I woke up at eight-thirty in the morning and lay there, squeezing my eyes shut, hoping that I would be able to go back to sleep and maybe kill a few hours of the day. The light was coming in through the window. I tucked my head under the pillow and begged my body to sleep. I did not want to get up and start the tedious process of filling hours.
The longest day you can have is a Saturday when you've got nothing to do except wait to play a night gig.
No luck. Getting up at the same time for work every morning decimated my ability to sleep in. Being a grown up sucks sometimes.
I finally got out of bed, made an elaborate grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, heaping on lunch meat, sliced pickles and ridiculous amounts of pepper. It turned out to be an awesome sandwich (the key is to use marble cheese instead of processed slices) but I wasn't happy. I was too preoccupied with the potential grenade-juggling operation that was set up for me at the gig tonight.
I tried to hatch a plan for how I should try to play the situation, but instead, I began fantasizing about dream scenarios. I would go with Terry, Jerk Paul and Scottish Mark to the Cafe Rio. I would hang around, ignoring all the beautiful young chicks that were there, sipping a gin and tonic and looking to be a straight-laced, slightly uptight writer-artist-musician-warrior-poet in a black T-shirt and jeans. My hair would look great.
Maybe I would slip outside and have an uncharacteristic cigarette, as some acknowledgment that I am young enough to laugh at death, but cooly nihilistic enough to hate life on some level, and willing to embrace a chance to destroy myself in some tiny way. There would be a meaningful snowfall for the first time in this miserable winter, and I would let the perfect crystal flakes dust me as I stand like a tragic, flawed hero under a street light, waiting to strut and fret my hour upon the stage until my guitar is heard no more.
But then, while I am standing, smoking an unwanted cigarette under a Bathurst streetlight, Carrie Anne would appear. I would flick the stupid cigarette away and we would stand and face each other in the crisp cold.
She would be beautiful, in a "classic beauty" kind of way. I would be serious and cool. She would be Natalie Wood. I would be Albert Camus.
The look on her face would tell me that she was sorry for subjecting me to the long exile of the last two years, and the look on my face would convey all my remorse for the callous stupidity of my youth. Wordlessly, all would be forgiven and with tremulous smiles we would reaffirm our abandoned love and pledge to build a life together.
Later, sex. According to my fantasy plan for the night, there would be a marathon of love-making, at turns tender and aggressive. It would be intimate, mind-bending sex, kind of like we did in the early days of our relationship when we were still exploring, plus a little of the unfiltered pleasure-hounding like from the later days, but fresh and renewed for our time apart.
Sex that would shake worlds apart. Sex that would change us, as people.
Ohhh, and I would also play well during the set with Terry. Well enough that Carrie Anne would cast her dipsh-t lead-singer boyfriend Charlie aside, quit his band, and join my band, Gun Metal Grey, alongside me and Megan, the lead singer, whom I may have had sex with twice in the last two weeks or so...
... Well, how things were supposed to go from there got a little murky.
I went out to get coffee, came home, read the news online, jerked off to some internet porn, read some more, got bored, and picked up my acoustic. I played through the three songs I'd be doing with Terry, and then tried to play them through again with my eyes closed. I wanted to be able to make meaningful eye contact with Carrie Anne while I was playing, but I didn't want to cock up the songs with a bunch of fingering mistakes because I was too newbish to play without staring at my fret hand. I made some mistakes. I hoped Carrie Anne would accept quick glances in her direction as meaningful eye contact.
It wasn't even noon yet, but I decided to head upstairs and see if Terry was into hanging out. I found him up, dressed and shaved. He'd even gone out and gotten a haircut since I'd seen him. On top of that, he'd been cleaning all the accumulated shit out of his apartment. There were two big black garbage bags full of who-knows-what near his door, ready to be taken downstairs.
"Wow," I said. "You moving out or something?"
"No, man, no," he said with a grin. "I feel energized, man. Whole new chapter of life starting tonight, man! I feel like I want to clean out the crap of the old life! I don't know if you noticed, but I can be a bit of a pack-rat, but I feel like I just want to clean it all out, start fresh."
"Yeah, I noticed." I looked around. The stacks of newspapers and magazines were gone. His work table, which had been heaped with papers and the detritus of his painting work, was cleaned off. His painting tools and supplies were neatly organized. The chairs had no clothes on them. His kitchen was tidy. Even his ashtray was clean.
He sat down and started rolling one of his slender cigarettes, the smile still on his face. "New beginnings, Nate. You know the old expression, a change is as good as a rest, right? I feel fresh, man. I'm an old f--k, you know, and I've been pretty rough on my body, but I feel great. The painting show sold well, I'm having the book launch, and I feel like I can turn the page on trying to be a rock star, you know?"
I sat down at the kitchen table with him. "So what's wrong with trying to be a rock star?"
