The problem with music, Matt Cateland decided, was that it didn't cater to the full spectrum of emotions. Sprawled on his bed, facing the ceiling, with an iPod dock laid on his stomach, he had been skipping through songs in a self-pitying way, squeezing the skip button whenever the singer started annoying him by being romantically successful.
He wasn't quite sure how long he had been here. A bottle of vodka, barely touched, lay within arm's reach, on the floor. The lights were off and the curtains drawn, but a sort of grey light was filtering in anyway. In a couple of hours, he had to go out to the Ivory to report on some concert or other. One of the upshots of their concert last weekend had been a hasty promotion to culture editor, a job which entailed doing his old secretarial bollocks, while getting lumped with any cultural events that caught the editor's eye.
It paid a bit more, at least. And it made his time-old bar boast I'm a journalist that tiny bit truer. Just another item on his CV to disappoint him in the pulling power stakes, like guitarist, singer, small-time rockstar, writer... Matt took a sip of the vodka, wincing as he swallowed. Didn't like vodka.
Even better, someone from a venue up in the city had been watching them. He had loved them, apparently, because Anticitizen One had been invited to open for a big band - one with a proper album and singles and radio play time and everything. Rehearsals had been intensive and, at last, buzzing with purpose and ambition. They were now clicking more often than clunking, and it felt good.
Andrea, he hadn't seen since the gig. Late at night, he would find himself hanging about on Facebook longer than was necessary, mousing through the Friends Online list in search of her name. But even when she popped online, he couldn't bring himself to open a conversation.
Aerosmith's Hole In My Soul appeared in the shuffle. He turned it up, and as visions of her smile floated before his eyes, he gulped the vodka and ran a hand through his hair. He had to leave for rehearsal in about an hour. Tell me how it feels to be, the one who turns the knife inside of me? His chest tightened, as if in sympathy.
It was only when the song finished that Matthew realised he hadn't actually moved since falling, blind drunk into bed the previous night.
Laura Ellison: Matt! Didn't see you yesterday?
Matt Cateland: Hey babe. Yeah, I took the early morning shift.
Laura Ellison: No pub?
Matt Cateland: Nah. Pre-drink became... drinking.
Laura Ellison: Don't drink alone, Matt. You should have called, I'd have helped you empty your bottles.
Matt Cateland:I didn't have enough to quench your thirst, Laura.
Laura Ellison: True, you're a right little girly-man when it comes to drinking. Laura Ellison: So how have you been?
Matt Cateland: Aight.
Laura Ellison: Sure? Just alright?
Matt Cateland: Well, bit shit.
Laura Ellison: Not the answer I was going for, but go on...
Matt Cateland: Same thing, Laura, same as usual.
Laura Ellison: She's not even that pretty.
Matt Cateland: Oh don't give me that. As if you wouldn't.
Laura Ellison: Well, I'm not you, am I? She's got a boyfriend, Matt, you need to drop it.
Matt Cateland: Easier said than done, innit? Been trying for what... six years?
Laura Ellison: Matt...
Matt Cateland: Right, darling, I've gotta go shave - rehearsal.
This was a lie. He hadn't shaved for a couple of days. He had to go and put some shoes on, but that sounded less dashing.
Laura Ellison: OK, just... chin up, yeah?
Matt Cateland: Sure thing. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to shave properly.
Laura Ellison: Prick.
Matt smirked and closed the window. His guitar was in its case where he had left it after the last rehearsal. He cringed slightly as he realised that probably meant he hadn't touched it since.
You're really living for the music, aren't you, Matt? he muttered, slinging the guitar over his shoulder. It was warm out, for once. Matthew picked up his keys, transferred the iPod from dock to pocket (Old Love, by Eric Clapton - another chest-tightener), and headed for the door.
The garage door was open, crashing drums audible from the top of the road. As he approached, a little bit of bass became audible over the cymbal noises. Matthew sighed and mentally prepared to lose a couple of decibels of hearing. The music stopped as he ducked under the door.
Alright, Matt? Joshua smirked. So after all that piss-taking over the beard... you're going caveman yourself?
Josh had finally relented, shaving just before their last gig. The band had never really talked about the argument that had nearly torn them apart mere hours before the biggest night of their careers. In a very blokey kind of way, they just played the gig, got drunk on free beer together, and that was that. Things had been friendlier though, no doubt.
