Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter 14: The Staircase

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You’re an evil, dirty girl with evil, dirty thoughts.


One of a drummer’s favorite moments is when one of his bandmates sits behind his kit and tries to play. The results are plenty amusing, owing largely to the counterintuitive way that a drummer uses his limbs as independent kingdoms. This rewiring takes countless hours of playing, but the rewards are phenomenal. Occasionally, you will find yourself so fully engaged that your hands will do something you didn’t really ask them to, as if they have declared themselves as sentient beings.

Tonight, I am pushing these faculties to the max, as Smeeed and I lay down the rhythm tracks on our recording project. He has taken five drum mics and clipped them to my snare, three toms and a bass. A sixth dangles from the ceiling over my cymbals. He positions another mic before his bass amp, checks all the levels and we’re off.

You might compare the recording process to building a house. The drum and the bass are the foundation, outlining the structure of the song. The other players may then add their studs, crossbeams and joists until, layer by layer, they have completed the edifice. Then Smeeed sits for hours before his computer, picking out window treatments.

In a better-equipped band, we would lay our foundation while listening through headphones to a scratch recording of the full band. In our case, we’re working from memory. “The Man” is not bad. We’ve been playing it for a year, and the structure is pretty straightforward. “Fool” is not so easy. We’ve only been playing it for three months, and have not entirely fixed it in place. Our first attempt is a train wreck. After that, Smeeed and I discuss the structure until our brains are bleeding. Concluding that we’ve been playing the changes off the vocal cues, I tape Pamela’s lyrics to my bass drum and sing along in a wide-mouthed whisper so Smeeed can follow. At the same time, I’m trying not to work too hard, because the best recordings capture two opposite qualities: sounding tight while playing loose. Or the drummer’s equivalent: concentrating by not thinking so much.

I’m in a weirdly good space for all of this paradox, because my brain is packed with imagery. Jasmina and I have wandered into the wilds of sexuality, and although getting there was half the fun, we still have a ways to go. Granted, any first coupling is an awkward endeavor: body placement, likes and dislikes, roughness, verbosity, the “freak” factor. But I assumed I was dealing with a pro. Thinking like a woman, it could be that the introduction of actual feelings is throwing her off, but at one point she was eyeing my principal pleasure device like an amateur plumber. “Hmm, I wonder what this does?”

My brief but active stint as a married man left me in the familiar role of instructor, and eventually we succeeded in bringing all the parts together. The greatest satisfaction came in lying together afterward, knowing that we had finally crossed the threshold.

All during the act, Jasmina left her blouse on, unbuttoned for ready access. In her post-coital dreamstate, she had let it slip, exposing a zig-zag line running from her shoulder to the fabric just above her elbow.

“Yaz? What’s that?”


“On your arm.”

She pulled the shirt back on and gave me an expression that I couldn’t translate until later: equal parts embarrassment and fear. She kept moving her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“A tattoo? A scar?”

“No. Not…”

So many of our conversations orbit the subject of reason, I thought it a good direction to go.

“Yaz? You know you can trust me. You told me the worst already, and I haven’t told a soul. If we’re going to be doing… this, it would be best if you showed me everything.”

She bit her lip and nodded. I helped her take off the sleeve. The line ran all the way to her wrist in perfect, 90-degree cuts. I traced the scarred ridges with my fingertips. Jasmina began to cry.

“I’m sorry. It’s a… release, a bad habit. I don’t always… like myself.”

The crying segued into song, whimpering lines of hurt and pain. I wrapped her up and took it in through my pores.

“You think it’s a keeper?”

Smeeed’s sitting on a stool in front of the computer, lining up the tracks of the recording.

“What? Oh, yeah. I guess we’ll find out for sure when we add the other parts.”

“Okay. I fucked up a change in the final bridge, but I think I can patch it in.”

Photo by MJV.

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