I Sing When You Shut Up. Part 4

How are you supposed to get over your past when it shows up at the bar wearing tight clothes and playing an electric guitar with an orange sunburst finish, and then kissing the hipster prom king?

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The day after Seam/Fault/Flaw's gig at The Horseshoe was a rough one. I worked my usual day job shift, opening boxes and stocking shelves, occasionally directing customers to appropriate departments, and generally just feeling miserable while my body worked to metabolize all the alcohol I'd dumped into it the night before.

On top of the hangover, I also had to deal with the spiritual malaise that came from Carrie Anne's reappearance in my life. After not seeing her for two and a half years, I'd reduced her to almost theoretical levels: she was the lost ideal, the magical fantasy woman I'd once possessed, but had lost because I was unworthy. (And look at me thinking of women as "possessions"-- clearly, still unworthy.)

Now, just as I was reinventing myself as a music writer (instead of just being a bad musician) she had shown up, playing in a band and dating her lead singer. How are you supposed to get over your past when it shows up at the bar wearing tight clothes and playing an electric guitar with an orange sunburst finish, and then kissing the hipster prom king?

I needed to talk this all through with someone, and sadly I had only one place to turn. Despite the fact that I was going out to see bands two or three times a week, I didn't really have any friends in Toronto. My co-workers were all either amiable drones or too-cool-for-school types, and I hadn't bothered getting to know any of them outside work. I'd made a few connections doing the music writing thing, but nothing had escalated to a personal level so far.

The friends I'd had during my time at U of T were all long gone. I had a lot of friends while I was there, but I hadn't maintained any relationships after leaving school. Plus, during the latter end of my time at school, my social life was mainly made up of two circles: Carrie Anne's art crowd, and the loose music scene in which my band Panegyric existed.

Carrie Anne had kicked the shit out of my heart only days before the end of school, and Panegyric broke up when school year finished as well. Our singer-guitarist (the talented one in the group) was going across the country to Simon Fraser University to do his Master's in Psych, and our drummer was going the other direction to Halifax. That left only me and the bass player, Ty. Neither of us were very talented, and neither of us had the work ethic to compensate for a lack of talent, so it was pretty clear that the project was dead.

In a span of two weeks I went from having a full-time school career, a girlfriend, a band and a wide social sphere, to having none of those things. I went into an existential tailspin and decided to go back to Winnipeg and move in with my mother. That didn't go well (especially for Mom), and it wasn't long before I was planning another invasion of the self-proclaimed center of the universe.

When I got back to the city, the only person I reached out to was Ty. If I was hoping he would form the basis of my new social life in Toronto, I'd been delusional. Since leaving university he'd become a pot-smoking home-body, working forty hours a week cutting glass in a window shop (maybe not proper use for a sociology degree, but he refused to acknowledge whether or not he actually got his degree), and spending every night at home with his girlfriend chasing the ever-elusive status of "seriously wrecked."

I went over to their rented house a couple times, but I couldn't keep up with their consumption, and I didn't really want to pursue their chartered course anyway. I even brought my guitar over one night and with his girlfriend Briana sitting in on bongos, we tried to jam. It didn't go anywhere. Whatever spark Panegyric might have had was long cold. So was the friendship in a lot of ways-- I just wasn't interested enough in getting high and being bitter and ironic all night. Bitterness and irony went a long way in their household.

But I needed to talk with someone, so I gave Ty a call that night. He sounded half-stoned, but he was glad to hear from me. We did the usual how-you-doing stuff, and then I told him the story.

"Okay," was the first thing he said. "So she's in a band."

"Don't you think that's weird?" I asked. "I mean, she always got pretty bitter about me being in the band."

"I don't remember that," he said. "She came to most of our shows. She always seemed pretty positive and shit."

"I don't know. I always got it that she was tired of the shit all the time, like 'oh here goes mister rock and roll man again,' acting like I was this big douchebag just for being in a band."

"Oh yeah, that," he said. "But she was only like that when you were like, brushing her off and shit. You know, like when you were actually being a douchebag."

