Another of a Million (Part V - The Store That Sold Nothing)

Continued from Part IV Track 8: "Down by the Water" (3:14) PJ Harvey · To Bring You My Love · Island Records Track 9: "Whisper" (3:29) Morphine · Yes · Rykodisc

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." -Elvis Costello, or Thelonius Monk, or Martin Mull, or Lester Bangs, or Clara Schumann, depending on whom you ask

There's no real way around it. We looked like we were headed for a sleepover. Three freshmen and a sophomore, bundled against the cold, trudging along the salted ice on the sidewalk, waiting at the bus stop at eight on a Wednesday evening. Too young to buy booze, too old to ask a grown-up for a ride. Laden with backpacks, and guitar cases, and blankets, and pillows.

Yeah. We pretty much looked like we were headed for a sleepover. And I'd have a comeback for that, were it not for the fact that we were absolutely headed for a sleepover. Thanks to Empire Beauty School's complaints, this was how Jesus Clip marched to war. We rode the bus to a rented storefront, and stayed there until the sun came up. If we timed it right, we got there at nine o'clock on the knuckle, when the landlord's noise curfew expired. Frankly, we needed every second of practice we could muster.

[Sign that you do not rock: Your band's rehearsals resemble sleepovers.]

Any given one of these nights played out in more or less the same fashion. Will, Steve, and I joked around while Chris unlocked our Store That Sold Nothing. Bags and coats fell into piles in the back of the room. While the guys tuned up, I ducked into the bathroom to change into t-shirt and shorts — this despite the fact that the heat in the building left something to be desired, and that thing specifically was heat. Out came the band-aids, stuck on the fingers of my right hand where the drumstick did the most damage. Out came the foam earplugs, because God forbid I hear the racket I was making.

Chris had songs to try out, Chris always had songs to try out. Cover tunes may be the meat and mead of fledgling bands, but those R.E.M. tunes I murdered with Scarpino in his dorm room were the last such covers. Chris was a songwriter. That was his goal, to have a batch of songs worth playing. There, under fluorescent pall, Chris directed the show. Sometimes he walked us through the chords, and we each added whatever came to mind. Other times we just messed around — I'm trying to phrase this without using the word "jamming" — and if the results were interesting, Chris took them home and hammered them out, to be next rehearsal's starting point. This went on into the dead of night. During breaks, I washed the sweat off my hands and replaced the band-aids. Once those ran out, I used electrical tape.

As the weeks went on, we managed to pick up a pair of quasi-groupies. Which is to say, a couple friends of Chris and Will started coming to rehearsal. Krystel (krys-TEL, not "crystal") was a theater type whom I had often seen around the arts building. The other was a brunette, whose name I wouldn't remember if the fate of space-time hinged on it. Nothing personal, in fact she was quite nice. Probably. The two of them rode the bus with us to Dover, laid out a blanket, and quietly did homework while we played. Their Yoko quotient was minimal — they never interfered, and gave us good feedback on what worked and what didn't.

This sounds shocking in retrospect, but now that I think about it, there was nary a drop of alcohol in that building. Ever. Honestly, it just didn't come up. One time Chris and Steve bet Will that he couldn't drink a gallon of milk in an hour, but that was it. How did I manage to be in a band and never once get drunk with them? There were girls! And, and, guitars! GIRLS AND GUITARS! With every passing keystroke I sound lamer and lamer.

Will lost the bet, by the way.

[Sign that you do not rock: Girls do their homework while you are playing amplified instruments five feet away.]

After several hours, limited as often as not by the pain threshold of my forearms, we kipped on the floor like a cult. Six kids in the cold, waiting for the sun. The question does eventually arise, why not just rehearse somewhere else? I have no memory of anyone bringing this up. My guess is that it was better to adhere to the bizarre schedule than to lose the money we'd already put down. Either that or we were just stubborn. Or dumb. We definitely might have been dumb.

Okay. At some point I'm going to have to describe what kind of music we played. Let us dance about architecture for a moment.

Will used the term folk pop, and I think that may be the best summary. It's approximately the kind of music you'd expect to hear from four New Hampshire kids who didn't drink, listened to a ton of alternative rock, and had no bassist. Chris played acoustic guitar, Will played an electric. Steve played keyboard, and covered the bass line. It was upbeat, and for the most part radio-friendly. Chris sang clearly despite the Michael Stipe influence. He was good with melodies. What I remember of his lyrics isn't much, but he had a knack for catchy, singable phrases. The most up-tempo song to come out of those rehearsals was one called "Jimmy." (Steve had gotten into this habit of yelling "Kick it, Jimmy!" at me right before I started the song, apropos of nothing on this Earth, at all. We kept it.) The chorus doesn't really mean much on its own, but it remains the only bit of Jesus Clip lyrics I that I still absentmindedly hum from time to time:

If I was another of a million men, if I was another of a million men, if I was another of a million men tonight ...

The sum total output of the Dover sessions was five songs, recorded on a 4-track machine that Chris brought. Five decent songs that we could play in about half an hour. They used to get stuck in my head as I walked around campus between classes. Good enough to work with. They would have to be, anyway. Chris had found us our first gig.

[Sign that you might rock just a little: You wake up on the floor, next to your gear and covered in carpet fuzz, and can't remember where you are.]

Continued in Part VI

There will be seven parts total, in case anyone is starting to wonder.