There are several things I appreciate in life, one of them is showers. My hangover feels like a f--king porcupine inside my skull, but as soon as I step behind the curtain in my shitty little bathroom, things start feeling better.
Last night got a little bit out of hand. I felt like celebrating the success of finding a guitarist, now known as Sam, so Tommy and I did shots until around three in the morning. Then the bar closed up, so we both went on a mad hunt for our apartments. I seem to remember saying good-bye to Tommy at a bus stop, then suddenly discovering I was on the wrong side of town. I tried to walk, but my legs seemed to sort of kick themselves out in front of my like a pair of wobbly tentacles, and generally didn't provide any means of support or transportation, for that matter. Finally I broke my piggy bank and called a cab. That's about all I can remember.
Now I'm out of the shower, making some coffee. I've put on a Tom Waits album, The Heart of Saturday Night, and it seems to help my headache. That fantastic piano, he has such a genius way of phrasing the music, not by adding more, but just applying pressure in the right places. I look at the clock on my microwave. Three-thirty. F--k, that's a little later than I was hoping for. I make a bowl of cereal, at the same time dialling Sam's number. It rings a few times, then he answers.
Hi, um, it's Andrew, from last night. I fumble; I'm still not entirely awake.
Oh, hey, he says. Wanna jam today?
Yeah, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Should we do it at your place or mine?
You live alone, right? he asks rhetorically. Probably your place, then. In about half an hour?
I give him directions, then I ask him how he's going to get his amp here.
He laughs. Oh, it's ok. Just wait and see.
This leaves me curious, not to mention slightly suspicious, but we say good-bye, and I eat my cereal. Another thing I appreciate, after showers and Tom Waits, is fruit loops.
The mint-flavour from my multicoloured tooth-paste (why the f--k is it so hard to find plain, white toothpaste these days?) dominates the inside of my mouth as I plug in my Fender P-Bass. I start practicing improvising and scales. Suddenly I realize that I haven't played properly with someone for about half a year. That's when my old band broke up, and for a few months after that I just drifted around, until I finally figured out that I'd try to make a go at this band thing.
This makes me a bit nervous, but I try to calm myself with the thought that I've been playing bass a few years longer than Sam has been playing guitar, and besides; we're just trying this out. No need to follow all the rules down to the dot.
After twenty minutes of scales and patterns, I hear something like a scooter coming down the street. Looking out the window, I laugh out loud. There's Sam, wearing pilot shades, wind blowing in his hair, guitar in bag on his back, driving a tiny little Vespa scooter that's pulling along an even tinier trailer with a big amp in it, strapped down by multiple bungee cords. It's like some freak modernization of the Lone Ranger, riding into town on his noble steed with a banjo on his back. I run down the stairs of the apartment complex and go outside to meet him. He parks his Vespa and I walk over.
Still smiling, I say: that's a unique form of transportation.
Yeah, he laughs, it gets the job done. I even have a small tarp for rainy days.
I help him with the bungee cords, and we take the elevator up to my apartment.
How long did you stay at the bar after I left last night? he asks as we watch the metre tick off three floors.
Um, three-ish I think, I say. I had a few too many.
He winces, ouch. Are you good to play?
Yeah, the worst of it is gone now.
We get into my apartment, and I tell him to make himself at home. He sets his amplifier parallel to mine, plugs in his wah-pedal, footswitch and Strat, and starts tuning.
Want some coffee? I offer.
Thanks, maybe later, he says. Let's get jamming.
He sounds excited. I suppose that's a good sign.
Alright, I say, what do you want to start with?
I'm not sure
There's an awkward silence for a few seconds, then he starts on a slow steady riff. He plays through it twice, and I give him the thumbs-up. He smiles, and puts the neck close to my face while he's playing so that I can see what he's doing: B for two beats, F sharp for one, A for a half and D for a half. I join in: Bam, ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam, ba-bam It's great, and I start grooving to it, switching around octaves and generally having a good time. Suddenly, without forewarning, he starts screaming out some lyrics: We're no f--king acoustic and a capo! We've come here to make a hell of a show! And we're not gonna keep the down low, cause we're no f--king acoustic and a caaaaaaapooooo!
Then he launches into a solo. He speeds straight up to the 14th fret, playing what looks like a minor pentatonic scale. He goes fast, but not so fast that he looses the rhythm or the accentuation of each note. After a bit of that, he jumps down an octave, same scale on the 2nd fret. Then he starts moving back and forth, adding more and more on the neck between the two octaves, until there's no differentiation between the two areas. He just blazes all over place, speeding up, slowing down, adding harmonics, using his wah-pedal skilfully. It sounds fantastic; somewhere in between Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and something I can't quite put my finger on. Eventually he comes to a close, and retires back to the original riff. By now we're playing pretty loud, so he just mouths the words:
Do a solo!
I do as I'm told, mixing scales as well as I can, adding slaps where it sounds good, speeding up, slowing down, stopping entirely and slipping in fills I'm loving this; even without drums it sounds fantastic. Sam has been building up the power of his guitars all the time, now it's hit its peak; a furious, massive distortion that's hard as f--k-all, without sounding like black-metal shit.
After a few more minutes, we bring it to a close. I'm sweating through my t-shirt, and we're both grinning.
F--king awesome! I exclaim.
