Near the stage was a small side room, which had a door leading out the back way for the bands to load in and load out their gear. When no actual loading was taking place, the side room acted as a prep area for the bands. Tonight that meant us: rocker-cum-author Terry Wilson, and his rag-tag band of rebel sidemen: Paul, Mark, and me.
Terry had us in there, with five minutes to go before his final show as a working musician. "This is it, guys," he said. "Tonight I go from rock star to rocking chair. Get it? From rocker to rocker."
"You were never a rock star, ya dodgy bastard," Mark said with a grin.
"And you don't really need a rocking chair," I said. "I mean, come on man, you're not that old."
"Aye, he is, he's a old c-nt."
Terry gave Mark a sharp look. "You drunk?"
Mark laughed. "No, mate." He jerked a thumb in my direction. "He is."
I was standing there with a double gin and tonic in one hand (pre-show) and a bottle of light beer (for during the show) in the other. Terry, Mark and Paul all turned to stare at me. "What?" I said. "I'm cool."
"Better be," Paul said. What a cheery fellow.
Terry shook his head. "Look, just be normal," he said. "Nate, just stand at the side of the stage like last time. We'll do 'Dead Fingers Play', 'Knuckles', and 'Trying To Kick It', and then Nate will come out and you guys will play while I read. It'll be 'Rough Go', 'Old Boots', and 'End Of Us', and then I'll plug back in and we'll rip through those three again as loud as a motherfucker, okay? Then we'll do 'Time For You And Me' as the closer. Nate, if you want to stay on stage for that one, just turn your volume all the way off and you can fake along with us."
He stopped talking and ran his fingers through his hair, paused, took a deep breath and blew it out. "Holy sh-t," he said, and then looked around at us. "This is it, boys. This is it for me. Holy f--king sh-t."
"Take it easy, man," Paul said. "It'll be fine."
Terry shrugged. "Yeah, of course it'll be fine."
I took a long sip of my double gin and tonic.
"Okay," he continued. "I'm going to slip out back for a smoke. We've got a few minutes. P-ss if you have to. Shelly from the publishing company is going to get up and introduce us, so just get your a-ses back here as soon as you hear her talking, okay?"
We nodded and broke up. Mark and Paul headed back inside the bar, while Terry slipped out the loading door into the cold December night to smoke his last cigarette as a rock soldier.
And what about me? I was feeling smashed. The five previous gin and tonics had kicked in full force, and my head was swimming. There was a table in the back area, and I stepped toward it to set down the beer bottle. My footsteps were awkward, clumsy. With great deliberation I held the beer bottle out toward the table, holding it over the surface, pausing while my hand wandered back and forth over the edge, and then I carefully set the drink down and held it for a moment, making sure it was really stable before releasing it and removing my hand. Then I turned to leave and tripped on a chair, slopping out half my double GT.
"F--k," I muttered. I took out the little green straw and threw it on the floor, then sipped the remainder of the drink through the ice cubes. I turned back and set the glass down on the table, nearly knocking over the beer. I managed to save it, grabbing it with my other hand. "F--k me." I took a deep breath, left the beer where it was, and decided what I really needed was air.
I pushed open the heavy door and stepped out into the fresh cold air. He was standing dragging on one of his rolled cigarettes. "Hey," he said.
There was a little block of wood that kept the door from catching shut when it closed. I gingerly let the door come to a rest against the block, and then leaned against the wall. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes, sipping the cool air through my nose. My throat felt cold. With my eyes closed, everything seemed to swim around. Too many gin and tonics, too fast.
"You okay?" Terry asked.
"Yeah," I said. I looked at him. "Carrie Anne's here."
"Ah." He smiled. "The magical mystery ex. You guys gonna hook up after the show?"
"I don't know," I said. "I think... I need to p-ss."
"Be my guest."
Across the alley from the bar was a solid wall of residential fences and garages. With stumbly steps I wandered over to a short stretch of fence separating two garages. It was a tall wooden fence, and I was able to take a wide stance and lean against it with my forehead, pulling my prick out to pee without splashing my shoes too much. It was a long p-ss, long enough for me to feel the subtle decent of my guts inside my torso as my full bladder gradually emptied out.
A small river of urine flowed between my feet and I adjusted my stance to make sure my shoes stayed dry. Then, once the p-ss came to an end, I tugged and tapped, tucked it in, zipped up, and then with my hands splayed in the push-up position, I pushed off the wall and walked back over to Terry.
"Can I have one of those?" I asked him. He had his cigarettes pre-rolled for the night, and he pulled one out and handed it to me with his lighter. He was looking at me seriously.
"How f--ked up are you?" he asked as I handed back the lighter.
"Not too bad," I said.
"How many did you have?"
"Five or six. I'm good though. I just need a moment."
"Are you going to be able to play? If you don't think you can do it, say so. We can do this without you. I don't want you making a spectacle of yourself. This is serious, Nate. Don't treat this like a joke."
I took a drag on the rolled smoke. It was too strong. "I'm good, man. I swear."
He kept staring at me.
"That Gina chick," I said, changing the subject, "is she your ex?"
"Yeah," he said, flicking away his finished cigarette.
"Yep," he said. "And she's here with her new boyfriend." He shrugged. "Ahh, I don't give a sh-t. He seems okay I guess. I'd probably like him if they weren't together. So I guess it's fine."
"That's a solid way of looking at things."
"Yeah." He stepped toward the door. "Look Nate, you've got a few minutes before you have to go on. Take a minute and get your head together. And I swear, if you don't feel like you can play the songs perfectly, just don't come on. I will not hold it against you. But if you come out and f--k things up?" He stared me in the eye. "I will f--king eviscerate you."
