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The guys are hanging out in the dressing room, the green room, the whatever room. Donnie Iris, Dave Granati, Ricky Granati, Hermie Granati, and Joey Granati, occupying subterranean quarters underneath The Strand Theater in Zelienople, like, thirty minutes before their gig.

The Granati’s mom should have been here already but she’s stuck outside because someone forgot to put her name on The List. Norma. Eighty-three years old. “She looks good for her age. You’d think maybe sixty-three, seventy at the most,” Dave says. Norma still makes spaghetti every Sunday. Always has. She did it when Hermie, Ricky, Joey, and Dave were in school, when they got older, when an agent handed them a pen to sign their first record deal, when they started touring with Van Halen in the early 80s…

“Do you remember when Eddie came to the house and dad took one look at his jeans with all the holes in them and said, ‘Christ, Eddie, why didn’t you say something? I’d get you a pair of jeans,’” Ricky laughs.

“I remember your grandma used to say, ‘Donnie, you sing so good and you zmoke. Not ‘smoke.’ Zmoke. That’s when I smoked like, three packs a day,” Donnie says.

“Yeah,” Ricky laughs. “And do you remember that time when you said, ‘You marry the first time for love. You marry the second time for sex?’ And your girlfriend was like, sitting right there. I looked at her and she just shrugged, man.”

“I said that?” Donnie asks, strumming Dave’s tiger striped camouflage guitar. A Roland Guitar synthesizer he calls his Japanese Stratocaster.

“Yeah, man!” Ricky said. “Your girlfriend was sitting like, right there next to you!"

“Ugh,” Donnie groans, rolling his eyes.

Everyone is wearing black. Black jeans. Black shirts. Black fedora for Hermie. Black Converse for Dave. Black because, well, it just feels natural. Donnie’s got blue jeans on, but his tee shirt, the one that reads ITALIA across the chest, is black.

“Hey Donnie! Where’d you get that shirt? In Italy? I heard they got good food over there!” someone jokes.

There's a table shoved up against the wall in the dressing room/the green room/the whatever room that's covered with yummy things: a bowl of Butterfingers, Peanut M&M’s, regular M&M’s, and Twizzlers; Keurig K Cups with flavors like French Roast, Hazelnut and Breakfast Blend, non-dairy creamer and a bottle of raw and unfiltered honey.

“Would you like a Pellegrino with some ice?” Ricky asks politely.

No whiskey. No women. No piles of cocaine.

“That was in L.A.,” Dave says, sitting on a striped gold velvet couch, filing his nail with a small emery board. “When we played the Whisky for three nights in 1979. We opened for The Fabulous Poodles.”

A few minutes ago, he opened one of two bottles of Italian Sparkling Mineral Water that had been emptied of their original contents and filled with pinot noir. “Home brew,” he said, filling a clear, plastic cup.

Their show starts in like, twenty minutes. They already ran through a sound check (Was that it? Are we good? Can you do it in C-sharp?), came to a mutual agreement (That part when it goes bep, bep, bep? Start low) and just realized no one has any idea what songs they're singing tonight.

“Hey Herm,” Dave calls out. “We should probably do a set list.”

“That’s a hell of an idea,” Hermie agrees, pulling out a yellow folder filled with a few loose-leaf, double spaced sheets of notebook paper. The set list is usually determined "With fists," Dave laughs.

“This is what the Granati’s do,” he says. “A set list five minutes before the show. What a bunch of paesan’s.”

The paesan’s are about to electrify their amps in front of 246 people who paid fifty bucks for VIP seating and a pre-show meet-n-greet; 20 seats shy of a full house that came to see the Pittsburgh All-Star Band with special guests Donnie Iris and Cherylynn Hawk! But right now, they’re cracking jokes in the dressing room/green room/whatever room.

“Did you guys hear about the frustrated cannibal? He threw up his arms.”

“What are five words you never hear together? That’s the banjo player’s Porsche.”

“What do you throw a drowning guitar player? An amp.”

Everyone is laughing. Smiling. Having a hell of a good time. Everyone except Joey, who is stone faced, arms crossed, legs crossed, occupying a green armchair, not feeling 100% himself. Because… well, it’s a long story.

“But he does get nervous before every show,” Dave explains. “I always know when we have ten minutes left and five minutes left before it’s time to go on. When it’s ten minutes, he starts getting really nervous. Five minutes before the show, he’s in the bathroom. But normally, man, he’s having a hell of a good time.”

But right now, Joey is not laughing. Not smiling. Not having a hell of a good time. Not debating the merits of eating a package of Whole Grain Sandwich Crackers with Real Cheddar Cheese…

“Ever have ‘em?” Hermie asks. “They’re my go-to. They have some shit in them but they’re good.”

“They got that pro-tee-on in ‘em, but it’s usually ‘no dairy’ on the day of the show. The mucus,” Dave explains. “Although we heard Roger Daltrey would eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs before every show.”

“Hey,” Hermie announces. “It’s seven forty-eight. We’re on at eight right?”

Fifteen minutes later, a voice booms down the steps. "Guys! You ready to do this?”

It's 8:15 p.m. Time to go on stage. Time to rock and roll. Time to do this. Time for Joey to stop pacing back and forth, which he started doing five minutes ago, nervous as hell. “But once he gets started, his voice man,” Dave says. “Amazing.”

“Did mom finally get in?” Ricky asks as they climb the steps, all five foot six inches of him ducking to clear the low ceiling.

“Yeah,” Dave replies, the Roland slung over his shoulder. “She’s probably at the bar.”


The "Our Stories" series is an ongoing writing project by Kate Benz.

Capturing a moment in time in our everyday lives.

Raw. Real. Honest.

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