Tyson, Steve and Peter arrive at Julie's for the Tuesday night grind, assembling in the garage to rehearse. It's unusual for Jay not to be one of the first ones there, but the others settle down with Julie and Kathy from Pattern Disruption and solidify plans for the equipment-replacement benefit next month.
"The Venture is booked," Tyson announces. "I dropped off the deposit money today. We're going ahead on November Seventeenth."
"Cool," Julie says. "So we can get posters and tickets printed up. We can use the printing place on campus if you want. They're pretty cheap. Then we can take stacks of flyers around the city. Full page ones and the little ones for handing out."
"Do we have a full lineup yet?" Peter asks. "Last I remember we were a band short."
"We're still at five," Tyson says, "including Steve's friends who haven't got a name yet."
"Oh, they've got a name now," Steve says. "They're calling themselves The Old-Timey Railroad Band. Sweet, huh?"
Kathy snorts. "What kind of band is that?"
"A band that plays thrash versions of country standards. Duh."
"Fine, but old-timey isn't exactly a word, you know? They're never going to get anywhere with a name like that."
"So says the drummer of Pattern Disruption," Steve snaps. "Besides, they're just trying to have a good time and play some shows. Not everybody is trying to be on MTV."
"Fuck MTV," Tyson says. "Anyway, we'll go ahead with the posters and stuff. We'll say something like, more bands to be announced. It'll be fine. But we've only got a month, so we'd better get our asses in gear and find another act."
"This might not be the most popular suggestion," Peter says, "but why don't we ask Allsystemsgo? I bet they would do it."
"No way, man," Steve says. "We don't want them to turn the show into an Allsystemsgo event, which they would totally do. Those guys are up-stagers and skeez-wads."
"I agree," Tyson says. "I don't think they're bad guys, but all the same I'd rather not have them there."
There's a single sharp rap of knuckles against the car entry door of the garage. "There's Jay," Tyson says. "We'll see what he thinks."
Julie hits a button and the garage door slowly climbs upward to reveal Jay, nylon guitar-bag in hand and cigarette dangling from his lips. Behind him stands Danny, looking tired and ashen-faced. Danny's limp brown hair is tucked behind his ears and his hands are jammed into his pockets against the October chill.
Jay takes a last drag from the cigarette, turns and flicks it down the driveway to the street. He exhales the carcinogenic smoke and stares fiercely at the members of the two bands. "How the fuck's it going?" he asks.
"Not bad," Tyson says. "You coming in?"
Jay and Danny step inside the garage and Julie hits the command for the big door to close. Danny unfolds one of the lawn chairs and sits down, doubling over to regain his body heat after the long walk from the bus stop. Jay remains standing with the bag in his hand, the look on his face challenging the others to speak.
"I'll go out on a limb and say the family meeting didn't go well last night," Tyson says.
Danny looks at Jay, waiting to hear what his brother will say.
Jay takes a deep breath. He very deliberately sets the guitar down against the wall. Everyone watches him in silence, unsure of what is happening.
"Danny and I," Jay begins, "Are joining the other fifty percent."
"Meaning?" Steve asks.
"Meaning fifty percent of marriages in the great United States of America end in divorce," Jay says. "Danny and I used to be products of one that hadn't. Now we're going to be from one that has." The others remain silent, watching and listening.
"Meaning," he continues, "that the esteemed Cheryl and Jeff Warren have finally decided that their lives are shit together and might be less shit if they were apart. Meaning that Jeff and Cheryl Warren might find it easier to avoid each other if they weren't living in the same damn house. So that's what they're going to try."
Jay looks at Julie. She stands watching him, a pained look on her face. "I suppose it would be the height of rudeness," he says, "to ask if there was a beer in the house that I might have."
"I'll see," she says. She opens the door leading into the house and then pauses. "Danny, do you want anything?"
He looks at her and shakes his head.
"What are you guys going to do?" Peter asks.
"I don't have a fucking clue," Jay says definitively. "Our dear mother is moving to Fort Wayne to live with our aunt. They're selling the house."
"That's not good," Steve says. "Real estate prices are shit right now." Jay gives him a look that could cut glass. Steve turns red and looks away.
"What about your dad?" Tyson asks.
"Once the house sells, our fuck-hole dad is moving to Indianapolis. And that leaves Danny and me exactly nowhere."
A pall of silence falls over the meeting until Tyson speaks. "Damn, dude. I'm sorry."
"Are you okay, Danny?" Kathy asks.
Danny slowly shrugs and stares at the floor. "I didn't go to school today," is all he finally says.
Julie comes back in with a single bottle of beer. She hands it to Jay. He thanks her, opens it and drinks half of it down. Then he passes it to Danny, who has a swallow and sets the bottle on the concrete floor. "Okay," Jay says. "Are we here to jam, or what?"
"Hold on," Tyson says. "Are you staying in Millenburgh or going to Indy with your dad? You can't be going to Fort Wayne."
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying where Hellakill is. You think I'm going to follow my loser dad around? Fuck him. I'll get an apartment here. I'm staying with my band."
Tyson looks at Jay's brother. "What about you, Danny?"
Danny looks dead, but there is an edge in his voice. "I'm staying with Jay," he says.
