Long before she let herself through the front door it was obvious to Tabitha that Sunbeam was home. From several doors down the suburban street she could hear the sound of seventies heavy metal and, accompanying the record, Sunbeam's own guitar playing that was roughly, but not exactly, in tune. It was a wonder the neighbours didn't complain more than they did.
As always, Tabitha couldn't help noticing the remarkable similarity between Sunbeam's own song compositions and those on the rock music records she accompanied. Sunbeam's father had given his daughter a comprehensive collection of vinyl records that represented his musical tastes before they shifted toward the anodyne whine of AOR away from the squawking cat-shriek and doomy chords of the records he'd enjoyed in his adolescence. At least in Sunbeam's hands, the records hadn't gone to waste.
Tabitha was the manager of Excess Baggage, the all-girl rock group for which Sunbeam was principal composer, singer and lead guitarist. However, she still had difficulty in relating her best friend from school, her first lover and the girl who used to deal pills in the school playground as Sunbeam, rock star. She still hadn't become accustomed to how much the stage name had superseded her real name. In fact, Tabitha even sometimes forgot what it was.
But, as Tabitha reflected, pushing aside the bicycle propped against the hallway radiator and easing off her Dr Martin's airwear boots, the fortunes of Excess Baggage had a long way to go yet until Tabitha could afford to drop her gig as a Hard House DJ at the Marsh Club. Or until Sunbeam, for that matter, could close shop on her small-scale dealing. And if Sunbeam's brother wasn't so generous in allowing his sister and her sister's best friend to share his suburban semi, would they ever have found somewhere else they could afford to live?
"Hiya, sweetheart!" Tabitha announced, pushing open the living room door, knowing exactly what sight would greet her.
And, indeed, no surprise at all. There was Sunbeam, cross-legged in the middle of the room, wearing only the baggy pair of thin cotton shorts they had brought back from their holiday in Morocco last year. Her rather large breasts overshadowed the guitar resting on her lap and strapped around her shoulder, and all around her, and spread in all directions were album sleeves, black twelve-inch vinyl records gathering dust, a coffee mug, ashtrays, cigarette packets and a small plastic bag where Sunbeam stored her stash. A soggy roach languished in the ashtray amongst the cigarette butts. Sunbeam raised her head toward Tabitha, a slightly stoned smile across her face, while she pushed a curtain of mousy-brown hair off her eyes.
"Hiya, cherry bomb!" Sunbeam replied, pulling a cigarette out of a packet and lighting it up.
"Hey! What's the tune? It's a lot like your Pussy Power, only the lyrics aren't quite the same."
"It's by Atomic Rooster," replied Sunbeam. "And fuck, Tabby, if I hadn't changed the lyrics people would twig where I get my inspiration from."
Tabitha nodded. She had guessed long ago that just as a techno or house DJ might build up a composition by sampling vinyl records, Sunbeam did much the same with her own song writing. And the more obscure the record, the less likely that anyone would figure out where it came from. So, Sunbeam's father's old records, by the likes of Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Fairies, Budgie and Vanilla Fudge were taking on a new life in the copyrighted songbook of Excess Baggage. Although Sunbeam joked about her systematic theft of the heavy metal legacy to deflect the criticism she so wholly deserved, Tabitha wasn't even so sure that her friend drew the line at just lifting the guitar chords. Her song lyrics on demons, fast cars, hobbits, guns and sex bore ever such a similarity to those of the selfsame rock groups. Although the sex of which she sang did not generally involve the participation of men.
"And Tabby, sweetest, I've had a thought..." remarked Sunbeam, blowing smoke out through her nostrils.
"Yeah?" wondered Tabitha, sitting down on the sofa and crossing her long black legs. She twiddled a plaited hair extension in her ring-festooned fingers.
"Excess Baggage is just too long a name. We ought to drop the 'Baggage' bit. Just call the band 'Excess'."
"'Excess'? Wasn't there a group in the eighties or nineties called that?"
"It was called 'InXS'. Bunch of ozzies. Anyway, they only ever did one decent song. I think 'Excess' would be a much better name than 'Excess Baggage'."
"But everything we've done or promoted has been as 'Excess Baggage', sweetheart. We can't just change it."
