Part two of “That Other Guy”

Here’s another installment . . .


           Gerry’s antagonistic stage antics helped get us noticed.  It also got X pissed off – “What are we, a Sex Pistols tribute band?” – and Harrison frustrated – “Can he follow the beat at least half the time?” – while I felt compelled to play referee and peacemaker.  “C’mon guys, he gives us some stage presence.”  This was partly true, but it was a cover for me, too: I was petrified of singing in front of people (and still am to this day), so Gerry took some of the pressure off of me with his weird gyrations and steady stream of insults for the crowd.

            Harrison and X shook their heads and shot me looks that said in no uncertain terms, You better be right, Danny.

            I’m convinced I was right, but I didn’t know something then about Gerry – something that clued me into his performances on stage and the reason why we stopped performing together as a band.

            A month after we started playing shows, Gerry’s parents divorced.  I’d only met them once so I knew hardly any of the details of the break-up, except that it was loud and ugly.  One night, a heap of clothes, a couple of opened suitcases, and assorted stacks of books and magazines, were all strewn about their front lawn.  I almost parked my station wagon by the Rittle house to pick Gerry up for band practice, but before I could turn off the ignition key, he came running out, his bass in hand (no case), wearing dirty jeans and leather jacket and no shirt.

            It was January.

            “Drive,” he said, and I did.  He didn’t talk about it; I was too much the coward to ask him.

            But that wasn’t everything.  His moods swung all over, from a dark, brooding surliness that enveloped the room as soon as he entered to a high-pitched manic phase that shouted down everyone around him.  He’d always idolized Sid Vicious, but he began to resemble the dead-by-heroin –overdose bassist more and more, from the iron lock on a chain around his neck to the permanent scowl and the spiked black hair (this despite his natural blond locks).  One day at practice he left to go to the upstairs bathroom in X’s house.  I was playing around with the chords of X’s new original song, “Final Go,” which I liked but found more than a little challenging with its jazzy changes and fast rhythms.  I walked around the basement, looking over at X, who was nodding at my strumming and then Harrison, who was testing out different fills for the tune.  Then, as I passed Gerry’s bag sitting on the floor, I saw it.  But I didn’t believe it.

            Later, when I gave Gerry a ride home, I noticed it again, still sticking out of his bag: a black plastic film canister that was really a bottle of pills, looking like the ones that we saw plenty of guys carrying around at shows, both in the Fairfax basements and in clubs all over.  Speed mostly, though I’d heard something about acid and PCP showing up in some neighborhoods.

            Again, I was too much the coward to say a word about it to Gerry, but with every show we played, I saw the unmistakable signs of what the pills – whatever they were – did to Gerry.

            Throwing his body against the walls.

            Bouncing against X or me while we were playing guitar, or brushing against Harrison’s drum kit.

Jumping high in the air – and then just landing with a thump, in a pile, his bass bruising his thighs and ribs.

            Plenty of people thought Gerry’s theatrics were a hoot.  They also thought it was all pre-arranged, too – in other words, that all of us were in on it, letting Gerry play the fool to our three-headed King Lear.  We did nothing to disabuse people of this mistaken notion.

            For a few weeks, I assumed I was the only one who knew about Gerry and his pills.  As with so many things in our band, though, I was wrong.

            “What, are you crazy?” X asked me one day after school as we were walking to the parking lot.  “Of course I know.  So does Harrison.”

            “But . . . how?”

            X shook his head and looked at me, sighing.  “Well, the bouncing around on stage, for one.  And people have been talking.”

            “Oh.  Okay.”

            “One more thing,” he added, stopping for a moment and looking in a few directions as if perhaps Gerry might be nearby to hear our conversation.  “I’ve seen him with some guys at the shows.  Dealers, I’m sure of it.”  I just nodded, having not noticed what should have been obvious to me.

            “So . . . what should we do?”

           “Kick him out of the band,” he responded, without a moment’s hesitation.

           I sputtered.  “But . . . but we can’t.”

           “We can’t?  Sure we can.  Bass players are a dime a dozen.”

           “Well, yeah, but this is Gerry’s band.”  I said it before I thought it, and hearing those words came out of my mouth felt strange to me – not false, but somehow skewed.

           “And the way he’s going, it won’t be anyone’s band.  Don’t you see, kid?  He’s going to get us in trouble.”

           “But none of us . . .”  I stopped there.

           “He gets busted, we’ll all get nabbed for something – possession maybe, aiding and abetting, distribution for all I know.”

           “You don’t think.”  I stepped back from X for a second as if he were aflame.

           “At this point, nothing would surprise me. Nothing, kid.”

           Clearly I didn’t share X’s sentiments, but Harrison felt ambivalent about kicking someone out, so the status quo held.  And we were playing more and more shows, making more and more money, and writing more and more songs.  One night a few guys from some of the D.C. hardcore bands, Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye among them, showed up at an all-ages show at Knott Community Center, half a mile from our high school.  No one mobbed him – this was a DIY scene, after all – but the place was buzzing all the same.  What were those guys doing there?  Was there a chance that their indie label, Dischord, might be looking to sign some bands from the Fairfax scene?

           That night was the first show we played where the originals outnumbered the covers – a good sign, we thought, if we were ever going to be noticed as anything other than some novelty punk band that performed an eclectic selection of other people’s songs.  X’s songs tended to sound moodier, more British, more intricate.  (The year after we broke up, I heard The Cure on my college radio station and could have sworn that X was playing guitar on – and had written – “Lovecats.”)  My songs – well, my songs tended to result in people dancing.  I can’t say that was ever my intention, but what can you do?  I often had horn parts playing in my head while I was writing the lyrics and strumming the chords on the Gibson hollow body electric that my father gave me one Christmas when I was 12.  Maybe that’s why there were usually “doo-wahs” and “la-las” in my choruses where trumpets and saxophones might otherwise have played.  I sometimes referred to our set lists as punkadelic, which made Gerry gnash his teeth, of course.

