On the morning bus to school, Danny considers the assignment his brother has given him: find someone to help Hellakill build their MySpace page. "Nobody's saying you're in the band," Jay told him. "You obviously have a lot of work to do before you can start practicing with the whole lineup, let alone perform with us. But if you're going to be part of the team you're going to have to do this extra stuff. Being in a band is a lot more than playing an instrument."
Yeah, some band, Danny thinks, gazing out the window at the snow-dusted streets. They don't even have instruments.
It's embarrassing to Danny that he has to ask someone for help with MySpace, since he's made so many loud statements about how MySpace users are web junkies who need to get off their asses and make some real friends instead of imaginary creepy internet stalker friends. The irony of Danny's position on the matter is lost on him, considering that he avoids going out and making friends whenever possible.
All the same, the idea of making a contribution to Hellakill's fortune is encouraging to Danny. I am getting better, he thinks. I'm a lot better than I was a few weeks ago. Maybe in Jay's eyes playing with the members of Pattern Disruption at Julie's garage had looked like a setback. Danny had sounded clumsy with the strange guitar in his hands. He knew Jay had been embarrassed by his poor play, but Danny knows it was an important step. It was his first time playing with different musicians, and more importantly, it was the first time playing without another guitar to guide him. He played guitar with only a bass and drums and had kept up. Even if he sounded like shit, he had discovered that he's capable of playing with others.
The bus drops him off in front of McLaughlin Collegiate. Since the weather turned cold, Kev no longer waits in front of the school for Danny. Instead, Danny heads inside and sees his friend waiting for him on a bench not far from his locker. Kev's eyes are closed and his head is tilted back, earphones in place.
Before Danny gets there, one of the jocks from the football team walks past and slap Kev hard across the face, knocking the earphones off and almost causing Kev to fall off the bench.
"Wake up, douche-bag," the jock says as he walks on. Some kids laugh as Kev picks up his earphones.
"What the fuck was that?" he says as Danny arrives.
"Fucking Taylor," Danny says.
Kev stands up and looks down the hallway. "Fuck you, Taylor!" he shouts. There is some laughter in response, and a teacher sticks his head out of a classroom, looking angrily around. Kev and Danny glance around innocently. The teacher goes back into the room and the boys move to Danny's locker.
"I'm gonna kill that fuck-sack," Kev seethes.
"I'd drop it," Danny says. "Unless you want to fight the whole football team. It's like the mafia. He's got connections."
"I'll make it look like a cartoon killing," Kev says. "I'll drop a piano on him, or an anvil. Maybe something involving a catapult."
"Yeah, maybe. Hey, you haven't set up a MySpace account, have you?"
Kev's expression turns from angry to confused. "No. Why?"
"Just wondering. I heard Slipknot has a really awesome MySpace page, that's all. I was thinking maybe it's time to get on board with this whole thing."
"I've seen Slipknot's MySpace page," Kev says. "It's pretty cool, but that doesn't mean I'm going set up an account. I mean, just because I get Slipknot to add me as a MySpace friend, it isn't like they're suddenly inviting me to parties and shit, right?"
The warning bell rings and the boys separate. Danny walks down the hallway, evaluating people as he goes, trying to judge them as potential MySpace tutors. He sees a group of girls waiting outside a classroom and identifies them as the senior class alpha-girls. The superficial cool chicks, Danny sneers. If life were a movie they would all be cheerleaders. As it is though, he's pretty sure they're all on MySpace.
Danny knows that one of the girls is in his first period math class. He slows down, and sure enough, Jen breaks off from the group and starts moving ahead of Danny down the hallway.
It takes only a few steps for him to catch up to her. He feels a weird tingling in his stomach as he approaches, because although he's been in five classes with her over the last few years, he's never spoken directly to her.
"Hey Jen," he says, falling in step next to her. She gives him a cross look and keeps walking. "I just had a question for you," he continues. "You're on MySpace all the time, right? I was wondering, um, I know some guys with a band that need some help setting up a really awesome page. Do you think..."
She turns and stops him, holding a hand up in front of his face. "A retarded baby with broken hands can figure out how to make a cool MySpace page. This is the lamest pickup line anyone has ever tried."
"It's not a pickup line," he says. She walks into the classroom, ignoring him and taking her seat.
