"And, of course," Eric butts in, "if you're completely in love with a certain band, like I am with the Vivian Girls —"

"You can stalk them," Michelle says with a glint in her eye.

"It's a crazed fan's dream," he adds. "You're on a boat, and they can't get away."

Black Lips vs. bruisers aboard the Carnival Imagination.
Ian Witlen
Black Lips vs. bruisers aboard the Carnival Imagination.

On Sunday, as the sun drops beyond the horizon, the Imagination is already cruising back to Miami. If there's wine left in the room, this is the time to drink it. And if not, it's time to order the last round.

Around 9 p.m., an employee of a popular music streaming service carries a bucket of Bud Lights into a cabin. Sitting on a bunk bed in the corner, with his sleeve pulled up, the Strange Boys' baby-faced singer, Ryan Sambol, is getting a tattoo on his right shoulder with a pin and ballpoint pen. His new ink spells out "GINA." He jokes that while he's receiving this devotional to her, "She's probably sleeping with some stranger right now."

All the while, Andy Cross, a young man with several similarly homemade tattoos on his arms, sits across from Sambol and explains how he got to the Bruise Cruise from New Orleans by posting flyers around town, meeting a generous woman who had just gotten out of a bad relationship, and persuading her to drive 14 hours.

"Everyone will remember this festival as our Woodstock," Cross adds excitedly.

Soon, though, midnight hits and it's almost time for the final scheduled event of the Bruise Cruise — a semiprivate gathering. The invitation reads, "You are invited... to a very special VIP event... featuring piano playing by Joseph Bradley of the Black Lips."

Wearing a black tux and his hair suavely slicked back, Bradley sits behind the keys, easily the classiest-looking person in this room of haggard, drunken survivors. A few bruisers slip off to quiet corners of the sun deck's fake grass for a make-out session. Others disappear back to their rooms. But Surfer Blood manager Rich Weiss sits at a table near the lido deck bar and contemplatively sips a drink.

"It's 3:42 a.m. on the last night of fucking Bruise Cruise," he says. "I wish this wouldn't end. It's indie rock summer camp. No one wants to say goodbye. We're toasting marshmallows. Except instead of toasting marshmallows, we're drinking Crown Royal out of a bottle. Nothing will quite compare to this first time."

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