ANTHEM OF ANGST
The Montreal Review, December 2010
Deafening was the guitar chord that shot into the night. Deafening was the bass note that followed and distorted into a full-on fuzz. Deafening was the drum beat that bounced from the ground to the sky in a sonic echo. This opening was enough for the thousands of people in the outdoor stadium to recognize their rock anthem and they stood up in that oval realm of deafening sound. With ears lifted into the air they offered as a sacrifice the auditory sense needed to worship their idols; with speakers stacked aloft the idols in turn targeted that faculty required to be worshiped: such is the twisted symbiotic relationship of music fan and favourite band.
Tonight on the black and silver stage Power Factor was launching a massive reunion tour. They had ruled as a power trio in the 1990s amid grunge rockers, pop punkers, and gansta rappers. The band hadn't been corrupted by their quick rise to fame and it won them the enduring loyalty of fans.
Now as Power Factor completed the first verse of that rock anthem their worshipping nation took a collective breath to prepare for the chorus.
"Kick it in!" sang the band.
"Kick it in!" sang the fans.
Power Factor had prepared well for the reunion tour, at least musically. Near the back of the stage on an outrageous set of Pearl drums was Vinny Pittitero. His muscled limbs hadn't lost any of their forcefulness and it was a good thing for him. What Pittitero lacked in originality he made up for with jackhammer timing.
To the left of Pittitero was Marvin Merkeral on a red hot Fender bass. Merkeral had recently developed hypertension, which he laughed off as his African American birthright. There were even rumours he had died of a heart attack a week before the tour, but Merkeral wasn't about to deny fans the pleasure of watching him, as they always used to do, in a trance-like state of awe.
Out front of Pittitero and Merkeral was Rick Gannyston on a gorgeous Gibson Les Paul. Gannyston had spent his life, pre/post his tenure with the band, searching for equilibrium and he had the scars to prove it. The traces were on him deep from head to toe, except on his vocal chords. Those two pieces of tissue had remained so free of nodules and polyps that in the band's heyday an industry magazine had asked on its cover: Has Rick Gannyston made a deal with the Devil? If he had, the deal still sounded intact as Gannyston finished the second verse of that rock anthem in a pure falsetto tone. When Pittitero and Merkeral joined him on the chorus, they had to lower it by an octave.
"Kick it in!" sang the band.
"Kick it in!" sang the fans.
In appearance Gannyston was the quintessential frontman. He was tall and thin with a permanent hunch developed during a period when he was always lovingly bent over something - a table of drugs, a guitar, a woman. Usually in that order.
Since leaving the band Gannyston had been bent over a hand of cards on the professional poker circuit. Playing five card stud was more than a money-maker for him. It was a safe haven. He could play it without getting high, which he could never do when it came to music.
True to form, minutes before going on stage this evening Gannyston had been bent over a washroom sink, sucking up the water trickling through a broken tap. He needed that liquid to swallow a couple of pills, but he couldn't get enough of it. The drugs had stuck in his throat.
Meanwhile in the dressing room Pittitero was pacing and shouting, "Come on you guys, we got a show to do!"
"Hang on," said Gannyston through the half-open door, "I'm almost there."
Pittitero came into the washroom and said, "Almost where ?" When he saw Gannyston's tongue lapping the liquid from the dripping tap he didn't wait for an answer. He went back into the dressing room, grabbed his sticks and went to the stage.
A moment later Gannyston felt a large pair of hands pulling him away from the tap.
"Let's go," said Merkeral. "Grab your guitar."
"Just give me something to drink first."
"You had enough," said Merkeral.
The bass man wasn't about to risk Gannyston making any detours so he used his large hands to guide, or more accurately, to push the frontman through the labyrinth of hallways under the stadium that led outside. As for Gannyston, he didn't mind the strong force on his upper back; on the contrary it helped push the pills down his throat.
The three members of Power Factor had then taken their places to open the concert, the lights had flashed on, and Gannyston had been somewhat lucid when he shot that initial guitar chord into the night. However things were about to change for him.
As he began the next verse his head fell onto his chest like an ancient drawbridge letting in some impatient visitor. His hair, too, fell over his cheeks and created a walkway in the middle of his creviced face. Yet from that crevice came a smooth voice to welcome whoever wanted in. It was the drugs.
