There isn't an album that I can sing along with, word for word, from start to finish. There are albums I know front to back, but nothing I could legitimately sing without going "manna-manna-manna" through the lines I don't know. It's just not something that ever struck me as important. Songs, sure. There are lots of songs I know all the way through. But albums? No. Just about every album has something on it that I might listen to, but never actually sing along with.
Megan had one album that she could sing like that, and it was Nine Inch Nails' first album, "Pretty Hate Machine". I was never a super-hardcore NIN guy, so that was definitely an album I didn't know front to back. I knew "Head Like A Hole", and I might have recognized a few other songs, but I sure didn't know it the way Megan did.
But on a cold, snowless December night in Toronto, with Megan warming herself in my apartment and the two of us wondering if we could work together as the foundation of a band, the only songs she could think to sing were from "Pretty Hate Machine".
I took my can of beer and sat down at my laptop, searching for the tracks that she wanted to try. She pulled up a chair and sat next to me, and we sat listening through song after alternatively aggressive and weepy song, looking for one that I would be willing to learn and play with her.
"I knew a guy in high school who was really into Nine Inch Nails," Megan said as we listened. "This was around when 'Year Zero' came out, and there was all that online shit to promote it. He got really into that. Anyway, he was dark and funny and artsy, and I got really into him, but it didn't really go anywhere. When I would get all sad and pine for him I would listen to this album."
"What was the problem? Did he hate beautiful girls?"
"Cute. No, I was too shy to push it beyond just friends. I have a tendency to get really shy around guys I like."
"You're not shy with me."
She smiled. "I guess that means I don't really like you."
"Oh. I thought it meant you were getting over your shyness."
We listened to a few different songs, eliminating them one by one for one reason or another (too slow, too fast, not guitar-heavy enough, inappropriate for a female singer, etc.), until we finally came upon "The Only Time". It had a sexy, sleazy opening, and a heavy chorus. After a second listen I thought it might work as a cover, so I made a quick search to find the chords and plugged in my SG.
Megan sang along with video of the song, while I tried to work out how the rhythm worked. Then we tried it with just the two of us, with me looking back and forth between her and the webpage, trying to keep straight what the hell I was supposed to be playing.
It didn't go too terribly. Terry had been working with me a lot over the last several weeks, and I'd been practising on my own just about every night. I was able to carry it along while she sang, and it sounded cool. I could just imagine playing it on stage in a packed, sweaty little room with Megan slugging down a shot of peach brandy before singing it out to the rapt crowd, with me leading my post-hipster band of bass, drums, and a spare who alternates between keys and rhythm guitar.
Megan would be wearing a combination of clever-cute and slutty, like blending an '80s cartoon punk rocker with an erotic cabaret dancer named Nihilism. I would wear rectangular sunglasses to shield my eyes from the bright lights of the stage and a button-up shirt like Ian Curtis from Joy Division, and we would be loud and crass and cunning and awesome. And there would be distortion. Lots of distortion.
When we finished the song, Megan broke into an unaccompanied rendition of "Something I Can Never Have", crying out a haunting version with her eyes closed all the way through. I presume she was thinking about her weird little high school boy crush, and about all the times she'd listened to this song in the dark through headphones and sung along under her breath, imagining that she was singing it for Josh, or Pete, or Wang, or whatever the dude's name was. I watched her, watching her mouth as she sang, watching her tightly closed eyes, watching her chest as it rose and fell with her breath. I watched and wondered if she'd ever gotten herself off while listening to this song, eyes closed and dreaming of her unrequieted love from Chemistry class, the boy who liked Nine Inch Nails.
She finished singing the song and opened her eyes, looking at me and smiling an embarrassed little smile. It was probably the most vulnerable I'd seen her, which is saying something considering we'd already gone down on each other.
"That was f--king amazing," I said.
She laughed an embarrassed laugh.
"This could work, it seriously could," I said. "You can sing. We can learn some songs, write some songs, put together a kick-a-s band, and play some shows. This could be really awesome."
"Okay, maybe," she said, "but what's the end game? It would eat up a ton of time, and the odds of making a serious career of it are probably similar to the odds of successfully playing the lottery for a living."
I took our empty beers over to the kitchen, and pulled two new ones out of the fridge. "Sure," I said, handing her a can. "You're not going to get rich, or even make a living at it, even for a little while. That's not what it's about. Being in a band is a lot of fun. And you're an artist, aren't you? What kind of artist are you?"
She sighed. "In the last three years I've done illustration work and painting, some sculpture, some installation and performance work, and let's see... Some video work."
"That's all professional work? Perfect. Being in a band raises your profile as an artist. It allows you to draw a new audience to your niche work."
"It pigeonholes me. I lose credibility."
