PAUL STENIS

The Review

For Luke


Gideon Caldwell, lead singer of Interstellar Pig, lay naked in an unfamiliar bed. He lifted a shaky hand to his forehead where the pain reverberated like the sound of a shoegazer working a whammy bar. Complementing this and other hangover symptoms was a coat of cat hair that clung to the sheets, the comforter, and much of Gideon’s bare skin. Allergic reactions had not yet begun, but they would if he stayed much longer. Next to him was the woman he’d met at his gig the night before. Her hands were tucked between her knees. A sleeping mask covered her eyes, and her snores showed no signs of letting up. She was wearing men’s striped pajamas.

Gideon’s first thought was of broken promises to himself, promises he had kept for months. One, no drinking the night of a show. Two, no one-night stands. Annette was her name, he remembered, which was good. The name was important. The morning wouldn’t be an immediate disaster, but sometimes an immediate disaster was better than the pretense of making a go of it. This was precisely the situation that had led to the promises. Still, he remembered the script: make small talk, avoid promises of any kind, and skedaddle. Gideon had learned long ago to avoid ego-bruising subjects (his sexual performance, for example) in the fraught moments of the next morning. No matter what was said, the truth was impossible to get at.

Now he remembered muttering a running metanarrative of their hookup to Annette as they stumbled across the subway platform. Remembered telling her he didn’t think of her as a groupie. Her saying that he was the groupie. Sharing a laugh about the New York scene’s love affair with The Strokes. Learning with surprise that she was thirty-two, and therefore older than he. Telling her he was no poster boy for adulthood. Her not seeming bothered.

Annette’s long brown hair fanned like a hood from the strap of her sleep mask, evidence of a before-bed ritual she must have undertaken after he’d passed out. An unfamiliar feeling fluttered through his chest, a feeling of excitement that prevented flight. Perhaps breakfast lay in the near future.

Gideon and the cat were the only naked ones, so he rolled out of bed, gathered his clothes, and carried them across the hardwood floor toward the bathroom. He spied Annette’s open laptop on a loveseat. He pulled on his underwear and settled beneath the heavily breathing computer, hoping for an email from his bass player Lucien assuring him his gear got home. God bless that homely, responsible man. When the laptop monitor flickered to life, there was a file open in Annette’s word processor. Gideon’s eye caught on “Interstellar Pig.”

Interstellar Pig’s debut, the ironically titled Islands in Space, is grandiose and melancholy, paying tribute to “OX4” and “Cool Your Boots,” a trenchant pair of tracks on Ride’s classic shoegaze album, Going Blank Again. Unfortunately, the meticulousness with which Gideon Caldwell replicates Ride songs only emphasizes Interstellar Pig’s weakness. “Moonbeam,” IP’s operatic opener, swirls with tantalizing hooks that fade beneath layered rhythm guitars. “Lake of the Sky” is self-reflective and lovely but loses its way in unearned sonic dissonance and streams of feedback. At best the songwriting is naive and painfully self-aware; at worst, cough-into-your-fist embarrassing, which is especially disappointing when you consider IP have played the Manhattan circuit for almost a decade.

Which begs the question any discerning indie fan is asking herself right now: what’s left for shoegaze to accomplish? Is it not the mid-aughts? The genre peaked in the early 90s with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Ride’s Nowhere, then died a swift death at the hands of Nevermind. You can’t fault IP for trying. Their intentions are pure. Their emotions are genuine. Too bad nobody gives a rat’s ass. Instead of a band on the rise, Interstellar Pig are pretenders to a forgotten throne, a shell of a band that no longer exists. Here they are, nowhere.

–Annette Borden, March 2003

 

Gideon read the review three times then slumped into the seat. So this is what happened when you spent ten years trying to get a decent gig in this city. Some chick got you drunk… but he couldn’t bear to complete the thought. No email from Lucien. Annette’s indie rock police probably burned his guitar in effigy and smashed Lucien’s bass to pieces. Through a gathering cloud of chagrin, Gideon noticed his brother Bradley had emailed him another short story. He owed the kid a response, but the foulness of the review lingered.

