If you're here for links, try us as an email.

If you're here for the links, TMN is even better as an email. Try our Headlines newsletter.

Gary Benchley, Rock Star

The Waiting

On the heels of sudden success—a good show, a potential manager—arrives doubt, fear, and the means for everything to fall apart.

Katherine booked us another show in New Paltz three weeks after our performance in Red Hook, at a huge benefit party organized by her brother, for his art collective. “And we get paid,” she said. “50 dollars.”


“No kidding,” said Scott. “That’ll cover gas.”

With more gigs coming in, with a manager interested, it was time to get serious. Not just somewhat serious, like before, but genuinely serious. Maybe it was time to print flyers.

“I’m thinking I should bring some gear over here,” said Scott, “just the Digi 002. So that we can do the demo.”

“Not get a studio?” asked Jacob.

“That’s $50 an hour,” said Scott. “At least.”

“I don’t have any money,” said Katherine.

“I don’t either,” said Jacob.

“I forget what money looks like,” I said.

So Scott would engineer. Later in the week I helped him pile his silver Macintosh and a few other electronic devices and speakers into his Element, so that we could drive them to Katherine’s. He wrapped the Macintosh in a blanket. “Just like a baby,” I said.

“That’s right,” he said. “Keep it safe.”

As we drove, I noticed a preponderance of John Kerry bumper stickers on cars, and John Kerry posters in windows. If Brooklyn was any indicator, Kerry was a shoo-in.

“What do you think of Jacob?” Scott asked me, as he drove.

“I think he’s getting to be a good bassist,” I said. Jacob’s chops had definitely improved. “I mean, ‘August’ sounds tight.

“Yeah, he’s definitely improved,” Scott said. “I just wish he’d be a little more involved.”

“He told me he was practicing all the time,” I said.

“I know,” said Scott. “I don’t want to bitch.”

“Also, he’s got a writing career,” I said. Jacob had been stringing for a variety of music newspapers and writing about shows for the Village Voice.

“I have a career, too,” said Scott. “And I’m there on time.”

“But come on, you work for BrandSolve,” I said.

“And your point is?”

“You really care about building brand intranets?”

“It’s not evil,” he said. “I mean, advertising moves the world forward. You couldn’t have the United States without it.”

“If you say so.”

Scott shrugged. “All right,” he said. “Clearly you think little of me for taking my career seriously.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “Of course I respect your career.” Although I didn’t, not at all. What Scott did for a living seemed soul-numbing to me, the archetypal day job, clicking a mouse from nine to six. “But is that all you want?”

“Of course not. I never said it was. But it’s not just something I do to pass the time.”

“No, I know that,” I said, lying. “I just think of you as the brains behind Schizopolis, not Scott Spark, senior developer.”

“I think I can handle both pretty well,” he said.

“I worry,” I said. “I worry that you’re not going to have time for this band. I mean, we met Lou—”

“I don’t put much stock in Lou,” said Scott. “I googled him and got nothing. Not the best sign.”

“Yeah, well, still. I guess what I’m wondering is, you’re still signed on, right? Like—” It was hard to ask this; I was afraid of the answer. “What if we get a record deal and go on tour? What would happen then?”

“I’ve thought about that,” said Scott. “I’ve got like 12 weeks of vacation coming to me. So I’d just take that.”

“Twelve weeks? Really?”

“I mean, I shouldn’t take them all at once. But I could.” That was enough time to record an album and go on a nationwide tour, plus some extra.

I told Scott as much. “I can’t let this band be the most important thing in my life,” he said. “That’s just not possible for me. But I can be as involved as I have been.”

“Of course,” I said. “Totally.” I wondered what it was like for him, to live a life in which Schizopolis was not the first word he said in the morning, did not show up in his dreams.

“And Gary, the odds are atrocious. There are 10 million people in New York, and 12 million bands. I mean, I don’t play the lottery, either.”

“I just started playing,” I said. It was true. I’d bought my first ticket two days ago, when the pot reached $33 million.

“You’re not playing the lottery.”

“A little.” My mom had loved scratch-and-win when I was a kid, and something about the pink-and-white tickets had appealed to me a few nights ago, as I waited in line to buy a six-pack. I hadn’t won.

Scott shook his head, and went on to explain the statistics involved, but I tuned him out and thought about what I’d have done with my 33 million, had I won. The Gary Benchley Foundation was one option. What could it do? Something with troubled teenagers—that was the way to make the world better. Then I make a documentary about the work the Benchley Foundation was doing. Or better, I could hire all the people I’d met who were making documentaries. Or even better than that, I could hire those people to help the troubled teens to make their own documentaries. Was that enough to help the troubled teens? Maybe I just give them guitars. Or start a label, and produce albums by troubled teens, and work with them to make documentaries about their experiences in the studio.

