710. Why Can’t I Be You

Carynne arrived around 11:30 with Bart and Chris in tow. She looked happy to see me and gave me a not-quite-there kiss on my cheek (not because she was afraid I was contagious or something, but so as not to muss her power lipstick, or so she explained).

She looked less happy to see Bradley. “Tess? Er.” She coughed and I felt deeply uncomfortable as Carynne blushed to her roots having somewhat obviously blurted out the wrong name. “Brad.” Cough. “What are you doing here?”

“Auditioning,” Bradley said with a firm deadpan that was eerily familiar to me. Hands in pockets. Chin slightly raised. Feet flat on the floor.

Heart probably beating a mile a minute if he was anything like me.

Carynne’s mouth opened as she flipped to a page on her clipboard that presumably had names on it, but before she looked at it I said, “Gear’s all set up.”

“Daron–”

“Gear’s all set up,” I repeated.

She gave me one of those let’s-not-argue-in-front-of-the-children looks. Which I answered with my chin slightly raised and my hands in my pockets. “Is there a problem? How many people are we hearing today?”

“Five,” she said and rolled her eyes, indicating that I had just won a small battle of wills even though I didn’t know why we were having the battle. Did she know something about Bradley that I didn’t? Fine–she should tell me later. I wanted to judge by my ears first.

Bart and Chris emerged from having discovered the coffee machine and we set about getting the rest of our instruments set up.

We had told the people auditioning to prep one solo piece and one M3 song. By “we” I mean I had told Carynne to tell whoever. But I intuited that maybe she and Bradley hadn’t communicated officially about this gig.

“You got something for us to hear?” I asked Bradley.

“Sure.”

“You mind if I tape this?”

“No.”

I went to set up one more thing then: a portable tape recorder, nothing fancy, just a cassette to capture it so I could remind myself later if it came down to picking between candidates.

While I was doing that someone else pulled up to the loading dock. A black guy, with dreads so small it was like they were new sprouts, came in and introduced himself as Marvelle. He had no accent at all, that same generic mid-Atlantic melange that newscasters and a lot of Canadians have.

Carynne took me aside and asked where I expected him to go while Bradley auditioned.

“Go? Is he supposed to go somewhere?”

“You don’t think it’s rude to let people’s competitors hear them?”

“Why would that be rude?” I’d been to auditions that took place in a closed room with no one but two judges and I’d been to ones where all the candidates sat in an auditorium and the audition took place on the stage right in front of them.

“Won’t it make them nervous?” Carynne asked.

I almost laughed. “If someone’s too nervous to do their best because there’s another drummer in the room, they’re not ready to do it in front of tens of thousands of people,” I said.

Ziggy came in at noon on the dot with Barrett. Barrett greeted each of us individually and checked around the space a bit and then left. Ziggy was carrying a Thermos of what appeared to be hot lemonade.

“Sore throat?” I asked, concerned.

He gave me a sloe-eyed smirk. “Too much screaming while you fucked me last night.”

I didn’t blink or blush. I think. “You won’t have to sing, today. Just listen and opine, all right?”

Okay, for all my brusqueness to Carynne about auditions I actually have a lot of sympathy for people who play well but who audition badly. It was pretty clear Bradley was a bit green around the gills as he nervously adjusted his stool and tested out his kit.

The thing is, it isn’t that I don’t get nerves anymore. I still feel nerves before a big show, or walking into a studio with a band I don’t know, or whenever I feel like the stakes are high and I have to impress someone whose opinion matters to me, but over time you develop a couple of things. One is steel cojones so even if you’re feeling the nerves, it doesn’t show. One is the avatar of your own confidence, of all the times you did it right, played well, blew the doors off a building, et cetera, so that you can project that or inhabit that so the nerves get buried. Experience and skill both play into that, so when I didn’t have much in the way of experience I at least had belief in my own skill to fall back on. And the whole thing about an audition is it’s exactly that–a performance–so if you “play up,” if you exceed your “usual” skill level, well that’s just an indicator that your performance could be better on a regular basis and it’s time to level up.

“Let’s warm up a little,” I announced to the guys. “Follow me through a little 12-bar blues?” I fell into an easy, standard long-short-diddle, long-short-diddle riff knowing I wouldn’t have to announce the key because Bart would figure it out for himself and the percussion guys (Chris was prepared to fuss around with some Miscellaneous Hand Percussion) didn’t need to know it. Bart jumped in easily and then gave Bradley a look like are-you-coming?

Bradley nodded in time, thinking it over, maybe unsure how corny or standard to go. Whether it would come out like rock, jazz, or lounge music was going to depend entirely on the drums.

He gave himself a snare count in and then slid into a kind of sleazy rock riff, sort of lounge-lizard slow rockabilly.

We went once through the progression and then I took a 12-bar solo, then we went around again to reestablish the progression and then Bart did the same. Then we went through the progression and…we both looked at Bradley and…?

