Lupin, for his part, meant no harm. In truth, the only way he could have ruptured my friendship with Marie was by having a nice voice.
Marie had some decent pipes herself, but they were far from Lupin’s make, and listening to them harmonize felt like grading a class project shared by the star student and a C+ slouch. It was a conundrum I never would’ve guessed to ponder when I first met Lupin that fateful night at the Trocadero - but it didn’t take long for me to be surprised.
Even now I’m surprised by how quickly I must have been surprised, back then. It goes without saying that different people will always remember things differently — but one’s years-diluted recollection is almost always inferior to another’s written just hours after the instance in question.1 And though my memory’s not the worst of those present at the time, there’s only one person with access to such an ongoing history of this time-window in my life: Lupin.
He was just the kind of kid to write in his journal every damn night about the damn day done, and though he isn’t that kind of kid anymore, he can now look back on that time in his life and say, “I remember that perfectly — that’d be in the White notebook.” Which is just what Lupin said to me when I asked, and just what surprised me when he shared some of those notebook pages with me: Jack and I asked him to audition for our band a scant four nights after we met him at the Troc.
“Then I went online to get French homework,2 and ended up talking to Jack and Jacob [sic] for a long time about music, and I’m gonna audition for their band on Friday.” [White Journal, 4/24/07]
My life then moved like refrigerated molasses in a pickle jar; it felt like Jack and I had deliberated on whom next to audition for weeks. There had been the blond choir brah Ryan, who blew off his first audition and simply blew, in an anti-rock kind of fashion, at the second. And I still had in mind an athletic college kid from the local Ivy, who I knew in one fell motion could yowl a tune and do a backflip whilst verifiably model-handsome in a $5 tanktop — but what the hell were we gonna do with an old pro like him? Ask him to sing “El Scorcho?”
So by the end of a four-day eternity, we gave up and decided to ask Lupin. It wasn’t that we didn’t like him, or that we even had any idea what he sounded like — he just seemed a little too circumspect to be what a bunch of party jam jokers like us needed from our vocal comptroller. Besides, at the Troc that one night Jack and I could each tell where he had bought every single item of his clothing, and such predictability made the thought of him being in our band almost silly. Who’d wanna see a party band fronted by some sad boy wearing an Urban Outfitters tee?
No matter. We asked the old boy Green to hook us up with Lupin’s AIM credentials, and soon we were chatting with the emo candidate himself. He seemed like the kind of genuine dude his deeply blue eyes and (correctly) presumed passion for Bright Eyes indicated he would be, and he was unabashedly excited by the prospect of being in a band — even one of our strange shape and kind. Jack asked him what he sounded like, and Lupin said he’d mostly had his voice compared to that of Thom “Radiohead” Yorke, which Jack found unlikely and we both found unfortunate. Who’d wanna see a party band fronted by some sad kid wearing an Urban Outfitters tee, sneering like a cat trapped in an existential angst-sauna?3
Still, for all his enthusiasm and all our nonexistent alternatives, we agreed to audition him at the afternoon dawn of the weekend. In the long shadow cast by the Bowflex Power Pro of Dilan’s jock jam practice space, Lupin strapped down with us on the requisite Pinkerton before handling lone takes on Bright Eyes’ then-fresh “Lime Tree” and, of course, RadioYorke’s sublime “Karma Police.” Jack and I weren’t all too keen on the new album that had provided Lupin with his Oberst tune of choice,4 but he sang it very prettily, and knew his way around the guitar maybe as well as Dylan did — albeit with less a taste for the funk which Jack and I had unfairly prejudiced, and more for the kind of indie rock music that made our young souls sprout spiritual erections. As Jack had predicted, Lupin in fact sounded little like Yorke, and for our purposes this worked out well — he had a good, clean, dependable voice for a boy his age. Without a reason to hesitate, and like Jack before him, he was asked to the next one.
The sun’s daily arc drew itself long and slow then, to be sure, but for that very reason it felt like so much could happen between rise and set. Proving himself to be as unreasonable as any man, Dilan somehow managed to book us to play at the biggest and best of all local coffeeshops, Milkboy, for the date of June 28. Not only were we to play, but we were also to headline, with Dilan’s punk band opening,5 and Dilan’s punk band’s friends’ pop punk band Laidout playing between them and us. It was a pretty large venue, and the incumbent coffeebastards expected us to draw at least 100 paying customers (at $8 a pop) if we wanted any hope of not shriveling up and whisking out the door a human tumbleweed of debt and embarrassment. So that made us a band with nothing but a name and a few ridiculous pictures, hardly any actual material to speak of — certainly nothing recorded, or recordable6 — and a need to get at least 100 people to pay 8 dollars and 1 Thursday night (a summer Thursday, no less — which roughly equaled a hot Saturday by any other season’s standard, and with many a crucial friend waylaid at the shore) to see us. And that, of course, meant that we’d have to put on a proportionally worthwhile performance, to prevent the venue from becoming a roomful of riotous, refundthirsty hate.
