Jason and I make plans for him to come around my place on Sunday. He's going to take a crack at learning bass so that I can play guitar on one of our songs. Jason has never been to my place before, except seeing the front door. As I sit eating Lucky Charms, I look around the little living room and try and decide if I should bother cleaning it up. Except for a beat up old couch, a coffee table and a television sitting on an old kitchen chair, there isn't any furniture. And yet there seems to be piles of junk all over the place. The coffee table itself serves as my business office, mostly stacked with overflowing ashtrays and legal papers related to my divorce. Guitars rest in the corners with tangles of cords and other accoutrement. Empty cookie boxes and cigarette packs litter the room.
I decide to give the place a cursory tidying. Of course, as soon as Jason walks in, the condition of the apartment is the first thing he comments on.
"Jesus, Terry," he says, standing inside the door holding his guitar in its case. "You live in filth."
"It's not that bad," I say. "Come on in. I bet your place is worse anyway."
He takes off his jacket and tosses it onto the couch. "No, my place is pretty nice. Then again, my mom does most of the cleaning."
"Hey yeah," I say, returning some dirty dishes to the sink. "What's the deal with your mom anyway? I mean, it was cool of her to come to our show and all that, but I was a little surprised that she hung around as late as she did."
"Yeah," he says. "She likes to come out and party."
"How old is she anyway?"
"She's almost forty. She was a teenager when she had me."
"Was your old man around?" I ask.
Jason sits down on the couch. "He was for a few years. I've met him a few times since I was a little kid. He doesn't seem like anything too special. I don't think I missed out on a lot not having him around, you know?"
"Yeah. Hey look, I'm sorry man. I didn't mean to get into a whole thing?"
"No, it's okay," he says. "Do you want to get started?"
"Yeah." I grab my bass. Jason pulls out his guitar. "Um, Jason, I guess you really didn't need to bring your guitar, did you? I mean, you're going to play bass today, right?"
"You didn't want to warm up or anything?"
I shrug. "Yeah, I guess." Jason is sitting on the couch, so I set the television on the floor and pull the kitchen chair up so we're opposite one another. He has his electric guitar and I've got an electric bass. Neither of us is plugged in. We sit looking at each other for a long silent moment.
Without either of us playing a note I ask him, "You warmed up yet?"
"Okay, yeah." He sets his guitar aside.
"All right, now watch this," I tell him. "Simplest shit there is, moving from guitar to bass. Four strings instead of six and you only ever need to hold one string at a time. No chords, right? Just single notes." I thump on the simple bass line from 'Rocking in the Free World' to prove my point.
"The only difference," I continue, "is that the strings are way thicker, so you need to press harder to hold them down. Okay, are you ready?"
"Yeah." I pass the bass to him and he starts plucking at the fat strings. I pick up my guitar.
"Now," I say to him, "Do you want to start with something simple you already know, or do you just want to try the new song?"
We take a crack at the new song, the big anthem I played for Jason and Mark at the last rehearsal. I show him what he should do, and slowly play along so he can try and learn how to do each part.
"This is harder than I thought it would be," he eventually comments. The notes sound farty when he plays them because he's not pressing hard enough on the strings.
After an hour he really hasn't progressed as far as I thought he would. He's getting frustrated and swears constantly, but I surprise myself by remaining very patient and calm. Maybe it's because I'm still preoccupied with the debacle with Gina from the other night. Or maybe it's out of sudden sympathy for Jason knowing that he, like me and just about everyone else I know, came from a broken home.
"Fuck!" Jason shouts, muffing another try. "The strings are so fucking far apart!"
"Yeah, but don't get worked up man. Shit, I think that's enough for today, don't you? Let's just have a beer and chill out."
I take a couple of beers out of the fridge and hand him one. I open up a few windows and grab a cigarette.
"Can I have one too?" he asks.
Knowing he's frustrated, I let him have one. I would still rather not though, worrying about him smoking as a habit. "It's a different instrument," I tell him. "Nobody nails it on their first try. The theory transfers from guitar, but it's not exactly the same thing."
