Danny checks his watch. The time is twenty past seven and Jay is nowhere in sight. Danny, Kev and Kathy are standing behind Julie's house, and since Julie's parents are not home, Kev and Kathy are sharing a joint. Danny isn't having any. He's going to take part in the band practice with Hellakill and he wants a clear head. But he stands with them while they smoke, checking his watch almost constantly.
Inside the garage, Tyson is teaching Julie the words to 'Speed Up The Clock,' one of Tyson's social commentary songs, for when she joins Hellakill on stage at the benefit. Steve and Peter are there as well, chatting and playing the occasional rhythm on the drums and bass for Tyson and Julie to sing along with. Only Jay is missing.
At least his Sears guitar is there, so as soon as he shows up they can begin practice. Jay called Danny at home in the late afternoon, telling Danny he would meet him at practice and asking him to bring the guitar for him. Danny thought it was odd, but did what his brother asked.
Kev offers the joint to Danny, snapping him back into the present. "No," Danny says. "I don't want to try and play with a head full of smoke."
"Okay, okay." Kev says. He takes a drag, then holds the joint out again. "You sure?" Danny makes an angry face and Kev smiles. "No, no, I'm just kidding. Man, you're uptight tonight."
Kev is there because he asked to come and see what all the fuss is about. He still doesn't quite understand the appeal of playing guitar when you could be relaxing and playing video games. And it's shocking to him how Danny, a gamer-for-life, is now spending his time with these older kids, hanging around in garages. Danny can't seem to explain why, because he's still unsure of why he's doing this. So far, hanging out with Hellakill is only causing him anxiety.
The back door to the garage opens and Steve sticks his head out. "Hey Danny, are you guys finished out here? We want to do some shit."
"Don't wait on us," Kathy says. "Go ahead."
Danny nods. He gives Kev a meaningful glare and steps inside. He and Kev have an understanding. Kathy thinks Danny is in college not high school, so Kev has to avoid saying anything to betray the lie. He looks at Kathy and smiles awkwardly, alone with the older girl for the first time. "So," he begins. "Do you play video games?"
Inside the garage, Danny faces the band without Jay for the first time. "Grab the Fender," Tyson directs him. "We're going to play through this."
"But Jay isn't here yet," Danny says, nervously tucking his hair behind his ears.
"He knows what time we start," Tyson says. "We can't wait all night. Just grab the guitar and we'll get started."
Julie smiles reassuringly at Danny and he takes out the red Stratocaster that belongs to Scott, the guitarist in Julie and Kathy's band Pattern Disruption. At Steve's instruction he drags the amp in close to the bass amp and the two seated singers. He plugs in and sits on top of the amp.
"Okay," Tyson tells him. "We're doing 'Speed Up The Clock.' Do you remember that one?"
Danny looks at the frets of the guitar, thinks for a moment and nods.
"Good. Julie's just learning it, so we'll play it slow."
"Just watch me if you get in trouble," Steve tells Danny with a smile.
Peter counts them in and they begin, but Danny mixes his fingers up immediately. Steve helps him sort out the chords and they try it again. This time Danny clunks his way through, doing his best to make sure the others don't notice him. Lucky for him, Tyson focuses on Julie, trying to help her learn the song. Peter is off in his own world, keeping the beat. Steve watches Danny, but he seems encouraging, not critical.
As the song ends, Tyson digs into his pocket to take out his vibrating cell phone. "Hello?" he says, pressing the little device to his ear. "Yeah man, we're all here waiting for you. Are you coming, or what?" Tyson's eyes flick to Danny. "Yeah, he's here." Tyson holds the phone out to the young guitarist. "It's Jay. He wants to talk to you."
Danny takes the phone. "Hello?"
"Dude," says Jay's voice. There is the sound of traffic in the background. "Okay, just, okay, look. I'm a bit messed up right now. Don't say anything to the guys. I don't want them to know I got high before practice, but I'm actually, um, yeah, I'm high. Pretty high. I'm on my way, but I'm a bit lost. I took the number eight bus and it took me to some weird part of the north end. I'm back downtown, but I still don't know what bus goes to Julie's. Is it the six or the nine?"
"The nine. What happened?"
"I was playing Morph-Strike at that Lady Endorphin chick's house and we smoked some shit."
"Hey, Morph-Strike, that's a cool game."
"Danny, listen! Do not, I repeat, do not tell the guys I'm high. My head should be clear by the time I get there. Just tell them I got mugged or something. No, don't tell them that. Um, tell them, oh shit, I don't know. Make something up. I'll be there as soon as I can."
The line goes dead and Danny hands the phone back to Tyson. "What was that all about?" the singer asks him.
"Um, Jay got on the wrong bus. That's why he's late. He's on his way."
"He comes here every week," Peter says. "Why would he get on the wrong bus?"
"Because..." Danny looks around, avoiding everyone's eyes. "Because he had a panic attack."
"Jay doesn't get panic attacks," Tyson says.
"He started having them when our parents split up. Don't mention it when he gets here, okay? It will make things worse. Just try not to stress him out."
Peter raps his sticks in a drum roll on the snare. He bangs a cymbal, thumps over the toms and crashes the cymbal again. "I'm bored," he says. "I don't want to wait all night for Jay. Let's play some songs."
Steve smiles. "Okay, Danny, you're our guitar player tonight. What do you want to play?"
Danny shrugs. "How about 'Girl Troubles'?"