"Not if the band is any good," I said. "And it's risk-free anyway. It can go one of two ways. We could be just okay and go nowhere, in which case the band gradually becomes a part of your mysterious artistic past and a vital experience for you to draw on. Either that, or we turn out to be awesome and actually go somewhere, make some money, and party our way around the world. It's win-win."
"Wow," she said with a smile. "That's a pretty good sales pitch."
"Sure, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The way I see it, it would pretty much give you coupons to make men fall in love with you. Do you know what's even sexier than being a stripper? Being a rock and roll singer that used to be a stripper."
Megan laughed. "That's the cheesiest thing I've ever heard, and that's saying something. So, you were in a band before, right? If we decide to try, do you know what we have to do?"
"Yeah, no problem," I said. "We start learning some songs, and I'll start hunting for other players. As soon as we have a good lineup together, we learn a set of songs and start looking for gigs. And we just keep improving and adding better material, and see how far we can go."
"That sounds pretty simple. It almost sounds dull."
"Maybe," I said. "But you have to remember that it will be full of dark clubs and weird European liquors and soft drugs and memorable sex with beautiful freaks."
"Right," she said. "Because that stuff has always been my dream." She sighed again. "I don't know. It seems kind of lame. I'm trying to build an actual career as a serious artist, and this seems like high school sh-t."
I sat and looked at her. She drained another can of beer. I couldn't tell if she actually couldn't make up her mind, or if she was just making me argue for her amusement. "Look," I said. "I don't care. I'm going to put the band together either way. I think it would work for you, and I know you'd be good. So do whatever you want."
We kept arguing about it, eventually refreshing our drinks and moving to the couch. As she gradually warmed up to the idea, there was a subtle transition in conversation from whether or not joining a band would be worthwhile, to asking what would be possible if we did form one.
She eventually mentioned that's she'd been on her feet all day. I reached down to grab her feet, sliding them up into my lap. We changed positions so that we were facing each other on the couch, and I gave her a foot rub.
"Even if we form a band together, it doesn't mean I like you or anything," she said. "I still think you're kind of a dick."
"It didn't stop you from sleeping with me, so I don't see why it should stop you from joining my band," I said. "Besides, it's best if we don't like each other. That way unwanted romantic feelings don't get in the way of band business."
I massaged from her foot to the underside of her ankle, up her Achilles tendon and into her calf muscle. She made a pleased sound deep in her throat, and obviously half an hour later we were having sex.
And half an hour after the sex we we spooning on the bed, with the light of the living room shining in to illuminate the scene: me holding her from behind, arm around her waist, my face nuzzled into the waves of blonde hair behind her ear.
She had two thin earrings on the upper part of her left ear, which I hadn't taken special notice of before. The upper ring was gold, and the lower one was a metallic blackish. I nuzzled my nose against her ear at the spot of the two piercings. "Why different colors?" I asked softly.
"Just thought it would look cool," she said. "For the second one I went into the shop and asked for gun metal grey. They showed me this and called it black. I said perfect."
"I like that, gun metal grey. I think that's what I'm going to call the band."
"What, Gun Metal Grey? That's awful. You can't call the band that. Besides, if I'm in the band, I get to vote on the name."
"But it's a great name. It's got a rhythm. Besides, I'm basically naming the band after you."
"I don't know. It's sounds cold and dirty."
I gave her a little squeeze. "Sure. Like our relationship."
"We have a relationship?" she said.
"Hell, I don't know," I replied.
She stayed the night, and then in the morning she left as I was getting ready to go to work. Our plans were vague, but she was on board with the band. As she was getting ready to walk out the door I told her about the gig I was playing with Terry on Saturday night, withholding the information that Carrie Anne had already agreed to be there, without her jacka-s boyfriend, Charlie.
"I'm working Saturday night," she said. "And it will just be the same show I saw last time, right?"
"Yeah. That's cool. Call me, or email me or whatever. We'll start working on some music."
She rolled her eyes. "Right," she said. "See ya." And then she slipped out the door.
I went to work. It was a good day. I was riding high off getting laid for the second time in a week by a gorgeous woman who was awesome at sex, but who didn't want a relationship and so wasn't standing in the way of my awesome opportunity to re-hookup with my ex, who also wasn't letting her current boyfriend stand in the way of the potential hookup. And all of this was on top of the possibility that Megan and I really could be the foundation of a decent hard rock band. Things were shaping up pretty well.
At twelve o'clock I punched out for my lunch break. I checked my phone and saw one text message, twenty minutes old. It was from Charlie. It read simply, "meet me for drink u pick pub."
I thought it over. The meeting could only be for a confrontation, and it wouldn't go well for me since I was standing on low moral ground. I was acting like a scoundrel by targeting a taken girl. Still, I had to meet him. I had to give him the opportunity to look me in the eye.
I texted him back: "village idiot pub 7pm."
|This is chapter 24 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.|