“Shit,” Annette said behind him. “You didn’t read that, did you?” Her voice was amused in a way Gideon didn’t like. Not at all. “I was going to rewrite it completely this weekend.” She finally had the grace to seem embarrassed.

“Yeah, right,” he said.

“Hey,” she said. “That’s what you get for digging around on my hard drive. Don’t tell me you never write rough drafts.”

Gideon started putting on his clothes. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said.

Annette began dressing as well, quickly. “Take it easy,” she said. “Let me buy you breakfast.”

But his throat constricted, so he pushed into the bathroom in case he couldn’t control himself. He’d be damned if he let her see that. The smell of the litter box sent a wave of nausea through him, but somehow he didn’t vomit. The cat arched its back on the john and leapt to the floor at his feet. Gideon was surprised the damn thing had any hair left. All he could think was: how embarrassing. How fucking embarrassing. He rinsed his face, then picked up a silver iPod lying on the sink and slipped it into his pocket. He told himself he didn’t want to see her again, but there was something besides curiosity about her music library that motivated the theft. Unearned sonic dissonance, my ass.

It was easy to say goodbye. Annette seemed about to ask forgiveness but instead followed him toward the door, her hand against the back of her neck. Her face fell into that rueful look Gideon thought he recognized. The one that seemed to say, it was all in fun anyway, right?

Gideon headed into the street. Recognized Greenpoint. The Polish were everywhere. Someone pointed him toward the G train, and he got her iPod going. He made the mistake of looking for Interstellar Pig, and found nada. At least she had some Ride, of course she did.

He slipped the iPod into the inside pocket of his pea coat and ducked into a bakery for coffee and a cheese Danish before heading for the subway. He ate the pastry with gusto, then set off along the dirty sidewalk, firing up the music to full volume.

Her collection of Ride tunes was impressive. He settled on “Leave Them All Behind,” the opening track on Going Blank Again, the album he and Brad had received one otherwise forgettable Easter morning his sophomore year of high school. With purple ties choking their Adam’s apples, they unwrapped the album, a gift to both of them from their mother. It was tightly packed in one of those hollow cardboard rectangles CDs used to come in. He’d never forget watching Brad unwrap the album. The artwork was strange, a man with pickle eyes, with swaths of orange, yellow, red, and blue. They’d placed the disc gingerly into their CD boom box and spun the first track. The opening teased with an echoing keyboard riff, then the rhythm section kicked in with a bass hook they would hear in their dreams. Guitars erupted into a frenzied buzz with backward loops squealing over the top. His scalp tingled. His cheeks warmed. After how many shitty school days had he and his brother drowned in this sonic bath as it spilled from the speakers of their dad’s blue Chevy Cavalier?

Gideon prepared for the long wait for the G train, but it was his lucky day, because the train squealed into the station pronto. He lowered the volume as he slipped through the subway doors and onto a patch of vacant orange bench. Across the aisle from him was a family of five with matching sunburns crammed next to a homeless guy wearing three trucker hats, near some rocker dude in leather pants so tight his ass must have been nearly bare against the seat back. To Gideon’s left was an old couple arguing loudly and without self-consciousness about someone named Andy.

Gideon reflected on recent events as the caffeine and the music woke him up. He had known last night that Annette was a rock critic. He’d known she was interested in him. He just hadn’t known why. She might have even mentioned she was writing a piece on Interstellar Pig. It was the kind of thing he had missed in the past. Maybe this was my comeuppance, he thought, for the other one-night stands. The feelings he’d trampled. The calls he’d never returned. Certainly Annette wasn’t the first girl who had inspired Gideon, but she may have been the first to put him in his place, albeit accidentally. His ego was definitely bruised, but he had begun to suspect her of integrity. Stealing her iPod, he knew, was pretty lame, but he wasn’t above lameness when he thought he might want someone.

