My watch read two-fifteen. Classes would let out at two-twenty, and then we could expect the foot traffic through the causeway to go from slow trickle to thick stream. I looked around. Some of the people passing by were looking at Ryan and me, but they weren't stopping or saying anything. It occurred to me that Sash might pass by and see us. My stomach twisted at the thought. I wasn't sure if she would be around at this time of day.
Let's do it, I said. Come on, let's get this over with.
Ryan nodded, counted to four, and we started playing the first song he taught me, which he called I'll See You Somewhere. It wasn't fast or hard. It kind of plodded along, going back and forth between the few chords that made up the song. Ryan started to sing.
I kept my eyes on the frets where my fingers were pinching down the strings, but I was aware that people were watching us as they passed by and I could feel my face getting red. My blistered index finger hurt from plucking, but the raw skin was absorbing the punishment.
We worked through the song without any mistakes. When it ended I looked around. One person had stopped to watch: it was Nick from my English class. He was there in his black jeans and black denim jacket, with his sunglasses perched on his head. He didn't smile or move when we finished the song. He just stood in the corner across from us, out of the way of passersby, watching. I nodded to him. He nodded back without emotion.
Okay? Ryan said. He counted to four again and we started the second song, thumping along with a simple mid-tempo beat. Ryan called this one Relief. He started to sing, repeating the simple refrain: I need something, I need something, I need something, something to bring relief...
He was singing without a microphone, but our amps weren't turned up very loud anyway. The whole thing seemed underpowered. I snatched a glance up at Nick. He was still standing there watching us with a blank expression. He looked like he was watching a switched-off TV.
A growing hum told me that classes had let out. There was the thumping of footsteps and the shrill sound of girls chatting as they walked along, matched by the deeper voices of the guys. Again I got the clenching feeling in my stomach, wondering if Sash would walk by. I missed a note when I thought of it but recovered and kept playing.
When the song ended I realized that I my T-shirt was soaked. Sweat was running down my body and my forehead was wet as well. It wasn't hot in the hall, and it wasn't as though I was working very hard. The sweat was from nervousness. Stress. People were all around us, some of them actually having to move to avoid us. I felt like an idiot.
Let's keep going, quick! Ryan said. His face was red and his forehead was also sweating. He counted one-two-three-four and we went into the third song, which he hadn't named or written lyrics for. We pumped through the song, playing with an urgency born of embarrassment from having the eyes of every passing student on us.
By the time we got to the end of the song, two commissionaires had arrived. The commissionaires were retired guys who got security jobs on campus, and these two fat old men came to shut us down.
Okay guys, the older, fatter one said. You're blocking traffic. You need to pick up your stuff and move along.
We're not blocking traffic, Ryan said.
Well, if anyone stops to watch you, then traffic comes to a halt. Besides, you need a hall permit to do this type of thing and you guys don't have one, do you? I didn't think so. Come on. Clean up.
As I slipped my bass into its bag, I got a glimpse of Nick still standing across the hall, watching as we packed up our stuff.
The stream of students had slowed down after the initial rush, but the commissionaires didn't budge until we were gone. Ryan and I slipped on our coats, picked up our instruments and amps and started to walk. That was when Nick finally moved, stepping to walk along just behind us.
Hello Eric, he said. So this is your band, is it?
I glanced over my shoulder at him. I knew that we had obviously sucked, but somehow getting kicked out by security made me feel slightly bad-ass. Yeah, I guess, I said. You here to cover the show for the local press?
He ignored my comment. Come to The Market with me, he said. I want to chat with you guys. I'll buy the first pitcher.
Ryan looked at me. Sounds okay to me. I'm in for the beer, anyway, whoever you are.
Okay, I said. Ryan, Nick. Nick, Ryan.
My pleasure, Nick said, and the three of us went along through the hallways of the Classroom Building, through the Administration Building, through University Center, to the entrance of The Market. It felt good walking with the instruments and a little posse of guys. It felt cool. If only we had the musical ability to back it up.
We went into The Market. Ryan and I sat down across from each other at one of the long bench tables while Nick went up to the bar for the pitcher.
Who is this guy? Ryan asked, leaning over the table. A friend of yours?
Sort of, I said. He's in my English class. He was at Shattered last Friday and I pissed him off pretty good. I don't know what he wants now.
Nick brought the plastic pitcher and three plastic cups. He poured out the beers and sat down next to me. Okay, he said. So this is the band, is it? You two guys?
