Altered photo by Jason Gross
Fiction by Jim Rader
Scene: a make-or-break indie reheasal session in Boston
Friendly bartender Joe Duffy wiped a glass. "Jesus, Pete, you were so quiet over there I all about you. Pete, this is Jim, he plays guitar and sings kinda like Lou Reed. Pete plays drums, Jim, he's been lookin' around too."
We were in Boston rock club The Rat, an overcast February afternoon.
"You look familiar, Pete," I said.
He smiled with perfect teeth. "I'm Pete Fields, I was with The Kool Kids back-in-the-day." I mentioned his old band's signature song. "Oh yeah, 'Neighborhood Girl,' I saw you guys open for the Del Fuegos at Maxwell's."
"What band were you with?"
"A jangle band, Blue Wicks. No record, but we played Maxwell's a few times and this joint once."
"You got a tape I could check out?"
I had an old demo cassette on me that I gave to Pete. He smiled on one of my song titles. "'Out On The South Side,' huh? Sounds like Springsteen."
"Yeah, the title does, but the music's more complicated, kinda like Television."
Pete put the cassette into the left pocket of his jean jacket. "Cool, I dig Television. You're from New York, aren't you?"
"Yeah, but I've been living here over five years."
Pete knew of a place where the two of us could jam, at no cost. We exchanged phone numbers. He seemed a nice guy, if a bit too eager. He called me two days later: "Hey, I dug your tape. Listen, we can jam in my place. If the two of us work out, I'll call Philly, the Kool Kids ladies' man."
"Cool. Philly Mortifiglio is a good guitar player."
Pete lived right near me in Jamaica Plain. A frigid night, I walked slowly on icy Boylston Street to his "loft space." As Philly had left his amp there all I had to bring was my guitar.
An old wooden warehouse bore the street number Pete had given me. He buzzed me in. Overheated inside, a dim overhead lantern revealed four rows of tall metal shelves stacked with big cardboard boxes. A filthy cement floor. Pete came in through an aperture just past the tall metal shelves.
"Right on time," he said. "Follow me."
He guided us along with an enormous flashlight, his perfect teeth smiling.
"What's in all those boxes, Pete?"
"Lots of these things." He clicked the long flashlight off/on, off/on.
"You mean this is a flashlight warehouse?"
"Well, safety lights too and construction lanterns. Ah, here we are, home sweet home." Pete unlocked a yellow wooden door. "Don't come in just yet, Jim, it's a small space and I gotta get up to the loft bed." Half a minute passed. "Okay, you can come in now."
It was a tight squeeze in there, the clearance above the loft bed maybe two feet. Stacks of cardboard boxes underneath the bed. I sat on a ragged old couch, a windowless yellow wall only one foot away, a faded Kool Kids promo poster gracing the wall, pretty boy Philly Mortifiglio's long blonde tresses and wistful blue eyes standing out, the other Kids plain, the old poster reminding me I'd just turned thirty-eight. Had it really been eight years since that wise-ass New York deejay announced, "This next song is entitled 'Our Lead Guitarist Is Thirty-Eight Years Old,'" before playing Kiss' ninth album? The joke had not aged gracefully.
"It's too hot in here, Pete. Where's your thermostat?" He sat on the loft bed's edge, his denim legs dangling over me. "Well, thing is, the owner is an old fan who doesn't charge me rent, but I have no control over the heat." He reached down to muss my hair. "But don't worry your pretty l'il head off about it, at least it's not freezing in here."
A chill shot through me in the overheated room. I craned my neck to grimace at Pete, but he didn't catch it, avidly thumbing through a bunch of old cassettes in a shoebox, his only home entertainment. "Ah, here it is!" The cassette he popped into the boombox was dated by the wavering sound of old tape, a "garage band" something like The Kool Kids.
"Who are these guys, Pete, I can't place them."
The perfect white teeth smiled nostalgically. "Toby Dammit."
"Toby Dammit, huh? That's pretty cool," I said but their songs were nothing. "Uh, Pete, we can't play in this room, it's too small. No way can you fit your drums in here."
"Relax dude, my drums and Philly's amp are in a big office space that has better sound. Not as hot in there either." He shut off Toby, climbed down the loft bed's ladder. "C'mon, let's go."
Inside the office, a desk with a PC, two piles of papers held down by big ashtrays, a Playboy centerfold on the wall but no thermostat. Pete sat down behind his drums, warmed up with some snare rolls. I tuned up then played the raunchy intro to Kinks' oldie "You Really Got Me." Pete fell right in. For a little guy, he sure could hit hard. We played old Kinks and Stones songs for about two hours, off to a good start.
Pete knew of a bassist who was up for jamming, but rhythm guitarist Philly Mortifiglio was mysteriously unavailable going on a week. Over the phone, I put my foot down. "Look Pete, I'm tired of waiting for Philly. I know you guys go back a long way, but it's just not happening with him. Let's try out the bass player now, Philly can come in later. Is he sick or something?"
"Well, if you must know Philly is in the hospital for his liver. He had a major relapse with the booze, but I can assure you it was a one-time thing."
"What? Look, I'm sorry but that makes me nervous about letting him in."
Pete turned indignant: "Give him a chance!"
"Okay, okay, calm down. Is Philly in A.A.? A.A. helped me stop."
"Yeah, yeah, he's still in A.A. He was sober two years then that psycho bitch Maureen dumped him."
Two days later, Pete rejoiced over the phone: "Guess what, Philly's getting discharged next week, February seventeenth!"
"Great, I'm itching to play. Let's rent a rehearsal space for two hours, see what happens."