"When? What time are you talking about?"

"Aw, don't get all defensive, man," he said in a slow pot-drawl. "I can't give you, like, examples or anything. I'm just giving you my impression of the situation with the benefit of um... hindsight. Hang on for a second."

I waited. I could here him sucking in. He was probably hot-knifing off the stove. He always said it was a very efficient way to consume marijuana. I heard him pick the phone back up. "Go on," he said in a wheezing voice.

"Anyway, she's dating this other guy in the band. And I told him I would write them up for my blog, and then they ditched me when I went up to the bar."

"Yeah, that's pretty shitty," he said. "That doesn't sound like Carrie Anne. Maybe she's changed."

"Yeah. Or maybe she was deceitful and vicious all along and I was too blinded by love to notice."

There was a knock on my door. I was sitting on the couch in my boxer shorts. I'd taken off my work clothes after getting home, and my apartment was warm enough that I didn't immediately put anything else on. I wasn't expecting anyone. Since I'd moved in, no one had ever knocked.

"Hang on a second," I said. "Someone's at my door."

I went over and unlocked the door, opened it a crack and peeked out into the hall. Standing in front of my door was a teenage girl with short black hair, a pink streak dyed into her bangs. "Can I help you?" I asked her.

She looked up at me with big eyes, framed in black eyeliner. "Are you really a music journalist?" she said in a tiny voice. "Because if you are I need to talk to you."

I stared at her for a long moment and then put the phone back to my ear. "Ty, I'm going to have to call you back." I flipped the phone closed. "Wait here a moment," I said to the girl, and I closed the door.

I got dressed in some jeans and a t-shirt, then came back and opened the door. "Do you want to come in?" I asked, and she stepped inside, but didn't let the door close fully behind her.

I watched as she scanned my apartment, taking it all in a quick side-to-side glance. I hadn't spent a lot of time working on my place. It was sparsely furnished and not decorated at all. It was a one-bedroom unit. She had a view of the kitchen (wooden table and chairs, put together from a kit) and the living room (second hand couch and end tables, desk and book case also from kits). There were some books and clothes scattered around, and two guitars standing propped up in the corner: a Takemine acoustic and a black Gibson Epiphone SG Special.

I noticed her eyes linger on the guitars for the moment. I figured they might give me some cred, but only if she knew nothing about guitars. The SG Special is a good guitar, but it's pretty low budget. I sat down on a kitchen chair. "What's your name?" I asked.

"Doreen," she said.

"I'm Nate," I said. "I guess you were the one who caught me puking on the lawn last night."

"Yeah," she said, giving me a perplexed look. "What was that all about?"

"I was out seeing a band and I did a bunch of tequila shots with the lead singer after. It went a little farther than it should have."

"So you really are a music journalist?"

"Yes," I nodded. "Not a big one or anything. I'm getting started. Why?"

"Um..." she bit her bottom lip. She was a cute little thing, but quite young. I figured she was fifteen or sixteen. She was dressed up in baggy clothes, a big black sweater covering her torso. She seemed somehow formless, and she kept her eyes on the floor. "This is kind of a weird thing to say," she finally began, "but there's a former rock star living in this building."

"Okay," I said slowly. "Why don't you have a seat and tell me what you're talking about."

"Is it okay if I leave the door cracked open?"

I guess she was worried I would grab her and rape her or something. "Sure," I said. "So who's this rock star?"

She sat down across the table from me. "I guess he's not really a rock star," she said. "That's the thing, no one's really even heard of him, even though he's this amazing guy. Do you know the band Tremors of Intent?"

"I think so," I said. "They were a Canadian rock band, right? In the eighties and nineties? Back with like, Treble Charger and Econoline Crush and those bands, right?"

"Kind of," Doreen said. "More in the late eighties though. There's this guy up on the fourth floor that was with them before they got big. And he's been in a whole bunch of bands since then. He was in this kind of classic rock, slash old school punk band for a while until they broke up a year or two ago. Now he says he wants to quit music. He wants to, like, retire or something."

