Everyone's waited a long time, some more patiently than others, for this day to come, and it's here, just like that. What's the appropriate emotional response? I don't know how other bands celebrate the end of an album recording, if they bother to celebrate at all, if it's even worth doing anything about it apart from a round of hugs, high-fives and variations of "Well done! Good job! Way to go!" But the end of recording the Ravenclaw demo... okay, maybe it should be called an EP once and for all, is celebrated by a final jam session in the studio. After Lindsay and I returned from our "breath of fresh air," I spend a half-hour or so fine-tuning guitar parts, and then Cloudy proclaims everything "a wrap." We offer each other our own versions of "Well done and all that jazz"; one thing leads to another and soon, the three of us are in the studio, doing what we do best.
What comes out of that final session is a not half-bad cover of "Die, Die My Darling" one of mine (and as it turns out, Kevin's) favorite songs. Lindsay fills in the bass part but doesn't do any of the singing, allowing me a turn behind the mike. I can't remember how out of tune I might have been, but nobody seems to care, we're having too much fun.
"I'm telling you," Kevin says shortly after we wrap up and are packing up our gear, "nothing tops the original. So what if you can't hear Danzig very well? That rawness is what lends the 'Fits its edge."
"Please," I counter, "first of all, never refer to them as 'the 'Fits' again, unless you want to be eaten alive by rabid wannabes, that's just... wrong. Second, although some of their other ones left me with a headache, Metallica's version blew it out of the water. You got a much rounder sound."
"Said the guy with 'St. Anger' on his record shelf," Lindsay chimes in, wearing a smug smirk.
"Oh good god," I say, snapping the catches on my guitar case. "Not this again."
She laughs. "Well anyways, I think we can all agree that Queen did the better 'Stone Cold Crazy.'" Everyone agrees.
When everything's packed and ready to go down to the van, I ask Cloudy what comes next, now that the recording is done. He leans in his high-back manager's chair, the arm bumping the lip of the soundboard table, and thinks. "Well," he says after a moment, "Like I told y'all the other week, it should take me a month - maybe six weeks, to mix the songs. Then there's album art, CD printing, photos..."
"Oh hell no!" Kevin interrupts, wagging a finger in the air. "No photos, not for a small project like this."
"Small?" I ask. Hell, if this past month is what you call a small project, I'm not sure I want to know what's involved with putting a full album together. And although I'd never say it out loud, I have to agree with him; I'm no fan of having my picture taken.
"Come on Kevin," says Lindsay, "Just one, for the inside flap. It'll help people recognize us and get us more gigs." I don't know if that's totally true, but I'm sure not going to contradict her. I've learned my lesson when it comes to Lindsay Wagner.
"Doesn't have to be anything fancy," Cloudy says. "I got my camera right here, I could take it right here, right now, if you just wanna grab a spot on the couch."
But Kevin remains obstinate. "No, I say! You know I don't like pics, Linds, they're wastes of time." He looks over at Cloudy. "No offence." Cloudy shrugs as if to indicate it doesn't matter a damn to him.
Lindsay scowls. "Kevin, we both know we've waited too long to get this thing off the ground. If we're going to make a serious push to get somewhere with this band, you're just going to have to get over yourself once in a while." She looks to me as though expecting me to affirm everything she's just said.
I raise my hands. "You leave me out of this, I don't care what we do one way or the other. Let's just do something and sooner than later, huh?" A glint of anger flashes in her eyes, but she doesn't say anything.
"Wow," says Kevin, "that's big of you, Jay. I thought for sure you'd be standing up for your lady, there." He says it with an air of playfulness, obviously not intending to offend anyone, but Lindsay turns her eyes, now blazing, to Kevin. The smile is gone from his face in a wink.
"Hey, hey," I say, "She's a tough enough cookie, she doesn't need me playing Sir Galahad."
