Every day was turning into a big drama party. The only reason I'd decided to stay for a second year at Garrison Valley University is that it seemed like the easiest option for me: sleep late, sit through a class and hang around campus, then play in a rock band at night. Easy, right? Fun. Cool. But the rock band was turning into more work than school had ever been.
We had a weekly commitment to play Jake's Restaurant. That meant only six days between the first gig and the second, and I had to try and pull the band together enough in those six days not only to rehearse, but also to try and generate some fresh material. I could see that we would die a quick death if we played the exact same set over again in Week Two. Who would bother to show up for Week Three?
The problem was that I had to work three of those six nights, and so did my guitarist, Ryan. A few of the nights overlapped, but even so, four nights were out for full band practice.
Plus, Ryan and our drummer Jed were pulling in opposite directions. Jed had declared he wanted out of the band, so he had little interest in getting together to work on new material. And Ryan was so pissed off at Jed that he didn't want to include him anyway. Neither wanted to be in a room together. Bringing them together to write new stuff was pretty much out of the question.
Ryan and I were still stuck using Nick's cold concrete basement as living quarters, so at least we were able to practice and jam when we were both home. We kept working on the songs we had, continuing to shape them, get them into more musical structure. And we would try out new riffs, always trying to scrape something new together. When we were starved for ideas we would just screw around with old Bowie songs. There was always something we could do with Bowie.
But finding time to work with Jed was more difficult. We managed to arrange a Tuesday night full band practice, but I wanted to get together with him so we could try and work on some music. He was a more accomplished technical player than either Ryan or me, and I wanted to use him while I had him.
On Sunday afternoon I went over to his apartment. Ryan was working, but Jed and I had a few hours to play. I brought my bass and my amp and a six pack of beer. I wanted to show him some of the stuff we'd been working on. I was also hoping to gauge his interest in sticking around with the band.
When I showed up, Jed was blasting some kind of psycho metal shit on his computer speakers. He answered the door with no shirt on, but wearing sunglasses with his hair spiked up into a proper mohawk. "Come on in, man," he said. "You want anything?"
"I'm good. I brought some beers." The music was a super-fast banging wall of guitar, with distorted singing in the background. "Low in the mix," they call it. I was slowly picking up the language of recorded music, mostly from the magazines at work. I didn't want to say anything out loud though. I was afraid of sounding like an idiot.
Jed threw on a white t-shirt and sat down on his wheeled desk chair. "Man, I partied last night. I partied like crazy."
"Should have called me, man." I pulled a can free from the six pack and handed it to him.
"Ah." He took the can. "I don't think it was your scene." He cracked open the beer and had a pull. "What do you want to work on today?"
I plugged in the amp and started untangling my cord. "Anything. I just want to play some, you know? Try and figure out some new stuff. Go over a few songs."
He took another long drink, probably half the can. He slouched back in the chair. "This is awkward, isn't it?" he asked. "You want to jam and all, but I've already quit the band."
"You said you'd give us until the end of September." I plugged the bass, flicked on the amp, and tested a string. It sounded like 'dummmmb.'
It was funny: a new track started and there was another furious assault of guitar noise. I knew that somewhere in there was a guy playing bass guitar, but I couldn't quite reconcile the stupid clumsy fumbling that I did with my bass with what was blasting through the little speakers.
I nodded toward the computer. "Pretty hardcore."
"Yeah, it's good, isn't it?" he said. He adjusted his sunglasses. "Old school. You guys are pretty far away from this level."
"Hah," I said. "You're already saying 'you guys' instead of 'we.' You're still in the band, you know."
"Nah, f--k that," he said. "Seriously, I don't even want to play drums anymore. I played you that track, right?"
"You played me a song here, yeah."
"That's more what I'm into now. You know, I used drum samples for that? Seriously, I'm just bored of being a drummer in a rock band. I was thinking about it all summer in Calgary, and every time I thought about sitting behind the kit to play a show, it was like, blaaaahh. It's just not inspiring. I think I've got Dave Grohl disease. I've been a drummer, but I don't want to be a drummer anymore. I want to do something different."
I opened a beer of my own. "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know. More of my own shit, I guess. Maybe a band. More programming-type stuff." He reached for his guitar, and we jammed for a few hours. It was good, but I left with the feeling that nothing would keep him behind the kit for us.
On Tuesday night Jed came back to Nick's place and we had another awkward band meeting, followed by a painful practice. Trying to get Ryan and Jed to work together was like trying to get two angry cats into a pillow case at the same time. They wouldn't speak to each other, wouldn't acknowledge errors, and basically just wanted to bash through every song, right or wrong, so they could get out of there. Once again I ended up running the show, trying to push them to do things properly. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
It was a miracle that our Thursday night gig went okay. We showed up early with our gear, and then left. We showed up again shortly before gig-time, got on stage and blazed through the set. Jed wandered off, but Ryan and I stuck around behind the stage (kinda standing in the corner) and stayed out of trouble, and then we got back up and blasted through the second set. When we were done, we packed up and got the hell out of there. It was good. It seemed professional. Business-like.
The whole time I had my eyes open for trouble. I figured Jasmine would show up and either scream, fight, or cry. I thought Conrad would show up and try to start shit after getting cold-cocked at the last gig. But they didn't arrive. The crowd was a little different this time. Some new faces and some repeat customers. But the trouble didn't arrive, and I left that night with some cash in my pocket and a huge feeling of relief.
