How does one begin the story of a shattered dream?
Where do I start the tale of innocence lost?
Like all sad stories, at the beginning, I suppose.
It seems like it all began two months ago, but it’s actually only been eight weeks. Natasha and I walked into that first jug band class full of excitement and a bit of trepidation, and came out changed women. For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to truly be alive. To be conscious of the rhythm of my beating heart. To experience unbridled joy.
So this is what unconditional love feels like, I thought. This is what it means to belong. As the weeks went by, Natasha and I threw ourselves into becoming the best jug band members this band had ever seen. We spent days researching traditional jug band instruments, scoured local Salvation Army stores for the best spoons, trekked through the hills of Wisconsin to find antique washboards, and drank untold quantities of sugary soda pop to construct our glass bottle xylophone.
The fervor and commitment with which I approached my music could be described by one word, and one word alone: love. I had fallen in love, not with the individual, but with the collective. With the idea of jug band, and everything that came with it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the jug band. I wanted to impress the jug band. I wondered what the jug band was doing when they weren’t in class. I wore my contacts and put my hair down for the jug band.
But as is my history with love, I fell too hard, too fast. If it hadn’t been for Natasha, I probably wouldn’t have seen it coming at all.
It all started in Week Four:
Jug band class ran later than normal because we began practicing our songs for an upcoming performance. This would be our biggest and most prestigious gig to date, so everyone was a bit on edge. After class ended and we packed up our jugs and dried off our kazoos, Natasha and I decided to grab a drink and some quesadillas before heading home.
As we waited for our late night snacks, Natasha squeezed more lime into her vodka and tonic, and said, “Jen, I’m not so sure about this jug band anymore.”
Taken aback, I said, “What? What do you mean?”
“I mean, I just don’t know if I’m into it like I was on the first day. Something has changed.”
“Well, everyone’s really focused on this upcoming performance, if that’s what you mean.”
Nat glanced up at me with a look I hadn’t seen since we dropped out of tap dance class, and asked, “What instruments did you play today?”
I had to think for a minute, but then said, “Well, I played woodblocks on the first song. And egg shaker on the second one. Then on Broke Down Jug Band Blues I played the woodblocks again. Oh, and then I went back to the egg shaker on Whiskey Tells No Lies. Why?”
She took a gulp of her drink, wiped her lips, and continued, “Now let me tell you what I played on those four songs: egg shaker, Fanta bottle and chopstick, Fanta bottle and chopstick, and then Fanta bottle and chopstick.”
“Huh. I wasn’t really paying attention. I mean, I kind of wanted to play washboard on Bottle O’ Corn, but someone was already playing it.”
Nat nodded, “Exactly. And I wanted to play washtub bass on Boxcar Baby, but that really wasn’t an option, now was it? And I wanted to play kazoo or spoons on Tobaccy Road but it seems that someone else had already claimed those instruments as well.”
“So what’s your point, Nat?”
”What’s my point?! What’s my point?! My point is that this utopian jug band society we thought we stumbled upon is really nothing more than a fascist regime in sheep’s clothing! This is no democracy! What happened to that welcoming, ‘Oh here try my washboard’ attitude they used to sucker us in on the first day? That went away pretty quickly when you actually wanted to play washboard on a real song, didn’t it?”
My mind started racing. Could Natasha be right about this? Was jug band really a tyranny? I began to play back the events of the previous four weeks, and suddenly felt a metallic burning in the back of my throat as I realized that everything Natasha had said was true.
We were extra pieces. Spare buttons. Wisdom teeth. This band didn’t need us. They never needed us. They were fully formed before we even joined the class. That’s why we always got stuck playing the leftover instruments that barely made a sound.
But why? Why did they encourage us to join the band?
We later learned that the answer to that question came in the form of the $150 check we each wrote out to join the band. As it turned out, funding for class materials had been cut, so in order to keep everyone in shiny new jugs and taut new washtub bass ropes, the school had to increase the class size.
Natasha had already figured out what took me three beers to deduce, “Exactly, Jenny! So they increased the class size, without giving a second thought to the severe shortage of viable instruments that would leave everyone. I mean, seriously! At what point was someone going to notice the fact that I had been playing a piece of garbage and a chopstick for the past ten songs?!”
I felt like Dorothy, when the curtain was pulled back, revealing a weak little man hiding behind a booming voice. My head was spinning from the combination of betrayal and Boddington’s. I looked up at Nat and asked, “So… what are you going to do?”
She just grinned, and said, “Revolt.”