Even though I hadn't found anyone to join my band, I immediately changed how I was playing guitar. I'd been focusing on the songs I was playing with Terry for his two events, but I started looking past the second and final event to a time when I would be focusing entirely on my new music project, whatever form it might take.
Terry's book launch was coming up on the seventeenth, which was a Saturday night. I didn't know if anybody would come out for it, since that seemed like a night for going to Christmas parties, not to a book launch, but it wasn't my place to bring it up. This one had been arranged with Terry's publisher, and they'd worked hard to get the book shipped before Christmas. Terry was lucky there was any time at all before Christmas to have the event.
Each night I sat and played guitar in my apartment for a few hours. I started with Terry's songs, and I was feeling good after running through them each a few times. Then I started fooling around, looking for riffs.
I followed Terry's advice and tried a simple approach, following Lou Reed: I tried to form the simplest possible riffs, usually just two chords. Then I tried to mumble-sing some lines along with the riffs. It occurred to me that all I had to do was find something very small and simple that sounded good, and just add pieces to it.
Damn. So that's what songwriting is.
On Tuesday night I was up at Terry's for some practice when I got at text message from Carrie Anne: "karaoke fox & fiddle 9:00. ?"
"Damn," I said to Terry as I checked my phone. "Should I go out with my ex tonight?"
"I thought you were hooked up with the blonde chick."
"Yeah, Megan," I said. "We hooked up, but she didn't want to go out after that. Hell, she might be out there with them too. That would be interesting. Kind of like playing them against each other or something."
Terry started strumming a blues crawl. "You're unbelievable, Nate. I've never seen anyone chase trouble like you. You're going after your ex and a stripper, which are both absolute landmines, and you want to raise the level of disaster by playing them against each other? They're going to beat the shit out of you."
I smiled. "Right. And one of them will conk me over the head with a rolling pin, right?"
"Yeah. Because we all have rolling pins all over the place or something. Are we going to play some more?"
We played for another half hour, and then I went downstairs, changed, and headed out to karaoke.
I know, karaoke, right? What the hell. Despite the fact that I usually have a miserable time, I have no issue with karaoke. While it's true that karaoke is songs you hate sung badly by people you don't like, it's also true that beer and girls make just about anything tolerable.
I had a spring in my step. I'd gained a few pimp points by scoring with Megan, and the decision to start a new band and write the material gave me a new sense of purpose. This was a perfect time to just be around Carrie Anne and feel awesome. And if her asshole boyfriend Charlie was there? Hell with him. A party is a party. I'm just there for the karaoke, man.
I hadn't been to the Fox & Fiddle for karaoke before, but it was the usual. In one half of the bar a small stage was given over to karaoke, with a host calling out the performers. The lights were low over the crowd, but I picked out the table where Carrie Anne was sitting. Sure enough, Charlie was there with her. I wondered how he felt about her inviting me out.
They were sitting with a group. Dave, their bass player was with them, along with a few other regular faces. I got a beer from the bar and went over. There was a free spot on the corner, and I said hello and sat down. On stage two girls were singing "Wake Me Up When September Ends".
Charlie looked over and shot me knife eyes. I smiled at him, and he sneered and looked away. Carrie Anne smiled and waved her pinky finger at me.
"So who's singing?" I asked, reaching for one of the big song binders.
"I've already sung," said the girl to my left. I didn't know her. She was a small, plump girl, kind of a cutie-pie type with a Velma haircut and glasses.
"What did you sing?"
"Cute," I said. "I'm sorry I missed it." I started flipping through the binder.
"You singing, Nate?" Charlie asked. He was now sitting with his arm draped lavishly around Carrie Anne's shoulders.
"Sure," I said. "I'll find something. How about you? Do they have any Seam/Fault/Flaw songs you could sing?"
"No, this is where I come to sing covers," he said.
"Sing one of your '80s songs, Nate," Carrie Anne said.
She was talking about this thing I used to do where I'd take old pop songs and get up and sing them with a desperate screaming metal voice, like a dragon was swallowing my girlfriend, and I had to sing "Tainted Love" to free her. It was usually good for a few laughs.
The music was very loud, so while people were up singing I was confined to chatting with the Katy Perry fan, because I couldn't hear much of the conversation down the table while people were singing. It turns out she wasn't a Katy Perry fan at all, and had chosen the song to be ironic. I suggested maybe there was a layer of sincerity under that irony, and one day she'll be honest with herself and admit that Katy Perry is her embarrassing guitly pleasure. She did not agree with this suggestion.
I made a few song selections, wrote them down on the little slips of paper that were scattered all over the tables, and passed them up to the host.
