Chapter Five “Rat House”

“HOW DOES THE SONG GO?”


“How does the fucking song go? What’s the first note?” Eugene asked me from behind the keyboards. He must have been nervous as hell because he
wrote the song. Howard had already started the drum intro, a jerky 4/4 beat with a ride cymbal texture. Clark started the bass line.

“It’s in ‘G’” I shouted at him. He quickly switched to the correct key, but came in late. I waited a measure then came in. Not an auspicious start to our first gig at the Eastlake Zoo. It was over one hundred degrees outside and sweltering on stage. I was drenched in sweat. Our amps were on the verge of shorting out during the sound check because there was no way the heat could dissipate. We were sweating through our clothes. Seattle in June wasn’t supposed to be this hot.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were only five people in the bar, three of whom came with us: Rob, the Vegetable Boy and Buzz. Bill was busy taking Ellie to the veterinarian. She’d eaten something that was making her vomit. Rob and the Veg Boy were stoned on something, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what because their behavior was quite outlandish, but not out of place at the Zoo. The remaining two patrons were locals, sucking on their Ballard Bitters and ignoring the cacophony on stage.

“Backwards, backwards into time, I’m a prehistoric man, in a prehistoric time, there’s no, no, no dyslexics here,” Ritchie recited into the microphone.

We continued thrashing our way through “No Dyslexics”, our first song of the set, and I had to hand it to Ritchie. He gave it everything he had, despite the heat and the audience of three.

Even Howard was close to keeping time and was loud as fuck. We were subtle as a sledgehammer. At the end we did the big build-up and managed to finish together. We’d done it, we’d rocked our first song at our first gig.

The second song, “Dog Star, No God” started without any difficulties. I let my guitar squeal out a burst of feedback and bent the neck a few times to bend the notes. Peals of feedback, then nothing. I turned my volume knobs, looked to see if my pedals were connected, felt to make sure the cord was still plugged into the guitar, and looked at my amp. The lights were off, but the switch was in the on position. I’d blown a fuse, probably from the heat. FUCK! I didn’t have a spare and I wasn’t about to drive to Radio Shack to get one. I quickly replaced the blown out fuse with a penny. My amp came to life once again, squealing with feedback. I continued playing.

Round about the fifth song smoke emerged from the back of my amp then a small flame. My amp was on fire and the penny was melted.

“Fire! What do I do?” I shouted.

“Throw some water on it,” Clark said, stoned, into the microphone.

“Don’t be stupid!” I screamed at him.

Meanwhile we had roused the interest of the bar patrons. Donnie and Rob were cracking up, laughing at my misfortune. It all came to an end when Eugene came from behind his keyboards to pull the power cord of my amplifier out of the outlet. I played the remaining songs through the bass amp and speaker.

Suffice it to say we never played the Zoo again.

 

#

 

My amp was ruined, the fire had destroyed it. Dejected, I bought another Peavey, a used 212. Pumping 100 watts it was louder and better than the 112 because it had two speakers instead of one. I spent my entire savings on it, but I was crushingly loud now.

Like all new toys I played with it a lot. I was fascinated with the various sounds I could get out of it. I locked myself away in my room and fiddled with the amp until I’d found the perfect combination of knob settings and pedals. I played The Paul exclusively through it during this breaking in period, so I could get the intonation just right. Then it was the same process with the Harmony guitar. For two weeks straight every day I played six hours a day and while I was learning about the amp I learned more about my guitar playing and got better and better. I also wrote some songs, but mostly I played covers to learn more about songwriting. To keep Eugene happy I learned a bunch of Kinks songs, which wasn’t that hard since their early stuff had the same three chords. To complement that I taught myself some early Who songs because they used the same three chords. At the end of two weeks I was the three chord song master. It was time to move onto four chord songs.

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