The following year, Senior year, Lana had reappeared, and this was hope to me, a fool’s hope really, tattered belief that this would be the year. I had an endurance then that seems strange to me now, the endurance of belief. She was thinner when she returned, but I had expected this. I’d heard what Faith said, what was wrong, why she’d disappeared, I’d researched it, read up. It was jarring to see her that way, but her beauty remained. It had been in her eyes, always in her eyes. I still watched her and wanted to be with her. That hadn’t changed. And she was in my classes again, second period English with Bintner. Eighth period physics with Desipio. It made sense, of course, that she hadn’t shown up to the battle of the bands the year before, that I hadn’t been able to pay for her. She was otherwise preoccupied, but I held out hope I’d get another chance. There were two school-sponsored activities in which we could play each year, the talent show and battle of the bands; and while we hadn’t made the talent show the previous two years, I was sure we’d get in now. It was what I was leaning toward, the one thing I had my sights set on since the years started. February, the date of the talent show, was still a long way off, but already I was trying to write more songs, though I was now writing for a three-piece.

My confidence grew with each riff I wrote, each song I completed, even if they ultimately amounted to nothing, even if we didn’t end up using them and discarded them. I was still creating something almost every day. When I arrived home from school, I’d go to my room and pick up my guitar and try to write. When Lex switched the drums I bought his Telecaster, and I loved the feel of this guitar. It was light, the action was easy on my fingers. I could wrap my full hand around the fretboard and play bar chords with my thumb on the sixth string like Hendrix did, though increasingly the songs I wrote were moving away from bar chords. My mother stocked up on notebooks at the beginning of every school year. We had far more in the house than  me or my brother and sisters would ever need, so I raided the supply closet and took some. I scribbled lyric after lyric into these books. Most of it was drivel. I still have some of the books stored in boxes and I wince when I read the lines. But some of it was good. I have to give myself a break. I was still learning to write lyrics.

What to write about when all one’s experienced is adolescent yearning for a girl? Then again, that’s mostly what the history of rock is about. It all gave me a sense of purpose, something I was striving toward. A deep vein of obsession runs through me. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I seize onto something, a project, a type of book, a series of movies, and it’s all think about, all I can talk about. Music had become this way. It was all I wanted to do. All I cared about. Music, of course, had always been there from my earliest memories of personality manifesting. In the fourth grade, I’d taken a pair of scissor to old jeans and cut them to look like Joe Elliott’s in the Def Leppard video for “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” I hid them in the closet because I knew my mom would throw them out if she found them. And whenever the coast was clear I took them out and danced around in my bedroom as though I were him. I’d wanted to be a musician for as long as I could recall. And here I was doing it. Though it was harder to bring my vision to fruition when we had fewer people to play with.

Lex and I were constants. Our friendship, at that time, was the strongest it ever was. But after the battle of the bands, our band dissolved. Some of Pete’s childhood friends had formed a band together, and he’d agreed to play bass for them. He still wanted to play with us when he could but he couldn’t commit. Gabe was willing to play as well, but since we didn’t have any shows lined up and he didn’t partake in writing the songs, we didn’t call him over the summer. What Lex and I did instead was buy a 4-track. We purchased an SM58 mic and already had a few lo-fi Radio Shack mics, and we set about recording the new material we wrote. I was still working at the nursing home, taking on more shifts to finance equipment. Lex was dating Nora and spent every available minute with her, but when it came time to play music, he always showed up, never missed a practice, and we scheduled our practices around my work schedule.

One afternoon, Pete came back to play with us. Recording on a 4-track was exciting. I liked writing songs and layering sounds. But nothing beat playing with other musicians, doing it live, jamming. It had been a while since we’d played with Pete, and I was looking forward to this.

Lex knew how to make friends with other guys better than me. He knew how to be laid back in ways I couldn’t be, came off as less intense, and Pete were closer than Pete and me. Lex was right in the assessment of me he made at Jim Lyon’s wedding. I could be moody. From time to time, I got quiet, gloomy, and this didn’t lend itself to social situations. Lex, on the other hand, guarded this side of himself, the depressive side, the intensity. It was there, but he masked it in public. To the world, he was talkative, jocular. But this had changed since Nora went to college. They were still together, trying it out long distance. She was only an hour and a half drive up the turnpike at Bloomsburg, and he drove up to visit as often as he could. But even that distance strained their closeness, and Lex was becoming sullen, distant. His relationship with Nora, prior to this, had caused some strain to us. On certain occasions, it bothered me, roused me to jealousy. He’d even told Sonny first after he’d lost his virginity to her, and I’d taken this as a slight. I was his best friend, and he should have told me. But I kept it to myself. To let anyone else know was dangerous. Aside from the accusations, sometimes in jest but always with an underlying seriousness, that I was gay–I hadn’t told anyone about Lana still–this opened me up to accusations of being too sensitive, being a bitch. So Lex and I fought instead.

