Megan was there, up close in my face, as close as she'd been when she performed her private dances for me at The Crystal House. This time she was not draped in the pathetic put-on sexuality of a male-fantasy costume, but in the confident sensuality of a beautiful woman in an elegant evening gown. She was heart-stoppingly beautiful, and she was there, blocking my path, staring into me with those sharp blue eyes.
"Hello there, cowboy," she said.
I smiled. "Hello," I said. Well, what the hell would you say? I was caught off guard. I wasn't expecting her there. I wasn't expecting anyone I knew to be there. This gig, playing a limited back-up role for Terry and his boys was not intended to be something I wanted to show off. Not to people I knew, anyway.
"Nice playing," she said.
She was gorgeous. She had on a shimmering purple dress that clung to her figure, and those eyes were locked on to me at close range. I had a hard time returning her gaze. "Thanks," I said. "It's a surprise to see you here."
Terry, Paul and Mark were blasting through "Time For You and Me," the big finish to their brief rock set, and it was getting a loud as Terry howled the chorus in his gravelly voice. I was pretty sure he was ripping off T.S. Eliot with the lyrics, which surprised me. Terry didn't strike me as much of a poetry reader.
"I said I'm surprised to see you," I said, leaning in close to Megan and clearly enunciating.
She smiled and shrugged. "I love an art show."
We stood and watched as Terry and the boys played through the song. Megan's friend was standing nearby, squeezed into the crowd. It wasn't a very big room for a rock show.
Terry had sweat running down his face. I wondered how many rooms like this he'd played, how many countless gigs he'd played with his endless string of go-nowhere bands. His career had been one of constant reinvention without advancement, a long series of fresh starts that never seemed to get him anywhere except to the next band, the next series of shows.
He did it his way.
Now he was trying to get out of it. A life on the bottom rungs of the rock and roll ladder had left him with no savings, no pension, and no prospects for paying the rent beyond playing another bunch of bad-paying gigs. He wanted to move beyond it.
Next to him was Paul, a middle-age wannabe, living out his rock fantasies by backing up Terry on bass for these last few shows, and having Terry help him craft his own musical project. Where would Paul be when Terry actually hung his guitar up and quit performing? He would be out in the cold, that's where, because he had nowhere near the natural talent or the practice-crafted ability to survive without his mentor.
And there was Mark, happily plowing away on the drums. He was the only one who was really doing this just for fun. There was nothing in it for him except the excitement of playing a show. He had no bitterness that after all his work it had come to this, and no illusions that this was a stepping stone to the real rock-star life. I envied Mark. His joy was pure.
And there was me, standing in the crowd. Where did I fit in? What was my part? Was I Terry, closing up shop with a few final performances while I transitioned to a new life? Was I Paul, trying to leech off Terry's talent while I re-entered the rock fray? Or was I Mark, just trying to enjoy the experience?
Megan leaned in close to speak into my ear. "What are you doing after this?"
"I'm still trying to figure that out. I'll probably try to write some songs, and find some guys to start my own band."
"I meant tonight."
"Oh. Duh. I'll probably have a beer, hang out."
They boosted the energy for the final chorus repetition, with Terry hollering into his microphone until ropey veins stood out on his neck, and we started clapping and cheering before the song even ended. They brought it to a climax, rang out the final note, and Terry looked completely spent as he pulled off his guitar and bowed deeply to the room full of his friends and fans.
As the clapping continued, Megan's friend slipped through the crowd to join us. She was a tall young woman with a voluptuous, athletic figure. Her blonde hair was cut short, with her bangs sweeping across her forehead. Based on her beauty, I guessed that she was probably one of Megan's co-workers at The Crystal House.
"Well, that was all right," she said in a flat, laconic voice.
"Yeah, it was okay. Nate, this is Jen, Jen, this is Nate."
We smiled, shook hands, said hello.
Jen looked bored already. "So, are we sticking around here, or are we heading down to the Underground?"
Megan looked at me. "What are you up to?"
"I'll have to hang out for a bit," I said. "I'll have a beer, and I'll have to help take down the gear and stuff. Then, you know, whatever. If I'm invited, than yeah, I'll come."
Megan shrugged to her friend. "Want to hang out here for a while?"
Jen shrugged back. "I guess. It's still early."
We went to the drink table and I waited in line to get beers for the three of us while the girls drifted around to look at Terry's paintings.
I looked over at Terry. He looked so happy, shaking hands and taking hugs from people. There would be no hurry getting out of here. I got the drinks and delivered them to the girls, then excused myself to go see what we, the band members, were supposed to be doing next.
I found Paul and Mark, and asked them what was going on. "Hangin' out, Nate," Mark said. "You?"
"I might go down the street for a beer with some chicks."
Paul shrugged. "Go nuts. We don't have to rush with the gear. You have a phone with you?"
"Yeah. Terry's got my number."
"Okay. We can call you when we need you to come back. Go get laid."
I gave him a dirty look, but he didn't notice. Mark winked at me. I ignored him and grabbed my jacket, then headed over to Terry. He was still talking in a circle of people, but I elbowed in and gave him a nudge. "Hey, Terry man, I'm going to slip out for a bit. Give me a call when it's time to clean up, eh?"
"Hey, sure, man. Your stripper friends made it?" He looked over to where Megan and Jen were standing, looking at a painting.
