Sticks And Strings. Part 10-C

We both knew what he was saying: Talk, or else. Or else what? I didn't know the answer nor wanted one.

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Author's Note:

This will be the final section of Part 10. The reader has a right to ask why Part 10 has been stretched out into these separate chapters and not run together as usual, and why it took so long to bring you this update, and I, the author feel a duty to provide an answer. I chose to break this part into three separate chapters because I felt the story in it's original draft would be too long to submit as one part, thirty pages is a bit long. That, combined with a horrid throat infection and an even more horrid case of writer's block is what caused yet another prolonged absence from me, but rest assured, the infection has been put to bed and though this may be the final for Part 10, 10-C is NOT the end of Sticks And Strings.

Part 11 - coming soon.

Happy New Year one and all!

G.N.

*********************************

People often talk about having an out of body experience, the feeling you get of being on the outside, cut off from everything else, hovering somewhere in dead space watching your body and the world around you. It's like watching a live film of your life unfold right before you, and there you are, hovering somewhere in dead space, unable to control anything you say or do. While the world continues to move at the same pace, it feels like you're trapped in a bubble, cut off from the main streamline, watching simple actions move at a snail's pace. Then without warning, something seems to go Click!' and suddenly there you are, back inside your body. It's you, back in charge againand often left to deal with the consequences of actions during your brief absence. That's how it felt for me as Adam stood on the step, awaiting his explanation.

I couldn't really remember what I'd said, but it must have been something he did not enjoy hearing. He sat on the dusty, threadbare arm of the couch with eyes screwed shut and eyebrows dipping sharply, pinching the bridge of his nose as though trying to block some nasty odor. Having just the two of us in the garage may have meant more open space but it felt like the walls were closing in around me, making our designated H.Q. seem little more than a plywood and concrete prison with only a few beaten up instruments and power cords patched up so often they were more duct tape than anything else. I just sat there, rocking on the stool, imagining a big paper cone on my heada well deserved one, at that.

So, let me try to understand this, Adam said without looking up from his pinched hand. You're telling me that Kayla swiped your jay and then did that I assumed he meant the scratches on my facefor no reason at all? Well My sentence began and died in the same breath, fading out like the remnants of an echo. I called this one a mile away, already regretting spilling the beans to Adam. The shame in not being able to confide in my best friend was at this moment, far from my list of concerns. Only two thoughts ran through my mind. First, how the hell was I getting out of this one? Adam may not have been staring at me with the emotionless mask he got whenever he was angry about something, which, to his credit, was not too often, but his tone was unmistakable; no way would I be permitted to set foot out of this garage without first offering an explanation. That is, not if I wanted Systex to live to see another day, thoughts that seemed more selfish than anything before this.

The second thought, serious as the first though not as urgent to mewhat was going to happen to the band after this? Not exactly, I said, now imagining DUNCE being scrawled across the paper cone I may as well have been wearing while rocking away on that rickety old stool. I mean I did try to take it back from her, but that's all.

Define take.'

Say huh?

How did you try to take it back?

What's that supposed to mean?

Adam lifted his head, let his hand come to his side, turned and focused on me for what felt like the millionth time, his eyes now two dark little pinpoints threatening to burn holes through me, all without uttering a single word. He didn't need to. We both knew what he was saying: Talk, or else. Or else what?I didn't know the answer nor wanted one.

I didn't hit her if that's what you're asking, I said, knowing I would come off more defensive than necessary.

I didn't say you did.

Then what are you saying?

Our guitarist just screamed you stupid for no obvious reason. Everything seemed chill during practice, then you two are alone for less than five minutes and I come back, she looks ready to bust your beak, or worse. Adam rose and went to the cooler for more water, speaking all the while. And then you spin me some yarn about her stealing a stupid little f**king jay and you trying to get it back, yet you're the one with a face scratched to hell. Richard! He paused long enough to wrench free the plastic bottle cap and take a heavy swig, draining the bottle in three heavy gulps. Now what the f**k is going on, dude? I want the truth! You owe me at least that!

