Kevin leads me downstairs to the basement, closing the door behind us. He goes over to his drums and collects a dirty-looking tee off the ground nearest one of his twin bass drums and slips it over his head, poking his arms out through the holes. Throwing the broken stick into a nearby wastepaper basket, he gestures towards the couch. "Why don't you crack that bad boy open and set us up?" he says, turning to face me, giving me a full-on display of a brief but poignant message written across his tee in what looks like Sharpie. THE WRONG TWO BEATLES DIED FIRST.
"Oh that's cute," I say. "I bet you get a lot of attention with that one."
"It helps keep me level; reminds me of the true cost of having original thoughts of my own."
"Touché." I tear open the top flaps of the case of beer and pluck two cold, sweating cans. "Catch!" I call, throwing one of them towards Kevin. He grabs the can mid-air, pulling it close to his chest like a wide receiver cradling a Hail Mary catch, waiting for the referee to signal the catch as complete. Then he lifts the can up to his face and uses his two front teeth to pop the top. This sends a gushing geyser of foam into his mouth and up and over the lip of the can, making him cough, but not without a badly suppressed chuckle.
"Nice. Not unexpected though. And there's plenty more where that came from." He raises his can in the air before taking a proper sip. "That's good. Just what I needed." That triggers a brief flashback to the conversation Lindsay and I had back at my place prior to taking to bed for the first time; her barely suppressed upset over how much she sees him drink, and how often. Now I begin to wonder what she'd think were she to walk in on us just now and find out who had brought the case over in the first place. It's a thought I don't want to have, and it takes an effort to push it aside for the moment, but far from out of mind.
"Happy to oblige," I say, popping my own can, listening to the hiss of carbonation, watching for any overspill of my own. There is none. Now it's my turn to take a long and proper sip. "...Mister Demin."
Kevin lowers his gaze, allowing a brief sigh to escape him as he reaches behind himself, feeling for a safe place to sit, settling for a heavily taped beanbag chair near his kit. "So you know. So this isn't a social call after all." He scoffs. "Of course you know. Those damned photos." A few stilted seconds go by, and when I don't offer an immediate reply, he continues with, "Well?"
"Well go ahead, then. Break my balls, why don't you? Give me whatever stupid speech you've been planning. How dare I didn't tell you, what was I thinking that you'd never find out?"
"What makes you think I've come here to break your balls?" I ask, hiding behind my beer.
"Oh," says Kevin, "I don't know, the fact that you seem to worship the fucking ground my brother walks on, the Systex shirts you wear? Let's not forget the hard-on you got when you found out who's closing out LocalFest next year?"
"Fuck, man," I mutter.
"Tell me I'm wrong."
"Well, you're definitely exaggerating."
He tells me again to prove him wrong. My face is beginning to feel like it's been set on fire. "I don't know why you're coming at me so attack-dog like. I came here in peace, dude, I brought beer."
Kevin seems to ponder this for a minute before answering, "Nobody just shows up at his bandmates' place an hour or so out of his way for no reason other than to just hang."
"That's awfully cynical."
"I learn from the best." Kevin tips his can towards me before lifting it to his lips and draining it in four long swallows, following that up with a liquid-sounding belch. "Ugh," he offers, pressing a fist tight against his chest and swallowing heavily.
The first thing I want to do is throw my barely-tapped beer at him, snap him out of whatever fuck you attitude he's descended into, tell him just how wrong he is and what I think of his accusing glances. So much so, in fact, that the can I'm holding buckles from under the pressure of my grip, causing liquid to pop out of the can and land on the already liberally stained carpet in a thick, wet splat. Kevin watches this, but doesn't say anything else, which is good, because I'm really not sure I want to hear it. The rational part of me, voice smothered by the hot fury building up inside me like steam in a tea kettle, paints a picture of just how well such an action would be received - fists cutting heavy arcs through the air amidst popping tendrils of blood and flying teeth, all the while watching the hard work of all that's gone into producing the Ravenclaw EP go flushing down the toilet with such speed that for a moment, I can actually feel a puff of wind on the back of my neck.
"I just don't know what the big deal is," I finally say.
"My thoughts exactly," Kevin replies. He's across the room in a blink, snatching a fresh can from the case and opening it with such force that he tears the pop tab clean off. Watching him move, I'd be willing to bet the can is half empty before his ass drops back into the bean bag chair.
"No, no, not that! I mean, why didn't you just tell me in the first place, back when we first met in that back booth in Funky's?" God, that now seems like a hundred years ago.
"I can think of two reasons, chief among them is the fact that at the end of the day, Jay, it's really nobody's fucking business."
"And the second?"
