By Paige Wyatt
I consecrate the sidewalk outside the Circuit Board with my stomach contents, adding to the legendary bodily fluids that have been spilled before me.
Sonny, my producer, watches me, his dark-lined eyes fixating on where I ralphed. He knows I’m scared, and in classic Sonny fashion, he tries to distract me.“Hey Scuzz, it’s still here.” He scuffs the sidewalk with the toe of his combat boots. “My blood.”
The use of my stage name jars me, and I keep my eyes on the brown stains barely visible in the marquee light and take a deep breath. It comes out as a sigh, and my stomach flips with the exhale. I can’t bring myself to look at the sign again. It’s all too surreal.
Sonny puts his arm around my shoulders. “Hey, you’re gonna be alright.” He smiles, and it’s the same smile I saw on billboards when I was thirteen. The same smirk that inspired me to play music in the first place. “You can do this. Take another deep breath.”
I do as he says, but I close my eyes this time to block out the name of my band on the marquee. If my producer believes I can handle it, then I can.
As he walks me around the back of the club, my eyes pass over the front doors. I don’t recognize the door guys, which sends a fresh surge of panic through me. Before Sonny found me, I’d always have guys I knew at the door to keep the Skins out so they don’t try to kill me in the middle of the show. Sonny nods to the door guys. “Take it easy, babe. The Skins know better.”
He takes me to the green room, which almost makes me laugh when I see the giant portrait of Ronald Reagan with his eyes blacked out and the words “I smell hippies” painted on the wall. It’s side by side with a “Kick Nazis out of Punk” mural, and I pause for a moment to admire the blue mohawked girl that looks remarkably like me kicking a Skinhead in the face.
I’m used to playing in literal holes in the wall, abandoned buildings on the outskirts of LA, rat-infested bars in the worst parts of New York. Not a nightclub owned by Sonny Irons, one of the most prolific names in punk. I already feel out of place as I enter the room. I’m not even dressed yet. I’m still Roxanne–orphan, street trash, reject, Dead Saints gang member, sometimes sex worker, sometimes vigilante, perpetual couch surfer. I’m in ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt with busted out shoes. The worn out, grungy punk aesthetic that Sonny pioneered a decade ago is my everyday grody reality. Until today.
My bandmates tear themselves away from the lighted makeup mirrors as I enter. Kelly Bones, who doesn’t stop smiling, pulls me into a hug, not bothering to drop the drumsticks from her hands. Kelly’s hair is a bright bubblegum pink, trailing her shoulders and rubbing the spikes coming out of her t-shirt. She’s a foot taller than me and twice as wide, stronger than anyone I’ve ever met, but her hugs feel like home even if they hurt. “Hey, boss,” she nods to Sonny and then looks at me. “You ready to gnar?” All I want to do is throw up again, but I have to keep my game face on, so I give her what I hope is an enthusiastic nod.
My bassist, Janae Granger, who almost never smiles, flashes a dazzling grin. Her lips are lined in purple lipstick that sets off her dark skin and makes her glow like the neon on the outside of the club. Her side shave is fresh with a huge lightning bolt etched in it, the symbol of the Dead Saints. It eases the riptide in my stomach to see it on her as a sign of loyalty to my roots. The rest of her hair is down, natural with streaks of purple and blue throughout. She’s in a leather bodysuit, high cut with fishnets and laced up heeled boots, sleek and sophisticated in a way that still honors what we’re about as a band. We normally DIY our looks, but Sonny hired professionals for this.
A woman that reminds me of Jane Fonda in leg warmers with poofy hair ushers me into a seat at the empty mirror. She’s completely out of place, but then again, so am I. In the bright lights I look like a monster from the “Thriller” video; eyes sunken with dark circles, skin pale and sallow against my skinny frame. My blue hair hangs limp and unwashed to one side, and my Dead Kennedys t-shirt is too big for me because Sonny gave it to me the night we met. “Let’s, uh, do something about this first,” Jane Fonda says in a lilting Valley accent as she hands me a robe and a towel. “There’s a shower in the bathroom back there and when you get back, we’ll start from, like, scratch.”
I bristle at her disgusted tone but Sonny’s calm reflection stops me. He tilts his head toward the door and follows me over. “You gonna be alright, Scuzz?”
“I might punch her,” I say through gritted teeth. I flex my knuckles and the perpetually broken skin stings. “But I’ll be alright.”
He smiles again. “I’ll talk to her. Your only job is to become Scuzz tonight.”
I focus on the transformation internally while Jane Fonda takes care of the external. She covers my baggy eyes in black eyeliner and electric pink eyeshadow. She empties five cans of Aquanet to get my mohawk so high that I have to duck through doorways. She has me change into a freshly distressed Slithering Idiots t-shirt and black jeans that are so tight I have to lie down to zip them up. I insist on wearing my own Doc Martens, the ones that have been with me through everything. I think she can tell from my tone of voice not to press me on it.
When I’m done, she turns me around to face the mirror and I look like an entirely different person: flawless makeup, clean clothes, and a tough Billy Idol snarl have replaced my scarred, dirty face and torn, sweaty clothes. Not even when I’m my most done up do I look this good.
Sonny stands behind me, satisfaction etched in the lines on his face, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. “I think it’s missing one thing,” he says as he pulls out a small jewelry box. Whatever he is going to hand me is worth more money than I’ve ever had in my entire life. He opens the box to reveal a diamond lightning bolt earring, and joy uncoils at the nod to my safety net, releasing the anxiety in my stomach. He sticks it into my right ear. “Now you’re Scuzz.”
I smile for the first time since I came into this room. The familiar feeling of dissociating from my reality and slipping into my fantasy persona takes over. I look at her in the mirror, Scuzz DiMarco, lead singer and guitarist of the Husky Belles, and wish I could be her all the time. If tonight goes well, my entire life could change.
Kelly claps me on the shoulder hard enough to bring me back to the present. “You ready to go?”
I stand, my feet wide apart, my stance firm and certain. Someone from the stage crew hands me my guitar: a brand new, jet black Ibanez Roadstar just like Greg Ginn from Black Flag’s. Another gift from Sonny that I can only pay back with a lifetime of perfect performances.
Sonny ushers us out of the green room and someone plugs my guitar into a towering amp, bigger and more expensive than my tiny one. I don’t have to tune. It’s already been done in soundcheck. “Pros have roadies for that,” Sonny said when I asked. I shake my head and hold my guitar, the familiar feeling of frets under my fingers bringing comfort. Music is the closest thing I have to God. Maybe a rosary feels as good in a nun’s hand as a guitar does in mine.
The crowd is loud. I can already hear them clapping and chanting as the lights in the club dim to herald our arrival. “Sold out,” Sonny shouts over the noise. I nod. I live for this. Well, Scuzz does, and for the next hour, I have to be her.
I take a deep breath. The curtain pulls back. Kelly counts us in. I close my eyes, letting the first note ring. And Scuzz opens her eyes.