The first time, we were coming back from the Irish Center. Lex and Nora gathered their friends on Friday nights once a month and headed out to the Irish Center. There was music and dancing and drinking. I can’t remember if my friends got served there or Nora’s brother bought it for them and handed the drinks off, but Lex was drunk coming home one night. Nora’s brother was driving the minvan, and Lex was encouraging everyone to sing along with the radio, and I had a headache. I hated the fucking Irish Center. Friday nights at the Irish Center meant my friends would be drinking and falling all over themselves. They’d be acting stupid and making foolish remarks, and worst of all, of course, Lana wouldn’t be there. So why bother going? I never wanted to go, but always went. I was operating under the delusion that something of significance might happen if I didn’t, and my friends would talk about it, and I’d have missed it, and since I didn’t want to miss this, I went, but nothing ever happened. Lex was experimenting. Maybe he understood in ways I didn’t the way substance could act as social lubricant, the way it could alleviate all the anxieties we both felt about interacting with other people–for Lex suffered the same fears that I did, he just hid it better. In any case, nothing ever happened until this night. Until we were coming home, and Lex was drunk and I had a terrible throbbing headache, and the clash of resentments at his dating Nora and us having to go to the Irish Center and my never seeing him because he was always with Nora and my having no hopes of having my own girl since Lana had disappeared all came to a head.

Lex turned the radio up. He was in the passenger seat. Nora’s brother Brian was driving. Nora’s brother turned it down, and Lex turned it back up, and I had to shout again, “Can you turn that down?” I was way in the back, third row of seats in the minivan, trying to get comfortable, trying to rest my aching head against the cool dark pane of glass, but there was a gap between the seat and window that made this comfort impossible. Lex ignored me. He turned it up again. He was singing. He got Sonny Ford and Drew Schiff singing too. “Can you please turn the fucking radio down!” I shouted at them. And while Drew and Sonny had stopped singing at this, Lex liked to provoke me. A strange perversity overtook him sometimes: he saw that I was upset and wanted to make me more upset. He’d learned early on in our friendship that I had a low temper threshold, and this happened on the basketball court more often than not. He’d push and shove. One time he threw a ball at my face when I wasn’t looking. I had to learn not to overreact to get him to stop because he liked to see me flip out. And sometimes it happened, even when we weren’t playing sports.

We were close to his house where everyone was supposed to spend the night. It might have been around two in the morning. I had tried asking politely, and then I’d been impolite. I knew he was trying to goad me, to get a reaction, and that night, I was willing to oblige. As Brian pulled up and we got out, I went at him. I leapt out and pushed Lex onto the grass hill in front of his home.

“Why do you have to be such a fucking asshole?” I shouted. “You’re always such a fucking dick to me!”

“What? Me? Look at you. Coming out and sulking and ruining everyone’s good time.”

Either we woke his parents or they’d been up waiting up. They came to the door. I saw my advantage and ratted him out.

“If you didn’t have smoke weed and get drunk to have fun…but you’re drunk! You’re a fucking drunken asshole!”

It wasn’t much of a logical counterpoint, but I wanted to make sure his parents knew. It was underhanded, sneaky, but I didn’t care. I wanted to use whatever power I had in the moment to embarrass him, to get him in trouble, to show him he couldn’t just do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to do it. Sonny and Drew intervened, held me back, held him back. Otherwise we might have come to blows. When we finished, Brian drove me home, and I had to wake my parents to let me inside. Lex and I slowly drifted back together. We didn’t speak for a few weeks, but slowly and surely, the music brought us back, our friends brought us back. But another time, in the beginning of our senior year, we did come to blows.

