I Sing When You Shut Up. Part 16

I could see that once I was on stage, I would be the weakest link. Suddenly I felt very nervous about playing...

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Paul Takowski worked as a variety of construction jobs. In the summer he spend long hours up on rooftops tearing off and replacing shingles, and in the winter he would get indoor work doing dry-walling jobs. He had a circle of contractor friends, and he could always find work putting down tile or helping build and install cabinets. He was the type of guy who always wore paint-stained clothes.

And typical of a jack-of-all-trades worker, he had a truck, so he was the one who had to drive around and pick up the other musicians and their instruments.

On the Tuesday night before his Friday night art show, Terry and I stood in the entryway of our apartment building, waiting for Paul to pick us up for rehearsal. It would be the only time we would all practice together, but Terry assured me everything would be fine. I'd learned three songs moderately well, and he felt confident I could fill in as a backup player while he read an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir to whoever would be at the show.

We had our guitars and amps with us, and each time one of the other residents came through we had to squeeze up against the walls of the narrow passage. I was bringing my black Gibson SG in its nylon gig bag. My amp was a scuffed-up 10-watt Fender that I'd bought when I started playing. When I was playing in Panegyric I used to talk about getting some kick-a-s Marshall stacks when I had the money for it, but I'd stopped thinking about that a long time ago.

Despite Terry's long music career, his gear wasn't very impressive. He had a traditional sunburst Les Paul in a battered hard case, and the guitar showed as many miles as Terry's road-weary face. Its finish was chipped and worn, and it was coated here and there with residue from stickers that he had applied and later peeled off. He was lugging a 30-watt Marshall amp that he'd bought new back in the Eighties.

"If it was a person," he told me, "this amp would be old enough to have a college degree, a career, and a family."

Paul arrived, driving a teal Ford Ranger with a box cover. We lugged our stuff outside and he hopped out of the truck and opened the tailgate for us to slide our stuff in.

"It's not going to slide around back here?" I asked.

"I won't do any donuts," Paul answered dryly.

I had to cram myself into the narrow space behind the seats. It was a tight squeeze, and Paul had a lot of his work crap stuffed back there: dirty coveralls, rags, crumpled up fast food bags and drink cups, and all sorts of other garbage was compressed under my feet. It was uncomfortable and stinky.

We drove for a while to pick up the drummer, a Scottish guy named Mark, at his apartment in Parkdale. He lived with his girlfriend in an apartment tower, and they were waiting inside the building security door for us to pick him up. When he saw us pull up, he kissed his girlfriend goodbye, and then Mark climbed in the back with me and we were on our way.

Terry and Paul were talking about Ted Nugent's politics in the front. Mark and I sat in the back, facing each other on the little fold-down seats.

"So, Terry says you suck," Mark said with a friendly grin. He wasn't a big guy, but he looked solid, slightly ginger, around thirty.

"He's honest, isn't he?" I said, and I laughed. "Yeah, I need some work. I'm just going to do a couple songs for this show. You've played with Terry for a while, huh?"

"Yeah. Not much lately though. He was going out with this girl in our band, and they broke up. I think that broke his heart, like, and we just kinda gave it up after that."

"What was that, The Clutch Dogs?"

"Aye, The Clutch Dogs. That was my name, by the way. I came up with that. Proud o' that name."

"You talking shit back there?" Terry said over his shoulder.

"Aye, you ugly old bastard," Mark replied. "I was just telling - sh-te, what's yer name?"

"Nate," I told him.

"I was just telling Nate here how I used to let you play in my band, The Clutch Dogs."

"Yeah, right," Terry sneered. "Tell him how drunk you were every minute of every tour."

"How could I get drunk?" Mark retorted. "We never made any focking money to buy booze."

Terry laughed. "Well, you're not going to make any money at this show either, so I'm glad you're used to playing for nothing."

We got to the practice studio down by the docks and carried our gear in. Paul had his bass and amp, and Mark helped Terry by carrying the Marshall amp. Paul banged on the locked metal door until the manager opened up for us.

The room was in the basement, down a dank yellow concrete tunnel. There was clearly no premium placed on decor or frills. The room itself was a mess of scrap carpets, with a slightly raised stage and a mass of stands, stacks, and drums. We set about organizing ourselves, with Terry directing traffic.

"Paul, you'll be on Mark's left side. I'll be on the right, up forward a bit. Nate, you'll have your gear set up on my right, back a bit. You'll stay off until we need you. We'll play three songs, then you'll come up and play three with these guys while I read, and then you get off and we'll do a last one. Any questions? Okay, let's do it."

Terry had set lists written out for everyone already. He'd clearly been spending a lot of time preparing for this. Then again, I knew how much time he had on his hands. All he did all day was hang out in his tiny apartment, playing guitar, painting, and smoking cheap hand-rolled cigarettes.

I set up my gear. Terry helped me mike my little amp, so the sound would blast out through the massive towers. I didn't really see the point, since the idea was for me, Paul, and Mark to play softly while Terry read from his book, but I guess we were paying for the room anyway. We might as well use the gear in there.