"Well thing is, Sammy, that's the bass player, is on vacation in Miami with his folks. He works in his dad's shoe store."
"Great, just great," I huffed. "By the way, what band was he in?"
Pete laughed. "You sound like a TV cop. If you must know, Sammy Sarkissian played with Mars Needs Women."
"Huh, I heard their old single, good players," I said but their songs were nothing. And it now dawned on me that "Neighborhood Girl" had been the Kool Kids' only memorable song.
Just before signing off, Pete turned serious: "Jim, you have to believe in this project or it's not gonna happen."
"Pete, where the hell are we now?"
"Relax, the rehearsal space is in this weird backstreet area. That's why their rates are so cheap. You know, I thought of a cool band name---The Mundanes."
His cool band name didn't sound very ambitious. Bitter cold out, the van skidded on black ice. Pete braked just in time but then the heat conked out. The night of the big jam had finally come and already things went wrong. Pete's girlfriend Fred squeezed in between us, the bottle-blonde's giddy grin recalled my ex who loved hanging out at rehearsals.
Pete pulled into a gravelly parking lot. The rehearsal complex' odd cylindrical shape like that of an oil truck, band noises leaked out. A glimpse of distant downtown Boston assured that we weren't in fucking Siberia.
Once inside the underheated cylinder, we paid the seedy desk manager for two hours of time, he and Pete yelling small talk at each other over six, seven clashing bands, all too loud for a sober thirty-eight-year-old. Metalheads, Ramones rip-offs, No Wavers--- their noises followed us through the curved hallway, empty noises that had nothing new to offer.
Pete's perfect white teeth smiled as we headed to room number eleven, the hallway's curved walls papered with countless gig flyers. In our big room the noise was only slightly reduced by dirty ragged quilts on the walls, our next-door neighbors an obvious rip-off of defunct No Wave band DNA. "This place is a nightmare," I said calmly, plugging my guitar into a brand-new Marshall amp. "Well, at least this works. Now where the hell are those guys?"
"Relax, they'll get here," said Pete from his drummer stool. "Let's play something in the meantime."
The DNA rip-off got louder. Pissed-off, I turned the Marshall up to ten and lunged into the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The UK." Sammy Sarkissian arrived, a tall guy with a jet-black pompadour, bushy eyebrows. Yellow turtleneck, pointy Italian shoes.
"Jim, right?" he yelled, shaking my hand. "Sorry I'm late dudes, but my fuckin' old man made me stay late for fuckin' inventory."
Sammy plugged in, and we tuned up. I played the opening riff to the Stones' "Rocks Off." Pete fell in then Sammy, his warm bass sound more felt than heard. The ending was sloppy but the rest of it had rocked. Sammy smiled. "Hey, that wasn't bad. But hold up a minute guys, I gotta set this amp right, get some balls out of it, you know?"
He fooled with the controls for a bit then we played Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," Fred inaudibly singing along. "Sweet Jane" went well, too, but where was Philly Mortifiglio?
"I gotta go to the bathroom," I said. The bathroom clock had it that twenty-five minutes had gone by, and still no Philly. It was quieter in the bathroom. After urinating, I hung out in there for a few minutes then went back to our room.
An unshaven thickset thirtyish dude had come in. Long stringy blonde hair, dirty white Reebok sneakers, rumpled sport jacket. Dazed blue eyes. He seemed one of the homeless, but no, the others knew him, Fred kissing his unshaven cheek, Pete and Sammy wolf-whistling at them. Pete warmly hugged the dude then said, "Jim, meet the magnificent Mortifiglio!" "Hi, Jim," said Philly in a childlike voice. "Hi, Philly." We shook hands, his hand cold, calloused, his glassy eyes marveling at the multicolored dirty quilts.
We continued playing covers, except for Philly's retro instrumental "The Rip-Off" that recalled Link Wray. Though he could still play guitar, he annoyingly played everything through an MXR distortion box, going against the The Kool Kids' no-effects aesthetic. As the jam wore on, Sammy sighed, playing the last two tunes perfunctorily. At one point, he and I exchanged disappointed looks, Philly, Pete and Fred excited, happy, Sammy and I just getting through it. I flashed back to a drummer audition that went well till the end when the prospect invited us to a Hari Krishna gathering. That bummer went back fourteen years! Christ, I was old.
The seedy desk clerk barged in, tapping his wristwatch. "Time's up, dudes."
The Mundanes packed up their instruments, the DNA rip-off suddenly stopping as if granting a moment of silence for our doomed project. Sammy threw on his camelhair coat, hurriedly splitting from rock n' roll hell. "Great playin' with you guys, but I gotta go hook up with my fiancée." After he zoomed out, Philly said, "I gotta split too, dudes, don't wanna worry my folks."
Pete, Fred and I got into the van, snow flurries tapping against the windshield. "So, what do you think, Jim?" asked the perfect white teeth.
"Dude, my brain is so scrambled from that fucked-up place, I can barely think at all."
Next day, Pete phoned me at my latest workplace. "So, what do you think?"
"Pete, I'm sorry, but it's just not gonna work out with Philly. He's too out-of-it."
"Oh c'mon, it's the great Mortifiglio!"
When I mentioned Philly's lateness, glassy eyes, and MXR fetish, Pete Fields angrily countered, "Boy, are you being unfair! You're too conceited, Jim, you're too---"
"Pete, I gotta hang up, a customer is on the other line."
"Yeah, right. Well, goodbye!" he said with finality.
Years later, I heard Pete lived alone in a log cabin he'd built in the woods of Maine.
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