I stop at the bar and get a bottle of beer before heading upstairs to face my two bands. Shit, what drama. If I was going to be in a sitcom, I would call it 'My Two Bands,' and all of the stories would be about me getting routinely humiliated by the silliness of my band-mates. Oh yeah, and there would always be hot chicks around and I would never, ever get laid. That would be the most realistic show ever put on television.
The bar has gotten busier, filling up with a diverse crowd of working class punters, business assholes in suits and university kids dropping in after class. Upstairs I weave through the tables and get to the pool table where Jason and Mark, The Clutch Dogs, and Gina and Matt, Machine Within A Machine, are holding court. Jason sees me and snaps to mock attention, holding in his laughter. His rosy cheeks are a good giveaway of how much he has had to drink.
The four of them laugh, and I saunter up, trying to look cool and relaxed. As I figured, they've clearly been making fun of me. That's cool, as long as they've got their shit together. After all, I was a bit of an asshole blowing up on them all in the van.
"Hey guys. Having a good time?"
"Heil!" screams Jason, giving a Nazi salute. Great, they've been calling me Hitler.
"Okay man, none of that," I say, holding up my hands. "Someone might get the wrong idea. I get it, I get it. I'm an asshole. Just chill, okay?"
"Ah, it's no like that, mate," Mark says, coming up to put his hand on my shoulder. "We've just been like, trying to figure you out is all."
I nod and sip my beer. "Of course. Any big conclusions?"
Matt lines up a shot on the pool table. "Well," he says, "we think that you're a purist." He takes his shot, and the white ball fails to connect with its target.
"Yeah, that sounds right," I say.
"Yeah, and that's cool and all," Jason says, "Except that it's not always the most fun to be around. And sometimes you forget that not everyone else is a purist."
Matt explains further: "See, you asked Jason why he's here. Really, you were asking us all. He answered, 'I'm here to play guitar.' That's an honest answer. That's what he's here for. He's here to play guitar. She's here to play guitar," he points at Gina, who is standing back from the discussion, "and he and I are here to play drums," he says, indicating Mark and himself.
"See, it doesn't matter why I'm playing guitar, as long as I'm playing well," Jason says, picking up on Matt's line of thought. "Maybe I'm here to play guitar because, like you, I just want to play music in front of a few dozen people. Maybe I want to meet chicks. Or maybe I want to get rich and famous. Who cares?"
"All right, I see your point," I say. "And you think it's fine if you're playing here in Regina but imagining you're playing Shea Stadium."
"Maybe, but Terry, what difference does it make?" Jason asks. "As long as I'm putting on a good show and the people watching are having a good time, who cares if you're dreaming about bigger things?"
"Think about it like sleeping with a girl," I tell them, careful not to look at Gina. "If you're in bed with a girl, then you should be paying attention to that girl. You're there with her. You shouldn't be thinking about sleeping with a better girl or thinking like she's just practice for other girls. You should be trying to have a good time with her and make her feel good. Sure, lots of people fantasize when they're having sex. But is that what you want to do? What if you end up with that girl for the rest of your life? Do you want to spend your whole life wishing she was better? Of course not. You should enjoy being with her."
I look them each in the eye. "Do you get it? I just want you to be thinking about the here and now. Enjoy what you're doing in the moment. Don't worry about getting rich and famous. Play the music because you love it, not because you think someone is going to put you on T.V."
They look at each other. No one says anything.
"I'm not trying to give you shit, guys, I swear to god I'm not. But um, I won't bring it up again, okay?"
There's a stray chord from below as the local band gets their gear together. We move over to the rail. The balcony overlooks the stage area, so we've got a good view as they set up. People start to jockey for good places to watch.
"I'm going for a cigarette," I say, and slip away from them. I head back down and outside. Outside I pull out my pack and light one up. A moment later Gina appears at my side.
"Hey," she says. "Can I get one of those?"
"You don't smoke," I say.