Matt rubbed his chin ruefully.
Just can't be arsed to shave. Guys, do you mind if we do a couple of run-throughs instrumental? Not really up to singing today.
Yeah, sure. You'll have to sing a bit though. Don't want any nasty surprises, Luke said forbiddingly. Josh raised an eyebrow.
You worried his balls might drop?
Piss off, drummer. Go and hit things.
Thirty seconds and several lost decibels later, Josh relented. He leaned on his drums and asked,
So, we going to play the same set as we did at the Ivory? Ending on Heaven's Door definitely worked.
Yeah. I reckon we should push Fluorescent Adolescent up to the top though - it's a good opener, gets people moving straight out of the gate.
Okay, how many more covers do we want to do? Matt asked, counting on his fingers. That's two. Say seven or eight minutes.
We've got like... half an hour in originals, Josh pointed out.
How long've we got?
Three quarters of an hour, I think, Matt answered, somewhat hesitantly.
Then we're good. Worst comes to worst, we'll pad out Heaven's Door.
Huzzah, I do love that chord progression. Luke shrugged. Keep the same order as before, yeah?
May as well - seemed to work alright.
From the top then.
One. Two. Three. Four.
Matthew loved this song. It had always been a bit of a strain on his voice, but playing it instrumental, he could just imagine himself singing it properly, and the crowd pulsating with the beat and -
You don't like the Arctic Monkeys? Disbelief is etched on her face.
Not much no. What have they got, apart from some comically regional accents, stupid haircuts and bouncy guitars? he shrugs, sipping his beer. They're both young enough that the six-pack on the table beside them shimmers with illicit pleasure. He hasn't really acquired the taste yet - his father tells him he will someday - but he can't go back to drinking Coke in front of her. Aside from anything else, he's hoping for a drunken mistake. She's far too gorgeous to fall for him sober.
She crawls over him to the iPod, leaning her hand on his knee, and puts on Fluorescent Adolescent. As she crawls back, she flashes him a little smile, and Andrea Harrison steals his heart.
They had stopped playing.
You just drifted off, mate. Josh was frowning. You OK?
Sorry, dunno what came over me. Matt shook his head. From the first chorus?
They finished the song without incident.
Matt, you should probably sing the originals. Harder to follow them otherwise, Luke suggested.
Yeah... Yeah. You're right. Matthew bit his lip. The others might not have noticed, but every song he wrote was, in some way, a song about Andrea.
First up, Falling In Love With You. Possibly the first song he had ever written, a bit cringe-worthy, but it had held on somehow.
Both That's That and You Chose The Wrong Brother came from the awful week when Andrea started dating Steve.
Ice was perhaps the most navel-gazing, self-pitying set of lyrics ever set to paper, but he loved it. The guitar solo was his favourite. And the highlight? You can keep your global warming/It'll never melt my heart.
And the rock-bottom of the depressive streak? Ghosts In The Lake.
You alright, Matt? his old bassist, a childhood friend, laid a hand on his shoulder.
Fine, yeah. Matthew didn't look up, staring out at the glossy black surface of the lake and rolling the beer-bottle against his temple.
It was, of course, bloody freezing. Whoever had told him the Lake District trip would be a nice, breezy, summer-time camping trip was a bastard. The lake was nice though. And they had been having a good time.
Nevertheless, Matt had drifted away from the campfire, and the people, and the infuriating couples. Lodged in the back of his mind was the realisation that most of the people on this trip were leaving their homes in a few weeks, off on the great big university adventure, leaving the Bad Apples behind. They promised to stay in touch, but Matthew didn't even think he would keep up his side of the bargain, let alone the emigrs.
Of course, there was no use claiming it was the imminent loss of a bunch of people he sort of liked that was heavy in his stomach. Andrea was here. She would be gone soon. But right now, she was with Steve.
Matt stared miserably out at the lake.
Sorry! He had been playing on automatic, lost in his thoughts.
Dude, are you OK? Luke asked.
I dunno, bit distracted.
Bloody hell, Matthew, you're not still moping over the blonde girl are you? Joshua was indignant.
Joshua, I think it's time we went down to the pub.
Yeah, we've more or less got the songs down, so long as Matthew's awake.
Pub it is then!
Matthew staggered back into his apartment some seven hours later, his stomach churning and his head spinning. Naturally, instead of going to bed, he stuck his head under the tap for a few moments, and then logged into Facebook. The little message icon had a red one on it. He clicked it after a few tries.
