Authors: Solomon Deep
Or The Last Great Grunge Band of All Time
By Solomon Deep
For Minxy Rotten
With strength and art
The cracklehum of the Marshall amplifier engaged, and a buzz responded as I shoved the guitar cable into the jack. The other end was snug in my Fender Stratocaster, shiny and polished with layers of wax and buffout that I massaged into the jet black enamel. She was the new, squeaky plasticene right hand of my idolatry.
Jenny watched with a hopeful pride. Steve ate an apple. Kurt sat impatiently, his eyes skeptically darting in his head. They'll see. The only person who was not with us was our drummer John, serving out the rest of his shift at Chucky's Pizza Circus by shoving slices down the gullet of five-year-olds as they worshipped an ironically gyrating fuzzy costume character swinging a useless guitar to canned kids music.
My fingers glided up her strings. A buzzing crunch cackled as my fingerprint ridges grated the coiled E string. I grabbed my pick off the top of the amp, an orange tortoise shell with a turtle caricature smudged with sweat. It would be worth money someday. I lifted my arm, and the craned necks of my teenage audience extended toward me like baby robins waiting for regurgitated wormmeat. My guitar and sound waves were about to feed their ears in the hushed tableau of this first moment.
I formed a G chord.
My hand descended.
The cacophonous crackle emitting from the Marshall half stack was a stab in the ear. One of my fingers let go of the A and landed on the D, and the life of the moment was flattened as flat as the flattest note as the deflated chord grated our ears. Discord landed on the eyes and faces of my audience, amateur respondents of the mess of sound.
"Wait. Wait," quickly trying to save the moment with a reset. Silence the strings, reposition my fingers, and lift up the pick. Before I could strike, clumsy left hand fingers depressed the wrong frets, and sour notes whispered from the Marshall woofers.
"Wait. Wait," and my audience began peeling from the room, beginning with the skeptic, and then leading down to the only person that wouldn't have minded no matter what I created. Steps up the basement. The room dwindled to my lovely woman.
"Wait, wait-" and the solid door slammed.
It was beautiful as I played it before, but beauty disintegrated in front of me. It was potential beauty. Jenny looked at me with a smile, and an acceptance of my art, and a moment of clarity and belief that I could do anything.
Fame fantasy feigned the fake future of friends. I wasn't Anthony Kedis. I wasn’t Kurt Cobain. I was Todd from Twin Falls. Keep imagining, Todd.
"Show me your song." Patient tenderness dripped from Jenny's words. She was my biggest fan - my only fan. A fool.
"I don't really feel like doing this right now," I responded. The time to make my guitar scream was ten minutes ago without the 'wait, wait,' but rather the wail of a Hendrixian fire-solo.
"Do it for me?" Her eyes communicated the love her patronizing words lacked.
"Maybe later." Can't blame a guy, after all.
I stood and powered down the amplifier, and the electric hiss and warm hum tapered off as the vacuum tubes discharged. The sound it made as it powered down was an auditory representation of the simplicity of the fabric masking over the speakers, and everything else was silence.
I walked Jenny upstairs from the basement and opened the door into the kitchen.
"Where did your friends go, Todd? Did you have a good rock group meeting?" My mother met us in the kitchen, her words and concern waxing ignorance. I imagined her telling me that my mashing of my guitar strings in front of my friends being 'just like Run Miccy D's rap song! You sound like Kurb Kurbain!'
"No, I screwed up. I'm going upstairs with Jenny."
"Oh, I am sure it wasn't so ba-"
"It was," and I turned to walk around the corner. As I walked away, I heard the conversation between mom and Jenny continue without me.
"Well, it is nice to see you, Jenny. It wasn't that bad, was it?"
"No, he didn't really end up playing. They got bored and left. I liked it. He is a really good musician."
"I keep telling him! So much time and money..."
Their voices drifted into nothing as I closed my bedroom door. I could hardly stand their relationship, but it was good for Jenny who didn't have a mother around. She needed time with women other than our teachers.
I walked to the corner of my old 386 computer that I dug out of the garbage somewhere with a matching monochrome monitor. It could only do a few things - it could work as a word processor, a compiler for programming, and run basic command line abandonware. In the world of Windows 3.1, it was from the ruins of Pompeii. I kept it because it was a great way to do some basic writing besides my school work with a small journal file. No distractions of chat rooms, solitaire, or minefinder.