He dumped the rest of the coffee at the transfer from the G to the F. This time he found a car that was nearly vacant. A middle-aged woman across the way smiled at him, a breach of subway etiquette. Her black hair was in a net; it reminded him of his mother’s bobbed black hair. Next to her leg was a cart full of corn tortillas and canned beans in plastic bags. His mother would have loved it in New York, glutton for Experience that she was. On one particularly long road trip Brad had joked that they’d seen every rock formation west of the Mississippi. No kitsch mart was left unexplored. No rest stop unwizzed at. If Gideon could ever get decent accommodations, he’d talk his mom into visiting. He found himself thinking about his family a lot these days. Last night during the gig he’d spaced on the third verse of “Moonbeam,” nearly hadn’t come in at all, he was so spaced. Used to be the adrenaline rush of the performance got him focused. Now he could barely finish a show without thinking of Mom, Brad, or even Dad.

The 4th Avenue and 9th Street stop was a block from his apartment. With relief Gideon tromped into the basement he shared with an Indian dude named Karim he met via Craig’s List a year before.

“Please tell me Lucien dropped my gear off,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Karim said, “Gear? What gear could you mean?”

“Don’t do this to me, Karim.”

Karim led Gideon back into the apartment, a finger to his lip as though trying to remember something. They entered the small common room where his guitar, amp, and mixer had been dumped, filling the room. “I don’t see any gear here.” He indicated a sliver of empty space next to the couch. Then he moved his hands back and forth over a small empty space in front of the television. “Or here so much.” Then he thrust both arms toward the coffee table. “But here, yes, I think there’s some shit right here between my couch and my fucking TV.”

Karim’s most notable habits were working out like a motherfucker and eating salads from buckets he piled in the kitchen sink, their interiors coated in ranch dressing and soggy croutons. Their cupboards were filled with enough protein shake mix to stock the Yankees’ locker room. Gideon had a feeling the mice who got into it from time to time ran a rodent fitness center inside the apartment walls. Bring a roach, get the first month free.

Karim was good enough to help Gideon cart his shit from the common room to his bedroom, though Gideon suspected he liked to show how easy it was for him to lift the amp. How do you like me now, puny white boy? Gideon unlatched the guitar case and flipped it open. All appeared well. He’d had this cherry burst Epiphone Dot since high school. The one blemish was a circular crack the size of a peach pit along the curved underside. The strap had slipped from his shoulder one day at their practice space in Manhattan and crashed to the hardwood floor. Other than that, no signs of damage.

“What happened to you last night?” Karim asked. “Don’t tell me you broke your vow of chastity.”

“I broke my vow of chastity,” Gideon said.

“I’m really very surprised.”

“What is it about women?” Gideon said. “You find one you like and she finds you about as interesting as a Sammy Hagar solo record.”

“Let me tell you something. If I knew something about women, I wouldn’t be living with your ass. Did you get her number?”

“I stole her iPod.”

“Truly, Gideon. You are an idiot.”

Mark Gardener, former front man for Ride, was playing a solo show at Club 13 that night. If there was anyone who should have gone with Gideon it was his little brother Brad. Where the fuck was he? Gideon often wondered. What was he still doing in Texas? To the Caldwell boys this was a concert of a lifetime. Ride’s fifteen minutes of fame had resulted in one little-publicized American tour when Gideon was on bad terms with his father, and the concert was out of town, a few hours north in Dallas. He hadn’t gone.

The height of Ride’s fame culminated in an oft-recounted live show at the 1992 Reading Festival in support of Public Enemy, Nirvana, and The Wonder Stuff. Gardener and lead guitarist Andy Bell began taking credit for their own songs as early as Going Blank Again, and their diverging tastes showed even at that early stage. Shortly thereafter, Bell fell under the toxic spell of Oasis and penned some heinous pop songs that split the band’s personality. By the time their third full-length album Carnival of Light hit shops, Oasis ruled England and Ride was an afterthought. Andy Bell eventually joined Oasis on bass, and occasionally the Gallagher brothers let him put a song or two on their albums, but nothing he’d done since Ride had a lick of soul. Any rock musician worth his own ass would tell you the same thing.

Gideon woke his computer, and signed in to email. This time there was a message from Lucien, who was pissed about Gideon’s disappearance last night, of course. He said he was bailing on the Mark Gardener show seeing as he spent half the morning carting Gideon’s shit all over New York City. Lucien was glum company anyway. No loss. Gideon would have asked his drummer, but the dude was in four bands, and it depressed him to hear about their successes.

