We were all there. Ryan, Jed and I sat in The Market drinking coffee at four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. None of us needed to be at the campus that late, but that was when the new issue of The Typesetter, Garrison Valley University's student newspaper, was set out each week. And we were waiting to see what they had to say about our last gig.
There wasn't much talking between us. We were all nervous, I think, about what the review would be like. So far all of our feedback had come from either friends, or through Nick. Either way, it had been collected face to face, and people are generally more inclined to be nice when they have nothing to hide behind.
Even Jed, who dismissed the paper as worthless garbage, knew that it was widely read by the students on campus. There wasn't much else for local media, besides The Garrison Valley Daily Post, which was the city's regular paper. It wasn't spectacular though, and didn't address student life very much. The fact was The Typesetter, regardless of quality, did have influence among the GVU student body.
Jed and I were sitting with our backs to the door. Ryan was across from us. "There he is," Ryan said, and we all looked to see Nick coming in with copies of the paper in hand.
"Okay gentlemen," Nick said, dropping two copies of the paper down on the table. He was wearing a black jacket and scarf, with his sunglasses covering his eyes. It was a bit much for the weather, even though it was early October, but it was definitely too much for indoors. He slid onto a chair next to Ryan. "Let's see what they had to say."
Jed and I opened one paper, while Nick and Ryan looked at the other.
"Here we go," Ryan said. "Page thirteen."
"Lucky thirteen," I said, and flipped the pages. There it was: a picture of Ryan, Jed and me on stage at Jake's Restaurant, with the heading "Riot not quiet, but not good either."
"That's not promising," Jed said. And we all silently read:
If prima donna rock star attitude is necessary to make it to the top of the rock and roll hilltop, Garrison Valley's Riot Band is already well equipped for the future. The trio, formed early this year and currently occupying a Thursday night slot at downtown dive bar Jake's Restaurant, was able to provide us with some classic clichs before getting up on stage on fulfilling a few more.
"Riot Band is the Garrison Valley music scene," bassist and co-vocalist Eric Rendick said before his band's performance. "I've never seen another band in this town. We opened for a band once at a house party and that was the last gig they ever played." (Apparently Rendick has never heard of Farmer's Market, Blow Up Springfield, Help Wanted, or Garrison Valley's burgeoning underground metal scene, led of course by Dwarfus. But it's easy to dismiss these and other bands if the only gigs you've ever seen are your own).
When asked why Riot Band plays at Jake's, which is not traditionally a music venue, guitarist and co-vocalist Ryan Endstrom was equally dismissive. "It's not like Garrison Valley has a whole bunch of awesome places for new bands to play," he said. "Jake's wasn't even a venue before we started playing here. But it's as good as anywhere else in town."
As insular and arrogant as Endstrom and Rendick may have been, at least they were willing to speak to us. Drummer Jed Carter walked out of the bar instead of allowing us to sit down and speak with him.
Was Riot Band's musical ability able to justify their level of conceit? In a word, no. The crowd that showed up to see them, a mix of students and bikers, was subjected to a blaring cacophony of out-of-tune screaming and bad guitars, played by a rhythm-challenged band featuring two vocalists that can't sing.
Rendick, the most out-spoken of the three, led the group through two short sets of clunkers. The band was never able to settle down into a distinctive style, swinging clumsily back and forth between oversimplified punk, cheesy '80s metal, and ineffectual soft rock. And as directionless as the whole affair seemed, the total lack of musical ability, especially on guitar and bass, made the show something to be endured instead of enjoyed.
But through it all, the band maintained the sneering enthusiasm of total rock and roll delusion. They seemed to be the only ones unaware of how bad they were. The one thing that could have made the show even tolerable would have been some sense of self-deprecating humor, or even post-hipster irony. Unfortunately for Riot Band however, they seemed as full of belief in their abilities as Axl Rose or Kanye West, but without a trace of abilities to back it up. So much the worse for those who showed up to hear them.
We all finished reading and sat back with stunned, open-mouthed looks on our faces. "Mother of hell," I said. "What a complete, start-to-finish hatchet job.
"They managed to insult us in every single sentence," said Ryan, re-reading the paragraphs. "There's not a single positive word,"
"I'm just trying to figure out which song was '80s metal," said Jed. "Or soft rock, for that matter."
"Or post-hipster," added Nick. "Since when is irony post-hipster? Hasn't irony been around forever? I mean, there's irony in Hamlet."
"Yeah, Hamlet is post-hipster, Nick," I said. "Bloody hell. How are we supposed to respond to this?"
"You know whose fault it is?" Ryan said. He pointed a finger at our drummer. "Yours, Jed. You walking out put them on the wrong foot right away. They were against us from that moment on."
"Whatever, man," Jed said. "If anything, this proves me right. You guys shouldn't have talked to them either. I knew they were going to do this shit. God, what an awful paper. This is the most unbalanced review ever written. You can't even call this a review. This is like, someone just sitting and laughing about how clever they are to make fun of someone this much."
