176. Break On Through

So me and Bart and Kevin and Chris ended up walking to Jason’s house not far from the theater, while Ziggy and Colin went down the main street to the used record shops we’d seen on the way in.

Down in one half of a two-family house with low hanging tress in the yard, Jason’s girlfriend had cooked up a humongous load of rice and beans. We shared dinner with a couple of other members of Stumblefish, and then we got stoned and Kevin scored some of the fine weed for later, too.

Marijuana kind of messes with my sense of time, but after night fell and we weren’t really stoned anymore, we took our van and theirs somewhere, and parked on the street a few houses down from what was once a very big house. Not a mansion, just a big old house, three stories high and surrounded all the way around by an open porch.

Jason had not called ahead to warn the hosts that he was bringing special guests and we were treated to a spontaneous display of four frat brothers dropping to their knees and bowing up and down in front of him. “Hey, I just brung ’em,” Jason said. Whereupon they shifted the direction of their bowing to me and Bart and I waved. There were maybe twenty guys standing around, a clump of four girls in a doorway, chatting. A stereo played the J. Geils Band.

In the kitchen were two garbage cans filled with ice and bottled beer, and a third, smaller, with the expected keg. Bart fished us out two Sam Adams and we made our way to the obvious musician’s corner at one end of the spacious common room. Chairs surrounded by bongos, tambourines, guitars in stands, stood against the wall. The J. Geils ended and no one started something else. Jason sat down in one of the chairs and picked a guitar out of a stand like it was his, which maybe it was. I got the Ovation out of its case and sat next to him. He oohed and aahed at it a bit and his fingers did a little hula dance as if they were drawn magnetically toward the fret board.

“Here,” I said, holding it by the neck. “You try it.”

“Let’s tune first.” He plucked a low E. “Cuz you know what that one is like and I know what this one is like. We can trade later.”

The Ovation was good about holding its pitch if I didn’t loosen the strings for transport, which I hadn’t for the drive from Texas. We didn’t bother with a tuner or pitch pipe and he adjusted his strings to mine. Chris was still in the kitchen, a beer in his hand, talking with someone. Stumblefish’s drummer, another lanky surfer-ish guy named Doug, picked up a dumbek and settled it between his knees. “What are we playing?” he asked.

I looked at Jason and shrugged. He grimaced. “Oh man, I don’t know.”

People were angling themselves toward us in the room, though still talking and laughing. I cleared my throat. “I dunno. Why don’t you just give me a chord progression and we’ll get warmed up.”

“Uh, sure.”

He still looked tentative so I started a regular twelve bar blues. He fell into sync easily with the open chords and I switched to barring them up the neck. Doug patted out a beat and we began to chug along. Jason raised an eyebrow at me after we’d gone around several times and I went ahead and plucked out a solo. He played with a pick while I played with my fingers, but the Ovation was superb at ringing out over other instruments and we could hear me just fine. I played with a little melody for a while, coming back several times to this one E high up on the G string, the mellowest string on the guitar. And at some point that had used itself up and I told him to take it.

The twelve bar blues is a good one to start any jam with because it’s damn near hardwired into anyone who grew up in the United States and wasn’t locked in a closet until age ten or something. The one-four-five chord thing is like second nature–it’s every Elvis song, every early Beatles song, every Bach chorale, too.

Yes, J.S. Bach.

You can get into mystical numerology or the science of acoustics or whatever you want but there’s no denying the pull and the satisfying oomph of coming down off the five, onto the four, and then hitting the one again. The Batman theme. You’re A Grand Old Flag.

So I felt pretty safe starting with this, on the off chance that Jason, nice guy as he was, turned out to be a complete 100% loser of a guitar player. Even if he was, it would still be monumentally hard to make this suck.

It did not suck and Jason was really quite decent. Midway through Jason’s solo turn, Bart came in and took the Miller out of its case. It had held its tuning pretty well too, and he added a bass riff using the bottom strings. When the solo came back to me, I made something with a counterpoint to Bart’s pattern and we played a little tug of war with that for a while. Jason rocked back and forth while he played, his head going one direction while his shoulders went the opposite. I was more of a front-to-back kind of man, nodding my head as I went.