He shrugged and licked the edge of the rolling paper. "Nothing's wrong with it. But there's a difference between playing music because you wanna rock, and playing it because you've got to try and make some money from it. See, if I'd become really successful back at the beginning, sold a ton of records back before the internet ruined it for everybody, then I could have just played for fun, right? Because I would have the money already, and I wouldn't have to worry about it, so I could just go out and play for giggles. Keith Richards doesn't have to play. Hell, he hasn't had to play since the Seventies, but he still plays because he loves it. Sure, he makes a ton of money doing it, but he's not doing it for the money. He just wants to play."
Terry finished the roll and lit his cigarette. "But if you haven't made the money, you gotta keep hustling for it, and that sucks, man. I'm done with the hustling, man. I'm done chasing a couple of bucks for a shitty gig. From here on out, I'm only playing for fun."
"What about the gigs with Paul?"
"That's nothing," he said. "That's kid shit. I'll play a couple of gigs with him until he realizes he sucks, and then we're all free. It's a sad project, really, but I'll go along with it. Just a laugh, man."
I nodded toward his cigarette. "Could you roll me one too?"
He narrowed his eyes. "You starting?"
"Nah," I said. "Just... I don't know. You mind?"
He shrugged. "No. I'm just surprised."
"I guess I'm nervous about tonight."
He pulled out another rolling paper and began the process again. "Why? Because it's it a bigger room?"
"No, I.. wait, how big a room is it?"
"We're expecting a couple hundred. We're hoping, anyway. You ever play a room that big?"
"I once played a room that could hold two thousand, but there were only about fifty people in there. Um, my ex-girlfriend Carrie Anne is coming."
"Oh yeah? You still barking up that tree? I thought you'd decided on the stripper. What's her name, Megan." He licked the edge, rolled it up and handed it over.
"Thanks." I put the cigarette between my lips and he flicked his lighter and lit me up. "Megan's cool. It looks like she's going to be the singer in my band."
Terry's eyes brightened. "Hey, you're going for it, are you? Hey man, that's great. And she can sing? You guys fucked, right?"
"Yeah. Twice. Just the other night again, actually."
"Hey, cool. It can make the band situation a little funny sometimes though, shagging the singer. That's Fleetwood Mac sh-t, right there."
I laughed. "Right. Yeah, but we're not together. I'm actually looking at getting back with my ex."
"But you're shagging the beautiful stripper. And she's going to sing in your band. Why aren't you going to stick with her?"
I sucked on the needle-thin cigarette and filled my lungs, then blew out the smoke. My lungs rebelled at the sensation. I guess they're smarter than I am. "I don't know, man. She seems okay with hopping in bed, but she says she doesn't want to date. And, I'll be perfectly honest, I'm still in love with Carrie Anne. I've been fixated on her for a couple years. Now it seems like tonight might be my big chance to get with her, and I've got to take the shot."
He shrugged. "You're a mystery, man. Hey, forget about that stuff for a minute, okay? I was thinking, we've only got a short set ready, and I do that reading over three of the songs. If everything is really rocking, I thought we could play those three over again, but at full volume. You think you could play along if we really blast those three out? You wouldn't have to change anything, really, except to play louder and maybe a little faster."
"Yeah, that would be cool," I said. The rolled cigarette was making me feel a little sick, and I was only a third of the way into it. "I'd like to play some hard rock shit with you."
"Cool. Look, I've got a bunch of stuff I want to do this afternoon. Paul is going to pick us up around seven. Can I just know on your door when I'm heading down?"
"Sure," I said, and I crushed out the skinny little smoke. "I'll be ready."
I went back down to my apartment, plugged in my SG, and proceeded to rock the living shit out of the three songs, playing them through over and over from memory. My practice amp was small, and I wondered if any of my sound was bleeding through into Terry's unit on the fourth floor. I hoped he could hear something. The idea of really smashing the shit out of some songs in front of Carrie Anne was way better than being a musical extra while Terry read from his book.
Paul came and picked us up at seven, and we headed over to pick up Mark and his drums. Everybody was in a good mood, and for the first time, it felt to me like we were some kind of an actual band. Terry was dressed nicely. He was in a silly-goofy mood, all nervous excitement about launching his book, and equally excited that for the very last time he was under pressure to get up on a stage to sing and play for a crowd.
As much as he loved performing, Terry was excited for his exit. He wanted to play a great show, bask in the adulation of a cheering crowd, and step off the stage not as an over-the-hill rock never-was, but as an author and artist. From that moment on, every time he played guitar it would be for his own enjoyment, not for his career as a musician.
We got to the Cafe Rio and loaded in through the back doors, setting up our gear on the the big stage in front of the empty room. Doors would open at eight o'clock. A rep from Terry's publisher was there, and a merch table was being set up, not with CDs and t-shirts, but with copies of Terry's book, titled "Comeback Road". Terry had painted the cover image for it. It was a crude image of the a-s-end of a van parked on the side of a highway.
As I brooded, waiting for my rendevous with Carrie Anne, Terry was full of joyfull, nervous energy. After tonight, Terry would be free.
|This is chapter 26 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive his juice on twitter at @nolanwhyte, and observe the end of another world at endcity.blogspot.com.|