Jay doesn't decide to leave the band for any one reason. There's nothing that makes or breaks his decision, he just decides to do it. Fuck, he doesn't even realize he's been thinking about it at all until he actually makes up his mind.
He's at Monica's one morning, just woken up, and he realizes that he's happier than he's been in years. At first he thinks it's just because it's Christmas and he's with his beautiful girlfriend and things are good there, but that's not it, not totally. He thinks about it some more and realizes that he hasn't been home, to the apartment he shares with Jeff, in over a week. In fact, he hasn't even talked to Jeff in at least that long. Jay remembers the days when they couldn't go five minutes without talking to each other - about the band, about music, about that guy in their Spanish class that smelled like fish tacos - and now they don't talk to each other at all, it seems like.
That should hurt, shouldn't it, but Jay's never been happier than he is at right this minute.
It's that easy. He gets out of bed and, after a quick detour to the bathroom, wanders into Monica's kitchen and picks up the phone. He hesitates for about five seconds, but it's not because he's second guessing what he's about to do. No, it's just that even after five years, he still can't remember Tony's phone number without thinking really hard. So he stares at the ugly floral wallpaper for a minute, trying to figure out if the last two digits are 6-8 or 8-6, then finally dials the number.
"I'm quitting the band," Jay says as soon as he gets Tony on the line, and his announcement is met with dead silence.
"You're kidding me, right?" Tony says finally.
It sounds like a rhetorical question; Jay doesn't joke about anything and Tony damn well knows it, but Jay figures it's a better reaction than screaming. He shrugs even though Tony can't see him, then sits down in one of the wooden high-back chairs in Monica's kitchen, propping his feet up on the table. There's a hole in his left sock, a pretty big one, too. He wonders why he hadn't noticed before.
"No, I'm serious," Jay replies after a minute, when Tony doesn't say anything else. "I'm done, I want out. I'm leaving the band."
"I'm serious," he repeats. "I'm fucking done, Tony."
Jay hears Tony sigh dramatically, then yawn, and for the first time it occurs to Jay that he doesn't even know what time it is. A quick glance at the microwave tells him the time is 6:28am, and he wonders if he should have maybe waited a few hours before calling, but fuck it. He feels good right now. Light and free, like a giant weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Jay smiles to himself and starts playing with the stretched out phone cord while he waits for Tony to say something.
Tony tells him to think about it, really think about what he's doing, before he makes a final decision. "We'll meet tomorrow afternoon, for a drink or whatever, yeah? We'll talk about this," he says, using that oddly calm voice that he usually reserves for record company execs and really dumb roadies. "Just - come on, Jay, this is a big deal, you have to think about this."
There isn't anything to think about, not really, but Jay says he will anyway because he's in a good mood. He'll humour Tony for a day or so, but Jay's not going to change his mind, not fucking ever. He feels too good.
By the time Monica wakes up, Jay's feeling almost jubilant, a word he remembers reading in one of his English classes and that he has never, ever applied to himself before today. So he can understand why Monica is confused as hell when he leads her over to the couch, makes her sit down on it while he perches on the edge of the coffee table across from her, grinning like a lunatic.
He tries to contain himself a little bit when he tells her what he did, but mostly the news just comes out in a rush, all his words blurring together.
"What?! Are you kidding?" she asks, her mouth hanging open slightly in shock. "Jay! That's your band, that's your life, and you just -"
Jay's shaking his head. "No, no, it's not," he explains, because this is the point, this is what he figured out this morning. His eureka in the bathtub moment of clarity. "Music, that's what it's all about, music is my life. This band - no, not anymore. It's like... it's like Uncle Tupelo is a stepping stool, you know? It was a good start, but now I need to do something else. Be in some other band, probably, but just - fuck, not this one, not anymore."
Monica stares at him for a long moment, like she's trying to read his mind or his soul or something. Searching for some hidden meaning, he realizes, but she's not going to find it. Jay's good at keeping his cards close to his chest and pretending like there's nothing at all to be seen. She studies him for awhile, then nods slowly. "Okay. Okay. This is crazy, but - Jesus, Jay," she says, shaking her head in disbelief. She doesn't get it, not really, but he can tell she's not going to fight him on it.
