Lise and I went downtown and had coffee and lunch. It was a leisurely afternoon, a time for us to feel our way around our new relationship status. Neither of us wanted to say anything too clear or definite about what happened that morning. Mostly we just talked about other things: music, movies, or school (she still didn't know what to do with herself--she was still an official dropout). It was relaxed and fun, which was something I hadn't felt with my last few girlfriends.
At four o'clock I told her I had to go to band practice. She caught a bus back to her house, and I walked back to the house I shared with (deep breath) band manager Nick, guitarist Ryan, hairball Jordan, and mega-snob Bertram.
All day, although I'd been giving Lise my full attention, I'd had a feeling of excitement that I didn't want to share. I had a feeling that, even though my life over the last few years had been at turns either deadly boring or completely chaotic, things were about to start going my way. Definitely having Lise by my side was part of that, but I felt that if I really got to work, things would start to happen.
When I got home I found Ryan sitting in the living room playing a video game with Jordan. He had the controller in his hands, and he was leaning forward in his chair, snarling and biting his lips. His curling blond hair was all sweaty and stuck to his face. It looked like he'd just played a triple-set of tennis.
Jordan, who was apparently kicking Ryan's ass, was leaning back in his chair, looking completely emotionless and slack. If his eyes weren't open you might have guessed he was asleep.
"No!" Ryan suddenly yelled. He dropped the controller on the carpet and flopped back into the chair. Jordan grinned.
"Dude," I said to Ryan, "you call Jed?"
"Yeah," he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. "He said he'd come over around six. I've got to be honest though, Eric, I don't know why we're bothering. That dip-shit is dumping us after this week anyway. We might as well focus our energy on finding a new drummer."
"Yeah? Is that what you're doing right now?" I said. "Don't worry about it, man. I've got a plan."
"Yeah, right," he said, and picked up the controller again. I ignored him and went downstairs.
When Jed showed up I got everybody to sit down at the kitchen table. Nick was there as well. He was Jed's friend, and I knew he wanted Jed to stay in the band, so it was helpful to have him there. Besides, even though Nick didn't do anything very often, he was our 'manager,' so he had a right to be there anyway.
We all sat down with cups of instant coffee, and I started the little speech I'd worked out. The gist of it was that we needed to ask ourselves in all honesty, what Riot Band was for.
"Think about it," I said. "Is the band a way for us to make money, or meet girls around campus? Is it about trying to one day get famous? Or is it about us trying to make music?"
I knew the guys would try to pose as purists, so they all said "make music," no matter what their real motivations were (Ryan: girls, Nick: socializing).
"Right," I continued. "We all want to make music. Jed," I said, addressing our recalcitrant drummer. "You want to make music too, right? You're just tired of playing drums, and you're not interested in the musical direction we're going. Have I got that right?"
Jed shrugged. "Yeah, basically."
"Okay, we can kill both birds with one stone. What do you really want to play?"
"I want to do engineer stuff. Program beats, samples, stuff like that. Away from the regular guitar- bass-drums-singer arrangement."
"So, do that stuff with us. All it means is that you take a more active role in the song-writing, which we've been asking for all along. When we play live, you play keyboards or something where you can play all the programmed stuff. You've got the equipment to do that, right?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"It makes sense," I said, trying to overpower objections. "The tracks you played for me are cool. They're heavy and fast, which is what we want to play anyway, and they've got drums and guitar. You could give our current songs the same treatment, and the songs that you have, we could learn to play live. Everybody gets what they want."
Jed appeared to think it over. Ryan looked pissed off that I was working so hard to keep Jed in the band.
"I'm not going for it," Ryan said. "We're going from being a rock band to some kind of weird, bastardized Jed vanity project. We're still trying to figure out our sound, and suddenly we're switching into some shitty electronic band? Who are we now? Daft Punk? Who will we be next week?"
"I don't even see the point of this," Jed said. "Why would I want to stay?" He pointed a finger at Ryan. "You've been a complete dick to me ever since I showed up. Like you always think this is your band, and I'm just an employee."
"I've been a dick to you ever since you said you were quitting the band," Ryan replied.
"No, no," Jed said. "Since day one. Shit, it was Eric's ex-girlfriend I made out with, not yours."
"Thanks for the history lesson," I said. "Could we focus on the task at hand? Jed, think about it. If you want to do anything with the music you're making, you'll have to put a band together to perform it. Unless you plan to just put it online or something, but that'll never go anywhere, will it? You have to perform. And you've got a band right here."
I looked at Ryan. "And dude," I said, "you need to chill out. It's our band, right? All three of us."
"Two of us," he snapped back. "You and me. He already quit. That means he's out."