Actually, the thing that made me most nervous was the moment before we all left. Nick, Ryan, Jed and I were standing at the bar, taking care of the finances with Keith, the bar manager. After it was all settled, Jed looked at me and held up one finger. "One more, buddy," he said. And that gave me a kick in the ass: we had about thirteen days to have a new drummer ready to replace Jed in the lineup.
* * * *
Two nights later James and I went down to a certain sketchy little house on Eighth Avenue for Lise's birthday party. James and I were both in the shit-house with Lise, because we were both in bands, and neither of us were able to bring our bands with us. James's band, The Urges, had no interest in playing a house party. As for Riot Band, Ryan was working, and Jed was trying to quit. Enough said.
But James and I showed up with beers and were invited in. Smokey, Lise's pot-dealing brother, grabbed me tightly around the neck when I stepped inside. "Hey man," he said. "How you doing? Did you like that joint?"
"Good," I said. "First I used it as bait to sucker-punch a guy who may or may not be mentally ill, and then I smoked it in bed, wondering whether or not to hang myself. It was some strong shit."
He laughed and slapped me on the back. "Yeah, you slugged Conrad, didn't you? I heard about that. Man, that guy...well, he's f--ked in the head. I don't know if he's actually, you know, doodle-doodle," he made a swirling finger next to his head, "but yeah, there's something wrong with upstairs. Hell with him. Come on, Lise is downstairs."
We followed him, and a cloud of pot smoke hit us we went down the stairs. Like the last party, there was a band playing. It was a bunch of sloppy high school-aged guys, although it was a different crew than the all-Metallica bunch from last time. The Metallica kids were there, though, slumping on couches with beers in their hands, nodding their heads to the thrashy stuff the band was playing.
Lise came over and gave us both big hugs as soon as she saw us. "Thanks for coming," she said.
"No problem," James said. "Sorry we didn't bring our bands."
"That's okay," she said. "Everyone has to play though. You guys will have to get up at some point. We're playing Rock Band, but with real instruments."
We settled down, and sure enough, song after song, people were getting rotated in and out of the band lineup. Guys would sit behind the drums and just bang for a few minutes before hopping back off, or people who could play some guitar or bass would jump in for a song or two. The guys in the band were young and not very technical, but they knew a lot of songs, so they managed to find things that people could play. "Wild Thing" and "Louie Louie" were repeated a lot.
It was a lot of fun. I took it easy on the beer, and only had weed when Smokey gave me his crazy-guy look. I tried to just relax and take a night off from the band, school, and all the other crazy shit that had been going on.
Lise was having a great time. She danced no matter what the band played. She was wearing a denim skirt and a black t-shirt, and had her hair and makeup all done up. She looked great.
When the band finally took a break, she flopped down on the couch next to me, slumping her limp, sweaty body against me. "I'm fried," she said. "I need to rest."
"You've been going crazy," I said. "You make me tired just watching you."
"You sound like an old man," she said.
"Compared to you I am."
"F--k you," she said, slapping me playfully across the chest. "I'm seventeen now. Don't give me any more shit about being too young."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said with an uncomfortable laugh.
"Come on," she said. "I've been waiting for this." She grabbed me by the neck and pulled me to her, holding my lips against hers. To me, it seemed like the whole room went silent, like everyone was staring at us. Maybe they were. I kissed her back and held my lips there. She tasted like raspberry and too-sweet red wine.
"Everybody's looking," I said, as soon as she let me breathe.
She slumped back against the couch. "It's my party," she said. "I'll be a skank if I want to."
"Um, I'm going to play something." I stood up. "You want to play something?"
"I can't play anything," she said.
"Come on," I said. "Just bang the drums. Tap tap tap. Simple." I walked over to the instruments, and after getting a nod of approval from the owner, I lifted the bass and slipped the strap over my shoulder.
James came over. "Eric, you're playing? Here, I'll play guitar." He picked up the electric.
"Come on, Lise," I said. "Come play drums."
The other people in the room joined in, and pretty soon everyone was calling for her to get up and play. She finally gave in, drank a good slug of wine, and joined James and me.
I looked at James. He was usually a bass player, so I didn't know what he could do on guitar. "What can you play?" I asked him.
"You band plays 'No Fun,' right?" he said. "I'd love to play that."
We both looked at Lise and coached her a bit. She held the drum sticks rigidly in her fists, tested the kick pedals, and when we started playing, she started banging along, just thumping the toms, bashing the cymbals, and whumping the bass drum, all out of rhythm, all completely at random.
It crossed my mind that maybe she would be some kind of miracle player, and by the end of that one single song she would have found a natural rhythm and prove herself to be some kind of drum prodigy.
Did you see "La Bamba," the '80s movie about Richie Valens? At one point he gets on stage and starts to play. His brother gets up, sits down at the drums, and just improvises, perfectly. He even starts singing backup. And anyone who has ever played any instrument says "yeah, bullshit." It doesn't happen. And Lise was no exception.
I thought for a moment that maybe she could end up replacing Jed, but the truth is that she was really, really bad. Everyone cheered for her when we were finished though, because it was her birthday and they were her friends. She had fun, and that was enough for her.
And when we got back to the couch she laid another big kiss on my lips. And at four in the morning when everyone else had left, I stayed. I crashed on her bed again, but this time she crashed with me.
2010, Nolan Whyte