Over the course of our first semester senior year, it had grown increasingly clear that long distance wasn’t working for Lex and Nora. He went to visit her on his own and then with Drew Schiff and Rick Willis, who had moved back from Texas and was starting to come around again. After they’d come back from one of these trips, I’d heard that Nora and Lex had fought the whole time and during the climax of one of these verbal sparing matches, Lex had thrown Rick’s new bong at Nora. Drew was telling this story. We were in the Dougherty’s basement, hanging out with Nora’s brother Brian. Brian was three years old than me. He went to La Salle, and the guys would often hit him up to buy them booze. In the middle of the tale, Lex arrived. I heard him talking to Brian upstairs, asking if Brian would buy him some beer. This annoyed me, the way he wanted to disappear because of her. The way he got stupid. I was angry. I didn’t approve of him drinking, I didn’t approve of him throwing the bong at Nora. You should have just let her go, I thought. I didn’t know that she’d told him there was someone else. None of us did. Or I might have been more sympathetic.

Nora and Brian’s mother ran a daycare out of her basement. We were surrounded by kid’s toys, a playpen. When Lex came down, we all got quiet. He must have known what Drew was telling us. Sonny was there, a few other people. But Lex fixed his sights on me. He came to the table where we were sitting.

“What’s wrong with him?” he said, meaning me, even though we’d all grown silent. “Why you so quiet, pussy boy?”

He smacked the back of my head with his palm. Hard.

I was up in an instant. I flung back the chair, grabbed him by the shirt, and hurled him off the ground. Using all my force, I flung him into the playpen. For a moment, he sat there, astonished. I hadn’t been in a real fight since the ones Sonny and his crew had provoked me into during junior high, and Lex was my best friend, but I didn’t care. I loomed above him, waiting for him to stand up. Brian Dougherty stepped in front of me. “Take it outside,” he said.

Before Lex was even out of the crib, I turned and went upstairs. I heard them following me. I was ready to fuck his day up. I was doing this. I had thought there were people between us on the stairs, that maybe Sunny or Drew had come straight after me, but as I reached the backyard, I turned and Lex was coming at me. He was holding what I thought was a wiffle bat, and I rushed at him. Fuck a plastic bat, I could take it. I could take him. I wasn’t outmatched anymore. He wasn’t the stronger one, as he’d been in junior high, as he’d been when he intervened in my fight with Clive Drummond. We were now pretty much the same size. Even if he thought otherwise. Even if he’d never stopped to recognize that I’d caught up to him. I was going to show him that. I’d always been his little brother. The one who sought his advice. The one who needed his approval. But I didn’t anymore. I was the one who wrote and arranged most of the songs we played. I could stand on my own. The only thing: it had rained the night before, and as I turned to run at him, I slipped, which was good, because he swung and swung hard, and I saw that it wasn’t a wiffle ball bat, but a wooden one. As I slid toward him, I reached out and grabbed his legs and brought him to the ground, and we rolled into a ball, punching each others arms and backs and ribs. We couldn’t get much force in the jabs. And Sonny jumped into the fray and split us up. As was often the case with Sonny, he’d only let it go so far before he decided enough was enough. He’d done it time and again during the boxing matches when we were kids, during the street fights he’d provoked. He wanted to see how far we would go, but then, if we went too far, he’d stop us. And while I sat on the ground, out of breath, and picked up the bat, Lex ran. He ran through the wooden gate in the fence that encircled the Doughtery’s backyard and disappeared in the night.

Instantly, I regretted what I’d done, though I couldn’t show this. The guys were looking at me.

“Goddamn, Jones!” Brian Dougherty said. “You charged a wooden bat!”

“Dude, did you see when he threw him in the playpen? I nearly pissed myself trying not to laugh!”

This seemed to be the consensus, that I’d been brave, Lex a coward. That even though we’d fought to what was essentially a draw, I had won by default, simply because I hadn’t used a weapon. I didn’t admit until later that night, before I went to sleep at Drew Schiff’s because I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone, that I’d thought it was a wiffle ball bat. I was worried I’d lost my best friend for good. And why? Because my pride couldn’t absorb a little smack? Yet, how many smacks had I absorbed from him over the years? No, he’d deserved to be thrown in that playpen. I was trying to convince myself. I hadn’t done anything wrong. The way he’d gone after Jennifer Mills when he’d known I liked her. The way he’d gone after Natalie Calder in the same backyard where we’d just fought. How I had asked her out, and he’d used that time to move in on her instead. How he’d gone and had a date with her and hooked up and hadn’t even told me but let me find out through his sister. There were all these reason for resentment, and at times, I resented him. And yet, he was still my friend. Drew Schiff had understood this. While the others had praised me for standing up to Lex, Drew saw that I was in anguish over it.

