Monday, June 20, 2011

Our OTHER guitarist's audition....

Jim was a good ENOUGH guitarist for The Zoo, even if he wasn't always "inspired." And of course we had Jeff available if Jim was unable to deliver the required "heavyness."
Jim was tuneful, was happy to play in support, could handle electric or acoustic, could write songs, and seldom showed-off or tried to call undue attention to himself -- in our bunch that was practically a GUARANTEE of being overlooked.
We never found anyone more reliable or consistent, and God knows we tried. Partly because of that, it probably took Jim awhile before he felt completely comfortable in the band. For a lot of reasons.
One was his involvement with Melissa after her and Thom's rather violent break-up. Though Thom's feelings were hurt (not to mention Don's), Jim and Melissa seemed well suited to each other. And though they seemed to get along better than Melissa and Thom did, that doesn't mean there were never any fireworks. There WERE -- Jim and Melissa just kept them hidden better....
The best, most passionate playing we ever got out of Jim was on a night when he'd just had an argument with Melissa. We'd been working on a vaguely Middle-Eastern-sounding instrumental Don and I had come up with called "Errr...." I'd already laid down a simple rhythm line with Miles, and there wasn't much keyboard stuff left for Don to do, so he was in the booth with me when it was time to add Jim's guitar.
We had Jim hooked-up and ready in the studio, with Miles lined up to add some additional fills and punctuation. Thom was on hand to screech his violin a little and add some dementia to the whole thing, and Jeff was standing by to add his patented "heavy guitar." I figured two or three heavy explosions at the end would top things right off.
Turned out we didn't need Jeff after all....
Don and I were a little cautious about having Thom and Jim in the studio at the same time, and apparently we had good reasons to be concerned. On the way into the studio, Thom had said something mild to Jim -- probably just "Hey" or "How 'ya doin'?" and certainly not "So what's it like sleeping with The Love Of My Life?" Thom needed bad feelings firing at him first before he'd come out with something harsh. Anyway, Jim cut him off sharply, and through the control room window Don and I saw Thom raise his eyebrows at us as if to say "What's up this guy's ass?"
"Guys, are we ready to do this?" I asked over the intercom.
"Fuck off," Jim snapped. "Let's get this fuckin' thing over with."
Don rolled the tape. Thom and Jim came in about a third of the way through the piece, Jim following Don's insistent main melody and Thom adding wistful little counterpoints in a higher register. But it didn't stay that way for long.
Jim took off, pounding the main theme directly out at us, then lifting above it in a screech, his fingers flying across the strings and around the neck of the guitar.
The music just seemed to boil up out of Jim like an explosion. And once he started burning, we couldn't stop him. We didn't want to.
He leapt with a scream of frustration onto the chord that started his solo, leading away from the main melody line. I remember Don and I laughing because it was JUST LIKE something Jeff would have done, and did. But we weren't laughing for long.....
Not with Jim's fingers flashing in a blur across the strings, feeding back in screams, conjuring up images of flames in his frustration, Miles smashing and bashing along with him at first, then being left behind as Jim's fingers seemed to get caught in the strings, then recovered to explode with huge smears and blurs of clogged sound as his fingers slammed and flew across the strings and up and down the neck of the guitar.
He started duetting with his own feedback, reaching up the neck while his right hand blurred across the strings below. The guitar screamed.
The tune LEANED hard, first one way and then another, queasy with seasickness -- or rage. I thought Jim was going to strangle his guitar. He choked another scream out of it....
That's when I noticed that Jim was playing all alone, wrenching the guitar seemingly in half, bouncing it off his knee so it reverberated and rang: BOM-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOM, bop-bop-ba-dop-BOM, and his rocketing fingers took the theme up into the stratosphere again.
Thunder growled and exploded in the studio. Lightning strikes came down right in front of the control booth. I jumped, and Don laughed.
And Jim kept playing. He kept soaring. I had visions of the monitor speakers melting, the control board erupting in flames, the tape frying, and us losing this one-of-a-kind take. But it didn't happen.
And Jim just kept going. Thom had stepped back from his mic in awe, just dazed. The thrashing, crashing drums Miles had added to the track earlier had gone silent -- now he just sat on the drum stool, watching, hands and sticks folded across his chest, his trademark cigarette dangling forgotten from his lips and a huge smile lighting up his face below his usual dinner-plate-sized eyes. He was nodding along in time with Jim's solo.
And it went on. Jim burned. He screamed and stomped, his face scrunching up in anger and frustration as he pulled impossible squeals and cries of pain out of his guitar. Don and I laughed some more at this, and that just made Jim play louder and angrier. He leaped from a rumble to a scream, expressing whatever anger and frustration was in him, exorcising whatever it was that HAD to get out.
There was a smear -- a blur of sound as Jim's fingers slammed and flew. A flash -- a rumble and a detonation. A splash of acid in the face and a scream of anguish.
Don and I looked at each other, dazzled, stunned. Thom just shrugged his shoulders -- there was nothing he could add. And Miles just followed along, grinning, his huge eyes missing nothing behind his glasses.
As the song wound up, Jim came down out of the stratosphere and landed precisely on the final phrases of the melody, just as practiced, punching in a few last notes before the tune vanished.
There was probably a 10-second feedback-filled gap between the time Jim finally touched down and when Don finally drew a breath and exclaimed "Wow!" And that's the way we left it on the disc when it was finally released -- along with the round of applause we all gave Jim right after that. Thom shook his hand.
Talking it over afterward, Don and I agreed that Jim's solo had pulled the song right up out of itself. We'd looked at the piece originally as almost a space-filler, something that maybe somebody would bash-up some lyrics for eventually and then we'd figure out what to do with it. Instead, Jim's solo forced us to lead off THE BLACK ALBUM with it. And then we did the only other thing we could do -- gave Jim a composing credit. There wouldn't have been a tune without him.
It wasn't until MUCH later that we learned why Jim had been so angry that night. Just before he came to the studio, Melissa told him that she was going to get an abortion.
Melissa said much later that God got even with her for that decision. A dozen years later her son was born with autism.

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