The day begins in the middle of the night. I am not paying attention to anything but the bass in my hand, the noise in my ears. Dev is screaming, Thom is flailing, and I am the clockwork, I am the one who takes this thing called music and lines it up with this thing called time. I am the ticking, I am the pulsing, I am underneath every part of this moment. We don’t have a drummer. Dev has thrown off his shirt and Thom is careening into feedback and I am behind them, I am the generator. I am listening and I am not listening because what I’m playing isn’t something I’m thinking about, it’s something I’m feeling all over. All eyes are on us. Or at least that’s what I can imagine in my stageblindness. It’s a small room and we’re a big noise and I am the nonqueer bassist in a queercore band who is filling the room with undertone as Dev sing-screams, Fuck the Man / Fuck the Man / I really want to / Fuck the Man. I am punctuating and I am puncturing and I am punching the air with my body as my fingers press hard into the chords. Sweat, malice, and hunger pour from me. This is release, or maybe it’s just a plea for release. Dev is wailing now and Thom is crashing and even though my feet don’t move I am traveling hard. I look past the light and see people shaking, people jumping around, people watching as Dev takes the microphone into his mouth and keeps yelling the words. I throw the chords at them, I drench them in the soundwaves, I am making time so loud that they have to hear it. I am stronger than words and I am bigger than the box I’m in, and then I see her in the crowd and I fall apart.
I fucking told her not to come. While she was busy ripping me into pieces, that was the one fragment I begged to keep. Please don’t come to the shows. I don’t want to see you there. And she had said yes, and it hadn’t been a lie then. But it turned into a lie at some point, because here she is, and my fingers are losing their place, and my buzz is losing its edge, and everything about me goes from crying out to just plain crying—all in the time it takes for me to see the shape of her lips. And then I see—oh fuck no—that she’s not alone, that she’s with some guy, and while she’ll say she’s come to watch me, there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s come so I can watch her. It’s over, she’d said, and wasn’t that the biggest lie of all? I am stumbling through the notes and Dev is onto the next verse and Thom is playing a little faster than he should, so I have to catch up as she leans into this guy and rocks her head like I’m making this music for her, when if I could, I would take it all away and give her as much silence as she’s given me pain.
I try to keep up with Dev and Thom. We’re called The Fuck Offs tonight, but that’s a new name and it’ll probably only last three gigs before Dev comes up with another. We’ve already been Porn Yesterday, The Black Handkerchiefs, The Vengeful Hairdressers, and None Of Your Business. I don’t really use my vote, except to veto Dev’s stupider ideas. (“Dude,” I had to tell him, “nobody wants to see a band called Dickache.”) Dev’s out to pierce the pierced, tattoo the tattooed, and have his way with the messy punk boys who come to our shows not knowing they’ll end up wanting to mess around with the guy challenging How big is your cocker spaniel? into the mic. Dev’s from a town in Jersey called Lodi, and that makes perfect sense to me, since he’s nothing if not an idol in reverse. Thom’s from South Orange, and has only had an ‘h’ in his first name for the past two months. I’m from Hoboken, as close to the city as you can get without actually being in the city. On nights like this, with a chance to play in front of more than just our friends, I’d swim across the Hudson if I had to, in order to get to this cave of a club. At least until Tris shows up and I find myself bleeding invisibly across the stage.
Take the Power / Fuck the Man / Take the Power / and Fuck the Man. Dev is taking the song somewhere it’s never been before: a fourth minute. I’m rutting now, waiting for the wind-down. Thom looks like he’s on the verge of a solo, which is never a good place for Thom to be. I move my feet, turn away from her, try to pretend she’s not there, which is the biggest fucking joke I’ve ever not laughed at. I try to get Dev’s attention from the periphery, but he’s too busy wiping the sweat on his chest to notice. Finally, though, he gets a burst of energy strong enough to end the thing on. So he throws out his arm and howls and I run us into the ground with a final lurch. The crowd sends us a burst of their own noise. I try to hear her voice, try to separate that single pitch from the shouts and applause. But she’s as lost to me as she was the night I cried and she didn’t turn back to see if I was okay. Three weeks, two days, and twenty-three hours ago. And she’s already with someone else.