So far, Ryan said, taking a sip of foam. We'll pick up a drummer at some point. We've just started playing together.
Yeah, that's pretty obvious, Nick said. He turned to me. How long have you been playing, Eric?
Um, two, three weeks? Yeah, I guess three weeks.
Nick nodded. Okay then, yeah, that wasn't bad for three weeks, actually. How do you guys think you did with the little show? What did you think of your performance?
What's with the questions, dude? Ryan said. No offence, but you seem like you've got something up your sleeve. Like, what's your interest?
Nick sat back and grinned. He took a sip of his beer and seemed to collect his thoughts before responding. Okay, he said finally. Shit, yeah, let's be direct. I'm going to be totally honest with you guys. You're not very good. You're obviously at the earliest stages of putting your music together, and you don't have a sound or an act yet. Am I right? No offence, but do you even know what you want to sound like?
Ryan looked at me. Rock, right? he said. We want to play rock.
Yeah, I added. Hard rock. Nothing soft or weak.
Okay, Nick said. So you have an idea. But you're not there yet. Now let me ask you this: do you actually want to play really cool shows and stir some shit up, or do you just want to show up and play in goofy spots like the hallway at school? And don't get me wrong, playing in the hall was kind of like, spontaneous performance art or something, but I don't think it quite had the impact it could have, if you know what I mean.
You're still just asking questions, Ryan said, finishing his cup of beer.
Okay, you're right. Let me tell you what I'm thinking. Nick grabbed the pitcher and refilled Ryan's cup. There have been some bands in the past that needed a little extra something at the beginning. While they were still working out the musical aspects, they had an extra player working for them, setting up shows, looking at things like performance ideas, promotion, ways to make a show more than just a show, you know? Make a show an event.
I took a sip and looked Ryan. He looked back at me. Neither us of said anything.
Nick continued. The Velvet Underground had Andy Warhol at the beginning, and he turned them into a big deal. The Sex Pistols had Malcolm McLaren setting stuff up for them. I mean, yeah, everybody knows he ended up being a total douchebag, but he did help them pull some crazy shit. You get me? He looked back and forth at us. What I'm trying to say is, I want to be your manager.
Ryan laughed. Manager? What is there to manage?
Manager, agent, advisor, whatever. Nick took a big drink. You guys have a long way to go musically, but while you work on your sound, I want to get out there and work on promotion. Make shit happen, you know?
I don't get this, I said. You agree that we suck, so it's not like you see this amazing opportunity where you just have to get on board. Why do you want to do this? What's in it for you?
Nick shrugged and smiled. Yeah, you do kind of suck, but you've got potential, right? You're just getting started. And what's in it for me? He laughed. This is going to sound pretty ridiculous, but what the hell, right?
He took another long drink and finished his cup, then refilled it. Remember I was telling you at Shattered how I've been looking for a way to get involved in the music scene? Well, this is my way. I don't want to just be the guy who goes to gigs and watches the show. I want to make shit happen. I'm an ideas man. And I have good taste. I just have no musical talent.
So you want to use us as a vehicle for your own glory? Ryan said.
Hardly, Nick said. Shit, if things go well it would be you guys who benefit. Granted, you need to work your asses off, write some better songs and get your shit together musically, but I can help you get noticed. And I would be working purely for the experience.
I drained my cup and Nick refilled it with the last of the pitcher. I don't know, I said. If we really get our act together musically, why would we need you?
Nick looked me in the eye and grinned. Again Eric, no offence, okay? But from what I've seen so far, you're not exactly a people person. I am. I'm a scene guy. I'm a net-worker. And I can set up some cool shit for you guys.
Okay, Nick, Ryan said. If we said yes, what would be the first thing you would do for us?
Absolutely first thing would be hooking you up with a drummer, he said. And not some newbie who's just learning like you guys. You need someone who is tight and experienced and has a really solid sense of musicality, so he can help with the songwriting. Make the sound work, you know? You guys need someone who can fill out the band.
Yeah, sure, Ryan sneered. And I'm sure there are plenty of guys like that around. Do you actually know a perfect drummer like that who isn't already in a band?
Nick smiled. Actually, I do.
Ryan nodded toward me. Eric knows him.
I looked at Nick. He grinned and I shook my head. Oh, no, no, you've got to be joking...
What? Ryan asked. Who's he talking about?
I sighed and set my cup on the table. Unless I'm mistaken, he's talking about Handlebar Moustache.
2009 Nolan Whyte