I was getting a bad case of the five-in-the-morning blues. In front of the house, smoking a cigarette, feeling like human shit held together with dirty jeans and a stinking t-shirt. The muscle I'd spent the summer putting on back in Rose Creek was atrophying away. My back was starting to hurt from sleeping on the concrete basement floor (my foam mattress didn't do much for a big guy like me). And I was getting a bad case of soul-rot.
I took a drag on the cigarette. It gave me a little wake-up charge, a little brain-punch, but it wasn't sitting well on my bellyful of beer. My throat and lungs were burnt black from cigarettes and joints. My guts were twisted from pouring down coffee after beer after coffee. What the hell was I doing out on the street at five in the morning?
We weren't close yet. Through bad luck and a total lack of foresight, Ryan had to work at the gas station and I had to work at the convenience store, both closing shifts, on Saturday night. No big deal usually, except on Sunday we were going to be performing live music to accompany a slough of short films at a student festival. And we were seeing most of the films for the very first time-- you guessed it, Saturday night.
Jed had been waiting with Nick at the house, watching the films, which had been provided to us earlier in the afternoon. Ryan and I arrived with Lise, who'd worked the closing shift with me, at twelve-thirty. We smoked a fat bomber of a joint during the walk, ostensibly to get us in a creative headspace. That was the good/bad/strange part of dating a dealer's little sister: there was always pot close at hand.
1:03 a.m.: Ryan, Lise and I arrived on the front doorstep. We were acting silly, going on long rants about uninteresting subjects, but finding hilarious (to us) things to say about mundane things. This is the genius of the pot high: it inhibits the brain in such a way that simple things become impossible to understand, and that makes for a lot of goofy discussion. Jed and Ryan were sitting waiting. We'd used our money from our last gig at Jake's to lay in a stock of beers for the all-nighter, and they were sitting in the basement waiting for us.
1:07: Jed and Nick had no difficulty figuring out that we were stoned. They gave us beers in the hopes that alcohol would wash the crust of burnt-black tar off our brains, and the bunch of us sat down to watch the films.
We didn't have the original films; we had a stack of burned CDs with digital videos of the originals. We couldn't make too much noise upstairs, so Nick set up his desktop PC on the basement floor so we could watch the videos over and over again while we tried to figure out what to play.
"Okay guys," Nick said. "We should be okay. Each film-maker gave us notes about what kind of music they want, right? So we watch the film, read what they want, and try to come up with something."
He played the video. It was four minutes long, and we sat there cracking jokes all the way through it. It seemed to be about some guy following a stray cat around his neighborhood, chasing him under bushes and jumping all around, climbing over fences, just to try and keep up with this cat. It was the most trivial, pointless crap we could imagine anyone ever wasting their time to put on film, and here it was about to shown at a goddamn film festival.
"What's the name of this thing?" Ryan asked. "I'm calling it 'Pussy Hunt.'"
"It's called 'Urban Dwellers,'" Nick said, consulting some data sheets. "The guy who shot it says he wants crazy chase music, kind of like at the beginning of 'Pulp Fiction,' or something from a seventies action movie."
"What a bunch of shit," said Lise. She got up from where we were squatting and went to sit on my bed in the far corner across the room.
"Okay," I said. "Chase music, right? We just play any old shit, really, really fast."
"Sure," Jed said. "The only trouble will be finding something we can play really fast, properly, after one single night."
I got up and got my bass set up. I sat on the amp and started thumping on the strings. "Something fast, but not punk," I said.
"It's tough," Jed said. "It's a shitty film. If we make some cool music, it could end up making the whole thing look cool, or even smart. But we could just end up looking stupid, playing dumb music to a dumb film."
Jed had an acoustic guitar there, along with one of his portable keyboards. His drum kit was set up, but we weren't expecting to use it much. We'd been told the space would be small, and we should avoid the heavy bashing. That played into Jed's scheme, since he wanted to avoid drums anyway. He played guitar along with Ryan, and the three of us hunted around for something up-tempo, catchy, and simple enough that we could play it with almost no rehearsal.
1:58: We started watching the second film. It seemed stupid too. Because the films were all silent, the student filmmakers all had to choose strange topics. This one was just sitting, watching an old man with a long yellow beard rolling a ball of tobacco, stuffing it into a pipe, and smoking it. How could I describe it? Boring. I sat there in a pot and beer daze, waiting for some second layer of meaning to make itself evident. Nothing. Just...nothing.
"Should we play something country?" asked Ryan.
"Something quiet and understated," Nick said, reading from the filmmaker's comments. "She's going to read something as well, some shit about her grandpa, so she just wants us to play something quietly in the background. And, you know. Understated."
"Simple enough," Jed said. "Ryan, name a chord."
"Okay. I say G. Eric?"
"What?" I sit with my bass in my lap, too stoned to follow his scheme.
"Name a chord. Name a letter of the alphabet between A and G."
Jed strummed B, moved to G, then to F. He tried it over again, and kept going at it. "This could work," he said. "Slowly, you know. Like this."
"Is that all we're going to do?" Ryan asked. "We might as well pull chords out of a hat."