Jay grins, wide and happy, and the second she returns the smile, he leaps off the edge of the table and pounces on her, laughing as he tackles her against the couch so that she's pinned underneath him, flat on her back and giggling. He thinks he hears her say something like what's gotten into you today?, but he's not sure so he doesn't answer, just starts kissing her like he never has before.
They fuck right there on the couch, don't even try to get up and go to the bedroom like they usually do. It's fast and messy and so goddamn good, and afterwards they lay together, sweaty and sated and smiling. They haven't even finished catching their breath when Jay suddenly says, "Let's go somewhere. For Christmas."
"Like where?" Monica asks. She thinks he's gone crazy, Jay can tell by the way she's looking at him as she brushes the hair out of her face, then does the same to his. "We're supposed to go see your parents, remember?"
"We can do that anytime," he points out, sliding an arm protectively around her waist and pulling her tight against his chest. "Not that we should, Jesus, holidays are bad enough."
"What? Look, I just - I feel good, Mon," he explains with a shrug. "I want to do something fun. Visiting my parents? Is not fun."
Monica can't argue with that and they both know it. Jay's dad is miserable and his mom's an alcoholic, which makes visiting them about as much fun as a root canal without novocaine. Last time they were there, Jay's mom spent the entire time calling Monica that frumpy girl with the big nose.
He knows Monica hasn't forgotten about that because she makes a face and says, "Okay, you're right. But where do you want to go instead? I don't have a lot of money, you know that."
Despite her protests, Jay can tell she's going to say yes. "We don't need money," he tells her, as if the world really is that simple. "I don't know. We can go visit Brian, maybe John? You'd like New Orleans, trust me. Let's just drive, see where we end up." The words sound weird coming out of his mouth, even to his own ears.
Jay has never been the type to go anywhere without a detailed plan and schedule, but this time it seems like a good idea.
The next day Jay goes to the bar to meet Tony, just like he promised, and Tony tries to change his mind, just like Jay knew he would. Tony tries every angle imaginable (he was probably up all night thinking of them because he looks exhausted), offers Jay everything under the sun. It doesn't work. Nothing can make Jay stay, not anymore, not now that he knows how fucking nice it feels to be free of this shit.
What Tony does convince him to do is one last tour. At first Jay refuses because Tony starts off his reasoning with to bring in some cash, and that's not what this is fucking about, but he comes around in the end because Tony's a pretty good guy and he's done a lot for the band. Jay knows he's in debt pretty bad because he helps them out all the time, pays for shit the record company won't even flick them a dime for, and yeah, that's not fair to stick him with the bills. Besides, Uncle Tupelo's got a pretty loyal fanbase, especially in the Midwest, and he'd have to be a pretty big dick to snub them. Those are the fans that are going to evolve with him, follow him out of this trap.
He owes them this much.
"Did you tell Jeff?" Jay asks suddenly, twirling his half-empty beer bottle around in circles. He's staring straight ahead at the rack of liquors behind the bar, purposely not looking Tony in the eye.
"No," Tony replies immediately, then flags the bartender down for a refill. He offers one to Jay, but Jay shakes his head - he won't be here much longer. "I didn't want to tell him in case you changed your mind," Tony continues. "You know this is going to kill him, right?"
Jay just shrugs and stands up, throwing a few dollar bills on the bar to pay for his beer. "Good," he says coolly, then walks away.
Within an hour, Jay and Monica are in Festus, hanging out in Brian's living room. There's a case of beer in the middle of the floor and a pan of Rice Krispies treats resting on Brian's lap, and the three of them proceed to get drunk. They spend the rest of Christmas Day singing Jingle Bells in the style of Nirvana and cracking themselves up by changing the lyrics to insult Kurt Cobain as much as humanly possible.
Jay doesn't tell Brian that the band's breaking up.
Jay doesn't remember much about the next few weeks. He remembers spending most of his twenty-seventh birthday in his beat-up old Chevy, driving from Festus to New Orleans to visit John while Monica slept soundly the entire way. But he doesn't remember actually being there, doesn't remember what they did or where they went. He figures they hung out at John's for awhile, and he has vague recollections of meeting Laurie's new husband and hoping to hell that Monica doesn't get any ideas about weddings, but for the life of him Jay can't remember anything specific.
