I got back upstairs and found Ryan and Jed back at the kitchen table with their beers. I could hear Nick in the living room setting up the Rock Band game on his hairball roommate's game system. The Seriosity guys were out of sight.
Brother, Ryan said with a big smile on his face. Join us.
I sat down and popped the cap off the bottle that was there waiting for me.
That was awesome, Jed said to me. Should we play Heroin' like that again tonight, or should we just play it like we do in practice?
I don't know if we could recreate that, Ryan said. The look on his face was just glowing with happiness. I think he had certain expectations of what his band might be capable of when he first started playing guitar, and this was the first time that the band not only met, but actually exceeded his expectations. He had a dreamy look in his eyes, like he was staring up at the Northern Lights. That was like, spontaneous magic, he said. It was just, oh man, that was so cool. The best we've ever played.
Despite the angry face I had put on for the confrontation with the Seriosity guys, I let myself smile. It was pretty cool, I admitted. I took a drink of the beer. Where did those guys go, anyway?
I think they went upstairs, Jed said. I think they co-opted Nick's bedroom as some kind of dressing room.
Yeah, naturally, I said with a grin. Did they hang a star on the door and everything? Is there a separate groupie entrance?
Probably, Jed said. Those guys are pretty unbelievable.
More people started showing up. Garrison Valley is a pretty square town, and there's not a lot to do on a Friday night. I get the idea that people in the bigger cities are very concerned about being fashionably late, or they want to avoid showing up at a party before the big crowd turns up. This doesn't seem to be the case in GV, where the university crowd just wants to get out there and start drinking. And if you show up fashionably late, it's because you were too busy partying somewhere else first.
By eight o'clock there were people coming in, and more than a few of them had obviously been partying for a while. The living room filled up and people started coming into the kitchen. It was cool. About every second girl who entered stopped to give Jed a kiss on the cheek, while I kept my eye out for Jasmine.
A few kids pulled up chairs around the table where we were sitting. They were mostly friends of Jed or Ryan, and they all seemed cool. We chatted, and I tried to concentrate on not drinking too fast. I didn't want to be too pissed when it was time to perform.
So what songs do you guys play? a girl asked. She was a cutie with red streaks through her black hair. Anything like Arcade Fire, or Broken Social Scene? Or The Constantines?
Um, no, Ryan said. We play originals. And we play Heroin.'
This hipster-looking guy leaned forward. You play Heroin'? He was wearing Buddy Holly glasses and a porkpie hat. Man, you can't play that. It's like sacrilege. You have to like, actually be a junkie to play that song. Or at least have shot up.
Nonsense, I said. It's just a song. Anyone can play it.
He shook his head. No, no. You don't get it. It's like, the most absolutely deep-level drug-use song there is. You can't just say that it's a neat song and start playing it. He looked at the girl with red streaks. I bet he's never even smoked a joint.
I didn't bother to mention that my kitchen was nearly always full of dope smoke from my degenerate roomies, but I shrugged and smiled. I disagree with you, I told him. And for the record, I've dabbled.
Yeah? he said, not letting go of the issue. What have you tried?
I'm not going to play that game, I said.
The kid wasn't satisfied. He turned to Ryan. What about you? What have you done?
Pot, Ryan said. Not much though. I mostly just drink beer.
What about you, Jed? asked Red-Streaks. What kind of druuuugs have you done?
Jed rubbed his eyes. Oh gosh, I don't know. he looked up at the ceiling. Let's see. Pot and hash and oil. Some speed, ecstasy...uppers and downers. Shrooms. I tried meth once. That was a crazy night. What a nightmare. Um, I did a bunch of acid one summer. And coke once in Winnipeg. But I never did any actual heroin.
Jesus, I said. You're a walking overdose. We're going to have to hire a handler to keep you clean.
Oh no, he said with a laugh. I don't touch any of that shit anymore. I mean, what for? It's all dead-end, man. Just beer for me. He drained his bottle.
Ryan and I looked at each other warily.
We had a few more beers, and at nine o'clock Ryan and I got up from the table. We had a look into the living room, which was packed. People were playing Rock Band, wailing away on plastic toys and screaming at each other about some song. I asked Ryan if he knew what it was.
Cheap Trick, I think, he said. Come on, let's go for a smoke.
Nick's furry roommate was standing at the door. He had coffee can on a chair next to him, which was more than half-full with loonies and toonies. I could see some five dollar bills sticking out of the change, and even a ten.
You're watching the door? I asked the hairball. He nodded slightly, which was about the most communication I had ever got out of him. That's cool, man, I said. Thanks for helping out. Do you need anything?
He shook his head. He held up a bottle of vodka with about a third left in it, and I realized the reason he was so talkative was that he was completely blitzed.