An avalanche of activity followed, and looking back on it our strategy seemed to be to hype the show up and get as many strangers committed to that Thursday as humanly possible — once that happened, I must have guessed the adrenaline needed to practice ourselves to perfection would naturally follow. So while musical progress did continue to seep slowly from Dilan’s amps and toms, primary concerns seemed to be more superficial: on May 2, Lupin told us about the two cuties he managed to convince to get to work our merchtable (we had nothing to sell; we’d figure it out); on May 12 we homespun ourselves a photoshoot I later managed to Photoshop into serviceable promo quality (the fliers of which are around somewhere, just not on my harddrive — I did recently hear about a girl who, long post-high school, keeps a stolen one on her wall, like the lovelorn forever keep a light on) ; on May 17, I made a Facebook event that still exists and promised incredible things for a band that had maybe a couple minutes of rehearsed material ‘finished’ at the time; on May 19 Lupin shat an anxious, God-fearing brick into his White journal about just how many people had RSVP’d as ‘Attending’; and on May 27 we had a full-band practice (as full as the band was, at the time), which Free Gilbis! bassist Drew filmed into a videotape that I would quickly edit into a brief promotional clip.
[the video was here. now it isn't.]
Slyly fashioned to make it seem like we had a lot of stuff rehearsed, the video was actually just a disordered pastiche of rough-‘round-the-edge moments from what we called “Medley 1” (a.k.a. “The First Medley”), and then a few snippets of the first time we jammed on a cover of Haddaway’s cheese-as-fuck classic, “What Is Love?” It was based around a classical guitar-picking arrangement of the chord progression that Dylan7 had come up with and played at a school assembly around the time I decided to ask him to join the cause.
The June gig was scheduled, then, before Lupin was even in the band — but in a way, it wasn’t until he showed up that it all seemed remotely real or feasible. Lupin, as was the case at the beginning of this chapter (in 2010), had no idea he had effected such change — all he did was show up when asked (cryptically late, more often than not). But he brought with him a preternatural talent that made the rest cohere — Dilan and Dylan were both great for teens, but teen-great drumming and teen-great guitaring alone are seldom enough to feed our young (or veterans) — which is evident in that Lupin provides pretty much all the memorable moments in the clip [formerly] above, from his improvised solo over Gwen Stefani’s “Sweet Escape” to the pretty little nothings he whispered harmonically into Haddaway’s cold, lonely ears.
By this point, my life was in nigh-total flux. I had been auto-ousted from my boat and team (of which I had been captain) around the time that Lupin joined the band by force of the inexplicable and inhaler-irresolvable respiratory failures within me, and on the day this practice was taped my former boatmates and best friends were racing the river without me, long past the hope that I could ever rejoin them. It was an immense pain to feel what was once such a large part of my identity wither and keel like a hunk of charred lung tissue, something beyond what I could comprehend or coerce myself to face at that point — and I don’t doubt that’s why I delved as deep into the band as I did. It had gone from something I had practiced and gotten right high school-good at over the span of several unbroken years, to being forced to replace that with a pursuit of something completely novel and unknown to me. It was depressing and yet catharsis, confusion but exhilarating — and the enthusiasm of the skilled musicians who came to serve my nascent (still mostly shapeless) vision, exacerbated by the surreal, forest-for-the-trees pressure of being self-conscripted to fit it all together in just another month, inspired in me something of an obsession. I threw myself at it with horse-blinders abandon.
Yet the change in me felt most pronounced not on May 27, this day of practice some thirty before the show itself, but on the day before — my birthday. Amidst the deep-spring warmth of the sun I returned to Jack’s backroom, the place where we had met, to find he had bought me a “blackout” cake — a reference to some slanguistic inside joke of ours at the time, though neither of us ever blacked out proper — and a plastic camera that was all the hepcat rage at the time. It seemed impossible to me, just how close I had gotten to this kid, two years younger than me but more compelling than any other friend I’d ever had. It had only been two months.
