We had our first rehearsal as a threesome late one night at a practice room somewhere on the Emerson campus, where I guess theater arts majors could come to write show tunes if they wanted or something. Michelle still had friends there who signed us in and we settled ourselves into a cramped room with a small chalk board and upright piano. Crumbly white acoustic tile, the kind gridded with tiny holes, covered the walls, a few fluorescent flyers for campus concerts and events thumbtacked to it. We had carted with us two milkcrate-sized amps, two guitars, one electric bass and a table top drum machine, just in case.
The Ovation would have been friendlier to the little room, but I could still play much more fluidly on the Strat, so I started with that. I plugged the guitar in and started to warm my fingers up. Bart did the same across from me, while Ziggy sat on the piano stool and looked a little lost in the crossfire of notes. We were dressed almost alike–jeans, T-shirt, flannel long sleeve shirt–but what looked mundane on me looked hip on him. He had tightly laced Doc Martens on his feet, fashionably scuffed. He had lost the eyeliner since the last time we’d seen him. While Bart and I ran through a few riffs, he began to spin on the stool slowly, like a doll in a music box.
“What do you want to start with?” I said to Bart.
Bart shrugged. “You’re the boss.”
“How about ‘Welcome.'”
Ziggy giggled. “Seems appropriate.”
“Welcome” had a very straight-forward pop song structure and we’d even written out all the words, so it was a good one to begin with. I pulled a staff book out of the Strat case and flipped to the right page. I had written the lyrics on one page, a sketch of the chord pattern on the other. Up until then I hadn’t needed to record things on paper in more detail. The melody was in my head. “Here are the words, anyway.”
“Just play me how it goes,” Ziggy said, his eyes fixed hard on the paper in front of him.
Bart and I played through the intro and then the first few verses, before I went back to play him the melody. “Your part sounds like this.”
He hummed it through once with me and I wondered where he’d learned to sing. “Let’s try that first verse slow.” We went through it with Bart playing his part and me playing the melody for the first few lines, the chords for the next. Ziggy sang a little quietly, shyly, but kept up in a nice lock-step with us. “A little faster,” I said.
He was a quick study and within a half an hour we were playing pretty much the whole thing straight through. Bart gave me the eyebrows-up from across the room several times to say he was impressed.
“Let me try it once without the paper,” Ziggy said, shutting the staff book and holding it to his chest, his eyes closed.
“Sure thing.” Bart started the intro and Ziggy came in on cue. His earlier shyness was gone and he began to put some inflection into the words. When it came to the chorus, which was anthemic and large, Bart and I sang backup. Halfway through the last verse Ziggy stumbled on the words, though, and opened his eyes, one hand over his mouth. “Oops. Well, other than the crash and burn at the end there, how was that?” He looked at me.
“Pretty good,” I said in a voice cooler than I felt. “Pretty damn good. But you swapped some of the words around in the bridge.”
“Oh, you mean from ‘Leave the door open’ to ‘Leave open the door’?”
He wrinkled his eyebrows and his eyes drifted aside. “It felt better to me to finish with it like that,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it; it just made sense.” He clapped his hands and recited “Leave the door open,” and then “Leave open the door.” He nodded where the stress of the words fell.
“So, keep it as is until the last one, which ends with the stress on the last beat,” Bart said.
“Yeah, I guess.”
He was right, it did have a nice sound to it. “There’s a slight echo of a Pete Townshend song in it if you do it that way,” I said, “but I like it anyway.”
“Let’s do it like this,” Bart went to the chalk board and wrote out the pieces of the song. “After the last chorus, instead of fading out on the chorus, let’s go back to the bridge and riff on that. We can keep going and keep going until the one time Ziggy does it the other way.”
“That works for me.” We tried it that way, through the whole song then to the bridge a second time, Bart and I trading solos until Ziggy brought it to a close. What was an almost martial and robust bridge in the center of the song became sort of melancholy and intense at the end. “Hot damn.” I said into the ringing quiet. I let my fingers rip through the melody again, up the neck, trailing off with a few loose harmonics.
“Jeezuschrist you make that look easy,” Ziggy said to me, his lips hanging open a little in silent wow.
The words in my mouth were “same to you,” but I couldn’t quite say them. I settled on: “I guess.”