Bradley froze for half a second and then spazzed a little trying to catch up and nearly sent sticks flying everywhere but somehow hung on and went into a solo that was utterly incoherent, went all over the place, but he gamely powered through it. It was the right number of beats long, anyway, and then he gave us all the eye like okay-now-we-go-back-right??

We didn’t get more than two beats into repeating the progression before me, Bart, and Chris were cracking up. Bradley was blushing so hard I worried he was going to pop a vein in his face, actually, but he at least managed a partial smile when I said, “Well, it was just a warmup, you know.”

“Oh my God I’ve never done that before!” Bradley blurted and sounded, well, very very female at that moment and I tried to erase having heard Carynne say anything that morning from my brain to prevent me from making the same mistake.

“What, played a solo that sounded like Lincoln Logs in a windstorm, or a twelve-bar blues?” Chris asked.

“Um, twelve-bar blues.” He looked about ready to hyperventilate. “I’ve always, you know, learned an actual song and practiced it.”

At music school I’d met virtuosos who couldn’t improvise to save their lives. Seriously. It was so far outside of their experience. I kind of doubted that Bradley was quite like that, though. “You want to do the piece you prepped, now that you’re warmed up?” I asked mildly.

“Sure.” He adjusted the stool again. “Sure.”

“You have a song you want to play back or have in headphones or something?” Chris asked.

“Oh. I just…memorized it. I mean, I didn’t bring a recording of it or anything like that.” He looked sheepish.

We were standing in a circle so we could all see each other. “Just play it,” I said. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay, it’s–”

“Don’t tell me what it is,” I said, waving my hands. “Just play it.”

“It’s more fun if we have to guess what song it is,” Bart half-joked, half-explained.

“Oh.” Bradley stared at the snare and took a deep breath, then another one, and then launched fiercely into something that Bart and I recognized instantly. Ours eyes met. An opening flourish and then it settled into a quick, jolting punk-pop sort of beat, simple and repetitive. Without the flourish I might have guessed it was “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. But it was undoubtedly “Why Can’t I Be You” by The Cure. My hands were resting on the body of the Ovation, feeling the vibrations.

We listened through the whole thing without moving, but Bart and I were talking with our eyes. He wanted to jump in, and so did I, but I wanted to give Bradley a chance to get through the entire song without us interrupting.

He did. It’s not a difficult song, really, but the questions you have to ask when you’re not listening to the vocals or the chords or any of that, when all you’re hearing is the drums, are these: did they keep the tempo? did they maintain the intensity they set or even ramp it up when appropriate? did it sound good? did they play well?

He was out of breath but didn’t look unhappy at the end. He’d broken a sweat but that was good. He was warmed up for real.

“Can you do it again?” Bart asked and saw me give a little nod, because we were thinking the same thing.

“Again? Sure.”

He shifted on the stool and went to start again and I said, “Wait, wait, one sec, give us a count off.”

Bradley swallowed, nodded, and I think realized what was about to happen. Well, granted, what was about to happen was we might be about to crash and burn on a song that Bart and I hadn’t played in years… but come on, we used to play it all the time. I wondered if Bradley knew that or if it was a coincidence.

I strummed once to make sure I had the settings I wanted and then signaled him to start. He tapped his foot on the high hat as he counted off four and then hit that same opening flourish that I knew so well.

The guitar riff that comes in has a quick strum and for a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to keep up with the tempo, honestly, but then my blood got moving and we interlocked. The bass came in.

Then the electronic horns should have come in if it had been the actual song but there was no way that was happening: Chris had not been the devotee of The Cure that either Bart or I had been in our maladjusted teen years. As a maladjusted teen Chris had been all about Pink Floyd.

However, Ziggy jumped in without a microphone at the first chorus because I think he just couldn’t stop himself. I found myself singing along, too, though I didn’t have the full grasp of the lyrics that he did.

The song is only three minutes long. We hit the ending like we’d leapt off a cliff, everyone stopping with a deep breath and the last ring of a chord and a cymbal hit echoing off the bricks.

“You shouldn’t be singing!” I barked at Ziggy, but I was goofing on him.

He laughed. “Yes, boss.” He giggled all the way back to the chair next to Carynne’s and sat back down.

Bradley wiped his sweaty face on the edge of his T-shirt and I caught a glimpse of what looked like a tube top under it.

Bart bounced on his toes. “Man. I’m having flashbacks. You and I first tried to play that, like, the first week we met, but it doesn’t hold together without the drums.”

“The first week?” I asked. Five years ago? It felt like a very long time ago.

“Yeah, and then we got that guy in the computer music department to program it for us.”

“God, that’s right, the horn line and the drums, he did a MIDI controller version that would play it back through a DX-7, right? Through a Mac?” I’d forgotten about that.

“Right, and then we got that sequencer box and the FB-01.” Bart looked thoughtful. “You still have that FB-01 somewhere? I don’t think it’s at my house.”