"What was that all about?" a girl says, pushing past Danny into the class.
"Nothing," he says. "I was asking her about MySpace."
"What about it?" The girl, named Benny, sits down next to Danny's usual seat. Danny doesn't really know her, but she's usually friendly. He knows Benny is short for Belinda, and that's she's into pop-punk.
"My brother's band needs help building a page," he says, sitting down.
"What's so hard about that?" she says. "It's easy."
"Yeah, but they're a bunch of retarded babies with broken hands," he responds.
Hellakill meets at Peter's place to nail down a tentative lineup for the fundraiser. They schedule themselves as the final band, and Pattern Disruption fills the opening slot. The four spots in between are less clear.
Tyson tells them he exchanged e-mails with Rich from Lady Endorphin and got Casey, the Lady herself, to commit to the show. "I would put them down as third or fourth," Tyson says, "depending on who else we get."
The guitarist from one of Steve's former bands has put together an as-yet unnamed folk-country-punk fusion group, and Steve gives his guarantee that the act will be solid. He plays a demo track for them, a scorching speed-cover of the ballad "Wreck of The Old 97."
"They're good enough," Jay says, listening to the track. "Just make sure they know they have to draw people. Friends, family, anybody. Every band needs to sell tickets or we're going to lose our shirts. And tell them to pick a name so we can advertise."
"No name," ponders Tyson. "Second spot. Definitely no better."
Peter recommends a local cover band called Sharp Edge, who are trying to cross over and start playing originals. Tyson and Jay have seen them and give the okay, both secretly hoping the student crowd won't find their mainstream rock act too cheesy and pub-polished.
"Only five bands," Tyson says, looking at the list.
"It's enough to go ahead," Jay says. "We've got time to fill the last spot."
"Yeah. Hopefully with someone who draws a crowd."
That Thursday night Peter picks up the other guys and they head to rehearse at Julie's house with Pattern Disruption's gear. Jay brings his left handed practice guitar in its cheap vinyl carrying bag. They park in front of the house and go around to knock on the back door. A grey-haired man opens the door and gives them a hard look.
"Is Julie home?" Jay asks.
The man turns into the house. "Jules?" he calls. "Some guys are here." He then turns and walks away, leaving them waiting outside.
They hear footsteps and Julie comes to the door, dressed in sweats. "Hey guys," she says. "Jeez, didn't dad invite you in? Come on." She ushers them inside and into the attached garage, flicking on the lights for them.
"I'm going to hang out in here while you play, okay?" she says. "My dad, you know, he probably wouldn't want me to invite a bunch of dudes in here and leave them alone in the garage."
"Of course," Steve says. "We might set the house on fire with our crack pipes."
"Or steal the lawn chairs," adds Peter.
"I forgot to mention," Tyson says, "If it's cool, I invited some people to drop by later."
Jay looks at him. "Who?"
"Rich and Lady Endorphin. You know, from Lady Endorphin."
Julie grins. "Is her name really Lady Endorphin? Like, is that what we're supposed to call her?"
"I'm not sure," Tyson says. "I think her real name is Casey."
Steve smiles and rubs his hands together. "She's coming here? Sweeeeet."
Jay gets his guitar out of the carrying bag and hooks up to the amp waiting for him. "When did you set this up? It seems strange."
"When I swapped emails with Rich," Tyson says. "He's a bit cocky, but he's a pretty cool guy. And he really liked the idea of doing a song together. He's bringing his guitar and amp. I guess they want to jam a bit."
Julie sits watching, a text book sitting open in her lap while Hellakill begins running through their set, adjusting to the unfamiliar gear. Jay suffers the most from the change of equipment. Even though the instrument is his, the little Sears guitar is unsatisfactory and he grimaces through his solos, unhappy with the sound.
After an hour Tyson stops them in mid-song to check his cell phone. He looks at the number and answers the call. "Hello? Yeah? Yeah. Yeah, we're in the garage. Yeah, just park on the street. Cool." He flips the phone shut. "They're here." He looks at Julie. "Can we open the big door?"
They pull the garage door open and spot a pale green Thunderbird parking across the street. The car stops and a figure gets out, slams the door, and gets a guitar case and amp out of the trunk.
"Guess he's alone," Peter says from behind the drums.
