I stood on stage and slowly dragged my pick down over the strings of my black SG, relishing the bling-bling-blang-blang-bing-bing sound reverberating through the Cafe Rio's powerful sound system. I think Panegyric, my less-than-awesome university band played maybe twenty shows, and I don't think we once had a soundcheck that lasted more than sixty seconds, and never one that took place before the audience was in the room.
"Do it again."
I followed the sound man's direction and stroked the strings again. Instead of miking my little amp, I was plugged straight into the PA system, and the sound was coming out of these massive stacks winging the stage, and also pushing back at me through the monitors. It sounded incredible.
"Okay, you're good."
Terry was standing at center stage, and he gave me a nod. I switched off and set my guitar down, then hopped down off the stage. Paul was already finished soundchecking his bass, and he was standing in the middle of the dance floor, watching as Terry started checking his guitar. I stopped next to him. "You psyched?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I guess. Not as much as he is."
We watched as Terry exploded into a furious intro of Johnny B. Goode, hunching over to attack his strings, ripping out the riff, and then straightening up to begin singing out the magical Chuck Berry lyrics: "Deep down in Loo-zee-anna down by New Orleans, a-back up in the woods among the evergreens..."
Mark, who was still adjusting parts of his kit, sat down and started battering his drums, playing along with Terry's outburst. It was strick boom-tat-boom-tat pounding, and I could see the smile on Mark's face as he watched Terry.
"Go! Go! Go Johnny Go! Go!" Terry shouted, and he started swinging his hips back and forth, pulling Jaggeresque, pouting facial expressions. It was pretty awesome.
As suddenly as he started Terry stopped, scratched his eyebrow, and said into the mike, "How's that?"
"Pretty good," the sound tech replied. "Let's get the drums next."
Terry took off his guitar, propped it against the amp and climbed down off the stage. Mark resumed adjusting his kit, and moments later began the tedious "boom-boom-boom" pounding on each drum.
"That was awesome," I said. "Why aren't you doing a sh-tload of old covers like that?"
Terry smiled. "If retirement gets boring I'll start playing that stuff at old people parties. Come on, let's get a drink."
We went and got beers at the bar, although at Terry's insistence, we had to get light beer. He wanted us loose, but not p-ssed. I felt the same way, although I was thinking more about seeing Carrie Anne than playing the actual show. I was pretty sure the show would be fine. After all, I knew the three songs inside out, and I'd practiced the hell out of them.
But there's no real way to "practice" trying to re-ignite the magic with an ex-girlfriend who dumped you years ago, and who is now dating a cool douche. I had a rough plan, which went something like "be cool and see where it goes". And "where it goes" in my mind was "back to my place".
The bar staff opened their doors at eight o'clock, and a slow trickle of people began to arrive. The Cafe Rio was a fairly long, narrow space with a sizeable room at the back, and by placing ourselves at the bar in the front, we were able to watch everyone who came through. Every time I heard the door, I looked to see if it was her.
Terry stood near the entrance, chatting with everyone who came through. I saw some of the same faces from the painting show. Terry was at his best. I thought about the contrast between this sharp, active, very much alive man here at the show, and the almost-dead near-derelict I'd met only weeks ago. I hoped the changes would last.
I stood at the bar with Mark. He had his beer. I switched to gin and tonics and started putting them away. They went down so quick and easy. I don't know why it seemed so important that GTs would be my drink that night. Somehow I just wanted something that seemed clean and fresh and dry, and wouldn't bloat me up like a bunch of beer would. I wanted to get drunk without getting too full.
"You're not gonna get pissed, are ye?" Mark asked when I ordered another. It was my third, but he was still on his first beer.
"No. I mean, pfff," I said, scoffing. "I'm not gonna get pissed. These things, they don't even do anything. I'm good."
"Yeah, right. Just don't f--k up the songs, eh? Terry'll cut your balls off. This is his big night."
I paid the bartender as he set the small glass in front of me. "Don't worry, I'm cool." I squeezed the juice out of the lime wedge, stirred, and took a sip through the little green straw. "Besides, I thought you always got wrecked at shows."
"Learned my lessons, mate," he said. "You gotta wait until the set's over, and then you start p-ssing up. Holy sh-t," he said suddenly. "It's Gina." Mark got off his stool and went quickly over to where Terry was standing, talking with a beautiful woman with jet-black hair and a leather jacket. She had a guy with her, obviously her boyfriend, judging by the arm he had around her waist.
Mark walked over and the girl, Gina, exploded into a smile and threw her arms wide to capture him in a hug. I took a long sip off my GT and was going to go over and insert myself into their conversation when I saw Carrie Anne step inside the door of the bar.
She looked as good as I could have imagined. She had a beige coat pulled tight over her beautifully curvy figure, with her red hair spilling down over her shoulders. She saw me at the bar and smiled a cute, shy little smile. She came over, and after a moment of awkward indecision, we wrapped up in a hello hug.
