Danny waits for the lights to go down before coming out of the back room. When all eyes are turned toward the stage, he slips out and moves into the crowd, keeping out of the club staff's view. His brother Jay let him in through the loading door while the band was getting ready. Jay didn't want him to get kicked out, so he kept him in the back until it was time for the band to go on. Danny figured he looked old enough to pass for legal, but Jay insisted: wait until we're on stage.
Everyone watches the four members of Hellakill as they take their places. Peter sits behind the drum kit, sweeps long blond hair back over his shoulders, picks up his sticks and begins banging out a sharp staccato beat, baa-dap-dip-dap-dip-dap-dip-dap, baa-dap-dip-dap-dip-dap-dip-dap. He adds a fill and falls back into the beat as the others take their positions.
A handsome young man with cropped hair and athletic physique steps up to the microphone stand. This is Tyson, the singer of the band. He grips the mike with one hand and watches as Jay, Danny's older brother, slips the strap of his left-handed Ibanez over his shoulder. Jay switches on and strokes a pick across the strings, sending a blast of fuzz out from the tower of speakers on the right of the stage. Jay looks to Steve on the left, wearing his low-slung bass. Steve starts playing a low, steady throb to follow the sharp beat of the drums.
On the floor in front of the stage, the crowd around Danny begins to move. Although The Station is one of Millenburgh's cooler venues, it's not a big place, and people jostle Danny as they push in to see the band play.
The stage lights come up and Jay nods to Peter. The drummer stands up, and maintaining the beat, he hammers the drum sticks together one-two-three-four, and the band launches into its first song. Tyson screams out a long sustained "Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" as Jay and Steve begin head-banging along with the pounding beat of the guitar, bass and drums.
The crowd around Danny cheers. The people on all sides of him heave up and down to the beat, rocking along with the action on stage. He moves with them, not because he wants to but because if he doesn't, he'll get knocked on his ass. As a skinny seventeen-year-old surrounded by people who are at least twenty-one (or are supposed to be), it's a struggle for him to maintain his place on the jammed dance floor.
This is the first time Danny has come out to see Jay and his band play. It's not his thing. But tonight, Jay insisted he come. Danny told him to forget it; I'm not going to one of your dumb-ass loser shows. But Jay kept pushing, telling Danny to get his jacket and get his ass in the van.
Danny didn't really know why, but eventually he turned off his video game and followed his brother outside.
The band plays with massive energy, head-banging and foot-stomping, jumping in the air and landing on the crash of Peter's cymbals. Tyson holds the microphone with both hands and screams his lyrics about being a prisoner: "But I'm free inside you... I'm free inside you..." The people respond, dancing and jumping in place, yelling and shouting. Danny, five-foot-nine but not filled out, has to fight to keep his footing.
The band roars to a stop, ending the song with a blaring whine of feedback. Jay has on a furious face, sweat already gathering on his forehead. Danny knows Jay is pissed off for real, because tonight he has to try and play both lead and rhythm guitar to cover up for a missing man. Their rhythm guitarist quit just two days ago, leaving them in the lurch. It's all Jay's been talking about, yapping at Danny all the time about what a prick this guy is to just take off, all on account of a stupid argument.
Jay leads the band into its second song with a blast of distortion. The band jumps on it and then start screaming along like a locomotive on fire and full of dynamite, running out of control down a steep mountain incline toward a village sleeping in the valley. Jay is ripping it up on his guitar, playing the heavy riffs that Danny has heard him play quietly a hundred times at the house.
Song follows song, and Danny gets exhausted from trying to hold his position in the middle of the crowd. The four guys up on the stage do not get tired. They get slick with sweat, but not tired. Big dark stains spread across the t-shirts of Tyson, Jay and Steve, while Peter pulls his shirt off altogether, but they keep hammering away at their instruments, the music coming fast and loud.
After fourteen songs, Tyson barks thank you, goodnight into the microphone and replaces it on its stand. Steve and Jay pull off their guitars and set them to rest against the amplifiers. The band moves to the right, stepping down a set of steps and out of view of the audience. Danny remembers his cue and moves toward the door to the right of the stage, slipping through the sweaty boozy stinking crowd. People shout and whistle in his ears as he pushes, but he makes it to the door and pounds twice. The door cracks open and he slips in.
"Okay, wait here," Jay tells him. The band heads back up the steps onto the stage to a cheer from the crowd. Danny sits down on the tattered green couch that fills the cramped prep area and reads the stickers on the equipment cases, waiting for the band to finish their encore.
The four members of Hellakill take their time, soaking up the audience appreciation before playing one more song. They play, and when they finish the crowd keeps cheering, even after they leave the stage. Danny doesn't get what the big deal is. Okay, they got on stage and played a bunch of songs. They were okay, but it's not like they're rock stars or anything.
