Noisemaker - chapter twelve

Billy Stamp flees a chaotic family life in Halifax to drum his way to superstardom in punk-era London. Noisemaker is a love letter to when thrashing guitars, pounding drums, and the three minute pop song ruled the world.

I squint at the scrap of paper with Boz’s scribbles. Is this the place?

   Every window of the crumbling stone church is broken. Scattered across the church lawn are a dozen limbless statues. Some lounge on their backs in the overgrown grass. Others, with missing arms and heads, lean against a wrought-iron fence like they’re waiting for a bus.

   KERRANG! A sharp guitar chord rattles the building.

   Drumsticks in hand, I hurry up the stone walkway, past the statues, which now vibrate and shimmy to the music. I could use an animal tranquilizer, I’m so nervous. The loose steps wobble under my feet.

   As I push the door open, centuries of God’s dandruff fill my nose and I sneeze. The guitar stops.

   Someone shouts, “Hello?”

   “I’m here to audition.” I hold back a second sneeze. “It’s Billy Stamp. The Canadian.”

   “Take a left at Saint Francis of Assisi,” I hear Boz say. “Then downstairs.”

   I’m wearing my Johnny Rotten t-shirt and best ripped jeans. I gave a spit and polish to my earring, but was out of gel, so spiked up my hair with some Vaseline type stuff I found in a drawer beside Anthony and Raj’s bed.

   I give Saint Francis a lucky tap with my drumstick then scramble past a broken pulpit and boxes of hymn books, down the creaking stairs.

Boz, guitar in hand, stands by an open door at the far end of the hall. He says, “All right, mate?”

   The rehearsal space is not much bigger than my bedroom at home, the walls covered in egg cartons to deaden the sound. A couple of rusting lamps bounce a dim light off the low ceiling. The carpet is covered in stains.

   Boz says, “Sorry about the kit.”

   In the corner is the drum set, looking as if the last person beat it with a sledgehammer.

   He lights a cigarette, points to the woman leaning against the wall. For a second I mistake her for one of the statues from the front lawn. “This is Jin,” he says.

She’s a good four inches taller than me. Not a hair on her shiny domed head. Thick mascara, black leather jacket, heavy work boots and tattered jeans. A bass guitar hangs from her broad shoulders, the words ‘Nicotine Garden’ painted up the strap.

   She drapes her jacket over an amplifier. Boz is already down to a t-shirt.

   I sit at the roughed-up drum kit. The cymbal dangles from a twisted coat hanger. I muster up a sneer. “Just the two of you?” Under me, the drum stool wavers.

   Jin cranks a knob on her bass and her amp rattles and shakes. “Might surprise you how much noise we can make.”

   From Boz’s stack of amplifiers, feedback rings and distorts, the guitar vibrating under his fingers. Then Jin plucks a slow growling rhythm out of her bass strings.

I think of me and Gordie struggling with Clash songs. I’ve always wondered what the real thing would feel like, the power, the chemistry you hear in Generation X or the Pistols, the bands that make you want to be in a band.

   I grab some duct tape off an amp, do a quick repair on the drums. Jin and Boz have already started into a song. Heads down. Guitars ready for blast-off. 

   When I take a cue from Jin’s bass pattern and match it rhythmically on the cymbal, it sounds like I’m smashing a garbage can lid. But she gives me a nod.

Cool.

   Boz now whacks the neck of his guitar, making a sound like a piano falling down a staircase. The music surges and pulsates, and I follow as my drums grow louder, hands a blur, sticks smashing everything all at once. I catch a glimpse of the dead drummer in the corner, his whirlwind spirit coursing through my veins. He nods his appreciation.

   Then Jin shouts, screams, throat cracking under the strain. Microphones sway, decibels ricochet off the walls and my drum stool rocks like I’m navigating a boat through a violent storm. Boz slams his guitar, matching Jin’s screams from the hissing speakers as blood rushes to their faces.

   Somehow, I feel the end of the song is near because Jin swings the tip of her bass to the ceiling then leaps in the air. When she returns to the ground, all of us finish on the same note.

   Bang on.

   I wipe my drenched forehead, grinning, lungs pumping. Then suddenly the drum stool collapses and I teeter sideways, grabbing at the cymbal before my face meets the beer drenched carpet.

   And there I stay.

   They look at me, expressionless. Jin sparks a cigarette, passes the lighter to Boz. “Sonic.”

   He nods. “Fucken sonic.”