The pills with their hard corporeal bodies had gone down, down, down and were now coming up, up, up in spirit. They reached Gannyston's mouth with the next chorus and made use of the simultaneity for self-promotion.
"The drugs are kicking in!" sang Gannyston.
Pittitero and Merkeral hadn't sung loud enough to override the derelict lyric and the crowd erupted in euphoric mimicry.
"The drugs are kicking in!" sang the fans.
Apparently many in the stadium could relate to the sentiment. Gannyston raised his arm as a beacon for their shared sensibility and the fans sent toward it an approving cheer to indicate that, absofreakinlutely, their band was back.
Exactly why Power Factor had folded had never been made clear and speculation among fans had been rife. Some said the band called it quits after suffering a kind of hernia from lifting too much bullshit from their music label. Others said it was a protest by the band against the industry trend of 'performers' stopping mid-concert to review their latest sales figures. The fact the band had left at the height of their fame only added to their status as incorruptible.
Now as the adulation of the crowd was aimed at Gannyston's beaconing arm it penetrated his clothes, his skin, his veins and comingled with the drugs. For a man who had known almost every sensation, this combo went deep and sweet. Wow, he thought, I have never felt this happy. The emotion was so intense that he spun around toward Pittitero and Merkeral and shouted with his mind, Are you as happy as me? To Gannyston's surprise, his bandmates didn't answer the question. Hell, they weren't even looking in his direction.
Pittitero and Merkeral were busy mouthing profanities at one another. It was common knowledge they hated each other, not that it mattered to fans. Those who considered themselves musicologists figured that nothing kept a rhythm section tighter than mutual hatred. Right now Pittitero was pissed that Merkeral hadn't done more to maintain the agreement with the concert promoter, which was to keep their frontman from getting stoned out of his head.
Merkeral turned toward Gannyston with a vexed expression. The frontman was about to ask, Why are you looking at me like that?, but in the moment it took to order the words he forgot them. No matter. Merkeral had already turned away. The bass man was getting himself into his solo stance, a position so loose he seemed to bounce with every beat of his Fender. Gannyston became transfixed by that bounce and he proceeded to watch Merkeral play with the same awe as the fans.
After Power Factor had broken up Merkeral had gone on the road with a number of fine blues singers, each of whom believed the bassman's riffs could match the heights and depths of the old songs. Soon he developed a reputation for painting up those blue notes and washing them down again in a joyous baptism - a talent he was importing into his present solo.
Indeed, as Merkeral played his bass Gannyston began to feel cleansed and he stripped off his guitar, his jacket, his T-shirt and set them on the stage. Not one spec of dirt could he feel on his whole body. This was a revelation he felt compelled to testify and he shouted into his mic,
"I am clean!"
A female fan with waves of cream-colored hair took Gannyston's words as a call to love and she rushed the stage and wrapped her arms around his bare chest. He pulled her closer, noticing, among other things, that she had a fresh scent as clean as he felt. There was also something about the scent that was familiar to him and it conjured the name, Marissa. In an automatic reaction to that name Gannyston tightened his grip on the female fan, who responded in kind. This made it harder for the bodyguard to untether the two, but he managed to do it just as Merkeral finished his solo and the crowd applauded both achievements.
Before the applause had a chance to fall naturally it crumbled under the sound of a jackhammer. Pittitero - as always - was quick off the mark with his solo. The drummer had become a family man after Power Factor disbanded and he was supporting a wife and four kids on what he earned as a studio musician. The reunion tour had been his idea and he had suggested it for monetary reasons as much as anything else.
The abrupt transition from Merkeral's to Pittitero's solo jarred Gannyston into semi-reality and he wondered if he had hallucinated that a woman was hugging him. He was still trying to make sense of what had happened when Pittitero hit a Zildjian cymbal and the bright sound again conjured the name, Marissa.
Gannyston closed his eyes and the image of that namesake appeared to him; it was his long-time girlfriend. He saw the image of Marissa sitting on a bed, crying. In her hand were little things that she was dropping onto a bedside table. Gannyston saw himself picking up the little things from the table and putting them into his pocket. When he did this the image of Marissa cried harder and said, "Rick, you promised me! You promised me!"
