Gary Benchley, Rock Star

Getting the Band Together, Part II

Benchley continues to assemble his band, though finding the perfect hot chick drummer turns out to be harder than he anticipated. That, and keeping his roommate from starting a taxidermy collection.

I posted our ad for a hot chick drummer on Craig’s List, and put up posters around my neighborhood. Within three days we had five potential drummers. So on Saturday, Scott and I got into his Honda Element and drove around Williamsburg, the East Village, and Fort Greene to meet and audition our potential bandmates.

Williamsburg woman: I want to get into DJ-ing. So I can do that and be a model.
Scott: You play drums, right?
Williamsburg woman: Drum machine.

In the East Village we checked on two other possibilities.

East Village woman A: I’ve been taking classes at Tribal Soundz. I’m mostly into tantric rhythms.
Scott: Uh.
East Village woman A: Also, I don’t do cocaine.

We walked a few blocks and rang a buzzer on St. Mark’s Place.

East Village woman B: I was thinking maybe someone else could play drums, and I could lip sync, but drum sync.

And then to Fort Greene, where a woman explained that she was ready for us to teach her to play, if we’d provide the drums. All of these women were exceptionally attractive, but I had to agree with Scott that my plan might have been flawed with regards to actual drum playing.

I thought back to my Theories of the Media class (honors), where I learned that we live in a world in which the surfaces of things take on more meaning than the things themselves. I tried to remember the French word for this process—I think it was lexefierance. In any case, it was disheartening that these women were clearly responding more to “hot chick” than “drummer.”

We had one more person to visit, but that wasn’t until eight, so Scott dropped me off at my apartment for a few hours. Feeling a little despondent, I found the blinds drawn and my roommate Charles sitting on the couch next to a tallish woman, both of them in the lotus position. Charles tapped a long drum that he held between his folded legs.

Charles: Gary, this is my friend Patmavadi.

She smiled at me, tilting her head to the right and turning her palm so it faced up. She had very pale white skin and dirty blond hair, with a bindi dot on her forehead. I sat down on the easy chair.

Charles: Patmavadi just got back from Vietnam.
Patmavadi: And Cambodia.
Gary: How was it?
Patmavadi: Just. [shaking her head] Amazing.
Charles: It is an amazing place.
Patmavadi: The people are so centered.
Charles: Every time I went, it was a remarkable experience. [taps drum] Tourism is ruining everything.
Gary: You’ve been there a lot?
Charles: Four times. The last time [several fast drum taps] I had a residency at a monastery in Siemréab.
Patmavadi: People really are missing the point of Southeast Asia when they go there for tourism.
Charles: Even in Burma there are tourists everywhere. [slow, languorous tapping]
Patmavadi: Western civilization chases you wherever you go.
Charles: Chases you with its lies. [tappity tappity tap]

David, my other roommate, came in, holding a black trash bag. He sat down by the television and was introduced to Patmavadi.

Gary: Patmavadi just got back from Cambodia.
David: See any tigers?
Patmavadi: No.
Charles: How about you, David? Any travel plans this year?
David: Things are a little tight.
Patmavadi: It’s really good to get out of the country right now. Everything is so conservative. Even Burma seems more open-minded than we are.
Charles: If Bush wins, I’m leaving.
Patmavadi: Exactly. I’m so glad I have an Italian passport. Just having it keeps me sane.

David was fingering his black plastic bag, so I asked him what was inside. He pulled out a mounted animal head in poor repair. It looked like a tiny bear with a very angry face. Its mouth was open, showing sharp teeth. Charles’s drum fell over.

Patmavadi: [disgusted] What is that?
David: It’s a wolverine head, right? Coney Island junk shop. It was just crying out. [makes growling noise, stroking the wolverine’s sharp teeth]
Charles: It’s hideous.
David: I figure it’ll look good above the TV.

David is a Michigan grad, given to blue and yellow sweatshirts. Even in May he was preparing for the next football season, telling me about the Wolverines’ 1997 championship win. He tends to yell out “Go Blue!” without warning, and occasionally spouts inane quotes from someone named Bo Schembechler.