Jay, Tyson, Peter and Steve come down the steps, Steve and Jay carrying their guitars with them. Tyson heads into the tiny washroom attached to the back room. Peter pulls a fresh t-shirt over his head and starts for the door out into the bar.
Going for beers? Jay asks him. Get one for Danny too. I'll pay for it.
Sure. The drummer slips out, closing the door behind him.
Steve and Jay set about putting their guitars into hard-body cases. So, Jay says to Danny. What did you think?
"All right, I guess. There are a lot of girls here. That's cool."
"Damn right," Steve says. He snaps his case shut and stands up, leaning over backward to stretch out his back. "Did you see the chick with the pink top? Right in front? Man, she was hot."
"You mean Carol?" asks Jay.
"You know her?"
"I've seen her out at shows before."
"Cool. Yeah, I'm going to try and find her." Steve opens up a green Indiana University Millenburgh backpack and pulls out a fresh t-shirt and a towel. He changes and dries his hair, wiping away the sweat of performance. "Okay," he says, stuffing his soaked shirt and towel back into the bag. "You dudes are staying back here, right? I'll catch you later."
Tyson comes out of the bathroom and he and Jay start discussing the show: what songs sounded tight, what worked, what didn't. For nearly every song Jay has the same comment: the band needs two guitarists.
"Why did that other guy quit, anyway?" Danny asks.
"Because he's a dick," answers Tyson, not looking at Danny. Danny slumps back into the couch.
Peter comes in with four bottles of beers and passes them out. Danny takes one. He doesn't drink often, but he's always willing to take a free beer.
Jay looks at his younger brother. "I need to cool down. Danny, you want to step out back with me?"
Danny gets up to join his brother. This whole night is a strange trip for him: generally he and Jay treat each other with nothing but animosity, grudging tolerance at best. They never hang out together and usually if they share any contact it's a curse or a shove. But since he's here and he doesn't know these other guys at all, he gets up and follows Jay out of the loading door into the alley.
Outside, Jay lights a cigarette.
"Shouldn't smoke, man," Danny says, taking a sip of his beer.
"Whatever," Jay says. "I know you and your friends smoke pot all the time."
"That's different. Pot doesn't cause cancer."
"Maybe not, but that doesn't mean it's good for you." They stand there in silence, not looking at each other. Finally Jay asks, "Really, what did you think of the show?"
Danny shrugs. "I don't know. It was pretty cool. It's not really my thing, but you know. Whatever."
"Hmm." Jay nods his head, takes a drag. "So you don't think..."
"I don't think what?"
"You don't think you'd want to learn guitar? Maybe play with us?"
Danny laughs. "Holy crap, is that why you brought me here tonight? You want me to replace that guy who quit your band? Dude, I've never even held a guitar."
"I know, I know. Don't worry about that. Just tell me, if I taught you how, would you want to play? Is it something you would be interested in?"
Danny stares up into the night sky in disbelief. "Why would I want to?"
"Because no offence man, but you've got nothing going on." Danny gets a furious look on his face and Jay holds up his hands. "Okay, just hang on, don't get pissed off. Hear me out. You're graduating at the end of the year. You're not going to go to college, are you? All you really do in your spare time is play video games and get stoned. And that might seem like fun now, but sooner or later it's not going to be so cool."
"And playing in your loser band would be some kind of improvement?"
"Playing in my loser band might get you out of that bedroom. Seriously Danny, you need to get out and participate in something. Try some new stuff."
"You sound like dad when he tried to get me play football."
Jay sighs. "Just think about it, okay? It's hard work, but I think it would be good for you. I won't mention it again tonight, and don't you say anything to any of those guys. If you decide it's something you want to do, then I'll talk to them. Think it over. Come on, let's go back in."
Jay stamps out his cigarette and the two brothers re-enter the back room of The Station. Although they share the same features, they two young men couldn't be more different. Jay walks in with confidence, a slender but muscular frame, head held up. Danny slinks in behind him, skinny and hunched over. Everything about him hangs: his shoulder length brown hair, his baggy clothes, his head.
Tyson and Peter are still in the back room talking about the show. A few others have crowded into the space as well, two girls and another guy. They talk and drink beers for a while. Jay buys a few more for his underage brother.
Later that night they load the gear back into the van and drive home. Peter, who had only a single beer, is the driver. He drops off Jay and Danny first.
Danny watches while Jay carries his guitar and amp up the driveway to their house. The both notice, but neither of them mentions that their father's car is not in the driveway. Looks like he's spending the night elsewhere again.
"Okay," Danny says as he fits his key into the front door. "If I join your band, how am I supposed to play in the bars? I won't be legal for three and a half years."
"If you decide to join the band, we'll work around that." Danny says nothing and pushes open the door.
2007 Nolan Whyte