Just to Let you Know
Hey Matt You OK? Been a while. Just thought you should know - the Apples are playing just before you next week at that big concert. Thought you'd rather not hear it from Steve. Don't disappear again, Matt - you were gone for far too long last time.
He sighed, and turned off the screen.
The next morning, he woke up sprawled across an armchair, ten minutes before he was supposed to be in the office. Before starting the rush, Matthew sighed again.
The venue was big. The back of the crowd would be a homogenous, faceless mass from the stage, especially once the lights were down.
The organiser bounced out from backstage, shaking their hands vigorously.
Hi lads! Ready to sound-check!
Matt shrugged. Suppose so. Listen, Mr. Black... are we playing first or second?
Second. The other guys are opening for you!
Sweet, Joshua said happily.
I'll let you get sorted out - Chris will talk you through the sound check.
They suddenly felt enormously out of their depth. But they weren't nervous - if anything, it was exhilarating.
The night started in half an hour. Anticitizen One were sprawled on armchairs backstage, occasionally exchanging a few words, but mostly just staring at the stairs up to the stage. Matthew rarely got nervous about playing, but this was no pub gig. The venue was, apparently, sold out - almost a thousand people were filing in to the room. The headliners were about too - Mr. Black had unsubtly hinted they were looking for a band to come on tour with them.
He was in the room now, fiddling with his phone. Matt noticed he was sweating, tapping the screen with harder and harder gestures.
Guys, there's been a change of plan, he announced suddenly. Luke jumped and choked on his Fanta. I was talking to Mr. Kublakis. Matt clenched his fists. And we thought it made more sense for The Bad Apples to take the second slot, being the more established band and all. I hadn't realised they had so much more experience, you know?
But we're better! Josh snapped.
You said so yourself, Luke added.
Well, maybe they had an off night. Listen lads, there's nothing I can do for you. You go on in twenty minutes.
This is bollocks, mate.
Leave it, Josh, Matt said tersely. Mr. Black breathed a sigh of relief (Josh towered over him) and retreated out of the room. Matt sighed.
What the hell is this? We were playing second!
They've got a record company behind them, Josh. It's no skin off Mr. Black's nose who plays first, is it? All it took was one phone call from their manager, and bob's your uncle. Whatever. All we need to do is set the standard so bloody high that they can't even hope to live up to us.
Pricks, Josh said by way of agreement. Luke opened his mouth to add something, but the door flew open.
Hey, kids. Steve Kublakis stood, smirking in the doorway. He swaggered in, followed by the rest of the band, all of whom looked a bit embarrassed. He pulled out his phone, while his band pushed past him to greet Anticitizen. As Matt shook the drummer's hand, he leant down and whispered in his ear,
We're sorry about this, mate. It's out of order. Steve's gone a bit mental recently.
While the two bands chatted awkwardly, Steve subjected them to a loud and very public phone conversation.
Darling? Hey, it's me! Listen, we're playing second now - you don't need to rush. We swapped, yeah. Who cares? See you after the gig? Love you, Andy.
Obnoxious bastard, Josh mouthed at Matt. He shrugged weakly.
Let's get going, he said calmly. Steve was watching him.
Andrea said she'd come to see you guys play too.
Her taste isn't all bad then, Josh sneered. Matt laid a hand on his shoulder, but was quietly eager for him to start a fight. Steve faltered, and that was all the time it took for Luke to swoop in and guide Josh upstairs.
That bloke's a tosser, Matt. How did you stick him for so long? he demanded.
Dunno, he's got a good voice and a fit girlfriend.
He had a good voice, anyway. Not so great nowadays, Luke said lightly.
A plain black door was all that separated them from the stage. Matt gripped the handle tightly.
This is it.
He pushed it open a crack - the lights were down, and the room was packed. They filed out, Josh taking up position behind the drums, Matt and Luke picking up their guitars and slipping the straps over their shoulders. The lights would come up with the first note - that meant, of course, finding their places in the dark. Luckily, Fluorescent Adolescent started on an open E.