Charles: Look, I think it’s fair to say no to dead wolverines in the room.
David: Just from August to January.
Charles: Gary, break this tie.
Gary: I am seriously stepping out of the dead wolverine issue.
David: Dude, you can’t be Switzerland. [holding up the wolverine to reveal its missing eye] It’s dead. It can’t hurt anyone.
Patmavadi: I would be totally freaked out to have that thing staring at me.
Charles: I’m pretty much saying no here. Please, no, thank you.
David: If Blue beats the Buckeyes, it’s going up.

I excused myself to my room and dawdled for a while, reading and listening to the new P.J. Harvey album on my headphones. I’ve been reading The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing on Para’s recommendation. “I know it’s weird, but this book is who I am,” she’d said. Apparently who she is, deep inside, is a woman in publishing who visits St. Croix. I opened the book, began to skim, and luckily woke up right at 7:30.

Our last hot chick drummer lived in one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods with lots of inspirational murals and memorial graffiti. The inspirational murals showed people overcoming bad situations without guns. The fact that no guns are involved was highlighted: “problems—solved without guns—in the community,” one said, below pictures of children and dolphins. The memorial graffiti, in contrast, showed people who used guns to solve problems. “Ralph 1978-1998,” one said, with a picture of Ralph and his pit bull. We knocked on a heavy wooden door that had been painted in black and red stripes. Over the doorbell was a small sign that read “PACKAGES FOR MONOTREME RING #4.” A huge man dressed in leather pants and a rubber smock answered, wearing a welding helmet with the visor up.

Man: Yep.
Scott: We’re looking for Katherine Passerine.
Man: Sure.

Inside was a workshop filled with welding equipment, band saws, and odd-shaped buckets. At the machines were four or five people who looked as if they might possibly have been to Burning Man. Or at least they had all watched Junkyard Wars. The man in the visor had put his visor back down and was welding one metal rod to another.

Gary: Is she here? Katherine?
Man: [loudly] Spider!
Spider: What?

A man with tribal tattoos on his shoulders popped up from behind an old acoustic piano—it wasn’t clear if he was wearing clothes—holding an enormous drill. The man in the visor asked him where Katherine was. “Basement,” he said, and dropped back behind the piano.

Scott and I found the basement door. Downstairs, we met a small woman with a smudged face and short-cropped blue hair showing black roots. She was running silver lamé fabric through a large olive-green sewing machine and wore a T-shirt with a picture of an angry chicken on it. The chicken was saying “$$$.” Under the chicken was the word “Chunk.”

“Scott and Gary?” she said. We all shook hands. She had a scratchy voice, bulging eyes, and a very little chin. She kept a cigarette in her mouth while she shook our hands. “My kit is upstairs.” We followed her up three flights to a small apartment.

Gary: I like your shirt. What’s Chunk?
Katherine: Chunk is Chengwin’s arch-enemy.
Gary: Gotcha.
Scott: What is this place?
Katherine: The Monotreme Institute for Extraordinary Art.
Gary: What kind of art do you do?
Katherine: A lot of events, rides. We make heavy use of propane.
Scott: You guys did that nuclear thing in Williamsburg.
Katherine: The Geiger Party.
Gary: What was that?
Scott: Everyone was slightly irradiated.
Katherine: It was just stuff you could find in a chemistry class. It was the idea, not the gamma rays. Everyone got their tits in a twist, though. It’s kind of hard to explain non-harmful radiation to the NYPD. Here we are.

She unlocked a door. Her room was dirty, covered with clothes and papers. A small, dirty drumkit sat in a corner, with a black snare, a white bass drum, two bright red toms, and a surprising number of cymbals, rain sticks, and shakers, along with a gong.