"One. Photo." Lindsay says. She sounds calm, but there's an unmistakable ominous undercurrent in her voice saying you don't dare press your luck. Kevin gauges Lindsay's response carefully, then relents a bit theatrically, agreeing to one and only one photo, but adds for good measure that he gets to flip off the camera.
"Makes no difference to me whether you finger the camera, or yourself," says Cloudy. "Let's just do it now if we're gonna do it at all."
That's all it takes to get me doubled over in laughter. Soon, everyone's laughing. Even Kevin. During the madness, I hear multiple beeps and clicks from Cloudy's camera. Nobody objects.
As the weekend passes, celebrations continue. The four of us have dinner at the same pizza place near Boundary Road, the mood considerably better than the last group meal, although the liquor flows just as liberally as before. Lindsay does a good job pretending it doesn't irritate her, sticking to a half glass of house lager. Afterwards, we take the gear back to the Ravenclaw house, where despite being more than a little oiled, Kevin does his share of work hauling gear back down to the basement, even when it starts to pour rain. Thank God we only have the small cabinet setups to work with right now; looking like a drowned rat is bad enough, kicking off the next chapter with a case of pneumonia is the last thing I need.
Kevin stays behind after the equipment's unloaded, while Lindsay and I return the van. The office is closed for the night, so she slips the keys into the after-hours return mailbox, and we grab a cab back to my place, where the two of us hold our own private celebration. The type of celebration where the coffee pot remains essentially full the next morning, minus two cups.
"What are we?" I ask during breakfast.
Lindsay pauses with fork in midair, remnants of a badly over-fried egg dangling over the tines. "A band?" she says in a tone that implies I ought to know better.
"You know that's not what I meant. Remember what Kevin said last night?"
She sighs and swallows the mouthful, taking longer to chew than necessary to dispose of an egg. "I thought we agreed not to have this conversation, not right now."
"Well geez, Lindsay, we're gonna have to at some point."
"We do? Why? I mean, things are fine." She looks at me. "They are, aren't they?"
"Well, sure," I say, "They're..." A brief image of last night's celebration flashes across my mind and I chuckle. "They're great. Awesome."
Lindsay nods as though that's the end of that and carries her empty plate over to the sink. She starts scrubbing it extensively with the well worn and in all likelihood, disease ridden scrub brush I keep meaning to throw out and replace. "With the post-production now in Cloudy's hands, we're going to need to start landing gigs if we want to get out our faces out there. I suppose we can start by scratching Funky's off the list, unless they're under new management, and even then, you could always change your looks up; grow out that facial scratch, buzz your head..."
"Lindsay." More scrubbing, now under running tap water hot enough to send steam vapours up into the air. "Lindsay, that plate's plenty clean. You keep it up and you're gonna burn your hands big time. How're you going to play with burns?"
"It's not that hot," she says. Meanwhile, the steam continues to billow, breaking against her wrists and forearms.
"Babe, just what the hell is going on with you? Why are you so eager to avoid this?"
The plate bangs and clatters in the sink, and I can hear the delicate crunch of cracking porcelain. "I don't know!" Lindsay suddenly wails, throwing her hands in the air, keeping her back turned. The ferocity of her words strike me like needles piercing my stomach. All I can do is sit and stare. After an agonizing minute, she turns toward me, wiping her face with both hands. A small smear of blood smudges her right cheek. She sees my eyes move towards it, looks down at her hands and sighs. "Cut," she mumbles. I don't say anything. Then she sighs again and locks her glistening eyes onto mine.
"Jay, I - I don't do well in relationships," she begins. "They always begin too quick, end badly, usually with more than just my heart broken." That sets off a small alarm in the back of my head but I know better than to try and interrupt right now. "Hell, the only thing I've ever had that was halfway decent was with Cloudy, and even that we knew wasn't going to work."