He opened the email from his little brother Bradley, and received his second news flash of the day. Some bullshit about how Brad thought his writing sucked, but Gideon only rolled his eyes and downloaded the story. He actually liked Bradley’s writing, but no matter how often he told Brad so, the kid didn’t believe him. Then came what Gideon saw as the kicker. “I want to move to New York. Can I live with you until I get my shit together?” This helped Gideon remember his cell phone buried in the litter-filled pocket of his pea coat. There were eight missed calls, five from Lucien, two from Brad, one from an unlisted number. Not one message.

Thoughts of Bradley now troubled Gideon in ways they hadn’t in previous years. He wasn’t sure exactly when the twinges of regret started, but he’d only recently tied meaning to them. The twinges struck as he stared at girls on the subway, practiced guitar at his apartment, lunched alone in Union Square Park, faked his way through another rendition of “Lake in the Sky.” Something was lost. He wasn’t sure why he felt wounded, but he felt it deeply, despite the numbing effect his lifestyle usually provided.

He opened Bradley’s story and started reading. The main characters were brothers, Dolan and Zadock, a year apart, just like they were, and together they rebuilt their parents’ ancient stereo into a time machine by playing Ride’s Today Forever EP backwards on cassette. (Dolan was obviously a thinly veiled Gideon. Zadock was Bradley.) They went back to the 60s when they transformed their father from a bible-thumper to a bass player and formed a band called Rolling Moxie, their first hit a cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Only their dad’s band wrote it before the release of Revolver, so it wasn’t really a cover.

The high point happened in the present, and the Bradley brother had to prevent the father from losing control and punching the Gideon brother. Their theory had always been that giving Dad a different adolescence would have made him a different father. But the final scene played out the same no matter what, the way it had played out in real life.

Gideon showered, put on clean clothes, shaved, and brushed his teeth, all the while recovering from the blow to the gut that was Bradley’s story. Dammit, Bradley. Real subtle. Gideon never got along with their father, who he’d started calling “Roger” rather than Dad after he’d punched Gideon over the usual religious bullshit. Gideon couldn’t bring himself to talk about it with anyone, even Bradley. What Bradley meant by digging at these wounds, he wasn’t sure. Dealing with shit, he guessed. Trying to be his therapist.

He shut himself in his room and practiced through the afternoon, emerging only twice, once to piss, and once for a bucket of salad with Karim. A passage from Bradley’s story stuck in his mind.

The song faltered yet again. Zadock unslung the guitar from his shoulders in anguish and held it out to his father, who didn’t move a muscle. His voice trembled as he spoke. “I want to be better,” he said. “But no matter how hard I try…” But Zadock had to stop speaking or else risk bursting into tears like a child. His big brother, Dolan, grimaced as though in pain but said nothing. His father did not blink. They would not look at Zadock as he stumbled from the room amidst the whine of his amplifier. When he was gone, Dolan and his father played on.

On the way to Club 13, Karim ran Annette’s iPod through his car stereo and they cruised through lower Manhattan blasting Justin Timberlake. When the hipsters aimed their scowls at Karim’s Nissan Stanza, he pulled to the curb, rolled down the window and invited them dancing. They scattered in a panic, shooting beams of contempt at the Stanza through their aviator shades.

They stopped for malt liquor in cans that looked like batteries. These things had enough caffeine to jumpstart a dead man not to mention get him drunk, the questionable aspect being their taste, which was somewhere between strawberry soda and black licorice. Cans emptied, Karim dropped Gideon at the corner of 13th and Broadway, where they parted ways for the evening.

He was early. Or he must have been, because the place was empty. Blue light was the theme inside. “Don’t even look at me” said the glints in the bartendresses’ eyes. Gideon managed to order a Pilsner Urquell without giving offense but got eye contact only when he dropped two bucks in the tip glass. When he turned around, Mark Gardener was standing behind him, all by himself. The former lead singer of Ride was taller than Gideon expected, and he remembered that Andy Bell, that fucking sellout (who Gideon also loved), was six foot seven. Gardener gave Gideon a smile and an affable nod and stepped past him toward the bar.

