Dustin said that Jasmine had called at least ten times, but she disagreed when I called her. I called twice, she said. What's wrong with your roommate? He sounds like he has brain damage.
I looked over at Dustin and Kara on the couch. They were both so stoned that their mouths were hanging open, and although the TV was on in front of them, they might as well have been staring into space. You might say that, I said. He's pretty baked. Anyway, what's up?
I'm bored out of my mind here, she said. I was working on an assignment, but I've had enough. Do you want to come over? I've got some movies.
So despite the late hour I put my jacket back on and headed out again, walking down to Jasmine's south-end apartment. Dustin hooked me up with a tiny nugget of hash to take with me, and I picked up a six of beer from a hotel off-sale on the way.
It was about eleven thirty when I arrived. Jasmine opened the door with a smile and hugged me before I even had my coat off. I was dead-ass tired after the long day, hours of band practice and then the long walk, and it was comforting to come inside her dark little apartment and find her wearing sweats and a t-shirt, ready to wrap warm arms around me.
Her nerd roommate Barnes was already asleep (wild weekend for our man Barnes), so Jasmine and I settled down in the living room in front of her TV. Determined to continue my education about modern music, she loaded a DVD called The Filth and The Fury.
"You'll love this," she said as she snuggled up next to me on the couch. "Do you know The Sex Pistols?"
"I know of them," I said. "They're a band of some sort?"
"You're hilarious," she said. "It's like you came out of a pod or something with like, no programming or something. A total blank slate."
"Yeah," I said with a grin. "I was created in a lab. Give me one of your cigarettes." She gave me one and lit one for herself. I took it apart on her coffee table, spread the hash on the inside of the paper and re-rolled it with a bit of the tobacco. We cracked open beers and smoked the hash-joint while the movie started.
It was very pleasant to get stoned and lose myself in the story of someone else's band for a while. The raw aggression of the Sex Pistols was electrifying. I didn't share their self-pitying nihilism, but there was something sweet about their naivety, despite the venomous attitudes.
And the music flowed through it all. The energy of Steve and Paul and Glen and later Sid, with Johnny screaming over top, was an alarm of frantic excitement. I thought about how Ryan and Jed and I had played at our basement gig, and I knew that there were only tiny moments when we approached our potential, but The Pistols were doing it all, full throttle. They were flying, even at their worst.
The band's last gig at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco was a haunting spectacle, and one that would stick in my mind through my entire career as a musician: the band playing a final cover of The Stooges' No Fun,' with an aging John Lydon saying through voice-over: It just felt like it wasn't going anywhere. And then, after the performance came to an end, the still-young, still stage-named Johnny Rotten asking the audience: Ah-ha-ha. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night.
When the film came to an end, Jasmine and I found ourselves curled up together on the couch, with the lingering effects of the hash and the beer mixing with the feelings of youthful rebellion imparted by the film.
That was amazing, I said, my arm tight around Jasmine's shoulders.
Be my Sid? she purred, putting her hand up my shirt to scratch and tickle me. I'll be your Nancy.
Be my rock whore, I said, and we got to work on each other, right there on the couch. I laughed to myself thinking that Barnes was going to spend most of the weekend sitting with his fat ass in our dried up wet spot.
* * * *
Saturday was a study day, but Riot Band got together Sunday afternoon for another practice at Nick's house. The fact that I had shown up at the last rehearsal with a new song must have lit a fire under Ryan, because he arrived with two new songs that he wanted to work on.
Holy crap, Jed said, with a smile under his handlebar moustache. You wrote two songs in a day and a half? How come you don't do that every week? We would have ten albums worth of material.
We've got a show coming up in ten days, don't we? he said, giving Jed a dirty look. Somebody will have to write some songs.
We played through our set, spending extra time running through Revolution Baby,' before getting to work on the new songs Ryan had brought. They were incomplete, mostly just pages of mixed up lyrics with some chords to go with them.
They're good songs, Ryan said. They just need, um, a little bit of work. Some structure. He glanced toward Jed. It was clear what was going on, although none of us actually said it: Ryan wanted to be the primary song-writer for the band, but he didn't have the skills and he knew it. He needed help from Jed, the more experience musician, to get his songs into shape.
We worked on them, and between the three of us we managed to give the songs half-decent arrangements. They were both good songs, although I knew that nothing we had written yet was really great. They were all common, simplistic rock attempts. We hadn't found our style yet, really. But they were good enough songs for the time being. I didn't say anything, but I didn't think there was a single song in our set so far that I wouldn't be willing to drop and replace when something better came along.
Well, we're getting there, Nick said, when we had nailed down and written out the second of Ryan's new songs. That makes seven originals altogether. If we count, say, three and a half minutes each, plus about ten minutes for Heroin,' we have about thirty-five minutes. So we're on our way.
I've got another cover I think we should do, I said.