Rich walks up with his gear. "Hey guys," he says, stepping inside. "Good to see you again." He spots Julie and gives her a smile and a nod. "Your place, huh? Thanks for having me over."
"No Lady Endorphin?" Steve asks.
Rich sets his stuff down. "Who, Casey? Nah, she's actually pretty shy. If it's cool with you guys, she was hoping that maybe we could record something together for her to listen to before she actually comes around and sings."
"She isn't very shy on stage," Jay says.
"I know. She's a bit of an odd duck. Sometimes she doesn't even come to band practice. She just has us record it for her."
"Must be hard on you guys," Tyson says.
Rich shrugs. "Yeah, but you make concessions for genius."
Julie looks at him. "Genius?"
He shrugs again and gets ready to play. He finally flicks on his Marshall amp and touches his pick to the strings of his Schecter guitar. He puts the pick between his teeth and pulls a sheet of paper out of his pants pocket, unfolds it and hands it to Tyson. "These are the songs she'll do."
"I thought you guys would join us on one of our songs," Tyson says, taking the list.
"Casey thought this would be better," Rich says. "If it's a cover, than it's fifty-fifty, right? It's not like, us supporting you. It's more even."
"But you guys are supporting us," says Jay. "That's the whole point of the show."
"There are some okay songs here," Tyson says, looking over the list. "There are even a few that we've played before. I don't mind doing a cover."
Jay comes around and looks at the list. "Holy shit. 'Walk This Way.' Remember playing that?"
"I don't remember playing that," says Steve.
"Before your time. We had that guy Keith back then. Do you know it, Peter?"
Peter taps the edge of the snare a few times. "I used to play it with a cover band. I could give it a go."
Rich begins to softly play the opening riff.
"Come here, Steve," Jay says. "You're going here-here-here, then here-here-here for the intro and the chorus. This is a bit simplified, but I think that should sound right for now. You can look it up later. I can't remember the verse stuff, but just try and play along, okay?"
Steve shrugs. "Sure."
They talk through the changes and just before they begin, Rich takes a minidisk recorder from his guitar case and turns it on. Peter counts them in with the distinctive high-hat and rat-tat-tat opening before Jay and Rich hit the classic opening riff together, playing in something close to synchronization. They grind to a halt at a change but try again and soon have the song rolling.
Tyson starts singing, missing some lines but improvising to fill the holes. The rhythm is clunky and raw as they try the song together for the first time, but there is the potential that it could sound good with practice. They play through the verses and choruses, showing flashes of tightness as their experience and ability compensate for the awkwardness of the situation.
After the final chorus Jay gets ready to let it rip with Joe Perry's closing solo, but Rich gets the jump on him and launches into it, playing through the long sequence note for note. The members of Hellakill watch and play along in amazement, keeping the beat for the strange little guitarist from Indianapolis playing with them. Even Julie stares, her mouth open slightly, surprised by the sheer virtuosity of Rich's play.
When Rich trails off, he nods to Jay. The other members of Hellakill turn to watch their lefty guitarist with his little Sears model. Jay bops his head to the beat a few times and starts a solo, improvising his own so as not to copy what Rich had done. Rich fills in behind him with a rhythm line, accentuating the lines that Jay plays, while Jay does his best to not let his guest outshine him. Jay reaches through his mind for any little bits and pieces that might fit, and cobbles together an impressive improvised solo.
When Jay finally backs off, Rich picks it right up, launching into a response solo to what Jay had played. The band plays, Tyson clapping along, as the old Aerosmith song becomes a vehicle for an old fashioned guitar war.
The garage is cold, but sweat runs down Jay's face as he tries to keep pace with Rich's dynamic play. The two guitarists feed off each other, blasting out searing lines, doubling up to pump out the sound and eventually falling into a super-heavy repetition of the famous opening riff.
Peter brings down the beat, tapping it out slower and slower until Jay hits a final chord, and Rich performs a final run up the neck of his guitar, ending on a piercing final note.
The garage falls silent. No one speaks until at last Peter nods and says "That was really cool."
"Yeah," Tyson says, not looking at either guitarist. "I think this will work out pretty well."
Jay flexes his fingers, almost panting with the exertion. Two thoughts stand prominently in his mind. I need to get a proper guitar, is the first thought. And the second thought? No way am I going to allow this guy to upstage me with my own band.
2007 Nolan Whyte