There now, Jay, I tell myself, keep that jealous flame doused. I may not have known Cloudy long, but he sure to God doesn't give off any bad vibes. And on cue, the little voice of dissent chimes in with its skeptical whispers. How do you know? What do you even know about Lindsay? All the while keeping my eyes on Lindsay; any indication, no matter how subtle, that I'm not listening and I'm a dead man.
She doesn't show any sign of suspecting otherwise as she continues. "Sometimes, it feels like all I am is just another fuck toy for some asshole with an instrument." Then she blinks and flinches a little, as though expecting me to leap from my chair in indignation, maybe storm towards her I'd sooner throw my guitar into nearby False Creek. "I, I didn't..." she stammers, "I mean, you're not..."
"No, no of course not, I know what you mean. Go on." There I am again, lying to her without a bit of hesitation. O wretched waif I am.
She sighs and rubs her eyes hard with the thumb and index finger of her left hand. "And then you came along," she says, and looks away. Red is prickling under her jawbone and crawling upwards quickly. "I suppose at first I thought you were just another guy, you know? Looking for a good time, a little fun... both inside and outside the bedroom? I told myself to just take the sex for what it was - sex, and nothing else; enjoy myself, don't get attached and just... fuck, I don't know... have fun, I guess." Eyes slowly crawl back towards mine. "I'm sorry."
I can't lie about not being more than a little upset by this. I don't even want to try. Much as I try to tell myself the same, that there was nothing committal on my end either, ironically true though it was at the time, I can't say that's still the case anymore. I take a moment to think, rubbing my own eyes out of tired stress than anything else, and finally dare to venture forth with a question. "Okay. But what about now? I mean, no offence, but you're still here. And, um, well, still in your underwear." That last comment sends the blushing tidal wave spilling over her entire face, but she doesn't try to hide it right away. "And for what it's worth," I add, "I've never once looked at you as just a fuck toy. And I sure as shit didn't go through that ridiculous 'bass lesson' schtick thinking it would get me into anyone's pants."
A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth at the memory of that. Then she says, "I really like you, Jay. You know that, right? Hell, I might even be beginning to fall in love with you, I just... I don't know what to do about it. I've never really had any experience in the girlfriend department, you know?"
"Yeah," I say, feeling heavy in my heart at her revelation. "Well, I'm not much of an authority when it comes to women, either. For a while, I was convinced the boyfriend thing wasn't going to be my thing, either. And then, all this happened," waving my hand in the air absent-mindedly. "Although for what it's worth, I feel sorry for you."
She blinks. "Huh? Why?"
"Simple. I have you in my life now, in whatever 'this' is: Relationship, love, whatever the fuck. You've got the harder job. You gotta put up with my bullshit."
Lindsay spins around to face the sink again. Her arms buckle at the elbow and she collapses onto her knees, her face buried in the crook of her arm. She's gasping for air in between tear-rolling fits of hilarity. "Alright," she says after the storm dies down, still giggling, "you've got me there." Then the laughter stops altogether, as abrupt as it'd begun. She comes around the bar, loops her arms around my neck, pulls her thin body up and into my lap and locks lips with me. We stay that way for a long time. She finally breaks free and comes up for air, telling me to turn on my laptop and fire up Google. "We've got work to do," she says. "No gigs, no money, no hope."
No kidding, I think, standing up and moving towards the couch, where I'd last left the laptop. Lindsay comes along for the ride.
"Yes, of course. Definitely, I get you. Not at all. Thank you very much for calling me back, I really appreciate it. Yeah, you have a good day, too. Bye." I hit the hang-up button on my phone and toss it onto the table. "You son of a bitch," I say, and then pick up my phone again, scroll to the notepad app, and delete the name of yet another establishment not interested in booking Ravenclaw anytime soon. "Fucking fourteen. Jesus." My hand drops onto the table in the back room of Cage Records, harder than I mean to. The resulting thwap! Attracts attention.
"Everything alright in there, Jay?" Art sticks his head in from the tiny alcove separating storefront from back.