When they get back to St. Louis, Jay decides to move in with Monica. He tries to avoid Jeff when he moves out by coming in to pack up his stuff before noon, but it doesn't work. Jeff's waiting for him, and it looks like he's been waiting all week long for Jay to show his face. Maybe he has, because Jeff is a stubborn sonofabitch when he wants to be.
Jay tries to ignore him, but there's no getting around it. The two of them have a long, nasty fight that starts with Jeff wanting to know what the fuck is going on, why Jay decided to break up the band and not fucking tell him. Jay says it's because it's not fun anymore, which is true, but Jeff knows that's not why. Every time Jeff gets close to asking about the real reason, Jay screams something rude and insulting that distracts Jeff and sends him off on a completely different rage tangent. Jay should maybe feel bad about doing that deliberately, especially with some of the shit that comes out of his mouth, but he doesn't.
"Just give me one good reason, Jay," Jeff says finally. "Please."
Jay sighs and throws his copy of The Catcher in the Rye into the open box on his bed. "Because I can't do this with you anymore," he says honestly, and he hopes Jeff fucking appreciates that because it's the closest Jay's gotten to actually expressing his feelings in a really long time.
"Why?" Jeff demands. "Why do you hate me so much now? I told you that -"
Jay closes his eyes, not wanting to hear the words out loud. "You have no fucking idea," he says, tense and loud. "You have no idea what it's like to be around someone who loves themselves as much as you do." He can feel Jeff staring at him after that, but Jay won't- can't look at him, just goes back to packing up his crap. Jeff just stands there for what feels like hours, until Jay's done packing and is picking up his bags to leave.
"You're right," Jeff says quietly. "I have no idea what that's like."
Jay looks up with a start. He doesn't know what he was expecting Jeff to say, but he knows that isn't it. They stare at each other in silence, the tension in the room threatening to overwhelm and suffocate them both. After a few minutes, Jay grabs the rest of his stuff and walks away without so much as saying goodbye.
He doesn't see or hear from Jeff again until they board the tour bus three weeks later.
The tour is the worst idea Tony's ever had. Jay's not surprised.
At first it's just uncomfortable as fuck. Jeff keeps trying to talk to him and Jay keeps ignoring him, which makes Jeff upset and prone to lashing out - usually at Jay. John tries playing peacemaker for awhile but he gives up on that idea after about three days. (Now he just looks at Jay funny, like he's trying to figure something out and can't quite wrap his head around it. It's kind of annoying, actually.) Max and Ken basically just stay out of everyone's way and play beer pong backstage until it's time to go on, then try and fuck some groupies afterwards. Jay can't even believe he's in a band that has groupies.
So tensions are high and everyone is fucking miserable, and it's obvious to Jay that something's going to snap soon and that it's going to be messy when it does.
He's right - it all comes to a head about two weeks into the tour. They're on stage in Charlotte; Jay isn't singing on anything Jeff wrote because fuck him. The longer they're on tour the more irritated by Jeff he gets, which means he acts like an even bigger asshole than usual. And Jeff's pissed about it, that much is obvious. Jay can see it in the way he hunches over his guitar and the way he screams into the microphone, pouring his rage into each and every song he sings, but doesn't once look in Jay's direction.
When the show's over, Jay leaves the stage without a word. It's just like every other night except that this time Jeff storms after him. Jay's out through the back entrance and halfway across the snowy parking lot towards the tour bus when he hears the doors slam open and Jeff's angry voice echo through the dark night.
"Hey! Hey! What the fuck's your problem, man?"
Jay knows he should keep going, ignore Jeff and avoid the fight that's coming. But he can't do it because fuck it, he's angry, too. Why the fuck should he pretend he's not, just for Jeff's sake? Jay stops and whirls around, glaring furiously. "What's my fucking problem?" he repeats icily. "I'm not the one with the fucking problem."