Charlie was the next to sing, and he got up and did "The Cave" from Mumford And Sons. He sang it in his rock band lead singer voice, and he sounded great, which didn't really seem fair to me on some level. But hell, if I could sing well I would probably try it that way too. As it was, I had to do what I could with charm and humor.
He and Carrie Anne snuggled back up when he returned, and some other goon got up on stage. I finished my beer and went to get another.
A few songs later, Charlie and Dave got up and wandered out to go smoke. Carrie Anne looked over at me and nodded her head, inviting me to switch seats. I moved over and slipped in beside her.
"How's it going?" she asked. "You having a good time?"
"Yeah. The guy hasn't picked any of my songs yet, but I'm trying to be patient. You know how I love karaoke."
"Not really," she said. "I always had a hard time telling when you actually liked something, or if you actually thought it was stupid and you were being ironic, of if you actually did like something, but you acted like it was just ironic because you didn't want to admit really liking it. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I was talking about that earlier about Katy Perry. I guess it's true some of the time. But it makes me sound pretty full of sh-t."
She nodded. "I think we all are sometimes."
"Yeah." Change the subject, change the subject. "So, I'm putting a band together."
"Really? You and the old guys?"
"No," I said. "So far it's just me. I'm working on material and I'm going to start hunting for players."
"Wow, cool." She sat for a moment and then turned toward me. "Really? I thought you were sort of over it. Like you wanted to be a writer now."
I nodded. "I think it's time to take another shot at this. Besides, I think the ceiling is higher for musicians than for music writers."
"Yeah. They never put the writers of the cover of the music magazines."
"Right." I looked toward the entrance. No sign of Charlie yet. I turned back toward Carrie Anne. "I'm playing a show on Saturday night with my old guy neighbor. It's a book launch."
"Cool. Text me the details and I'll come out."
"Really? I'm not sure if Charlie will be down for that."
She shrugged. "If he doesn't want to come he doesn't have to come. But I don't think we'll have a problem with it. We're really not jealous in our relationship."
"If you say so. But he and I have some fairly open hostility going on. You might want to run it by him just in case. I don't want to be the cause of any drama."
She patted me on the thigh. "You've come to see us. I'll come and see you."
Charlie and Dave came back in. "My seat?" Charlie said as they got back to the table. The host called my name, and I got up. "Of course," I said, clapping him on the shoulder. "It's all yours."
I took a gulp from my beer and stepped up to the stage. The happy-sad-bouncy guitars started popping, and I took the mic from the stand. On television monitors around the room there were images of sad people hanging around in abstract settings-- standard karaoke video crap, with the countdown going 3, 2, 1...
And with a roar I began, "Whooooooaaaaaaaa life..."
And abandoning Michael Stipe's nasal tenor, I went full-rip through a metal-vocals version of REM's "Losing My Religion".
"That's me in the CORNER! That's me in the SPOT! LIGHT! Losing my Religion! Trying to KEEP! A! VIEW And I DON'T KNOW if I can DO IT!"
I think a screamed with a delicate poignancy. Heh.
Anyway, my face turned pretty red from screaming, but I got some claps and cheers when I hopped back down off stage. Some people from our table gave me little high-fives as I returned to my seat.
Carrie Anne smiled. Charlie scowled.
Megan arrived a short while later. We exchanged some pleasantries, and she wedged herself in at the other end of the table. I had a few more beers and kept talking to the people around me, making eyes at Carrie Anne when I could.
I was getting ready to leave when Megan went up to the stage to sing. I paused.
She got up there as the bass and drum lines kicked in, grabbed the microphone and started grooving. I knew the song and smiled. Megan started singing in a hint of a snarl: "God money, I'll do anything for you... God money, just tell me what you want me to do..."
Megan was twitching her hips and rolling her shoulders, running a hand down her thigh as she sang. She had taken earlier '90s industrial and made it sexy again. Trent Reznor would be pround.
She ground and snarled her way through "Head Like A Hole", and she was explosive. She was hotter than hell, and she could sing it too. And if nothing else, her work in the strip club had definitely given her stage presence. She looked confident and in control.
It was too obvious. I had found a singer for my band. I knew it. I would arrange some kind of try-out, of course, to see if we could work together. We could start by learning a few covers, and then get to work on our own material. Meanwhile, I would hunt down a bass player and drummer, maybe a lead guitarist...
When she came back to the table I went around and talked to her, telling her that I wanted to try playing together. I told her I'd call her to talk it over. She didn't seem opposed to the idea, which was a good thing.
I wished everyone a good night and headed out for home. I smiled. Maybe pieces of the puzzle were going to start fitting together.
|This is chapter 22 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 invade another world at endcity.blogspot.ca.|