"I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall here," I said. "Ryan, wake up. Don't you see we need him? You and I aren't very good. We need him for the songwriting. It doesn't matter if he's playing drums or keyboards. The important thing is that he's contributing."
Everyone sat in silence.
"Nick," I said. "Come on. Talk some sense into these dick-heads."
"It could work," Nick said, slowly nodding. "Adding the keyboards and some electronics could probably add some versatility to the sound. It's better than just breaking up, right? It's more like...evolving."
"So here's what I suggest," I said. "We stay together. We start songwriting with Jed on keyboards, or doing programming, or whatever we want to call it. We keep practicing and gigging with Jed on drums until we have a replacement ready, and when we're good to go, we start performing as a four-piece."
"I think that could be pretty cool," Nick said. "I think it's worth a try."
"Yeah?" Ryan said, giving our manager a nasty look. "Too bad you're not part of the band."
"Ryan," I said, shaking my head. "Where's the love? Seriously dude. Where's the love?"
He sighed. "I don't know, man. It's like, this was all so simple when we started. I don't know where this is going anymore."
"Lighten up, Ryan," Jed said. "Look, I don't want to take over your precious band or anything like that. You take all this shit so seriously, like there's millions of dollars at stake or something." He stood up and offered me his hand. Surprised, I took his hand and shook it.
"I accept your proposal, Eric," he said in a dramatically formal voice. "We'll give it a try. Hell, it gets me off drums, right? And I get to start playing some of the music I've been making. It works for me. But I've got to make one thing clear." He turned and stared at Ryan. "I'm not going to be anyone's bitch. And if I think anyone is trying to push me around I'm not going to have it."
Ryan stood up and offered Jed his hand. I should have expected it, but they did one of those stupid, bone-crusher handshake contests, squeezing each other's hands like a couple of dumb kids.
From there we went downstairs and did a full run-through of every song we had, and for the first time since before Jed left in spring, we really worked at every single song, trying to clean them up and make them perfect. Our last bunch of practices had been poisonous hate-fests, with no one willing to acknowledge a mistake, all so we could finish and get out quicker. But finally, it felt like we were working towards something.
It was still frosty between Ryan and Jed, but at least they were communicating about the songs. And Jed was savage on the drums, too, wailing away full blast, harder than he had in a long time. It was as though knowing that he wasn't stuck there forever made it seem like it wasn't so bad.
Our only problem remained finding who our next drummer would be.
After we were through, Jed went home and Ryan headed out the front door for a smoke. Nick and I sat in the basement. He had a serene, thoughtful look on his face.
"What are you thinking right now, Nick?" I asked him.
"It's Ryan," he said. "He's pissing me off."
"I know," I said. "He's pissing everybody off. But he's part of the band."
"Yeah. Look, I didn't want to talk about this before. There didn't seem to be much point, since we didn't know if Riot Band was breaking up or what, but there's an event coming up, and I think it could be cool if we could be involved."
I was sitting with the bass in my lap, tapping on the strings with my fingertips. "What kind of event?"
"It's something some people in the film department at school are doing. Kind of like a short film festival. Some film students are going to be given some 16mm film stock, and they have to make a film with it. So it will be all these short films, all four minutes or less. And they'll be silent films, unless they have something there in the theatre to provide the soundtrack. What I'm thinking is that we could play live at the screening and provide the music for each film."
"And what, just play our own songs?"
"No," Nick said. "I think you guys would have to come up with new music for each film. Maybe get input from each student about what kind of music they want."
"That could be cool," I said. "But it could be really messy, from a logistic point of view."
"For sure. But the payoff could be worth it. Not only would we be get to play a pretty cool gig, but eventually all the film will get digitized and put on the 'net. And we would be doing the soundtrack for all of them."
"Yeah," I said. "That would be cool. It would be nice if we could get something online."
"Oh, dude," Nick said. "We're already online. Didn't Ryan mention? There are like, a dozen videos of our shows at Jake's. They're all those crappy cell phone vids, but at least they're there. You should search it."
"Holy crap," I said. "That was quick."
"Yeah, I google the band every morning. We've been mentioned in a few blogs too. Nothing real, just local crap, but it's something, right?"
I felt a little knot in my stomach. I think it was part excitement and part nervousness. I felt like someone had just told me that people were watching me shower. I felt very exposed.
"Um, you've seen the videos, right?" I asked. "How do we, um. You know...do we look like we suck?"
"No, it's not too bad," he said. "The sound is awful, so you can't tell much from that. You should have a look though. Maybe you'll see something about how you look on stage."
"Right." I wasn't sure if I wanted to see that. Somehow I'd gotten this far without really thinking about what the people in the crowd saw when they looked up at me. And I wasn't sure I wanted to find out.
2010, Nolan Whyte