The rest of the band and most of the crew have followed them outside, though mostly they're just hovering in a group a few feet away. But Jeff, man, he just keeps getting closer, until he's right in Jay's face. "Oh yeah? It sounds like you are," Jeff says angrily, shoving his finger in Jay's face. "You won't sing shit on my songs, you'll barely even play -"
"Oh, for fuck's -"
"No, fuck you!" Jeff screams, his face red and his hair sticking up all over the place. He looks ridiculous, like some kind of enraged tomato with a bad toupée. "I don't know what your deal is, Jay, I really fucking don't, but you're acting out at the expense of the band and -"
Jay barks out a laugh - because that's rich, the way Jeff makes it sound like this is his band - and steps forward, forces Jeff to step backwards, like some kind of sick, angry dance. The parking lot is slippery, and both of them have trouble keeping their balance. "Maybe I don't give a shit about your songs or this band," Jay yells, not caring that the rest of them can hear him. All his anger is at the surface now and he can't stop it from coming out. "Did you ever think of that, huh? Did your ego ever let you think that?" He opens his mouth to say something more, but finally his brain catches up with him and he stops himself just before he says it out loud:
Maybe I don't give a shit about you.
Jeff hears it anyway, the aborted comeback dangling on the edge of Jay's tongue. "If you've got something to say to me, then fucking say it," he demands, shoving Jay's shoulders hard. Jay stumbles backwards, caught off guard, but he recovers quickly and shoves back. "Come on, you fucking pussy, just say it!"
Jay doesn't know what Jeff is expecting him to say, doesn't know what he wants to say either, so instead of speaking, he spits in Jeff's face. "Fuck you."
Jeff stares at him, quiet, for a few seconds, and then his face twists into something ugly and furious. He lets out this primal scream then tackles Jay to the ground. It's cold and wet and it hurts like hell when his elbow slams on the pavement. Of course Jay fights back, punches Jeff hard in the stomach, but Jeff's got the element of surprise working for him and Jay ends up flat on his back with Jeff straddling his legs so that Jay can't even kick the guy. The fury is still on Jeff's face, but it mixes with satisfaction as Jeff pulls back and clocks Jay right in the nose.
Then Jeff is gone, pulled off him by someone Jay can't see. Jay scrambles to his feet and tries to go after him, but Max gets hold of him and Jay's not fucking going anywhere because Max is built like an ox. So he can't punch Jeff back, but he no one's stopping him from talking. Jay can still hurt him, and right now that's the thing Jay wants most in the world. To make Jeff suffer.
"You're just a mama's boy," Jay spits out, struggling against the impossibly tight hold Max has on his arms. "You're going to be fucking nothing without me. Nothing."
Bob's holding Jeff back by the collar of his shirt, but Jay can see the fire light up in Jeff's eyes even from here. It's not a look Jeff gets very often and it took Jay a long time to figure out what it means, but it's defiance, pure and simple. It's the desire to prove someone wrong. Jay saw that look the first time they played "Gun" live, he saw it when some yuppie kid told Jeff he'd never amount to anything, and he saw it that time that Jeff -
"Band meeting," Bob announces loudly, interrupting Jay's thoughts. "Back to the hotel. Everyone. Right now."
When he finds out Tony booked them a spot on Conan O'Brien's show, Jay is even more pissed. He said he'd do a tour, sure, but no one ever said anything about going on national fucking television to promote the band. Jesus, what's the point of that, anyway? They're breaking up; there's no band to promote anymore. He tries pointing this out, to Tony and to the label and to anyone else who will listen to him, but it's in the band's contract with Sire that they do at least one televised appearance to promote each album, so Jay doesn't have a choice.
He calls Monica from a payphone after the show in Washington that night, and he's in the middle of listing all the reasons this is going to fucking suck, when she interrupts him. Which is weird, because Monica doesn't do that, ever, but he's even more taken aback by her question so he doesn't call her on it.
"What song are you going to play?" she asks. Jay has no idea and tells her as much. "Well maybe you can play one of yours," she suggests reasonably. "If you have to do it anyway, I mean, it might as well highlight your music, right?"
Huh. Jay thinks about that for a minute, mulling it over. He would definitely get some satisfaction out of sticking one to Jeff, who probably assumes they're going to play one of his songs. And Monica's right, he has to do the show anyway, so it makes sense to take advantage of that from a professional standpoint. She's really smart, Monica is, and with that thought Jay suddenly misses her so fucking much he thinks his heart is going to explode. Sure, he calls her every chance he gets, usually two or three times a week, but he hasn't seen her in over a month and that sucks so bad.