Gardener was skinny for a guy in his late thirties. His long hair was gone, replaced with the short haircut of a man who had decided to roll with his impending baldness. Gideon felt something akin to crushing on a girl, like what he felt for Annette but somehow nonsexual and amplified at the same time. This guy raised Gideon on sonic sweetness, hazy guitars, and a wistful turn of phrase. But these were words Gideon couldn’t hope to conjure at that moment. What could he say, facing the big brother he never had? Then it hit him. Mark Gardener had no idea who he was, and probably didn’t care. How many asshole lead singers of up-and-coming bands cracked jokes to him? How many drunk indie rockers kissed his ass about the past when he was trying to sell new material?

Gardener turned around, beer in hand. A puzzled smile spread across his face, sending Gideon into a memory of clutching Ride’s liner notes and plotting his own rise to rock stardom, his Discman spinning into the wee hours. This man was pictured there, staring stoically off camera against a gray backdrop. Gardener must have been about nineteen at the time. Gideon saw himself as a poser and a thief.

Another passage from Bradley’s story popped into his mind.

They always left Zadock behind to tend to the time machine as Rolling Moxie gigged in Hamburg and Manchester, and then later in Berlin and London. Father and Dolan criss-crossed Europe. Wherever they went, they left psychedelic riffs from the future ringing in heads and received sexual favors backstage. In the meantime, Zadock tightened the time machine’s screws and oiled the old stereo parts as best he could. He averted one disaster, then another, once by replacing a snapped belt with a rubber band. Another time he duct-taped a crack in the casing. Unfortunately, Zadock’s tinkering exacted an unforeseen toll. For every jump in time or space he had a bad dream. In every dream he tried to forgive himself for the failures that led to his rejections. In his dreams, as in reality, Dolan’s silences cut deepest.

“Have we met, mate?” Gardener asked.

Gideon forced himself to stop staring and stuck out his hand. He wasn’t sure why he decided to lie, but in that moment, he loathed himself. “My name is Brad Caldwell. I’m a writer.”

Gardener shook Gideon’s hand. “I like the arts,” he said, then nodded toward a nearby television screen, playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall. “You know this one, don’t you?”

Gideon hated Pink Floyd. He told Gardener he worked for Pitchfork and wanted to review the latest release of Ride’s BBC recordings.

“Maybe we can meet up sometime,” Gideon said. “So I can ask you a few questions?”

“Okay,” he says. “Let me give you my number.”

Gideon was appalled at the charade he had constructed. Then he saw Annette smiling at him. They hadn’t planned to meet again, but there she was, holding his arm while he programmed Mark Gardener’s number into his phone. Somehow Gideon knew she would set him straight. “I had a feeling you two would meet,” she said, smiling at Mark. “Gideon’s got a pretty good band of his own, you know?”

“I thought you said you were a writer,” Gardener said. The crowd was thickening a bit. Gardener nodded toward someone he knew. Gideon thought he was starting to lose interest.

“I’m doing so much,” Gideon said, feeling more timid than he had since teenhood. He knew he was blowing whatever it was that was happening, but he couldn’t seem to right himself. “I guess I lose track of myself sometimes.”

“Well, nice meeting you, mate.” And then Gardener was off with an easygoing grin.

Gideon moved to the bar intent on getting some drinking done. The bartendress was pouring his Jameson on the rocks when Annette reappeared beside him. “What’s the matter with you? That guy is your hero.”

“I know,” Gideon said. He handed Annette her iPod. “I stole this from your apartment this morning.”

“Hey,” she said. “Didn’t even miss it. Pitchfork gives those things away like candy.”

“We got some pretty good mileage out of your J-Tim album.”

She punched Gideon’s arm hard, then looked at her shoes. “Listen. I won’t publish that review, if you don’t want me to.”

“Do you really find my lyrics embarrassing?”

She didn’t answer but took his hand and led him into the crowd. Gardener was onstage, launching into “Vapour Trail.” It was the first and last time Gideon heard Ride songs performed live by someone other than himself. Gideon dialed Bradley’s number and moved near the stage. He didn’t bother holding the phone to his ear. Brad would be there. Sometime during the song Gideon put the phone to his ear and heard Bradley’s voice singing out of tune with Mark Gardener: “And all my time is yours as much as mine. We never have enough time to show our love.”

 

[BIO]: Paul Stenis lives in Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

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