I went back to my apartment and started cleaning. I organized. I threw things out. I swept the corners and emptied the trash. As I worked, I thought about how my life needed to be reorganized as well. I had a job with limited upward mobility, and no "career" potential. I had a laptop filled with words, but career potential was limited there as well. I had a pair of guitars propped up in the corner. Was there anything there besides the occassional good time?
My random sexual encounter with Megan, and my ongoing post-breakup analysis of my relationship with Carrie Anne had finally helped me form a unifying theory of what women want: in high school girls want a cool guy who treats them well. In university they want an interesting guy who will show them new things and treat them well. After university they want a guy who is working on something, going somewhere, and who treats them well. Later on, they want the guy who has his shit together, has a good career, earns good money, can offer security, and treats them well.
Where was I? I had derailed. I was sitting there, post-university, having stalled in a dead-end job, investing all my time and energy in a blogger hobby-career that would likely go nowhere. This would not do.
I got a beer out of the fridge and slumped on the couch. Freaking music writer. What were my prospects? I could eventually become a newspaper writer, but papers are shrinking, disappearing, being replaced by the internet, which didn't pay worth shit so far. After nearly a year of constant self-pimping I'd earned less than two hundred dollars writing for the net. That covered two-thirds of my annual internet bill. I was losing ground.
Hell with it. I couldn't see the immediate way out. I had a university degree that didn't provide a direct career path, and no skills except talking shit about music and playing some bad guitar. I looked over at the guitars again...
I thought about going upstairs and talking to Terry about it. It was weird, but I was starting to see Terry as the male role model that wasn't always around when I was growing up. My dad was an okay guy, but he was only interested in parenting in a very hands-off way. I guess our post-divorce weekends together during my youth hadn't given me much direction.
There were four cans of beer left in the fridge. I threw them in a paper bag, headed upstairs and started pounding on Terry's door.
To my surprise, he opened right away. He was still a skinny, wrinkled, unshaven mess of a man, but he was up. He was even dressed.
"Morning, Nate. Score last night?"
"Oh. Hey. Um, yes, yes I did. You want a beer?"
He squinted his eyes. "What's going on?"
I said. "I have beers left over from last night. You want to, you know, drink some beers and, you know, talk?"
"Sure, I guess so,"
he said, letting me inside his apartment. "So you got some action, huh?"
I said with a shrug. "I didn't expect that! But yeah..."
I handed him a beer and stuck the others in the fridge.
"Yeah, she seemed pretty cool,"
Terry said. "Her friend was nice, too. Not much there, but a nice girl."
He looked at the beer, sighed, and cracked it open. "I usually have breakfast first, you know?"
I sat down on one of his chairs. "Yeah, I guess it's early, but I'm feeling a bit mixed up. So that girl stayed over, and we did it, right? But this morning she told me that she doesn't want to go out with me or anything like that, because I'm not really doing anything with my life. You know what I mean?"
he said, taking a small sip. "It's that music writer thing you're doing, man. That kind of job is like pussy-repellant, man. Girls want the star, not the reporter. They want the lead singer, and when he's taken, they want the lead guitarist. Then the rhythm guitarist. Then the drummer. Then the roadies. Then the merch guys. And if there's nobody else around, the girls will eventually go for the bass player. And then, and only then, would a girl even look at a music writer."
I shrugged. "Well, I did have sex with a gorgeous stripper last night."
"Sure, but I bet she fucked you in spite of the writer thing, not because of it."
I sat staring at the paintings that covered his walls. "What do you think I should do?"
"Hell, I don't know. Shit, look at my life. I'm a mess. Why come to me for advice?"
He sat down at his kitchen table and started rolling a cigarette.
I laughed. "I don't know. Perspective?"
"Okay, here's my perspective,"
he said. "You've got a job, right? At a big box store or something? Stay with that for the next forty years, marry a plain girl with low expectations, and you'll be a hell of a lot better off than I am right now."
I said. "I thought you were a rock star type guy, aren't you? Talking like that, you sound like, like Keith Richards' dad or something. You know, make it through the Great Depression, get a good job in a light bulb factory, and stay there for your whole life. Keith Richards led his whole life in opposition to that lifestyle, and that's the advice you give? Shit."
"Keith Richards has a million dollars in the bank,"
Terry said. "I don't. Neither do you. I tried to play it that way and I've got nothing. And I'm a pretty good musician, you know? I've written some good songs. I can play. And I'm still broke. So you make your choice. Work your secure job, and play in a band on the weekends. Or write your little music reviews on the weekends, I don't care. Write reviews of people who actually have the balls to get up and play."
I said. "A weekend warrior, like your buddy Paul."
"Sure, like Paul,"
Terry said. He lit his cigarette. "Except Paul,"
he said, taking his first drag, "spent twenty years trying to be an artist, and now he's trying to be a musician, except it's too late to make anything of it. Paul wants to take his shot, but he's going nowhere. Just like you. You're trying to be a music writer, but some day you might realize you had a chance to actually play, and like Paul, it will be too late to make anything of it. This is a young man's game."
"I am a young man,"
he replied. "But you're not in the game."
I sat and stared at his walls. I wished Megan had woken up to see walls covered in my own paintings, like Terry's walls.