"That's a good idea," Jay says finally, smiling a little bit. "Thanks, Mon."
Their conversation is a lot nicer after that, both of them talking about what they've been up to the last couple of days. Jay tells her about this song he's working on. He's only got one verse so far, but he sings it for her over the phone and she says it's really good. That makes him happy, and then he listens to her talk about the Modern History class she's taking as an elective, and how her parents rented JFK one night and all she did was pick apart the inaccuracies, much to the annoyance of her dad. Jay is mostly listening, he laughs and winces when it's appropriate, but he's kind of preoccupied with figuring out which song to sing on Conan. Chickamauga, maybe? Or Fifteen Keys, that could work.
When he gets back to the venue, Jay tracks down Tony on the otherwise empty bus and says he wants to play Anodyne when they do the Conan show. Tony looks around like he's planning his emergency escape route in case Jay goes crazy in the next three minutes, then says that the label already decided on a song and they're going to play The Long Cut.
"The decision's been made," Tony says with an indifferent shrug. "Sorry, man."
Jay's never been to a big television studio before, so he has no idea what to expect when they show up for Conan O'Brien. The fact that the show tapes in the middle of the evening is surprising to Jay. He never really gave it much thought before, but he always assumed these kinds of shows were live.
It seems kind of like cheating that they're not.
The rehearsal is at two in the afternoon, and it goes pretty well, Jay figures. He doesn't say a word the entire time except when the sound guy tries to set him up with a microphone and Jay flat-out refuses it. He's not going to sing a single fucking word that Jeff wrote, and he's done pretending that he might. The sound guy just shrugs and takes the mic away, and when Jay looks up, Jeff is glaring at him.
Jay stares back, silently daring him to make a scene, and eventually Jeff turns away and starts talking to John about the bass line.
After rehearsal the entire band goes out for dinner at some fancy restaurant across the street. Jay sits in the farthest corner of the booth and picks absently at his salad while Jeff talks endlessly about what they can do to improve the song so that it's better for the show. The only time he talks directly to Jay is when he turns around and says, "You know, it might help if you actually did the back-up vocals like you're supposed to."
Jay just flips him off and stuffs a piece of cucumber into his mouth.
It's not really intentional, at least it isn't for Jay, but after that they split the tour bus in half, with Jeff in the back and Jay up front. It's kinda like when Jay was a kid and had to share a room with Wade. Whenever they got pissed at each other, they'd take masking tape and put a line down the middle of their room. There's no masking tape on the bus but there might as well be a goddamn ocean between the front and the back for all that anyone crosses that line.
Everyone but Jay hangs out in the back of the bus.
They've been on tour for a month and Jay's never felt more like an outsider. It's around this time that Jay first starts hearing rumours about Jeff's new band. No one mentions it to him directly, but he hears the roadies talking about it sometimes when they don't realize he's around, and Ken accidentally mentions the new record at rehearsal one afternoon. Everyone looks at Jay like they expect him to storm off in a fit, but he just shrugs and goes back to tuning his guitar because for some reason the B string never fucking stays in tune for more than one song anymore.
Jay doesn't care. He already knew something was up anyway, because Tony had stopped asking him about after the tour's over two weeks ago.
Now he knows why.
Jay's not pissed about Jeff's new band because he's decided to start his own, one he can be in without Jeff breathing down his fucking neck all the time. It's going to be a band on Jay's terms, no one else's, and anyone who doesn't like it can fuck off and record with someone else. Jay let Jeff take over Uncle Tupelo, that was his mistake, and he'll be damned if he lets anyone else do that ever again.
But even Jay knows that he can't do it alone, so one afternoon before a show in Ames he picks up the phone in the hotel and calls Mike.
Jay knows he has to be careful with how he brings up what he wants, otherwise Mike is never going to go for it, so he starts off by asking Mike what life as a full-time paper boy is like. Mike laughs, calls him a fucker, then tells him all these stories about Sandra and the kids - Jay notes that it's "the kids" now, not "her kids", huh - and all the town gossip from Belleville. Apparently the mayor's daughter got knocked up and all the bingo ladies have turned it into the biggest scandal since Watergate.
