Sticks And Strings. Part 7

The band is together at last and music is being created. All that's missing are the lyrics. Finding only frustration, will a surprise second opinion be the dynamite needed to crack the writer's block?

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It took Jason a few full rehearsals to warm up to Kaylaor at the very least accept that she was not just a flash in the pan soon to be cast aside like last week's garbage. She was here to stay. He never mentioned it again, which was fine with me. Mitchell Guerin fit also in well with the group, bringing with him an impressive backlog of experience and knowledge from the Trois-Rivires music school that served as a good trampoline to bounce ideas off during writing sessions and he seemed happy to share the strings role in Systex with Kayla. And Adamwell, the personification of percussion, eating, sleeping and breathing drums. He was always on.

We met at the garageas we now all referred to it, gone was the bland title of Adam's Houseafter school Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; Jason wasn't able to make Tuesdays and Mitchell wasn't able to change his schedule at the local convenience store where he worked weekends. We made it work, that left four days each of us could do our own thing and share what we created next practice. Now that we had a complete ensemble, things could begin to move forward, no more spending our after school time lounging about the garage going "I don't know, what do you wanna do?" and pissing away time better spent trying to give birth to music of some sort.

Lyrics and vocals became my sole domain and I stopped bringing my own guitar to practice though for the first couple times it felt weird not having one in my hands. It became so common for me to whip a little tune up during lulls in past get-togethers I didn't know what to do with my hands at first. It felt like part of me was missing but at the same time it was good to be able to focus on writing.

Only one problem stood in the wayme.

The creative superhighway seemed to move one way only: music in, music out. Whatever vehicle the lyrics were using must have hit a flat tire because my notebook was a vapid void, pasty pages lying exposed to the world missing my familiar chicken scratch while halfhearted reassurances recycled through my mind. "No I don't have writer's block," I would think, scarcely believing myself. "I'll think of something good soon, no worries."

Such is where I found myself one Friday about a month after our first full band practice. I was alone in a spare classroomthe only true sanctuary from the distracting forces in the dreary fortress of solitude masquerading as my schoolhunched over a desk too small for my tall frame, pen in hand, desperate for some outlet to channel the creative urge picking away at my mind yet unable to form it into proper words.

No light shines this lone path For the tortured spirit; the one who walks among us Truly walks alone As darkness does blind

The pen stood at attention by the ellipsis awaiting further instruction. When none came, its first move was to scratch a large X across the page, followed by a large slash through the pageslicing a jagged, blue crevice down two others before jerking to a sudden halt and flying from my hand, rolling off the table and onto the floor where it was swallowed up by a sea of crumpled pages.

Crap, I thought, tearing the wrecked pages from my notebook and giving them as my father called it, the old heave-ho. They landed among their fallen brothers, becoming nothing more than inconspicuous parts of the pile. Absolutely crap.

All in all, twenty or so pages went to waste in the past half-hour, or however long I had been at this. Some of the papers were covered in large scrawls of words, taking up half the page. Others had barely a sentence on them before an X put its usefulness to an end. I'm quite sure the fellows from the Environmental Club would've been appalled at my reckless disregard for the tree that gave its life so I could have writing paper, though that thought was drowned out by countless others bouncing around my brain like a racing track.

I often thought of inspiration as a stream. In the past, when my creative juices flowed proud and strong like a raging river, I would be unstoppable, often filling up sheets of lyrics or guitar lines with ease. Today it felt like the stream had ebbed and I was left with only a trickle; my optimism drying up alongside it. I swallowed a yawn while mulling over the failure to produce any solid prose, it too vanished among countless others from throughout the day. Rubbing my eyes I felt my neck get hot with irritation, the hairs standing up on edge, the slow grind of a headache was emerging from behind.

Well this is helpful, I thought. Don't worry guys. I'll come up with something soon. Trust me. Sometimes sarcasm was the only way I could keep myself from slinking into a worse mood than I was already in. It wasn't working today. With a hearty shove, my notebook slid across the table, disappearing over the edge and landing with a thump on the paper-littered floor. For some reason I thought the action would make me feel better. No such luck.

