(Fifth Year Chemistry)
“Here Ryan, you play bass, don’t you?”
I whirled around to see the tall, somewhat-popular, severely-threatening Craig Fulton looming a full five inches over me. That one who was always getting in trouble for making noise with Steven Carson. Surely, this was a trap. Craig would never speak to me, unless he was trying to upset me.
“Cool,” he said. “Me and Steven are starting a band, we need a bass player. Would you be up for coming along?”
My first band.
I’d got a bit of a head-start on the whole music thing because my big brother played guitar, and if my big brother did something, I had to do it too. Not to be better at it, but to share it. Stuff my brother was into was cool. Turns out, nobody cares you can play Yankee Doodle when you’re a kid, or if they do, they’re not willing to say.
Then, suddenly, people were in bands. It was considered socially acceptable to go to an empty space every couple of weeks with an instrument and make a racket. Admirable, even. People in bands seemed to have very well-defined groups of friends. They all hung out together, all the time. They all dressed in a certain kind of way. And even if you make a lot of noise renouncing the immature displays of insecure teenagers as I once did, there was something undeniably fascinating about it. I wanted to be them, so badly. I wanted their confidence, their passion for music and life. I felt like they were experiencing something on a level I couldn’t relate to, and if I could, I’d express it in a much cooler way. Linkin Park and Blink 182? Fuck that. Wish I was as happy as them, though.
They even had girlfriends. They’d bring them to practice all the fucking time, unwittingly rubbing it in my face. “I have a nice girl here,” they’d seem to say, “who thinks I’m so awesome she will actually sit and listen to us play.” The concept was utterly alien to me. Although I’d spent the majority of my time in primary school talking to the girls, I’d only impressed them in an immature way before, like making them laugh (in pity, no doubt) with silly characters and voices and games, or endearing older women to me with references to older movies and bands. But to have an actual young woman, sexual characteristics, superior grades, lack of social fear and all, impressed with you? Holy shit.
I played bass guitar, didn’t I?
“Yeah, I’ll play bass.”
“You’ve got to hear this guy play,” Craig gushed behind me as we made our way into the music department. I was trotting out in front, trying to play it cool but beaming like a fucking ruby inside. I’d been listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers all summer since buying By the Way in Montpellier. Rafael, who could’ve been a character in City of God, managed to smuggle Californication out of the Virgin Megastore in his jumper. Sitting under a fruit tree on a warm August evening in the south of France, drinking wine and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Abyssians and, during one spell, Adam Sandler. It could be from an advert, or one of those horrid mainstream-indie flicks, but I came back from France with a desire to learn slap bass, pretty much just to impress people.
I wasn’t really part of the music crowd at school. My parents couldn’t afford lessons, or if they could, they certainly weren’t paying for them. They didn’t offer, and I didn’t ask. All I had was my older brother’s guitars. He’d been a university student, see, and could afford them. So the musical kids played clarinet, trumpet, euphonium… there was a curious amount of brass players. Greenwood Academy was very proud of its brass band. I had the guitar I’d only learned because my brother did it, and no-one thought it was cool. My teacher asked me which other instrument I’d like to specialise in. The choices for an untrained oaf like myself were glockenspiel, drums or keyboard. “Oh, and bass, I guess you could do bass,” she added at the end. Bass? That’s kind of like a guitar, right?
“Yeah, he can do slapping and shit,” Craig went on. A year later, I’d begun to think of myself as the bass player. Everyone else who played bass did so because they weren’t good enough at guitar. I was the only one who cared. I was in demand, damn it.
I fell going up the stairs, Craig and his friend pissing themselves laughing at me, and my dreams of an identity went up in disappointing, hot, embarrassing smoke.