Maybe it was true that I cared for him more than he ever cared for me. Maybe I knew how to care for people better than he did, that I could do so without reservation. The fight we had outside of his house on the night we went to the Irish Center was bad, but it wasn’t bad enough to sever our friendship for good. I knew we’d come back from that. The fight we’d had behind the Dougherty’s house, however, had gone beyond that. Was this the end, I wondered. I could forgive him anything. I already had. I’d forgiven him the girls whose attention he stole from me. I’d forgiven the smack I’d received earlier that evening. I’d even forgiven him picking up the baseball bat. I knew him. I knew his insecurities. I’d watched him behave with others and wasn’t naive. He could be selfish, but I always forgave it. What I wondered most was, did he know how to forgive? Would he forgive me this? Standing for myself. Shifting out from under his shadow. I didn’t care. I did. I didn’t. I did. I tried to explain to Drew, and he told me that I shouldn’t make too much of it. And I went to sleep.

All of this happened at the end of the summer, and Lex and I entered the school year at odds. We hadn’t spoken in six weeks, and this continued in the halls. I’d see him and turn the other way, and he’d do the same, pretend I wasn’t there. We didn’t have any mutual friends at school to hold us together–all our friends attended other schools–and I’d stopped going to the Dougherty’s house, didn’t see him at Sonny Ford’s, left if he arrived. I missed him, but I wouldn’t admit it. Then, one day, I saw him walking behind me as I left school. He followed me down to Bickley Road and caught up, and we started talking. Neither one of us apologized. We didn’t acknowledge the fight had ever happened and never would. We spoke of other things. And yet, we forgave each other. This was the way with us. And we got back to playing music.

Now Pete was coming to play again after a long absence. Was it already midyear? It must have been. The talent show was approaching, but he wasn’t going to play it with us. Not even for the audition. But he helped us with writing songs. It must have been winter, January at least. For it took us a while to finish the song we wrote with him. I didn’t write lyrics right away. I didn’t even know we were writing a song when Pete came to play. We simply played.

I had been fooling around with a riff two weeks before, a riff I’d shown to Lex but then abandoned. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it, why I could see its potential, but it used bar chords, and I was still on my anti-bar chord kick. I strummed an F-sharp with the E and B strings open a few times and lifted my forefinger to open the other E, the thick E, the deep E. I repeated this four times and slid up to B and let the E and B strings open. I went back and forth with it, strumming loosely. The effect created a strange hypnotic sound, but it seemed too simple to me. Lex asked me if he could have it and work with it, and I shrugged. “Sure,” I said. “We’ll see what you can do.” So he took it, and when I returned that night, he’d played me a demo he’d recorded. The demo was dark and murky and capitalized on the hypnotic quality. He’d even created a vocal part that was obscured with reverb. I liked it and told him so, and we played it for his dad, who also liked it. But we weren’t entirely satisfied. Lex tried to re-record the vocals. He made them cleaner, crisper. And we played it for his dad again, who frowned.

“I liked it better when I couldn’t hear what you were saying,” his dad told us.

His opinion meant everything to us, especially to Lex. And this was crushing. I saw it on Lex’s face. His dad left the room, and we stood a minute, looking at the 4-track. I wanted to say something, to reassure him, to tell him it was only one person’s opinion, but before I could, Lex slipped the tape from the machine, marched into the living room, and snapped the cassette. He took the two pieces and flung them at his dad. Before I knew what was happening, they were rolling on the floor, wrestling. His sisters Abby and Adriel ran into the room and started to scream for them to stop, and they did. His dad pulled himself up, winded. Lex stormed back to his room, and I went to sit with him. We didn’t speak. We went back to playing, pretended it didn’t happen, and I thought that was it. The song was done. We’d given it a try, but it didn’t take. It wasn’t destined to become a part of our repertoire. Besides, it was Lex’s song really. That’s what I told myself. If I wasn’t the one who shined, I got jealous and wanted to avoid admitting he might have done something I couldn’t do, something better, and this was the case here. Of course, I’d written the riff, but he’d run with it. It wasn’t a band song, at least not to me, because I hadn’t written the lyrics. Because I hadn’t sung it.