            At the community center show, we were second to last on the bill.  It was a battle of the bands, of a sort, anyway: the top two bands would get to play a festival show in May.  Metric System had played that same festival in ’81 and got signed by IRS Records, this small sort-of-independent label that was distributed by one of the majors and already had The Go-Gos and The English Beat recording for them.

            We began our set with one of my songs, “Mindbender,” probably my most upbeat tune.  “Whip them into a frenzy,” X would say before we started playing this two-chord rave-up, and we often did, though part of me felt like he resented my song becoming our standard opener.  Next was X’s “Blackout,” which featured some of the most explosive – and, frankly, least punk – drumming of any of our songs.  Harrison neatly segued from a tight beat to a nearly go-go rhythm, echoing D.C.’s Chuck Brown and another music scene that never quite rose to national prominence.

            After that, we did a couple of covers – “More Than a Feeling,” which got equal amounts of cheers and confused stares, and The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” which featured X and Gerry harmonizing nicely on the back-up vocals – and felt confident that we had a lock on one of the two festival slots.  Gerry was in his best Sid Vicious mode, but the stage at Knott was so much bigger than the basement spaces we’d been playing for the last few months, so his gesticulations seemed a lot less pronounced.  At least for the first four songs, anyway.

            Next came another one of my songs, “Courtesy of Me,” a short song with lots of handclaps and a goofy little four-note guitar solo that X could have played in his sleep.  More frenzy, and during the second half of the song, when I stopped playing guitar and clapped along with Harrison’s Wall of Sound drum beat filling the place, Gerry started dancing, flailing really, somehow still managing to play the bass part (only three notes, thankfully).  I watched him from the corner of my eye, smiling at first.  The more he flailed, though, the more my smile became a mockery of itself.  Was he going to self-destruct now, with just two songs left and our spot at the festival almost guaranteed?

            “Courtesy of Me” ended on Harrison’s rim shot, and I jumped to the mike, figuring that starting our next song right away might keep Gerry from unraveling completely.  Or just bring this set to a quicker close.

            We started playing our third and final cover, our most obscure of all of them, Big Star’s “Thank You Friends.”  It was a good deal slower than some of our other tune, which was good: Gerry just stood fairly still, played his very simple bass part – four notes on this one, I think – and all we had left was our closer, X’s “Final Go.”  When we’d hashed out our set list a few days before, I resisted ending with this song, half-assedly arguing that it was too Mission of Burma, too weird to go out on at a battle of the bands.  X didn’t respond – maybe because he wasn’t a fan of starting with “Mindbender,” I speculated – but Harrison was adamant.  “Weird?  It’s his best tune.”  He pointed at X for emphasis.  “That makes it one of our best.”  And, to my surprise, Gerry nodded, making the decision clear.

            Before X opened his song with a thundering riff high on the fret board, I walked over to him and whispered something to him about Gerry to which he nodded, then opened the floodgates.  For the next three minutes, we all jumped around, actually, Gerry flailing again, X and I pogoing to Harrison’s propulsive rhythm.  When X finished, returning to the initial riff, I was sure we were in – and Gerry fell over dramatically to punctuate the moment.  (Everyone in the crowd seemed to think his fall was hilarious, much as crowds had for the previous five months.)

            We rushed to the makeshift backstage, adrenaline pumping and sweat soaking our t-shirts and jeans.  We barely listened to Lyme Crane, the final act.  Too bad, too: great little three-piece that sounded like a hyperactive cross between early David Bowie and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Their set seemed to end in record time while we sat in a circle staring at each other as if to say, “Can you believe it?”  When they called our name – and Lyme Crane’s, as it turned out – we weren’t surprised.  Not a bit.

            As we cleaned up after the show, one of the organizers came up to me.  “Hey.  You Kramer?”

            “Uh huh.”  I had my guitar case in one hand, my amp in the other, and I was eager to go home and sleep, not talk to this guy – or anyone, for that matter.

            “Listen, I don’t want to bring you down after that great set and all . . .”  He dropped off vaguely, as if I already knew what he was going to tell me.

            “Then don’t,” I said, feeling more cross.

            He laughed.  “No, seriously.  Look, I just need you to be aware of something.”  He turned his head both ways, as if he were checking for traffic before he crossed, or worried that  someone might want to listen to his secret.  “That bass player of yours.  The cops, well . . .”

            “Well . . . what?”

            “They know.”  He looked me in the eyes as if to say anything more might lead directly to Gerry Rittle getting his Miranda rights read to him.

            I played nonchalant.  “They know, huh?”

            He only nodded, slowly walking away, while I felt my body quake for a moment.  Would we even make it to the festival show? I wondered.

Published in: on September 4, 2010 at 1:46 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Harrison and X shook their heads and shot me looks that said in no uncertain terms, You better be right, Danny.

    • ???

      Why are you quoting the story?

  2. Tommy D

    Just read this story and love, love, loved it! Only one thing to make it better. The use of the kid idiom here “Don’t you see, kid?” and here “At this point, nothing would surprise me. Nothing, kid.” Doesn’t sound true to the character’s voice. Other than that, it was amazing!


  3. Thanks for the feedback.

    Good call – I’d meant to have his character talk to his peers like that earlier in the story, kind of a way of distinguishing himself from others, but forgot to do so. In this section it does stick out some.

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