"Do you think it was the guy that wrote this?" I asked. "I don't think the girl would have written anything this harsh. And it sounds like it was written by someone who doesn't know anything about music. It's all just an attack."
"It doesn't matter who wrote it," Ryan said. He turned angrily toward Nick. "Damn, why did you even bring those pricks?"
"Guys," Nick said, "you have to see the opportunity in this. We can use this, don't you see? We have to take this and own it! Really push it! We can take this attitude that they're attributing to us and make it like, a style. A trademark. Take it so far that it looks like the paper just didn't get the joke. Make them look like fools."
I sat back in my chair. "This whole thing makes us look like a joke."
Nick gestured to the paper on the table in front of him. "Do you have an alternative suggestion?"
"Look guys," Nick said. "You have to play Jake's again tomorrow. You've got exactly zero time to mope and recover from this. I think the best thing to do would be to take the offensive, go out there and spit fire at these assholes. Don't talk about the review or anything like that, but play it up. Don't back off. Play a hell of a show, and shove the arrogant asshole routine right back at them."
"Play a hell of a show?" Ryan asked with snort. "Haven't you heard? We're horrible. We are a horrible band. It says so right there."
"This won't hurt us," Nick said. "Look, half the people I know hate this paper as much as Jed does. And half the people that were there last week aren't even students, so they're not going to read The Typesetter anyway. And people who were at the show and had fun aren't going to agree with the paper. We'll be fine."
"That's right," I said, remembering all the older faces in the crowd at the show. "What was the deal with the crowd last week anyway? It seems our demographic is getting older."
"I think word is getting around town," Nick said. "I talked to a few people. Some older guys said they heard a lot of hot young girls would be there. Some others just heard there was a band playing, and that was good enough for them. I think this town is starved for live music."
"Yeah," Jed said. He pushed the copy of The Typesetter away from him as though it were radioactive. "I don't care what these dicks say about Dwarfus. The music scene in this town is awful."
Nick nodded. "Let's just forget all about it, okay? We've got the film show coming up in a couple weeks. We'll need about a dozen new songs for it, and we'll need to be able to match them really quickly to the different films. So let's forget this crap with The Typesetter and start focusing on that. Does that sound good?"
"Right," I said. "When do you expect we'll be able to see the films?"
"Well, it's a student thing," Nick said with a grin. "They'll probably all finish at the last minute. Hopefully we'll have the last ones the day before the show, at the latest."
Jed started laughing. He ran his hands over his shaved head, and tried to straighten his mohawk. "Oh my god, Nick, this is the stupidest project we could have possibly agreed to. We are totally set up to fail here. What happens if they all give us their films the night before? Then we have to do soundtracks for like, a dozen short films all in one night. We're going to make fools of ourselves."
Nick leaned forward. "That's why you have to start writing some new music, right now. Write at least a dozen songs, and you can just mix and match them with the films. It'll be easy. You don't have to write words for them or anything. Just music."
"Easy for you to say, Nick," I said. "You don't have to actually write any of it."
We didn't have a chance to rehearse that night, because both Ryan and I had to work. The next day we lugged our gear back to Jake's and spent the afternoon jamming, blasting noise at the poor old drunks who hung around during the day. We had a new song to get ready. It was one of Jed's. It had no vocals, but it was strong. Maybe after we added a new drummer, Jed would add something on keyboards, or samples, but we liked it enough the way it was to open the night with it.
The bar filled up. Lise had to work, so she wasn't able to come. I did, however, see Jasmine there, floating around in the crowd. She never came near me, but I could always feel her watching me.
When nine o'clock rolled around Ryan, Jed and I got up on stage. Jed started a military march drum beat, and Ryan started hitting the heavy minor chords that Jed had written for him.
"Good evening!" I shouted into the microphone. "We are Riot Band, the only band in Garrison Valley, and the only band in the universe!"
I thumped a few notes on my bass.
"I built this bass!" I shouted. "I built it with my penis! And then I invented music!" I pointed to Jed. "He invented the car, the modern photocopier, and parachute pants! And Ryan f--ked Marilyn Monroe and all your moms at the same time! One! Two! Three! Four!"
We slammed into the heavy part of the song, and the crowd ate it up. There was no attempt to pose or look cool. Ryan and I turned toward each other and focused on playing the new song as hard as we could.
It slowed down again, and I turned back to the microphone. "I am richer than God and better looking than Zeus! We are the ultimate rock and roll super mega-monsters, and you are all our bitches! And your souls will be our bitches in the afterlife!"
We cut heavy again, and powered through the rest of the song. We followed it up right away with another hard one, and the whole place was rocking.
I don't know if either of the writers from The Typesetter had the balls to show up for a second viewing. I doubt it. The truth is, as soon as I saw that everyone in the crowd at Jake's was having a good time, I didn't care about that article anymore. And if anyone in the crowd had read it, I'm sure they were laughing about it. I think we succeeded in making fools of those writers, and I wouldn't feel bad about it if we did.
2010, Nolan Whyte