Knelson, Conrad, and I all headed back to Lise's place after the bar shut down. We partied on for a while, and gradually crashed. The next day Knelson was gone, driving the snow-blown highways back to rural hell. I had a new band to deal with. Ryan was back on board, and things had to start moving fast.
Conrad, as usual, took off for downtown to stand like a dummy on the street corner holding his hat. Lise and I hung around, and I called up Nick and asked him where he stood on the new lineup.
"It's fine," Nick said. He was eating his breakfast when I called him, and I could hear him munching his cereal as he talked. "To be honest, Eric, I don't really care too much. I had a role in Riot Band, you know? I was kind of like the manager, lining up gigs and looking for avenues of promotion. This new thing, even though it's basically the same guys, is so amorphous that I don't really have a role. I'm just like, the guy whose apartment you guys jam in, or something. Just a buddy."
"No, man," I said. "We still need you, and I'll tell you why. The guys got pissed at me last time because I tried to run everything and organize everything, and if I wasn't organizing, it still seemed like I wanted final say on everything, you know what I mean?"
"Sure. I was there, Eric."
"Yeah. So I need you to do this other stuff, man. Because even though we've gone through some shit and changed a bit, we still have the same goal. We want to get out there and see where we can go. See how far we can get. And we've got the opportunity."
"I know," he said. "The Pop Rocks show. You're jizzing in your pants over it."
Lise was sitting next to me on the couch. I glanced to see if she had overheard Nick's comment, but she was playing a video game and didn't seem to be paying much attention. "Not exactly," I told Nick, "but yeah, you know what I mean. I'm going to email you some contact information for the event promoter. You'll need to contact them and feel them out to see if we have a chance. I think we'll need to have a professional quality demo as well, so you'll need to find out about recording. I don't know about a studio, or whatever. There must be something somewhere in town."
"Um, okay," he said. "This doesn't sound like I'm your manager. More like your gofer."
"What are you talking about?" I said. "It's in your hands. Getting us this gig is in your hands. Getting us professionally recorded is in your hands too. How is that anything but top-level management?"
"I guess," he said. "Okay, I'll do it. Send me the email, and we'll go from there."
"Cool," I said. "I believe in you. Talk to you later." I hung up the phone.
"Jizzing in your pants, huh?" Lise asked, as she swerved her little killer guy through a field of obstacles so she could kill some other killer guys.
"He was speaking metaphorically."
"Hah. I'm coming to that show. If you guys are playing there, I'm going to be there, whether it's all ages or not. And I'm going to be keeping an eye on you. And that girl."
I sighed. "Okay," I said. "Of course you're coming to the show. But can we clear the air about this? I regret my actions that night, you know? And my memory is way more than vague, but I'm still pretty convinced that anything that was done was done for humor, not because I wanted to screw that chick. And I want this gig so badly because I think there is actually a chance that this band might be capable of something real."
Her pack of cigarettes was sitting on the end table next to me, and I picked it up and pulled one out. Not necessarily because I wanted one, or because I had decided that it was really time I took up the disgusting habit, but I wanted some kind of prop, something that would show how worked up I was. It was a ploy, and I knew it when I was doing it, but I wanted to make a statement.
I lit it up. She remained impassive, playing her game. "Do you understand what I'm saying?' I said. "I don't want this to be some lingering issue with us. I'm not a cheater. I've never been a cheater, and I'm never going to cheat on you. Okay? So it would be great if we could just permanently drop the subject."
"Sure," she said. "Easy for you to say. Just remember that I never had any thought of you doing anything like that until you told me that you already had. So if there are any ideas in my head, it's because you put them there. I love you, Eric. I do. And I hope what we have lasts a long, long time. But I don't think it's unfair to say that I've put up with some shit from you lately. And I just really hope that you're being completely honest with me, and with yourself about what you want and about what your plans are."
I sat back and smoked the cigarette. She took drags off it, and kept playing until her little killer guy finally got killed. She put the controller down and looked over at me. I guess I looked pretty tense, because she rubbed my leg. "Relax, Eric," she said. "We're cool. But I'm coming to that show."
* * * *
That night Lise and I closed the store together again. One of the other girls had quit and Will, the manager, didn't have the flexibility in scheduling that he liked, so he was stuck with putting us together. We followed the same pattern we had the last time we closed together: we played it straight for a while, and then later in the evening when customer traffic had dropped off, we split a joint and had some laughs. In fact, at ten thirty, we locked the door for fifteen minutes and performed an indecent act in the office, making Will's worst nightmare come true.
So I guess you could say our relationship was still going in a positive direction.
On Saturday afternoon Ryan, Jed, Conrad and I collected at Nick's house to rehearse for the first time as a new group. We did the chit chat for a little while, playing nice, catching up.
"What took you so long coming back?" Jed asked him. "We've been wasting time."
Ryan laughed. "You're a puppet, Jed. We both agreed to quit Riot Band, and you practically tripped over yourself to run right back. What about all that stuff you said at the last gig?"