"Think about it. Let's say I did, just came right out and say 'Hey guys, can I join you? My name's Kevin, and by the way, Richard Demin's my older brother.'" He actually laughs at this, a single, nasally caw, not unlike a raven's. Unless I'm horribly mistaken, I also see what look like tears building up in his eyes. "Either I come off as some self-entitled asshole and you tell me to go stick my head, or worse, you never let me hear the end of it; asking me question after question until my fucking brain melts." He shakes his head, rubbing his face with an open palm. I have no idea what on earth to say to this, which is probably a good thing, because he continues to rant, his voice growing louder until he's screaming at the top of his lungs. "You know something? Maybe I don't give a fuck about being Richard Demin's brother. Maybe - just maybe, I didn't want to mention it because I am sick and fucking tired of hearing about how great Richard Demin is, how he's a 'god in Canadian metal' or whatever. Maybe I didn't tell you - and don't tell anyone - because I want to focus on my own life, my own band, and don't want anything to do with that self-absorbed son-of-a-bitch who's spent his whole life living for himself and his little band and couldn't be bothered to show even a little interest in what anyone else in the family's been doing; no 'Hey Kevin, how's things going in your own band?' - no 'Great show last night!'..."
Kevin trails off, the last few words dying in a strangled hiss of escaping air. He looks down at his can, snorts, sucks down the remaining mouthful, stands up and flings the empty across the room. It doesn't come close to landing in the basket. He looks back at me, any indicator of emotion gone. The coldness of his stare sends shivers snaking up and down my spine. "He didn't even show up at our dad's funeral, did you know that?" Scoff. "What do you think of your precious Richard Demin now, Jay-Jay?" With that final pronouncement, he storms past me, flings open the basement door and disappears upstairs without bothering to shut the door behind him.
I sit there. And sit. And sit some more. The basement suddenly feels at once all too small. My face is so hot, I expect to go up in flames any minute. I begin shivering in spite of this swelter, feeling like I've been dunked in concrete and thrown into the ocean. What do you say to that?
"Fuck," I say to the empty room. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."
I can't believe it. In the face of overwhelming reason, I refuse to believe that Richard Demin is that cruel. You don't rise to the heights of fame that Systex did within the Canadian metal scene by being a douchebag to everyone. For God's sakes, I watched how gentle and loving he was with his daughter! Whatever Kevin's problem is, I just can't believe it's true.
The dialogue switches to interior. Can't believe it, or won't? The kingdom of denial is flush with habitants. I swear again. Well done, Jay. You've really stepped in it this time. You just couldn't keep your fucking mouth shut, you had to push it, didn't you? And you call yourself a serious musician?
I look down at my beer. And that's all it takes for the fuse to snap. I end up throwing it, after all, against the wall. It makes an impressive thwump! Sound, spraying beer and plaster dust everywhere. The resulting tremor from the impact dislodges a square of fabric from the ceiling, a faded and tattered band flag, and it drifts earthward. One of the frayed ends catches the can-sized hole in the wall and there it hangs, giving a lackadaisical flap in midair before coming to rest, hugging the wall. I catch a glimpse of the logo: An equally faded Systex logo.
Of course it is, I think. And I reach for a new can. I end up emptying three more, waiting for Kevin to come back. When he doesn't, I take it as a hint to leave before he does return, clutching another drumstick he probably doesn't intend to use on the kit. As I'm coming up the stairs, I hear the front door open and close, and the heavy cluck of the deadbolt, and then I'm face to face with Lindsay, who also does not look to be in a good mood.
She looks at me for a long time. "Hey." She hangs a purse on one of the coat-hooks by the door and pulls off a dark striped hoodie. "I hear that you and Kevin have been talking."
I sigh. "I know. I fucked up - again. Just... please don't say it right now, babe. Just don't."
When she hangs up her hoodie, she faces me once more with that "I'm too pissed off to say anything" face I'm really coming to dislike. Then she surprises me by saying, "You had to find out sooner or later." She sees she's taken me by surprise and adds, "You can't blame him entirely, for getting a reaction like you did. Some of it's diva bullshit, even I can tell that. But there's some real anger and hurt there, too."
"I don't blame him," I say. It's the truth. "But how did you..?"
She gives me another of her patented looks, the "How stupid do you think I am?" one. "I've lived through my own version of the Book of Revelation of St. Kevin the Drunk. Plus, he's outside, his head in the clouds. One look at him and I knew." A quick whiff of the lingering odour in the air let in when Lindsay opened the front door confirms this. Then she looks me up and down and says, "Where do you think you're going?"
"Home, I guess?" I say. "Or somewhere where I'll be safe from any residual shockwaves until..."
But she's shaking her head already. "Oh no, sir. We've got album covers to talk about. All of us." I begin trying to tell her that's something that can wait until morning, or next week, or whenever Kevin decides to stop hating me, and I'm rewarded with a third look, the "You don't dare defy me" stare. I sigh. "Alright. Alright. But a cigarette first, please."
