From deep inside The Horseshoe came the rumbles of bass notes and the blast-fuzz of an electric guitar checking sound levels. Carrie Anne and her band were up on stage. I went inside, but I didn't go directly to the back room. I wasn't ready to see her performing yet. First I needed to wash the ashen taste of tobacco and despair out of my mouth. I stopped at the bar and ordered two shots of whiskey and a beer chaser.
By the time the drinks were paid for and lined up in front of me, the band had started its first song. It was a mid-tempo rock number, nothing too complex. It was easy to pick apart the drum pattern, decode the bass line, understand the guitar riff. Nothing ground-breaking. What were their influences? Eighties post-punk maybe, but without keyboards. And no vocals so far.
I downed the first shot and grimaced at the taste and the burning sensation as the alcohol slid down my throat. The bartender, an attractive but severe-looking blonde, gave me a sharp glance, worried that I would go into a coughing fit, or puke maybe. I had a sip off the neck of the beer to wash it down. The booze settled into my stomach and made a nasty little nest for itself.
There was a rhyme. What was it? Whiskey on beer, never fear, beer on whiskey, might risky. What if you drink them together? What if I just poured them together into one big glass and downed it all together?
It was too early in the night to be thinking so stupidly, but nihilism was creeping in. Carrie Anne was there in the back room. The thought of a noose flashed in my mind's eye. That had been something like a theme for me during a bad stretch when I was back in Winnipeg and feeling very lonely, very depressed. I would think of her and I would get a sudden hanging flash, the feeling of dropping a short distance and jarring myself into some kind of-- I didn't know what. I certainly wasn't in such a bad way that I was actually considering self-harm, but nevertheless, every time I thought of her...
The second whiskey shot went down my throat with the same burn as the first. I took another gulp of beer and stepped back from the bar. I felt like a fool. I had the cold, creeping feeling that she was going to see me and immediately judge me, start picking me apart, see every reason why she dumped me, and quickly affirm the correctness of her decision.
I slugged down another big swallow the beer, gave myself a shake, and started walking toward the back where the band was playing.
Her band's name was Seam/Fault/Flaw. Clearly she had named the band for me: full of faults, full of flaws, and about to come apart at the seams. I grinned despite myself. Asshole! Don't overestimate your importance in her life. You're just some dick she dated for a while and then dumped. You're just a fragment from her past. You're the one that inflated her to some gigantic symbol of your shortcomings.
My steps were a little uncertain. I felt like my head was maybe traveling faster than my feet. The whiskey shots were a mistake. I never drank hard alcohol. The cigarette, all four drags, had also been a mistake. My head and stomach were swimming. I went up the steps and into the blackness of the venue room.
Past the pillars and past the crowd I could see the band up on stage. It was a four person line-up: bass, singer/guitarist, guitarist, drummer. Carrie Anne was on the right side of the stage, playing a guitar with an orange sunburst finish. From the distance I couldn't tell the make of the guitar. She was half-turned, standing with her left foot toward the front of the stage, the headstock of her guitar aimed toward the audience so that she could watch her fret fingers and still face the crowd.
"I knew it," I whispered to myself. "She's a newb." She hadn't learned to play well enough yet to perform without watching her fingers. As well, her musical part was limited, just moving back and forth between D and G. The guy at center stage, whose microphone stand she'd been setting up, was doing more of the heavy lifting on the riff.
I knew him.
I didn't really know him, but it was the guy who had given me the cigarette. He'd been standing outside, talking to girls while Carrie Anne set up his microphone for him. He must be some kind of diva.
But I had to admit, he was a cool looking guy, and a good guitar player. He worked his riff, also looking at his fret hand, but not like he had to-- he was just working it, pouting his bottom lip, nodding his head as he played. "Casually rocking," if I had to describe it.
He reminded me of a young Gary Oldman-- sharp, handsome, but without much of a chin. Some facial scruff, hair parted far to one side, red shirt with short sleeves and the collar folded neatly down, button open at his throat. Casual cool. He finally stepped up to the microphone and started to sing. He had a clear bass voice, like an emotionally-balanced Ian Curtis.
"I do do do not choose to remember where it was I had to go With you in my car I'll just keep driving and tell you that I do not know..."
I hated it, but I had to admit they were pretty good.
The bass player and drummer were unknown to me, just young rock soldiers. The bass player was tall and thin, wearing a retro Incredible Hulk t-shirt. To hell with him. He probably watched The Big Bang Theory but told everyone he only watched it ironically. The drummer was chubby, with a close-shaved head but a visible hairline that revealed early-onset male pattern baldness. They were solid players. I didn't care about them. I was watching Carrie Anne.