I knew as soon as I heard it that Riot Band would have to cover No Fun,' although not the same way The Pistols played it. Like Heroin,' we would have to take it and make it our own. Jasmine was good enough to download and burn a copy of the song onto a disk for me, along with the original Stooges version and a bunch of other new listening material. She'd also printed off the tabs and lyrics for me, so I'd been able to try them at home before suggesting the song to the rest of the band.
I played the song for them on the CD, and then started playing it on the bass. We can do it, I told them. It's easy, but it's awesome. It has attitude.
Too old, Ryan said. We've already got a cover from the sixties. You don't want to turn the gig into an oldies show.
It doesn't sound like an oldie, I said. And besides, it's good that it's older, because a lot of young people won't know it. If we play it really crazy, in our own style, then it'll sound fresh. It if it sounds like old dried shit, then we'll know not to play it.
Let's give it a try, anyway, Jed said. I'd rather play a cover of an old song than something really recent, anyway. We have to demonstrate taste, you know?
I showed them the chords and we played around with it for a while, although it didn't really come together. But it was a start, and if it worked out it would push us past the forty minute mark for the set list.
* * * *
It was getting down to crunch time for end-of-semester assignments, and we were all losing sleep trying to finish our work and squeeze in rehearsal time. It was tough on me, because I had never been a very diligent student. I had managed to get acceptable grades in high school without developing any finely-honed organizational skills, so I was probably going about my paper-writing and my major assignments in a very inefficient way. I was eating up hours reading stuff and taking notes that didn't end up getting used. But this is how we learn, right? By doing everything the wrong way first.
Even so, we managed to squeeze in a short practice most nights, getting together at Nick's to blister through a quick sixty or seventy minutes. The songs were coming together, and it felt like the set was taking shape. We managed to work out a few instrumental numbers that came out of our warm-ups. These were basically just filler, but with so little time to write proper songs, we needed them to pad the list.
Nick got to work on the promotion end, putting together posters and hand-bills for us to distribute wherever we went. He also called the local paper and got a tiny but free mention in their upcoming events calendar: Riot Band (rock) plays Jake's Restaurant, 3112 Rafton Avenue, Tuesday April 11, 9pm. No cover.
It wasn't much of an ad, really, but it made me feel warm and fuzzy to see the band's name in print. Somehow, it made us seem real.
The week leading up to the show was manic, as we alternated practice with study. I also managed to see Jasmine most days. Going to her place to study, listen to music or just make out gave me a pleasant escape from the over-crowded madhouse of my own apartment. And she was a fun girl. I liked her dark sense of humor and her artistic sensibilities. The sex was nice, too.
When Monday arrived, Jed and Ryan both had morning exams. Afterwards, the four of us gathered at The Market, and then caught a bus to go to Sharp's, the dump that passed for Garrison Valley's music store.
Since we weren't expecting to make any money on the gig we decided to skip the cost of renting lights. Up-turned desk lamps would be enough. There was no way we could skip out on the drums or P.A. though, and Jed spent a good long time selecting the pieces of kit that he wanted. We got two microphones and stands, plus the monitors and speakers.
This is pretty simple stuff, Jed said, but we're totally going to drown out your guitar and bass amps. Should we get some bigger amps?
There was a brief debate about the money involved, but the desire to do things properly won out, and we put a couple mid-size amps on the pile of rented gear. It seemed we were willing to cheap out on our look with the desk lamps, but we weren't willing to compromise on the sound. It all sounded very noble, but it was getting expensive.
As a last touch, Ryan asked about an effects box for the vocals. He was still nervous about the quality of his singing, and he thought it might help. The fat slob who ran the shop brought one out and ran through the gimmicks it provided: chorus, distortion, reverb, and so on. Ryan tried it, but decided almost immediately to skip it.
Not for me, he said.
I'll take it, I said. All I do is shout, anyway. It'll give me some style. It's perfect.
Ryan shrugged and we added it to the stack. All together it rang up to two hundred and forty-seven dollars, plus twenty bucks for the van cab we needed to get it all back to Nick's house.
We set up in Nick's basement and had our final rehearsal before the show: we played through the new songs with drums for the first time, and used microphones for the first time. I twiddled the dials on the effects box over and over, trying different combinations as we played through the songs. With the proper amps, drums and vocals that we could actually hear, we started to sound like a real band.
There was no stopping us: we just kept on jamming and jamming, blasting away, reveling in the power of our sound. It wasn't until ten o'clock that we finally shut it down.
This is so awesome, Ryan said, as he sat on his rented amp, sweat running down his face and arms. This is going to be such a great show, I can feel it. We sound great.
Yeah, I said. I just hope people show up.
We hit the road. I especially needed to get going. My first exam was at nine o'clock Tuesday morning, and I still had serious studying to do.
2009 Nolan Whyte