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Gary Benchley, Rock Star

Working the Demo

Trusting your instincts is tough; trusting others’ instincts can be a lot harder. Chastened with a broken ankle, Benchley puts his faith in his roommate’s healing hands, and his band’s ideas for their future.

After my botched attempt at horsemanship, Para and I arrived back in Brooklyn, and I had her drop me off at home. My ankle was throbbing badly, and I wanted to just drink a little, smoke a few cigarettes, and pass out on the bed, and maybe make some little whining noises. Unfortunately, my roommate Charles was right next to the door when I walked in. He was sitting on the floor of the living room, wrapped around his girlfriend Patmavadi, hugging her. They’d made up, I guessed, following their big fight over a sculpture that my other roommate, David, had knocked over.


I tried to say hello, and sneak into the bedroom, but Charles caught my limp.

“Gary,” said my roommate Charles, “what happened to you?”

“I took a fall off a horse,” I said. I sat with a thump into the easy chair.

“Did you break something?”

“It’s sprained,” I said.

“Did you go to the emergency room?” Charles asked.

“No health insurance,” I said.

“That’s just as well,” said Patmavadi. “Western medicine.”

“Do you want me to look at it?” asked Charles.

“Look at it?”

“You know I’m a healer,” said Charles. He held up his hands. “I promise to be gentle.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said.

“Gary, seriously. I threw out my back at the potter’s wheel, and Charles made me whole again,” said Patmavadi.

“I just move the muscle groups,” he said. “After 15 years of yoga, I can usually find a way to make things better.”

What did I have to lose? Charles instructed me to lie on the floor and remove my shoe. Luckily, my right sock was intact.

“You banged it up good,” he said.

“I didn’t actually fall off a horse,” I said. “Actually, I fell off a horse, and then fell down.”

“God, I love watching this,” said Patmavadi. “It’s inspiring.”

Charles began to move his hands over my ankle, touching it lightly. He began to chant, a little humming chant. “Umm-umm-umm-ummmmmm,” he said.

“Do you feel it?” asked Patmavadi.

“I do feel something,” I said. David had a surprisingly light touch, and somehow the pain was lessened. I realized I’d been suffering for hours. I leaned back and let a man stroke my ankle.

“That’s better, right?” said Charles. “Just let me do my work.”

“You know, it’s much better.”

“Before long we’ll have you doing yoga,” said Charles.

“Oh, Gary, you should,” said Patmavadi. “You would be so much happier.”

The door opened, and we all looked over to see David, silhouetted by the bright fluorescent light of the hallway. There was a long silence.

“This is the kinkiest thing I’ve ever seen,” said David.

“Charles is helping my foot,” I said, knowing that nothing would excuse the scene in David’s mind. He was going to rag my ass for years.

David put down his bag and sat. “Don’t mind me.”

Charles began to hum again, and I could feel David’s mind working, critical opinions growing like Pop Rocks.

“Gary, now, you’re not used to this,” said Charles. “But I just want you to let go, just let yourself wander. Try to clear your mind.”

“Think of a star,” said Patmavadi. “A single star. That always helps me.”

“Don’t think of my balls,” said David. “That won’t help you at all.”

Patmavadi huffed.

“David, please,” said Charles. “Please. I know you don’t take this seriously.”

“I do,” said David. “I really do.” He nodded and smiled. “In fact, I just shaved them yesterday.”

All I could think of were David’s testicles, shorn and smooth. In my mind they hung remarkably low.

“I was riding a horse,” I said.

“Wow. You are truly a fuckup,” said David.

“David, let Charles try,” said Patmavadi.

“Gary,” said Charles, “take a moment. Is your mind free?”

“It’s free,” I said, desperate to limp to my bedroom, where I could hide and cry.

“I’m going to put things back together,” Charles said. “It might hurt a little.”

There was a crunch, and a single, hot tear came from my ducts, unsolicited, and raced down my face. “Ah,” I said. “Ah-ah-ha-ha-ah.”

“There you go,” said Patmavadi. “That’s what you want.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said, “that’s much better.” It was so much worse. “Oh, that’s great.” I got up, trying to hide the fact that, if my foot touched the ground, the world would end. “I just want to get to bed.”

“Sure,” said Patmavadi. “You need sleep.”

“Twelve hours a day during the winter,” said Charles. “You know that, right?”

“Sure,” I said, with no idea what he was talking about.

“And orgasms,” said Patmavadi. “Give yourself an orgasm before you go to bed.”

“He will,” said David. “Rest assured.”