"Come on," she says. "Just let me have one."
I sigh and pass her one. She takes my lighter and lights the cigarette. "So," she says, blowing smoke out. "Did you mean everything you said in there? You never think about anyone else during sex?"
"Generally not," I say. "It's tough to remember. It's been a long time since I've had sex."
"That's hard to believe," she says. "You seem to have a girl following you around every night."
"Come on. What about you? Did you think about someone else when you were sleeping with me?"
"Um," she looks around, as though she's thinking hard. "No, I don't think so. It's hard to say. I was pretty high."
"Right." I sip my beer. "You sound like you've got some regrets."
She shrugs and doesn't answer.
"Hey," I say, trying to change the subject, "I think you should use the effects on the vocals tonight. You've got pedals, right?"
"Well, yeah, but they're guitar pedals. I don't know if that would work really well, but I could give it a try. Why the change of heart? I thought you said the effects would seem cheap."
I look her in the eye. "Can you take it?"
"What do you mean?"
"You sound terrible," I tell her. "You're a great guitar player and you look terrific on stage, but you can't sing. Eddie Van Halen did not take over for David Lee Roth. He went out and got another singer. But you don't have time to get another singer. If you're going to sing, you'll need something to fill out the sound. I don't know. Maybe if you throw in some chorus effects it'll give it an art-rock sound or something."
She looks away and nods, takes a drag on the cigarette.
"I don't want to hurt your feelings," I tell her. "I just want what's best for your band."
"I know." She sighs a long sigh. "Okay. So we'll use some effects pedals. Do you want to do some backing vocals?"
"I could do some 'Oi, oi, oi' shit, but I barely know the names of all the songs, let alone the words."
She shrugs. "Every little bit will help, I guess."
"I'm sorry, Gina."
She drops the cigarette and grinds it out with the toe of her boot. "It's okay," she says and smiles, although it seems like she might cry. "Just do one thing for me." She pokes a finger in my chest. "Never, ever compare me with Eddie Van Halen again." She grins at her joke and walks back inside the bar.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with being compared to Eddie Van Halen," I say to nobody in particular. "Damn kids."
Back inside, the local act has started up and I take a spot on the main floor of the back room. The stage, such as it is, stands only about six inches higher than the floor. With plenty of kids already in there to watch, I need to stand at the side by the entrance to the men's room to get a good view. The four guys are playing hard, fast rock. Very guitar-heavy. Plenty of distortion and speed. Very, very cool.
The singer starts going about his business, screaming out his lines. "These guys are fucking cool," I say to myself before sneaking upstairs to catch up with the others.
We watch the show, clap and whistle between songs, and after forty-five minutes the band finishes their set. I head downstairs and shake their hands while they clear their gear off.
"Think we can top that?" I ask Matt after we start setting up our gear.
"Maybe if we still had the full band together," he says. "No offence, but we were way better on stage with Dave and Wayne."
"Yeah. Do you think I should play rhythm guitar instead of bass? Make it sound a bit heavier, a bit thrashier?"
He gives me a sideways look. "Just like that? Just try it out tonight with no practice?"
I smile. "Naa, I guess not. I'm just thinking."
Gina walks over with the bag of chords. "What are you guys talking about?"
"Nothing," I say. "You ready to kick some ass?"
"I guess so. I'm going to use a pile of effects."
Once we're set up, Mark stops by the side of the stage. "Hey Taz, Jay and I are going to head outside, have some beers, like. Have a good one, aye?"
"You guys aren't going to watch?"
"Eh, we've seen it, right mate? We're going to take it easy."
I shrug. "Okay. Try not to get too pissed."
He winks and heads off. The sound guy nods to us. Machine Within A Machine turns on all the necessary switches, counts in and starts the first song.
It goes pretty well. Gina only sings in about every second song, and when she does sing she uses such heavy effects that her vocals almost come through like another instrument, distorted reverberations echoing through her slashing guitar lines. It sounds pretty cool, actually. Chick industrial.