I cut Scott off; he was rambling on about something called “naïve probability.” “So we’re playing the odds. We’ll put down a demo and see where it goes.”

“I’m just saying, Schizopolis needs to be part of my life, not my whole life. This demo is probably going to be my whole life for a while.”

“Can I help with the demo?” I asked, and Scott made a snorting noise in reply. He turned onto Katherine’s street and found a place to park.

Upstairs, I deposited Scott’s blue monitor speakers onto Katherine’s bed, and watched as he began to assemble his studio, plugging wires from a green box into a black one. Katherine was in a good mood, hair back, eyes shining. “I just got a new job,” she said. “Like an hour ago.” I asked her to tell me about it, worried that it would be a full-time gig, that there would be two people trying to balance work with Schizopolis. “They’re making a movie where Christopher Walken is in the war in Iraq,” she said, “and he sees something really awful, like his best friend is castrated or something, and when he comes home, he decides he’s a bug. So he builds a giant persimmon. And they need someone to build out the inside of the persimmon. Like, it’s really beautiful inside of it, all silky. He’s made this gorgeous persimmon to live out his fantasies of being a bug. And it’s half-buried on a farm. So I’m building the persimmon.”

“That’s the movie?”

“It’s a love story,” she said. “A woman has to love him enough to help him out of the persimmon. I think Spike Jonze is directing it.”

“Spike Jonze has a creamy center,” said Scott, twiddling with his computer.

“And recently divorced,” said Katherine.

“And heir to a massive fortune,” said Scott.

“And straight,” I said.

“Oh, please,” said Scott. “He produced Jackass. He’s definitely looked fondly on another man’s buttocks.”

“I loved that movie,” said Katherine.

“Me too,” said Scott. “It was like John Waters, but with straight boys begging to be led astray.”

“That’s really the fantasy, isn’t it?” I asked. “Seducing a straight boy?”

“Oh, Gary, of course not,” said Scott. “Now take off your pants.” Katherine snorted, like a horse. “No, it’s not really the fantasy,” continued Scott. “Straight boys are a nightmare from which I long struggled to awaken.”

“I’m still not done with them,” said Katherine. “So, Gary, take off your pants.”

I reached for my belt buckle, and saw Scott arch his eyebrows. I remembered our conversation about not having sexual intercourse with other band members, and the wisdom of his counsel.

“I can sue you for this,” I said to Scott. “You have seniority. You can only touch me where my bathing suit doesn’t cover.”

“That leaves nipples,” said Katherine.

“Actually, Gary, the law doesn’t apply in that case.”

“It doesn’t?”

“Nope. We’re in different departments,” he said. “In so many ways. And I have no power over your career. I would have thought that, given your girlfriend is a coworker, you would have investigated the relevant law.”

“Maybe if Para gets promoted I can get a raise,” I said.

Katherine and I watched Scott put together his setup, listening to him bitch about some software program called Logic.

“Can you make me sound like John Bonham?” Katherine asked, tapping a cymbal.

“No,” said Scott, squinting. “I’m not used to setting things up for a band. It’s a little harder than plain MIDI.”

“So you don’t know what you’re doing?” I asked. “I mean, I thought you knew about this stuff. Why don’t you fix it?”

“Gary, I think—”

“Scott, isn’t it too late for excuses? You insist you’re a professional, and it’s been nearly 20 minutes. Are we going to record a demo or not?”

“Where’s your direct box, Gary?”

“Right in my bag,” I said. “I carry it with me everywhere, now. Even into the bathroom.” The buzzer rang, and Katherine let in Jacob.

“Scott’s setting up for the demo,” I said. “It’s really boring. I told him we could just do it on a four track.”

“I have 12 tracks, digitally,” Scott said.

“Ah, well, 12 tracks. But there are only four musicians.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Scott.

“The Beatles recorded ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on a four track,” I said.

“They recorded it on three linked-together four tracks,” said Scott.

“But they did it using analog technology, not digital,” I said.

“Can’t you do something instead of annoy me?” asked Scott. “Like hit the high note in ‘Hoyt-Schemerhorn’? That would be nice.”

“Ouch,” said Katherine.

“Of course, we could always get you Auto-Tune, and then you can sound like Cher,” said Scott.

Scott estimated 20 more minutes to set things up, so we went downstairs to Monotreme, where a lone man was boring a hole into a female mannequin’s crotch; across the mannequin’s chest were the words “TOY PARTY.” Outside, Jacob lit up a cigarette.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” said Katherine.

“I have a cigarette from time to time,” said Jacob. “And my girlfriend smokes, so…”

“Girlfriend!” said Katherine.

“Yes. It’s kind of just starting.”

“Are you making out?” Katherine asked.