The next band is at the side of the stage. The owner of the club is motioning that our time is up. I am not so gone that I’m not gratified by the calls for more, by that little sound of letdown when the lights go up to show the crowd a clearer path back to the bar. I am the equipment bitch for this gig, so while Dev jumps into the crowd to find his most willing admirer and Thom blushingly retreats to his understanding-but-emo boyfriend, I have to immediately detox so I can pack up our gear. I go from chords to cords, amped to amps. One of the guys from the next band is cool and helps me recover the cases from the back corner of the stage. But I’m the only one who can touch the instruments, putting them carefully to bed for the night. Then I offer to help the new band set up, and am glad when they say yes so I can be connecting them to the soundboard instead of spending all my energy resisting her.
My eye is still used to searching for her in a crowd. My breath is still used to catching when I see her and the light is angled just right. My body is still used to hers moving next to mine. So the distance—anything short of contact—is a constant rejection. We were together for six months, and in each of those months my desire found new ways to be fueled by her. It’s over can’t kill that. All of the songs I wrote in my head were for her, and now I can’t stop them from playing. This null soundtrack. I’m tired, she’d said, and I told her that I was tired, too, and that I wanted to take some time for us, too. And then she’d said, No, I’m tired of you, and I slipped into the surreal-but-true universe where we were over and I wasn’t over it. She was no longer any kind of here that I could get to.
I keep my back to the crowd as I store the equipment and instruments somewhere safe. Then comes the moment when I can’t keep my back to it anymore, since there’s only so long that you can stare at a wall before you feel like an idiot. I am saved by the next band, which cranks the volume even higher and soon engulfs us all in beautiful chaos. They’re called Are You Randy? and the lead singer is actually singing instead of moaning and Ramoning. I dare a glance into the crowd and I don’t see her anymore. I don’t see very many hers at all—it’s a sea of hims pressing and crashing against one another as the lead singer tells them the state of things, breaking into bits and pieces of “I Want You to Want Me” and “Blue Moon” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” as he dances through his own seven veils.
I think Tris will like this band, and the fact that I know this stabs me again, because all the knowledge of what she likes is perfectly useless now. I wonder who the guy is. I wonder if the two of them knew each other three weeks and three days ago. I’m glad I didn’t really see him because then I’d think of them naked. Now I just think of her naked, and it’s such a vivid touch memory that my fingers actually move to take it in. I turn my head, as if I’ve been actually seeing her, and see Thom and his boyfriend Scot making out to the music in a corner-of-the-universe way. Dev, I figure, is still at the bar, still performing. We’re underage, but that doesn’t matter here. The crowd is mostly older than us—college or should-be-in-college—and I’m aware of not really fitting in. Some of the older guys in the crowd check me out, give me a nod. It’s not like I wear a Badge of Straight or anything. I nod back sometimes, when I think it’s a musical acknowledgment and not an invitation. I always keep moving.
I find Dev at the bar, talking to a guy our age who looks familiar in that Type kind of way. When I get to where they’re standing, I’m introduced as “the bass god, Nick,” and he’s introduced as “Hunter from Hunter.” Dev thanks me for being equipment bitch, and from the way the conversation doesn’t continue from there I know I’m interrupting. If it was Thom, my agitation would probably be noticed. But Dev needs you to spell emotions out for him, and right now I’m not in the mood. So I just tell him where I left the stuff and pretend I’m going off to search for a clear spot on the bar to summon the bartender from. And once I’m pretending that’s the truth, I figure it might as well be the truth. I still can’t see Tris, and there’s a small part of me that’s wondering if it was even her in the crowd. Maybe it was someone who looked like Tris, which would explain the guy who didn’t look like anybody.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Why Can't You Shut Up? by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.. Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Wolf. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.