She softens. "Go ahead. Just make sure you mow down a couple of those mints before you come back in." I'd like to think I'm smart enough to understand her point without needing to ask what she means this time.
Kevin's sitting on the front steps, lost in his own hand-rolled cigarette of the non-tobacco variety. I step around him as gingerly as possible, not wanting to provoke another revivalist sermon on the evils of Richard Demin, and walk down to the end of the driveway, where I sit and light up and try to think, while pretending that it's just another beautiful day in the neighbourhood. One cigarette turns into two, and as the second gives way to the evening's third, I hear the front door open and close, relieving some of the invisible weight crushing my neck and shoulders. I'm contemplating lighting up a fourth when I hear a noise behind me. An elongated shadow stretches over mine and spills onto the asphalt underneath the sickly yellow-orange glow of the solo streetlight. The shadow is too wide around the midsection to belong to Lindsay. Oh fuck, here it comes, I think.
"Lindsay says if you light that fourth one up, she's putting it out in a particularly sensitive area men have."
I turn my head. Kevin is standing there, looking exponentially calmer than he was a little while ago, thanks in no small part to the pot. There is, of course, no hint of the jovial smart-ass who greeted me what now feels like hours ago. "I wouldn't try her patience right now, she's in one of her... 'moods.'" He hesitates before settling on the word.
"You'll forgive me if I say it's not Lindsay's patience I'm worried about trying," I say.
Kevin nods in understanding. "You know, Jay..."
I raise a hand, the unlit cigarette cradled in the deep groove of flesh between the first and second finger. "That's alright. You don't have to say it. Like I told Lindsay, I know I fucked up again."
"Yeah," Kevin agrees, then pauses. "Well, I guess I can't really hold it against you. After all, how the fuck would you have known? The way you told it, it didn't sound like he was any happier to meet you than he would have been were it me doing the dumpster diving in his driveway." I roll my eyes. Kevin holds out a hand. It takes a minute for me to work up the nerve to take it, but I do. He helps me up and together, we go back into Ravenclaw House, where we do indeed have a lot of things to talk about.
Talking continues right through the night and into the early hours of the morning. The case is emptied in the process.
As the weekend rolls around, our collective luck begins to change, and for the better, announcing itself with the suddenness of a change of winds during a freak storm. Paul Colvin, he of the "why are young people so fucking stupid?" attitude calls back and a bit too reluctantly agrees to give us our first gig next Sunday night, all the while making sure we understand that if history repeats itself in any way, shape or form, I will find myself with a second lifetime ban under my belt. I tell him we have an understanding, and mean it. Lindsay also understands. "I'll staple Kevin's fucking mouth shut myself," she tells me, and we both have a good laugh. We're having a lot more of those now.
We remain at a crossroads with respect to what the final cover art should look like, Kevin vehemently opposed to the gothic overtone he insists the current selections offer. As he puts it to us during one of those discussions, "We're a metal band, damn it! We're not looking to mourn our lost loves here while we wipe our tears away with rose petals." Lindsay asks him if he's even listened to a single word of our lead-off song, Hotblooded, but agrees that goth is not for us, something I also agree with. If I'm honest, I couldn't care less what the album cover looks like; as long as the finished product sounds good, I'm happy enough, and early indicators show that will not be a problem. It turns out that the second email Cloudy sent me contains a rough cut of our Misfits cover. Considering I've only ever sung backup before, I'm pleased and surprised that I sound as good as I do. So does everyone else. While agreeing that it won't make the final cut on this disc, we agree to keep it for future releases. The back cover is unanimously approved, the only minor criticism being the fact that Cloudy forgot to list the goddamned song titles. Apparently just listing them on the disc itself isn't good enough for some, said some being Lindsay, and although me and Kevin share an exaggerated eye roll, we know better than to raise a stink about something neither of us cares too strongly about to begin with.
The cover art slowly begins to leak to a trusted few among our admittedly small circle of friends and fellow musicians. I bring an updated version to work that Friday and show D, who's making a rare full-day appearance at the store, standing in for Art who was, as D eloquently put it, "Getting the yearly finger. Something for you to look forward to once you hit that special age."
"Damn, kid," says D, turning the page with the concept art over and back again. "Not bad, not bad."
"Thanks." This causes me to prickle all over, knowing that a "not bad" from D is the closest to a compliment I'm likely to ever get. Don't get me wrong, the man's far from being an asshole, he's just not big on gushing praise.
"I don't know about these first couple, though," he continues, "your guy's clearly got some talent, but I'm not sure I buy the Evanescence-meets-Type O vibe, kinda feels like it's trying to strike emo's everywhere right in the feels."
I can't help chuckling. "Yeah, well it was either that or the dick pic our drummer suggested. You know, our own twist on the Peter Steele/Origin of the Feces thing. Given the choice, I'll welcome emo's with open arms."