"Yeah, but one hour and I still can't get through one song? That sucks."
"The thing is," I say, "you've only heard the song once before, so you've got nothing to grab onto. If you had heard the song a bunch of times you would know when you played something right and you would latch onto that, you know? Then eventually you would fill in the parts in between. Trying to learn a complicated song cold on an instrument you'd never played before and getting it right on the first try? Man, nobody can do that."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Don't worry about it." The phone rings and I get up to answer it. It's the manager of a club in the city calling, offering us a line-up spot a few weeks down the road with some other local groups. I wave to Jason and mouth the words 'bar manager' to him. He watches me expectantly.
"Yeah, we can totally do that?Okay. Just let me grab a pen?Yep, sounds good. Cool. Thanks for calling." I hang up.
"Okay," I tell Jason. "We've got a gig."
"Where? When?" He looks giddy.
"At the Strathmore, three Wednesdays from now. Look um, I want to record the show."
"Man," he says, shaking his head, "if you want to record something, why don't we get into a studio? Nobody has a live album for their first album. We'll look like freaks. And what if it sounds like shit? Or nobody cheers? Do you want to have a live album with nobody clapping or cheering between songs?"
I sit back down. "Look, no offence Jason, but I'm tempted to break out the p-word again. First of all, if we tried to record something album length in the studio it would take a couple of days, bare minimum. That would cost a butt-load of money. We can do a live recording through the sound board for maybe five hundred bucks, and then edit and mix it afterwards. Hell, we could probably get Bobby to do that part for us for nothing. If something sounds like shit, we can either clean it up with overdubs, or just cut the track."
I get up and walk around the room. "Jesus Christ!" I shout. "You're worried about whether or not people cheer? Who gives a fuck if they cheer or not? We have to worry about how we sound, not how the crowd sounds. And we better sound like we're fucking ready, I'll tell you that. If we've got songs that aren't clean by the time the show comes around, we don't play them. I want to go in there and sound perfect, all right? None of the amateur-hour shit like last time."
"I thought you said we sounded good last time," he says.
"We sounded good for a band who only half-way knew their own material. And we'll have to get a real drum kit for Mark as well, whether we borrow one, or rent it, or whatever. I don't want to take any risks this time."
He nods. "We'll have to keep Mark from getting all fucked up. No pot this time."
I shrug. "Not until afterwards, anyway."
Jason looks meekly at the electric guitar lying next to him on the couch. "Terry?" he says softly.
I'm pacing, thinking. "What?"
"Would you um?would you help me sing that song of mine?"
I stop and look at him. "Did you want to play that song at the Strathmore?"
He looks around the room. "If it's ready, yeah, maybe."
I sit back down and pick up the bass. "Okay." He's a cocky kid. I know he's embarrassed asking me for help and I don't want to discourage him. I wonder if he ever got to ask his dad for help with anything. Probably not, I figure.
I tell him the get the words to the song out so I can read them. We play it through and he sings. He's very soft. His voice sounds fragile, lacking confidence. I set my bass down and grab my acoustic.
"I'm going to play what you play," I tell him. "We'll both sing. Try to sing as loud as I do."
We play it again, and I sing, no louder than a regular speaking voice, and he pushes to sing as loud as me. It sounds better. He's in key, just quiet. The last chorus repeats itself a few times, and I get louder and louder, saying "Come on, push it," when he doesn't match my volume.
We get to the end, and he says, "Yeah, that sounds better."
"Do you want to do it again?" I ask, and we play and sing through it three more times. When he sings alone he quiets down, so I keep singing.
Eventually he puts his guitar back in the case. "That sounds pretty good." He gets his stuff and gets ready to leave. It feels very positive, like things are going to come together.
At the door he stops. "Maybe at practice this week we should both sing that one together," he says.
"That sounds okay with me." He nods and leaves.
I take another sip of my beer, and then call Mark to tell him about the Strathmore show. When I hang up on Mark, I decide I need to call Bobby Metronome.
2006 Nolan Whyte