"Hey," I said to her. "I'm glad you came."
"Happy to," she said. "It was a little dicey for a while there. I was trying to come up with a wing-girl, but I couldn't find anybody. Everybody was busy."
"Well, it's practically the holidays, right?" I said. "They even have the Christmas lights up in here. Why did you need a wing-girl anyway?"
She shrugged. "Oh, you know. I figured you'd be busy half the time with the band, and I'd be left on my own. And I won't have anyone to watch the show with."
"It'll be okay," I said. "I'm glad it's just us anyway. We haven't had much chance to hang out just by ourselves."
"Yeah, we keep saying that." We turned toward the bar. She untied the belt of her coat, and undid the buttons down its front. It fell open, showing the black dress she had on underneath. The neckline was plunging, showing off her impressive cleavage. She may have put on a little weight since we'd dated, but she was wearing it well. I imagined running my face along the side of her neck just below her ear, and moving down from there. I took a deep sip from my GT and warned myself not to go too crazy. Play it cool.
"Drink?" I said. We ordered her a pint and I got another gin and tonic. I paid. I'd come prepared, with a wad of cash in my pocket. I wanted to be ready for whatever might happen.
"Cheers," we said, and clinked glasses, then drank. "So, Charlie was okay with you coming out?" I asked.
She laughed. "Why even ask?" she said. "No, he's not happy, and I know all about the little meeting you guys had the other night. He is super-suspicious of you. He's convinced you're up to no good."
I sipped my drink. "What about you? What do you think?"
Carrie Anne shrugged. "I'm willing to give you a chance."
I nodded. "Cool."
We sat down, and for a little while I actually parked all of my sinister plans to re-seduce her, and we actually just talked, catching up, talking about our time apart, what we were doing now, and about our plans.
I told her about my two years living with my mom again in Winnipeg. I told her how my mom and I had fought, with me trying to assert my adulthood by making myself an absolutely unbearable asshole roommate for her. I told her about my frustration trying to find a meaningful job, trying to find a new band, and trying to find a niche in a city that no longer held any interest for me.
I told her about meeting girls and experiencing a strange emotional deadness, like I wasn't in a place where I could give or receive genuine feelings. I told her about finally deciding that moving home to Winnipeg represented a form of regression, and how I felt more comfortable in my own skin back in Toronto.
I told her about Terry, and how he'd pushed me to a return to playing guitar, and how incredible it was to rediscover the instrument as a genuine creative outlet. I told her that I was actually writing music now, not just waiting for music to be given to me the way I had in Panegyric.
She nodded along and listened while I told her my story, and then she told me hers, about how she'd gone to work at one of the city's many private galleries, curating shows by local artists and learning the business side of the art world. She'd organized a series of speaking and performance events, and had basically kept herself occupied over the last few years by becoming a fixture in the local art community, all while continuing to produce her own artwork.
Then came Charlie, who'd made a presentation at one of her speaking events, talking about Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism and Marxism and rock and roll, and about how the musician might be a rebel but not a revolutionary, because what every rock star wants is to first outrage the establishment, and then to have the establishment gradually change to accept the outrage, and at last heap laurels upon the rebel. Cited as examples were Sir Elton John and Sir Mick Jagger, and the fact that what every bada-s rock star really wants is to make a heap of money so they can buy a big house and fancy cars and live by the pool like the bourgeoisie.
She and Charlie had been together for almost a year, although they had been non-exclusive for the first half of that time, and still considered their relationship open. She'd been dating a few other guys on and off when they first connected, and although Charlie had swept her off her feet with his dazzling displays of rhetoric and his mean guitar riffs, she'd still hung around with a few of these other guys. Hence the open relationship, where she could spend almost all of her time with him, but if she felt the urge, she could still go and have a meaningful visit with one of these other dudes that she'd already been canoodling with before she and Charlie met.
I guess a few of these other guys were around when she and I were together. Reading between the lines, I pieced it together that her desire to have an open relationship with Charlie may have been a result of the toxic fallout of her relationship with me. Although she'd been faithful when we were together, she often felt burned that there were these awesome, hot guys hanging around and totally available for her, while she was stuck with arrogant, selfish, emotionally unavailable me.
I had not left a great legacy.
"Well," I said, grasping for something to close the conversation, "we've all learned some hard lessons."
"To hard lessons," she said, holding up her pint glass. We drank, and I drained off the last of my gin and tonic.
Mark came over and nudged me. "Five minutes, Nate," he said.
"Thanks." I nodded to the bartender to set me up again.
|This is chapter 27 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Among other projects, he is currently co-writing a book with former U-G advice columnist Van Hammersmith. Endure his wit on twitter at @nolanwhyte.|