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 She still hadn't become accustomed to how much the stage name had superseded her real name.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.
Tabitha was exhausted when she got back from Stockport, having snatched only a few hours doze in the back of her battered Astra at a service station. She didn't have much time to do more than unload her record boxes in the hallway, with the assistance of Sunbeam's brother, Tom, who as always was trying to persuade her to have sex with him.
"Sorry, Tom. I'm what it says on the label," Tabitha said with a grim smile after Tom had made his latest overture. "Where's Sunbeam?"
"She's at Anita's. Or Sticky Goo as she calls herself now."
"I guess I'll just have to hope she makes it to the Fig and Firkin for tonight," Tabitha sighed, knowing that when Anita and Sunbeam started making love it was often quite a huge effort to separate them. And if Carla got involved, well, they'd either be late or thoroughly wasted. Or more likely, both.
The landlord at the Fig and Firkin watched Tabitha as she set up the stage equipment with the help of Prissy and Joanne. As always, Sunbeam was not one of the first to arrive, and the fact that Anita and Carla were also not there made Tabitha fear the worst.
"So it's gonna just be a dyke crowd, is it?" remarked the landlord from the bar stool where he sat. "A load of grrrls with short hair and jumble sale chic. But what's this I hear about your group attracting the boys now?"
Tabitha knew exactly what the landlord was hinting at. "The group's emerging from the dyke ghetto. That's all."
"I heard that your singer's been having sex on stage. Not just taking her clothes off, which I don't mind. I quite like a flash of tit, me. But actually like fucking doing it on stage. I've got a license to worry about, you know. This isn't fucking Soho."
"That's just crap, Phil. And you know it. It's just queer consciousness. Getting away from denying our sexuality. That kind of thing. There's not gonna be any sex on stage."
"I dunno. You've changed the name. What kind of 'excess' are you intending to represent?"
"An excess of political correctness, Phil. What d'you think? Now, if you don't mind, I've got to test the sound system."
Tabitha's assurances were rather wasted. When Sunbeam arrived, she, Carla and Anita were quite obviously still high, not helped by a pint of beer drunk at the bar while Tabitha did a DJ set, mixing some of Sunbeam's rather dull heavy metal records with the hard house she much preferred. And then, finally, the group ascended the stage for the first time ever in their current incarnation.
"So give it up for Excess!" announced the landlord. "That's Sunbeam, Sticky Goo, Marsh Mallow, Krakatoa and Daffodil!"
The five girls strode onto the small stage, Sunbeam and Sticky Goo carrying their guitars and Marsh Mallow her bass guitar. Krakatoa, or Prissy, seated herself behind the drum kit. And Daffodil, or Carla, behind the synths. As they appeared, the crowd, many of whom were the same ones who'd been following the group for over a year now, erupted into a huge applause.
Tabitha noticed with alarm that Sunbeam had already taken off all her clothes and was standing on stage with her guitar slung around her, just beneath her heavy breasts, and a pair of fourteen-hole Dr Martin's on her feet. She strode up to the microphone, took it in one hand, but didn't lift it off the stand, pushed her hair off her face and for a moment looked quite bewildered. Only the applause and cheers from the audience filled the space. And then she slurred into the microphone.
"Hello, Fig and Fucking Firkin! We're gonna fucking rock you!"
And with that, Daffodil, Marsh Mallow and Krakatoa launched into 'Hot Dyke Dreaming', always a good starter, with its swirling Deep Purple organ chords, its Guns & Roses guitar sound and that thumping beat that sounded ever so much like 'Purple Haze'. Tabitha noticed with relief that the coke and beer hadn't too aversely affected Sunbeam's singing voice. Nor her guitar-playing. Not that anyone would really have noticed with the poor pub acoustics. In fact, the most wasted was probably Carla who, at one stage, actually used the wrong programming sample, of which she only became aware after Marsh Mallow strode across the stage, wearing what most people might consider to be her underwear, and pointed it out to her.
Tabitha settled down on a stool at the back of the stage, a pint of real ale in one hand, the least strong available, and a cigarette in the other. She didn't actually much enjoy the music Sunbeam's group played. Rock music sounded rather predictable and dull to her ears, and even when the lyrics were filtered through a lesbian consciousness they really didn't have the depth she associated with the soul or hip hop she preferred. And even though she got quite a high from caning hard house, it was generally a tape by someone like Macy Gray or Miss Dynamite that she put on when she drove back home after a gig.
However, it was evident that Excess was doing something right. The number of people who turned up at an Excess gig was steadily rising. In the early days of Excess Baggage, when the name was meant as an ironic statement of there being two sexes, rather than just the one, there would have been only a couple of dozen people in the audience, all women, and almost all just friends or ex-lovers of the group members. Now the place was full to capacity, and the crowd was quite a mix. In fact, a very heterogeneous mix with almost as many men as women. And these weren't all the kind of men who used to come to an Excess Baggage gig. Rather fewer of the gauche intellectuals, politically correct squatters and gay men. Indeed, many of the men were sporting tee-shirts by distinctly uncool rock groups like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica and the Scorpions. Many had the stereotypical long hair and denim of the heavy metal crowd, but even those without the standard dress looked rather less like men who appreciated the subtlety of confrontational gender politics, and rather more like men who practised air guitar in front of their mirrors.
Tabitha was also alarmed when the set became gradually more and more sexually explicit. Clearly, Sunbeam had been plotting it in advance with Anita and Carla, but, as always, Joanne was easily persuaded. In the midst of songs like 'Clit Lickers', 'Fist My Ass, Doreen' and the perennial favourite, 'Love Blouse' (which sounded ever so much like Golden Earring's 'Radar Love'), it wasn't just Sunbeam who discarded her clothes. Soon there were one partially and three fully naked women on stage, and Prissy on drums, who was actually straight, had a boyfriend and never joined the others at a post-gig party. She was quite podgy and never showed much inclination to reveal any extra flesh at all.
As the men in the audience acknowledged with huge cheers, Sunbeam took the opportunity of the synth solo in 'Love Blouse' to kiss Marsh Mallow full on the mouth, while Anita crawled across the floor and started licking her crotch in approximate rhythm to the pounding beat. From where she sat, Tabitha couldn't tell whether the sex was simulated or real, but she was sure that when Sunbeam stood astride Anita, Marsh Mallow fondling her breasts and the synth solo pounding away almost wholly on a pre-programmed loop, that it was real piss that came out between her legs and splattered over Anita's face, bare breasts and short cropped hair.
It was only after two encores and another session of on-stage cunnilingus, this time with Carla receiving the pleasure of Anita's tongue, that Tabitha was at last able to confront Sunbeam, having first to push through a mob of mostly men who crowded outside the small changing room the pub supplied. She really didn't enjoy the ordeal of wriggling through the mass of black tee-shirts and leather jackets, with their studded tributes to bands like Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson and Rainbow, especially when she overheard one of them refer to her as a 'black bitch'.
Finally, she squeezed the changing room door behind her, drowning out the sound of the men and their banter with the huge bouncer who guarded the door, and looked over at Sunbeam who was only now covering her breasts with a tee-shirt emblazoned with the picture of a Moroccan minaret and sunrise.
"We've been told not to come back to the Fig," she told Sunbeam urgently.
"What the fuck! The ungrateful fuckers! Why's that?"
"Because you pissed on stage mostly. And Phil, the landlord, who I've known for years actually, said that his license doesn't cover all that... all the... you know..."