I tried to find someone to come along to The Rotary Phones gig to play wing-man for me. A guy needs a wing-man when he's going out with his ex and her new boyfriend. That's a potentially loaded situation. You want back up. I figured my former bass player was the best candidate.
"No way," Ty said when I called him. "I'm not paying a ten dollar cover to watch you stalk your ex."
"Dude, I am totally over her," I lied. "We're just going to see a band. And she always had hot friends anyway. Maybe there will be some hot chicks for us to meet."
"I'm sitting on the couch next to a hot chick right now," he said. "Say hi, babe," he instructed his girlfriend, and a moment later his girlfriend Brianna's voice appeared. "Hey Nate," she said, and then it was Ty again. "See? I have no need to go chasing women. Besides, there's no way you're going to have any game with Carrie Anne's friends. She's probably already told every female she knows that you're a self-absorbed asshole with a tiny dick."
"Dude, I'm twelve inches soft."
"Sure, and I can fly and see through walls. Anyway, while you're at the bar buying seven dollar beers and watching a terrible band, I'll be here getting mega-stoned and watching Pearl Jam live in concert."
"You've seen that DVD twenty times. Fine. All right, I'll talk to you later."
"Sure," he said. "Tell me how it goes."
I considered inviting Terry, the weird old man that lived upstairs to come along, but I really didn't know him very well. I also had the strange suspicion that I would end up buying all the drinks if I brought him along. I couldn't afford that, and I really didn't have anyone else to invite, so I ended up going alone. Sometimes a wing-man just isn't available.
The Phones were playing El Mocambo, one of Toronto's landmark venues. It was famous for its goofy palm tree sign and the fact that The Rolling Stones recorded part of their "Love You Live" album there. Stevie Ray Vaughan did a live album there too, along with a bunch of other bands. The place still had regular shows, and I found myself there for gigs now and again.
I waited until nine o'clock and walked over. The Phones were a solid band, and even though I'd already seen them, they were worth a second look. I showed up, paid to get in, and started to slowly wander through to see if Carrie Anne and hipster-captain Charlie were there. The bar area didn't reveal any familiar faces, so I bought a beer and wandered into the venue area.
The Rotary Phones were already on stage. They were a five-man outfit, with two guitars, bass, keys and a drummer, with vocals mikes set up for every member. I remembered seeing them at The Horseshoe, and they'd had all these microphones all over the place. It was excessive and unnecessary. The rhythm guitarist sang pretty much everything, with some occasional backing vocals from one guy or another, but I guess they didn't like anyone to feel left out.
They were up there playing their almost-metal blues rock, dressed like ragged cowboys. The singer was shouting out a chorus as I wandered near the stage. Carrie Anne and Charlie were there, so I sidled up and nudged her on the arm with my elbow.
"Hey Nate," she said with a smile. Charlie looked across and saw me. "Hey Nate," he echoed, shouting over the music.
"How's it going?" I asked her.
"Good," she said. "Thanks for doing the interview with Charlie."
"No problem," I said. "I'm going to type something up over the weekend. I'll send you guys a link when it gets posted."
Damn, that was nerdy. She just smiled and turned to watch the band.
The question I'd been asking myself over the last few days was whether or not it would be worth having Carrie Anne in my life again. She was obviously happy in a committed relationship, and she dumped me two years ago and had never shown the slightest regret about it.
I, on the other hand, went on a horrible losing streak after the breakup, basically falling into a lame, regressive rut for two years in Winnipeg, living with my mom. I had taken to looking back on my time with Carrie Anne as a brilliant, creative high in my life. Back then I had liked the direction things were going. Our relationship had its obvious flaws, many of which were brought on by a childish selfish streak of mine and her reluctance to call me out when I was being an asshole.
I wasn't sure what I wanted from her now, especially since she seemed to be in a solid relationship with this dude. I glanced down to check if they were holding hands, and they were. I had the feeling that being a regular friend with her might just feel like I was hanging around, trying to out-wait her relationship so I could take another shot, and in the meantime trying to redeem myself in her eyes so she would take me back if the subject ever came up.
That seemed like a shit life choice, but I was willing to move past it, just to be out with some interesting people. I'd been going to the bar alone way too often lately. And if the whole thing turned out to be a pain in the ass, I would just walk away.
There was a group of other people there with Carrie Anne and Charlie, and brief conversations were going back and forth past me. Their drummer was there. He was the balding twenty-five year old with a beer gut. There was another guy and three girls. One of the girls was very pretty, with curly blonde hair swept back in a bandana. She had a sharp, beautiful face, but a cold look.
