There are always distractions. Always someone buzzing, yapping in your ear, telling you this, telling you that, going on about their problems, trying to get you to tell them what to do and then not listening to you when you tell them that their problems not worth the stress that they are spreading around to any unfortunate bastard within listening range.
Bloody hell, I hate drama cases.
Somehow I got one of these guys, and he was sitting with Ryan and me at a table in the nearly empty G.V. Ballroom. If you can believe it, he was actually meeting us because Nick invited him. His name was Joe, and he was a drummer.
Nick's plan was that we could meet the guy, get a feel for him personality-wise, and maybe let him play for a few minutes during sound check. If he sounded okay, he could stay and watch our show to see if he wanted to join. If everything went well, we could invite him to a weekly practice for something more full-on.
So he showed up with Nick for our sound check at five o'clock. We had to wait while the first openers did their own sound, so Joe had a chance to fill us in on his whole...life...story.
There were his school problems. He'd switched majors three times and doubled up a bunch of requirements, so now he was stuck with a bunch of course credits he didn't need, which was a minor issue compared to the fact that he'd failed or received no-completion grades for half of the classes he'd taken over the last three years. So even though he'd been at GVU for three years, he was still three years away from finishing any degree, and the university had tried to force him to withdrawn from classes because he'd failed too many courses, and on and on and on he went with his story.
"Wow," Ryan said.
"Yeah," Joe kept going. "And my landlord, you wouldn't believe this guy. He's been trying to get me to move out for the last three months, right? The guy is just a prick, a real slime-ball, but I know that he doesn't have the right to evict me, so do you know what I did? As soon as he told me he wanted me out, I stopped paying rent. He keeps coming and telling me to leave, but I keep saying I haven't found a place yet, and he tells me he's going to change the locks."
I looked around for a way out of this mess. Lise had gone home to eat and change. Jed was taking the longest shit in human history, probably sitting in the bathroom just to avoid Joe. Nick had brought Joe, but I guess he'd had enough by the time they arrived, so our manager had disappeared as soon as he had the guy sitting with Jed and Ryan and me. Nick was now off chatting with the venue manager or something.
Joe was merciless. "He talks big," he said, "but he knows he can't change the locks without a sheriff's order, and he'll have to take me to court first. It would end up costing him a bunch of money which he doesn't want to spend, so I'm getting the place for free while he works up the nerve to come after me. But the thing is, I've got this wisdom tooth that's giving me trouble and blah, blah, blah..."
And then he was on about his dental problems.
I wanted to murder him. And I wanted to murder Nick for bringing him. Joe talked so fast, there wasn't even a breath to try and interject, ask a question, make a statement, anything. He didn't even give you time to tell him to shut up. He was just a constant blather-machine. It was remarkable on a certain level, but on another level I wanted to...stab him.
There was nothing to do. I got up from the table without even saying anything to Joe or Ryan. I just got up and walked away. Joe kept talking, even though he now only had an audience of one. I went to the bar at the back of the big room. There was a staff member there, getting things ready for the night.
"Can I get a beer?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, and set me up.
I stood there and looked around. Where was Nick? Where was Jed? We needed some solidarity. Things were going pretty well for us, as a band. Our weekly gigs at Jake's Restaurant had picked up some steam; we were getting a steady, solid crowd, and every week we were seeing different faces from a wide cross-section of demographics. Metal heads, hipsters, goths, punks, art poseurs, a few lipstick bar stars, older rockers. Everybody in town was coming to check us out.
And the band was getting better. We had written enough material that we were now eliminating older, weaker songs from the repertoire. We were improving the vocals, improving the stage presence. And Ryan and I, both relative newbies, we getting stronger as players, performers, and song-writers. And with this bigger show, as second opener for a national act, we were getting a break.
But we had our problems. We still had our pact with Jed that we would try to find a suitable drummer so he could move to keyboards, but good drummers were proving to be harder to find than a tiger with glow-in-the-dark stripes. Joe certainly wasn't the answer. Even if he was the best drummer since Animal from The Muppets, I wouldn't let him join the band.
Beyond that, we just didn't seem tight. There was always a bit of tension, some kind of question between us. I expected the members of a band to be like a little group of best friends, but we weren't. As the band got better and better, we seemed to spend less and less time together.
Nick came over with a guy with bleach blond hair, who was the manager of the Ballroom. "Damn, Eric," he said when he saw the beer. "We haven't even down sound check yet. You're hitting it pretty early."
"Can you blame me?" I said. I pointed over to Joe. "Where did you find that freak? He's more aggravating than an infected dick."
"Yeah, well," Nick said, looking embarrassed. "I heard he was a good drummer. He's been in some bands, but yeah, I don't think he'll be a match."
"I can definitely see why he's not in a band now."
Jed came around, admitted he'd been hiding from Joe, and ordered himself a gin and tonic. When Ryan saw us all at the bar, he got up and came over. Joe followed him, talking the whole way. Ryan looked exasperated, but Joe didn't seem to notice. He stuck right to Ryan's side, going on and on about the bands he'd been in, and all the shit that had gone wrong. But nothing was ever Joe's fault. Oh no. Everyone else kept screwing up or screwing him over.