“I think it’s in our basement,” Chris said. “It’s like a…box, right?”

“Yeah, it’s like the brains of a DX-7 without the actual keyboard attached,” I said. “It’s so much easier to just have an actual drummer.” The current drummer in question was watching us banter about our old equipment with wide, alert eyes. “Yeah, anyway. Let’s move on. Um, Bradley, did you get the memo about prepping an M3 song, too?”

Bradley’s eyes got wider. “Um, no. I didn’t. But. Um. But.” He seemed to be hoping he’d think of something to say to redeem the situation but couldn’t come up with anything.

“That’s all right. Last part of the audition was going to be let’s see how quickly you can pick up and learn something. Guys, let’s see about that arrangement of ‘Do It’ we worked on.”

I won’t bore you with the details of how we explained the song or what we were going to do or how the dance remixes had a lot of drum machine but we didn’t want it to sound like a machine. Well, we wanted the band to click like a machine but not be robotic, even if we were going for a nice even feel.

We got a nice even feel. Bradley seemed to have forgotten people were judging, and as we worked out the parts I kind of forgot it was an audition, too, as my brain went into work mode. We only did up to the first bridge, though, which was all we had planned to do so the process wouldn’t take forever, and then I remembered.

And that was it. Bradley tucked his sticks into a pouch and stood up. He’d raked his fingers through his sweaty hair and it was standing up in haphazard spikes. Kind of a good look, actually. Maybe that was that he was letting himself smile now that it was over.

I shook his hand. “Thanks. We’ll…be in touch one way or the other? I guess? I’ll be honest. I haven’t even looked at Carynne’s list to see who else we’re expecting. It’s my first time on this side of the rodeo.”

“Thanks back. That was fun. That was more fun than I expected.” He grinned.

Chris came over to shake hands, too. “Take it easy. Don’t drive anywhere far until the adrenaline calms down a little.”

“It’ll take a while to get the stuff into the van anyway,” he said with a shrug.

So we took a break to get Bradley’s stuff out of the way and set up Marvelle’s kit. He’d brought all the pieces to just on the other side of the divider so he didn’t have far to move it, and he and Chris set it up together while Bart and I and Bradley carried his stuff to the loading dock but didn’t put it into the van just yet. Marvelle’s van was backed in next to it. While we were contemplating that, a third van pulled up, and yet another drummer got out.

Lather, rinse, repeat.


(P.S. Kickstarter still not launched…still working on it. You’ll know when I get it going. Meanwhile, we’re only $5.65 away from hitting $100 AGAIN this week and triggering a Saturday post! If someone chips that into the Tip Jar, that’ll be three weeks in a row triggering a bonus and four weeks out of five since I added the tracking counter to the site! You guys are amazing! -ctan)



(P.P.S. Is this the first time a song used as a chapter title is also mentioned in the chapter itself? And don’t they look hilarious trying to pretend they’re playing when they’re all terrible at faking it? Robert Smith can’t figure out which vocal line to fake and poor Lol Tolhurst pretending to play the trumpet. I don’t even know if he can play it in real life. -d.)

11 Comments

  • Stacey says:

    I would say, “My favorite Cure song!!!” except that I routinely say that about at least 35 different Cure songs 😉

    I loved this chapter – I could feel myself right there with all of them.

    And now you’ve gotten me even MORE excited to see the Cure in May 🙂

    • ctan says:

      I should see if I can get tickets to The Cure. I’m going to see Peter Gabriel for the first time since the 90s in a few months, and I haven’t seen The Cure since 1989 or 1990. (It’s already sold out but I see some resellers have floor tickets for not that much…)

      • Stacey says:

        You should! I saw them in ’89, and, um, 92? and once again in the middle somewhere, and then again about six or seven years ago. At no time did they ever disappoint – they are one of those bands that really brings it, when they play live.
        I’m extra happy this time around because I’m taking my 13 year old daughter, who has excellent musical taste (ha ha).

  • Bill Heath says:

    In the paragraph that begins, “The thing is, it isn’t that I don’t get nerves anymore.” you captured eloquently what I’ve been trying to tell people for nearly fifty years.

    This applies to everything that is “performance,” from briefing the President to providing customer service at the Driver’s License window.

    I plan to plagiarize shamelessly. Sue me, most of my fortune is invested in DGC e-books anyway.

    • ctan says:

      LOL. Daron hasn’t quote figured out that this applies to everything, not just getting on a stage, whereas for Ziggy it’s a way of life.

  • s says:

    Daron and Bart playing name that tune with just the drums for a clue? I bow to your superiority. And Ziggy jumping in to sing gave me the warm-fuzzies I was looking for when the guys went out for dinner and everything felt so strange. When they play together, all is right in the world.

    • daron says:

      That one is dead easy though. Just listen to the first couple of seconds, before any of the other instruments come in, no other song sounds like that.

  • chris says:

    Ziggy giggling all the way back to his chair made my day!

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