“So what does she play?”
“The guitar. Like her daddy.”
I raised my eyebrows at Ernie’s paternal pride, but asked the question anyway. “Is she any good?”
Ernie laughed. “Would I waste your time with a bad musician, Cal? Even if it is my kid? You should know me better than that.”
“What’s the name of this girl-fronted band?” I had no trouble humoring Ernie. We'd been friends for a lifetime.
Ernie rolled his eyes. “They call themselves Phenex.”
It was an easy fallback, recognizable, the name of a town. Before our band, Sonic Daydream, had hit the big time, I’d suffered through a cramped, sleep-in-the-van-with-your-instruments tour with a band called Scranton. I’d referred to it as the 1987 Fire-Trap Tour. It was a nightmare, the road trip from hell, and when it was over, I’d never been so glad to see home.
Sonic Daydream was signed the next year, and even our first tour was luxurious compared to Scranton’s. We had a bus, and a roadie named Perry; we slept in hotels. From there, we went on to tour the globe, to become wealthy, rock and roll legends.
In contrast, Scranton would never play a venue that served more than a hundred people. Their tour had been a case-study in the hard life of an unsigned band, the depressing travelogue of a bunch of mildly talented nobodies playing for beer and a pittance in a collection of West Coast dives. But for Pete and Allie and the rest of them, it still beat a day job. It’s the work that we avoid, and we’re all self-employed. I figured it would probably be the same for Ernie’s daughter’s band.
“Who’s from Arizona?” I inquired.
Ernie shook his head. “Not like the town, Cal.”
“So somebody’s a poet?” I said with a grin. “Rising from cover band ashes to assume the mantel of derivative mediocrity?”
It was a mean thing to say, but Ernie could take it. My bank account allowed me to indulge in quite a bit of mockery of ambitious bands with tired, trite mythological monikers, as did Ernie’s. If all the band names of the electrically amplified-era were listed in some kind of rock and roll roll call, I imagined that there would be quite a few Scrantons and Phoenixes, all as forgotten as high-button shoes. But there’d been only one Rolling Stones, one Beatles, one Pink Floyd. There had been only one Sonic Daydream.
Again Ernie shook his head. “It’s P-H-E-N-E-X. It’s not the town, and it’s not the bird, exactly.”
I asked Ok Google to enlighten me, to give me a definition of P-H-E-N-E-X. I read the Wikipedia entry; now it was my turn to roll my eyes.
“It says, In demonology, Phenex is a Great Marquis of Hell and has twenty legions of demons under his command. He is depicted as a phoenix, which sings sweet notes with the voice of a child, but the conjurer must warn his companions (for he has not to be alone) not to hear them.”
I grinned as I read a warning from a site called Deities Daily, another colorful Tumblr dedicated to the netherworld. “Sources say that although Phenex follows commands, he is very deceptive, and after tricking one into trusting him, will destroy them spiritually and psychologically.”
Ernie shook his head, shrugged. “Yeah, all that has to go. They’re not a metal band.”
Ernie nodded in agreement. “They need to come up with another name. If nothing else, people’ll misspell it.”
“You thinking of promoting the demon Phenex’s band, are ya, Ernie?”
Again my old friend shrugged. “I’m not ready to give up the road. What would I do with my time then? A whole lotta nothing, like . . .” He let the you go unsaid.
But he was right. Time was all I had: it wasn’t like I had to work. Sonic Daydream’s long ago success kept me funded. The money had been obscene in the old days, and the interest remained more than sufficient. I knocked around the big McMansion I owned in Temecula; I read a lot. Not much else.
“So, I was figuring, maybe I could try it from a different angle for once. Backstage, behind the scenes this time.” He studied my expression for a second to see how I was taking the novel idea of Ernie LaBelle, Ridiculously-Named-Band Promoter.
“You gonna bankroll it?”
Again Ernie shrugged. “Why not? Like I say, it would be something different. When do you want to see ‘em, Cal?”
“Whenever you want. My calendar is clear.”
“Never been a better time than right now.”