We tried to ignore him until the first band finally finished their sound check. They were young guys with a so-so metal act, apparently in from a nearby small town. They got their stuff out of the way and Ryan, Jed and I went up and started the tedious process of setting levels with the sound guy.
Once everything was ready, we pounded through a quick song as a warm up. Joe stood there in front of the stage, unbelievably still talking, yammering on about everything we were doing. I started wondering if there wasn't something more to him than just being annoying. I thought maybe he had an actual mental issue that was causing him to go on like that.
After we finished a second song, Nick called up to us. "You want to let Joe get up there and show us what he can do?"
Jed and Ryan and I all looked around like we suddenly couldn't find something. Ryan edged over toward me and whispered in my ear. "Dude, I do not want this guy in the band. No matter what."
"I know," I said. "Let's just let him play and tell him he doesn't fit. Then we can part ways cleanly."
I nodded to Jed, who was sitting behind the kit. He looked scared that we were going to let Joe play. "Let's let him play a few minutes," I said. "No harm in it."
Jed stepped out of the way and Joe got up and sat on the stool. He took a minute to adjust some positions, and then beat on the snare. "What do you want to play?" he asked. "One of those same songs again? Or something different? You guys know any covers? Slayer, or Lamb of God, or Carcass? Something fast?"
Without waiting for an answer he plowed into a super-fast metal solo, playing in a syncopated blur of swinging arms and crashing cymbals. We stood there and watched while he just played and played and played, apparently unaware that we weren't joining in with him.
"Snipers, please," Ryan shouted to me over the noise. "Kill this f--king guy."
Joe finally slowed to a stop. "Did you recognize that?" he asked. "GWAR! It was GWAR!"
"Um, great," I said. "Should we just play that second one that we played a minute ago?" I counted in and Ryan and I started playing. Joe started playing too, blasting away, completely out of time and out of control. Ryan and I kept going, staring at each other with WTF? looks on our faces.
I was dimly aware that more people were coming into the hall. I tried not to look. I was really trying to just keep time, since this insane asshole behind the drum kit was doing everything he could to change the time signature of the song. Joe was playing some whacked-out beat, completely apart from what we were doing. Pretty much everything Riot Band played was in simple 4/4 time, but I think he was hitting some 11/8 or crazy esoteric crap like that. I don't know much about that kind of stuff, but I was starting to lose my cool.
And fast! No band needed to play as fast as he was going. He was whipping his arms around so fast I thought he would start levitating.
I looked out at the group standing near the stage watching our ridiculous performance. It was four hot chicks, carrying guitars and bags. Damn. It was the headlining band, The Pop Rocks.
Suddenly there was a popping sound and Jed jumped up and started yelling and waving his arms for everyone to stop playing. "You idiot! You complete bloody idiot!" he was screaming at Joe.
"What?" I asked. "What is it?"
"He punctured the snare drum! I don't have a replacement! You dipshit!"
"It's not my fault this thing is a bunch of junk!" Joe yelled.
"You like to play nice and hard when it's not your gear, don't you?" Jed snapped. "You jackass! Get the hell out of here!"
Joe got up from the stool while Jed forced his way in to inspect his kit. Ryan and I stood and watched. "He split it," Jed said. His voice was quivering with anger. "What the hell are we going to do?"
I looked out at the gang that had collected in front of the stage. The headliners, the first openers, plus Nick and the bar manager were all watching. "We'll have to see if the first band can lend us their snare, I guess," I said. I picked out the drummer. "Would that work for you guys? Can you let us use your snare tonight?"
"Damn, dude," the drummer said. "Was that a try-out? That was like, super epic fail. Yeah, you can use our snare. But don't let that guy near it." He pointed at Joe, who had backed away to the edge of the stage. He had a furious red face, like he was either going to start throwing punches or start to cry.
I took off my bass and walked over to him. There was no easy way to do this, but I felt like the script for what I had to say was already written for me. It was the universal thanks-for-coming-out speech.
"Look, Joe," I said. "Thanks for coming out, but this isn't the right fit. You're good, but your style doesn't really mesh with what we're doing. But, you know, good luck and stuff."
He stood there, breathing hard, looking around at the big group that was watching his moment of defeat. "You all suck!" he finally shouted, and he climbed down off stage, got his jacket from the table, and marched out of the Garrison Valley Ballroom.
"Let him play a few minutes," Jed said, mockingly imitating my voice. "There's no harm in it." The sound of Joe's footsteps echoed through the empty hall.
As the door clanged shut behind him, one of the girls, an attractive redhead in a long brown leather coat, started clapping. "That was classic," she said, laughing. "That was the kind of stuff that made me want to join a band in the first place."
"You must go through a lot of band members," I quipped.
"My band is just fine," she said. She pointed a nail-polished finger straight at me. "It's your band that looks like it's having drama."
2010, Nolan Whyte