He tossed the bottle onto the workbench, sounding more stupefied than angry, though he was definitely angry, too. Adam was a man whose vocabulary stopped at number two on the Seven Dirty Words list, but in moments of duress, even the most prudish of man was apt to let fly an obscenity or two normally beneath him. And then there were people like me who spoke a strange, fluent dialect of English laced with cuss. Cuss-lish? Any other time and I might have chuckled at my unconvincing attempt at a marriage of the two words.

Alright, I said, the metal feet of the stool scraping against the concrete as I stood. She picks it up off the ground and starts teasing me with it.

Teasing? Adam didn't look impressed.

Y'know, waving it back and forth and talking like I'd been caught pissing against a wall. I ask her to give me it, she won't. I demand it, she refuses and then goes off talking about how she can't believe Mitchell's a stoner, ha ha how funny, joke's on Jason and all that crap. I noticed Adam's eyes widen in surprise then return to normal. Only then did it strike me, I should've kept conscious thought to hold my tongue, but here's another sad yet true fact of life: It's hard to keep the torrents back once the dam has burst. All you can do is just stand back, watch it drain itself and pray like hell the damage won't be that bad. I continued. She actually tried to play keep away with me, for God sakes.

Finally I had enough and grabbed her wristand no, not hard, so don't askthen next I know, there's blood running down my face and I'm on my ass. The more I shared, the more I kept waiting for that supposed relief to flood over me and pull the weight from my shoulders. Instead I just felt like an ant trying to push a bicycle. And that's that, I said, longing for a cigarette, eyeing my bag, fighting hard to restrain the urge to light up in the garage and risk pissing Adam off more. I fell into the couch. The springs squeaked and groaned under my weight. So go on. Yell, swear. Tell me how stupid I was, I know you want to.

Adam neither swore nor yelled. He didn't even let loose an angry snort, he just stood there facing away from me, palms flat against the workbench, pressing so hard against the wood the veins in his wrists made shadows. For a moment he reminded me of Captain Bob's calm before the storm; slow, silent fury building up pressure like champagne in a bottle, just before the cork popped. It gave me a nauseous feeling.

We've known each other for a while now, haven't we Richard? Adam finally said, still with his back to me.

Uh-huh.

I've always said I'm here for you if shit hits the fan; that you never have to worry about anything because we'll find a way, right? I didn't quite know what he was talking about, at best I assumed he meant about Systex, but I told him yes anyway. It seemed the most appropriate answer. Then Richard He turned to face me again. The stone-faced mask of silent hostility was gone, now he just lookedsad. Why am I learning all this just now?

I said I didn't know. He looked more hurt. I tried to explain I honestly didn't know, that I thought I could handle it on my own; it wasn't really that big a deal, which was true, to an extent. I felt no better than a slippery snake oil salesman, trying to convince a guy supposed to be my best friend to buy the bridge I had to sell him. For the first time since Systex was born in this very garage, music just didn't seem important. It hurt more than Kayla's nails ripping across my skin.

Adam seemed to grow contemplative, hoisting himself into the workbench he sat with his long legs dangling off the edge, the toes of his shoes scraping against the floor. He looked at the blank walls behind me, then up to the ceiling, then me. Why did we found Systex in the first place? he asked.

The question, practical blasphemy to my ears, hit me like a slap in the face. To make music, I said, as if Adam should've known better than to ask such things.

Exactly, Adam said, drumming his long fingers against the side of his knee. We've been a band for how long?

I dunno, four? Five months?

And in that time, how many songs have we written? Hmm? How many gigs have we played; hell, planned even?

Well, we needed a guitarist, I said, feeling like DUNCE should've been tattooed across my forehead now as the pieces began to come together. Then again, JACKASS might have been more apt a word. Nice cop out, I thought to myself.

Yeah, maybe, but that didn't need to prevent the three of us making music. Ouch. Checkmate goes to Adam in three moves. The neutrality of his voice belied the harshness of his words. How did that old adage go again, though? The truth hurts? Did it really have to, though? I wondered, picking away at a loose thread on one of the cushions. All bands have a rough start, I said in a quiet voice. Who knows, maybe this will serve as inspiration for more songs one day.