The crowd isn't behind us like they were behind the local guys, but that's okay, because we sound better than we did the night before in Winnipeg. It seems like shitting directly on Gina's self esteem went a long way towards fixing the band's sound. And goddamnit, the crowd may be only half-way into it, but I am, and I have fun. During the songs when Gina decides not to sing and just focuses on playing her guitar, it almost looks like she's having fun too.
We finish the set and get friendly applause. A few people high five me, which is cool. Gina gets a lot of positive attention from the young men in the audience. She smiles and chats with them while tearing down her gear.
I help Matt and Gina get rid of their stuff, leaving my bass rig in place for The Clutch Dogs set. Mark and Jason don't come back in, so I head out to the deck to find my band.
Outside I look left and right down the patio, through the people crowded around the picnic tables and further down the sidewalk in each direction, but there's no sign of either of them. I begin to slip through the crowd, wondering where the hell they might be. After going back and forth down the line I finally head back inside and go front to back through the bar. I look upstairs and even check in the can in case they both got the shits at once, or something ridiculous like that. I go out the back door and check the van, but they're not there. I walk back out through the front door, light a cigarette and think.
The front doors of the bar look out across the street into the park. I'll be damned. You can't see very much because of the hedges and trees, but suddenly it becomes very clear where Jason and Mark are. I walk across the street and find the entrance to the walking path, entering the darkness.
I walk aimlessly around, peering behind trees and listening for voices until I spot them, standing with a group of young guys by the war memorial in the center of the park.
"Guys," I say when I get close. "What the fuck are you doing? We've got to get ready to go on."
"Shit," says Jason, checking his watch. "Is it time?"
"Of course it's time. What are you guys doing? Smoking up?"
One of the other guys, a kid probably in his late teens with spiked blond hair and a lip ring nods to me. "Yeah. You want in, man?"
"No man, we've got to get on stage right now." I give Jason and Mark hard looks. "Let's go."
The guys say thanks to their new buddies and follow me back to the bar. I jam my hands in my pocket and stomp angrily through the people to the back of the bar. Shit, I think, how do I get stuck with such meatheads? One minute everything is good, the next moment someone is doing something stupid.
Jason and Mark finally get in and we get our gear set up. Jason slings his guitar on and Mark gets behind the kit and bangs the drums a bit.
I look at Jason. "Feel good? Having fun?"
He shrugs. "I'm cool, man."
"Good. We're in front of a good crowd tonight. Let's see if you can nail your solos again."
He grins and looks away. He gets fucking high before the show. Rock star fantasies.
"Mark? You ready?"
He's droopy eyed and smiling. "Aye, mate." It looks like it was good pot they smoked anyway.
We hit and hammer our way through the set, getting cheers. I focus on the songs and keeping the beat steady, hitting the high notes and trying to make everyone in the place jump up and down. It works, and it's so much fun that by the end of the set I'm not even pissed off at the boys anymore.
We end up staying and drinking pints of Guinness until closing time, laughing and talking with the crowd. It's a good night, making up for a lot of the shitty nights we've gone through.
At three in the morning we leave and a staff member drives us in our van to a house where we crash on an assortment of couches and floor mats. Before going to sleep I stand in the bathroom brushing my teeth. In the mirror I see Gina walking up behind me.
"I think we sounded good tonight," she says.
I spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink. "Yeah, I think so," I tell her.
She wraps her arms around my waist. She rests her chin on my shoulder and we look at each other in the mirror. "Thanks for being honest with me," she says.
"It's cool. I want you to be successful."
She kisses me on the cheek and leaves me to finish brushing my teeth. When I walk back out into the living room where we're sleeping, I see her on one of the couches, already asleep. Mark is still awake, and he puts up a hand for me to high five as I walk past him to my own temporary bed.
"Good times tonight, Taz," he says.
"Yeah. Goodnight, Mark."
2007 Nolan Whyte