"Okay," I said. "He sounds cool. What does that have to do with me though?"

"Well, I don't think he really wants to retire," she said. She seemed really uncomfortable talking about it. She kept pulling at the hem of her sweater as though she could stretch it long enough to just disappear inside. "He seems really bitter and kind of sad, like, tragic or something. I think maybe he just needs a push to get back into it, and I thought if you really were a music journalist, maybe you could interview him, or write a big story on him or something, and maybe it would help him get his career back on track."

I sat back in my chair. "That's an interesting thought," I said. "I've got to be honest with you though, I'm pretty new at this. It's not like I could write a feature on him and get it printed in Rolling Stone, so if you're hoping that if I write something it would give his career a huge boost, that's not going to happen. But if you think it would help him psychologically or something... well, I could talk to him anyway. I'd like to meet him. Do you think you could introduce us?"

She perked right up. "Totally. Do you want to go upstairs and say hi?"

"Uh, is he expecting us?"

"Not specifically, but I drop in on him all the time. He doesn't go out much. Do you want to come? Are you ready?"

"Yeah, sure, just let me..." I put on some socks and got my shoes on, then locked my apartment and followed Doreen up the stairs to the fourth floor. She knocked on a door and we waited.

We could hear footsteps inside. "Yeah?" came a voice coming through the door.

"It's Doreen," she said.

"Oh, for f--k sake," we could hear him muttering, and she glanced at me in embarrassment. Even so, we heard the jingle of the security chain, the thunk of the deadbolt, and the door opened to reveal a slight man, probably pushing fifty, with cropped silver hair and a thin, haggard face. He looked worn out. "What is it?" he asked Doreen, not even looking at me.

"I wanted you to meet my friend," she said. "Terry, this is Nate. Nate, this is Terry."

The old man looked at me. Then he shrugged and held out his hand for me to shake.

I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Find him @nolanwhyte.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Tok
    wake up guys! Terry is his father and Doreen is his sister! oh wait...
    That Old Geezer
    And Terry is gonna make a comeback. Simply beautiful. You better bring back the Scottish drummer though.
    Nolan Whyte
    But seeker, everybody hated the ending for Comeback Road. Everybody, to read about Terry, see "In The Van On Comeback Road" on my contributions page. For the quick intro, read "The Clutch Dogs Xmas Special."
    zorba_the_cat
    Isn't that Nate is gonna hook on Doreen, right? You know, the cute-but-too-young thing is just...classic Nolan
    secretseeker
    Though it sounds good, you just killed the good ending for in the van, so this twist better lead to something great. Can't wait to see what's gonna happen.
    blacklight68
    I love how he gave this ambiguous ending on comeback road years ago, and just given it the dark twist. It's a fact, some musicians try forever get screwed over hit fifty with nothing to really show for it. I like the realism, but i hope Terry FINALLY becomes the rock god he deserves to be
    ali.guitarkid7
    Oh my god! As soon as I read the words 'Tremors of Intent' I freaked out, haha! Awesome job man! By the way, what happened to the story with the bassist? (Laura, I believe it was). I mean, did I miss it?
    youngwizeboy
    TERRY!!! Nolan you have no idea how much this made my day. Oh man you make the best hooks!
    Icarus Lives
    YES! Terry is like Keith Richards or something. I wonder what he's doing for a living...I'm sad the Clutch Dogs have broken up. This could go so many marvelous places! IT'S TERRY!
    psyguitarist
    Spent a good portion of the night reading Comeback Road, I really hope there's a tie in with the rest of Clutch Dogs
    Trentaru
    *clap**clap**clap* nice job with the twist there Nolan. Looking forward to the rest of this.
    SFosterS
    That is SOO AWESOME! I just went back 2 weeks ago and read Comeback Road! WIN! Keep it up man, this is awesome!
    Oyface
    Wow! I had almost forgotten all abou Terry. This will be fantastic.