I invited Ryan to come over to Nick's house so he could watch the new band jam, but he declined. He was being really stubborn. I was convinced that if we could just get him in the room with us when we were playing, he would feel the urge to play again as well. He wouldn't be able to resist. But so far, he was holding out.
It was an open secret among Jed, Nick and I that we wanted Ryan back, although we played it cool, acting like we might just pluck another guitar player out of the ether and install him in the lineup. Jed apparently knew several guitarists that were free and could handle the assignment, but he never got around to talking to any of them. He had never gotten along really well with Ryan as a person, but he seemed to think that the curly-haired little smart-ass deserved a shot first.
We were having a jam at Nick's house. Jed was running late, and while Conrad sat in the living room playing video games, Nick and I headed upstairs so I could check my emails on his computer. It also gave Nick and I a chance to talk.
"I've been thinking about my whole role in how things played out before," he told me. "You know, I was supposed to be the guy setting up events and getting the band out there, but I think I should also have been protecting you guys more, reigning you in. Keep you only doing the music. Like the interview with The Typesetter. I should have prepared you guys for that. I think it really added a lot of stress the way things unfolded."
"Sure," I said as I logged in to my email account. "But at least Ryan got a girlfriend out of the whole thing. I wouldn't sweat it, anyway. We broke up because we were getting too intense, and we were making bad choices, especially me. And I made it worse by acting like a spoiled baby at our last gig. So don't worry. We didn't break up because of anything you did or didn't do."
My in-box opened up. There were about a dozen new emails, but scanning the names of the senders, only two other them seemed interesting.
The first was from Knelson, my guru/bass instructor from back home. I'd already emailed him and told him that I'd taken his advice and was putting together a group again. He responded with his usual clipped writing: "eric Im coming to g.v. next week want to see your new band hope to jam with you guys call me monday knelson"
"Cool," I said. "Knelson is coming, and he's going to jam with us. This is great."
"That's the Yoda guy you keep talking about?"
"Yeah, if Yoda dressed like a Def Leppard reject." I opened the next email with a little knot of expectation in my stomach. It was from Taylor, the lead singer of The Pop Rocks. I'd fooled around with her the last time we'd seen each other, and even though I liked her, it seemed like trouble keeping in touch with her, especially since Lise and I were getting more serious.
"Hey Eric," her letter read. "We've lined up another tour out west for April. The local promoter is handling the openers, so if you want to be in the lineup again, get a recording of your band to them, the sooner the better. We're playing at The Market at Garrison Valley University."
She provided contact details for the promoter, and specific info about the gig. I sat back in Nick's desk chair and thought it over. Damn. Now this was interesting.
"What is it?" Nick asked. He was sitting in a spot where he couldn't really see the screen, but the look on my face told him that something was up.
"Another chance to play The Market," I said.
"The Market," he sneered. "I don't see what the obsession with that place is. Besides, you guys had a chance to play there in December with that group of local bands. You blew it by breaking up."
"We could open for The Pop Rocks."
"Really?" he said. "Open for The Pop Rocks at The Market? Actually, that would be kind of cool. The place would probably be full. Hang on-- who's invited? Riot Band, or this new band, whatever you're going to call yourselves?"
"Well, presumably Riot Band," I said, "but I think we could do it with this new group. We'd just need to fill out the lineup, record something, and turn it in to the guys who are promoting the show."
"Okay," Nick said. "How soon would we need to do that?"
"It just says the sooner the better. How soon is that?"
"Right now," he said.
Once Jed arrived we filled him and Conrad in on the opportunity. "We would need to do something right away," I told them.
"We could go ahead if Ryan would pull his head out of his ass," Jed said. "If we found someone else it would take a while for them to figure out where they fit in. Ryan could walk right in and start playing." Jed looked at me. "I know you've been thinking this over," he said. "What's your sure-fire plan to get him to play again?"
I shrugged. "If we could get him to come to a jam he would probably get into it," I said, "but he's been resisting that. If we could play a gig, he would probably trip over himself trying to get up on stage."
"I agree," Nick said. "But you guys can't play a gig the way you are now. No offense, but you're not ready. You don't have your sound right yet."
"No, not at all," I said. "We would definitely need a guitar player."
"So we need to get a guitar player ready so he can play a gig with us so that another guitar player will play with us?" asked Conrad. "This sounds complicated."
I thought it over and turned to Nick. "Would you be pissed if I made a long distance call?"
Jed pulled out his cell. "In Canada, right? Go ahead. I've got a coverage plan."
I dug through my wallet and found a particular scrap of paper, checked the number and dialed. After five rings, I heard a familiar voice answer the phone. "Prairie Hardware."
"Knelson? Hey Knelson, it's me, Eric."
"Hey, Eric. How's it going? You get my email?"
"Sure man. Say, listen..." And I explained our dilemma, and asked about the time frame of his visit. It all matched up pretty well. He was coming in on Tuesday to help his sister move from one apartment to another, and then he really didn't have any obligations until Friday, when he had to travel to Brandon for a gig with his band, Crankshaft.
"Okay, listen to this," I said. "What would you say to hanging with my band on Tuesday or Wednesday night and jamming with us. We need a guitar player to fill in for us for a Thursday night gig. It's not a huge deal or anything, but it was help us out of a tight spot."