"Sorry," I say, staring down at the weathered scrap of paper. Two weeks of googling, cold calling and thumbing the Yellow Pages has brought Ravenclaw little more than frustration and a pile of rejections. The only bright spot can't even be called that, exactly. An enquiry with Paul Colvin, the worldweary and unimpressed manager of the Crow's Nest Pub where the final Dichotomy of Mind concert took place, assuming you don't count the disaster at Funky's, which I sure as hell don't, led to a nearly hour-long discussion about the state of young people in society today and an observation about the increase of alcohol consumption among said young people causing "certain minds" to have grave reservations about repeating earlier mistakes. It takes nearly all the ass-kissing and apologizing I'm capable of in order to get Colvin to noncommittally agree to "think it over and get back to you." Not a no, true enough, but hardly a yes either.
"Still no luck, huh?" Art asks without waiting for an answer. He steps all the way into the room, resting his considerable haunch against the doorway, hands in pockets. "I know all too well what that's like. Keep trying, you'll find a place in time."
"You'll forgive me if I don't find much comfort in that bit of advice right now."
"Do you want someone who'll give you advice, or someone to spoon feed you a generous helping of bullshit?" He takes in my reaction and nods, "Okay, I rest my case."
"Things keep up the way they are much longer, and we're facing a trip up into the Interior, or even the Prairies." My stomach gives a tight twist at the thought. Many's the stories I've heard of bands criss-crossing the country in a truck or minivan, and all but a scant few have ended with variations on "We broke up soon after."
Art seems to consider this for a moment. "Well, I'm sure we can spot you the time off if you ever do. D's been looking into hiring one or two more guys to run the Broadway place, not too much a hassle to pluck one of them for a week or so."
"Is he still thinking of checking out?" I ask. "On the management side, I mean." Derek Drummond's getting on in years, shifting more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities to other people, but I can't for a minute imagine him actually leaving the Cage behind while he's still taking in air.
Art shrugs. "Who knows? You know him well enough, he ain't going to say shit until he's made his mind up, and not a second before." He thinks for another second and lets out a chuckle. "You want to feel better? Ask him what he had to do to land gigs back in his day. Better still, ask Richard Demin."
I blink. "I don't get you."
"The stories that guy could tell about the island years, how close he and the rest of Systex came to going their separate ways, guaranteed you'll appreciate being in the place you're at right now." He lifts a hand out of his pocket and checks his big leather clunker of a watch. "Speaking of right now, it's about time you gave that phone of yours a rest and get to work marking down the concert DVDs." He straightens up and heads into the office, leaving the door open a crack to remain within reach should he be needed.
"Yeah. Yeah, okay," I say, putting my phone back onto the charger cord plugged into the socket underneath the table, while crumpling my list of rejections and stuffing it into my back pocket. I can imagine Richard Demin being full of stories about the island years as Art and D have referred to them in passing conversation. I can also imagine him staying that way, given his less than friendly reaction to my sudden intrusion on his life. Even the boss men don't know half the stories, D only remarking about it and the events preceding them as "shit I wouldn't want anyone to know about, either."
And yet, I do want to know. More than that, I want him to know; about the reaching influence Systex has on my life, more than anything.
Good luck with that, I think to myself, not even attempting to avoid the bitterness. Then I walk out to the storefront, grabbing the labelling gun off the tiny hall shelf, and spend the rest of my day discounting DVDs, vinyls and playing cashier to the handful of customers who come in.
