Carynne picked up the phone like she really was going to make some calls, and I took it as a hint I should leave. Although if she was going to make calls there was no reason why I shouldn’t stay. But I had a feeling she wasn’t doing business–no day book out–so picking up the phone was a signal instead. Right? Take your cue, Daron.
I sat in the back row while the opening band did their sound check, and listened to them run through a nice piece of work with one twelve string guitar and one electric guitar. I could not remember their name. Halfway down the room from me, Graham stood next to his stool without moving, facing the stage.
Backstage I found Remo slinging a laminate on a lanyard over his head and talking with Digger. “There’s what, two hours to showtime?” he was asking.
“Something like that,” Digger said. “Hey kiddo, how’s it hanging?”
“A little to the left. First band goes on at 8. We’re on at 9.” I stood there with my hands in my pockets.
“They did a nice job with catering,” Digger said, with a little jerk of his head toward the green room. “Might as well enjoy it.”
So we three trooped into the green room. I was still full from our large late lunch but opened a can of ginger ale and sat in a folding chair with it fizzing between my knees while I listened to Digger and Remo banter. They could both do the same thing: say essentially nothing but in a kind of jocular, engaging way, so if you didn’t speak English you’d think, hey, what good buddies those guys are. They talked about the cold cuts, the condiments, each one’s sneaking suspicion that Levi’s had subtly changed the cut of 501 jeans, ripping each other about getting gray hairs. Maybe I was being cynical. After all, when Bart and I got together, what did we talk about? When we weren’t talking about work, that is. Every conversation wasn’t some soul-baring, topic-of-import type discussion. Still, I had the feeling Digger and Remo were more being friendly to each other than being friends. For some reason that made me sad.
C. came in and had to conference with Digger on something and Remo sat down next to me, his folding chair turned backward so he leaned his arms on the upright back of it. “So what do you guys do to kill time?”
Chris and Kevin were playing cards. Bart and Ziggy were not in the room. Colin was eating a sandwich and staring into space. I shrugged. “Whatever we feel like. We’ll eat dinner after.”
“You feel like playing a little more?”
“Sure.” Truth, my thumb was feeling a little sore from playing so much last night, and I’d already played an hour today, plus the sound check. But I would not have said no to him.
I fetched the Ovation from the stage where it sat in a stand behind an amp. The hollow body knocked against my knee as I pulled it toward me by the neck, the sound so small in the largeness of the empty hall. Back in the green room, Remo was tuning the Takamine he’d given me (of course I’d brought it along) by ear.
“Hey I started writing something today,” I said as I sat down next to him and hitched the Ovation up under my arm. I dug a thumb pick out of my pocket and tucked it onto my finger.
“Let’s hear it,” he said. He took a sip from a can of Coke and then put it under his chair.
I played out the riff I’d been working on, a Travis picked pattern, kind of a folky pattern but I played it with open chords, a suspended fourth here, then open fifths, chords that would have had some dissonance in them if played with a strum. I didn’t explain, I just played it through twice slow, watching Remo watch my fingers, first my left and then my right. He strummed the chords lightly, hitting the top E and then sliding a finger up the neck to play it an octave up. He watched my left hand go through the chords once more and then began to pick the strings in tandem with me, the fuller, mellower sound of the Takamine making the Ovation seem harder and brighter than usual.
He pushed the tempo a little and then said “The implied E. Nice.”
I nodded; he’d known what I was aiming for, understood it without explanation. “It rings.”
We played it through again. “Here’s the B section.” This was three more of those chords, a slight variation in the color, and then, the E we’d been waiting for, though I didn’t play it with all six strings. He grinned at me.
People were walking back and forth, making sandwiches, pausing to watch, talking. I was aware of them but unaffected by them at the same time. My fingers seemed to move of their own accord now, the pattern preprogrammed.
“What the hell kind of melody do you put on top of something like this, kid?”
He started on the A section again and I showed him, the brittle twang of the Ovation carrying the notes easily through the run of his picking, even though I played low on the neck. And then, in the chorus of the B section, I showed him how the tune changed and echoed itself. We were both into the groove now, looking at each other’s face and not at our hands. I carried the tune up the neck and played it again, with variations for a while, until Remo passed the rhythm part back to me.
We played in unison again for a few measures and then, using his first two fingers to walk up the scale, he played me a melody that fit sinuously into the pattern. It wasn’t anything like the one I’d played, but it fit. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was as different as he was from me. The tune had a cohesive beauty that was revealed gradually on the first round through, and shone on the second.
I believe I said “Oh yeah.”
When the lead came back to me, I found it had changed in my mind, and what I played now was somewhat in the form of mine but the color of his. We played with that for a while until the moment arrived, as it always does, when we reached the end and stopped. Sometimes when you’re jamming, the end approaches from far away, and everyone sees and feels it coming, and then you end. But sometimes it happens suddenly, whoom, and everyone stops, barely aware that we’ve stopped playing until we hear the quiet. Okay, it doesn’t happen like that every time. Not every bunch of musicians is as tuned in to each other as every other, and sometimes different egos can be battling for control or the last word. But this time, we felt the end coming and we let it go with one last icicle-bright arpeggiated strum from the Ovation.
Remo took a sip of his Coke. “What do you call that one?”
“How about ‘I wish I had a tape recorder.'” We both laughed and I shook my left hand out.
“Thumb bothering you?”
“No,” I said, but that was so obviously a lie, what with me rubbing the joint with my right, that it didn’t come out like a lie. It came out like something meaningless I had to say, like please or thank you, and neither of us gave it much weight.
Remo laid the Takamine back into its case and slouched into the chair. “I’m gonna move my old bones to the couch.”
“Sure.” We both went to the couch and sat there drinking soda from cans and not needing or wanting to say much and kind of nodding our heads from time to time, whether in agreement or in time to inaudible music who could say.