Chapter Two, “Rat House”

Hello! I am serializing my novel Rat House over the next few months. I’ve decided to do a chapter every week instead of my original intention of every other week. If you enjoy this story, please support it with a purchase of the paperback, Kindle, or Nook edition available here:

Or google search “Rat House” “David Friedman” and you will find many online outlets for your copy.

 

“What do i get?” 

I went to college and received a degree in computer science. I didn’t choose computers to have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. I studied computers because they fascinated me. The logic of programming is as far from the artist’s mind as one could go, yet there is a similarity. A song has a logical structure of verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse, chorus, or some combination thereof. Programming has a main program, sub-routines, sub-programs, input and output. The structure of both prescribed a certain logic.

The people who worked with computers were like high priests, no one else had access to those big boxes of transistors and wires, tapes and disk drives. Even the personal computers needed trained professionals to help people use them.

Right out of school I got a job as a computer operator at Boeing. The job was routine, all I had to do was wear a white dress shirt, dark slacks, and a tie. I mounted tapes and disks in the washing machine sized drives, ran JCL (job control language) and print jobs and made sure the computer was available for priority jobs. I sat on my ass all day because there wasn’t much to do. It was the perfect job for an artist, except for a musician. You can’t play your guitar at work!

The hardest parts of the job were the dress shoes that hurt like hell and you couldn’t smoke in the machine room, only in the employee lounge that was all the way on the other side of the building. You had to walk outside to get to it and it was usually raining. Fucking rules! No one ever says come on in, put your feet up, have a smoke, can I get you anything? It is do this, be that, start earning, keep yearning, from the minute you’re born. You get a slap on the ass to start and then a punch in the face the rest of your life.

Then the axe fell and Boeing laid-off thousands of employees company-wide and I was one of them. Unemployment was a mere fraction of what I was making. Unfortunately, poverty stalks the artist like a wolf its prey and the artist embraces poverty like a lover. Now I had the time I needed to devote to music. I would make the best of it, this blessing in disguise.

 

 

It was a life-changing decision to devote myself full-time to an artistic pursuit, my intentions weren’t solely altruistic and artistic, there was a monetary reward I was pursuing as well. You could write a song that becomes a hit and makes a million dollars. I wasn’t the most talented musician so you surround yourself with those who are equal or better than you in the hopes they’ll lift you up. I’d written several songs before joining One Hand Clapping, such as “Megaphone of Death” and “Alma Mater Stigmata” that had a Velvet Underground sound to them, noisy, but with pop-like hooks and chords. Simple yet driving three chord rock and roll. Now that I was out of work I assumed the songs would just flow out of me like water over a dam. How wrong I was. I had too much time on my hands to drink and smoke cigarettes, read books, and do anything but write songs. Once I approached Clark about joining the band it was much easier. I’d give him my song fragments or ideas and he’d work on them and I’d work on his. It made creativity easier.

I would also bring fragments to Eugene. I’m sure Howard hated my collaborating with him. Clark and I would write separately or together, sometimes we’d bring these fragments to everyone and we’d jam on them to see what we could come up with. It was a lively time and I had some great experiences, but Howard would somehow always spoil it by trying some complicated drum roll that he’d fuck up, or try some counter-rhythm when he couldn’t find the main one. Ritchie had one admirable quality. He was patient. He’d sit and wait while we worked things out and come up to the microphone when we were ready.

The arguments about direction inspired creativity. As much as I disliked Howard sometimes his off-beat drumming had a positive effect. He would swear up and down that he was keeping time, and Clark and I would argue that he wasn’t. Eugene would chime in saying it was working, why try to fix it. I was reminded of a quote by Ringo Starr:  “Whenever I hear another drummer I know I’m no good. I’m no good on the technical things … I’m your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills.”

Maybe Eugene was right, so we would work with Howard and his petulance, his irritability, his anger, and his lack of technical finesse, and let him be what he was and work around it. Challenging as this was it made me a better guitar player because of the different spatial reality of the beat. It was always slipping off somewhere and I’d have to find that one spot where I could come back in and contribute to the overall structure. The real challenge was for Clark, who ended up anchoring the actual beat with simple throbbing bass notes, one for each beat. While most bass players provided fills between chord changes Clark laid down a simple 4/4 beat on the bass. This allowed Howard to slip around. As ass-backwards as this was it worked for most songs, but it was a thankless job for Clark.

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