This is part one of a four-part series on an artist who has something, loses it and lets it go. Sadly, it’s a story we know all too well, but it doesn’t have to be reflective of our lives. Sometimes we’re dealt a shitty hand, sometimes we’re dealt with more than one, and it’s up to us to push through. We can’t give up. But sometimes the hole is too deep to climb.
“Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved
See my heart I decorate it like a grave
Oh, you don’t understand who they thought I was supposed to be
Look at me now I’m a man who won’t let himself be”
-Alice in Chains, “Down in a Hole”
As I jammed along to Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times,” I watched from my bedroom window as Adam pulled up in his old Mercedes-Benz.
This was one of my favorite things to do. Rock out and night watch. There wasn’t a lot of activity for a Saturday night in the suburbs, but that was typical in this ritzy Hamilton Proper Cul-de-sac. Most of the not-so-modest homes surrounding ours had their lights off. Another quiet night. That’s another reason I liked to stay in my room, where I had my strat and amp. Hendrix was all over my walls, so were Zeppelin and Pearl Jam. Music was one of the only things I cared about.
The rain came down lightly, sprinkling the window and coloring the driveway. Adam pulled nearly all the way up to the basketball hoop, almost out of sight. I saw him and a guy with shaggy hair smoking a cigarette get out of the car.
I took my guitar off and rushed out of the room. My mom, walking out of the master bedroom in her white pajamas, stopped me as I started down the stairs, tapping on the railing like it was a cymbal.
“Is that Adam?” she asked.
“He can’t stay long. We’re going to sleep.”
Adam let himself in without knocking.
“Heeeere’s Adam,” he said loudly, playfully, as he walked in from the garage and headed straight for the fridge, humming a Barenaked Ladies song. His muddy shoes left a trail on the tile floor.
“Hey, what’s up, man?” I said. “Who’s with you?”
Adam grabbed a can of Sprite, opened and took a sip. Looking down, he noticed his shoes were dirty.
“Oops,” he said, making a funny face. He set his Sprite on the counter and started to take off his Airwalks.
“This is the guy I’ve been telling you about,” he said, gesturing at Chad to come in through the garage. He’d left the door open. “You want anything to drink, Chad?”
“Wait, State of Bliss Chad?” I asked
“Yeah. We were out cruising and I thought we’d stop by to see your dad’s guitars. It’s a win-win. Chad’s got to see your dad’s Gibson and you’ve got to hear Chad do his thing. He’s the real deal, Troy. Seriously. You’ve got to hear him.”
After chucking his cigarette butt into the yard, Chad walked through the garage and into the house, introducing himself with a hesitant smile.
“Chad,” he said, shaking my hand.
“Nice to meet you, Chad,” I said. “Adam’s really been talking you up. He says I have to hear you sing.”
Chad didn’t look me in the eyes when he talked to me, although I could hardly see them through his long brown hair. My comment seemed to surprise him.
“Yeah, I guess that’s why I’m here. No pressure, right?”
Buffy, our yellow lab, greeted Adam cordially, but looked at Chad skeptically.
Petting Buffy, Adam kept talking.
“Chad should play with us at the dance studio,” he said. “Chad should do an acoustic set, followed by State of Bliss. You ready to make this happen, Troy? Come on, let’s do this.”
I could hear my mom coming down the stairs. Before she was visible, she was audible.
“Adam, it’s pretty late. If you guys are going to play guitars, keep it down,” she said, hardly in sight, but she got her point across.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Daschle. No electric guitars tonight, just an acoustic set. Troy has to hear Chad.”
“You want to meet him?”
“Oh, no, no, that’s OK. You boys do your thing. Just keep it down. We are headed to bed.”
“Don’t worry, mom,” I said.
As my mom went back up the stairs, Chad, Adam and I headed into the basement, where we gathered in my dad’s guitar room. The wall was covered with flyers, newspaper clippings, pictures of guitars, travels through Europe, posters of movies and musicians, you name it.
“This is a bad-ass room,” Chad said, captivated by the montage.
“I love this wall, too,” I said. “My dad put it together, mostly. I found a lot of flyers to help with it. Look at this one. It’s one of my favorites.”
I pointed to a flyer for “Blues, Inc., featuring “the guy who played sax on Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street,’” promoting their show at the Golden Lion in St. Ives, England.