I nodded. "I understand."
"Good." He pulled open the heavy door and disappeared back inside the bar.
I had a few more drags on the cigarette. My stomach started to turn and I flicked the half-finished thing away. The turns in my gut became more drastic, and I took a dozen heavy steps across the alley, leaned one arm against a fence, and puked, wretching and emptying my gin-filled belly.
After a long, thoughtful pause, I straightened up and walked to the back door of the bar. I slipped inside, and found Paul, Mark and Terry standing in the little prep room, waiting to go on stage. They all turned and stared at me. On the stage a woman was talking.
"Hey dudes," I said. They didn't answer. I stood quietly and waited until she finished talking. There was a cheer from the audience, and the guys stepped out and got up on the stage.
"Thank you," Terry said, and he took a moment to introduce the other guys before they started playing the first song. I slumped onto the chair I'd tripped over earlier and sat with my elbows on my knees and my head down. That helped settle my head, but my throat was raw and dry from puking. I needed water.
I poked my head out of the prep room door. Everyone was watching the stage, where Terry and the guys were rocking the hell out of "Dead Fingers Play". I slipped along the wall toward the bar area and ordered a water.
Carrie Anne appeared at my side. "Hey," she said. "Aren't you playing?"
"Yeah, sure," I said, pausing for breath as I gulped from the glass. "I'm going up in a minute. I'm kind of a support player."
"Oh." She watched as I worked to get the water down.
I finished the water. "I'm kinda like, the special guest. Like Iggy Pop getting David Bowie to come up and do a couple songs with him."
"So you're David Bowie in this."
I nodded. "More or less. Well, less, really. Um, I'd better go."
A few minutes later I was carefully stepping up onto the stage and taking my place on Terry's right side, slightly back. I turned up the volume on the guitar, tested the strings and looked up at the sound guy. I couldn't see him, but I hoped it was all right.
"This is Nate. He's going to help us," Terry said. There was some scattered, noncommittal applause.
Terry removed his guitar, picked up his sheaf of papers from on top of his Marshall amp, and gave an introduction to the piece he was going to read. He talked about his life as a weary working musician. He mentioned his old band Tremors Of Intent, taking a moment to acknowledge the few former members who were in audience. He then gave similar treatment to some of the other musicians he'd worked with, including Gina, who was standing near the front, still with her boyfriend's arm around her waist.
Carrie Anne was standing near them, alone.
Terry looked back at me, his eyes like little knife-points. I smiled weakly and made an effort to stand up straight. He looked back to Mark and nodded. Mark gently tapped a four-count on his high hat, and we started to play.
The piece Terry chose to read was not the same as the one he read at the painting show. That one had been about getting clocked in face with a thrown beer bottle while playing a gig. This one was about a parking lot fight between his band and another band. I could only half-listen as I struggled to find my fingering, but I had to admit this about his writing: Terry wasn't much of a stylist, but he focused on the interesting bits.
As for me, every time my pick touched a string it sounded too loud. I sounded way, way, too loud. It may have been psychological, but I felt like I was overshadowing Paul's bass and Mark's drums with my clumsy strumming. I tried to play as gently as I could, hoping to disappear behind the other players.
We finished the first song and Mark counted us directly into the second, but in the moment before he began to play, Paul shot me a furious look and mouthed the word: "PLAY!"
I focused on my strings and began working through the second song. It was an easy four-chord progression, and although my balance still felt off, I was able to find my rhythm. My confidence began to grow, and by the time we were playing the third song, I was feeling like I might actually manage to not ruin the whole night.
Terry finished reading his passage and got an enthusiastic, hooting and hollering round of applause from his crowd. He turned and looked at each of us. "Cool," he said. "Ready to rock?"
I looked out into the crowd. Carrie Anne was there, watching me. Mark hit the count in with power this time, and I held eye contact with Carrie Anne as I slashed at the strings to begin the song.
Each of Terry's old songs seemed to speak to me as we played them, telling the story of Carrie Anne and me. "Rough Go" was about the trouble people in love can give each other, and about the uncertainty whether love can survive conflict. It was about us. "Old Boots" was a break-up song that told how you can love someone in the beginning, but sooner or later you throw them away. That one was about us too. And "End Of Us"? Yep. Us too.
I suddenly found this great second layer of meaning in each of the songs, and I understood how every song had a measure of gallows humor, but also hope, like, maybe if you hear this song you'll understand that I understand, and now that we understand each other maybe we can move on. Maybe with understanding can come forgiveness, and renewed love.
Or maybe I was projecting my feelings for Carrie Anne all over the place, but who can be sure, right?
All I knew was that even though I was quite drunk, I was playing well, and I was sure of myself. Every song told me that there was hope in what I was doing, and that there was still a chance for me Carrie Anne. Damnit, I'd learned from my failures. Now was the time for success.
"End Of Us" came to its conclusion. There was only "Time For You And Me" left to be played, and I decided to take Terry's offer to remain on stage. I turned my volume down, but not entirely off.
The song was probably the strongest I'd heard from Terry. The critic in me wanted to call it his most vital work, even though the lyrics borrowed heavily from T.S. Eliot's "Prufrock" poem. But even those lines spoke to me about Carrie Anne.
I lightly stroked my strings, trying to follow Paul's root notes, as I listened to Terry sing out the words, words that seemed to tell my story:
"There will be time, there will be time, Time for visions and revisions, Time for a hundred indecisions, And time at last for you and me."
I looked at Carrie Anne and she looked at me. I knew the time for indecision had come and gone. Now, at last, there would be time for her and me.
|This is chapter 28 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Question his relevance on twitter at @nolanwhyte.|