Day Twenty-Seven: A Song You Wish You Could Play

I have discussed the band before. You’re probably sick of hearing about it. Sometimes I get sick of talking about it. Sometimes I wish I could fully recalibrate my relationships to these people to some perspective completely free of our [failed] musical pursuits. But you don’t go through something with three other people, for as long as you do, and not have it leave some sort of longstanding impact.

In short: Jordan [drums], Greg [guitar], Jeff [vocals] and Scott [bass] once played in a band. Nobody really knew how to do anything well, but we wrote some crappy songs and played high school shows. Jeff left. The rest continued, taking turns singing, with varying degrees of success. Kory joined on guitar, sometime on bass. We wrote some better songs, and made our first recordings, then petered out. Greg and Jordan re-teamed with Jeff as sort of “hired hands” on some eccentric, At the Drive-In style songs Jeff had written. By 2000 the original foursome had re-assembled, with Jeff now on bass and Scott on vocals. We wrote much better songs. Greg brought Sarah in to try playing some keyboards and doing some background vocals. We ended up parting ways with Scott, tried out some other singers, but Sarah was already there and we all had chemistry, so fine: we’d be a gothy, prog-y metal-y rock band with a female singer. We called ourselves Ictus.

There’s a movie called RKO 281, some HBO production about the making of Citizen Kane, which lays it on a little heavy that Welles’ whole reason for making the movie was because William Randolph Hearst insulted him at a party. Late in the movie, Hearst’s mistress realizes his empire is starting to fall and they get into a bit of a row. She says she wants to understand him and Hearst [played by James Cromwell] turns to her and says:

There is nothing to understand, only this: I am a man who could have been great, but was not.

At the risk of being melodramatic, I feel that way about the band. Every failed musician says this, but…I don’t know. We weren’t trying to be famous. We were never going to be famous. We weren’t going to win any proficiency competitions. But what we did seemed to resonate with some people. We just wanted to make enough money to play shows and record some songs. But there’s a level of risk there that we weren’t prepared to make, combined with our inability to just get out of our own way in the songwriting process, holding every riff and melody up to some standard of emotional suggestion or complexity [that’s too simple, that’s too metal, that’s not metal enough, that sounds too much like Band X/Y/Z] that it took a year to write one song to completion.

I think we probably got caught up in image a little. There aren’t a lot of places to play shows in Windsor, and we were lucky to find a venue and owner who liked us enough to book us whenever we wanted. But finding complementary acts was always a difficulty. We were too heavy for the indie bands, not heavy enough for the rock acts. Too arty for Molson Canadian crowd, not arty enough of the PBR drinkers. So that tripped us up sometimes, too. Dozens of ideas would get discarded every month because they didn’t sound ‘Ictus’ enough.

But near the end, there, we seemed like we were lightening up. We stopped caring if other bands or showgoers thought we were heavy enough. We stopped being so focused on image. We stopped wearing all black suits like we were playing Interpol. And I liked where we were going. One of the last songs we wrote together had me switching back and forth between an acoustic drumkit and a xylophone, throwing the baton or second drumstick in my mouth as needed. I loved it, it was exciting, and it makes me miss my three friends.

I was watching Fallon one night when this performance aired, and I almost cried, because the song had the emotional weight we were always looking to convey, with a fun guitar noodle like the ones Greg could always whip out in ten minutes, some pulsing synth over a driving bassline. It’s exactly the sort of song I can see us fumbling into, if we had managed to hold it together.

I can see it: Jeff to my left, legs in a wide stance, his rock god pose…Greg never taking his eyes off of his fretboard, my God, why could he never believe he was as good as he is….Sarah, not owning the stage, I don’t give a shit if she owns the stage…she was always skilled with poise, but I think she struggled with being a frontwoman, straddling the line between dominatrix and sexpot….Kate Bush or Katy Perry? Funny, the Lady and I went to the free Metric show in downtown Toronto tonight, and the whole time I watched Haines [when I could see her], I felt like the band owed a lot of its success to her stage presence, how she manages to wear a short skirt and still keep a feminine power about her. I don’t know if Sarah ever reconciled that fully. I would love to see her on a stage and be really free. I wouldn’t mind seeing the woman who tears up a dancefloor after four drinks front my band, sophistication be damned [without going all Garler on everyone (inside joke, sorry)].

We haven’t played a show in years. I don’t know if we ever will again. But I would like to. We always said we never wanted to play with anyone besides us, and for the most part we’ve adhered to that: Jeff does journeyman work in a new project, but just bought a pair of new basses. Greg and Sarah play acoustic every so often, and I haven’t sat at a kit since last year. But Greg will be moving back to Windsor for work in a few months, and we’re hopeful he and Jeff can make some time to, if nothing else, just get a feel for each other, see where they’re at musically, what they’re interested in, see if the spark that made us all want to play together in the first place has got any juice.

A couple weeks ago we were all at a wedding, and I don’t think any of us looked at the others and saw anything but friends, free of the band relationships. But the reason we’re as close as we are is because we shared that experience, of being outsiders in an outsider’s game.

You gotta admit, guys, it’d be fun to take it to some contemporary hipsters. Man, they wouldn’t know what to make of us even less, now.

Honourable Mention: Like I said, we saw Metric tonight, and they closed with this. Another direction I would have liked to have seen us ape. Cause that chorus riff is straight metal. Lyrics would have to go, though.


One comment

  1. Success/failure is a matter of perspective. The FFIB did OK considering our original objective was to play a show at the Coach (grimey but respected Windsor bar). Ended up packing several Windsor venues (the ones worth packing), played several respectable TO venues, received (limited) Nationwide air play, and had a blast doing it. I couldn’t ask for anymore. And on the topic of future FFIB endeavors – I’m in if y’all are. I’ve got some free time this year.

    Ps. Is that clip from the Bovine? It’s great.

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