I sat down and watched while they ran through the first three songs. Mark and Paul had never played together, but they'd both spent plenty of time playing with Terry, and everything went along smoothly. Paul was no wizard on his bass, but I could see that once I was on stage, I would be the weakest link. I'd been practicing every night, but I suddenly felt very nervous about playing.

They played each song twice, and then Terry ordered me to get up. "Not falling asleep, are you?"

"No," I said, slipping the strap of my SG over my shoulder. "I was listening. You guys sound pretty good."

"That's good," he said. "It sounded like shit to me, but I'm glad you liked it." He coughed forcefully. "My throat feels like nails. I sound like Cookie Monster. Time to quit smoking again."

"Yeah, for what, three weeks?" Mark said. "You quit more often than a girl bleeds."

"Thanks for the encouragement, a-shole," Terry said. I could see the two of them enjoyed their hostile exchanges. "Count it in."

Mark hit the sticks and Terry stood there while the three of us began the first song, one called "Rough Go". I was late coming in, but I corrected and we continued. Then I was late on a change. And another change. And I sounded like shit. Terry stared at me like I was taking a dump on his new carpet as I plowed through his song.

"That was great," he said in a hard voice. "Do it again."

Mark counted in again and we played it marginally better, but I was still pretty brutal. I was used to playing along with Terry, and since he wasn't playing, my confidence was zero. I was afraid to make mistakes and I couldn't remember anything. I was watching Paul for changes, and I was sucking a-s.

"Why don't you guys take a break," Terry said to Mark and Paul after we finished the second attempt. "Chill out. Nate, let's give that one a play-through."

Mark and Paul went over to the couch and sat there saying nothing while Terry led me through the song again, and then had me play it through from start to finish by myself. When he was satisfied, he had me play the other two song, "Old Boots" and "End Of Us". When he was convinced I had my head screwed back on right, he called Mark and Paul back up.

Paul had been pretty quiet all night. He talked to Terry, but not much to Mark or me. He looked at me now though. "You gonna be able to do this?" he asked. "We're playing in three days, you know."

"Let's just do it," I said, and we played "Rough Go" from start to finish. We did the next two songs twice each, and Terry was satisfied. I sat down and the three of them played through the last song.

It was an incredible song, and it suddenly struck me as unfair that Terry had never really broken through. But he knew what mistakes he'd made, and he knew what compromises he'd been unwilling to make. Musically, Terry had been good enough to go far. But he would be the first to tell you that his lack of business knowledge and personal skills had relegated him to the backwaters of the music industry.

Terry smoked a cigarette (apparently warehouse basement rehearsal studios were secretly exempt from anti-smoking laws), we took five, and then ran through it all again.

"Good enough," Terry said after we were through. "Practice at home, and we'll do it for real Friday night."

Terry paid for the room and we squished ourselves back into Paul's Ranger. Mark and I sat facing each other again. "You bringing anybody to the show?" he asked me.

"I hadn't thought about it," I said.

"You'd better bring somebody," Terry said from the front seat. "I want some bodies in the room. They don't have to buy a painting or anything like that, but it would be nice if the place isn't empty."

"No girlfriend?" Mark asked.

I shrugged. "I'm developing some prospects. One is my ex, and the other is a stripper who might hate me a little bit."

"Oh, Nate," Terry said, not turning around. "Don't start dating strippers, kid. Recipe for heartbreak."

"You've dated strippers?" I asked.

Mark grinned. "His ex-wife," he said.

"No sh-t, you were married?" Paul asked. "You never told me that!"

"Terry man," I said, "I interviewed you for like, two hours and you never even mentioned being married, never mind to a stripper."

"My business," he said. "Nobody else's."

Mark winked at me. "Taz has seen it all, mate."

I leaned back. "So, just out of curiosity," I said, "why is it a recipe for heartbreak?"

"I don't know," he said. "How about the part where men and sex both become financial commodities? I'm convinced, Nate: stripping slowly kills a woman's soul. It gradually destroys the ability to have genuine feelings. Don't go down that road, buddy."

I shrugged. "That was your experience."

"Yes," he said. "But you can learn from it."

I thought about Megan, and the job that she said was just a way to finance her budding artistic career. She already seemed as cold, hard, and sharp as shattered flint. What would she be like down the road?

"F--k it," I said to the other guys. "We'll see where it goes. She seems cool, anyway. And it's not like I'm going to propose or some shit. Hell, I barely know her."

"Playing with fire, buddy," Terry said. "Playing with fire."

"I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @nolanwhyte, and read his sci-fi trash at endicity.blogspot.ca.

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

    headbanger32594
    Mark is back. Where is Jason though? I was expecting another run-in with Charlie this week, but I'm sure everyone was. A little slow, but otherwise good Nolan.
    secretseeker
    Paul Takowski worked as a variety of construction jobs. In the summer he spendS long hours up on rooftops
    Great as always.
    DeadWait
    If you had to, what would you name this chapter? I'd name it "Ford Ranger"
    Danjo's Guitar
    fenderstrat6485 wrote: Wasn't as much of a cliffhanger this time...but still awesome.
    Now you're complaining that it wasn't a cliffhanger? haha. Good stuff as always. Can't wait for the next one.