The Warren household is not in good shape. Jay and Danny's parents, Jeff and Cheryl Warren, haven't been getting along well lately. On Wednesday night they're both out, although not with each other. It's like that a lot. Sometimes Danny figures they both stay away from the house to avoid running into each other. Neither of the boys can figure out where the hell their father sleeps most nights. Although they haven't discussed it with each other, they're both fairly certain there isn't another woman involved, but who can say for sure? It's not like they can ask him. He's never home.
The first time Jay sees his brother all day is when he knocks on Danny's closed bedroom door at seven o'clock. There is an invitation from within and Jay pushes the door open. As expected, Danny is sitting on the floor with his back against his bed, game controller in hand, staring at the TV set on his desk. He's playing a first-person shooter, wandering through gloomy computer-generated hallways, blasting away at bone-white zombies darting back and forth in the distance.
"What's going on?" Danny asks, his eyes not leaving the screen.
"Did you eat tonight, or what?"
"I'll eat later." Blast, blast. "Mom didn't make anything, did she?"
"No. I'm going to do some spaghetti later. Can you pause this?"
"Sure." Danny hits a button and a menu screen pops up. He watches as Jay pulls something from behind his back. It's a large hard-body guitar case.
"Ready for a lesson?" Jay asks.
Danny looks at the clock on his dresser, looks at the guitar case, the TV, and back at the clock. Finally he sets the controller down. "Okay," he says. "I guess so."
Danny sits on the bed and Jay gives him the guitar. The acoustic looks large in his lap. Jay gets his own guitar from the basement and seats himself on a chair facing his brother. He flicks the stereo their parents gave Danny for Christmas a few years ago. No surprise to Jay, there's no disc inside when he opens the tray. Jay slips in one of his own and closes it.
"Whose guitar is this again?" Danny asks.
"Tyson's. The singer. You remember him, right?"
"Yeah. I don't really get this though," Danny says, clumsily running the pick Jay gave him over the strings. "If you guys need a guitar player and Tyson can already play, why doesn't he just do it?"
"Simple. Axl Rose."
"Axl Rose. Robert Plant. Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, Scott Weiland, Steve Tyler, Vince Neil, and about a million other lead singers. Tyson thinks a band needs to have a lead singer that's free to move around and doesn't have to worry about playing guitar."
"Why does he have it then?"
"He writes songs on it. Enough about Tyson, okay? I want to show you something." Jay queues up the song he wants on the stereo and hits play. There is a tat-tat-tat-crash of drums and a bass riff, followed by some feedback.
"Okay, lesson one," Jay announces. "The Misfits. You like games with zombies and monsters and shit like that, right? Okay, these guys wrote about a hundred songs about being an ass-kicking demon bastard. This song is called "London Dungeon." The guitar is super easy. You can learn it, no problem."
"What do I do?"
"Just listen to the song for a minute. Okay, you got the sound in your head? The rhythm?" He hits pause. "You hear that riff, right? It goes like, bow-now, bow-wow-wow-now," Jay says, singing the guitar part. "Super easy. Hit that first string. Just pluck it with your pick. It's the "E" string, okay? Okay, just put your finger here, on this. This is called a fret. Hold your finger on this fret. Now play that string again. Okay, cool. Now move your finger here and do it again. Different sound, right? Easy. Cool. Okay, now the next note is halfway in between..."
Jay shows him each note, making Danny play them one at a time, and then all in a sequence. One at a time is easy, but the sequence takes Danny more time.
"Listen to it, bow-now, bow-wow-wow-now," Jay sings as Danny slowly plays the notes. "Awesome. There, you got it."
Danny shrugs. "Okay, that's kind of cool. Can I try playing along with the CD?"
"Let's hold off on that for a minute. The song is easy, but they play it really fast. I want to show you something else. When you hold more than one string and play all the strings at once, that's called a chord, okay? Now, hold this string here, and this string right next to it. Just those two strings. Okay, just run the pick over the strings. Go down once."
Danny follows Jay's instructions, playing the chord.
"Cool," Jay says. "That's E minor. Now hold that chord, okay? I'm going to play the rhythm part for the song, and when I nod, you play that chord, okay?"
They continue for about a half hour, and Jay teaches Danny the song. They play through it a few times, going slowly along, with Jay playing the bass part on his own guitar and singing, prompting Danny when and how to play the guitar parts.
When they've played it through from beginning to end a second time, Danny picks at the fingertips on his left hand with his thumbnail. "My fingers hurt."
"Yeah. But they get tough quickly. You just need to build up some calluses. Is that enough for tonight?"
Danny nods. He asks Jay if he can keep the guitar in his room. Then he asks if he can borrow The Misfits disc as well.
"Yeah, of course. And what you doing Saturday night?"
Danny shrugs, sinking back onto the floor in front of the TV. "I don't know. Probably hanging out with Kev."
"All right. There's a party you should come to. Bring Kev too, if he wants to come."
"Okay, maybe. Whose party is it?"
"I'll tell you about it later. I'm starving. You want some spaghetti?"