Marie got me some sweets as well, except the cupcakes she gave me were ones she had baked, iced and sprinkled herself. It couldn’t have occurred to me at the time, but in this way my nineteenth birthday became the pivot point at which my best friend of the past and the best friend of my future crossed, intersecting at an all-too-sweet vector of celebratory confections. The two desserts were equally delicious, and their respective qualities had nothing to do with the friendship shake-up that was about to occur. If it had really come down to cake and ‘cakes, Marie would have won some decisive extra points for having made hers for me — but not long from this point she would be instant messaging Jack, telling him that she hated him, claiming that he stole my friendship from her, or else razed hers to make room for his own.
This, of course, was untrue: there was no reason I couldn’t have stayed close to both of them. The turning point came elsewhere else entirely, and turned pointedly one night when Marie and I discussed her place in the band. She’d been our girl vocalist for the past couple months, but had blown off a great many practices for a few not-so-great reasons (saying she’d be over to Dilan’s in 30 minutes, then spontaneously combusting into afternoon nap — caring not to alert anyone before or after the fact — was one memorable instance), and with the show being less than a month away I wanted to resolve her commitment issues like a soon-to-be groom trying to make a ho a housewife.8) And as it turned out, she did not hesitate to tell me she had no interest in the band rehearsing or being any good: we had a show to worry about, true, but in her own write she was just happy to be able to tell people she was in a fun band — and she only ever really showed up to practice because we were all attractive guys, anyway, and hanging out with five or six attractive guys through a musical conceit was an alright hobby to have (her words (paraphrased by the ages)). That this was not only the case, but also one she saw no problem casually fessing to, struck me pretty confounding — especially considering she was only a passable vocalist, and lacked the Clinton-years-surplus of talent that could have maybe made it hard to let her go. Given the circumstances, it seemed hopeless to resolve — as melodramatic and inevitable as my body’s submission to the igneous rocks suddenly lodged inside my chest.
I had no replacement in mind, but after what must have been a couple days of inner strife over the awkward friend vs. bandmate dynamic, I decided I simply had to risk it. I’d like to imagine that I tried to find Marie on AIM or even lobbed her a couple missed calls before resorting to the Facebook inbox, but in the end I did it through a letter made of kilobytes and apologia. We may have been a dumb and aimless party band when Marie had joined, but with the introduction of Lupin and a concert date burnt into the social calendar as imminent reality, we were now a dumb and aimless party band aspiring to greatness. Even a slim girlsworth of give-a-damnless deadweight could be enough to fuck the whole thing to oblivion. In any event, my efforts at diplomacy were not well received, and I didn’t hear again from her in a long time.
It was a dumb reason to make a casualty of a friendship, but circumstance had made it hard to steer clear, and as I drew closer to Jack by bond of band I don’t think I even allowed myself too much time to think about it then. Marie wasn’t my friend anymore, but I can’t remember if I ever paused to wonder who had really made the decision — the music or me.
- There used to be some truly unsalvageable garbage here about how I’d like to scribble these scrawls faster than I do for this very reason, but it did include a self-aware quip about being hindered by “swollen footnodes.” I still like that. [↩]
- Perhaps from someone else I was soon to meet. [↩]
- Disclaimer for the humorless: Thom Yorke sounds significantly better than this. [↩]
- I dig most of it, now. [↩]
- When I first met them, they were going by the regrettably apropos moniker ‘Generic Youth.’ One day we came to practice and heard from Dilan that his father got an email from a clothing company also named Generic Youth, who demanded the teenage jerks acquiesce and make some nominal adjustments. So one quick band meeting later Dilan logged onto Myspace to officially rechristen their baby ‘Fuck Generic Youth,’ which evidently failed to appease Generic Youth the threads peddlers; Dilan’s father got another email. They went on to settle for their third and certainly worst name, Free Gilbis!. Looking back on promo materials for the show, they sure did perform as Free Gilbis! after all, though I couldn’t have told this story had I just referred to them as such from the start. [↩]
- I do recall, even pre-Lupin, Dilan opening a ProTools file he was woefully ill-equipped to open, and trying to fill the DAW with an “El Scorcho” coversworth of me-brand bass and Jack guitar, but this proved quickly abortive. Dilan asked Jack to keep going after one take, and Jack replied, “I played it perfectly once, loop that shit — that’s how everybody does it these days.” A second take happened, but not much else did. [↩]
- That’s the guitarist, not Dilan the drummer, for those keeping whores at home. [↩]
- I must’ve forgot about Dre. (Or just didn’t really know him yet. [↩]