The first step I planned to take in my revised life roadmap was to find a job or career I can stand for more than 20 minutes. So far, the only job I didn’t want to leave was Tully’s, and while my sister offered to have me come and stay with her in Seattle and resume work there, Seattle sucks and $7.85 an hour without benefits won’t pay the pickle-man (I do not know what this expression mean; I assume the explanation involves gigolos).
As it turns out, in another life I was a highly skilled office assistant, and in still another life I’m a really big (if not particularly bright) nerd, so the prospects don’t end with low-paying retail jobs. I’d be decently happy in a job like this if the job pressure is at a minimum; I used to while away the hours at crappy temp jobs thinking about my writing, and then I’d come home and write. Or I’d wake up early the following morning and write for several hours. I tend to write better when I’m not fully awake.
But I need some fun in my life, but I have a complicated conundrum: I’m tired of staying at home, but I invariably dislike almost all people. What the hell can I do, aside from pulling weird office pranks that only I’m aware of, to both be (sort of) social and enjoy myself?
My return from L.A. happened to coincide with the departure of the bass player in a local Chicago band I kinda-sorta know. So, I thought, “I play guitar, I kinda learned bass, and I like this band—what could possibly go wrong?” I asked them if I could audition, and they took pity on me and reluctantly agreed.
Their singer/songwriter gave me a list of four songs to learn and told me to come in on Monday to audition. This was on Friday. It proved to me that they really had no interest in auditioning me; they wanted to do me a solid because I’ve supported the band and tinkered with their website, but they mostly wanted to get it over with so they could get on with their lives. Since I have so little faith in myself, I have a difficult time when others don’t have faith in me, either. Sometimes, I’ll say, “Fuck you, motherfuckers—I’ll show you!” but other times, particularly when I have legitimate reasons to not feel confident (like, for example, the fact that, while I regularly play guitar, I haven’t picked up a bass in about two years), I’m mentally crippled.
“I can’t do this,” I kept saying to myself, despite the fact that I learned the chord structures of all four songs in about an hour and learned most of the fills after a few more hours of practice.
I had some support. My friends, some of whom are fans of the band, thought it was really cool. My dad, who spent most of his teens and early 20s wishing he could be Ozzy Osbourne, gave me a lot of support.
Monday didn’t work out for any of us, so we rescheduled it for Tuesday. Another 24 hours to contemplate not auditioning, but also another 24 hours to get really polished.
“We practice at 16th and Western,” the singer/songwriter told me. My mind skittered toward a mental recollection of the general area. Near the decimated blocks along Roosevelt that were destroyed in riots in the ’60s and never rebuilt, in some weird warehouse district. One of the good things about L.A. was that, since I didn’t really know much about the area, I’d fearlessly venture pretty much anywhere. I’d usually find dead dogs and people riding in shopping carts.
In Chicago, I kinda-sorta know most areas, which usually scares me away from doing anything at any point in time ever. But now I have valerian root, which relaxes me to the point that my irrational fears slip away. (Perhaps this will lead to me chronicling a hilarious addiction to anti-anxiety medications. Stay tuned!) I didn’t even freak out when I asked for a specific street address and received the response, “There isn’t really one,” followed by a set of instructions to make sure I ended up at the correct unmarked warehouse.
So I drove out, following the instructions to the letter, and found the building. I could hear their music bleeding through the brick wall. Though I was about five minutes early for my supposed 10PM start time, they had called me while I was driving to inform me they’d need 15-30 minutes to practice for their show on Wednesday night (the farewell show for their current bass player). I called the singer/songwriter to let them know I was there, and she said she’d run down and get me in a second (the front door was locked).
A second later, they started playing again. The hell? That’s kind of rude.
A few seconds after they finished the song, a door popped open and some random, goateed man came out. I wondered if maybe he hung out with the band or something, so I pulled my bass out of the trunk, went up and asked him if he was with the band.
“No,” he said placidly. “I just jam here.” At this point, it finally dawned on me that this warehouse was a multi-room practice building for various musicians. I’m a slow, slow fellow.
“Right,” I said, “well, I can hear them playing. I guess I’ll just wait down here.”
“Oh man, if you can hear them, go on in. Just follow the sound,” he said.
“Right,” I muttered. I walked up the stairs and down a hall, half of which was painted lime green, the other half white. Very narrow, lined with numbered wooden doors, it reminded me of the hallway of every dorm I’ve ever seen.
I found the door from which the sound of the band came, and I stood outside it for a few minutes, listening to them play, wondering whether or not I should knock. I finally decided to use the fact that they were playing songs they had asked me to learn to my advantage—I pulled out the little chord cheat-sheet I had written out and eyeballed it as they played a couple of the songs. For the songs I hadn’t learned, I just tried to get a good feel for what their bass player was doing, so that if they chose me, I’d at least have some idea of what I was doing.
They made me wait for about 40 minutes, all told, and I wished I had brought a book. Instead, I just tried to eavesdrop between songs. They didn’t know I was standing right there, so I paid close attention to the issues the singer/songwriter was having with the rest of the band, to try and figure out what she liked and so on.