My head rested on the table while mulling whether writer's block was a suitable term for the rut I found myself in. Out of numerous sheets of paper and countless hours I had produced two good writings at most. The beginning of a poem called Cheaters Prosper and another addition to an already in progress song dubbed Empty Shell, the former being nothing more than a thinly veiled assault on corporate greed while the latter poem contained melancholic musings about broken promises and hurt feelings, subject matter I could have been considered an expert on.

My mind wandered for what seemed like the umpteenth time to the half-smoked pack of Number 7s hidden away in my bag and calling my name.

Richard

No.

Richard

No! I have to write down something. I promised.

Just onecome on, you know you want to. It'll calm you down.

Like so many futile arguments in the past, I knew when I was fighting a losing battle. The temptation was too great to resist. After quickly gathering up the sacrificial pages and tossing them into the recycling bin, I gathered my belongings and slunk out the far exit, avoiding the camera up in the corner while ducking under one of the guard rails and inching down a large hill. Taking care not to slip and fall face first into either the heavy, muddy ground or hit my head on the knotted branches of the thick trunked trees that hung down over the path like crossed swords, I questioned the intelligence of whoever first designated this area as the school's smoke pit, wondering why it didn't occur to find an area with a less treacherous path.

Wandering further into the brush, I noticed the faintest whisper of a non-tobacco-y scent drifting towards me; foul and resinous, yet oddly sweet and compelling at the same time. "Hey!" I called. "Is somebody else here?"

A familiar sounding voice responded a few feet away. "Hallo?"

"That's notMitch?" I pushed through the last barricade of flimsy branches and entered a flat area surrounded by fallen logs coated in a thick carpet of moss and a large flat rock which Mitch was using for a chair. A thin white stick hung from his lips emitting more of the sickly sweet smelling smoke I had caught a whiff of atop the hill. He looked surprised to see me.

"Richard?"

"Hey man, what are you doing here?" I asked, feeling a little silly. Wasn't it obvious? "I didn't know you blazed."

"Same to you," he said, taking a large puff from the joint. The cherry glowed bright orange and faded like a sunset when he exhaled, the cloud of smoke encircling his head and drifting up towards the sky in a large, loosely formed plume. "I never see you smoke so much as a cigarette before."

This was true. I did my best not to carry my smokes around during practice, Jason's dislike of them was very clear and I wasn't about to turn the garage into my personal hotbox and annoy everyone else, especially now. We'd had more than enough drama to last quite a while. "That's about to change," I said, setting my bag down on the ground, pulling the pack from a small pocket. When Mitchell saw the label, his face screwed up into a mask of disapproval.

"Aw man, you smoke those?" He clucked and shook his head. "Garbage those are. Mostly filler, no real substance to em, you know. You want a good smoke? Try this." He plucked the joint from his lips and offered it to me. I hesitated, and then accepted it, taking a short drag before breaking into a fit of coughing, smoke escaping from my lungs in thin streams. Mitchell laughed, slapping his thigh. "Rather potent, no?" "God dude, that's harsh stuff, nothing like I've ever tasted before," I said, although I was no connoisseur of cannabis; a joint here, a blunt there was the extent of my experience with weed. My lungs heaved against my ribcage and my nose burned.

Mitchell seemed to understand I would not be partaking in another hit and he reclaimed the joint from my hand, placing it between his lips and indulging himself. "Free period?" he asked between puffs.

"Yep, was down in 1070 trying to get some lyrics out."

"Oh, come up with anything?"

My voice sounded more sullen than need be. "Just a lot of crumpled pages and a nagging voice insisting it was smoke time."

"Damn." Mitchell put the joint out, dropped it into a plastic baggie, rolled it up and stuck it away in his pocket. "You'll figure something out I'm sure. Everyone has their moments."

I had to laugh. "Look who's talking, Mister I'll write a dozen different riffs in three days.' I think you've been more active in the few weeks you've been with us than we've all been since coming together." His meaty shoulders rose in a what can I say?' shrug. "Come to think of it, I don't think I've made a single thing make sense."

"The creative spark is different for us all. Didn't you have that poem though? What was it called, Empty Shell?"

"Yeah but I don't know, it doesn't really sound like something that could be a metal song."

"Says who?" It sounded simple but after a minute of reflecting on it, I began to realize the question was more revealing than any answer I could possibly come up with. When I didn't answer, Mitchell said "Try not to think about what's appropriate for metal or anything like that. What is it you want to say?"

