176 BREAK ON THROUGH

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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.

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