MACV Audition

After our show for the 127th, I made a special visit to the officer in charge of morale, welfare, and recreation at MACV, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, the big guns.  To my utter surprise, he offered us all the gigs we could possibly play – and for money!  The catch?  We had to audition for the MACV officers first... 

I felt a nervous twinge in my stomach.

"Are we in the right place, man?" Sugden asked in a low voice as he pulled his bass from its case and started to tune up.

I locked my microphone onto its bamboo stand.  "I think so."

I hope so.  I looked around for Lieutenant Steinmetz.

Soon, other officers arrived, the higher ranks.  They were escorting Vietnamese women all dressed up like they were going to a fancy nightclub – high heels, sequins, lots of eyeliner and red lipstick.  They headed to the banquet table.  Chairs scraped as the officers pulled them out for the women.

"Looks like they're expecting a really big show," Ioli said from behind the drums, his voice sounding unsure.

"Yeah, don't they know we're just a rock band?" Jessen asked.  He was pacing behind the organ, his hair damp with sweat already.  Rings of perspiration were forming under his arms.

I was starting to worry the Electrical Banana might not be up for this after all.  Maybe it was too soon.  Maybe we needed more practice.  Maybe this was going to be another fiasco.           

Where the hell is Steinmetz?

"Come on, guys, they want a big show," I said, trying to sound positive, "then let's give 'em one.  We rock, remember?"

The guys exchanged uneasy glances.  This wasn't looking too good.

I scanned the rapidly filling hall.  Still no sign of Steinmetz. 

"I need a beer," Sugden said, leaning his bass against the wall.  He jumped offstage.

"Me too," Ioli said. 

"Me three," parroted Jessen.    He and Mike followed Jon like ducklings over to the bartender.

Great.  Our first big concert date, and my band's at the bar.

The twinge turned to full-fledged butterflies as I checked and re-checked all the cord connections to the amps.  The fluttering in my stomach reminded me of the first real gig of my life, with the Mustangs, at the opening of the neighborhood Little League baseball season.  They'd set us up on two sheets of plywood out on the field, let us play three songs.  I never forgot how it felt that first time.  Climbing onto that makeshift stage to show the audience what you're made of.  Scared as hell, hoping your shaking fingers will cooperate.  Part nerves, part excitement – pure adrenaline.  Like now...


Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2023