As we had planned, I went down to Ryan's apartment on Tuesday night, lugging my bass all the way. It was funny how quickly I had come to think of it as my bass, even though it really belonged to Ryan. But hell, I was the one playing it every night in that damn closet, so yeah, it sure felt like it was mine.
I got there and we had a beer out of his fridge and a cigarette before getting down to business. I told him about meeting Jasmine, and how I had ended up back at her apartment. I didn't go into too much detail, leaving the end of the story ambiguous and not explaining that we just hung out at her place until midnight, not doing much besides talking and listening to music.
Jasmine... he said, thinking it over. She was the chick on the front lawn at that party, right? The really drunk one?
Yeah, that was her.
He looked at me. Man, you better be careful. She looked nuts. You never know when shit like that will emerge, you know?
I laughed. She seems cool. She just got too drunk that night.
I guess. She is hot, anyway. Pretty good looking, I would say. He shook his head. Man, how do you do it? From one babe to another?
I smiled. I don't know. It's new in my experience, I said. Maybe chicks at this school just really dig socially awkward guys. They think it's charming or something. I sighed and crushed out my cigarette. Forget it. How did it go with Jed last night? Did he teach you how to play guitar?
Ryan gave me a pissed off look. Ah, to hell with that, man. He is not teaching me to play guitar. I know how to play. And look who's talking, right? I'm the one teaching you.
Okay, dude, okay. Shit, I was making fun of him, not you. I shook my head. You're getting really defensive, man. Just be cool, okay?
Yeah. I'm sorry, Eric. He sighed. I don't mean to... well, forget it anyway. He came around and we played for a couple hours. Nothing serious. We worked on a few of the songs, made changes to some parts. Kinda rounded them out a bit. And we worked on Heroin' for a while.
Cool. I set down my beer. I'm ready to play, dude. Should we get started?
We got out our guitars and set up our little amps. I felt pretty good about my amp when I first bought it, but after seeing the much more powerful amps sitting docile in Nick's basement, property of the band Seriosity, my practice amp seemed bush league. All the same, we plugged in and got to work playing Heroin.'
One of the things that Jasmine and I had done the night before, in addition to eating spaghetti and drinking coffee, was sit in front of her computer and watch video clips of Lou Reed performing Heroin.' Sometimes he was old, sometimes young, sometimes playing with The Velvet Underground, but more often playing with a band of hired musicians. In each video, the song would be played a different way, as though the song was a continually-evolving thing. Lou or the players were never concerned about simply recreating the song as it had been played on the record. Its structure was mutable, and Lou was able to freely change things, stylistically adjusting the song to match his mood and the talents of the players on hand.
I didn't know much about Reed, but I picked up on his talent. He wasn't a very good singer, and it didn't look like he was doing the heavy lifting on guitar. But he wrote good songs that could be continually reinvented, so that they would always sound fresh. I understood that Heroin' was a song that our band could play in our own style and it would sound great, without having to try and imitate the original sound of the record.
We played the song, hitting the chords hard right from the count-in. Usually the song has a very gradual build-up, but we just went for it right away, and Ryan shouted the words, barking them without even an attempt to sing melodically. And it worked. The drums were missing, but the song sounded cool.
* * * *
We tried it again the next night in Nick's basement with the whole band. Nick went upstairs and left Jed, Ryan and I to pound away on the songs for a while by ourselves, not focusing on anything except getting the songs into shape. As a band we had a lot of issues to deal with, but we managed to come straight in, set up and start playing straight away without getting sidetracked.
Heroin,' went fine, and as we had done before, Jed and I shouted the title out in long, aggressive howls. It made the song somehow angry and ironic, and believe it or not, I felt like Jed and I were somehow bonding over the impromptu backing vocals.
The only problem was that each time I shouted I would fall out of time. Structurally, the song is simple enough that it's a snap to find your place again when you lose track, but even so, it was frustrating to f--k up and then pause to get back in time. Simplified chords required me to play only two notes: D and G, back and forth, but it was a long song and despite my practicing at home, I didn't have the endurance to play fast and hard without making mistakes. Nothing had become automatic: I needed to focus every second, and even shouting Heroin made me lose the beat.
But if Ryan and Jed were as unhappy with my performance as I was, they made no sign. We moved through the other songs Ryan had written, reviewing the changes they had made: sections moved, removed or repeated, new sections inserted, and simple, crisp endings instead of the vague trail-offs that had closed the songs previously. Whatever the songs had been before, they were now four simple, straightforward rock numbers. They would never blow anyone away, but they were solid enough to play.
When we took a break, we started talking over the bands future: what kind of music we wanted to play (harder, faster and more musically complex was the consensus), how far we thought we could go (local bars? campus events? further? enough to actually get noticed?) and how we should proceed.
Let's get Nick down here, Jed said. He seems like the guy who is actually organizing things so far, so let's get him in on this chat.
Ryan went upstairs and brought down Nick, our self-styled manager, and we started talking. We decided as a group that yes, we had enough material ready and we would not make fools of ourselves by playing at the house party Nick was organizing for Seriosity, the other band that practiced in his basement.