I booted it up, and the command line winked at me repetitively. I typed in 'trivia_challenge.exe,' and a bit-bleep-bleep-boop tune announced the beginning of the game. I toggled the sound once the game started with a quick ctrl-s, and I pressed play on my CD player on the dresser next to the CPU.
The mesmerizing hook to 'Head Like A Hole' began playing. I stopped the disc and quickly switched it with Pearl Jam's
, knowing that Jenny would be on her way up once she finished with mom.
This was our relationship.
Our time together after school was routine. We would come home. I would practice guitar while she watched and read. When that got old, we would go to my room as my mom got ready to go to work her night adult education classes at the beauty school.
We would play this stupid black and green trivia game. In between the questions we have seen countless times, we'd talk, listening to music, and groove to the repetitive secondary activity. We were stimulated simply because our life was predictable and safe.
I beat her every time. After each game, we would have a celebratory make out session where I would get to take her shirt off and play with her boobs while we kissed.
"Yay! Trivia!" She entered with enthusiasm and exuberance for the return back to our regular routine. "Oh, I love Pearl Jam... Your mom wanted to know if you needed anything for when she goes to the late supermarket when she gets out of classes."
"No!" I shouted. I didn't mean to yell into Jenny's face, but I was sure mom heard it. Moments later, the slamming front door shook the house.
Jenny beamed. We were alone. She dove to the carpet in front of the computer. Her body smelled fresh, and I watched as she nuzzled herself into the carpet like a pet.
We chose our respective game pieces - two different characters that were different bizarre blotches of boxy greys. Different patterns of boxy grays. Blocky boxes of shades of monotone that represented our digital avatars circa 1988.
"I really thought you were great, Todd," Jenny remarked. Our routine was so predictable that we hardly needed to pay attention as the game started.
"No you didn't, I didn't even do anything."
"No, really. I have seen you play. It's fine - you'll get it."
"Let's just drop it."
The questions came up on the screen and we moved around the board, the virtual dice-rolls and depth of questions managing to favor me. The familiar questions helped my score, exponentially increasing with my tenacious short term memory.
We finished the first game in fifteen minutes. I won.
Jenny pouted, sat up, and crossed her arms. I crawled over her and started to kiss her, taking advantage of my predictable reward for winning and her reward for putting up with her defeat. I opened her flannel button-down shirt. Her breasts were held up by my favorite front clasp bra, bordered by lacy taupe. I never understood how to unclasp the thing, so as I kissed her chest and licked down her neck feeling her breathing increase with intensity, I was also able to drink in the eroticism of her unclasping her own bra and freeing her amazing breasts. I loved watching her do this, offering me her youthful and enthusiastically budding voluptuousness. In these moments I often fantasized that we had moved out from my mother's house already and this was our independent freedom to indulge in our sexuality as often as we wanted.
I sucked, and kissed her mouth, grabbing, and her hands traveled over my back and down to my waistline.
And we slowed. And we began another trivia game. And another. And our afternoon bled into listening to the album in the CD player four times between five or six trivia rounds, shirtless after the first round. And then we napped in my bed.
All I could think about as I lay, staring at the ceiling with Jenny's head on my chest and her nipples digging into my ribs, was how to get the band back together after today's crap performance and blow them away with my music. Sure, we weren't a band yet and they haven't heard any songs, but I wanted to be worthy of them. I wanted them to desire making music with me. Hunger for it. Need it like orgasm. It seemed that I only had one more chance to get everyone together to watch me play before I lost them entirely.
"Mr. Keefe? My question was about the effectiveness of Bill Clinton's original campaign in the presidential race leading up to his election in the current American climate."
The problem with my plans over the following week was the six teachers I had to see every day that probably disagreed with the way I spent my time. I had one week to improve my playing, practice my songs, and rewrite them so that they were suitable to share with my bandmates... At the same time, I also needed to show Jenny just how passionate I was about her.
I looked up at my history teacher from the lyrics in my little notebook.
"I really don't know."
"Okay, let's just revisit what we were just discussing."
"Saxophone," I responded before he could continue.
"Yes. He plays the saxophone. Rock the vote... all that."
"Engaging young voters?"
"We weren't really discussing that, but I think you are partially right. Did you have anything to contribute based on what we were just talking about?"