The members of Hellakill set up the equipment, and although the mood is somber, they approach the rehearsal with their usual level of professionalism. Julie and Kathy unfold lawn chairs for themselves and sit on each side of Danny, Kathy with her hand on the boy's arm. If he notices, it doesn't show. They watch the band plug in, get in tune and hit the first number.
Hellakill plays hard rock. Their songs hinge on heavy guitar hooks that loop through a pounding rhythm section, with a charismatic singer engaging the audience. They're not a full-on metal band, but when Jay, the spiritual leader of the group plays with an edge, the sound takes on a sense of danger that sets the band apart from other rock acts. And tonight, Jay plays with an angry edge, ripping through the songs with the frustration and aggression he feels toward a hostile world. His experience and skill allow him play this fierce style without making a mess of the songs, but it is the responsibility of the band to play hard enough to keep up with him, and at the same time slow him down enough that the songs do not run out of control.
During their third song, Jay's iron-fisted play starts causing the strings on his little guitar to break. They plays the song through to the end, but after the final note Jay switches off the amp. He unplugs and unslings the instrument and sits down on the floor next to his nylon gig-bag and begins fishing through the pouch on its front for his replacements strings.
"All right," Tyson says. "While he's changing strings we'll do 'Million Last Times.' Danny, you're up on guitar."
Danny, who had been sitting staring at nothing, looks with wide eyes at the singer. Everyone in the garage looks at Danny.
"The guitar is in case behind the amp," Julie tells him, and the boy tentatively gets up and crosses over to it. He opens the case and takes out the red sunburst Stratocaster that belongs to Scott, Pattern Disruption's absent guitarist. Danny pulls the strap over his shoulder and takes a stance in front of the amp. Jay hands him the end of the cord and Danny plugs in. Jay switches on the amp.
"In tune?" Steve asks. Danny tests each string the way Jay taught him, comparing with the low hum of Steve's bass.
"Watch Steve," Jay tells him. "Your part is similar to his. Remember to count." Danny nods.
"Full speed?" Peter asks.
Danny clears his throat. "Full speed."
Peter taps his sticks on the edge of the snare drum for a count in and they start the intro, climbing up slowly, dih-dih-dih-dih, dah-dah-dah-dah, duh-dih-dah-dah, and then coming into the first verse, and Tyson begins to sing: "There are only so many times you can walk away from me..."
The guitar sound is soft and weak, lacking Jay's raw power. Danny plays with robotic up and down strokes of the pick, but he keeps up as Peter and Steve effortlessly play the rhythm to a song they've rehearsed and performed over and over again. Danny stumbles occasionally, but waits for the right moments to reengage and step back in with the rest of the band and they get through to the end of the song.
Julie and Kathy clap after the last note. "That was really good," Kathy says. "You've gotten a lot better."
"Don't kiss his ass," Tyson says. "That was all right. You've got a lot of work to do, but that was all right."
"You're so stiff when you play," Steve says. "Like Frankenstein. Gotta loosen up, buddy. Feel the rhythm."
Danny nods, his face red. He looks at Jay, whose guitar is restrung and ready to be played. "Your turn?" Danny asks.
"Play one more," Jay says. "Let him give 'Enemies' a try."
Peter counts it in and they play through the song, again with Danny playing correctly, but in a clunky, weak style. As the song draws to a close they again hear the bang-bang-bang of knuckles on the garage door.
This time it's Rich, with his guitar and amp. "Holy shit!" he says when the door opens. He looks at Jay. "I thought that was you playing. I was like, 'What the hell, did he break his hands or something?'" He looks at Danny. "No offence."
Danny switches off the amp and takes the guitar off. "That's okay," he says, and returns the Strat to its case. He sits back down between Kathy and Julie.
Jay gets up and plugs his Sears guitar back in. "We're not done going through our set," he tells Rich in a cold voice. "You'll have to wait a while."
Rich shrugs and sits down on his amp. "No problem," he says.
Jay switches on and leads the band through the longest rehearsal they've played in months, repeating songs because of tiny errors, playing through numbers they had dropped from their set long ago. At ten o'clock Rich is still sitting on his amp, arms crossed.
When they get to the end of a Beatles cover they once learned but never performed, Tyson waves a hand. "That's it," he says with a hoarse voice. "I don't have another song in me."
"Yeah, it's getting late," Julie says. "We can't make too much noise after ten."
Rich stands up. "I guess I came for nothing."
"Sorry" Tyson says with a cough.
"You seem mad about something," Rich says as Jay puts his guitar into his bag. "Are we cool here, or what?"
When Jay doesn't respond, Peter speaks. "Take it easy. His parents just told him they're getting a divorce."
Rich laughs. "Aw, shit, is that all?" Jay turns on his with a furious look, and Rich puts up his hands. "Sorry, I know that didn't sound right. Well, welcome to the club, I guess. Mine split about two years ago. It's like they waited for all the kids to move out first. It's weird when they do it when you're already grown up, huh? It's like they expect it'll be no big deal, because you're an adult."
Jay doesn't respond. "Hell, why are you rehearsing tonight at all?" Rich continues. "You should be out having a beer with your friends. Let's pick some up. We can head back to my place. Who's coming?"
"Danny has school in the morning," Jay says. He zips up the bag. "I'll see you guys soon," he says. The two brothers exit, leaving the other musicians looking at each other and wondering what this will mean.
2008 Nolan Whyte