"About what?"

"Anything! Surely you've got thoughts about shit in life, put a pen to them. It doesn't matter if they're different or others don't understand it. As long as it comes from within you, then you've done a good job." He shifted around on the rock, letting his legs dangle off the sides, swinging to and fro. "Let's hear it."

"What? You really want to?"

"Yes." He snapped and waved his fingers at me. "Go on, who's gonna hear us?" For a minute I seriously considered it. Then I chickened out and pulled my dog eared notebook from my bag. One end of the coiled spine unwound itself, sticking straight up in the air like a steel hair.

"Nah man, not here," I said, feeling foolish as I handed him the notebook. "Be careful with it, that's the only copy I got." Mitchell gently took it from my hand, treating it as though it were a sacred object, which I guess it was, sort of. He flipped through a few pages before staring at a page for quite some time, his brow sloping forwards in an intense frown, an expression I prayed meant deep focus and not anger.

"Well?" I summoned the courage to ask. "What say you?" He didn't answer, just kept reading. His eyes bounced back and forth like a volleying tennis ball in the middle of a championship match at Wimbledon. A few more agonizing moments slipped past before he looked up. I asked again what, if any thoughts he had.

"Dude" his voice a near whisper, "that's pretty good. It could totally work."

I couldn't believe my ears. "Really?" was all I could get out.

"Hell yes. Maybe try cutting some of those longer words out, just to shorten it up a bit and help keep the rhythm. It's great, otherwise, why would you not think so?" To this I had no suitable answer. It was just something I never really considered to use with the band.

Mitchell continued. "Back home, I was in a band called WhiteLust. We played pure thrash, yet our vocalist he wrote songs about self-esteem, love and having confidence, all in French. Must sound weird, huh?"

I admitted I'd rarely heard any heavy songs about such topics.

"We played only a few shows before I moved, in heavily English areas where nobody knew a word of French but watching the way the audience jumped into the music, head banging, moshing to every song that experience taught me valuable lesson. As long as you give it your best from here," he tapped his chest, "you've done well."

It was becoming clearer now why Jason wanted this guy as a part of Systex. "Well, thanks," I said as he slid my notebook back into the bag's open pocket, his left hand fiddling inside for a second before withdrawing it. "I think it still needs work though. Maybe I'll share it at practice Monday." Mitchell smiled understandingly as he climbed down from the rock, dusting off his pants.

"All good, buddy," he said, checking his watch. "Ah, I should get going though, start work at three today, gotta rush home and get my uniform." His eyes rolled sharply at the word uniform. "Nothing else, I see you Monday, huh?" His hand clamped down on my shoulder.

"Sounds good, Mitchell. Thanks."

"You betcha." He started up the sloped path before turning his head to me, saying "Hey, you ever looking for a proper smoke, you just come see me, we work something out, huh?" and nodded presumably at my Number 7's. "Uh, yeah, okay," I said, closing and shouldering my bag. Then I had a thought. Mitchell, however, was gone before I got a chance to ask.

***

Home sweet homethat's a laugh. The cynical streak inside me could only wonder if whoever first coined that clich maxim had been either high or bore a cruel sense of humor. Life in the Demin residence was about as sweet as vinegar, rarely did a day go by without an argument of some kind. Such stupid ones too, "Kevin, where did you put the remote?", "Andrea, why isn't the dishwasher empty?" or today's topicone becoming a bit repetitious for my comfort Father Demin v. Music, round number umpteen and counting.

"Richard! Turn down that god awful racket!" The order came barreling through my closed door, accompanied by a barrage of fists pounding on the door with cannon-like ferocity. For once, I wasn't too keen to fight. My fingers spun my ghetto blaster's volume dial a sharp left, turning the wailing shriek of Master of Puppets' solo into little more than a subdued squeak, all without once looking up from my book.

"You're welcome," I said when no thanks came. Despite knowing full well the risk of being bitten, I wasn't too bothered about rattling the lion's cage a little.

"Watch that mouth or else." The great vague threat, or else. As if the utterance was meant to throw terror into the intended target. That line was used so much around here, now I just found it weak.

