It's June 2001. Keith Streng steers a cramped mini-van north along Lincoln Avenue in Chicago while Peter Zaremba, Bill Milhizer and Ken Fox sprawl in the back nursing hangovers and road weariness. They pull into the Apache, quaintly described as a "hooker hotel" by local folk, and drag their gear and merchandise into a decrepit room. Blood is splattered on the ceiling, roaches scurry on the walls and grainy porn blares on the television. Next door, two obese half-naked guys sit on a bed with an enormous bottle of cheap bourbon between them, staring idly at the TV.The Fleshtones are celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary, but there aren't any sold-out venues or golden gifts to cash in. A quarter century into it and the guys still crash on promoters' floors or share small beds in dingy hotels like the Apache."I don't want fame, I want notoriety," Peter Zaremba once said, and in the years since making that statement he has indeed become the charismatic leader of his own cult. The Fleshtones stand as the ultimate example of principle, pride and determination.
A group of working-class guys testifying to a cause in the face of odds stacked so highly against them that they are destined to forever play in the shadows. "Sweat" is a bare-knuckled account of road-paving rock & roll played in the real world, where success measured over the long haul is redefined each and every hard-won morning.
Joe Bonomo teaches in the English Department of Northern Illinois University. His personal essays and prose poems have appeared in numerous literary journals. He first saw the Fleshtones play live at the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington DC in 1983, and has also accompanied the band on a recent tour of the Midwest. He lives in Illinois.