Sticks And Strings. Part 40 - Final

date: 05/07/2013 category: features
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Sticks And Strings. Part 40 - Final
Most of Saturday was dedicated to packing for the early morning trip, and designating various belongings for storage, mostly non-essential equipment and memorabilia that couldn't be replaced if a cash-strapped junkie decided to try his luck and kick my door in while I was gone. Truth be told, said junkie would be welcome to the few scraps of clothing and whatever beer was left in the fridge. To my mind, this trip was going to serve a dual purpose, the prospect of working with Bloodwood to produce the first Systex EP, but also as the final severing of lifelines to life in this here city - a coda to this passage of life, preparatory to the next movement. Though I wouldn't say it out loud, Captain Bob turned out to be right after all - whether or not he knew it. This drum marched to its own tempo, better to let it march than hinder the beat. I knew in my heart I'd return to Vancouver someday. When exactly, and in what condition remained to be seen. Only time would tell. It was beginning to get dark when my stuff was finally packed; three large garbage bags and two cardboard boxes marked STORAGE sitting by the door, my travel bag set next to the pile, my guitar case resting against it, holding more than my loyal instrument this time. "Tapes," I explained to Mitchell when I called him from the payphone on the street opposite the shanty corner store that had seen a modest increase in profit since my moving into the neighborhood. "Tapes?" said Mitchell, sounding intrigued. "Two of them, pretty shit quality but if you manage to ignore the foulmouthed neighbors, the content is pretty good, I think." "Awesome, I've been recording riffs over here, too." "Oh, these aren't quite riffs," I said. "Huh?" "I mean, yeah one of the tapes has a bunch of those, but I'm talking like serious songs here." "But Adam said you guys hadn't done any songwriting since I took off, just tightening the songs we've already got." "We haven't. Not together, that is." I paused and thought, gnawing on my lip. I could hear a stopwatch running in my head, counting down the precious few moments before the annoying automated voice would remind me of the long distance charges and greedily swallow more of my money, so I gave Mitchell the shortest version of last night's impromptu performance at Contrast, the conversation with Jason and the subsequent all-nighter that gave birth to "Past" and brought "Empty Shell" back from the dead, for the present. Mitchell was surprised, but cautiously optimistic. "Interesting," he said, "you played them for the others?" "Tomorrow," I answered, "or the next day, when we're all together again on the island, we can bring the Bloodwood gang in for input. It'd make it a hell of a lot easier that way." "Good idea," said Mitchell. "I'm excited. Which ferry are you catching?" "The first one, that way we still have most of the day to begin sorting things out. You manage to find a place?" "Yessir, we'll be crashing house with Patrice. The others have their own place sorted out with this recording friend of theirs." Then a muted tone beeped over the phone, signalling the end of our paid time. "Ah, f--k, time's up, gotta go, dude. See you guys tomorrow!" And with that, he was gone, barely having enough time to finish saying "tomorrow" before being cut off. "See you tomorrow," I said without much point to it, putting the receiver on the hook and walking away. The moon was beginning to rise off in the distance, clearing the way for the stars to begin snapping on like tiny light bulbs any moment. I was about to cross the street when I looked back at the phone, then over towards my building, thinking of the large bags and boxes sitting by my door. A quick check of the watch showed the time to be almost nine o'clock. I frowned and began biting my lip again. Busses aren't too frequent in this part of town on Saturday, and they're often overcrowded with drunk or high (or both) barflies and night clubbers. Well, it's not that far, I began thinking, before the logical part of the little voice chimed in. Was I really going to think about carrying a giant load of stuff across half the DTES? That was like wearing a giant sign on my back reading "Rob Me, Please!" Though I knew perfectly well not all of the homeless were violent, immoral people, why take the risk on the off chance I run into one? That's when I got an idea, one I didn't put much faith in, yet with all that'd happened over the last month, I decided taking one more chance wasn't asking too much and walked back to the payphone, fishing another quarter from my pocket. The coin slot greedily swallowed the coin with a happy ding as I made one of the more important phone calls in my life - one I didn't expect to make until at least the end of our recording sessions, if not later. The dial tone droned once, twice, three times before being picked up just as I'd begun to rehearse the awkward message I was sure to leave on the answering machine. "Hello?" "Hi," I said. "It's me," feeling stupid. "Oh. Hi there, I didn't expect to hear from you." A pause, and then the voice continued with, "Not that I'm not happy to hear from you. I just -" "I know," I interrupted. "Trust me; it's a surprise to me as well." "Are you alright? Is something the matter? Where are you calling from?" "I'm at a payphone just off of Powell and Main. Yeah, I'm alright. Well... Actually, I need your help with something. Not that I deserve it, but - well, I don't know." "Don't be silly. I'll try to help, if I can. What's happening?" "Uh..." I cleared my throat. "You got time for a coffee, or something? This could take a little while to explain." *** The sun continued to hang low in the sky, giving the world a foreboding sense of twilight as the car drove along the long stretch of Highway 17A early Sunday morning. Cars along the narrow road were few and far between, most people seeing sense to sleep in; only zombies and other soulless creatures from the netherworld deserved to be awake at this ungodly hour. I quietly laughed at that, resting my head against the passenger window, looking