At one point, she started complaining to the bass player about somebody they had auditioned the previous night. My ears perked up. “He just stood there, hitting the root notes,” she said. I was worried that I didn’t have the fills down pat, but I felt a little better that I hadn’t just planned to plunk out the top note of each chord. “We played about half of it; then we stopped him and sent him home.” I knew if they didn’t do that to me, at least things would go marginally well.
She went on about somebody else they had auditioned, a girl, and how hard-working she seemed. “Oh fuck,” I thought. “That’ll do me in for sure!”
Eventually, they went back to practicing, and finally they let their bass player pack up and popped open the door to find me standing there like an idiot.
I had been worried that the room would be a huge, cavernous practice space, and that my ears would get swallowed up in the untrustworthy sounds reverberating. I’ve always been an auditory learner, so even if I were to do what I was supposed to do, staring at the drummer for dear life to make sure I was in sync, my brain would get distracted by what I was hearing and totally ignore what I was seeing, and I’d fail. But this place was tiny and echo-free—I’d be in the band before they realized I can’t play in an actual musical venue!
I set myself up in the most awkward way possible. Not only has it been a long time since I’ve played with a band—and even then, I’m using a very loose definition of the word “band”—it’s been an even longer time since I’ve even used an amplifier; I took my acoustic guitar with me to California, but I never really thought once I got back that maybe I should refresh myself on basic amp shit. I faked my way through it pretty well, but I got tripped up for a second on “line out” and “line in.”
Then came the tuner. I’m a singing dork, so I’ve made a practice of tuning by blowing an “A” in a pitch pipe, tuning my A string, and then matching the other strings to the perfect “A.” I left my pitch pipe at home, figuring somebody could just hit out an “A” for me… Instead, when it came time to tune, they told me to plug into their pedal tuner, an exciting piece of technology, commonplace in almost every rock band in existence, that I haven’t used in about seven years. I embarrassed myself first by not plugging into it properly, then by taking way too long to tune the bass strings. It felt like way too long, anyway; nobody else seemed to mind.
I ended up tuning the bottom two strings a half-step sharp, because I didn’t see the tiny, tiny light that goes on when it’s tuned sharp. Fucking electric tuners—what the hell, man?!
Finally, I got tuned properly, and we launched into a song. I, ever the professional, missed my first entrance and started thudding out the complete wrong chord structure for the first verse. I knew it was all over. I had already bombed the audition, and I’d be surprised if they went through the whole song. But they didn’t stop me, and gradually, throughout the song, I got my groove thang on, I busted out the fills, and by the end I was pretty solid.
“Holy shit,” I thought, “I might actually be able to do this.”
After I was done, the band congratulated me on not sucking. Their drummer pointed out, “He doesn’t look at the frets,” which seemed to wow them all; I didn’t really think it was anything special, being that I’ve been playing for over a decade at this point, and one of the first things I learned—which is fortunate, considering my lack of depth perception—is to find the frets by feel and look down as infrequently as possible.
We did another song, which started with a mighty bass-driven intro, and this made me very uncomfortable. A friend of mine from high school had taught me various things about bass picking and fingering techniques, but I could barely remember any of it; I was plodding away, holding my guitar pick in a guitar style and approaching the frets like Tony Iommi instead of Geezer Butler. In short, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, technique-wise, but nobody fucking cared.
We went through the entire song, which once again surprised me, and the singer-songwriter actually looked over at me and kept nodding with approval every time I matched one of the bass player’s fills.
After this song, she said to me, “That’s really awesome. We’ve seen some other people who just learned the root notes, but it seems like you really made an effort to figure out the little things he does.”
“Yeah,” I responded, my trademark wit hard at work.
We moved on to the last song—because of the time they spent practicing, they only wanted to do three songs—which I actually fucked up quite successfully. I kept hitting a “C” instead of a “G,” and it stuck out like a sore thumb; in the end, I apologized, but nobody even remotely cared, and they apologized for not taking into account that I’d actually be nervous about fucking things up. They felt like my ability to approximate the basslines concocted by their current player overshadowed the few mistakes I had made.
As we broke down the gear, we chatted about a variety of stupid crap; by that point, the root had fully kicked in and I no longer felt I had anything (audition-wise) to worry about, so I actually was legitimately witty. They knew I had a sense of humor, at least, and we discussed the practical side of touring.
The final word from the singer-songwriter was that if—if!—they found somebody who equaled my skill—equaled! they never even implied they’d find somebody better!—who had touring experience, they would go with that person over me. However, they didn’t appear to be holding their breath. She pointed out that everybody who was currently in the band—except her—hadn’t toured at all before they were in the band, so they were much more open to it than other bands would be.
Unfortunately, they haven’t finished all the auditions, and the singer-songwriter is going out of town this week, so I won’t hear back from them for awhile. But still, without getting my hopes up too high, this audition made me think maybe I can actually build a reasonably enjoyable life in a place where I’m comfortable.
If not, there’s a bottle of liquid Drano under the sink.