I’m well on my way to finishing my second record. In fact a few weeks ago I had one of my final days in the studio, tracking electric guitar and percussion. The night before the session I realized that I hadn’t got around to buying some of the random percussion instruments I intended to use on the record. Because it was late, nearly eight by the time I remembered, and because the day had the unfortunate distinction of being a Monday (the only day my favorite local shop, Trading Musician, is closed), I was forced to make the journey to the ongoing reconstruction surgery of Mercer Street and the Hell inside its womb: Guitar Center.
I made the drive in a car named Don, a friend’s Volvo which I was baby-sitting, down a dark interstate with NPR chattering under the rumble of road. As a matter of fact they were playing a program hosted by Matt Pinfield (of minor MTV fame) about an all-star grunge group getting ready to release a record after a members death and several decades. I arrived in South Lake Union awash in the light of construction and newly lit condos. I took the winding three sixty turn into Guitar Center’s outdoor parking garage and under a rare clear Seattle night sky took the keys out of Don.
Inside Guitar Center, through the silver turnstile and door person more liable than a TSA agent, was an unfolding much like walking into the greens of a beautifully built ballpark: cream, yellow, blue, black and red Telecasters hanging on a wall above every variation of Cobain’s Stratocaster flanking the heavier and solid fat bottoms of Gibsons. Each shone with the glitz of rock and roll, each with a placard spinning from the head stock displaying zeros from the hundreds to multiple thousands. With valiant self-control I ran into the back of the shop, where the things you hit were displayed as “drums”.
I bought a shaker (to replace the one my roommate broke with a drum stick during a living room drum circle the night our friend was back in town), a triangle (because I heard one in a Van Morrison song and became enamored with the lack of rock and roll in its sound), but did not see on the shelves the one thing I had my heart set on: finger cymbals.
I had one very particular song, one that had yet to take shape, that I knew could use the shrill twang of these metal discs. This idea I stole from an early version of Van Morrison’s “Madame George”, and as I had been intermittently high the entire week listening to Morrison’s magic track, I was thrown into a stupor once I finally found the magical instrument, wrapped in an imitation red velvet cloth and kept behind the counter, as if a beautiful woman had walked through the door in slow motion. I asked the clerk for the bag, took the small but dense golden discs out the bag and began to smash them together a midst the scatter shot sound of homeless looking men playing drums in the room. But something seemed off with the cymbals, and because of my lack of experience with the instrument I asked the attendant, “These elastic ropes don’t tie off. Is that on purpose?”
“I don’t know, man,” he responded, bored.
“Yeah, this elastic won’t tie, how are you supposed to keep these together?”
“I have no clue, dude,” he was tapping on the register.
Hardly insistent, more so thinking aloud I wondered, “It seems like they’d just slide off your fingers… how do you PLAY these things?”
“I don’t know,” he responded firmly, annoyed. “I play real drums.”
Shocked by his jab, I was reeling on the ropes, wanting to be cut, the blood packet drained beneath my eyes after taking the brunt of his quip right in the face. I was in the middle of a George Castanzian moment, and in this way so worried that the next thing I said would send me to the mat, that for years after the fact I would plot the perfect thing to say to this man: a Nickleback sploodge sucking cretin of an order reserved for Dorito soiled crummy X-Box controllers…
I met his eyes and said, “there is no reality.”
“TOUCHE,” he said. I’VE BEEN HIT he said.
And so I walked out of Guitar Center, cymbals in my bag, the victor of a musical, possibly metaphysical, sparring match. An artist getting ready to release his second record.