On Thursday and Friday Jay gives Danny similar lessons, being careful to keep them short, easy and fun. He's pretty certain that if Danny gets bored or frustrated he'll quit, so his goal is to make the kid fall in love with music and the guitar before he has the chance to get annoyed with the process of learning. Starting with The Misfits is good. On Wednesday they learned "London Dungeon," on Thursday they try "She," and on Friday "Where Eagles Dare." The lesson is always simple. Danny listens to the song. Jay shows him how to play it, and then they work through it at a fraction of the hyperactive speed the band used in the original recording sessions.
Most important to Jay is that Danny really likes The Misfits disc. For a kid who never listens to music that doesn't accompany a video game, this represents a major breakthrough.
On Saturday night Kev comes around to their house and the three of them catch a bus. Jay has on a heaving backpack. "Okay," he says, explaining the situation for the two younger boys. "This is a college party. You guys will probably be the only high school kids there, so take care, all right? I don't know the people who are having the party, but a band I know is going to play there. These guys are awesome. That's why we're going. It costs five bucks to get in, but I'll pay for you guys. You have to pay me for the beer you drink though. I brought eighteen. You guys give me a dollar for each one you have. Is that fair?"
"Why do we have to pay to get into a party?" Danny asks.
"The money goes to the band."
"That's only six beers each," says Kev.
"If you wanted more you should have got some yourself," Jay replies.
"I can't buy beer."
"Well, shut up then."
They ride the bus through the city, going downtown before rolling past the college campus and into the sprawling residential neighborhoods of Millenburgh's south end. Jay pulls a slip of paper from his pocket and checks the address. They wait for the bus to pass another two blocks, then hop out at the next stop and start walking.
It's a nice neighborhood. Quiet. The house is a tidy bungalow about the same size as Jay and Danny's, with an uncut lawn and four people sitting on the doorstep talking and smoking cigarettes.
"Well, it's not like a high school party," Kev says.
"What do you mean?" asks Danny.
"There aren't guys passed out all over the lawn and the cops aren't here."
"You never went to a party like that," Danny says as they walk up the driveway. Jay pays one of the guys on the doorstep fifteen bucks and the three of them head into the house.
Inside the front door Jay pulls the pack off his shoulders, reaches into it and hands Danny and Kev each a can of beer. Danny reaches for his wallet but Jay stops him. "I'll get it later," he says. They each crack open a beer, kick off their shoes onto the pile heaped at the door, and wander into a living room full of young people.
The house is being rented by four students from Indiana University Millenburgh. The furniture is all second hand and the walls are decorated with movie and music posters, with Sid Vicious, The Cure, Yoda and Jack Nicholson breaking through a door in The Shining all represented. The people at the party, also predominantly IUM students, are lounging around with drinks in hand talking, while The Shins play on an unseen stereo.
"Hey man," Jay says to the first kid they meet, "do you know where the band is?"
"Their stuff is set up downstairs," he says. "They might be down there too, but I'm not sure."
"Cool." Jay leads the way through the crowd.
"Who's this band?" Danny asks.
"They're called Pattern Disruption. I've played a few gigs with them, and Steve takes classes with their lead singer."
"'Pattern Disruption'?" Kev sneers. "What kind of name is that?"
"Yeah, I know. Just don't say anything, all right? If you piss them off, they'll kick your ass, and then I'll kick your ass. And then we'll leave you bleeding in the park and you can walk home. Get it?"
Kev doesn't say anything. Danny grins and elbows him. "Don't take that from him," Danny teases his friend. "Kick his ass."
"Shut up," Kev says. Danny laughs.
They get down to the basement, which clearly hasn't been redecorated since the original owners moved out. The walls are finished with fake wood paneling and the floor is covered with worn-out orange shag carpeting. There's a ratty second hand couch with four people on it, and more students sitting around on the floor. Against the far wall is a drum kit, amps, guitars, a microphone stand and a bunch of boxy black pieces of sound equipment.
"Hey guys," Jay says to the two boys and two girls squeezed onto the couch.
One of the girls, a good looking blonde in a tight blue t-shirt gets up and gives Jay a hug. "Hey! Thank you so much for coming! Is Steve here too?"
"No, I don't think he's going to make it. This is my brother Danny and his friend Kev. Guys, this is Julie," he says, indicating the blonde girl. "That's Ron, Kathy and Scott. Pattern Disruption."
Danny and Kev nod and wave, but don't say anything.
"So Jay," says Ron, a boy with a curly mop of blonde hair and Buddy Holly glasses, "are you going to get up and play with us tonight?"
"I don't know. We'll see. When are you guys going on?"
"Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes," says Julie, who now has her hand on Jay's shoulder. "Yeah, you should totally do a song with us."
Kev nudges Danny. Danny looks, and Kev pinches his thumb and finger together and holds them to his lips. Danny nods. "We're going to step outside for a few minutes," he says.
"Are you guys going to go smoke a joint?" asks Kathy, the girl on the couch. "Can I join you?"
Danny looks at Kev. Kev shrugs. "Sure, I guess," Danny says.
"Cool," the girl jumps off the couch and runs up the stairs. Danny exchanges a look with Jay before following her and Kev up and out the back door into the night air.
2007 Nolan Whyte