We met at work. Everyone here was going places, everyone knew people, and we all made sure that everyone else knew exactly whom we knew and where — in fact — we were going. We were individuals and fiercely so. Every person had a thing. There was the bearded guy from women’s shoes who studied Old Norse, and the aspiring indie actress and Objectivist who led Chicago’s second largest roller derby team. We were young and creative and on our way. Which is why we worked at a trendy second-hand clothing store in the first place. New associates was hired on two criteria, their ability to fit into a niche left by the most recently departing employee, and the political and artistic leanings given off by their attire and body frame.
Clyde was a new hire. He still took half-hour lunch breaks and listened to the Management when they told him to spit out his gum. He didn’t even smoke yet. He had dyed-black hair, worn in a ponytail, and we couldn’t tell how old he was but he was skinny enough and we liked the name Clyde.
We did not wait too long to ask him. The response was a twitchy shrug and the belabored brushing of his coif. So we tried again, but this time, it was a bit more direct.
“Hey man,” we said, “are you in a band or what?”
He isolated a charm bracelet out of a two-for-Thursday’s tangle and placed it back into the pile. “I played bass for a noise group for a bit. It was me and this kid who wrote songs based on his dad’s — ”
Yeah okay Clyde, spare us the life story. “You want to play bass for us?”
“Sure.” He shrugged. “Okay.”
We were the fourth reincarnation of Six to Nothing, which was our original name, but band members had come and gone. Our one constant was that we raged against apathy.
“What do you guys wear to practice, usually?” He asked twice.
Clyde, oh Clyde.
We rehearsed for two weeks straight across the street in the Flatiron Building. We didn’t pay anything for it and we didn’t wonder why. The room was a neglected storage space sandwiched between a hip-hop studio and a semi-famous artist’s public workspace and gallery. There was a hair salon at the end of the hall that saw some traffic but to be honest the place was a total enigma.
Clyde picked up the bass lines instantly, no easy feat since he had to play with his ear an inch away from his strings. The thing was that we couldn’t plug in because of the Flatiron’s noise codes. There was a live nude installation next door that made zero sense unless its viewers were immersed in total silence. So, our vocals had to be whispered and the girls played drums on the carpet with the heels of their palms. The art was in the imagination. We couldn’t even tell if Clyde knew how to tune his bass — which inspired us to write Capulet’s Rebuttal, an atonal retelling of that crazy party in Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio goes tranny singing “young hearts, to thine own self be true” while weepy Leo starts tripping. It was our best song yet.
We were told we actually part of an emerging ‘whispercore’ scene. Whispercore was a label we weren’t sure we felt comfortable with. But then two different zines asked us to be on their covers and we got a shout in STOP SMILING, so we stopped fighting the classification and just focused on our music, which was really starting to cook. Sometimes we would watch YouTube videos while we rehearsed and our lyrics began to include the names of B-list celebrities and a false sense of interactivity. It totally fueled our creativity but there was also a growing concern that our influences would sound lame in print.
We were on our way. We were only a few paychecks away from a used drum set that our dealer could potentially hook up. There was enough room for it in the storage space, which was already styrofoamed and plastered with posters that reflected our group sensibilities. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a quality poster. We uploaded a low-fi recording of a track that was a seamless combination of three Six to Nothing songs on the same key signature.
When we hit an acceptable number of unique downloads we threw a party at the storage unit, our first sort-of gig for our friends with boxed wine and Nutella paninis. People liked us. The consensus was that we had a palpable musical and aesthetic rapport, that our message was strong and that our originality worked for us in a favorable way. We needed t-shirts. Clyde designed a hip winkface logo during a fifteen-minute break at work and from there it was to the amphetamines dealer who also ran a reliable printing business at unheard-of prices.
The Management was against our displaying our shirts at the counter so we snuck them into the back-to-school section and no one figured it out. They were a hit. The second printing sold out in a week and we decided to cut it so that the shirts could stay culty enough. Clyde was the toast of the band and gradually the other employees and assistant managers. He graduated to window displays in something like six weeks. He realized he was an artist. This was where the trouble began. He started wearing bandanas, endlessly smoked Djarums, and pronounced his name with a soft C. He spent his lunch breaks stenciling the alleyway and he picked up a gradual but rabid following. It took like three weeks and suddenly bloggers were buzzing the shit out of Clyde, mostly over his rumored collaboration with a local street art collaborative called Semicolon Parantheticals. Roger Ebert retweeted one of Clyde’s slideshows.
He was semi-professionally photographed on a rooftop at dusk.
We had to structure our schedule around Clyde’s schedule now, as he began to skip practices and simply emerge with songs he had written. Whose band was it now, we mused, as did a number of people on the Internet.
We played shows, the crowds largely augmented by Clyde’s followers. We found that bookstores like Myopic and even Quimby’s were our ideal venues, as a majority of their patrons were already expecting not to hear us. It was Tuesday night and we had booked our first bar. The sole television above the bar transitioned from a mortgage commercial to a news report. The anchor unfolded her hands and revealed her teeth. We were just shredding on this carny track that was the sonic equivalent of watching somebody openly weep. The audience watched the television as we performed. We couldn’t tell if that was cool.