Love you guys, Matthew whispered into the darkness. There was a snigger from behind the drums, and then Josh counted them in. The sucker-punch quality of the opening was only amplified by the flash of light that accompanied it. Matt and Luke stood facing each other, mirroring each other's movements for the first few bars. When the time came, Matt grabbed the microphone with both hands and belted out the verse, affecting his very best Northern accent. Tied to the mic, he couldn't do much in the way of moving, but Luke was doing more than enough for the both of them, bouncing up and down on the chorus and dancing to the verse. Only a few members of the audience actually sang with him on the coda, but the applause at the end was deafening. Matt turned to the others and grinned broadly.
By the end of the second solo of Knockin' On Heaven's Door, he couldn't have stopped the audience from joining in. Luke had crowd-surfed as far as his cable would let him, and the crowd seemed to pulsate with the drumbeats. Their Knock-knock-knockin' on heaven's doors were tussling with Josh's drumming, in a frenzied competition to see who could cause Matt's ears the most damage.
And now! It's the end. You've been a great crowd - keep it up for the headliners, who we'd like to thank again for asking us to play with them. Next up...
Interval! Josh yelled.
Yeah, may as well be. Get yourselves a drink! Matt laughed, before retreating back off-stage and down the stairs after the rest of the band. Back in the lounge, they exchanged an awkward combination of hugs and handshakes, laughing deliriously.
Dude, that was bloody amazing! Luke cried. The Bad Apples stood up and came over to them.
Drummer: Great job, Matt, guys - that really was something!
Guitarist: Yeah, you were excellent!
Bassist: That was a sweet bass-line, on the third song.
An expectant silence took over the room, and all eyes drifted towards Steve, playing Angry Birds on his phone with a bored expression on his face.
Oh, yeah. Nice job, Matt. Good to see you've really innovated with the setlist. Fluorescent Adolescent, That's That, and Knockin' On Heaven's Door had all been part of the Bad Apples set back in the day.
Get f--ked, Steve. Matt turned away and started complimenting Joshua on his drumming during the last part of Ice.
I noticed half of the songs were about my girlfriend. You never did get over that, did you, Cateland? Steve sneered, Always hanging around, waiting to pick her up when I let her go. You didn't even have the decency to pretend you weren't trying to steal my girlfriend from me.
F--k's sake, Steve, drop it! the Apples' bassist snapped.
Oh piss off, you know I'm right. Never thought you'd sink as low as actually snitching on me to split us up, mind you. That was a class act, Matt.
What, when you shagged her mate? Yeah, real classy, Matt shot back.
It was none of your effing business. Took quite some doing to persuade her you had made it up. Even had to get rid of you to prove how betrayed I was by you lying!
The bassist frowned.
Wait, you told us Matt had gotten off with Andrea.
You told me you had found a better guitarist! Matt growled.
Well, we had. But I wouldn't have kicked you out for that. Andrea means a lot to me. So you had to take the hit for me, so what? You'd do anything to make her happy, wouldn't you?
If that's true... A new voice, female. Andrea. Deck him for me, Matt.
She was standing in the doorway with a friend, her eyes glistening but furious, glaring at Steve. Matt looked between them for a moment and then threw up his hands.
I'm done with it. Your stupid couply bollocks... can't be doing with it. Who wants to get some free alcohol?
I'm down. Josh was always down. Luke shrugged. As the three of them made for the door, the Apples' bassist caught up with them and murmured.
Steve's well out of order this time. Look, none of us ever really liked getting rid of you -
You didn't say anything then, did you?
No, and that was a mistake. Matt, don't you want to come back? You've always known all of Steve's parts, it'd be easy. We're going on tour soon!
Matt pretended to consider this for a moment.
You're right. Josh stiffened. It was a mistake. Have a good time, mate.
In the corridor, they bumped into Andrea and her friend.
Meet you there, Matt? Luke suggested. Matt and Andrea stared at each other, wordlessly, for a moment. He considered kissing her again. Or saying something. But nothing seemed right. Finally, Matthew Cateland realised - she wasn't interested in him. More importantly...
She was nothing special. There had been plenty of attractive young women in the front row tonight. Time to make the music work for him.
Nah, let's get there before the bar's too busy! See you, Andrea.
I'm going back down to the city. Tomorrow.
Oh. Well... good luck! They both raised their shoulders and hands as if to move for a hug, but gave up. Another few seconds, seeming to stretch out into eternity, passed, and then the spell was broken. Matthew turned and jogged after the other two.
The Bad Apples period of his life was finally over. It was Anticitizen One's time to shine now. As people started drifting over to talk to them, Matthew smirked. And shine they would.