When is one day, though, Richard, really? Adam said, running a hand through his shaggy mop of hair. I mean, we've got what, two, maybe two and a half songs to our name? And even those need work.

Yeah, but we made a lot of progress with Rage today, I tried to protest; knowing I was only digging myself into a deeper hole the more I listened to myself. You know your argument's a lost cause when your explanations start off with Yeah, but.

I agree, Adam said, and that's good but it still doesn't change the fact. Rage and the untitled one won't get us far. They won't even buy us a gig at Murphy's. Murphy's, properly known as Murphy's Taproom, one of the many watering holes around town, and the only hotspot for local up-and-comers of the alternative crowd to try and showcase their fledgling talents. We'd snuck into a few shows when the crowds weren't large enough to warrant hiring extra muscled goons to flash you suspicious glances at the door, asking Got any I.D., bub? Most of them were disappointments, though we'd seen an interesting quartet there last month that went by the name of Festering Brides, one of the many coattail riders of this new wave of death metal, and the only band I'd seen with a female growler.

Adam and I talked a lot about how cool it would be to land a gig there someday, we'd spend hours together in the garage; jamming, smoking, sneaking beers and dreaming big. Now the creative spark seemed to have fizzled, the cigarettes ground out, beers dried out and the dream seeming to be well out of reach.

We have to get serious about this if we're gonna make any name for ourselves, Adam said, shifting around on the workbench. No more bullshit, you know? He sounded unsure of himself.

Dude, you'll get no argument from me there. You think I enjoy seeing only two songs worth of material just floating around? Maybe that was exaggerating a bit; there was material aplenty floating around with every practice, lots of unpolished doodles from Mitchell, half-finished bass lines from Jason and a few licks from Adam's snares, never mind the halfhearted barks and growls from me. But we can't go all stiff upper lip, you know? Music's supposed to be fun.

Just give up already, Richard, my better half said. Let it go. Well of course we're not going to take the fun out of it. The day music becomes just another unpaid job to me is the day I'll lay down my sticks, permanently. No mistaking the seriousness in him this time. It was a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed. Having said that though, he said, removing himself from the bench and trying to turn around to check the seat of his pants for dust or clingy little splinters, we've got to think very hard about what we're gonna do.

Do about what?

Adam gave me a look which all but said I knew very well what. Kayla.

What about her?

Let's say I believe your story, and I'm not saying I don't so please don't bite my head off. If what you say's true, and you two are going to be like this he made a grandiose gesture with his hands to indicate our little spat, then we might have to re-think how things are. Otherwise, this isn't going to work.

No amount of mental conditioning could prepare me for the blow that Adam's words left with me. I set off for home a few minutes later, tired and defeated, carrying a heavy heart to boot. The last thing he'd said was still at the forefront of my mind, uttered when I tried to convince him that I wouldn't let things with Kayla endanger Systex's future: I don't know if I can believe you, dude. I gathered up my stuff and had left without another word. I didn't want to risk crying. Not in front of him, or anyone else.

***

It was just after sundown when I got home. The last ochre whispers of dusk dipped beyond the edge of the horizon, leaving a sheet of black where it once stood. The moon had yet to make its nightly appearance and the stars were still deep in slumber. It was just me in the darkness; yet another suitable metaphor to pair off my mood. The darkness of my house blended in with the sky. No Ford Taurus in the driveway, no familiar reflection from the flickering glow of the television in the upper bay window. It looked abandoned. Surprised yet unconcerned, I slid my key in the lock and let myself in, flipping the deadbolt back to its lock position.

We were making music at long last, the talent was there. Whole, complete songs might be short in supply but it was still music, damn it! And Adam wanted to risk it over something stupid? I couldn't help muttering an obscenity in his direction, followed by two directed at me; one out of guilt for even thinking that about Adam, the other for making a bigger mess of the whole thing. I still felt no better about spilling my guts to him and wondered, with admitted cynicism, about the mental health of whoever first coined the phrase and the truth shall set you free.