Gannyston opened his eyes and thought, What did I promise her? He tried to go through the scenario again, but the image of Marissa had vanished. Whatever he had picked up from the table had saddened her and he looked into his own hand to remember. I got it! he thought,
I picked up an ace! I picked up an ace and in my hand I had a straight - ace high! Without him realizing it the bedside table had morphed into a poker table and he was still staring into his palm when Pittitero finished his solo to respectful applause.
Merkeral noticed Gannyston staring into his empty hand and he went across the stage to him and said, "You okay?"
"I'm going to play this hand!" said Gannyston.
"Yeah?" said Merkeral. "You good to play?"
"Ace high!"said Gannyston.
"Great," said Merkeral, pointing at the guitar laying on the stage, "take your solo."
Gannyston looked over at his Gibson and thought, It wasn't an ace in my hand. It was my guitar! He swung past Merkeral, picked up his guitar and strapped it on his bare chest. The fans steadied themselves in anticipation that Gannyston would take them rafting through the rapids of his virtuosity. Sure enough into a fast-moving river of sound they all went with the frontman's fingers paddling like mad over the swirls and swells of his fretboard. For a few minutes the momentum spurred him onward; then he hit open water and it all came to a stop.
The fans weren't certain if he had finished his solo or if he was catching his breath and they waited for a signal. It came after Gannyston surveyed what he experienced as a flat surface of water in front of him. Onto that surface he threw a single guitar note and it rippled over the stadium, row after row after row. When he could no longer sense the ripple moving outward, he dropped in another note, then another and another and another. This he did in an attempt to master the space between ripples.
Gannyston had become acquainted with the spaces between things, such as ripples, when Power Factor had done their first national tour. During those months on the road he fell into almost every type of space, from open to delineated to existential. One night the fear of falling into a space had been so bad he refused to go on stage, that is, until a roadie gave him some pills that convinced him he could beat the space at its own game. From then on whenever Gannyston took those pills he floated high above the space. This pharmaceutical approach got him through the next five tours until a drug overdose almost ended his life.
Marisa had been a nurse at the hospital where Gannyston recovered. When they started dating she encouraged him to find something to do that was easier on his nerves. After another overdose a year later he decided to take her advice. Of course the frontman's anxiety issues were never mentioned when Power Factor released a public statement that the band was breaking up.
Now, with each successive note that Gannyston dropped into his solo, he stretched the space between ripples until it disappeared into nothingness. He then gazed into the blank space and thought, What have I been afraid of? It occurred to him that the space was actually scared of him. He raised both arms to quiet the fans and when they obeyed he announced into his mic, "I have mastered the space!" He hadn't, but this concluded his solo, which the crowd acknowledged with rhythmic clapping and chanting of his name.
Power Factor played the last part of that rock anthem together and as they came to the final bars of music Gannyston was struck by an overwhelming urge to say something to Marissa. There were other words, too, that he was supposed to say aloud, but he couldn't recall them until he heard his bandmates.
"Kick it in!" sang Pittitero and Merkeral.
"Kick it in!" sang the fans.
The first song of the first concert of the reunion tour was done - and so was Gannyston. Pittitero and Merkeral were still taking in the applause when their frontman went stumbling toward the wings of the stage.
I'll go to Marissa, thought Gannyston, and I'll promise her. . . something.
Sem Megson is a Toronto based author and playwright. Her short stories appeared in magazines such as De La Mancha and The Muse Journal. Her last play "Causing a Scandal" was staged in July 2010 at the Gorilla Tango Theatre, Chicago. Megson's plays Lovers & Thieves, Working for Mama, Creatures of Pleasure and Fudged, were shown in theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Illustrations: Sergio Arau
Cartoonist, painter, musician, and filmmaker, Sergio Arau considers himself a "multi-undisciplined" artist. Born and raised in Mexico he began his entertainment career as a political cartoonist.
He made his musical debut by forming the seminal rock group Botellita de Jerez, one of the first Rock en Espanol groups to be signed to a major record label.
Arau gained attention as a music video director in 1998 when he won MTV's Best Rock Video Award for directing Cafe Tacuba's "Alarma de Tos".
He is the writer/producer/director of the independent feature film "A Day Without a Mexican."
Arau's website: www.sergioarau.com