We didn’t play it with Pete either, at least not while I was there. But I had to go to work, and Pete stayed to play with Lex. They went outside for a break and came back in, and Lex showed him the changes. Pete was playing the bass that day, and he wrote a bassline for it, and they recorded the drums and bass on one of the 4 tracks of our Tascam recorder with Lex calling the changes out in the background. The second track was devoted to rhythm guitar and bongos. Again I hadn’t played on it. Not yet anyway, but I recognized part of the song as belonging to me. And I thought Pete’s bassline was genius. This time, Lex left room for me to play on it. But I didn’t know what to do with it for another week. I played around with ideas and wrote a lead part. And the next weekend, Lex invited this girl Heather to play keyboards with us. The third track we used for the lead guitar and keyboards. I don’t even remember Heather’s last name now. We were always willing to play with anyone once, and she played a decent keyboard part but didn’t really fit our band’s dynamic. We had the music all filled out now, but we were waiting for the lyrics. Lex admitted that his weren’t any good. So he looked to me to write the vocal part. I was learning to combine the disparate elements of my influences to try and create something new. And this song was no exception. I’d been listening to David Bowie’s latest album Earthling, which had come out a week or two before and The Rolling Stone’s record At Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. And I mixed part of the melody from “2,000 Light Years from Home” with lyrics lifted from “Battle for Britain (The Letter)” (or not so much lifted as misheard, misinterpreted and then turned into something of my own). I wrote the first verse and took it to Lex’s dad to ask for feedback. It was the first song I’d written, aside from “Groove,” that wasn’t about Lana. It was more abstract. More an existential malaise type of song in the Radiohead paranoia vein (we’d also been listening to The Bends over and over). Lex’s dad took the notebook page I was working on and read it over: “I fear I’m trapped in here for good/where our disillusioned minds will meet/we’re a very long long way from sleeping/and we don’t care about nothing anymore.”

“This is good,” he told me. “But I think you can push yourself further. Really get out there.”

So I sat down and wrote the second verse. In English, we’d been assigned A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and The Plague by Camus and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I was starting to read more intensely, ingesting literary works, and I’d come across Nabokov’s Lolita, the first three pages of which may comprise the best opening in all of literature. And part of that, is the way he exploits alliteration/assonance. So of course, as a young artist imitating my heroes, I had to try my hand with this device myself. The results were satisfying as far as rock music went. We sat down to record with just two verses and no chorus. We figured we could punch in the chorus later, but when I tried to improvise lyrics and a melody over the chorus, the results were awful.

“Why don’t you try what I wrote?” Lex said. He’d admitted his lyrics weren’t too good, but what he’d written for the chorus seemed to compliment what I’d written for the verses. After a bit of back and forth where I balked, I gave in, as I usually did with Lex. The resulting song, we called “Song X.” Having used all our creativity in actually writing the song, we could think of nothing better than that, and besides I’ve always had trouble with titles anyway. It was the first genuine collaboration between Lex and me, a seal on the friendship, evidence of what we could do together.

You can hear me cough at the beginning because it was winter and I had a cold. At first, I thought we’d re-record the vocals, but when we listened to it, the cough–combined with Lex’s calling out the changes in the background–gave it an improvised feel that we really liked, an off-the-cuff vibe that gave it immediacy, hiding the fact the track had been recorded over the course of weeks.

It’s around this point, however, that the timeline in this story becomes hazy. Had Lex left school already? When had the talent show tryouts been? December? January? We hadn’t written this song at that point. Thought we’d made the show. We’d brought back Gabe, but Pete hadn’t played with us. Pete wasn’t with us. Or was he? I can’t remember. During the audition, we’d set up our instruments at the front of the auditorium. There were two sets of black wooden steps, built I believe for the fall play Out of Order, and Lex had set up his drum kit on top of one of these. We’d played “Groove” and he’d had a drum solo and that cinched it for us. We’d found our names on the list of bands to play the show, right next to Spamboy, come the following Monday morning. But then Lex had dropped out, and they told us we couldn’t play. Depression had been creeping in on Lex even since he’d broken up with Nora. And one day he just wouldn’t get out of bed. “The talent show,” the organizers explained to me, “wasn’t open to people who weren’t members of the student community.” And by dropping out, Lex had removed himself from the student community. And so, faced with the option of not playing or picking up another drummer, I chose not playing. This was incredibly difficult for me. I’m not sure that Lex knew how much so. Because this time, Lana would be there. She and her sister and another girl had auditioned and they were performing an Indigo Girls song in the first half (the show was divided into two sections–the first for five-minute acts that included dancing, dramatic monologues, and singing songs; the second for full sets by two bands). Still, I didn’t think we’d be as good without Lex. And I wanted to be good if we were playing in front of Lana.