Jed shrugged his shoulders. He was leaning on the clothes dryer, looking casual. He'd started re-growing his mustache, and it made him look like an awkward teenager. "It was true at the time, dude. But now I'm off drums, and I'm actually contributing songs. I don't just sit behind the kit and listen to you two play your crap songs."
"Careful," I said. "You helped write some of that crap."
He tugged at the bangs of his faux-hawk and grinned.
"Anyway," Ryan said, "I want to hear what you guys have been up to. What should we do? Try to play some old stuff, or do you want so show me what you've been working on?"
"Hey guys," Conrad said, "I'm having a hard time reading this. So are we like, Riot Band all over again, or are we an actual new band? Should we figure out a new name for ourselves? Because we really don't sound very much how Riot Band sounded the times that I saw you."
"Hell if I know," Ryan said.
"Let's not worry about stuff like that," I said. "Let's just play some songs first, and then we can work out the external stuff."
"Right," Jed said with a grin. "We're all about the music. Let's just worry about the music. Very noble, Eric. There's some bullshit in there I think, but it sounds good. Yeah, let's play something. How about 'Heroin'?"
"What's bullshit about it?" I asked. "Oh, never mind. Yeah, let's try 'Heroin.' Who's singing?"
Ryan demurred. "Split it." He pulled his guitar over his shoulder and touched the strings. The familiar tone buzzed out of his amp. "Let's go."
Jed and I had played the song a few times with Conrad, and our new drummer had an idea about the slow build. The original version only had some crap like toms for drums, or they might have been bongos for all I know. I never looked it up. But Conrad understood that the song wasn't about crashing away with the cymbals, and he started a slow, simple beat. Thump, thump, thump-thump-thump, thump, thump, thump-thump-thump...
Jed hit a chord on the keyboard. He was still leaning on the dryer. He just reached out and jabbed an arm toward the keys and started a drone, held it, and waited. It was subdued. Restrained. Waiting. A minor chord. Building tension. Suspense.
Conrad and Jed played. Jed would stab at the keys, producing some discordant version of either the D or G chords. Conrad kept up the thumping, gently banging, waiting for some progression to impel him into change.
Ryan and I stood, facing each other, neither of us yet playing. It was a weird moment for us. A weird face-off. Neither wanted to play first. Neither wanted to tell the other to play. We just stood, occasionally nodding along to the beat provided by the drums and keyboard.
It was almost as though we knew that whoever entered the song last would have some sort of final say, not only in the song, but in the band. I could feel the challenge from Ryan. He felt arrogant because we'd worked so hard to make him rejoin. But he also felt vulnerable because he'd admitted to crying about wanting to come back. He needed to assert himself.
And I knew that I wasn't going to get anywhere by being the tough guy here. If this band was going to survive a second go-around, it was going to need diplomacy. It was going to need compromise. And I knew it would have to come from me.
So, without touching my bass, I started to sing, gently, but with enough force to make myself heard over the keys and drums: "I don't know... just where I'm going. But I... 'm going to try... for the kingdom... if I can..."
Ryan didn't start playing. Instead, he watched me, and cocked his hand over the strings of his blue Les Paul. He let me sing the lines, on and on, until the verse petered out, "...and I guess that I just don't know, and I guess that I just don't know..."
He waited, nodded to me, and they struck, raking his pick over the strings to produce a reverberating, jangling crash of electric glory.
I plucked a string, let the doom settle in, and waited for him to respond.
And we started playing. We started along with Jed's nasty, jarring chords, with me hitting the doom-doom-doom bass line, and Ryan plucking the delicate notes, punctuated with the bone-breaking crashes of metal hate that issued forth when he smashed the strings as one.
And it started to come together. The tempo picked up and we started jamming it, getting harder and harder, blasting along until it was a merciless wall of noise, and we could do nothing, NOTHING, to make a more obnoxiously loud, violent, hatefully creative and destructive sound. It was rumbling Nietzschean frenzy set to a simplistic beat, and as loud as I could sing, my voice couldn't penetrate the electric assault that we were producing.
Nick had stayed upstairs, hoping to let us get musically reacquainted without interference, but at around the seven minute mark of playing, when we were all bashing away with chaotic abandon, he came down the stairs. His eyes were wide, and the slack-jawed look on his face seemed to say "Holy shit."
We backed off for a while, brought it down to a manageable level, and Ryan sang another verse, but it inevitably got faster and harder, and soon we were trying to murder each other with noise again. It was orgiastic nihilism at it best and worst, and when we finally ended it after almost twenty destructive minutes, my ears were ringing.
My throat was raw from screaming the lyrics, but I managed to comment that we should probably hold onto that song for our closer, since it would be hard to top.
"That was f--king vintage, man," shouted Conrad, apparently unaware that we could all hear him. "And I know what we should call ourselves."
"What?" asked Jed.
2010, Nolan Whyte