Okay, dude, I said. Take it easy, all right? Ryan and I stepped through the front door and out onto the front porch.
It was cool outside, but not cold. Spring was on the way. Ryan pulled out his cigarettes. He offered me one, but I passed. I really just came out to watch for Jasmine.
Yeah, I probably shouldn't have one either, he said as he puffed away on his smoke. After all, I've got to sing pretty soon. Or shout, anyway. It's too bad those guys didn't get a mike. Not that I've ever used one.
You'll be okay, I said, checking out a pair of people walking toward the house. No Jasmine yet. I was surprised how eager I was to see her.
It's not like I can really sing anyway, he said. I've been wondering if we shouldn't look for someone, you know? Maybe add a real singer.
I like it the way it is now, I said. If you want, we could get you one of those things the rappers use. So you sound like a computer. You could suck hard and you would still sound the same.
What, auto-tuner? He laughed. I don't know if that would be my style, dude. If anything, I could get a whole bunch of distortion pedals and chorus and shit like the metal guys use. You know, so whatever you sing just sounds like Whaaaaarrrrr!'
That could be cool.
We stood around out there, and more people kept arriving, and as each person went past us into the house we could hear the plunk of coins into Hairball's coffee can.
But still no Jasmine.
Ryan finished his cigarette and we went in. We found Jed and checked the time. It was nine fifteen, and we were supposed to start at nine-thirty. I stopped worrying about Jasmine as the realization hit me that we would soon be playing for an absolutely packed party. How would everyone even fit in that little basement? The crowd was going to be right up on top of us.
We should head downstairs, Jed said. You know, tune up and get ready.
Ryan and I nodded, and the three of us pushed through the swell of people in the kitchen and headed down to the basement. Ryan had the smarts to grab the rest of our beers. Not that we needed them all to play our twenty minute set; it was just a good idea to see they didn't get swiped while we weren't watching.
The basement was empty, so we had a few minutes to just chill and organize ourselves. We moved the drums as far back into the corner as we could manage, and then positioned one of Seriosity's Marshall amps on Je's left, and the Peavey bass amp on his right. We were jammed right in front of the washer and drier, but it seemed to leave the most space for the crowd.
We quietly tuned up. No one said much, until Jed checked his watch and looked at me. Almost time. Any final words of encouragement, brave leader?
Leader? I said, and pointed at Ryan. It's his band.
Yeah, Ryan said. You're more like the enforcer.
The basement door opened and Nick came down with the bass player from Seriosity trailing after him. I couldn't remember the guy saying anything during the confrontation earlier, and I didn't know what he wanted.
I nodded to our manager. 'Sup.
Not much, Nick said. You guys are ready to do it?
Ready, man, Ryan said. Ready to get it on.
Awesome, he said. I'm going to start herding people down here. Don't worry if they don't all come at once. As soon as you start playing they'll all stampede at once. He stood there fidgeting for a second. He looked more nervous than we did. Okay, good luck, he said, and then ran up the stairs.
And that left us alone with Seriosity guy. He stood awkwardly in the corner, avoiding looking at us.
What's up with you? I asked him.
He looked over. He seemed embarrassed. I'm just here to keep an eye on the gear, he said.
You guys are worried we're going to knife your amps after we're done, or what? Ryan asked.
No, no, he said. Look, I'm sorry the other guys were so harsh. They can get pretty intense. Especially before a show.
Yeah, I noticed, I said. Especially that guy Doug. He seems like a real cock.
He didn't respond. People started coming down the stairs. As Nick predicted, it wasn't a huge rush. I waited for a moment to see if Jasmine would appear, but it still looked like she hadn't turned up.
Beers, Ryan said, and he grabbed bottles out of the nearly-empty case for Jed and me. We popped caps, said cheers and clinked, and took long drinks. Okay, he said, and set the bottle down by his feet. Let's do it.
Only a dozen people had come down so far, but Jed counted in and we hit the first notes of Relief.' I noticed Jed was holding it back, banging the drums slow and heavy, more slowly than we usually play it. I held the sluggish beat and looked over at Ryan, and he looked at Jed, who had a ferocious snarl on his face as he dramatically pounded away. He knew what he was doing.
I caught a smile on Ryan's face as he turned back toward the crowd. More people were coming down the stairs to fill the little concrete echo chamber. Ryan started to sing...
I'm climbing the walls and I don't know where to turn, I'm going insane and things are starting to burn...
He was screaming his crappy lyrics, and it was still a stretch for me to hear him over the instruments.
We bashed ahead, and the basement filled up. Nobody was rocking or dancing, or going crazy for us or anything like that. Mostly everyone just stood there in a circle around us, watching us with blank, neutral expressions on their faces. But as more and more people came downstairs, that circle of blank faces got closer and closer.
