played bass in earlier bands and we switch off. I watch her face and hands and I find it: some blend of sad and anxious is swimming around in her somewhere.

“But this is just for now, right?” I ask. “Not for the public?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I’m not sure and the idea of ever being on stage tearing into Jimmy Lane style leads scares the shit out of me. I will certainly be outed—although, it’s beginning to sink in that my time in hiding will at some point have to come to an end.

Our first run through the complete piece is wonderful. She thumps out these big heavy low notes and it’s like we’re all trees in the forest and her bass lines are the deep roots connecting us. She feels it too—we all do—and her face lights up. “Are you ready to switch? Be the guitar God again?” I smile back but shake my head.


Our practice is done and Marie and I are the last ones to leave. She says she wants to talk and we grab coffee from a pot and sit on a thick couch. “I need to know,” she says. “I need to know what happened. I’m sorry, I can’t let it go.”

I sigh, close my eyes, shake my head. But she has a right to hear my version, what I believe is the truth. I nod. “Ask me anything and I’ll do my best.”

“My God, Jimmy.” She’s recently stopped using my birth name and begun calling me Jimmy. “You had everything going for you. Or, I guess you didn’t. I mean, it’s when we get close to making it, our big break, that a lot of us fall apart, right? So. The only thing I want to know is if you were the one who shot her up. You know, your girlfriend, when she died.”

“She first did me and then herself. And I almost died, too, but nobody ever talked about that part.” I hate every second of this. “Anyway, that’s how I remember it.”

“You couldn’t say no to anything or anybody, could you?” I nod. “And you really did disguise yourself and live in a van? For six months?”

“Until I finally called our agent. And she put me in touch with Janie.”

We talk a while longer and Marie gives me a quick hug and turns to leave. She stops, turns back, and says, “I think this is working, don’t you?” Again, I nod. “You might as well clean up a little and reenter the real world. It’s inevitable that it’s going to get written up somewhere about who you are.” I don’t answer.


During the next few gigs, I get a little more creative with my bass lines, sometimes for a few bars, augmenting guitar and fiddle melodies with my own. If I play high up on the bass neck and slap the strings just right, I can get clear and crunchy notes. Nobody comments on it and maybe they don’t notice or, more likely, as long as I still keep us glued and steady, they don’t care. When I’m alone, I try one of my bass guitars with a distinct treble control and crank it up. I like it but I figure nobody else will.


Seven o’clock on a hot Friday night we take the stage at a large outdoor festival. It’s a prime time-slot and there are a few thousand people out there. We’re on fire and I’m confident in my role, keeping us all together. I stand close to the drums, no longer to hide, instead, to experience this amazing sense of well-being created by the solidity of the two rhythms. I’ve cut my giant beard way back, trimmed and neatened my hair, and even dressed a little better. I could still be called a Jeans and Jackets ad but I’m not as ripped and dirty as before. Jimmy Lane isn’t all the way back but he’s getting closer.

We’re about to do our last song before the break, one with a lot of instrumental fun, and I switch to my bass with the treble possibilities. In one of the jams, I crank it up some and add my elaboration to the mix. As the song ends, I catch Janie and Marie staring and I mouth, Sorry. Janie turns to Marie, catches a subtle nod, and announces another song, one we do for fun in practices but have never played live. It has enormous potential for multi-instrument solos.

Janie points first to me, “I’d like to bring our bass guy forward,” and then to Louisa, and bring Louisa up on accordion and see what we can come up with.”

I’m at the edge of the stage where I used to live. Close fans can touch me if they wish. Marie is on my left, then me, Louisa, and Janie. The drums start it off and I follow low and steady. I feel dizzy and close my eyes. But still keep on. Marie and Louisa have some tight thing going on, musically and otherwise. Is that the point? We’re all coming out of our various closets?

And then I hear it. We’ve taken off, we’re in full force, probably too loud, and the crowd is crazed, rabid, especially the ones up front. But I still hear it. “Is that fucking Jimmy Lane?” Three, four, five of them, tight against the stage, pointing, laughing, one screams my name. My turn for a solo comes and I crank up the treble. I hold nothing together now, somebody else can play that role. I close my eyes and dive in. I’m substance-free but ecstasy still takes over. The boring bass solo? Not this time. I’ve got the sound adjusted so it almost sounds guitar-like, and I actually love it. Until I feel hands touching my lower legs and panic conquers the world.

Marie leans down and wags a schoolteacher finger in the fans’ faces and they back off. She moves me a few feet back and motions for me to keep playing. She lets everyone know. I’m not for sale. Not now.