Eventually Mike stops talking long enough for Jay to tell him that the band's breaking up for good. There's a beat of silence, then Mike says, "Yeah, Jay, I know."
"Did Jeff call you?" Jay asks, maybe a little too harsh, a little too fast.
"Yeah," Mike says flatly. "So did your mom."
Jay makes a noise of disgust and wonders who told her. Probably Monica. "Yeah, well... Anyway. What else did he say?"
Mike's quiet for a moment, and Jay can hear the sound of screaming children in the background. Jesus, that would drive him fucking crazy. He has no idea how Mike puts up with that. Finally Mike speaks up again. "Not much," he says carefully. "He wanted to know if I was going to come to any of the shows."
"Yeah. You are, right?"
"Of course I am, Jesus," Mike replies huffily, like that's the stupidest question he's ever been asked. Whatever. "Maybe I'll get up there with you guys, yeah? Shit, I haven't played in front of a crowd in so long I'd probably wet myself from nerves," he adds with a laugh.
This is it, the best opening Jay's going to get. There's a flutter of excitement in his stomach because he knows that if Mike says yes, things are going to be great and God, he hopes Mike says yes. Jay keeps his voice neutral as he asks, "You still play at home, though, right?" It comes out more desperate than he means it to, but hopefully Mike doesn't notice.
"Yeah, yeah. The kids think it's cool." Mike laughs. "And Sandra still thinks it's hot, so you know..."
"You ever think about being in another band?" Shit, Jay really hopes that came out sounding smooth and casual and not nearly as rehearsed as it was.
Mike sighs, kind of wistfully. "Oh, man, yeah, that'd be great," he says. "Never going to happen, though."
"Because I'm a dad, Jay. I don't have time for that crap anymore."
Jay bristles, he can't fucking help it. "It's not crap, Mike. You used to love this. Remember?"
"I know I did; I still do," Mike replies. "But things are different now."
"They don't have to be."
"Just think about it," Jay interrupts him, almost desperately, tightening his grip on the cheap plastic phone. "Please. It's going to be different, Mike. Trust me."
The rest of the tour is relatively uneventful, at least compared to the beginning. Jeff's not making any bones about the fact that he's working on starting a new band now and makes a point to talk about it when he knows Jay is in earshot. He's trying to get Jay's attention, just like he did in high school, but this time it's not working. Jay just ignores him and keeps quiet, idly writing his own new material in his half of the bus and spending a small fortune in calls to Mike.
Mike hasn't agreed to join Jay's new band yet, but he's going to come around soon. Jay can feel it.
The last two shows are scheduled for a Saturday and Sunday night in St. Louis. The fliers going around advertise the band as "St Louis' 4th Best Country Band", which John and Ken think is hilarious and Jay thinks is stupid. He wanted the last show to be in Belleville, a kind of full circle symbolism, but no one asked him. It doesn't matter anyway, he tells himself, because this is almost over and he's really, really glad about that. He is.
Two more nights.
The Saturday night show passes in a blur, or maybe it's just that afterwards Jay gets so spectacularly drunk that he can't remember a goddamn thing about it. He's not even sure why he's drinking, other than the fact that - fuck, this used to be his band. He started it, back in the day, with Wade and Dade. And okay, they weren't Uncle Tupelo back then, but if it weren't for The Plebes, there wouldn't be an Uncle Tupelo and that has to count for something.
Whatever. The point is, there wouldn't be an Uncle Tupelo without The Plebes, because without The Plebes Jeff wouldn't have had anyone to latch onto like a lost little puppy. And Jay was The Plebes, mostly, which means there wouldn't be a Jeff Tweedy without Jay because Jay's the only reason Jeff got anywhere, dammit. It's just logic. And now Jeff thinks he can just, what, pick up the pieces of Jay's band and start something new? Be better than Jay is? Fuck that. That is absolutely not going to fucking happen.
I won't let it, Jay vows to himself, downing the rest of his scotch in one swallow as a symbol of his commitment.