"Yes sir," I said, no sooner turning a page than hearing the rickety knob clank and rattle in the frame before the door pushed open, revealing my father standing there with a scowl surrounded by a mask of deep wrinkles. Apparently he'd decided privacy was respectable only part time, when it suited him best. His large frame came stomping towards me. A quick hand popped out and pushed my copy of Salem's Lot towards my outstretched lap.

"What did I just say?"

"Hey geez Dad, I wasn't being a smartass, I was just saying"

"Yes, I know. You're always just saying,' Richard." His frown turned towards the ghetto blaster, the end chords now fading away into silence. The hand that pushed aside my book now struck the stop button with a heavy finger, causing the tape deck to open and spit my tape out.

I was choked. "Dad, what the heheck, I was listening to that?" My cry of protest went ignored as he claimed the tape from the blaster's mouth, holding it as though it was covered in germs or might burst into flames at any moment.

"Metal-lick-a" he said with a hint of disgust, butchering the pronunciation. I started to correct him but stopped. Judging by the way his brow continued to fold, I knew he wasn't about to listen or care. "Where do you get all this garbage?" he asked, waving the tape at me like he was confronting me about discovering a porn magazine hidden under my bed.

"Uh, I didn't steal any if that's what you're implying," I said. "I buy them all from Cage, same as with the posters." I pointed to the wall closest to my bed, adorned with the stretched out cover art from every tape I owned, along with a Ride the Lightning poster and a Slayer flag. I could tell he was even less impressed now.

"Cage?"

"Cage Records, Dad, it's a music store downtown."

"Ah," he said in a tone flatter than a tire with a nail in it, beginning to toss the tape between his hands. "Would this be the same store you met thesefriends of yours?" I thought he had a bit of nerve putting so much emphasis into friends.' Bad enough he didn't like what I was doing after school, the apparent lack of trust was just insulting. "Son, I don't know what you think music is, but"

Salem's Lot was on the floor and I was on my feet in a split second. "Now just a minute, Dad, that's not fair. This IS music."

"It is crap, Richard. I get a headache just listening to one of your ridiculous songs, how in God's name you've not gone deaf is beyond me."

"You know, because you don't like it doesn't mean that it's crap, you know. I hate the country music you listen to but have I ever said anything? No!" My sudden outburst shattered the frown masking my father's face, leaving a blank disbelieving stare. "It would be nice if you could at least accept that I like metal and that it means something to me. The feelings I get from certain songs is a total rush; the way the instruments come together to form a perfect marriage of speed and sound, it's just fking thrilling to me, okay?" A few seconds passed before I quickly apologized for cursing, not that I felt any twinge of guilt.

Taking a long time to ponder all I'd said, and possibly his own reaction, my father simply threw my tape towards me, promptly turning on his heel and leaving my room, mumbling something to himself about me needing a stint in the military to "straighten me out." It took quite an effort not to slam the door behind him.

My hands instinctively went for my backpack on a hunt for my notebook. Anger might not be the most welcome emotion but it sure can light a fire under your ass. Instead of the crisp yet flimsy notebook, my fingers closed around something small and plastic. Puzzled, I pulled it out and dropped it almost as quick in shock. Inside the little baggie was an oblong paper twisted at both ends, nice and plump in the middlea joint.

I was agog. Mitchell must have slipped it in while returning my book. Then it struck me like a slap in the face. "If you ever want a proper smoke...I thought he meant a different cigaretteJesuswhat am I gonna do with this?" I whispered, remembering what he'd said in the pit earlier. My first idea was to cram it back into my bag and shove the whole thing under my bed, which I did, only to pull it back out a minute later.

No way, I thought. This is idiotic, if he caught you with thisinstant death. I rolled the baggie between my fingers, watching the joint tip and rock inside its plastic prison like a see-saw. When I tired of this, I looked at my closed door, facing the direction of the living room, down again at the joint, towards my alarm clockwhich flashed a bright 7:00and back at the door.

Straighten me out, huh? Not if I have any say in the matter, Dad.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Yeshy
    Way sweet. This and a few others on UG are the only fiction I read now, keep it em coming!
    BurningTurkey
    this is the first part i've read, but i'm definitely going to check out the others now. good writing, sir.