Besides, we had one more chance in the battle of the bands, and they didn’t have the same requirement. The regulation stipulated that only two-thirds of our band needed to be students for that. So they couldn’t ban Lex from playing. “Song X” was one of two songs we put on our audition tape for the show. The second, called “Disenchanted,” was a song I’d always liked and pushed us to play but we could never get it right except on tape (and even that is arguable). This year, I was on board with Lex. I wasn’t entirely focused on just playing for Lana but wanted to win. I had long thought we were the best band in school. I thought we had the potential to be the real thing, to get signed to make records, regardless of last year’s results. And yet, if we couldn’t win a simple high school battle of the bands, what did that say about us? That I was fooling myself? Lex and I threw ourselves into writing songs. This year we planned on doing all original material, opening the set with “Song X,” of course.

Aside from “Disenchanted,” and a G. Love and Special Sauce cover of “Blues Music” we added to the set for Gabe and Paul Sarcone (who’d joined the band as a second guitarist for the show), Lex and I wrote all the material we played for the set together, in his room, on drums and guitar. Sometimes he’d pick up the guitar and show me a riff that I’d expand upon. Sometimes I’d ask him to play a certain beat and work a riff over top of it. It was rare that I brought in a song I’d written without his input. We were experimenting with different genres. We wrote a funk song and a punk song. We augmented “Groove” from the previous year to add a drum solo and an additional guitar solo to serve as our finale. With the punk song we worked on slowing down and speeding up the time signature in the we’d heard Jame Brown do it to make the performance more interesting. And we wrote a standard E-A-D-A rock jam in homage to the Stones’ early-70’s output that allowed me to showcase my soloing.


Of course, I was never the most technically proficient guitarist. I knew the major scales, a handful of arpeggios (I say “knew” because even if they’re still in my memory now, they’re not readily accessible). There were other guitarists in our high school who could play Jimmy Page solos note-for-note, and one of them even played after us, covering “Good Times, Bad Times” to the letter, but this didn’t impress me. When I’d learned to solo, of course, I too mimicked other guitar players. I’d learned the solos to “Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. I’d learned the solos to “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” verbatim. And these had helped in giving me an idea of what to do when it came time. But I wasn’t interested in playing other guitarist’s solos note-for-note anymore. To me, soloing meant the expression of self through the guitar. In the same way, we’d abandoned covers, opting for our own songs, these songs would have solos I’d written. Or not even written. They were solos I improvised. I had a basic structure in place, but I wouldn’t even mimic myself note-for-note. It had to be new every time. Even if I went off key or hit a rotten note. I had finally realized that I had something to say. And Lex, at this same time, had arrived at this same conclusion.

Which made it all the more unfortunate when I screwed our chances of winning. The year before I’d gone to the meeting to draw lots to see who went first, second, third, etc. This year I had forgotten the meeting entirely, and we were placed first by default.

“How could you forget?”

“I don’t know. It just slipped my mind. Long day.”

Of course, I couldn’t point out that while I was in school, struggling with classes, zoning out, thinking about Lana, and taking tests, he was at home fiddling around with our 4-track all day, playing music. So yes, all he had to do was think about music while I had a few other things on my mind. But I’d missed the meeting. And we’d been relegated to opening the show again.

“Look, I’ll come up with something.”

“How? We’re first again. You can’t change the fact we’re first.”

“Just trust me.”

In school, I pulled Gabe and Paul aside and told them.

“Listen, we have to go first again. I missed the meeting. We have to spread the word and try to get people to show up early so they can see us.”

This was when not belonging to any one clique came in handy. I moved about from one group to the next, campaigning. “You have to come see us. We’re gonna be good this year.” I understood that winning wasn’t just about the quality of our set, but about popularity, actually engaging people to come see us, to pay attention, to listen to us. Over the years, I’ve had difficulty with this, with self-promotion, selling myself. I’ve long been at odds with doing this as a writer, and yet, that year, for our band, it came to me easy. Lunch times and study halls, I took every opportunity to talk us up to anyone who was willing to listen.

