Ryan, Jed, Nick and I went upstairs to Nick's bedroom, where he had his PC set up on a cheap study desk. His tiny bedroom was a mess, and Ryan, Jed and I had to push books and blankets back to sit down on the edge of his bed. Ryan had his guitar with him and I'd brought my bass.
We're not going to catch anything from sitting on this thing, are we Nick? Jed asked.
Yeah, anthrax, smart-ass, Nick said, as he sat down in front of the computer. He opened his net browser, and it took him about thirty seconds to find a recording of The Velvet Underground playing Heroin.'
The song sounded familiar, but I didn't really know it. It started very slowly, with jangling guitars and a single drum thumping. It built very slowly as the singer, Lou Reed, began to sing: I don't know just where I'm going...
The song was all about slowly building up and backing off, then building up again. The sound was so layered and dense that I couldn't wrap my head around how it could be played with just a guitar, bass and drums.
What's that in the background? I asked when a sustained static pattern emerged from the behind the guitars.
A viola, Nick said. John Cale is playing electric viola.
Don't worry about the viola, Jed said. Listen to the guitars. Down on D, up to G. Back and forth. Play along with that on your bass.
I looked down at the strings. Ryan hadn't taught me the names of the notes. If he wanted me to play something, he pointed it out to me. Where's D again? I had to ask.
Here, Jed said, pointing to the fifth fret on the second string. And here's G right here. Just listen for the changes and go along with the beat. Um, Ryan could I grab the guitar for a second?
Ryan didn't look happy, but he passed his blue electric over to our new drummer. Jed took it and started plucking along with his finger tips, working out the gentle riff. It glided along, while I tried to follow the rhythm: DUN-DUn-Dun-dun...DIN-DIn-Din-din...DUN-DUn-Dun-dun...DIN-DIn-Din-din... Hitting hard, then softer, harder, softer...
Give it back to me, Ryan said, and pulled the guitar away. I would play it like this, and instead of gliding gently along on the riff, he hit the power chords, skipping the gradual buildup and going right for the straight-ahead rush. I followed his lead and started thumping along with him.
You want to play it like that from the start? Nick asked, looking back at Ryan, strumming away on it.
Ryan paused. Sure, why not? You want us to play it in our own style, right? I could learn that riff and use it like a solo in the middle of the song.
Jed shrugged. We could give it a try. It could be cool.
We fooled around with it for a while. Nick found the tabs for the song on the net, and printed out the lyrics as well. Jed, who knew the song inside out, sang along with Ryan as we played through it, slowly getting the hang of the rhythm. After a few run-throughs we picked it all up and headed back down to the basement.
Lotta words, Ryan said as we set up to play. He moved his amp over near the washing machine so he could have the lyric sheet on top and read while he played. I stayed where I was, in front of the drums. Ryan was directly behind Jed and the kit. It seemed like an odd way to practice, with the drummer and guitar player unable to see each other, but what the hell, right? They both ended up just looking at me. Fair enough.
Okay, so we'll play it fast and hard? Jed asked.
Hell yeah, I replied. I looked at my amp. The volume knob was already on ten. It would have to do.
Jed started first, going rapid-fire on the drums: buh-bam-buh-bam-buh-bam-buh-bam. It sounded nothing like the recorded song we'd been listening to. I tried to forget about the recording, and instead of playing anything that sounded like The Velvet Underground I just played what they told me: D eight times, G eight times, D, G, D, G... It didn't sound bad. It sounded... solid.
Ryan jumped in, stroking away on the D and G, and the whole thing ripped along. I was shaky as hell: my fingers were still sore and I didn't have the strength to really play it the way I wanted to, but even so, it was sounded bad-ass. It sounded like a band.
After we played like that for several measures, Ryan moved around so he could see the lyric sheet. He waited for his moment and then started shouting out the words, straining to be heard above the noise. He didn't sound very good, but that didn't matter. We just rolled on and on.
Eventually Ryan gave up on the words and just focused on playing. Jed was veering off, adding cymbal crashes and blasting out fills. Ryan started playing the riff-solo. It all sounded chaotic and edgy, wild and angry.
When Ryan gave up on the solo and started hammering out the chords again, Jed looked up at me and screamed, Heeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....ooooooo-in.
I grinned, waited a few beats and yelled back at im, Heeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....ooooooo-in.
He smiled and kept pounding the drums.
* * * *
When we'd finished playing, we made our plans. We would get together at Nick's house Wednesday night and Sunday afternoons for full band practice. Jed and Ryan were going to get together Monday night and work on the guitar stuff, and Ryan and I were going to hang out on Tuesday and Thursday and play as well. It was a heavy schedule, especially for Ryan, and especially considering we all had full class loads.
Well, Ryan said, if we're going to play anywhere before the end of the school year, we'll have to go pretty hard for a while. February's almost over, so there's only really six or seven weeks before exams start. It would be nice if we could do something before everybody takes off for the summer.
