I call up Mark, the Scottish drummer I met at a jam, and ask him about coming to learn a few songs with Jason Guitar-Star and me. I ask him about his situation in general, what with being a Scotsman in Canada, but he reassures me that he won't need to leave as soon as his visitor's visa expires.
No, I was born in Halifax, he says. I'm a citizen. I just grew up in Scotland.
Do you have a drum kit? I ask him.
My roommate has a little one I can borrow.
Okay. How about a place to play?
No go. All three of us live in apartments, where noisy band practices lead to eviction notices. I book a rehearsal studio downtown for twenty dollars an hour, where we can show up and use the house equipment. I let Mark and Jason know what time to be at the studio, and make arrangements to meet up with Mark and give him some discs, so he can hear what we'll be playing. After that, I spend most of the evening reading Divorce Law for Dummies.
The day we're supposed to meet, I take an afternoon nap and I have the dream again. I've had it a few times before in different forms, but it always works slightly the same way: I get invited to perform with a big-name band that I love, but I completely mess it up because I don't know the material. The first time I had the dream it was about The Sex Pistols, and I dreamt that I needed to fill in on bass for a show at some big soccer field. I didn't know how to play any of the songs though, and fumbled through it all, making an ass of myself. When I woke up that time, I went ahead and learned how to play Never Mind the Bullocks front to back, even though I know I'll never play any of those songs at a show and I'm certainly not going to be asked to fill in for the dearly departed Sid Vicious any time soon.
This time the dream was about Ministry. Don't get me wrong; I love Ministry, and I recognize that they've been tremendously influential over the last twenty years, but there's no way I'm interested in playing in an industrial thrash band. It's just not the sound that I'm interested in making. But there I was on their bus, having been chosen to be their bass player for thirteen shows in fifteen days starting tonight. And I have no idea how to play a single one of their songs.
Al, the front-man, tries to sort me out on the bus, tries to teach me the notes to a bunch of songs I've never even heard. Even when I play exactly what he tells me, it comes out sounding awful. It sounds like every single string on the bass is out of tune, but the bass is fine. It's just that I can't play worth a shit, and Al can see it. I can only fumble along half as fast as I'm supposed to, making a mess out of everything while he shakes his head saying, No, this isn't going to work. What are we going to do? We'll be in Albuquerque in a few hours
Waking up bitter and frustrated, I get dressed and head down to the rehearsal studio. I show up fifteen minutes early. Jason is standing in front of the place smoking a cigarette. I get to the door I set my gig bag down. So what, you're a smoker now? I ask him.
He shrugs his shoulders. I can smoke if I want to.
Sure you can, I say. It's a free country, right? I'm just surprised see you smoking, when you were a firm non-smoker only a few weeks ago. And I would hate to think that you picked it up from hanging around with me.
He shrugs again. I don't do everything just because you do it. And get off my case about it. Don't you think it's a bit hypocritical to give me a hard time for smoking when you smoke?
I nod. Sure, of course it's hypocritical, but there are bigger issues here, such as you starting to smoke. Don't start, man. I'm serious. I wish I'd never started, and if I could quit, I would. Take my advice. Don't go down that road.
He finishes the cigarette and drops the butt into a coffee can sitting outside the door. Okay dad, he says, and goes inside. Of course, I want to have a smoke right then, but I don't want to look any more hypocritical than I already do. I grit my jaw and go in after him.
Paul, the shaven-headed manager of the rehearsal studio shows us to our room, which contains a drum kit, two guitar amps, a bass amp, a few mike stands and a small mixing board. Jason and I get out guitars out and get plugged in, and sit down on our amps to wait for Mark.
Check this out, says Jason. I wrote this song I think we can play. He starts to strum his electric, slowly rambling along an A chord. He plays for a minute or so, until he's given me a sense of it, the rhythm and the melody.
He stops and looks up at me. What do you think? he asks.
Not bad, I say. Is that all you've got, or are there different parts?
I've kind of got the verse and the chorus. We can work out the rest.
Cool. Have you got lyrics for it?
Jason smiles. Yeah. Um, I'd like to sing it.
I nod. Right. Look, umcan you really sing?
I'll show you, he says and takes a folded piece of loose-leaf paper out of his pocket. He reaches to pull a chair in front of himself, unfolds the paper and smoothes it out on the seat of the chair so he can read the blue-pen writing while he plays his guitar. He reads for a moment, pauses, and then begins to strum.