When Jay wakes up on Sunday morning he's got a wicked hangover, but mostly he feels like he did that first morning over Christmas, the day he decided to be done with Uncle Tupelo. He feels light, free. And, okay, like someone is hammering his skull to the tune of I Got You, Babe. He gets up and takes some Tylenol, drinks some water, then crawls back into bed to sleep it off.
Monica wakes him up a few hours later; he still feels like shit, but he's not sure if it's because the hangover is still kicking or if it's because this is it. The final night of Uncle Tupelo.
When they get to the venue, it's like the party is in full swing. People Jay hasn't seen in years are already there, enthusiastically waxing poetic about the good old days and the first time they saw Uncle Tupelo play here, or in Belleville, or wherever. Jay's in a pretty good mood so he goes along with it, reminiscing with some folks about what it was like to be some nobody kid from Belleville playing on a big city stage, and how good it is to be back, even though what Jay really means is how good it is to be going.
Monica pretty much stays by his side all day, though at one point she wanders off to talk to Sue. Jay doesn't want to know what they talk about because he assumes it's about him and Jeff and where it all went wrong. As far as Jay knows, neither one of them knows the whole truth, and he hopes it stays that way.
After sound check, Tony brings in a few pizzas and everyone sits either on or around the stage, laughing and talking about this, that, the other thing. By unspoken agreement, no one brings up the fact that this is the last show. It's the first time in, fuck, years that Jay has had this kind of camaraderie with the band, and it's kind of fucked up that the end is what it takes for things to click again.
It's not until about an hour before showtime that things start to get a little weird. Jeff tries one last time to talk to him as they head backstage to get ready for the show, but Jay shakes his head and just says don't. This is probably the first thing Jay has directly said to Jeff's face in six weeks, and Jeff's shock at actually getting an answer - even a negative one - is clear as day. Jay takes advantage of that to slip away before Jeff asks again.
As soon as they hit the stage, everyone's good mood and positive energy just evaporate into thin air. The crowd is feeling good - most of them know by now that this is it, the last show of Uncle Tupelo's life, even though the band didn't make an announcement of any kind - but everyone on stage is tense and on edge. Jay's strumming his guitar so hard he snaps three strings in the first song alone, and Jeff's hunched around his guitar like it's a shield. Max is intently focused on the crowd, not looking at anyone, and Ken is slamming the cymbals so hard he might actually crack them. Even John, who lives in a perpetual state of whatever, man is on a downbeat, barely hopping around the stage at all.
Getting through the set list is like Chinese torture. There's no in-between-songs chatter, no wise cracks from Max, nothing. It's just eighteen songs played with all the enthusiasm of a wake. Jay and Jeff trade off songs like a stuffy, synchronized dance - Jay's song, Jeff's song, Jay's, Jeff's - and Jay wonders what the how the hell anyone in the crowd is actually enjoying this. It's so fucking depressing.
Things lighten up a bit when the encore rolls around. Mike comes up on stage, just like he'd talked about doing, and Ken hands off the drum kit with a dramatic flourish and a bow, then picks up a tambourine because that's the only other instrument he knows how to play. With Mike back behind the kit, Jay feels this renewed sense of right, like this is the way things should be.
Halfway through Looking For A Way Out, Jay glances over his shoulder and catches sight of Mike looking like the happiest guy on the planet, and Jay thinks to himself, gotcha. Mike's going to join his band, there's no doubt about it now. Jay smirks and turns his attention back to the song and giving the crowd something good.
He ends the song with a really complicated guitar riff, just because he's really into it, and the crowd goes fucking nuts. Monica's in the front row with Sue and Laurie, all of them screaming their lungs out, and Jay grins down at them for just the briefest second. When he looks back up, Jeff's staring at him with this weird look on his face, but Jay can't deal with that right now so he just doesn't. Instead he turns back to the microphone and tells the crowd that they've got one more song, and for this one they're bringing up the Bottle Rockets to really show St Louis how to fucking rock.
Predictably, this is met with a mix of boos and a cheers - boos from the locals who wandered in on accident with no idea that they're attending this band's final show, cheers from the friends who drove anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours to be here for this.