Ryan kept screaming, shouting out the lyrics like crazy until he was red in the face. The song came to an end, and there was... I hate to say it... polite applause.
My first ever rock and roll show and all we got was polite applause.
Ryan was gasping for air. He picked up his beer and took a long slug.
You okay? I asked him. You ready?
He nodded, still gulping. I looked out at the crowd. They were pressed in so close that I could have reached out and poked a finger into someone's face.
Only one song in, Ryan already looked like he was ready to die. I hate to say it, but it was hard for me not to laugh, looking at his red, gasping face. I looked back at Jed. He was grinning and twirling his handlebar moustache.
I laughed. You know, you look like a douche-bag with that thing.
He laughed. Yeah. I know. Ready! He banged the snare and counted us into the next song.
No Destination' was next, and Jed didn't hold back on this one. We did it full throttle, barreling through at peak volume and peak intensity. I was glad we had played it so badly earlier when Seriosity was watching; it felt like we had already gotten all the mistakes out of the way. It felt so good, in fact, that for the first time I tried to move while I played.
It was a minor gesture, but since Ryan and I were both so new to our instruments, neither of us ever tried to move or dance while we played. But with everyone watching, I suddenly felt very stiff. So I started moving my head. Hardly head-banging, but it was something. At least I felt like less of a mannequin.
Ryan kept shouting, and by the last chorus he voice was starting to crack. We brought the song to a close, and there was more polite clapping, but at least someone shouted a whoo-hoo from the back.
Good evening and welcome! I shouted. We are Riiiiiiiiiiiot Baaaaaand!
Jed pounded another intro and we hit In The Dark,' going as fast as we could. We played it rough and wild, with Ryan shouting and slashing at his strings. On the chorus I tried to help him with the big lines, shouting along with him:
I'll leave you, I'll leave you, I'll leave you like you left me, In the dark...
I was shouting as well. There wasn't much singing going on at all, but no one seemed to care. We had energy, and the crowd started to pick up on it, and I started to see some motion out there: people swaying slightly, bobbing their heads to the beat.
Jed controlled the pace and we swung straight from one song into the next, which was I'll See You Somewhere.' It was Ryan's attempt at a rock-love-breakup song, and it was slower, but only a little.
He started to sing the first line, You looked so good, and his voice completely cracked. He looked at me and shook his head. We played on, focusing on rocking the instruments as hard as we could. At the chorus he tried to sing again, but could barely manage.
There was half-decent applause when we finished. Thank you! I shouted. Ryan Endstrom on guitar! (shouts and clapping) Jed Carter on drums! (more shouting, especially from several female voices. Chicks dig Jed) My name is Eric Rendick, and we are Riot Band. This is Heroin.'
Ryan leaned over, and with a hoarse voice said in my ear. I can't sing it, man. My voice is blown. Can you do it?
I don't know the words. And I can't sing. I looked back at Jed. You wanna sing?
He looked back and forth at Ryan and me. Let's do it together, he said. I'll sing, and you follow along with the words you know, okay?
I shrugged. Okay.
I touched the string on my bass, and started the rhythm, rumbling out the back-and-forth bass line. Jed hit the drums, whacking on the toms. Ryan waited, even pausing to knock back the rest of his beer while Jed and I thumped on the rhythm.
Ryan set down the bottle and...well, I guess the only thing to say is that he attacked his strings, slashing and scratching, trying to bring out any jagged, distorted noise he could. It was brilliant and disturbing. I looked at Ryan's face: it was all screwed up into a vicious sneer.
We kicked into the heavy beat and the three of us just roared, turning guitar, bass and drums into a devastating wall of noise. Now the people were moving, and so were we. I looked up from my strings and finally, the whole basement was heaving with moving bodies. It was so hot I could feel sweat running down every part of my body. The crush of people was so close in on us that people were almost bumping into me.
I heard Jed scream over the noise. Eric! Sing: I don't know just where I'm going...
I tilted my head back and started to shout, I don't know just where I'm going...
The people all around us knew what was going on. Singer A had blown his voice, so Singer B had taken over. People were cheering me on, encouraging me. It was a hilarious mess, and the song went on and on as we tried to fit in every lyric. It was ridiculous and chaotic, but it was fun. It was the most fun I'd ever had in my life.
When we finally brought the song to a close, we got a huge cheer from the crowd. I could barely speak, so Jed shouted out thank you for us. Just like Ryan, my voice was almost gone from screaming. I drank down my beer, as though it would cool down my burnt vocal cords.
The crowd dispersed slowly as people gradually unpacked themselves from the jammed basement. I needed air. As we were pulling off our guitars, Nick and Seriosity's bass player appeared in front of us.
Awesome, guys, Nick said. Absolutely awesome.
2009 Nolan Whyte