Katherine: So, prog rock?
Scott: It’s kind of an umbrella term.
Gary: I mean, we want to rock first. But truly push the envelope.
Scott: Do lots of electronica.
Gary: But keep it indie and not pure knob twiddling.
Scott: Not be bound down to any one sound.
Katherine: You should talk to Kyle, downstairs. The guy drilling the piano. He does a lot with MIDI. He made a MIDI bomb, once.
Scott: Wait—this is Spider?
Katherine: Spider Kyle. There’s also Occasional Kyle, but he’s only here on weekends.
Gary: He made a bomb?
Katherine: He made all these custom-tuned screamer fireworks, and put them together to play chords when they went off. That hooked up to a keyboard via MIDI. We did it in Dresden.
Scott: What songs do you play with a MIDI bomb?
Katherine: “Give Peace a Chance.”
Gary: That’s funny.
Scott: [silence]
Gary: Scott, it’s funny.
Katherine: So, uh. Let me get situated.

She straddled the stool in front of the kit and picked her sticks up from the floor, fishing them out from under a shirt. With one of the sticks she pushed a pair of dark blue panties off the top of the snare. “OK,” she said, making a DeNiro face. Then both arms went up and came down at once, reminding me of some kind of industrial robot, the sort they use to build cars. A sonic force from the deeps of the East River entered her body—the spirit of everything that has ever gone wrong in New York—and was unleashed in a kicking, pounding rage. The cigarette fell from her mouth and went out on her lap, unnoticed.

It was shock-and-awe drumming. It was like watching a lion spit firecrackers. She hammered the bass drum, sometimes simply kicking the drum head, and smashed the toms using every muscle in her small arms. The cymbals sounded like helicopters crashing into jungle gyms. Then, suddenly, it quieted as she tapped just one cymbal, gentle as a lamb gamboling over velvet. And when that stopped, the silence was as huge as the noise, and I had an erection.

Gary: [makes awkward noise, unable to find words]
Scott: How long have you been drumming?
Katherine: All my life.

We told her that we were still figuring out a bassist and a lead guitarist, and would call her when we knew what we were doing. Before we left, I asked her who her favorite Beatle was. She thought for a minute, and said, “Yoko.”

We walked down and through the workshop. Outside, a woman with a leathery face came up and asked us for five dollars, and we shooed her away. We got into Scott’s car.

Gary: Fuckity.
Scott: She’s not hot. At all. She’s almost homely.
Gary: [low exhale]
Scott: Also, she can’t play.
Gary: [pause] Why are we even discussing this?
Scott: I just want us to make an informed decision. I’m not saying she’s not amazing, but she’s not really a drummer. She’s more like…a percussion wraith.
Gary: Scott, when they discovered the Grand Canyon, did they say, “If only it was a mountain?”
Scott: Also, she’s crazy.
Gary: Did Newton, when the apple fell on his head, move to another tree?
Scott: That’s apocryphal.
Gary: Scott, I’m not talking about music. I’m talking about rock.
Scott: Dude, I’m just thinking about the sound.
Gary: Dude, look. You can differentiate between European countries with no effort. I know this. I respect it. But, frankly, there is no decision to be made.
Scott: Dude, all I’m saying is, the music has to come first.
Gary: Dude, OK. You need music for rocking, sure, or maybe music is a side effect of rocking. But rocking comes first. What we are searching for is the quality of awesomeness. That woman has awesomeness. She has ineffable awesomeness.

As we drove, I told Scott about the bands I’d seen lately. Bands at the Mercury Lounge with interchangeable names and interchangeable members. I’d gone to Tonic and watched a group of three men in their 20s move mouse pointers as they looked at laptop screens, while a fourth man ran up and down scales on a saxophone. I told him that, with him on keyboards as a musical anchor, me jumping up yelling and singing, and Katherine on drums, we would be on the way to revolutionizing the music of Williamsburg, and of the world.

Scott: I think you forget that I’m a little older and settled.
Gary: Scott.
Scott: Quality control is important to me.
Gary: Scott.
Scott: Gary.
Gary: Dude, Scott, bro.
Scott: What?
Gary: Come on.

He sighed and nodded.

Gary: Now we need a black bassist, and we’re almost there.
Scott: What, are we going to put up a sign for cool black bass players on Bedford Avenue?
Gary: Well…probably not. But I’m sure there’s a way.

Scott wanted to know my plan, but I only smiled and shrugged my shoulders. He wouldn’t have approved if I’d told him. To his repeated questions, I just kept saying, “Give me two weeks and you’ll see results.” Because there is no arguing with results.