The other two Stumblefishes came into the room–the other guitar player/singer and the bass player, and we wrapped up the blues thing because it would be just plain silly to try to add two more guitars to the three already playing.

“Cool,” Jason said when we finished.

“Why don’t you guys play some,” I said, putting the Ovation into the vacant stand where Jason’s guitar had been. “I want to drink my beer.”

“Okay, man, okay.” His band assembled around him. A standup bass was brought from some closet or other room. They tuned briefly. More people had come in while we were playing, and people were looking in the porch windows, too.

Stumblefish’s regular sound was a kind of rootsy rock-reggae cross, and people started to dance and sing along to some of the tunes. They played maybe half an hour, forty five minutes, and I sat on a windowsill drinking my beer and thinking, hey, good party. Much better than the last party I was at, at Christmas time. Kevin and Chris sort of half-danced with beers in their hands. When they were done, the singer/guitarist whose name I’d already forgotten announced that we were here and wondered if we’d come up and play a couple of songs.

Me and Bart and Chris went up there and took their places, Bart at the standup bass, Chris with a set of bongos, and me with the Ovation. “Our singer’s out tasting the Boulder nightlife,” I said. “So we’re improvising this.”

First we ripped out an instrumental version of Welcome, which drew cheers from some guys in the crowd. Oh yeah, we could kind of funk it up, the bombast of the power chord replaced by a little pseudo-flamenco scratch I used to draw the sound out longer. Bart wasn’t even looking at me, he just followed me down the notes like a ladder. It did sound sort of forlorn without any lyrics though. “What do you guys want to do next?” I asked when it ended.

“We can do ‘Here Comes the Sun,'” Bart suggested.

“Do you remember all the words?”

“Do you?”

I laughed. “I bet between the two of us we remember them all.”

I started it. It took him one time through the progression to find something he was happy with on the bass and then we were singing. Some people sang along, too, “It’s alright…” and it was. I felt hopelessly folky and buzzed and happy about it. Someone brought us a new round of Sam Adamses at the end of the song and I took a drink while thinking about what to do next. “Hey,” I said to Bart. “You can sing that Love & Rockets song.


  • Sara Winters says:

    A good time was had by all. And no one was missed.

  • Jude says:

    What a nice change for you, D: actually enjoying yourself. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible at a frat party, but then, I’m just a little biased against frats…

    • daron says:

      I don’t know much about frats myself. RIMCon didn’t have them and Brown wasn’t a fratty sort of place. I know there were some–I did play at one or two parties–but they didn’t leave much impression on me.

      • Jude says:

        University of Delaware was practically run by the frats, and I got queerbashed (or, more literally, my and other dorm room doors did) several times during my sophomore and junior years by frat rats. Soooo, my expectations, they ain’t so very high.

        • daron says:

          They had a Pride Week at Brown every year that was probably the scariest week of my life. I get it now why it was necessary to do it but at the time it just seemed to me like declaring open season on queers, like it was provoking the frat boys and they were absolutely obligated to vandalize and bash to prove their manhoods.

          They tell me these days Pride Week is now a month long and all the frats hire gay DJs for their parties year-round, and yeah it’s changed. Brown was always a liberal place though.

          • Bill Heath says:

            Black Pride was a necessary outgrowth of “It’s OK to be black.” It wasn’t, ergo Pride. Gay Pride followed the same path. The wars have been won in both cases but the skirmishes may continue for another half century.

            The bashing seems to have its origin in a peculiarity among testosterone-poisoned mostly straight men. It’s not enough to be straight. You also have to be “Not Gay.” They are not the same thing. To prove you’re straight is easy: just live. To prove you’re “Not Gay” you have to take some kind of overt anti-gay action. In most educated people the “Not Gay” stuff simply evaporates when the pre-frontal cortex matures around age 26.

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