176 BREAK ON THROUGH

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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. Mirror People.”

“I can?”

“I’ve heard you sing it four times on this trip already in the van.”

“Oh yeah. But do you know it?”

“It’s Love and fucking Rockets, Bart.” I mean, not to cut Daniel Ash short or anything, but the chord progressions are not hard to figure out. So Bart sang Mirror People and, I think, improvised some of his own words, but it wasn’t as if anyone cared about that.

I did a rendition then of “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard” and Doug played the dumbek with Chris on bongos and people danced.

“Yeah, okay, enough with the cover tunes. Let’s do something of our own,” I said then. “Let’s try ‘Walking.’ Like we did it in New Orleans.”

“Yah!” Christian banged out a count and whooped.

Now I was singing something I could say I knew, where I knew how the guitar part and the lyrics fit together, where the five-four-one hit everyone in the gut the same, like I’d intended it to when I wrote it, and I could actually sing and project this one a little.

Jason sat down with a tambourine, and with the three of them down there now swaying and chugging like the Plastic Ono Band, the song was propelled along, and the words came out of my stomach as if of their own accord. Like I said, I was a rock-forward-and-back kind of guy, and every time I rocked forward I spat out words, screamed them, my own version of Carynne’s Janis Joplin voice tightening my throat.

We were, as they say, cooking.

Kevin waved his harmonica at me from where he stood in the thickening crowd. I twitched my face at him–yes! yes!–and kept going. He laid the wickedest blues riff on top of it, and I let him take the solo for a good while, and we passed it around, Chris pushing the tempo a little.

I brought the whole shebang to an end with a repeat of the first chorus, dragging everyone down a notch in tempo again and then grinding us to a halt. Before they could do anything else, though, I hit an eight-bar blues. The eight has a much more urgent feel to it than the twelve, and is more rock than blues. Kevin picked it up and ran with it. Which was good because I found I was completely out of breath from singing so hard. I don’t think I’d ever sung that hard before or enjoyed it so much.

Not until sometime midway through that jam did it occur to me to think, hey, I’m happy. I’m having a good time, and I’m noticing I’m having a good time. And I’m playing, and I’m feeling like, well, like myself. People use that expression, oh, I haven’t been myself lately. It’s kind of nonsense, because when I’m not myself I don’t really have the ability to tell. But when I come back to myself again? It seems obvious, like how you can’t tell if you’re asleep until you wake up.

I was waking up to the fact that I was awake now and it felt good.

I stayed up there when Stumblefish came back and picked my way through their tunes, my fingers on autopilot, my ears in control, fully in the moment and discovering each note as it came along. And when their second set was over, Jason and I traded guitars and just jammed, him falling in love with the Ovation before my very eyes and me getting to know the feel and sound of his Takamine (not a bad guitar either). We were sitting back for a while, quiet, pulling on fresh beers and talking shop when some campus rent-a-cops came and officially closed the party.

If there was one thing that would have made my night better, it might have been to get laid, too. But I settled for a truly perfect grilled cheese sandwich at Denny’s (one of the few places open late at night in Boulder, according to Jason) with Bart and Chris and Kevin. And a bowl of vegetable beef soup.

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