Giles sat on his kitchen stool, in correct posture, metronome ticking. He practiced in the afternoons, mid-week. Thurdays were open mic night, and he liked to have songs nailed by Wednesday. Afternoons were best. Buffy had been paying more attention to him, lately, but she was in class in the afternoons. He had nothing to do, and no worries that anybody might drop by to give him more than nothing to do.
Giles could strum folkified arrangements and sing in that breathy voice that the coffee house audience preferred all day. He had an ear, and a memory, and could play most of the Beatles, the Who, Clapton before he got boring, Zep, and a raft of seventies standards that sometimes made him very weary. He also had a repertoire from later in that decade, which the coffeehouse audience wouldn’t like as much, from when he had the ring in his eyebrow and one in his nose. The mark on his nose was still visible, if he looked. Which he did, now and then, in the mirror while shaving. Would Buffy have liked it or hated it? She did seem to have a lot of hardware in her own ears.
How much of a prat would a forty-five year old man look with a nose ring? He botched the words to the chorus and swore. Today Grand Funk Railroad wasn’t doing it for him. At one time, he realized, it had stood for everything he’d hated.
He thunked the acoustic into the stand and stifled the metronome. Bugger this for a game of soldiers.
Giles waded deep into his hall closet. He shoved aside the winter coats he’d had no use for since 1997, thrusting himself past the thicket of mothball-scented wool. There it was, upright against the back wall, a hard case. He slid it over and extracted it and himself from the closet. He set the case on the floor and wedged back in. Also at the back, a Boogie Mark II. Not from his band days, this, but from later, when he had money and still clung to the idea that he might play out again. Middle-aged men could afford the toys their younger selves longed for. Like this amp, and like the car he’d just bought. What a wanker he’d become.
Giles lugged the gear into his living room. The Boogie would not have been a good gigging amp. Too heavy. Too expensive. He plugged it in and watched the tubes glow up. Good. A box with some spare tubes was stashed inside the amp, but too much fiddling with the gear and he’d lose this mood. He took the SG out of the case and inspected it. SG Special. Tune-o-matic. Cherry finish, much abused. Leather strap still on. Tortie pick still threaded through the top three strings.
The SG was not a sexy guitar. Not the guitar for fringes and bellbottoms and grinding his hips slowly while the girls watched. It was brutal. Ugly. It was for windmilling and power-chording and holding up to the amp and shaking. Maximum R&B chunk.
It wasn’t playable right away, of course. It had gone far out of tune, and the strings were black around the first couple of frets and around the octave. Giles found the spare set he’d always kept in the case, though he’d minded the expense, back then. It had been hard to get through two sets without breaking a string, the way they played. He muttered “sod it” and tuned up with the strings unchanged. He got the A right from memory then the others from the harmonics. Then he dimed the gain. Stood up.
The P90s were hot. Almost too hot. He switched to the bridge and dialed it down with a nudge from his little finger. He crunched out some fifths, then noodled a little pentatonic nothing in A. So good distorted like that. So much easier to play than the steel-string. Looser. Slinkier. The frets were butter under the strings.
Giles was not in a rock-god mood, though. He grabbed the E-barre and stomped into a rhythm. Loud, hard, hungry, perpetually in want of something. He knew what he wanted, but he didn’t know how to get it. No, not that song. He’d always been more tuneful than that. Another came to mind. It was whiny, but whiny was how he felt.
I just want a lover like any other, what do I get?
I only want a friend who’ll stay to the end, what do I get?
He dug into the chorus and let himself get loud. What he wanted right now was a drummer, somebody fast and tight. The solo was dead easy, pure DIY simplicity. Just one string. At the end, he sang both parts of the call and response:
What do I get? No love
What do I get? No sleep at night
What do I get? Nothing that’s nice
What do I get? Nothing at all, at all, at all…
Coz I don’t get yo-u
He let it ring out, then heard something. Somebody clapping, slowly. Giles snapped his head up, guiltily, and muted with his palm.
“Oh! Ah. Buffy. Hello. I was just… Um.” Oh, good show, Rupert.
“Yeah, I could hear it. From the street.” She closed the door behind herself. “I didn’t know you had one of those pluggy-inny things. Were those invented when you were a teenager?”
“Ha, ha.” He nudged his glasses back up his nose.
“If you’re finished with Johnny Lydon imitation, how about you make some tea and I tell you about this demon.”
“Very funny.” He fingered an E, then played the riff from Pete Shelley’s famous song. Buffy’s face stayed blank, then strayed toward amused patience. Odd; he’d have bet folding money that some whiny Bronze band would have covered it. He thumped the power switch on the amp and set the SG down in a corner of the sofa. He went into the kitchen and filled the kettle.