By the time Brian and the rest of his band are on stage, things are feeling kind of claustrophobic. The whole band had decided on Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gimme Three Steps earlier that day, and Jay has to say that it's a pretty fitting end for them. They let Brian take the reigns on vocals and play the most incomprehensible version of that song to ever hit Missouri. With each note that he plays, Jay becomes more tense and more nervous, and by the end of it he feels like he's either going to scream or throw up. Maybe both.
As soon as the song's over, he lifts off his guitar, sets it down, and walks off the stage without so much as looking over his shoulder.
Tony holds a sort of farewell party at his place a few hours after the show is over. Jay doesn't want to go. He tells Monica it's like extending the death of the band, but she really wants to go and say goodbye to everyone. She's surprisingly stubborn about the issue, says she's going with or without him, and eventually Jay relents.
They head over to Tony's around 1am and as soon as they get there, Monica is dragged off by Laurie, who made the drive up from New Orleans for the show. Left to his own devices, Jay walks around the house until he finds the beer, grabs three cans and pops one open, then makes his way back into the living room. No one talks to him, though if he's not imagining it, a number of people shoot him dirty looks.
Like this whole thing is his fault.
Jay snorts to himself and flops down on one of the ugly couches, leaning his head back and closing his eyes to block out the world. After a few minutes he sits up again and proceeds to drink steadily, ignoring everyone in the room just as much as they're ignoring him. After awhile he focuses in on Monica, follows her around the room with his eyes. She's being a social butterfly tonight, which is unusual. Most times she's quiet and keeps to herself, but tonight she talks to everyone, laughing with Laurie and Sue and even with Tony.
Jeff comes up to her at one point and taps her on the shoulder, and Jay feels a flash of possessiveness and the urge to punch Jeff in the face. He watches through narrowed eyes as they talk, crushing one of his empty beer cans with his fist when Jeff says something that makes Monica laugh. Fucker.
The two of them talk for a long time. Too long, in Jay's opinion. Jeff leans down and gives Monica a hug, and Jay's halfway standing up with the intention to go over there and beat Jeff's ass all the way back to Belleville when Monica pulls away and Jay hears her say goodbye. He calms down slightly, flopping back onto the couch. But he doesn't take his eyes off Jeff for a second, not even as Monica walks back over to where he's sitting. "Hey," she says with a smile, picking the beer cans up and setting them on the coffee table, then sitting down in Jay's lap. Jay just grunts and keeps glaring at Jeff, and Monica sighs.
"What?" Jay demands, finally turning his attention back to her. "What's that about?"
"Nothing," she replies, and he knows she's lying because she doesn't meet his eyes. He opens his mouth to argue, but she shuts him up by kissing him hotly, which takes him so off guard that his words get lost somewhere between his brain and his mouth and he forgets about talking at all because damn, she's good at this.
Monica pulls back before things get too heated, though, and smiles again. "Come on, let's go," she says quietly. "Everyone's leaving."
Sure enough, she's right. Jay hadn't been paying any attention, but he looks at the clock and it's after 5am, and most of the party has cleared out. He nods and Monica climbs off his lap, then holds out her hand in a silent request - okay, demand - for his keys. "I'm not drunk," he protests, but he gives them to her anyway.
They say an awkward goodbye to Tony, who shakes Jay's hand and tells him to keep in touch. Jay says he will, even though he knows he won't, then heads for the front door. Outside, everyone else in the band is mingling with their wives and families and girlfriends, everyone saying their goodbyes and we'll keep in touches. Jeff's talking to Max, but when he sees Jay and Monica, he excuses himself and starts walking towards them.
Maybe it's the beer, or the way Jeff was flirting with Monica earlier. Most likely it's the fact that the two of them haven't been able to get over their own stupidity for the last year and a half, but Jay deliberately turns around and walks in the opposite direction. Monica doesn't notice; she never does. And Jay's tense, he can feel Jeff watching him, but he tells himself not to turn around. Turning around now would be acknowledging it, admitting that it exists, and he doesn't want to -
Jay can't help himself. He turns around, shoots a quick glance over his shoulder, and yeah, Jeff's standing there, staring at him like Jay just kicked his puppy. Sue's standing next to him, her hand on his arm, muttering something that she probably thinks is comforting. It's not, Jay can tell. He meets Jeff's eyes for one long moment, then gives a brief, barely-there nod and turns away one more time.
When in doubt, move on.