Danny sits with Benny in the McLaughlin Collegiate computer lab during the Monday lunch period. He watches as she uploads photos of Hellakill onto the band's MySpace page, providing substance to the bare-bones profile. The photos are pretty good, taken at the band's Friday night performance at Duke's. They capture the band sweating it out on stage, working under the hot lights. The stink of rock and roll is evident in the images.
"I think I'm ready to play with these guys," Danny says, as Benny sizes and arranges the pics on the page. "I mean, I play the songs with Jay, and when I hear the whole band play, I can hear where my guitar part is supposed to go. And I can play the songs through without mistakes."
"So tell them you want to start playing with them," she says, chewing on a wad of bubblegum as she stares at the screen. "Like, what are you waiting for? If you're ready, you're ready."
"Yeah, I know. It's hard to tell them though. They're so tight. They sound really solid. I'm afraid of saying, hey, I'm ready, and then sucking, you know?"
"Yeah, but you can practice alone forever. What's the point? Just get up and play. You know Boyd, that guy I used to go out with? Remember when his band played at that pep rally?"
Danny thinks for a minute. "Oh yeah, and they played that Metallica song for like, fifteen minutes."
"More like ten, but yeah. They didn't think they were ready, but they just said to hell with it, let's do it anyway. And they sounded pretty good. They couldn't play the song as fast as they were supposed to, but they were still pretty good."
She blows a bubble. "The point is they could have practiced for another year and been super awesome at that song, but what for, right? Get up there and do it."
Danny nods. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Hey, how come you don't go out with that guy anymore?"
"Oh, he was all like guitar-this and guitar-that, right? So I had my parents buy me a bass guitar so we could play together and stuff. I asked him to teach me a Fallout Boy song and he was all like, I'm not playing that gay pop stuff. I told him I like Fallout Boy, and he's like, I only play Metallica. And it turned into a whole big fight. I guess he's pretty snobby about music. Like macho chauvinist and stuff. So, you know. Screw him."
She sits back and regards her work. "How does that look?"
"Pretty good. I think they'll like it."
"Yeah. They should still record some music to put on here. There's not much point to having a music page with no music on it."
"I'll mention it to them," Danny says.
* * *
Tyson and Jay sit in the basement at Jay's house. Tyson sits with his acoustic guitar in his lap, strumming along while Jay stands, playing through some licks he's been working on. Jay tells his singer what chords to play as he leads him through the basic elements of a new song.
When he reaches the end, Jay looks at the front man of the band. "You get the idea, right? I think we could make a song out of that."
"I think so," Tyson says, setting the guitar down. "Have you got lyrics?"
"Yeah, some." Jay reaches for a binder lying on the floor next to amp. He flips it open and hands a piece of paper to Tyson.
"Hmm. 'I'm so alone/ Wherever you are is my home,'" Tyson says, reading aloud. "Kind of cheesy, isn't it?"
"What about the chorus?"
Tyson reads through the rest of the song. "I don't know," he says. "I like the riff. I definitely like the music, but do you think you could let me write something else for the lyrics? I don't think we need another song about chicks, you know?"
Jay shrugs. "There's always room for another love song. We've got lots of songs that aren't about chicks. Besides, what would you write about instead? Society?"
"I don't just write songs about society."
"Right," says Jay. "And I don't just write songs about chicks."
Tyson leans back in his chair. "Shit, love and society. What else is there to sing about?"
"I don't know," Jay says. "Other bands seem to find things. What did Black Sabbath sing about?"
"Drugs. And Satan."
"Drugs," Tyson repeats. "And cross-dressers. Sometimes chicks."
"Okay. What about Zep?"
He laughs. "Wizards and magic castles and shit. And chicks. Who else?"
"Mick and Keith just sang about chicks," Jay says. "Well, except for 'Street Fighting Man,' right?"
Tyson thinks about it a moment. "I think all The Rolling Stones songs that aren't about chicks are actually about not having chicks, which is still singing about chicks. The absence. Know what I mean? Like, if they're singing about street fighting, it's because there are no chicks, right? No satisfaction. No brown sugar."
"Isn't 'Brown Sugar' about heroin?"
"No way, man," Tyson says. "It's about black chicks. Young black chicks. Mick is a dirty, dirty man. What's that other song about underage girls? Stray Cat Strut?"
"Stray Cat Blues," Jay says. "So if The Stones can sing about chicks all the time, why can't we?"
"I don't know. Just let me see if I can come up with something, okay? It's a good song. I'd like to have some really cool words for it." Tyson picks up the guitar. "Should we try to work out the arrangement?"
They begin to play, and when Danny comes in the back door he hears the guitar sound coming from the basement. He drops his school bag, slips off his shoes and heads down the stairs. "Hey guys," he says. "Practicing?"
"We're working on some new stuff," Jay says. "Do you want to play?"