out at the low tides lapping gently against the rocky shores as we rolled towards the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. Being less than half a kilometer from the 49th parallel, the land could, in a sense, be considered neutral territory between Canada and the United States, as many of the ferries passed through a part of U.S. waters, a thought that often brought me to question the intelligence of whoever was responsible for drawing up the international boundary lines. Cutting around the line for vehicle traffic, I spotted a navy blue cargo van idling in a line-up at one of the many toll booths and smiled, though my heart continued to bounce around my chest like a ball of nervous energy. I knew they'd make it all along; we had time to spare before the scheduled 9am departure. In order to save as much money as we could, we'd decided that Adam would drive the van with our gear onto the ferry with Kayla riding shotgun, while I would walk on as a foot passenger and meet up with them on board. Then we'd all drive off together in pursuit of this newest adventure in the life of the band called Systex. All along, my plan had been to pull an all-nighter and make the earliest bus trip out to the terminal in Delta, a small city populated by a mishmash of suburbs, industrial parks and farmlands north of the Fraser River, about an hour southwest of Vancouver. It didn't quite work out that way. "Well, here we are." The car wound around a set of bright pylons and pulled up to a curb just outside a windswept building, DEPARTURES spelled out in large blue letters on the lower roof. "I must admit, Richard; this isn't quite the way I envisioned life going, putting you on a boat bound for the capital city, all in the name of music." "Same here," I said. "To be fair, I didn't think I'd have even bothered calling so soon. Probably not the request you were expecting either when you first heard my voice, eh?" "You've got that right. Still, I'm glad you did. Before you go: Are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do? It's not too late to change your mind, and I wouldn't blame you for having second thoughts." I couldn't hold it against him, it was a fair question. "Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous or afraid, Eric. But you said it yourself: This is my life. I march to the beat of my own drum. I must experience things for myself. This is where the music is leading me right now, and I must follow its calling. If it doesn't work out - whatever, at least I'll have tried, and I won't go to my grave in sixty or seventy years moaning about that one leap of faith I never took." Eric looked on. "You're bolder than me, Richard, doing what you think is best rather than folding like a cheap house of cards," he said with admiration in his voice. "I respect that. You... You will be coming back, I take it." "Wasn't planning on it, to be honest," I said. Eric looked shocked. I couldn't keep a straight face, snorting and giving his arm a gentle smack. "You're too easy, gotta learn to lighten up more. You're on the right track, just keep going." I looked over at him as more people began streaming through the doors into the departure lounge. "Sure, I'll be back. The biggest concert venues are in Vancouver, after all. I can't keep selling out bars and clubs forever." He smiled. "There you go, then. Take care, brother. I hope you know what you're doing." "Me too." I stepped out of the car, collected my bag and my guitar from the back seat, pushed both doors closed and started to follow the crowd. I was almost through the sliding glass doors when I heard from across the walk, "Hey!" A quick glance across my shoulder, and there he was, arm stretched out, horns raised in salute. "What is it you always say? 'Rock Out?'" I laughed out loud. "No! Rock on!" "Oh, right. Well, uh... you do that, then. Do it for the both of us." He lowered his hand, embarrassed. I smiled and flashed horns back, "Rock on, Eric." We parted with that. No goodbyes, neither wanted to say it. We didn't have to. Goodbyes often meant forever. We both knew what rock on really meant: We'll see you next time. And we would, too. I paid for my ticket, folded my boarding pass inside my coat pocket and proceeded to the baggage area, tossing my bulging backpack onto the cool metal conveyor marked Victoria (Swartz Bay), keeping my guitar with me. Clothes, if lost, were replaceable. Guitars were another matter. I took the escalator to the waiting area, dropping down on one of the soft padded chairs and nodding off for a little while, my arms wrapped around my case the entire time. After a while, I was awakened by an echoing announcement over the loudspeaker instructing foot passengers to begin boarding. Scrambling to my feet, I joined the bottlenecked queue that funneled through another set of glass doors, up a gangplank where a politely smiling attendant accepted my boarding pass with a cheery, "Thank you sir and welcome aboard." I returned the smile, tired though I was, clutched my guitar case tight and stepped onto the ship, a behemoth called the Queen of New Westminster. Walking all the way down the cream-colored hallways, past a cafeteria heavy with the stench of old fries and cooking bacon and a wide variety of snack and soda machines that held no interest for me, I chose a seat near the window a few rows back from a nearby arcade emitting a series of electronic boops and beeps, allowing my body to sink into the surprisingly comfortable padding and glanced out the window. "Hey hey!" a happy voice cried out, "there's the man of the hour!" I looked over and saw Kayla coming towards me with Adam not far behind, both sharing the tired but happy bright-eyed smile. Kayla leaned over her seat, threw her arms around me and kissed me hard. "I didn't sleep a wink, did you? Hell, how could you when we're so close? Oh man, I can't believe it. We're doing this, we are actually doing this! This is even better than the Thrash!" She kept her head pressed against mine the entire time she talked, babbling like a fan girl meeting her idol live and in person. "Dammit Adam, I told you to keep her away from the coffee," I said with a smirk. Adam was rolling his eyes and smirking, too. "You