The night of the show, turnout was better than the previous year. Paul and Gabe had invited their friends. We had invited Lain, who was part of their circle, to play tambourine, and he urged his girlfriend to bring her friends. We’d also asked Sonny Ford to join us on stage and play woodblock. We’d even asked Jim Lyons, who’d started to come around about that time, to play shakers, but he had a ski trip. What we were looking for was a sense of festivity on stage. We wanted our band to seem like the world’s greatest party, the way that Stones film Rock and Roll Circus seemed. All in all, there were six of us with Lex and me, Gabe and Paul, and Sonny and Lain. And we decided to dress in white shirts and black slacks to consolidate the look of professionals. Each of us choose one accessory to augment the look. Lex and I went to the party store beforehand, where I purchased an imitation white fedora and we bought miniature firemen’s hats for our “percussion section.” Gabe wrapped himself in Christmas lights. Paul wore wrap around sunglasses that made the light look hallucinogenic, and Lex went black tie, no collar.

Lana wasn’t there, though I hadn’t expected her to be. I’d hoped that maybe she’d show up, but I’d tempered my hopes. She hadn’t shown up last year. Why would she come now? For all my efforts at spreading the word, I hadn’t approached her, hadn’t said, “Hey, you should come.” Who knows, maybe she would have. I talked to her after class sometimes. Second period, I’d see her heading down the hall toward the lobby and catch up and say hello to her. But the conversations were always stilted, awkward. How could I have nothing to talk about with someone who shared so many of my interests, music, film?

“Hey, you like R.E.M., I like R.E.M. Have you heard New Adventures in Hi-Fi yet? What’s that? Got it the day it came out? Me too! Don’t you just love ‘New Test Leper’? What’s your favorite song on the record? What’s your favorite R.E.M record? Cool!”

My feelings hadn’t diminished but grown, and that was part of the problem. I’d placed too much importance on our exchanges. I couldn’t be easy-going, in the way that Lex was with girls; or even in the way I was with girls who weren’t named Lana. I couldn’t joke with her the way I did with everyone else, couldn’t make light of my awkwardness, which was what I usually did, using awkward stream-of-conscious ramblings as a source of humor. The things that other people seemed to like about me evaporated near Lana. Any claim to charm or charisma I might have had dissipated within a fifty-foot radius of her.

There was no song for Lana this year either, since we’d dropped “The Streetlight Song” from our set. But it didn’t matter. I was looser this year. I felt more comfortable taking the stage. My movements, which had been cramped and stilted the year before, were less so, though I still hadn’t filled out. Not as I would in college. I was still lanky, gangling. But I could play better. Our band was tight. We’d rehearsed enough to feel confident we knew the songs, though I still had to sometimes turn back and look at Paul and cue the changes. We’d come ready to play, maybe a bit too much. We ripped into the first song, “Song X” at twice the usual speed. I felt it as Lex counted it off with the drumsticks, but there was nothing to do but go with it. It didn’t matter after all, it still sounded good. Most of the band, excepting me, had gone out beforehand to get high, and Mr. Stamm the organizer had noticed the smell and told the cop at the door to keep an eye on us, but even this didn’t prove distracting. We played with more energy than we had the year before, a greater sense of fun. Throughout the set, Lex had trouble holding onto his sticks. It was a common problem for him with how hard he played, so we had placed Sonny Ford next to him to hand him new ones whenever the need arose.

For the final song, we played “Groove.” The same version we’d played for our talent show tryout, the same version we’d augmented with a drum solo and extra guitar part. Only this time, I didn’t forget to turn off my wah-wah pedal for the climax as I had during the tryout, and the song came off like it should have. And I felt good about the set. Whatever happened I felt we’d played our best. I don’t remember much of the rest of the night. I zoned out. Might listened to one or two minutes of the others bands while flitting about, socializing. They didn’t announce the winner the night of, but on Monday morning, once the votes were tallied, they announced over the PA, during the morning announcements, that we had won. There were a few congratulations. But no one seemed to care, no one but our band. We’d set out to win and done it. But this was the last time Lex and I would play together live.

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