Seeing her earlier had been like a knife being jabbed into my gut, and now watching her on stage was like having the knife slowly twisted, and twisted, and twisted... she looked so, so good, and not just because of how hot she was, or because of the tight jeans or red lipstick-- how can I explain?
Imagine the hottest girl you know, who you also have a crush on. Now imagine her dressed up like whatever your favorite thing is, like, if you're a sports nerd, imagine her wearing the uniform of your favorite team, or if you're a book nerd imagine her putting on the sexy librarian thing... you see where I'm going with this?
This is what Carrie Anne was doing-- she was already a girl I'd been in love with, dated for two years in university, maybe taken for granted a bit in the end, but then lost-- and then spent two years dreaming about and longing for. And now I see her here at The Horseshoe, rocking an orange sunburst guitar on stage. She was already my lost dream girl, now she'd also become a model for my fetish: the hot rock and roll chick.
The song ended, and the crowd clapped. There were a few cheers. I took a big slug of beer and looked around, trying to see if any of Carrie Anne friends were there to see her. She was part of the art crowd at school, and usually didn't travel without a little squad of buddies. I couldn't see anyone I knew, but she might have switched out squad members during the couple years I'd been away..
Seam/Fault/Flaw started up again, blasting a faster, rougher number this time. The singer, whatever his name was, came in right away this time, shouting out his lines. I couldn't make them out through the cacophony of the music. Yes, the band sounded very good. If they had been just another band, I probably would have written something about them.
And then, at the thought, a little light bulb went off in my head.
I polished off the bottle of beer and veered off toward the bar for another. I had the realization: I'd seen her, but was I going to approach her? Had I planned on watching from the back of the bar and then skulking away without a word? Or would I hang around after the show like some kind of creeper?
Of course I wanted to talk to her, but I was afraid of being treated like some kind of sad residue of her earlier life. The best I could reasonably hope for would be a "Nice to see you, how's it going, now I've got to leave," kind of exchange. But I'd forgotten that I had something to offer. With a sudden swell of confidence I remembered: I was a music journalist.
I was a music journalist, and she was in a band. And that meant I had an in.
The band kept playing, and I kept drinking. After five or six songs I got another beer and moved up closer to the stage, taking a spot on the dance floor, directly in Carrie Anne's line of sight. She didn't notice me as she played, since her eyes remained firmly on her fret hand.
The song ended and the band went for their drinks, wiping sweat, conferring, tuning. Carrie Anne grabbed her bottle of beer from the floor behind her, took a drink and set it back down. She spotted me when she turned back toward the crowd. Her eyes widened in surprise, and then she regained her composure and gave me a half-smile and a little wave. I responded with a cool-as-ice nod, like Boba Fett. Cool guy. What a dip-shit.
The man-diva singer picked up on her wave and my nod and he looked over at me, caught my eye and gave me a smile and nod. I responded with the same cool Boba Fett nod.
I stood there while they played out their set, eight or nine songs in all, about thirty-five minutes. Carrie Anne used maybe five different chords through the whole set. Before the last song the singer made the obligatory introductions. His name was Charlie. Her name was Carrie Anne. Bass player and drummer guy had names too, but I made no effort to retain them. They were not important to me. I was waiting for them to finish their set. I'd been drinking too fast and I was getting impatient to piss.
They blasted out their last number, which actually would have made a pretty solid single, as good as something by The Killers or Snow Patrol. It was an anthem-type thing, with a big, bright chorus. Charlie, the man-diva, had a good voice, and he was a good player. I compared myself to him for a moment. He was a better player and a better singer. It wasn't much of a comparison. He might have been better looking than me too. I wasn't very good at judging things like that.
They finished and got a cheer, and then immediately started to tear down. The bands come bang-bang-bang on Tuesday nights; as soon as Seam/Fault/Flaw was off stage the next band would be up there.
While they were rolling cords and lugging amps, I cut out to use the can. I pissed, smoothed my hair with wet hands and then messed it up again, and wondered for a moment whether I should make myself puke. I felt sick to my stomach. No time. Besides, other guys were coming in and out of the bathroom.
I reeled back into the bar and almost pin-balled off the other patrons to get back to the stage area. This was wrong, wrong, wrong, I was too drunk to be doing this now, but I stopped at the bar. The line was too long to wait. Never try to get a beer between bands.
The band was off the stage. I had to move. They were probably already getting ready to load out, disappear into the night...
...and there was Charlie, right in front of me. "Hey buddy," he said, giving me a smile and an intense look in the eye. He had blue eyes. Too close, dude.
|I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar. Follow him on twitter @nolanwhyte.|