"But what can I do?"
I said, hopelessly repeating myself. "I'm not good enough to play music seriously. And I can see already that music writing is... well, it could be a good hobby, but that's about it. And really, the thought of just spending the rest of my life working in a store is, ugh, it's just soul-crushing."
"Who says you're not good enough?"
"Good enough to what?"
Terry sighed. He got up, beer in one hand and cigarette in the other, and walked over and stopped in front of me. He stood up on his left foot, holding his arms at his sides for balance, and then carefully used his right foot to push me backwards over the chair and onto the floor.
The landing was like a hard thump that I could feel right through my skeleton, but somehow my focus remained on keeping my can of beer upright so no more than a splash hit the floor. "What the hell, man,"
I said, rolling over onto my knees. "What the hell was that for?"
he said. "Who's your favorite boy? It's Lou Reed, isn't it? And you admit yourself that Lou Reed isn't that good of a guitar player. But he's got balls, doesn't he? Where are your balls? You can play the guitar, you love music, but you would rather hide behind writing reviews instead of trying to actually do some of your own shit, wouldn't you?"
He sighed and walked back to the kitchen, grabbed his dish towel and threw it to me. "I don't know what your problem is. You're worried all the time about getting chicks, having a career, all this shit. All I know is that you love music more than anything, and you can play, but you choose not to. I think you're afraid. Or lazy. Either way."
I used the towel to wipe up the spilled drops. "So what are you saying? I should try and put a band together?"
he said. "I think you want to, but you're too scared. But I think you'll regret not doing it. That's why Paul is doing all this, because he regrets not going for it when he was younger. And I'm not saying you'll make it, or be successful, but shit, I can't figure out why you won't try."
I sat back on the chair and thought it over. "Would you help me?"
I asked him.
He finished his cigarette and ashed it out in the tray on the kitchen table. He shrugged. "Yes and no, I guess. I'm always up for a jam. But would I do all the work for you, like I am with Paul and his 'project'?"
He made air quotes with his fingers. "No. You find your players, you write some songs, you go out there and get your gigs. I'll even come and see you play. At least once, anyway."
I thought about it. "Maybe. Yeah. I've been thinking about it for a while now."
"Yeah. Just do me one favor, okay? Forget everything I said a few minutes ago about the girls liking singers and guitar players and all that shit. Don't do this to try and hook up. Do it to make some good, interesting new music. Otherwise you'll just be another wanker jerking off on stage."
I nodded. "Okay. I promise. I guess I'll have to start looking for other players."
"Yeah. Start working the phones. Look, I don't mean to throw you out, and thanks for the beer and everything, but I've actually got stuff to do today. So if you wouldn't mind..."
He gave me the unopened cans out of the fridge and sent me on my way. I got the idea that he didn't really have anything else to do; he simply wasn't interested in listening to me whine anymore.
Fair enough. I called up Ty, who had been the bass player of Panegyric, my university band. Like me, he'd mostly given up playing music since Panegyric split up. Also like me, he was on the lower end of the talent scale, and he wasn't very dedicated when it came to practicing. He was, however, the only person that I'd played in a band with that lived in the same city as me.
Ty was up for hanging out, so that night I went over to the apartment where he lived with his girlfriend, Brianna. They were on the top floor of an old house that had been converted into units. It wasn't much of a place, really, with it's sloping roof-walls and the whole cold-in-the-winter, hot-in-the-summer issues, but they'd turned it into a cozy den of pot-smoking comfort. It was December and they had the windows open to let the smoke seep out.
said Brianna when she let me in, wrapping an arm around my neck in a half-hug. "Long time no see."
"Yeah, I've been pretty busy,"
I said. She led me into the living room. Ty was there, and we shook hands. We got our drinks and settled into comfy chairs. As usual, they were blazing away, and offered me a hit off their gigantic bong.
I said. "I wanted to ask something half-serious, actually. What do you think about getting a new band together?"
Ty said with an exaggerated shrug. "Just you and me? Dude, I don't even play anymore. And Mitch did all the real work in Panegyric. What would we do without him? It's not like we're going to write a bunch of songs on our own."
"We could write songs. I've been playing again. And I've been doing some writing. Lyrics and stuff. Not much, but we could give it a shot. We find a couple more guys, maybe someone who can sing. We don't need Mitch."
"We sure needed him then."
I said with a smile, trying to keep cool, "I know Mitch was the main guy. He was the singer, song-writer, guitar-wizard, everything. I admit that. Panegyric was his band. But if we try to do something on our own, it wouldn't be Panegyric. Panegyic was Mitch's band. This would be OUR band."
Brianna took the bong from Ty. "Didn't you guys already try to play together? After you moved back? Do I remember that? It feels like I do..."
She lit up and took a huge rip off the bong.
"Yeah, but that was just a jam. It was unfocused. We could do it for real if we put our minds to it. I know we could."
Ty smiled and shook his head. "Sorry, Nate,"
he said. "I'm just not into it."
I nodded. "Okay."
I dropped the subject and tried to enjoy a night with my old friend. I would have to look elsewhere.
|This is chapter 21 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive updates about his work on twitter at @nolanwhyte, and invade another world at endcity.blogspot.ca.|