"You spotted them, huh?"
"Yeah. Where are you guys going? I might come find you later."
"The Velvet Underground, I think. Give me a call."
I found the girls. They'd already drained most of their bottles of beer, and I had to chug mine down so we could go.
The Velvet Underground is an alternative and hard rock club on Queen Street West, and it was only a block away from the little storefront gallery where we were playing. The girls had their jackets, and we headed outside and down the street.
We went inside. It was all purple and black in there, and the room was pounding with bass. It was '90s night, and at one end of the room there was a crowded dance floor. We found a little table and sat down. Jen declared the next round was hers, and she went up to the bar, leaving Megan and me alone.
"So, how did you find about the show?" I asked.
"I read about it on your blog," she said. "I thought I'd come and see if you could back up all your know-it-all talk about music."
"What-- what is this shit?" I said with a laugh. "What know-it-all talk? I just go to see bands play!"
She smiled. "I don't know. It's your vibe, I guess. But you played okay. And that old guy is pretty cool."
"Yeah, he is. He's pretty cool. So what did you do, google me or something?"
She nodded. "Maybe someday we'll have to actually exchange numbers or something."
Jen came back to the table with three pints of amber beer. "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails was pounding on the club's oppressive sound system as she sat down. "I love this song!" she declared in a squeal of excitement. "It used to be one of my dancing songs."
"Thank you," I said, taking one of the pints. "You're a dancer too? You guys get to pick the songs you dance to?"
"Of course," Megan said. "We're not going to dance to the shit the DJ picks."
"So what do you dance to?"
Megan rolled her eyes. "Let's see... I change it up pretty often, but I use a lot of David Bowie, some Beatles, some Stones. A lot of older music."
Jen nodded to me. "You've seen her dance, haven't you? I thought you came to the bar to perve on her once."
I sighed. "I didn't come to perve. I just didn't have her phone number. And no, I didn't see her dance. Well, she did some private dances for me, but not dancing on stage to her own music. Look, never mind about that. Why, what music do you dance to?"
"I have a bunch of different sets. I group them by theme. Like, for example, I have one that's 'Mother' by Danzig, then 'Die, Die, My Darling' by Metallica, and then 'Helena' by The Misfits. The new Misfits. It's my Danzig/Misfits medley, although I've been thinking I should drop the Metallica song. I pretty much can't stand them after that 'Lulu' album thing."
"Oh please, don't get him started about Lou Reed," Megan muttered.
"You didn't like 'Lulu'?" I said with a grin.
"I'm serious," Megan said, "he's this crazy Lou Reed fan, and he'll go nuts if you talk shit about Lou Reed. Please, just drop it."
"Well, that album sucked." Jen looked at me. "You can't tell me that album didn't suck."
"Oh, it sucked," I said. "It just probably sucked in different ways for me than it did for you."
"What does that mean? Sucking sucks. If it sucks, it sucks."
"Sure. But you're the Metallica fan who wants an album that sounds like old, classic Metallica, am I right? And the album sucked because it sounds so different from 'Battery' and 'Welcome Home (Sanitarium)' and 'For Whom The Bell Tolls,' right? It's nasty, unattractive, toneless shit that you can't dance to, right?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Okay, well, look at it from my point of view. As you say, Megan, I'm a Lou Reed fan. And Lou's biggest problem is that he's a very creative artist, but he doesn't bring a huge amount to the table musically speaking, right? He's not an incredible guitarist or anything. Most of his songs are two or three chords, so the quality of his work depends a lot on the musicians around him. That's why you like the shit he did with The Velvet Underground--" I paused-- "meaning the band, not this fucking bar. He had a great band with him."
"Yeah, well, Metallica is a great band," Jen interjected, "and the album still sucked. So you can see who the weak link is, right?"
"Right!" I said. "And that's why the album was such a huge disappointment. Because Lou finally had this fantastic band to play with, and the result was shit. I mean, I was stoked for that album. I thought it could be really awesome, but all we got were a few good tracks and a bunch of other stuff that's just unlistenable. What a letdown."
I paused to sip my pint. "I'll tell you this, though. The potential was there. You listen to 'Iced Honey' and 'Junior Dad,' and they're actually pretty good. If they had skipped the whole 'Berlin in the 1920s' bullshit and just put out a rock album with eight simple rock songs like 'Iced Honey,' and two big, beautiful slow numbers like 'Junior Dad,' you would have had a great album."
"I don't know about that," Jen said. "But the whole thing made me really hate Lou Reed."
I shrugged. "I can't blame you."
"It's not really a surprise," Megan said, smiling. "I keep telling you. Lou keeps getting further and further away from his good material with the Velvets."
"Maybe," I said. "But he really has done some great solo work. I've got this live album at home that you really need to listen to. It has moments that are really, really awesome."
"Okay," she said.
"Okay, let's go to your house. I've got a joint. We'll smoke up and listen to your awful Lou Reed album."
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I had a look. It was Terry. "Yeah, I'm totally into that," I said to Megan. "Just hang on for one second, okay?" I took the call. "What's up, Terry?"
"Hey, Nate. It's kind of dying here. You and your girls up for doing anything?"
|This is chapter 18 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive updates about his work on twitter at @nolanwhyte, and experience an awful alternative reality at endcity.blogspot.ca. The Danzig/Misfits stripper set was based on an actual event.|