"David Bowie and Brian Eno did that," Nick said. "I can't remember what album."
"Brian Eno?" I said. "Which one is he?"
"Roxy Music," Nick said. "And Microsoft."
2:23: We tried the third film. Lise, bored out her mind, lighted a new joint. We all shared it, despite the no smoking in the house rules. Apparently it is a no tobacco smoking rule. The new film was about maps. We tried to take it seriously.
2:48: A shouting argument erupted between Nick and me. (Nick and I? Was the argument about grammar? What the hell was it about?) It was all getting confusing. Jed wanted to start the next film but Ryan insisted on coffee and cigarettes.
3:05: We started film number four. We had a few random, half-finished songs lying around before we took on this ridiculous project, and finally, we were able to use one. The film was a brief narrative thing about a girl (a cute art student I've seen around campus) who was wearing antlers (they looked very real). She played a prostitute, and the film chronicled her night trying to pick up dudes, who all rejected her because of the antlers. The music matched what was happening on the screen, and it only took us half an hour before we could say we were happy with the music for one single film.
3:40: Another smoke break. Everyone, despite the success, was getting irritable.
3:50: At this point we were all punchy, stoned and drunk. Nick started another film, but none of us seemed bothered about watching it. Lise and I ended up on the bed, not really fooling around, but just kind of lying there, mostly out of it. Ryan seemed to have caught some insane second wind, and was ranting about the new film. I didn't watch it. He and Jed worked out something, then got me up off the bed and told me what to play on the bass. It was only three notes.
4:25: I lost track of which film we were working on. I knew there were twelve in total, but we only had to do music for nine of them. I was having a hard time keeping track of how many we'd done. Apparently forty-eight is too many beers for a working night, even when they are split several ways.
4:40: I suggested some spoken word insertions in the song we were working on, but it seemed too avant-garde for the boys. "It doesn't match the film," they said. Apparently random Nietzsche quotes don't have much to do with a girl pouring paint over a miniature statue of herself. I'm not sure, but it made sense to me at the time.
5:00: The music degenerated into more arguing. We'd managed to get five tracks finished, anyway. Lise was asleep on my bed, and Nick was lying down on Ryan's bed. Ryan was sitting with yet another beer, and Jed was still diligently fumbling with his keyboard. I grabbed Ryan's cigarettes and headed outside.
I sat down on the steps and looked up into the night sky. It was cold, but I didn't care. I was numb. My brain felt dried out. I had a beer with me, took a sip, and lit up a cigarette, and got the brain-punch chemical charge I was waiting for.
You feel differently about things at five in the morning than you do during the day, with a good night's sleep helping you to think clearly. I sat on the steps and sucked on cancer-causing poison and wondered what I was doing with these guys. Why was I bothering being in a band at all? They were losers. I was a loser. And you couldn't make any money playing music. I still owed my dad thousands of dollars, and I was wasting my time working in a convenience store. I was going nowhere.
My time in Garrison Valley was marked by three things: the university, with classes I was half-interested in; girls, who brought me as much punishment as pleasure; and this band. Was I making a fool of myself? Was I wasting my time? I should have eaten a bigger supper before drinking all that beer.
The problem was that I didn't know how far we were capable of going. Each step for the band still seemed infinitesimal in the big scheme of things.
I took a last drag and flicked the butt towards the curb. I knew I was getting needlessly gloomy. I needed sleep. Too bad there were more songs to work on.
Back downstairs, I saw that the scene had broken down. The lights were still on, but everybody had crashed. There was a video still on the computer screen, waiting to be replayed. Nick and Jed were both passed out, lying back to back on Ryan's mattress. And on my bed, Lise was sleeping flat on her back, and Ryan was next to her, lying on his side, facing her.
I stood and pondered the scene for a moment. Ryan had a history of taking his chances and making his moves on taken chicks. It was possible that, if left to his own devices, he might move a bit closer to my jailbait girlfriend. And maybe cross some lines.
What to do? What would you do?
I went upstairs and got another beer out of the fridge. We'd put a significant dent in the supply. I went back down and decided to watch the rest of the films. At about four minutes each, I just got through the last of them moments before I was ready to pass out and hit my head on the floor. They were good little movies I decided, drunk and stoned though I was. They were different from the usual stuff I saw on youtube. They were creative.
Yawning, I decided that we needed to do our best for those kids who had made the films. After all, we were going to be stuck in a room with them, and if we sucked ass, they would be right there to tear us apart. But it wasn't just that. If we were good, the films would look good. But if we sucked, it would spoil the films. And even though some of the films sucked on their own, I didn't want their suckage to be my fault.
It was creeping toward six in the morning, and we were all passed out. And we were nowhere near ready. Realistically, we didn't have even the slightest chance of not looking like idiots.
I went over to the bed and slipped in between Ryan and Lise. I wrapped the blanket around myself in such a way the Ryan couldn't possibly, um, touch me, and tried to go to sleep. That way, he wouldn't be able to touch her either, not even by mistake. I wondered how late we would be able to sleep and even have a chance of completing the work we had ahead of us.
2010, Nolan Whyte