We watched the band, and they progressed through their set. There were a few songs that had stuck with me from their previous gig. They had an infectious vibe, almost like a five-man version of The Blacks Keys doing a tribute to Motley Crue. Or even more interesting, a five-man version of Motley Crue doing a tribute to The Black Keys. No, wait-- never mind.
Towards the end of their set, they took a moment between songs. "There's something we like to do every time we play a show," their singer said. "We always play a song we've never played before, and that we'll never play again." I remembered this. At their last show they played a Weezer-like cover of The Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)." It went pretty well.
"We're making kind of a dangerous choice this time," he went on. "We're going to play a Patti Smith song. It's about being an outsider."
"I haven't f--ked much with the past, but I've f--ked plenty with the future!" he shouted before stepping back from the mike. The band started to play, grabbing a fast riff, and the vocals began, "Baby was a black sheep, baby was a whore..."
"Holy shit!" I said with a sudden laugh of surprise. I started looking around to see if there were any black people in the audience, so I could see their reactions. I saw a few other people glancing around with open-mouthed wonder at the song choice.
Carrie Anne picked up on it as quickly as I did, and we gave each other a wide-eyed look as the whole band shouted out the line "baby baby baby was a rock and roll n*****."
"Are they actually playing this?" she said in hilarious disbelief.
"You know the cops here threatened to arrest Marilyn Manson if he played this song," Charlie shouted.
"Oh yeah," I said. "Who was the other guy they wanted to stop? Eminem?"
"Right," he said.
"I thought we were post-racial now," Carrie Anne said. "Does that make this okay?"
"Yeah, but not post-racist," said the girl with the curly blonde hair.
"The song isn't really about race," I said. "It is supposed to be about being marginalized. Like, Jimi Hendrix was--" everyone looked to see if I would repeat the epithet, "an outsider," I went on, "but so were Jesus and Jackson Pollack."
"Sure," Carrie Anne said. "It's actually kind of a cop-out isn't it? Writing a song called 'Rock and Roll N*****,' but then saying it isn't about race, so there's nothing wrong with it."
N-bombs were exploding throughout the song, and people in the audience weren't sure how to take it coming from five white guys. Some people looked amused. Others frowned. People were looking around at everyone else's examples of how to react.
"They can play it," Charlie said. "It might be tasteless, but they can play it. You can't really tell them they're not allowed."
"Right," I said. "And that's the other cop-out. They've already promised that they'll never play it again anyway."
They finished the song. No one clapped. I think everyone was afraid to. Suddenly everyone was waiting to see what would come next, hoping whatever it was could blot out what they just heard, or at least put it in some kind of context.
They played two more hard rock blues songs and shut down for a break.
Charlie and a few of the other went outside to smoke. Carrie Anne and I stayed in. It was the first time we'd spoken without Charlie standing with us. "How's it going? Like, you life." I asked, as soon as we were anything close to alone.
"Good," she said. "I'm working full time and making okay money, but I'm also involved in a bunch of different projects in the arts community. And I'm having fun doing this, too."
"Did Charlie get you started playing?" I asked.
"No, actually, I was going out with another guy who played guitar, and he started showing me how to play. But it didn't really go anywhere, and then I was still playing on my own when I started going out with Charlie. Later on they asked me if I wanted to play with them."
"Yeah, but it was Charlie's call, right? It's pretty much his band."
"Sure, and we all talked it over. Like, it was pretty obvious I got the job because I'm his girlfriend, but I do contribute. I can play."
"Yeah," I said, wondering how much of a jerk I was being. "I wasn't able to find people in Winnipeg when I got back there. I've pretty much given up on finding another band."
"Have you been looking for people since you got back here?"
"Not much. I've been focusing on other projects."
"Like what?" asked the blonde girl. She been hanging at the outside of the conversation and now leaned in, although she didn't actually seem interested. I had an idea she was killing time.
"I've been writing a lot about music here. I've been in a bunch of print and web publications, and I've interviewed a lot of bands. I'm building a career writing about music."
"That's f--king lame," the blonde girl said. "It sounds like you gave up because you're too lazy to find a new band."
"Partly," I said, "but there's also the fact that I'm also not much of a musician."
She nodded. "Too lazy to practice and develop your abilities," she said.
I looked at Carrie Anne. She looked amused by the exchange. She felt no desire to say anything in my support, and I remembered that she wasn't on my team anymore. To hell with it all, I thought. I didn't need to go down this road.
|I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Find him @nolanwhyte.|