doing alright, buddy?" "Awesome man, awesome," I said. "Apart from being choked half to death, that is." Kayla loosened her hold at once. "Sorry, I'm just excited!" she squealed. "And why shouldn't you be?" Adam chimed in. "We all are. But dammit, I'm hungry too. I'm gonna grab a spot in line while there's still a chance, you guys coming?" "You guys go on ahead," I told him. "I'll be along in a minute. Save me a seat." "Will do, Richy," Kayla sang, then linked arms with Adam. "Lead the way, drum major." They headed off towards the cafeteria while I resumed looking out the window, watching others stream through the door, bags in hand, some engaged in conversation, others keeping to themselves. As I watched these people, I couldn't help wondering: Where did they come from? What was their story? How would they tell it, given the chance? They were the same questions I asked myself. The difference was I knew how mine went - this part of it, at least. Everyone's got a story to tell, and so often we rely on the magic of our own creativity, with some speaking through words, others through colors, textures - and even tastes, in order to share that story with the world. What about me? The answer was a simple one: Music. Some of the greatest stories man has ever known have been told through the powerful art that is music. George Eliot once said, "There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief that does not find relief in music." With due respect to Mr. Eliot, I didn't see it quite like that. Fear and grief are, in my experience, moments where the music plays loudest in this grand symphony we call life. Slower, heavier movements, perhaps, but it still plays. It is the music that binds us, frees us, and gives our spirit cause to rise. It also gives us what is perhaps the greatest permission of all - to dream. To dream our stories and then speak them into reality, to see them unfold before our very eyes - that is what the music does for me. This was my story, told through the company of others, part of the larger, grander story than I would ever understand. It wasn't over, not even close. This was only the conclusion to the overture. This chapter was over, that much was true, those who'd come and played their part were now taking their bows at the conclusion of their final encores, ready to step out of the spotlight and move on to their next venue. It wasn't a bad thing, not at all. As much as it was the ending, it was also the beginning: The beginning of new opportunities, with more to come in the future - many, many more. Only time would tell for sure how it would all end. It was a journey I looked forward to, all of it, the good and the bad. After all, the phoenix doesn't descend from the heavens, but rises from the ashes; reborn, stronger and for the better. And so would we. So would I. People appreciate sad songs as much they do angry and happy ones, because each one tells a different, though equally important story. They might not be number one hits with us right then, but in the end, we are often happier for having them come along for the ride, because through pain, we learn. Through learning, we grow; through growth, we live and it is by living that we may dare to dream. Maybe my song would have lyrics, maybe it wouldn't. And you know something? That was fine with me. I am but a mere vessel through which the music plays. And if I have anything to say about it, the music will play on - through me, and around me, for a long, long time yet to come. Postscript: Neil Young wrote the song "Long May You Run" as an elegy to his old Buick, "Mort", but at the same time, it's a good metaphor for life in general. When we take a minute to stop and think about it, there are a lot of memories we experience in life, whatever age we're at. Some are good, some are bad. Both serve a purpose. They are reminders of how far we've come, and how much further we've still got to travel. Don't you think that's exciting? I think it's exciting! Long may we run, indeed! "Sticks And Strings" is the kind of story I could continue to write indefinitely; the potential for future ideas is rich, the ideas seemingly endless. I must be fair though, with other projects on the horizon, and other personal commitments, the time has come to place the final period on this story and move on. It's been a load of fun writing this story, even when I myself had the desire to strangle certain characters, but we won't go into that just now, thanks. I will say this: There is a (loose) plan in place to pick this story up again down the road. Who knows what kind of tale could be told then? Right now, I'm going to go and pour myself a nice cold beer. I think I've earned it. I think you've earned one too, putting up with me for this long. I realize there are parts I could have written out better, (and probably a lot more I could have left out) but overall, I'd like to think this has been a decent story. Whether you've read just one chapter or you've been a consistent reader, my thanks to you for stopping by and checking it out. Special thanks to Nolan Whyte It was reading stories like "Comeback Road" and "Riot Band Blues" that inspired me to write this story out in the first place. Cheers for the encouragement and respect, Nolan. Hopefully we'll see you on here again in the future! Thanks also to the editors and staff at Ultimate-Guitar who read, review and accept contributions. I may not know any of you personally, but thanks for letting this little story of mine see the light of day. I'll be back, I'm sure of it. Until then, I raise my glass to you. Of course, there seems to be only one way to properly say "The End," I think Richard would agree: Rock on! Sticks And Strings 2013 Graham Nichol, aka G.N. This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise noted, the names of places, people, bands, songs and lyrics therein are a creation of the writer's imagination. No infringement intended. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional. Graham Nichol lives in Canada and writes - a lot. Look for his website coming soon. In the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter at @grahamthewriter.
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