Getting ready to leave after what's felt like an obscenely long day, I notice a new voicemail on my phone screen as I collect it and the charger from the back room, and sigh. Part of me wants to leave it until I get home, where I intend to indulge my lazy side and take an evening off from my usual after-work ritual of practicing the EP songs, scribbling down any ideas for new songs - there aren't many - and settling for leftover takeout. Instead, I decide to just get it over with and punch the callback button. I'm greeted with the monotonous fem-bot informing me of the number of new messages, the date and time, and instructing me to press 1 to hear the new message, which I do. Then, this:
"Jay-Jay, buddy! It's Cloudy. Sorry I've been out of touch for a while, but I think you'll forgive me. The mixing's coming along smooth as silk, we might even be able to finish a week early, but I'll have to get back to you on that. Also, I just finished a couple of designs for the CD slip and sent them out to all you guys for feedback. Check your email and get back to me when you get a chance. Oh yeah, and I sent you a little something extra you might like. So. Uh, yeah, other than that, hope everything's going okay with the gig search, I'll catch you later. Cheer-o!"
It's good to hear Cloudy's voice again. We haven't spoken since finishing the recording, but I'm not too surprised. I have no clue what goes into the mixing and printing process, but I figure it best to leave the pro's to their stuff and not bother them unless absolutely necessary. What's this little something extra? I wonder, tapping away on my phone, bringing up my email and scrolling through the unfiltered junk, spam and other non-essentials until I see two new messages labelled "Check This Out!" The sender is identified as Cody Mickelson. Cloudy's legal name, I suppose, tapping on the first one. The phone thinks for a few seconds and then produces a series of black and white images, EP covers, front and back. Most of the covers feature variations on the same theme; a raven (of course) captured in mid-flight across a glowing full moon backdrop, casting shadows over dark terrain; the one I like the best is a muted silhouette of an ocean. A little gothic, perhaps, but cool all the same. I anticipate many discussions on the matter between Lindsay, Kevin and I over the next couple days, and allow myself a tiny, perverse smile at the thought, when my eyes fall upon the only offering of the back cover, the three of us staring morosely at the camera, Lindsay in the middle, arms at rest on one of each of our shoulders, Kevin giving the finger. Not bad, I think. Not great, but not horrible, reminding myself it's just an EP.
That's when I notice the few words photoshopped in the bottom-centre of the photo, making it look as though the words are carved into the table.
Lindsay Wagner - Bass/VocalsJay Mallory - GuitarKevin Demin - Drums
Shock. Pure fucking amazement. Kevin had never mentioned his last name, nor did I really see any need to, not at first. Neither of us waste time with Facebook or any other form of social media; granted that may have to change once the band actually starts landing gigs. The only time I ever outright asked him, I remember, was over beer during the first visit to the Boundary Road pizza joint. His answer, a surly "Do you care?" made me decide I didn't, and the matter had for the most part, disappeared. I remember sneaking a peek at his signature on a credit card receipt, only to realize the messy scrawl was impossible to decipher, and not really that important, either.
Demin! Fucking Demin is your last name? I think, too gobsmacked to blink. Then a second bundle of dynamite goes off in my head. No wonder he didn't seem to give a shit about my initial, accidental encounter with Richard...
And just like that, my evening plans have been abruptly scrapped.
Forty minutes later, I'm at the front stoop of Ravenclaw House, a still cold case of local lager clutched by the punch-out cardboard handles, my free hand banging on the door. I have no idea what I'm going to tell Lindsay if she answers. Hey babe, I was just in the neighbourhood and thought I'd drop by for a drink, and say, why the fuck didn't you tell me our drummer is related to Richard-fucking-Demin? That'd be about as well received as an invitation for her to go fuck herself. Oh well, too late now. The doorknob turns and I hear the heavy clack of the door chain and latch.
Kevin, dripping sweat all over, a splintered Pro-Mark in his hand, greets me with an initial blink of surprise that quickly morphs into a shit-eating grin. "Well hey, Jay-Jay! What brings you by? Lindsay's not here right now, she's at Cloudy's, discussing the album covers. Did you get a chance to see them yet?"
I let the little alarm bell this bit of news brings ring on, I've got other things on my mind. "I did, yeah, just as I was closing up Cage. In fact, it's you I was hoping to talk to about that." I motion to him with the case. "What say we have ourselves a drink and chat?"