D's face twists into an ugly wince and he waves a hand at me, a brusque "Begone!" gesture, instructing me that that particular album cover is never to be mentioned in this store again. But he says it with a smile in his voice. Then he quickly changes the subject before risking further mental scarring. "You guys close to a final decision?"
My own smile twitches. "Not exactly. We all know what we hate, that's the easy part. Now it's all about finding we all like."
"Fun fun. You better make up your minds P.D.Q. Though if you want to have anything to sell at your gig next week."
"No, we're just going with a simple logo and title card for the Crow. It's a lot easier to make up and print off with such short notice. Cloudy - he's the guy who's been helping us put this together..."
"Yeah, I remember you mentioning him. Skinny little twig of a blazer, you said."
"Yeah, I guess so. Anyways, he's putting together a small stack of burner discs, thirty or so, to sell at the Crow, or out of the van if the manager gets his nose out of joint about onsite solicitation."
"Not bad," says D, and then a peculiar look comes over his face. "I thought you didn't have any wheels? Where'd this van come from?"
"Same place we rented for transport during the recording last month." A pause of my own, then a chuckle escapes me. "It wouldn't surprise me if we got the exact same one from before, either. That place is so dead, how they stay in business is beyond me." I look over at D, who's set the cover art print aside and is now looking off into the distance and frowning. "What?"
"That can't be cheap, even if you split expenses." Then he turns his frown onto me. "You do split expenses, right? Gotta be careful with that, Jay, it's very important. The second someone starts asking you to cover something in entirety, be it a deposit on a set of wheels or whatever, things are apt to start going to hell and quick. Believe me, I've felt that sting firsthand. It's no way to get a band off the ground."
Having felt said sting myself during my Dichotomy of Mind days, albeit on a small scale, I assure D that expenses are split. "It was one of my musts prior to joining the group."
"Good boy. Now answer the question, what's it cost you to get a cube, if just for an evening?"
I review the calculations in my head. "About one-eighty, one-ninety for the smallest truck they've got, one fifty-ish if we opt for a cargo van and get real cozy to and from. Plus cab fare to my place after dropping it off. Why do you ask?"
D's frown deepens, his forehead knotting up in a cascade of wrinkled skin, more wrinkles stretching from the corners of his red-rimmed eyes. "Oh, just curious I suppose, is all. That's actually not as expensive as i was expecting, but still, that's got to take a hell of a bite out of your cashflow even before you get your pay."
This isn't news to me. At least DoM had Billy's truck to move all our gear around, so that saved a bit, but the damned smelly thing gulped down gas with a ferocity to match a man who stumbles upon an oasis after wandering the desert for days. And Billy Glass, among his many other faults, defined sharing expenses by pointing at someone and saying "Your turn to fill up." With all that in mind, D's inquiries kindle fresh worry. Much as I hate looking at whatever band I'm a part of as a business, the fact remains that bills still need to be paid at the end of the month, and four to six days a week at Cage covers all the essentials but leaves little breathing room after the last bill helps itself to a portion of money pie courtesy of internet banking. Dammit D! Why'd you have to say that now? Okay, sure, it's smart advice, of course it is, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
Here's a reality check: If you think that truth is supposed to be easy to swallow all the time, you are in need of a serious wake up call.
"Alright," D announces, slapping the glass countertop as he gets up off his chair. "Enough sitting around for now, back to the salt mines." He looks straight at me again. "Don't bother with the rest of the marking down for now, it can wait till later. I've got another job for you."
"What is it?"
D jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "We've got another set of LocalFest posters that need putting up on the temp wall off Homer where that new office tower's going in; city went by on Tuesday and did their usual thing. When you get that done, spread the rest around the poles. The pack's in back, just refilled it this morning."
I groan. "More poster work already? Jesus, why can't the city just let things be?"
"You know the answer: Space is at a premium these days, and sooner or later, someone else comes by and paints over our shit, so we paint over theirs and so on, and eventually the city gets pissed off and clears it all off."
Don't I know it. "Alright, I'll just get changed."
"Good. Oh, and take your keys with you, I'm closing up shop for a little while."
"Got an errand to run, and since Art's getting his yearly how-do-you-do, no one's left to man the fort. Won't be too long, but take your keys anyway, in case you somehow manage to beat me back."
"What sort of errand?" I ask.
D hesitates a fraction of a second before answering. It's so quick, I might have missed it any other time had I not been looking him straight in the face. "Nothing for you to worry about. Just get those posters up, please and thank you." He turns and heads into the back room, leaving me to stand there and silently wonder how many more abrupt turns life plans to send me through before I ever get a chance to actually step onto a stage again.
By the time I lay me down to sleep later that night, I'll have decided that I really should know better than to keep asking questions I don't really want answers to. Me and my big fucking mouth.