Very good shit, he says, looking pleased.
What song was that?
Just a ditty I've been toying with since I started playing guitar, he explains, I always thought it would work well as an opener; it tells the crowd exactly what you are, that is, if you're a rock band, and it lets all the members of the band solo a bit, show off what they have.
Well, I say, making a play, you want to be in my band? Or do you want to go through a few more songs?
He looks surprised. Seriously? Are you offering me this? Just like that?
I laugh. Well, sure. I would of offered you it last night on the spot, I just didn't want to seem too forward. Besides, it's not much of an offer. We still need drums and vocals, maybe rhythm guitars.
Oh, we'll get all that, no problem, he smiles.
We shake hands to secure the deal, then we play some more songs. I get out a microphone with a collapsible stand and a crappy little PA system I've had for god only knows how long, so that Sam can sing until further notice. He has a decent voice, and seems to separate his guitar playing and his vocals pretty well, without screwing up or missing changes.
Sweet Child of Mine, All Along the Watchtower, Whole Lotta Love, Hey Joe, a sped up version of Fortunate Son, Transmission, even Hysteria, which takes a lot of convincing to get me to play, (no offence to Muse, they're just not my thing), but Sam completely transforms the song with some weird distortion and lots of wah-wah. They all fly by, no kinks, no messes, just really good shit all around.
After a while we take a coffee break, and talk about stuff.
How did you get involved with that jazz band? I ask.
Wasn't much of a trick, he says with a sigh. I was at this open stage thing at a club, and these two guys were playing together, just bass and drums. After a few songs, they asked if anyone wanted to add some sax, piano, guitars, anything. So I jumped on stage and played with them.
He takes a long gulp of coffee before continuing:
Anyway, we played a few improvised songs, and much to my surprise, they said I was great, and asked if I wanted to play with them regularly. I was, like, really surprised, cause I had never really played jazz, but I said sure. Well, for a few months I had the time of my life; we jammed, played gigs, f--ked hot chicks, smoked mountains of pot It was just really fun to do something in a completely different style.
He goes quiet, as if lost in his own thoughts.
So, what happened? I enquire.
Not really sure myself. It happened so gradually that I didn't really notice it until it blew up in my face. After a few months, Sinclair
The bassist? I interrupt.
Yeah, at first he just started commenting on my playing, you know: hey, could you make that solo a bit more varied?/why are you using that scale?/that doesn't sound like the right chord' after a while his comments became criticism, then just downright abuse. Leopold, the drummer, tried his best to keep things friendly, helping me with rhythms and shit, but Sinclair just kept flaming me. Suddenly it wasn't fun anymore; practising always ended up with Sinclair and I screaming at each other, while Leopold attempted to be the diplomat, trying to agree and not agree with both of us at the same time, but it was obvious that he was leaning more towards Sinclair. I can't really blame him, I guess. Anyway, last night the whole thing reached its peak.
Man, that sucks, I say.
Yeah, well, now it's over, and I'm ready to rock.
He looks around the room.
Do you have another cigarette? he asks.
Oh, um, I have a non-smoking contract with the landlord. I say. Sorry.
He stares at the table for a second, then gets a confused look on his face.
Wait, you're a smoker, but you have a non-smoking contract? he asks suspiciously.
Well, I don't actually smoke.
What? I saw you with a pack last night! You even gave me one
Well, that is to say I fumble.
He interrupts; And how the f--k did you know that the bassist's name was Sinclair?
Um, what? He said when you guys were on stage I lie.
No, he didn't! You f--king spied on us! Sam is looking at me, his face displaying something between anger and confusion.
What the f--k?! he yells, are you some sort of f--king stalker, man?
No! I just listened I say, getting up.
Sam jumps to his feet, grabbing a knife from the kitchen counter, pointing it at me viciously.
You did shit! Now stay the f--k back!
He circles me carefully over to his guitar, and starts packing it up, knife on the amp, ready to be grabbed.
Look, man, you are being seriously paranoid, I say, slowly taking a step forward. It's nothing like that! I happened to walk by
STAY THE F--K BACK! he screams, grabbing the knife and slinging his now packed guitar on his back.
He grabs his amp with his other hand, and with knife still pointed at me, starts moving towards the door.
Sam! You are completely overreacting! I was just
I don't give a f--k what you think! I SAID STAY THE F--K BACK!
He kicks the door open and heads down the stairs, calling up to me:
Don't try to follow me, I will f--king kill you!
I stand in the doorway, speechless, with only one thought in my head: What the f--k? I walk over to the window, and look down. Sam is strapping his amp to the trailer with his bungee cords, and I notice that his hands are shaking. I look at his face, and see that he's crying uncontrollably. He starts the Vespa, drops the knife on the asphalt, and speeds off.
That must be the single most surreal, bizarre experience in my entire life. Sipping my coffee, I notice that I'm shaking a bit myself after having a knife pointed at me. There went my guitarist, convinced that I'm some stalker-rapist or something.
I go outside, pick up the knife, and take it back to my apartment. As I wash the dented blade, I try to replay the last five minutes' events in my head, but nothing makes sense. What triggered that huge outbreak? He wouldn't even let me explain, he just threatened to kill me.
What the f--k am I going to do now?
Robert Ippolito, June 2009