I made it to the hallway, and then hopped as quietly as I could back to the bedroom. Charles had messed me up bad. Maybe my mind hadn’t been free enough. Maybe the sudden appearance of David’s testicles had ruined my psychic healing aura. I wondered if this often happened, if people pretended to be healed by their gurus in order to not hurt their feelings.

I went in and lay down on the bed, gasping until the pain finally subsided. It was almost back to normal.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the door, and I yelled that it was open. David came in. “Mind if I turn on the light?” he asked.

“Sit down,” I said. He sat on the rickety wooden chair I’d fished from the trash. “How’s your ankle.”

“Just get it over with,” I said. “Have your say and let me die in peace.”

“Did Krishna help you at all?”

“It’s like twice as bad.”

“That’s what you get,” he said. “That girlfriend of his is a piece. I’d give her an orgasm.”

“Yeah,” I said, not interested in anything but the relief of suffering. “I had some Vicodin last night. It helped.”

“That’s the sweetness of life,” said David. “You ever snort it?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t know you could snort Vicodin. I told him my story of horsemanship, and he listened patiently, nodding. As I described the way Para had patiently driven me home, I noticed he was moving around in his chair, and patting his pocket over and over again, so I asked him how he was doing.

“Want to see something?” he asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a jewelry box. “Check this out.” He handed me the box. I opened it. Inside was a huge, gorgeous, shining diamond.

Gary: This is it! You gave it to her.
David: I did.
Gary: It didn’t fit?
David: You could say that.

“Oh, no,” I said, catching on.

“Check that shit out,” he said, shaking his head. “‘Maybe later, but not now.’ That’s what she told me. I guess you don’t want to hear about it now, though,” he said. “Given your infirm condition.”

“Actually, it makes me feel better,” I said. “I mean, I thought I was a screw-up.”

David sighed, and told his story. It was a story I knew, one I’d heard from countless friends, and lived out myself, although the versions I knew never involved a very expensive diamond ring. He looked exhausted and frustrated, like he’d listened to Alanis Morissette albums for days on end. He concluded his story with Sue handing him the ring across a table.

“That said, I have to admit that coming in to find you on the floor making love with Charles cheered me up to no end.”

“I’m glad I could help,” I said. “So what the hell do you do?”

“Drink,” he said. “Smoke. Sit around and watch TV. Also, tell my mom. And then, I think, the best thing to do is kill myself.”

“It’s good to have a plan,” I said.

“Freezing to death is supposed to be nice,” he said. “But that won’t work for a few months.” It was still fairly warm outside.

“Besides, if you kill yourself, I only have one roommate.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll have lots of time to hang out.”

“Definitely.”

“And I can date,” he said.

“It’s like that?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Sue wants to be free to make her own choices. Quote unquote. I don’t even want to consider the ramifications of that statement.”

“It stings, huh, bro?”

“You have no idea. Is your sister coming back to town any time soon?”

“Not that I know about.”

“That’s too bad.”

I felt bad for David, supporting his folks, losing his fiancé, but I had no intention of letting him anywhere near my sister.

“Luckily I didn’t tell anyone at work,” he said. “So I don’t have to face that.”

“Well, at least you didn’t fall off a horse,” I said, expecting him to at least nod and smile, but he just sat there, shadowy under the light that a 75-watt bulb cast through a paper lantern, and bit his lip.

After some further mumbling conversation, he left me alone to my suffering. Later in the night, sleeping lightly due to the throbbing in my ankle, I woke to a thrashing sound from his room, and then some crying, snatches of anguish rising up loud enough to penetrate the walls. I filed those sounds away. He never wanted anyone to hear them, and as far as I was concerned, they never happened.

 

* * *


With the demo on slowdown, and nothing much to do, I asked Tom, the big boss at BrandSolve, if he had any extra hours for me. He told me to talk to Scott.

Scott thought for a moment. “I need you to break up a Word file for me, paste it into a web browser. Do you know HTML?”

“No,” I said. “Can you teach me?”

“Some of it,” he said. He told me about the tags that wrap text, how to make paragraphs and italics. It only took about 20 minutes.

“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s the web?”

“A big piece of it. It gets a little bit harder after that.” I went back to my desk and proceeded to follow orders. After an hour, Tom came out of his office, bags under his eyes.

“Hey, Gary,” he said. “What you doing?”

“HTML,” I said.

“Excellent,” he said. “Keep it up.”

That felt good, to get the boss to notice my hard work. I finished the job, then dawdled for a bit, reading stories on the internet about recounts and concessions, and headed home. I did that for a few weeks, until Scott said, “I want to get back to the demo.”

