"So, what's with that name, Seam/Fault/Flaw?"
Charlie and I sat in a bright independent coffee shop on College Street. He'd been there when I arrived, tapping away on his laptop. He was working, he told me when I interrupted him. He did graphic design, he said. It made sense, I thought. Carrie Anne always went for artistic types.
"I knew you'd ask about the name," he said with a smile, looking into the foam of his cappuccino as he twirled a wooden stir stick around in his drink. "Nobody gets the name."
"Is it a reference I should know?"
"Not really," he said. "It's too far off the map, nobody ever gets it. It's Roland Barthes. He was a French linguist and philosopher who--"
"I know about Roland Barthes," I said laconically. I didn't need this guy giving me a lecture on French philosophers.
"Oh, cool," he said. "Did you read 'The Pleasure of The Text'? In that book his says that it's neither culture, nor its destruction which are erotic," he explained, taking on a slow explanatory tone. "But it's the threat. The seam, the fault, the flaw. That's what's exciting. That's what turns us on. Think about it, right? We don't want everything to be totally destroyed, but we want to see stuff get just a little bit f--ked up so we can dream about the possibility of total carnage and upheaval."
"Like an earthquake somewhere else," I said.
"Soooooort of," he said slowly, like he was trying to encourage a slow child. "Maybe an earthquake is a good example, because it shows us a small example of society crashing down. But it's centralized, and it's over quickly. Then everybody can move in and fix everything up, and we're back to normal. Except in Haiti, because who knows when that nightmare will get back to normal, whatever normal is there."
He took another sip of his cappuccino. I had the idea it was not his first one. I'd been there for fifteen minutes, and I'd barely had to ask him anything to get him happily ranting. The question about the band name was, unbelievably, only the second thing I'd asked him.
I had arrived, got a coffee and sat down, and put my voice recorder on the table. We deftly avoided the fact that he was now digging his dirty hipster-captain dick into the girl I'd loved for so long, and I simply said "Tell me about your band." From this simply direction he talked at length about his history as a musician, the collapse of his last band, and the musical histories of his bass player and drummer, who had been compatriots in a previous group.
He went on about how they got together and started jamming, first playing covers of '80s pop, followed by a period of just total noise experiments, before finally finding their melodic hard rock sound. Only he didn't just explain it like that; he made it out like a big logical process, like thesis (pop) and antithesis (noise) leading to synthesis (noise-pop). I was starting to wonder if he was really just cruising on caffeine and cigarettes, or if he'd been doing bumps of coke before I arrived.
"The seam," he went on, still talking about the name of his band, "that's what's erotic. Think about a hot girl, right? Like, nudity is sexual and stuff, but spotting just a hint of skin, that's what drives you wild, right? Cleavage, man!" he said, shifting in his chair with excitement. "Seeing a bit of cleavage, or when a girl reaches up," he acted it out, "and her shirt comes untucked a little bit, and you see just a bit of skin, that's what's erotic. That's the seam, man, the fault! That's what it's all about!"
He took his smokes out of his jacket pocket. "That's the whole idea of the band, man. That's what the band is FOR. You know, after Syd Barrett was thrown out of Pink Floyd-- do you know about Syd Barrett? The original front man for Pink Floyd? What am I talking about, you're a music writer, right? Of course you know Syd Barrett. Anyway, there was this great quote from Roger Waters after the band tried to sort out its new direction, and he was talking about the other guys in the band, and he said it was like they didn't know what the band was FOR. That always stuck with me."
Charlie suddenly leaned across the table, and with a deadly serious look on his face, he asked, "Nate, can you tell me what Pink Floyd is FOR? What is Pink Floyd's FUNCTION? I never forgot that line after I read it man, and every time I'm dealing with any kind of artistic endeavor I think to myself, what is this for? What is its purpose? What is it meant to accomplish? Dude," he said, "I know what Seam/Fault/Flaw is FOR."
And with his monologue apparently finished, he zipped up his jacket, took his lighter out of his pocket and stood up. "You gonna wait here, or you wanna come out?"
"I'll chill a minute," I said with a forced grin.
"Too bad," he said. "I'm on a roll." He put a cigarette between his lips, actually winked at me, and headed out the door of the coffee shop.
I hit the pause button on the voice recorder and slumped exhausted in the chair. Just listening to this guy was wearing me out. I'd had no idea what to expect out of this little chat when we set it up. The idea crossed my mind that it might turn out to be me and him just sitting across a table from each other, trying to stare each other down. I thought there might be some abstract psychological chess match for us to go through. But no, it appeared he was only interested in blathering esoteric bullshit about his band.
In a way it was a relief. Preparing for the meeting had been stressful. I was worried that the guy might be a total asshole, which would have been difficult to accept, because I didn't like the idea of Carrie Anne being with a dick. But I was also selfishly worried that he might turn out to be a great guy, which would have been hard to deal with as well, because I didn't want to stand aside for a better man.
The best case scenario I could come up with was that he would be a lame, slightly annoying, milquetoast character whom I could easily brush aside and recapture Carrie Anne's heart. And it would be nice if he would also turn out to be secretly gay, which would permanently remove him as competition.