“I’m making out so much,” he said. I was ashamed because my first thought was, I wonder if she’s white.

“Making out is so great,” said Katherine. “I bet you want to have sex and ruin it.”

“I do,” said Jacob. “I definitely do.”

“Well, I’m sure it will happen.”

“We’re on three weeks,” said Jacob. “So I’m thinking…”

“Then it’s serious,” said Katherine. “If she’ll wait three weeks.” Jacob laughed. I asked Katherine what she meant.

“Well, if this girl—uh…”

“Paula.”

“If Paula didn’t have a crush on Jacob, she would probably have already slept with him.”

“She’s not just saving herself?”

“Not if she’s over 21. Is she over 21?”

“She’s 27,” said Jacob.

“Oh, then she really likes you,” said Katherine. “That’s so cool.”

I asked Jacob if he had a cigarette, and he handed me one.

“Gary,” said Katherine, “don’t smoke.”

“Jacob can smoke,” I said.

“He’s an adult.”

I’ve smoked maybe five cigarettes in my life, and so I had to work hard not to cough, pulling the smoke as far into my lungs as it could go, letting the nicotine do its trick, getting lightheaded as a result. If smoking didn’t kill you, I could definitely get into it. Jacob and Katherine talked about the new girlfriend, and I thought about all the sex Para had had before me. We talked about it sometimes. Her stories would start, “I had this boyfriend once,” and after a few dozen such stories I began to index the boyfriends. There were at least four major ones, and a countless number of short-termers.

As I led the way upstairs, Katherine asked me about the gym.

“Oh, God, I need to go,” I said. “I’ve totally screwed up.”

“That’s how they get you,” said Jacob. “I haven’t been in like six months.”

Upstairs, Scott was nodding to his computer. “I think if we do something quieter, like ‘Hoyt-Schemerhorn,’ I can make it work,” he said.

“Ready,” I said, picking up my acoustic.

 

* * *


The next afternoon, I called the number on Lou’s business card, hoping we could meet up and discuss the future of Schizopolis, to see when he wanted to meet.

“So you think we should meet with Parakeet still?”

“Parakeet? No, no, I don’t think you’re right for them at all.”

“No? Because at the show at Red Light, you thought that maybe…”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, his voice narrowed down by the cell phone into a series of skips and pops, like an old 78 record. “I was just thinking out loud.”

“So, not Parakeet Records.”

“No, you’re better off. They would have screwed it up anyway. They’re knuckleheads.”

“Then that’s good.”

“Yeah, you’re better off,” he said.

“Cool,” I said. No one said anything for a long moment. I heard the sound of honking from Lou’s end. “So when should we meet up?”

“Yeah, OK. This is a hard week for me.”

“We’re in no hurry,” I said.

“That’s good,” said Lou. “Hey, Gary! I’m going into the tunnel.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll check in.”

“Yeah, give me a call in when, um…Schizopolis, right?” he said.

“We’ve got a gig in New Paltz next week, and then we’re going to put down the demo—”

“Good,” he said, cutting me off. “It’s a plan.”

I left my desk to tell Scott about this conversation.

“Well, that was that,” said Scott.

“I don’t think it’s a wash,” I said. “I mean, he definitely showed interest.”

“I’m just saying,” said Scott, “most managers aren’t asking for bands to come up to them.”

“He seemed pretty excited at the show,” I said.

“He seemed pretty drunk,” said Scott. That was a good point. Could someone be excited about a band while drunk, and then less excited when they woke up? Could Lou have been beer-goggling? Or rather, band-goggling?

It stung to see our glorious road straight into the studio torn up, with a big detour sign put in place where before there had only been open highway. Still, whatever happened with Lou, his interest had given us enough momentum to start on the demo, and that night, Scott sent each of us an MP3 mix of “Hoyt-Schemerhorn.”

In his email, he explained that he’d had to use some extra reverb because he had to time-shift Katherine’s drums in order to match them up with Jacob’s bassline, and the reverb covered up the “fringing.” As a result, it sounded like we were playing in a cave, but then again, that made sense, because “Hoyt-Schemerhorn” is about a subway station. It’s about transferring from the A train to the G, and what it’s like to be standing at a station late at night, waiting for a light to appear in the tunnel. I wrote the first verse, which goes:

I came from a blue line,
Looking for a green dot.
Heading for a gray line.
I plan to keep switching
Until I get home.

The colors refer to different trains—the blue A, the green G, and the gray L, which takes me home. Maybe our (potential) manager was band-goggling, and didn’t like what he saw in the morning. There was now a bit of digital substance, three minutes and 29 seconds, where before there was nothing. It didn’t count for much, maybe, given the nine trillion MP3s spinning around out there in the wide world, but it still counted.