Tyson nods. Julie steps aside, and Steve and Danny both slide the amps back so they can stand and play. Kev and Kathy come in from outside and watch as Hellakill, featuring Danny Warren instead of Jay Warren on guitar, begins to play through its set list.
After seven songs the band stops to take a short rest. Danny is covered with sweat, his dark-stained shirt clinging to him. He's used to playing these songs by now, but the practices with his brother usually take a gentler pace. The other members of Hellakill, however, are not interested in slowing down on his account. If he wants to play with them, he will have to keep up.
Just as they are ready to resume, the back door of the garage opens and Jay stumbles in. His face is red and he's out of breath. "Hey guys," he says, standing with his hands on his knees. "Sorry I'm late."
"What the hell, dude?" Steve says. "You okay?"
"I ran, huh, huh," he gasps. "I ran all the way from the bus stop. I um, just let me..."
"Yeah, yeah, catch your breath," Tyson says. "We had to start without you. Danny's been playing."
"Yeah?" Jay says, leaning against the wall. He looks at his brother. "How was it?"
Danny shrugs. "Okay, I think."
"You had a panic attack?" Steve asks.
Danny looks at him. "Man, I said not to say anything."
Steve holds out his hands. "Hey, we have to be a unit. If there's something that's going to affect the whole band, we have to be open about it, right? Like, if Jay's having panic attacks we have to be able to deal with it. Shit, what if it happens at a show?"
Jay looks at Danny. "Um, yeah, I had a panic attack. No big deal though. Don't worry about it."
"You look weird, man," Kev says from the corner where he, Julie and Kathy are sitting.
"Shut up, Kev," Jay says. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a plastic CD case. "I picked up a mix of 'What You Call Living,' from Casey's house. We should have a listen to it."
"How did she make a mix if we haven't been there to finish recording?" Peter asks.
"Um, she used her own drummer."
"Well that's shitty," Peter says. "You couldn't wait a couple more days until I had time to get over there?"
"Peter, how long were we supposed to wait?" asks Tyson. "The show is coming up, you know. This is for promotion."
"Yeah, but it's supposed to be Hellakill, right?" Steve says. "I'm not on there either, so that means only half the band is on it. So it's not really Hellakill, is it?"
"It's the half that found time to actually participate," Tyson snaps.
"He has a job," Steve says, jabbing a finger towards Peter, "and I'm in school. No surprise you two managed to get over there to do it. What the fuck else do you do all day?"
"Nice, man, real nice," Jay says. "Just listen to the stupid thing, will you? Julie, is there like um, a uh..."
"A stereo?" she offers.
"Um, yeah. Sorry, I'm a little spaced out. Panic attack and all, I guess."
"He's so fucking high," Kev whispers to Kathy, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Shut up, you little prick," Jay says. Julie goes into the house to get the stereo and Jay realizes everyone else in the garage is staring at him. "So, um, how did practice go?"
"You got high with Lady Endorphin, didn't you?" Tyson says.
"A bit," Jay admits. The others remain silent, but Jay is acutely aware of their eyes on him.
Julie brings a small boom box and plugs it into a wall outlet. Jay puts the CD in and hits play, and they listen to the track.
"It's shit," Steve declares. "It sounds fake."
Peter shakes his head. "It doesn't sound like us."
"The song sounds good," Julie says, "but it is different from how it sounds when you guys play it."
"Yeah. It's a good recording," Tyson says. "Just a little different."
"We'll use it for now, okay?" Jay says. "We just need something to put on the band's page. When you guys get around to recording your parts we can upload a new version."
"Right," Steve says. "So you want people to think that's what we sound like? Well, I guess it doesn't matter. It looks like this is just a two man band, just you and Tyson. What does that make Peter and me, hired hands? Your backup band?"
"Don't be so sensitive," Tyson says.
"Easy for you to say," Peter says. "You're on the recording."
Jay sighs. "Look, let's just forget about it for now, okay? Are we going to jam, or what?"
"Those of us who weren't out getting stoned with chicks from other bands already did," Steve says.
Danny clears his throat. "I'd really like to play some more," he says. "The show is coming up soon, you know? Maybe you guys should talk later."
"Yeah, seriously," Tyson says. "Can we just get through the rest of the songs? We don't have many rehearsals left."
Peter and Steve grumble while Jay gets out his little guitar, plugging it into the spare amp. They start playing, and Danny does his best to keep up, but the music has taken an angry surge. There is intensity that wasn't there before Jay arrived. Danny understands it isn't Jay that's adding the extra emotion. If anything, Jay's guitar sounds clumsy, half a step behind. The anger and intensity is coming from Peter and Steve.
The bassist and drummer play furiously, and during the breaths between songs Danny guesses that their intensity does not only come from anger. They also want to prove that they are part of the band, and cannot be replaced so easily by another drummer and a keyboard track to add the drums and bass to a recording. Maybe there's a bit of shame wrapped up in it as well, embarrassment that they couldn't take the time to go lay down their own instrument tracks.
Danny doesn't know. The relationship between the members of the band is more complicated than he can see. But he likes the sound. The band plays better when they're fired up. As he frantically moves his fingers over the frets trying to keep up, a crazy grin spreads across his face, and he starts to understand what he has not been able to explain to Kev, and what he has barely understood himself about playing with a band. He is playing along, almost keeping up, being driven by the other musicians. They are all taking part in something that they could never possibly achieve on their own. It's a good, desperate feeling, and the grin remains on Danny's face through the last song on their list.
2008 Nolan Whyte