"Sure, buddy," he said. "Anything to help out. What kind of songs?"
"Originals, a few covers," I said. "Will you be able to bring a guitar and amp?"
"No problem. You want any effects?"
He laughed. "No problem." We said goodbye and hung up.
"Okay genius," Jed said. "We've got a guitarist for one practice and then a gig. You see a problem with this? Eric, we don't actually have a gig."
I waved my hand. "No problem," I said. "I'll set it up with Keith at Jake's Restaurant. He'll let us play on Thursday. Shit, we practically saved his business. He owes us."
"Seriously, I don't know why you want this so badly," Nick said. "I mean, yeah, it's a great opportunity, but really, you're going to be jumping through a ton of extra hoops in a short period of time, just so you can play a single gig, opening for a band you've already opened for, and bringing yourself back together with a girl that you nearly cheated on your girlfriend with. It seems like you want to go through an awful lot just to get something that might be trouble in itself."
"I didn't 'nearly cheat' on Lise with Taylor. It was just horseplay." I didn't say anything about Emily's belief that I'd eaten Taylor out in the back of the tour bus, because frankly, I didn't know if it was true or not. "And besides," I continued, "this is something we've wanted to do since we started jamming together. Shit, think about all the times that we were drinking coffee in The Market, talking about the band, and looking up at the stage, thinking, yeah, we'll play here some day. Man, this is our chance."
Jed shrugged. "I want to play the show. I want to show off this music we're working on. It's going to be a pain in the ass, but I want to do it."
We all turned and looked at Conrad. He was the only one who hadn't said whether or not he wanted to play the gig. It just seemed to occur to us that he was entitled to an opinion.
He looked around at us. "I'm up for whatever," he said. "Big gig? Cool."
"Okay," I said. "Let's jam. Tomorrow I'll go talk to Keith."
* * * *
We blasted it out for a while. Some of the songs Jed was introducing us to were amorphous, seemingly unfinished. "It will sound better with guitars," he kept saying. They were also light on vocals, but he was convinced that the samples he had would fill the gap. And we might add more to the songs later.
The next day, while Conrad headed to the bus station to bum for change, I caught the bus downtown to check out the scene at Jake's Restaurant.
The "scene" was a snowy wasteland, as though the Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back had been shot in a crappy Western Canadian prairie city instead of Norway, or wherever the hell they were shot. Tatooine was in Tunisia, that I'm sure of. I'm pretty sure Hoth was in Norway. Anyway, the street was snowy and dirty and everything looked like shit. Sorry about the Star Wars digression.
I pushed open the door to Jake's. Everything looked the same inside. Even though it was daytime, it was so gray and gloomy out that they had all the lights in the bar on. There was only one customer there, a fat old guy with a big red wino-nose, sipping on a bottle of beer. I took a seat a few stools down from him at the counter and pulled a paperback book out of my jacket pocket.
Keith came out of the back room. "Hey!" he said when he saw me. "Look at this guy. How the hell are you?"
"Good, Keith. Happy January."
"Thanks. Have a drink? Breakfast special?"
"Just a coffee. How are the Thursday nights going?"
He grabbed a mug from the shelf and set it in front of me. "Great. I'm trying to figure out how to get bands in here on Friday nights too. I've been thinking about doing more, you know? Maybe karaoke Tuesdays. Maybe different performers on different nights. Hell, Thursday is the only night when this place makes any money. I've got to duplicate the success, you know?"
"That's great, man," I said. He stepped into the back and came out a moment later with a carafe of coffee, filled my cup, and then returned it to the kitchen.
When he came back, I asked him flat out: "So, can we play here this Thursday?"
His smile dropped, and he got a "thinking hard" look on his face. "Damn, I don't know about that," he said. "I'm booked pretty tight. After we opened it up to different bands, just about every bunch of kids in town is trying to get a shot. We've had a couple stinkers too, but most of the bands have been good. People show up either way, so something is working right. Hang on a minute."
He went to his office and came out a minute later with a little notebook. "Gee, I'm sorry Eric. I've got Thursdays booked up for the next six weeks. Like I said, a lot of bands have come out of the woodwork. It's like they were all just waiting for a place to play."
"That's amazing," I said. "All different bands?"
"Well, no, there are a lot of repeats. But I don't let any band play two weeks in a row now, just to give new guys a chance. They're all different, too. Metal, punk, rock. One country band so far. The crowd was polite, but I don't think it's a country room, which is surprising for this province."
"Yeah, go figure," I said. "Who's playing this week?"
He consulted his notebook. "Blowing Up Springfield and... Jeez, I can't even read this... The Skyblargs, or something like that. That doesn't sound like anything."
"Yeah, it's pretty bad. But hey, my band was called Riot Band, so who am I to talk? You don't think you could squeeze us in?"
Keith shrugged. "Not really. It wouldn't be very cool to just bump one of these guys, no matter how bad their name is."
"What if we played early? Like, seven or seven-thirty? You wouldn't even have to pay us. We just need the chance."
He thought for a moment. "There's usually no one here that early."
"That doesn't matter," I said. "We only need one guy to see us play."
2010, Nolan Whyte