"He was elected because he brought more people out to the polls - the young people were his biggest asset. That's all I have."
"Okay," he paused. Mr. Woods looked to another part of the room. "David, how do you think that the success of the election was circumscribed to Clinton?"
David's head similarly popped up from a different activity. From where I sat it looked like he was eating an apple and looking at a fantasy novel - something he toted around with him everywhere he went. He only payed attention to his classes a fraction of the time.
"How am I supposed to know if the president is circumscribed?"
"Well, he is president, after all, so it worked."
"I am uncircumscribed - my dad apparently fought with my mom about it when I was born, but I don't think the president is. He isn't Jewish."
"I don't think his religion has anything to do with his getting the presidency - there haven't been any Jewish presidents yet. I am asking about how he got the presidency. How did he become president based on the campaign he ran?"
"Well, I’m sorry Mr. Woods, but I don't really see how if he is circumscribed or not it makes any difference."
"I think you're having trouble with the word -" immediately Mr. Woods paused, and it was clear that he finally recognized where the miscommunication occurred.
My attention returned to my lyric and song idea notebook on my desk in front of me.
I examined my lyrics to the song that I tried to perform for my potential bandmates. I was convinced that it was exactly what I wanted to communicate both lyrically and musically - the phrasing was four-four rock with a standard structure of verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.
The words stared at me, and I sung them in my head as my fingers formed chords on my blue jeans under my desk. My failure was simple performance anxiety, and if I was at home - the moment I got home - I would practice until I was perfect.
My biggest concern last Saturday was that I had let Jenny down - I practiced and performed in front of her countless times, and yet this one time that I had written a song explicitly for her I managed to mangle the hell out of it. Or not mangle it, rather, just mash my strings against the neck of my delicately treasured guitar to murder something that I thought would bring this band, this idea, into some sort of cohesion among my friends.
Of course this cohesion did not happen. Whatever is the antonym for cohesion - that is what happened.
I resolved to make it perfect by Saturday, and that I would ask them to come over again, apologize, and make sure everyone stayed. With pizza. If I had pizza, they would be forced to stay. No one would leave with a slice in their mouth. They'd have to stay and listen.
Mr. Woods continued to harass my classmate, and was still working around my classmate's phallic misinterpretation of the word circumscribe. This place was idiotic.
I studied my notebook. In its own section was a buffet of band names, enough for three lifetimes if given the chance. The compilation seemed endless, with annotations and cross-outs through all of the names, and names, and commentary, and commentary, and observations, and observations. I glanced toward the end at some of my more recent additions...
The NonSeattle Band
The CIA Highlighters
And at the end of the list I added my newest, a combination of my classmate's verbal blunders of the last ten minutes of classroom debate...
...or did I mean,
All The Presidents Members
...or did I mean,
..or something with a combination of Oedipus and President?
I turned back to the lyrics and song ideas section. I needed to worry about winning my friends over first. I needed a better presentation; perhaps start the band with a brand. Begin all in. Buy into it, entirely.
As the bell rang, I noticed that the class discussion had switched to a debate about genital mutilation, both male and female, and the impact it has on the victim's life.
"Don't forget your homework, folks..." and Woods trailed off as I walked away, unsure how I could make a connection between how the president gained his seat and the state of his foreskin.
I stood and left.
The hallway was bustling with students and teachers moving with purpose, scrambling through the end of their day. Bodies swarmed around me like a hive, the worker bees wandering about without any purpose that seemed to extend beyond the small walls of this building. The drama kids clumped into their collective, as did the jocks. Their clothing styles and colors bled together, and among the bodies in the school they were like globules of oil merging in a puddle as the water and other colors seeped around them. I was a tiny drop of soap that pushed the oils away as I walked the halls.
I passed in front of the library, and immediately happened upon John Xiong - my potential drummer who spent our dire Saturday as a stuffed pizza-toting animal during my poor rendition of my foray into pathetic guitar noise. His family was Vietnamese, and he stuck out as awkwardly as the rest of us dorks. The music, though. The music made up for it.
"Listen, Todd, I’m sorry I missed the first band practice," John began, "I had to work and if you had told me ahead of time at all, it would’ve been a little easier to get off work."
"You can make it up to me this Saturday." My impulsive new deadline was a bit of a gamble, but I just went for it. Now I had no choice but to be ready in five days.