“We went to St. Ives last summer,” I said. “It was awesome. That night was actually the first time I got a little drunk. My mom wanted to see how I’d act if I was tipsy. I got pretty into the band, but there were definitely too many sax solos. Like two a song or something.”
Chad continued to look at the wall: B.B. King and Bobby Bland Live at the Star Plaza, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, vintage Beatles and Rolling Stones posters, a Jonny Lang promotional poster and the list went on. Chad put his hands in his pockets, said nothing, and displayed a blank expression.
“I wish I was rich,” he said, perhaps more audibly than he’d anticipated.
In the corner of the room was a Gibson acoustic on a stand. Adam picked it up gently, idolizing it.
He sat down on a stool and started tuning it to itself.
“What do you think, Chad?” he said. “You ready to play?”
“That’s a sweet guitar,” Chad said. “You sure your dad won’t mind?”
“No, man, it’s cool,” I said. “Play me something.”
Adam stood up and held the Montana-made Gibson out to him like he was giving a ninja a samurai sword.
“It’s ready for you,” he said.
“Holy shit,” Chad said, sitting down on the stool, feeling out the guitar, playing it gently using only his fingers. After massaging an E chord for a while, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a nylon pic.
“Play ‘Lucky’,” Adam said. “Troy, you’ve got to hear him play ‘Lucky.’ He sounds just like the Seven Mary Three guy.”
“I don’t know, man,” Chad said. “I haven’t played that one much.”
“But you nailed it last time you played it, man. Dude, really, come on.”
“Play whatever you feel like playing,” I said.
“No, dude, play ‘Lucky,’” Adam said to Chad, then he looked over at me. I could tell he was getting annoyed. “Really, you’ve got to hear him play ‘Lucky.’ It’s better than Seven Mary Three.”
“Like I said, no pressure,” Chad said, shrugging. “I’ll play it, alright?”
Gently and quietly, Chad started playing, smiling as he got showy with his picking, loving the sound of the new Elixir strings.
As he played, his body relaxed, and he closed his eyes. Quietly, he started to sing.
“Mean Mr. Mustard said he’s bored of life in the district,” he sang. “He can’t afford French Quarter high, said it gets old real quick.”
Chad started to get into it, the veins in his neck showing, the voice straining with the rasp that made a number of grunge singers famous.
“See, Charlie, see? I told you he’s good. Doesn’t he sound just like the Seven Mary Three guy? He sounds just like him. You sound just like him, Chad.”
His eyes burning into me, I could tell Adam was proud. I looked over at the tall, curly-haired, heavy-set friend and saw him nodding and smiling just like he did when he had me hear the singer of our band, April.
“Yeah, you called it, Adam,” I said. “He’s got it.”
Chad kept playing, escaping the moment, escaping his world, losing himself in the second verse. He didn’t even seem to try. It just came naturally. I loved him and hated him for it.
“Divine apathy, disease of my youth, watch that you don’t catch it,” Chad sang.
Adam stopped his celebration and sat down on the chair by the computer, crossing his legs and listening intently, flipping a switch.
I stood by the entrance of the guitar room, mesmerized by how Chad captured and embodied the sound of our era: late-nineties alternative rock. I knew without hearing him try that he could sound like Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain, but what I wanted to hear was his own voice.
“Why don’t you play something you wrote?” I asked him.
Knowing he’d captivated us, Chad was confident, sitting up in the stool, the hesitant smile now looked a little cocky.
“OK, man, I’ve got one in mind,” he said. “I just wrote it.”
“Have I heard it?” Adam asked.
“No, man. I don’t think anybody’s heard it.”
“A debut, Troy. This is it right here, man. Lay it on us.”
“Shut up, Adam,” Chad said. “Alright, I might fuck it up.”
“Don’t worry about that, man,” I said. “You’re not on stage.”
Chad took a deep breath and started playing a catchy riff that reminded me of Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile” but was definitely its own sound.
“If I could turn back the hands of time,” Chad sang, his eyes closed again, as he reacquainted himself with past emotions. “You would still be mine.”
In one verse and a chorus, Chad went from angry to sad, from regretful to pained. He knew where the emotion lived in each breath. Longing. Discomfort. Angst. I couldn’t wait to see him on stage.