22 April 2017

Six Six Sigma

Skid felt the vibration of the strings on the edge of his palm, a fluttering nuance steadying his nerves; felt the callouses feeling the fret feeling the string; felt his neck in wonderful strain as it banged his head back and forth. The bass rattled his rib cage; the snare pierced through the mess into his eardrum; and as a bubble of sonic netting, the wailing vocalization enveloped all this and made it what it was: heavy metal. There was visible electricity in the air, fiery white lines of power and excitement that seemed to flame forth from amplifier and instrument. And then that rushing train of high speed distortion and adrenaline collapsed suddenly and wonderfully, taking the countryside to oblivion with it.

The "NO!" could even be heard over the noise as the bass dropped out, then the vocals, then the drums. Guitar ceased last of all, Skid having difficulty getting out of the moment.

"No!" cried Philip at exactly the same volume, even though the room had gone quiet. His strain was made clear when everyone noticed just how white his knuckles were against the fretboard of his bass. "That part should've been sixteenth notes on the root!" he roared. The sighs from the other three were equally audible.

Skid's eyes slid over to Chicha, the drummer, who was actually already looking at him. Then he realized Philip and Starla were staring at him too. "What?"

The stares continued.

"What, I was off? Nah, come on man."

All three said, "Yes, you were" simultaneously and in their own way, creating a din almost as noisy as the song before it, resolved with a "for fuck's sake" by Philip.

Skid was so called because he bore a frightening resemblance to Sebastian Bach of Skid Row fame, not because Jerome Wilkinson said he left skid marks in his underwear in the 6th grade. Skid hated both explanations, but went with the lesser, and more rocking, of the two. Now he let that long blond hair swing into his face a little as he feigned deep thought, considering how such a terrible thing could have happened on his watch as guitarist and, arguably, musical visionary of Six Six Sigma.

"Sorry guys."

They all sighed again and Philip took off his bass.

"Take five?"

"Take six," said Philip. He was already working on catch phrases and also already had a cigarette in his mouth.

"Mom says she'll kick your ass if you keep smoking those, puto,” called Chicha to her brother. Philip said nothing in an uncharacteristically politic move as he slid outside.

The practice space was a tiny twelve-by-twelve box, part of a storage facility that fit snugly between some of the taller buildings in midtown. The location was nice because after the suits went home nothing was open in this part of town besides a liquor store; had they tried such racket at home, neighbors both upstairs, downstairs, and in adjacent buildings would have noise complaints. Here the band could practice far too late and not bother anybody except the pop punk band who also practiced in the space. They sucked, so the band didn’t mind disrupting them.

Skid played on his muted guitar, repeating an arpeggio for a lead he’d been working on, and ignoring the other two bandmates who stood by quietly. Chicha furtively sipped a beer.

“So your mom wants to murder Philip but doesn’t mind her baby girl drinking beer underage?” Starla had a warmness about her that let her get away with critiques like that. Saying it with a smile made it even easier.

Chicha smiled back and shrugged. "We're walking home. Trying to get used to the taste anyway, since this'll be our primary mode of payment."

Starla shrugged and leaned on her mic stand. "Get used to whatever you want. We'll be paid in dollars, US American! Then you can request any crazy stuff you want backstage. You know Iggy Pop always requested pizza to give to the homeless. You could even request some disgusting corn beer."

Chicha laughed. Her real name was Yessenia, but evidently her antics as a child made dad drink a lot and the name stuck. Her family was fucked up. She made a sour face and threw the silvery can in the trash. "Shit's nasty anway. Save my drinking for college."

"Oh you're going to college now?"

"Should Six Six Sigma not take off, yeah. Minority and ROTC scholarships can put me just about anywhere I want. Except Texas."

"Don't go to Texas."

"I'm not going to Texas!"

"Besides I don't think you'll need to fall back on anything except music. You think any band wouldn't want a hot Latina who can play drums like you? Just wait for Nicko McBrain to die."

The shrug seemed to indicate Chicha was considering the possibility, but that hanging around decrepit old white guys would not be worth the money.

"Or just stay out of college like your brother and Skid mark over here."

The guitarist's reply was the twang of his pick striking the guitars. Starla shook her head and adjusted her leather jacket. She had the look of a front woman: tight jeans, properly and genuinely broken in Omen tee shirt, jacket that fit like a glove, even the young Joan Jett pretty-but-not-super-model-pretty face and haircut. All she needed was the authority to muster her ragtag band. Skid seemed to be living a rock n' roll fantasy all day long; Philip couldn't decide if he wanted to be in this band or start up that death metal side project he'd been talking about for a year; Chicha was committed but young and, as such, likely to drop the band without much of a care when the time came. The singer sighed and called through the PA, "Let's go Philip, cigarette break is over."

After a minute of silence Chicha twirled her drumstick and said, "Probably got his headphones on. Dude can't decide if we're 'heavy enough' or not, so I guess he needs his fix of blast beats."

"I think we're plenty heavy," said Skid.

"Jesus, have you been listening this whole time?"

"What?"

"Nevermind."

"I'm saying, we've got the groove of early metal with some fast thrash parts. Starla can do grind vocals on those parts, Phil can do his death metal thing on..."

Both women frowned.

"...on a song...or two. I'm telling you, we're close to hitting that sound. That wonderful sound when metal and rock were still conjoined, with some of the brutality that makes metal what it is. If we learned anything from the Show..."

Chicha shuddered. Nobody wanted to remember the Show, the first concert they ever played.

"...it's that we're at our best when we're subgenre-less heavy metal. That's what record companies want to hear, anyway, and that's what we're good at. So," he clicked his mute pedal and played two bars from Mechanix, "let's make some metal."

The drummer settled into her stool. "I like the sound of that, but even clean-ish metal isn't going to get us a record deal. There’s no money in metal. I'll stand on my looks and my ethnicity and marry well."

"What happened to college?" said Starla, adjusting her mic stand.

Before Chicha could reply, Philip burst in with heavy breath. He stopped and tried to look casual, but he wasn't walking towards his amp.

Starla raised an eyebrow "Alright, Phil?"

"Yeah, I'm cool." He tucked his long hair behind his ears to prove it. Soon the stares forced him to cave. "You know that shitty punk band upstairs? Some suit was checking them out. Turns out he's a smoker, too...anyways we got to talking and I played him the demo...and he likes it."


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