"Yeah, totally," Danny says, pulling off his coat. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you guys. I think I'm ready to start playing with the band. I was hoping we could give it a try sometime soon."
"How about for right now," Tyson says, offering his acoustic to the younger boy. "We'll see how you do with the two of us."
Danny takes the guitar and sits down. "Sure, yeah. Let's do it."
Jay looks at Tyson. "Should we play this new thing, or one of our regular songs?"
"Whatever he's ready to play," Tyson says with a shrug.
"All right," Jay says. "Let's do 'Million Last Times.'" He turns to Danny. "You remember how that one starts?"
"Um, yeah," Danny says, looking at the frets of the guitar and positioning his fingers. "Okay. Ready when you are."
Tyson counts one, two, three, four, and the boys start to play. Danny focuses squarely on his fingers, but he remembers everything that Jay drilled into him: he keeps his posture straight and doesn't hunch over. 'Million Last Times' is one of Jay and Tyson's earlier songs, and it follows a rigid pattern of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-outro. It's one of their easier songs, so it was the first one Danny learned.
Even so, Danny's performance is no masterpiece. He's often late on the changes and he hits sour notes. To his credit, he keeps playing when he makes a mistake instead of stopping as many novices do. This was another of Jay's firmest lessons: move on from mistakes and finish the song. You can't stop a song and start over during a performance, so don't do it in practice. And for Danny, this practice is a performance.
Tyson and Jay watch the kid as he plays. With his face wrinkled into a mask of concentration, they can see how fiercely Danny is concentrating. They know he is thinking through the song, counting bars, thinking what chord is next. There is no flow to his play, no easy, graceful flow that comes after long hours of practice, when the player seems like a natural. But they know the secret. There's no such thing as a natural. A natural is someone who practices so much it looks like they don't need to.
Tyson sings along, and they go through the song. Danny makes it to the end, making many small errors but still keeping the rhythm. "Not bad," Tyson says, while Danny stretches his fingers. "Should we do another one?"
They play through two more songs. In each progressive song Danny looks shakier, makes more mistakes. Dark stains appear at the armpits of his navy blue t-shirt. Tyson sings and Jay plays his own guitar, but they exchange glances when Danny strikes a bad chord. Jay feels for his younger brother and wants him to play perfectly, but he can do nothing but play and watch as Danny struggles.
After the third song they stop. Danny's face is red. "I need some water," he says. He sets the guitar down and runs up the stairs.
"So," Tyson says. "What did you think of that?"
"I think he's on his way," Jay says. "I think we should let him start practicing with us. It would help him get better."
"I don't know. He fucks up an awful lot. We're all supposed to show up at rehearsals knowing the material backwards and forwards. Rehearsal is for us to get tight, not learn the songs or fix mistakes, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah. But every time we've added a new player we've had a transition period where they've had to learn the songs. I'm not saying Danny gets a free ride, but we should give him the same chance we would give anyone else."
"How many songs is he solid on?"
"He's got five down pretty well," Jay says, "and he's learning a few others."
"Right. So he can play about a third of our material. Any of the covers?"
Tyson shakes his head. "We could pick up a half-decent guitarist and have him learn the stuff in a fraction of the time it would take Danny. And I don't think I need to mention the age thing again."
"I'll tell you what," Jay says. "I'll bring him to the Tuesday night grind at Julie's tomorrow. He can sit and watch. If we have extra time at the end, we have him sit in on a few songs. Nothing big. No pressure. All right?"
Tyson shrugs. "Whatever. All right."
Danny comes bounding down the stairs. "I forgot to tell you guys. I uploaded the photos onto the page, but we still need to get some music on it. Do you guys have anything recorded?"
"Nothing digital," Tyson says. "We have some older stuff on cassette. Could we use that?"
"I don't think so," Jay says. "Besides, the sound quality on those tapes is shit. We should make something new."
There is the sound of the back door opening. Jay and Danny exchange a quizzical look. "Mom or Dad?" asks Danny.
"Boys?" It's the voice of Jeff Warren, Jay and Danny's father.
"Down here," Jay calls.
They can hear one set of footsteps heading up into the kitchen above them, while their father comes down the stairs. Again, Danny and Jay look at each other. "Mom and Dad together?"
Jeff Warren gets to the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, hello Tyson," he says. "I think you'll have to head home. We're going to have a family meeting."
"Family meeting?" Jay says. "This is a first."
"Yeah, well, um. Come upstairs when you're ready, okay? Your mother and I will be waiting." He turns and head up the stairs.
"Okay, dude," Tyson says as he picks up his jacket. "See you tomorrow." He looks at Danny. "See you later."
"Yeah, see you." Tyson heads up the stairs and out the door. The brothers look at each other again before walking up the stairs to meet their mother and father.
2008 Nolan Whyte