The guys are hanging out in the dressing room, the green room, the whatever room. Donnie Iris, Dave Granati, Ricky Granati, Hermie Granati and Joey Granati—five guys occupying subterranean quarters underneath The Strand Theater in Zelienople, 30 minutes before their gig is supposed to begin.
The Granatis’ mom should have been here already but she’s stuck outside because someone forgot to put her name on The List. Norma is 84 years old. “She looks good for her age. You’d think maybe 70 at the most,” Dave says. Norma still makes spaghetti every Sunday. Always has. She made spaghetti every Sunday when Hermie, Ricky, Joey and Dave were in school, when they got older, when an agent handed them a pen to sign their first record deal, when they started touring with Van Halen in the early 80s…
“Do you remember when Eddie came to the house and dad took one look at his jeans with all the holes in them and said, ‘Christ, Eddie, why didn’t you say something? I would have bought you a good pair of jeans,’” Ricky laughs.
“I remember your grandma used to say, ‘Donnie, you sing so good and you zmoke.’ Not ‘smoke.’ Zmoke. That’s when I smoked like, three packs a day,” Donnie says.
“Yeah,” Ricky laughs. “And do you remember that time when you said, ‘You marry the first time for love. You marry the second time for sex?’ And your girlfriend was like, sitting right there. I looked at her and she just shrugged, man.”
“I said that?” Donnie asks, strumming Dave’s tiger-striped, camouflage guitar.
“Yeah, man!” Ricky laughs. “Your girlfriend was sitting like, right there next to you!”
“Ugh,” Donnie groans, rolling his eyes.
Everyone in the dressing room is wearing black. Black jeans. Black shirts. Black fedora for Hermie. Black Converse for Dave. Black because, well, it just feels natural. Donnie’s got blue jeans on, but his tee shirt, the one that reads ITALIA across the chest, is black.
“Hey Donnie! Where’d you get that shirt? In Italy? I heard they got good food over there!” Ricky laughs.
There’s a table shoved up against the wall in the dressing room that’s covered with yummy things: a bowl of Butterfingers, Peanut M&M’s, regular M&M’s and Twizzlers. There are Keurig K Cups with flavors like French Roast, Hazelnut and Breakfast Blend, bottles of sparkling water and a bottle of raw and unfiltered honey.
No whiskey. No women. No heaping piles of cocaine.
“That was in L.A.,” Dave says, sitting on a striped gold velvet couch, filing his nail with a small emery board with a glass of pinot noir nearby. “When we played the Whisky A Go Go for three nights in 1979. We opened for The Fabulous Poodles.”
The show starts in just a few minutes, and it’s dawned on them that no one has any idea what songs they’re singing tonight.
“Hey Herm,” Dave calls out. “We should probably do a set list.”
“That’s a hell of an idea,” Hermie agrees, pulling out a yellow folder filled with a few loose-leaf, double spaced sheets of notebook paper. “We usually decide on the set list with fists,” Dave laughs. “This is what the Granatis do. A set list five minutes before the show. What a bunch of paesanos.”
The paesanos are about to electrify their amps in front of 246 people who paid $50 bucks for VIP seating and a pre-show meet-n-greet; 20 seats shy of a full house that came to see the Pittsburgh All-Star Band with special guests Donnie Iris and Cherylynn Hawk. But right now, they’re cracking jokes in the dressing room.
“Did you guys hear about the frustrated cannibal? He threw up his arms.”
“What are five words you never hear together? That’s the banjo player’s Porsche.”
“What do you throw a drowning guitar player? An amp.”
Everyone is laughing. Smiling. Having a hell of a good time. Everyone except Joey, who is stone faced, arms crossed, legs crossed, occupying a green armchair, not feeling 100 percent himself. Because… well, it’s a long story.
“He gets nervous before every show,” Dave explains. “I always know when we have 10 minutes left and five minutes left before it’s time to go on. When it’s 10 minutes, he starts getting really nervous. Five minutes before the show, he’s in the bathroom. But normally, man, he’s having a hell of a good time.”
But right now, Joey is not laughing. Not smiling. Not having a hell of a good time.
A few minutes later, a voice booms down the steps. “Guys! You ready to do this?”
It’s 8:15 p.m. Time to go on stage. Time to rock and roll. Time to do this. Time for Joey to stop pacing back and forth, which he started doing five minutes ago, nervous as hell. “But once he gets started, his voice man,” Dave says. “Amazing.”
“Did mom finally get in?” Ricky asks as they climb the steps, ducking to clear the low ceiling.
“Yeah,” Dave replies, his guitar slung over his shoulder. “But she’s probably at the bar.”