"Course we fucking can! Massive Attack changed their name to Massive. Tyrannosaurus Rex changed theirs to T. Rex. Electric Light Orchestra became just fucking ELO. Loads of groups have changed their names. And anyway, a name like 'Excess' would be more appropriate for the group's image than 'Excess Baggage'. It makes us sound like some kind of fucking modern jazz group or garage house crew. We're a fucking rock group. Rock music's always been about excess. And it's about time we had the right kind of fucking name!"
Although Tabitha was reluctant to admit it, even to herself, the name was especially appropriate given Sunbeam's more recent tendencies. She was certain that Sunbeam was consuming at least as many drugs as she sold, and although she only dabbled in heroin, Tabitha wasn't sure she would never become addicted. And the sex! As her drug consumption increased, Sunbeam seemed to have lost her ability to discriminate. She called herself 'polyamorous', which Tabitha first misheard as 'polyandrous', which was nonsense given her stated sexual preference. But although Tabitha confined her interest to women, and still had frequent sex with Sunbeam, despite them no longer being an item, her friend had now developed an enthusiastic taste for sex with men as well.
This shocked Tabitha at first. But she and Sunbeam had already chosen to sleep in separate rooms, and that wasn't only because of Sunbeam's frequent and open infidelity. Tabitha had sensed, sometimes too acutely, that she had become Sunbeam's token black woman lover and that the emotional content of their love, so intense in their early teens, had become subsumed by considerations of outward appearance. It had been difficult for Tabitha to reconcile her sexuality and her love for her parents, who were traditional black Baptists and so thoroughly appalled by Tabitha's unholy sexual preference that only the genuineness of their Christian love kept them from disowning their daughter.
Sunbeam never experienced a predicament like that. Her parents had never hidden from her either their indulgence in soft drugs or their participation in swinging sex parties. And, as Tabitha only gradually came to appreciate, their daughter was intent on attaining a degree of libertarianism that even her parents had never entertained. So, Sunbeam not only distracted herself with hard drugs and sex with men, but also (and this disturbed Tabitha rather more than she imagined possible) sex with her own brother. But what upset Tabitha the most wasn't so much the fact of incest (a word that seemed to lose some of its meaning when applied to a real life situation), but that Sunbeam considered it as some kind of a token achievement, to tick off as something she'd done, like having a black lesbian lover, like having sex with two or three men at the same time, like drinking her lover's urine, like dropping GHB, like fucking that boy they'd met in that Moroccan hotel, and, like, as Tabitha had to admit, having sex on stage during a gig.
"Well, after that time at the Willow, I guess Excess isn't a bad name at all!" exclaimed Tabitha before leaning over to help herself to a plastic bag of grass lying on the ground.
"Oh fuck, Tabby! You don't fucking forget, do you!"
Tabitha shook free some papers from her packet of Rizlas, and licked the edge of them before piecing together the two-and-a-half skinner she was so adept at constructing.
"I didn't agree to be your manager as well as do my own gigs just to run some kind of fucking sex show, Sunbeam."
"It was only the once. It's like the music got to me..."
"Or the coke. Or the E. Or some other stuff. And did Joanne really want you to stick that dildo right up her twat like that?"
"When Joanne's on stage and she's 'Marsh Mallow', she's like real uninhibited."
"It can't be easy to play bass and have someone pull down her jeans, lick her clit and shove a dildo up her front. But Joanne's performing as Marsh Mallow, bassist, not Marsh Mallow, porn star. And since when have you gone from just partial nudity, which we always agreed was OK, to full on stark naked? No wonder we're getting more men in the audience and fewer of the old lesbian crowd."
"You're just being fucking preachy. Just like your dad. But what about it, Tabby? Shall we change the name to 'Excess'?"
"It's a lot of hard work you know. There's a lot of promo stuff I've got to change. And I've got that gig in Stockport on Friday."
"When d'you think we could get it done? I told the other girls: Joanne, Prissy, Anita and Carla. They think it's gonna be for the gig on Saturday."
"I guess I'll be able to do that," Tabitha sighed, knowing that she wouldn't have much time to buy new discs for her big session at the Tick Tack. She'd just have to hope the record shops in Manchester had some decent tunes she could feature.
.... There is more of this story ...