Okay, Nick said as soon as we were all in agreement that we would play. I need a name from you then. I'm going to put up posters around campus on Monday at the latest, so I'll need something to call you. Have you guys thought up a name for yourselves yet?
Ryan and I looked at each other. Insane Blood Monster was the best I could come up with, I said. And that's pretty stupid. What were you planning to use?
Most of the names I come up with are just jokes, Ryan said. Tubesock Six-pack, Johnny Skull Fracture and The Crash Helmets, shit like that.
I nodded. Yeah. How about you, Jed?
He stretched. I thought maybe he was trying too hard to look casual. I don't know, guys, he said. I kinda feel like this is your band, not mine. I've got a few names that I like, but to be honest, I'd rather keep them for projects of my own.
Aw, dude, I said. Look, you're in the band. You're already helping with the songwriting. We sound good together. We're going to stick together, right?
Yeah, he said. I'm going to stay. All the same, I feel like this is something where you guys are choosing the musical direction for the group. I've got personal projects that I would like to do in the future that I have names in mind for, but I think this is something that you guys should name. I don't really have any meaningful suggestions.
Hold on, Ryan said. What are the names you're saving? You know, for your own projects?
Jed shrugged. Oh, I don't know...Let It Come Down, The Distant Episode, Next To Nothing. I've got a bunch of them.
Hmmm. Ryan nodded. Next To Nothing. That's pretty cool, actually. It sounds like Nine Inch Nails. I actually like that. Eric, what do you think?
I looked back and forth between them. I don't know. Did you want to keep that one, Jed?
Well, yeah, he said. Next To Nothing is going to be a spoken work project that I want to do after I learn some recording techniques. Kind of a William Burroughs thing, you know?
I think it would be good for us, Ryan said. I haven't got any better ideas, do you Nick?
Nick shrugged. I've got one idea. And I think it's a pretty good one. So if maybe Jed wants to hang on to Next To Nothing...
What's your suggestion? I asked him.
He took a dramatic pause and looked us each in the eye. Riot Band, he said at last.
Riot Band? Ryan said. Riot Band? Jeez, that's kinda stupid, isn't it?
No, no, Nick said. It's like, direct. What's rock all about? Protest, right? That's its origin. Protest music. What is a greater symbol of protest and disorder than a riot? What is this band? It's a riot. This band is chaos and disorder. It's a militant reaction to the shitty state of the world. It's f--king great.
I nodded my head. Yeah. Simple. Shit, yeah, that's perfect. Riot Band. It's so simple. That's really, really cool.
But why actually say the word band'? Ryan asked. Why not just say, The Riot'?
Riot Band is perfect, I repeated. It's saying what we are, you know? We are a band. Instead of The Beatles, it's Beatle Band'. It's clever. Damn, Nick, I said, looking at the wannabe impresario, that's absolutely what we should be called.
I really like Next To Nothing, Ryan said. It's dark. It's nihilistic and minimalist. Jed, you don't want to use it? It kicks ass.
Jed looked around. Should we put it to a vote? he said. For Next To Nothing? Ryan raised his hand. For Riot Band? Nick, Jed and I each raised our hands.
Okay, Nick said. It looks like we've got a name. Ryan, you're okay with it?
He drew a long breath and sighed. He gave a pause before finally saying, I'm not crazy about it. If we decide to use it for now, will you guys be open to changing it down the road?
Sure, I said. But I think it will be all right.
He had a disappointed look on his face, but Ryan nodded. Okay, fine. I guess we're Riot Band for now. Should we just get back to practicing for a while?
We will, I said, but I turned to look at Nick. We had been using our little amps all night, out of stupid pride. Seriosity's gear was sitting there: two big Marshall guitar amps, and a heavy duty Peavey bass amp. Are those guys going to let us use their gear? I asked Nick.
Yeah, probably, he said. I don't see why not.
I looked over at Ryan. Let's plug in, man, I said. I want to hear what we sound like loud.
Jed laughed. Shit, this kid is hardcore. He started banging the toms, but he called out over the sound: Plug into those big amps. Let's kick this shit up a notch.
Ryan didn't look very happy. Maybe he was bitter about us naming the band something he didn't like, or maybe he just didn't want to feel like he had to rely on other people's gear. He stuck his bottom lip out in a pout, but he plugged in his guitar to one of the Marshall amps. I followed his lead and plugged into the big Peavey. We hit strings, adjusted levels, and tuned up. The whole house seemed to vibrate.
Let's do it, Ryan said, and without waiting, he started strumming a C minor chord. It wasn't a usual start to one of our songs, so I hesitated, then started to play along, touching different notes until I found a C to match him. Jed picked up the slow rhythm and we began to jam, rumbling along, gradually building as we jammed, gradually raising the power and speed until we were playing along with each other, blasting the whole house with the simple chord progressions. The way we played seemed very natural: a simple repetitive jam, but the power was there, and I couldn't wait to show it off to an audience.
2009 Nolan Whyte