I made myself some lunch when I woke up again at one, and started looking through the phone book. It took me a few phone calls, but I eventually talked to a lawyer about changing my name. She told me that it was a much simpler legal procedure to give myself an additional name than it was to get the old one taken away. She tried to convince me that for $250 per hour she could handle the more complicated procedure. I decided to add the new name and bury the old one my own way, and to worry about paying someone to finish the job someday when I had money to spend on it. I took the bus down to city hall, and filled out some papers. The clerk gave me shit about not having a driver’s license, and I told him it’d be pretty stupid for them to give a license to someone who couldn’t drive. He didn’t find that funny, but I filled out the papers and he didn’t tear them up or have me arrested. At least I accomplished one of the things I had told Bart I’d do. I called him and told him to meet me at the coffee house, and blow off the studio tonight. I left Roger a note telling him we weren’t recording.
The Copa was a coffeehouse on the corner of Angell Street two blocks from where Roger and I lived. One of these places with ceiling fans turning all the time, summer or winter, all kinds of coffee and baked goods and even pretty cheap sandwiches, people’s stuff dumped all around the edges of the place, the windowsill full of backpacks and bookbags and the cases of the more cavalier violinists. There were seats for about forty. Me and Bart played an acoustic set there every third Thursday night under the name the Right-Ass Brothers (don’t ask), and on the other nights we often hung around and listened to whoever they had. I arrived early and sat at a table against the wall.
Bart threw the classified ads down on the table.
“What’s this for?” I moved my coffee to the side to get a better look at the paper.
“For us. To start looking for a ‘Lead Vocalist’ ad or ‘Musicians Wanted.'” He sat down with a muffin on a saucer. “Got a pen?”
“Well, here…” He held out a pen. “Take it.”
“No,” I said again, trying to kickstart my sentence. “I mean, no, I’m not looking at any ads.”
I slurped the coffee. I’d put so much sugar in most of it was piled in the bottom of the cup, undissolved. “I’m not interested in joining someone else’s band, I want someone to join my band.”
“What’s the difference?”
“There’s a big difference!” I looked at him. “And those Lead Vocalist types are going to give us the same prima donna shit Roger’s giving us.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got to do something.” His frustration echoed my own. “Maybe we should take out our own ad. It might be better than nothing. And that way you can make it clear it’s your band.”
“No.” I snorted. “It’s the principle of the thing. I don’t want to meet my next bandmember through the ads anymore than I want to meet my future wife through the personals.” That sounded so weird as I said it. “I mean, we’re talking about a deep, meaningful, lifelong relationship, and these ads are like the Dating Service for Unemployed Musicians.” I picked up the paper and began reading from the ‘Musicians Wanted’ column. “‘Working Band seeks male vocalist, have gigs and rehearsal space, bring your own tux.'”
“‘Keyboards and drums seeks singer influenced by Cure, REM, Siouxsie, New Order, better to look like Robert Smith than sound like him.’ Ugh. Or how about this one, ‘Hard-working guitar band needs front man for covers and originals, long hair and transportation a must. No drugs, No egos.'” I dropped the paper. “This is bullshit. We’ve got to ask around ourselves, see who we know.”
“Great. Just sit on your ass, why don’t you.” And he walked away, leaving the paper and the muffin with me. He got in the coffee line.
I studied the paper again as I finished the last dregs of sugar from the bottom of my cup. There were pencil marks in the margin I hadn’t noticed before, just check marks, and each one was next to a “Bassist Wanted” ad.
Bart came back balancing a cappuccino or espresso or some such. He was still pissed when he sat down. “I bet you didn’t even do it, yet.”
“Tell Roger we’re giving him the boot.” He blew on the tiny cup.
“He was asleep,” I said. “I’ll tell him.”
“You’re wasting time!”
“I–!” I didn’t know what I wanted to say. “You’re just having withdrawal symptoms from not playing out enough.”
“Ha! Thank you Doctor Music. Okay, fine, I’m sick of sitting around. You’re the one who can do something about it.” I’d never heard him so accusatory. His voice cracked on “So go do it!”
“You’re right, you’re right.” I passed the paper back to him. “I’m a wimp, I’m lame.”
“Have fun, Manager,” Bart said, his coffee finally cool enough to sip. I put my coat on and stood there for a minute, trying to think of one more thing I could say. But there wasn’t anything. As I made my way out the door, I saw a girl with long, dark curls take my place at the table.
I went home to find Roger still missing. When he came in around midnight, I pretended to be sleeping. He closed his door. He had an early class, so by the time I got up for ear training he was long gone. I stayed out all day. When I came home, he was in his room, playing something very loud with the door shut. I picked up the phone. There was no answer at Bart’s.
It went on like that for several days. I passed my finals without really trying. Bart had dropped off the face of the earth, and Roger and I hardly said two words to each other. Then one morning when I hadn’t yet slept that night, I tried Bart’s number. And I finally caught him at home.
“Bart, Daron. Can you come down to the studio tonight?”
Bart’s voice had an even higher pitch on the phone. “Did you tell him?”
“Eleven o’clock. Bring your stuff.”
I heard his voice waver. “I can’t make it until midnight.”
“And I’ve got to get up early, too. Maybe we should make it another night.”
I let his hesitation fuel my suspicion. “OK, how about tomorrow.”
“Great. Tomorrow’s all clear, I think. Midnight.”
“Yeah, Bye.” I hung up the phone, gnawed on a hang nail starting on my left thumb. He was going somewhere tonight and he didn’t want me to know where. To audition, maybe, for some other band. Why not? Bart didn’t think of himself as a songwriter; he was a player, a hired hand. He liked that image: Bass for Hire. One day, I thought, it’d probably make him one of the most sought after studio musicians in the hemisphere. But that didn’t help me right now. And nothing in the contract could stop him.
Without him, I’d go from having half a band to being a solo artist starting from scratch, and I didn’t want that. But even if I found another bass player…? I still didn’t want it. Bart was the closest thing to a friend my own age I’d had since before junior high school. I wasn’t looking forward to losing that.
The future became too heavy to contemplate without help. I took the last beer out of the fridge and popped it, carrying it cold-steaming and sweating back to the mattress. I probably never would have spoken to Bart if he hadn’t befriended me first.
My first semester at school, I lived on campus, in a dorm, and so did he. But he wasn’t a first year student like me, he was a transfer from one of the schools in Boston, with a couple of years up on me. I was the only other person on that hall who dared play anything other than an orchestra instrument and we stuck together, us versus them. Bart was supposed to be there because the best bassoon teacher on the East Coast had transferred down from the BSO, and Bart was supposed to be on some kind of career track into the orchestra world. But his secret love was electric bass, a love affair which, once I heard him play, I encouraged. And he hung on my every word, my every critique. No one had ever talked about his bass playing before–no one who played rock or blues, anyway.
It took him a while to get comfortable in the rock world. But now Bart was so comfortable with it, he didn’t need me to walk him through it any more. I’d given him that little taste of the big time, too. I decided the beer was making me maudlin, not relaxed. I put on my sweatshirt, then my coat, and went out into the morning.