"I already asked for it off. Not on the schedule. No pizza-faced brats for me." It was both a relief and a terrifying revelation. Of course we would be making music on Saturday. My songs needed to be ready. It was time. "I just figured we’d be practicing for this new thing every Saturday, so...
“As long as your mom is home,” he continued, wiggling an eyebrow, “I know I’ll be there!"
"Always a pleasure - gotta hit the road."
I half-waved as he turned and left.
Many people underestimate the eighties movies that depict the artificial and scripted lives of the American Teenager. There has never been a more accurate depiction of this age. Our lives. Artificial and scripted. Saying a few scant things, waving a goodbye; I was simply planted like a stupid teenage boy doing exactly what he thought he should do - exactly what the characters in the movie, no, what the directors of these repertory movies thought teens should do. The cheesy soundtracks are still unparalleled, and here I was trying to hold a boom box up in the air in everyone's front yard.
It was cliché when it first happened in the movies. High School seemed practically engrained on my mind for my entire life and so damn accurate for what it was really like when I got here. We rebel for the sake of our society, and wear our flannels and give the middle finger to street signs and start rock and roll bands, but in the end we were the same five or ten scared kids in these films. They were damn corny, and at the same time, damn accurate.
Teenage life in America is a tragedy.
School let out. I began my walk home up the small hill, through the field where the football team played, out the massive gates, then up into the cross streets and residential neighborhoods.
During the walk, my mind ran thought through all my options for the band. I revisited my songs, replayed them in my head, my fingers practicing method in the palm of my hand. It was dirty grunge rock. It was everything.
Music seemed to take shape very quickly as my life plan. Not a very good life plan, but a life plan that was built out of the brick and mortar of my imagination. I wasn't even sure how I got to this point. It was hasty. It was irrational. This hasty, irrational, unplanned plan was what I was going to do to get out of Twin Falls.
I would need posters. I would need to get the word out. I would need CDs and a distribution model, or a record deal, or something to get us started. I would need...
I needed to practice.
I entered the house after my musical dream walk through the suburbs of little houses cut from the same die and repeated, and repeated.
I dropped my backpack in the kitchen, and carefully removed my notebook. I walked down the basement stairs, the slumbery must of stale air swirling around me, and walked straight to my guitar.
I picked her up, and strummed, and strummed. I made her howl with excitement. I tore through her bones, and slid down her neck, and tickled the bars over the blonde fretboard.
My practice always began as noise. I would play around in key hammering up and down the guitar in order to get a feel and a fashion of where the strings were that day, slithering my callused fingers delicately over the coiled wires. I didn't know what I was doing last weekend, but this weekend had to be different.
I started with my easiest song. It was the first one I had written when I began learning guitar. I picked up standard musical notation from a balding jazz guitarist who studied at Julliard and now taught guitar, correctly, to teenagers for twenty bucks an hour.
My first chords were C, G, E, F, and A. With a successful combination of the above, I danced through what seemed like a thousand songs. It began with nursery rhymes, then simple pieces, and then with my first stomp box it became a metal play-through of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, The Pixies, and I learned tamer stuff like REM and The Cranberries just as quickly. It was all a practice in trying to squeeze out as much as I could from the tiniest thimble of elemental chords. I developed with what little I knew, and had everything I needed to become successful in music.
As I practiced, I began to think about getting a job at Kinko's. At Kinko's I could get cheap copies. Free copies! I could change my circumstances to find success on the business end with a simple, mindless job and loose ethics.
So with a flourish, I ran through my songs with skill and determination. I would be ready with a track list on Saturday at the rate of one song a day mastery if I added a new song a day. A new song, play it until I bleed, and then play through the next song. Live a live mix tape. Play.
Notes careened out of my guitar, and the silent strum of the notes with the volume down created a harmonious echo in the distorted light scream of my amplifier.
There was no one home.
I had the opportunity to let my baby call her orgasm in my hands; she could scream through the beams of this suburban home and make it a sexual music box.
I turned the amplifier up, the dial going from 1 to 2. Nothing. It was there, but not enough. 2 to 3. The small incandescent sparkle sound of electricity moved through the magnets and the warmth of the vacuum tube radiated, but a little more. I went directly to 6, and the white noise was finally recognizably bleeding through the air like a knifeslice carrying the waves of nothingness.