I knew he had a legitimate concern; maybe I just didn't want to admit things were worse than I made them out to be. Sure I thought Kayla had been unreasonable, crazy evennow why don't you tell us how you really feel?, so said the little voice in my headbut kick her out of the band? Who was to say that was the best option? I dared not even think about what that would do, to the band or Kayla; or even what Kayla would do to us. That thought hadn't even been considered, and after the events of today, it would remain unconsidered as far as I was concerned, for tonight at least.

Hello? I called, listening for signs of life in the Demin house. Not so much as a whisper. I called another hello, going up the stairs to the kitchen to have a Pepsi. The only thing to greet me after throwing the light on, breaking the spell of darkness and giving my eyes quite a shock was a brief note on the refrigerator whiteboard we used for jotting down messages and grocery lists. The note was in my father's unmistakable handwriting.

Richard, Gone to the legion with Eric. Kevin and Andrea next door at the Wilsons, please pick them up if you get home before we do. Someone claiming to be from that coffee shop you like to visit downtown dropped off that advertisement on the table. Leftovers in the oven, ready to heat.

Dad.

Stiff, emotionless, to the point; typical Captain Bob, I thought, rolling my eyes. Then my attention went to the table. A single sheet of crinkled green paper stood folded on the table, looking like a little paper tent. I took it, wondering what sort of advertisement Damien, I assumed it had to be him, none of the other Contrast baristas knew where I lived, brought for me. Probably just another advertisement for some show at Murphy's, I thought, unfolding the little tent and turning it over to the printed side, intrigued to see what lower mainland garage band would be trying its hand at winning over the local scene.

METAL MAYHEM AT MURPHY'S! the heavy, bold title screamed from the page. I had to smile in spite of myself. Somebody liked his or her alliteration a little too much, I mused, reading on, the small grammar stickler inside me not relishing the glib use of exclamations.

***

Calling all local metal bands! Murphy's Taproom is pleased to announce the first ever Thrash for Cash Battle of The Bands! Show us your skills! Win the crowd over, win the pot! No genre unwelcome! Thrash, death, doom or groove, it's all on the table! Bring it to the pit!

1st Prize: Opening slot for Black Heart Legions on their spring cross-Canada tour + $1000 cash

2nd Prize: $500 cash

3rd Prize: $100 cash + Dinner/Drinks for your band at Murphy's Taproom

Registration Fee: $30. Participants must register in person or by phone by Friday, June 7th. Call 572-3690, ext. 148 for details and official contest rules.

Saturday, July 7th @ Murphy's Taproom, 345 Pandora Street, Brentwood.

NO MINORS.

*** Despite the tame clich phrasing, my hands shook with excitement, stretching the paper and tearing the corner off. It wasn't the money that caught my attention, it was the opener slot. Black Heart Legions were a thrash quintet from Vancouver that had recently been signed to a deal with Ace of Spades Records, a local company with a primarily metal-alternative based clientele. They were very popular with the Brentwood crowd, and fast climbing the ranks on my list of most favorite bands. When I say fast climbing, in the last month I'd listened to them more than Slayer, Sepultura and Metallica combined, quite a big deal if one took a look at the walls of my bedroom.

My eyes shot to the calendar below the whiteboard. March 12th. My brain began to race, ideas coming together and piling up like NASCAR racers after a big crash. Yes! I cried aloud. Inspiration and excitement came back as though someone had turned the tap back on. This is just what we need! I told myself, rushing back down the stairs, forgetting all about the Pepsi.

I was out the door and halfway to the Wilson's house before realizing two rather important details I'd overlooked: Jason and Adam were both legal age, Mitchell would turn nineteen on July 3rd, and me on May 1st, that was no problem. Kayla however, was sixteen and we still had the issue of her sudden freaking out and Adam's seemingly growing reluctance about her. On top of all that, we barely had a song to our name. How the hell was that going to help?

The answer was a simple one, coming to me as I rang the neighbor's doorbell to collect my hyperactive siblings. To hell with it, I thought. It's too good an opportunity to pass on. It'll all work out somehow.

I'll make it work.

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