You say that you're in love again, he begins to croon in a warbling voice. That you met a terrific man He switches chords, makes a mistake, finds his place and continues singing. I have to say I didn't ask Why are you taking me to task? He changes chords again, bridging to the chorus, loses his place with his fingers and loses his place on the page as well.
Okay, hang on Jason, that's good, I say, waving a hand to stop him. That sounds okay; we can probably work something out with it. Are you sure you want to sing though? It's not something you've had a lot of practice doing.
He nods. Yeah, but I want to start doing it so I can get the practice. You know, I want to learn how to front. I don't want to be someone else's backing musician forever. Someday I'd like to have my own band.
Okay, I can appreciate that, I say. But at the same time, I don't want to have you singing on stage if you're not really ready to do it. I don't want you to suck in front of a bunch of people, just for the sake of experience. You need to practice, that's all.
He sits quietly for a minute. What if we work on it in rehearsal until you think I'm ready, and then we can start using it in the shows?
Yeah, or we can perform it and I can sing it until you're ready, then you could just take it over.
Hmmm, he says, gently strumming at the strings. I don't think anyone else should sing my songs. I want them to be, likemine.
Well Jason, it's not like I'd steal them. We could just use them in the show. I'd tell the crowd they were your songs. I don't want credit for your work. It's justI think you've got a ways to go before you're ready to sing on stage. You can't really play and sing at the same time yet. You have to work that out first.
He doesn't say anything, and begins to strum through the parts of his new song. He looks pissed off, but what can I do? Mark arrives a few minutes late, apologizes and curses the city transit system, and begins adjusting the drum set.
This is really the first time that Jason and Mark have spoken, and Mark seems embarrassed about being late, so he's apprehensive about talking. Jason, on the other hand, seems pissed off and barely acknowledges our brogue-talking Scotsman on drums.
Mark is ready in a few minutes, gives the skins a quick battering, and looks up at us. So? What shall we do first?
Did you listen to the songs on that disc I gave you?
Yeah, a few times.
Well, let's just try to run through a few of the covers, and then we'll try to work out one of the originals. We'll see how many of the songs we can introduce you to today.
We run through Rockin' In The Free World, and a sped-up version of Del Shannon's Runaway, and everything goes fine. We try each song until we can make it through from start to finish without stopping to discuss how it's supposed to go.
The head aches begin when we start to play Knuckles, one of my songs that Bobby, Jason and I had been performing. Mark goes along fine, keeping time and watching us to figure out the changes. But Jason screws up almost every chord change. He's all over the place, like he's never played the thing before.
I call a stop and ask Jason what the problem is. Don't you remember it?
Yeah, I remember. It's just screwing me up because the drums aren't right.
Of course the drums aren't right, I say. This is the first time Mark's ever played the song. He's got to learn it from you, so you'll actually have to count and get the song right instead of just listening for the drums and being late on every change.
Jason looks pissed off and embarrassed, but we try it again and make it through the song. We play all three through again, and manage to finish them without too many problems. After that, there are only a few minutes left and so we pack up and get ready to leave.
Do you guys have a name for the band? asks Mark. What have you been calling yourselves?
We haven't really had a name, I say. I think we'll be using 'The Terry Wilson Band.'
Jason stops fumbling with his guitar case and looks at me. Are you serious?
I look back at him. Yeah. Why not?
So this is just like a solo project? We're not a band; we're just your backup musicians?
Relax Jason, I say. Look. I'm the front-man, singer and songwriter. Do you think we should be The Jason Pleasant Experience?
Why can't we just think of a cool name, so we're not just one guy and his backup band?
I turn to Mark. What do you think? I ask him, and he shrugs, not wanting to get involved in an argument at his first practice.
I'm okay with whatever you guys decide. he says, avoiding eye contact with Jason. If it's your band, Terry, than I think it's fine if we use your name, as long as everyone's okay with it.
Jason looks pretty pissed off, but I don't really care. With Bobby gone, it seems like Jason is trying to move up the totem pole in the band and talk like a big man, wanting to sing and veto names, and frankly I don't like it.
We head off in our separate directions, agreeing to leave the name issue on the table for now. Another practice session is scheduled for a week down the road, which gives me just seven days to figure out how to get rid of Jason Guitar-Star Pleasant.
2006 Nolan Whyte