To give you some context, our lead character Matt has just finished an orgy of Lady Macbeth-style cleaning. He's still in shock from having gotten into a knife-fight with a two-headed dead guy.
I heard the front door. Willy came down the hall and into my room. He looked around at the vast expanses of visible carpet.
“Shit, dude. You all right?” He looked at my face and didn’t wait for an answer. “Man, I know what you need. Grab your bass.”
“What are you doing home so soon?”
“Dierdre said I had to check up on you. So you ain’t even gonna give me a bong hit?”
I passed him the bong and lighter; he took a hit and handed it back to me. He started for the door and I sat still so he turned around again.
“Will you pick up your fuckin bass and come on? Bring your stand too.”
I followed him out to the van. It was cool in the shade and warm in the sun. The breeze off the bay carried a faint scent of kelp and brine to mingle with the jasmine. Willy opened the van and started messing around with cables and the mixing board and the amp.
“Go get a couple of chairs, will you?”
I set my bass on its stand and got a pair of plastic patio chairs and wiped them off. When I set them down next to the van Willy handed me a cable.
“Plug in and give me an E so I can get your sound levels right.”
I took my pick – thick black plastic I’d gouged up with a matte knife so it would have a grip – and hit the E, let it ring, then started playing a slow pulse. I’d never played through a real amp before. The air in front of the speakers turned into thick bass soup and every time I hit the string I felt it pulse all the way through my body. It was like playing a guitar and a kick drum at the same time. I had the power to stir people’s guts with the tip of my finger.
“You better turn that down,” I said.
“It’s the middle of the fucking afternoon,” Willy said. “Everyone’s at work and if anyone isn’t? Fuck them. You need this, man. You need this.”
Willy plugged into a distortion pedal, got his guitar levels right and sat down in the chair opposite me.
“So do four bars of open E, two of open A, back to E for two bars, then one bar of B seven… well, just a B for you. One more A, two more E, and then start over again.”
Twelve-bar blues, the chord progression that spawned the whole rocking world.
We started off simple. I hit the chords on the pulse, Willy strummed along with me. Then he picked, notes clear like shards of glass gleaming in the swamp mud of the bass. Then he stomped his distortion pedal and the notes caught fire, burned clean through me.
Instead of playing to the pulse I strayed a little early or a little late, syncopated the rhythm to set off Willy’s melody. Inside the structure of the blues, we each knew what the other was going to do. So we could do anything.
He hit a switch on his guitar, changed pickups so his guitar sounded hollow. That brought out the sharp edge of my picking. He played straight rhythm and nodded at me.
The sorry-ass state of my whole fucking useless life settled on my shoulders and in my heart and ran down my arms and into my hands. My breath came easy and slow. I took my time building hooks, little melodic figures that grabbed at the ear and held on. I hit notes that weren’t in the scales. Notes that were wrong.
So wrong they were right. They hurt and I liked it.
I took the simplest hook, repeated it over the changes, and gave Willy a nod. He flipped the switch again and played bursts of speed-freak heavy-metal rapid-fire note explosions, then chords that moaned as he slid his left hand up and down the neck of his guitar…
We played for hours, pausing when my hands got tired – his never wore out. Willy was right. I felt better. Not clean, but ready to deal with things. I was going to live but it didn’t seem like a tragedy. Willy grinned at me as we let our last notes ring.
“That didn’t suck, man.”
“Thanks, Willy. I never did that before.”
“Yeah, that’s the power of the blues.”
When he said that he looked really, really white but hey. I was in no position to argue. His blues had done right by me.
Willy set his guitar in its stand.“Listen,” he said. “There’s something about Lulu you need to know.”