Either way, I'd prepared for the meeting by trying to find a zone of perfect nonchalance, where it would be absolutely clear that I didn't care one way or the other that he was now getting his pole waxed by my ex-love. On the way to the coffee shop I'd even listened to 'Set The Twilight Reeling' on repeat, hoping to soak my brain in the phrase "I accept the new-found man." I accept. I accept. I accept. I accept. After all, how could I be at a jealous emotional disadvantage if I had already accepted him as her new-found man?
He came back in and sat down across from me. "Stoked?" he said. "Ready for Round Two?"
"You are high energy, dude," I said, and started the recorder. "Did you just smoke a cigarette, or a bag or meth?"
He laughed. "Oh man, dude, have you ever smoked meth? Pass, dude. Seriously though, do you want to start talking about the band, or what?"
"What? What did we just spend the last twenty minutes talking about?"
"Oh," he said, apparently unaware of that we'd done anything more than just breaking the ice. "Well, do you have any questions you want to ask me?"
I consulted my notebook, which contained a list of standard fact questions that I asked everybody, and I saw that he'd already buzz-sawed through most of them without having to be asked. There was just one other topic I needed to smoothly introduce.
"So, Carrie Anne," I began.
"Right," he said nodding and looking me in the eye. He pointed a finger at me. "Carrie Anne."
"Well, she plays rhythm in the band, right? You mentioned how you and the other guys got together, but you didn't say how she got involved."
All the joking disappeared. Charlie put his elbows on the table and leaned forward with a concerned look on his face, as though he were a police officer performing an interrogation, suddenly changing tactics to keep the suspect off-guard. I realized he'd been playing chess with me all along, and playing so well that I hadn't realized the game had begun.
"Look Nate," he said gravely, as though he were genuinely worried about me, "I understand about your personal history with Carrie Anne, and I want to be sensitive about this for everyone involved. I'll tell you what you need to know, but we have to be clear exactly whom I'm answering these questions for. Do you want me to tell the music blogger about Seam/Fault/Flaw's rhythm guitarist, or do you want me to tell you about your ex?"
I remained passive. Cool guy. Ice, ice, baby. "Let's start with the guitarist."
"Sure," he said, leaning back in the chair, suddenly relaxed again. "We wanted to fill out the sound with another guitar but we weren't finding anyone. We felt ready to start performing, and she was available, so we taught her the songs, and now she's part of the band."
"She's pretty new to guitar," I said.
"Yeah. I've been teaching her," he said.
"And you guys are going out," I said. "Were you already going out when she joined, or did you start dating after?"
He smiled. "Is that for the blogger or the ex-boyfriend?"
"How would you answer if another journalist asked you?"
He laughed again, a short, sharp, ha-ha-ha. "Good, good," he said. "Okay. We were already dating. So yeah, I brought my girlfriend into the band. But I'll argue to the death that it was the right move for the band, because we needed someone who was willing to step in with no ego and just play what she was shown. We liked where we were going with the sound, and we didn't want someone to come in and upset the apple cart."
"It sounds like you were afraid of a fault there. A flaw."
"I guess so, but like I said, we had a time crunch. We needed a player."
"Sure," I said. "All I mean is that it sounds like a pretty safe move, adding a playing that can't upset the apple cart. Not really the transgressive thing you guys seem to pursue."
He looked up at the ceiling for a moment, and then smiled at me. "I see your point. We're trying to be transgressive, but we want her to just play what she's told. I see the contradiction, but we expect she'll contribute more as she develops as a player."
"But if she develops as a player within that band, how will she ever contribute anything except an echo of what you've already done? Is she learning to play anything besides your songs?"
He smiled blandly. "We mostly work on the band's stuff," he said.
We fell into our first silence, and I felt as though I'd won something, like I'd caught him in the act of not teaching her guitar properly. It didn't matter that I'd learned to play guitar the same way, taught the originals and covers my own band would play by the band's more experienced player. Hell, that was how plenty of player learned. But I felt like I'd won something anyway.
"I think I've got enough," I said.
"Cool. Hey, look man," he said, "I hope this isn't too weird for you or anything. I imagine it's probably pretty awkward, and I appreciate you helping us spread the word about the band."
"We both get something out of it," I said, switching off the recorder and slipping it in my pocket.
He grinned. "Awesome. Hey, a bunch of us are going to see a band tomorrow night. Have you seen The Rotary Phones?"
"Yeah, I saw them at The Horseshoe a while back."
"They're playing El Mocambo tomorrow. You should come out. Carrie Anne and I are going. I bet she'd love to see you there. You're cool, right?"
"What, with hanging with you guys? Sure."
We both packed up our stuff, and we shook hands outside before parting. Since he was heading east, I went west, even though I lived in the east. I walked away, knowing I would probably be better off not going to El Mocambo, but knew I would go anyway. I felt like I was getting sucked back into Carrie Anne's orbit. There was no way I would be able to stay away.
|I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Find him @nolanwhyte.|