Nick looked around. Yeah, speaking of that... Look, about the guys in the other band. I don't know how it quite worked out this way, but suddenly it's kind of like I'm managing them too. Well, not really, but you know how these things go sometimes. They've got their stuff here, and they figure I'm going to help them and stuff.
What's your point, Nick? Ryan asked flatly.
Well, they think they're ready to start playing shows. They're a bit farther along than you guys are, you know? They haven't had anywhere to practice lately, but they've been at it for a while and they have a bunch of songs ready. Anyway, they want to have like, a warm up party here, two weeks from now. Saturday night. Play a show here.
I don't get it, I said, an ironic half-smile creeping onto my face. You grab us and tell us you want to manage us, and two days later you've set up a party for another band in your own house? Weird, man. What are you, a one-man record label or something?
No, no, he said. Just listen. With these guys, my only interest is their gear. But I have to give them something back so we can use their drums. They're practicing here, and they're going to play kind of a party gig here. But you haven't clued in: you guys can play at the same party.
In two weeks? Jed said. He had the habit of tugging at the corner of his handlebar moustache every time he was giving something serious thought. I don't think we'll have much material ready by then.
Nick pointed to Ryan and me. These two guys had enough ready to play in the hallway at school on Friday.
I laughed out loud. Yeah, we played, but that was... I looked at Ryan. What was that? Performance art? It was a joke as much as anything else. Like some kind of personal dare.
Nick sighed. Fine. If you guys don't want to do it, these other guys can play by themselves. I figured this was a ready-made opportunity. I have to do the work of hosting the party anyway. I figured you guys would want to jump on board. But if you want to wait, I guess that's up to you.
Hold on, Ryan said. Why wouldn't we do this? It's perfect. It's like the complete no-pressure gig. We get to play, what, as the opening act at a house party? Even if we only play four or five songs, it would be worth it for the experience. And, you know...girls.
You don't get girls by being awful, Jed said.
You don't get girls by doing nothing, either, Ryan replied.
It went quiet. At last I started putting my bass in its bag. Let's not get hung up on it, I said. Maybe we should do our things on Monday and Tuesday, and then see how we all sound together on Wednesday.
Yeah, said Nick. These guys are doing it either way. We'll talk about it more on Wednesday.
Ryan and I packed up our gear. Jed said he was going to hang out with Nick for a while, so Ryan and I left him there in the basement, stepping out Nick's front door and into the late afternoon gloom.
I waited while Ryan lit his cigarette. You didn't seem very happy in there, I said.
He took a drag and blew out. Yeah. No. Well, you know how it is. I'm excited about how we sounded. But no one likes being told what they're doing wrong. We started walking.
But it's no big deal, right? I said. You told me when we first met that you were still learning, so it's no shame for Jed to help you with the guitar stuff.
I guess not. I just want to hold onto a measure of control, you know? I want this to be my band, no offence. I don't know how I'll be able to be the songwriter if he's telling me how to play.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't really want to just soothe his injured ego, because frankly, I didn't agree with him. I wasn't interested in being in a band that was all about just one guy. Well, I said at last, I guess we'll all have to contribute.
He nodded. Yeah. And you know what? I think we should play that house party. I mean, why not? If we have a few songs, we should do it. We've got nothing to lose.
We came to a corner. Across the street was our bus stop, but if I turned I could head down town. Look, I've got some errands to run. Give me a call tomorrow night after you finish up with Captain Moustache.
He nodded. Cool.
I gave him an ironic fist bump and started off down the street. I carried the guitar and amp through the core of the little city, walking into the commercial district. It was almost six o'clock and most of the shops were closing, but I made it to the big independent book store on Central Avenue before they locked their doors. I went straight toward the wall marked Arts and Music and started scanning over the shelves.
It wasn't hard to find what I was looking for. I just had to choose. There was Bass Guitar for Dummies, Complete Idiots Guide to Bass Guitar, and How to Play Bass Guitar. I flipped through them for a moment, but I could tell from the way the staff was hovering around me that it was time for the store to close. I picked How To Play, and headed for the cash desk.
Maybe it looked a little goofy to be buying a book like that when I was already carrying a bass and amp with me, but I didn't care. I could see that the music our band was playing was about to get a lot more complex, and I wanted to be able to keep up. I didn't want to have to rely on bits and pieces of instruction during rehearsal to learn how to play. More than that, I didn't want it to just be Ryan's band. Maybe the band was his idea, but there was no way I was going to simply be a passenger in his vehicle. I wanted to be able to add something.
I had heard what a band was capable of sounding like, even with bad equipment, no cohesion, and almost no skill. And I knew that if we got to work, we could sound a whole lot better. Hell, there was no limit to how good we could be.
2009 Nolan Whyte