“Me too,” I said, thanking God. “I think it’s time.”

“Do you want to call everyone?” Scott asked, and of course I did. I went to the phones and found that both Katherine and Jacob wanted to jump back into recording.

The main problem we faced was all the reverb. The first songs sounded like they were performed at the bottom of a chasm.

“I have to make them wet,” said Scott. “Otherwise…well, it’s just not possible otherwise.”

“Eh,” said Jacob. “We sound like we’re spelunking.”

“Because slot A doesn’t fit into tab B,” said Scott. “Gary comes in late on ‘August,’ so I pitch-shift his voice, and then Katherine hits a note late, and so forth, etcetera. It hides the flaw. The other option is to practice, and get it right.”

Katherine: I want to get it right.
Gary: I am also for getting it right.
Jacob: I have no time. I mean, I don’t know how much I can give to this band. I haven’t wanted to say anything about it.
Katherine: You have a new girlfriend.
Jacob: This is true. She has needs.
Gary: OK. So this is a crossroads. This is a decision point.
Jacob: I don’t like being late. But I’ve got like seven things going at once.
Scott: And, let’s be completely honest here. You are not a brilliant time manager.

“I know,” said Jacob, looking forlorn. “I truly do.”

We sat around, thinking of ways to help Jacob.

“Look,” he said. “I’ll just sleep less. And I’ll tell my girlfriend what’s up. She’s a dancer. She understands rehearsal schedules. And I’ll tell my editors when I can’t meet a deadline.”

“That sounds like a recipe for awfulness,” said Scott.

“No, I think Jacob could make it work,” I said.

“You know, when I get a writing gig, I just see dollar signs,” said Jacob. “It’s hard to say no.”

“I’m the same way,” said Katherine. “I mean, I’ve lucked out, but next week I’ve got a gig and I’ll probably be hard to reach.”

“Look,” I said, “we all have lives.” Except for me, but I glossed over that point. “And I think this is a good sign, that we’re hitting a point where hard work means something. I mean, if we need to practice harder, or individually, or…”

“Like I said, I’ll be here,” said Jacob. “I’ll make it work.”

And he did make it work, though he often showed up with hair in 50 directions, and sometimes he looked like he was going to pass out over his bass.

Scott became a serious taskmaster. When I was off-pitch, he’d sing the note until I matched him, over and over, until I could nail the songs. He made Jacob and Katherine practice together, with no other instrumentation, until they could keep the beat without flaw—or without many flaws.

Even though he was the most time-starved of all of us, Jacob found it easier to pick up what Scott was after. He would just nod, look at the bass, and try whatever Scott advised him to do, until he got it. Katherine, who was used to just thrashing the drums like a madwoman, had a harder road.

“All right, come on,” Scott would say. “Watch me. Triplets. Tum-tum-tum, tum-tum-tum.”

“I know what triplets are,” she’d say.

“Prove your knowledge,” Scott would say, and Katherine would try, but it didn’t always work. It didn’t help that Scott had written a song, called “Christmas,” in 4/7 that switched to waltz tempo halfway through. I always missed my cue coming in after the bridge. He still was holding on to the fantasy that we were, deep down, a prog band.

Still, slow and steady, we piled up the tracks. “August,” “Hoyt-Schemerhorn,” “Jesus was a Union Man”—each one came into its own on Scott’s hard drive. It was a very different feeling than playing a stage. When you perform, you’re in the moment, trying to communicate with the audience however you can. But recording an album (well, a demo) is different. You can represent yourself not just as who you are as a band, but as who you want to be. So, while live, we were kind of noisy and sloppy, on the demo we became crisp and rehearsed, with a sort of power-pop sound in parts. Katherine’s drumming took on some subtlety. Jacob’s bass was big and badassed. My voice changed pitch and dynamics at once. And Scott played interminably long synth solos, each a minute long, on six of the songs. Since he was doing the mixing, it was his prerogative.

The goal was to create something that people would listen to again and again, something that would sink into their brains, and would eventually draw them to Schizopolis shows even if they didn’t personally know any members of the band. Were we doing that with the demo? I honestly didn’t know. My instinct was: yes, we were. And if I was right, that meant we could get back in touch with Lou Tremelo and talk about a label deal. And then, well—we’d have to re-record the album. But then, then, we’d go on tour to support our new album, and Schizopolis would turn from a hobby into something real, and I could turn to the people who doubted me—my dad and my brother especially, and everyone in high school who ever winged a tater tot off the back of my head—and say, “Look. I made this work. I am one of the few, the proud, the brave, the indie.”