Over our holiday break, we’re revisiting some of our favorite Talkhouse Music pieces from 2018, including this one. Happy holidays!
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse
Author’s note: I’d been working on/researching a piece for this website on how being in a band (of whatever level, but with a particular focus on touring bands) can institutionalise a young person as surely as the army or prison, two additional environments in which the playing or promotion of slap-bass should be considered a crime. Glib? Sure, although, really, I just wanted to type “glib.” What I found is that the musicians I spoke to—most of whom I consider friends—were far too well balanced to hang any hypothesis on and could really only be considered on a case-by-case basis. This was awkward because: a). I wanted to write a very simple, clearly articulated thing and make enough money for some new shoes, and b). there is no b). So what have I done in response? Well, this thing here, a mostly true (I’m rating it at a clear, classic 93.6 percent) recounting of what happened to ME ME ME when I went for a job interview after two and a half years of touring/banding non-stop—a career, if I can use that word, which was little enough to help, but more than enough to hinder.
Here is a link to the song—and this will make more sense after you read the thing—in question. As will become clear(er) the first line is definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK, something I spell out in full because the first time I saw the acronym I thought it stood for NEW SOUTH WALES with an erroneously added “F” and was promptly sacked from a call-centre job for inadvertently watching goat porn (23 percent true).
Couple of notes:
- This took place in 2005, in case anyone wants to imagine haircuts/soft furnishings.
- It’s written in the third person. Fuck knows why, but that’s how it came out.
- I’ve used “resume” instead of “CV” because it’s more widely understood. Possibly. Hey, if you don’t like it, write your own wanky article.
The young man—and he was still young at the time, or at least making a decent fist of it—stared back across the table at the interviewer, her grey eyes flitting between his face and a short, neatly typed resume which sat before her on the desk. He needed this job—really, he needed any job, such were the extent of his debts and the custom, in a first world economy, to exchange money for goods and services (up to and including rent and food). They were ten minutes into the interview and it had all been going well enough so far, covering his education, briefly, then his relevant work experience in the sector which, if not extensive, would certainly be considered an advantage to any application of employment.
The interviewer took a breath—a deep breath, which was almost weary enough to be a sigh. “And what have you been doing with yourself for the last couple of years?”
There it was, at last—the question, the one she had been traveling towards ever since they had shaken hands in that grand, high-ceilinged reception hall, dust gathered and gathering in the corners. He opened his mouth to explain only to discover he did not have a lie prepared, not even a coherent version of something which might have been close, or close enough, to the truth. “Several things,” he tried, not quite stammering, but getting there, fighting the urge. “Travel, yes, quite a bit of travel.” There was nothing to say, only a well of dead time and implied fucking idleness. Prison, perhaps? Is that where he’d been hiding? Was that what she wanted him to say? At least then, he’d be able to account for his daily movements for the last two and a half years beyond van, drink, play, sweat, sleep. Better say something. Better say anything. “I… touring, mostly.”
A smile broke across the interviewer’s tight face. “Touring?” she said, as if he’d asked for salt in his coffee.
“Yes. Not like in a caravan, though.”
“I got that much, Mr. Falkous.” Her eyes flickered to a pot of coffee which was busy percolating on a small sideboard by the door, thirsty for caffeine or bored, it was not clear which. “So you’re in a band, then.” The word “band” was hung out there for fun, something to tickle his chin with.
He blinked. “I was,” he emphasised, smiling back at her, not quite sure if she’d slipped into outright abuse or was only toying with him, dragging out another boring interview on a Friday afternoon, something to ease herself into the weekend with.
“I know.” She leaned forward in a chair, eyebrows raising in deliberate installments. “I… we… Googled you, as a matter of fact.”
“We sure did.” She tapped on her desk, once, twice, then slid her fingers past the keyboard to a file of paper kept beside a tea-stained mouse-mat—showing, beneath the stains, an old Japanese Coca-Cola advert. “Here.” She opened it with a succession of bizarre mouth-noises, the kind that you might get from a octogenarian forced to negotiate with a too-hot bowl of soup. “What do you think of this?”
The young man took the open file. On the front was a picture of him from a few years beforehand, bigger in size then—fonder of beer and its dependents—and with a shaved head, communing with a microphone in some darkly lit venue or other, somewhere in Germany, probably, if the crowd’s excitement in the shot was any indication. The younger him looked angry, confrontational—you would not invite him over for a fondue party, certainly, not unless you hated fondue or wanted to get your own back on some upholstery. The young man, who was feeling older by the minute, sighed.
“Nearly didn’t recognise you,” said the interviewer, as if it were a compliment, which it was, in some part. “What’s your secret?”
Heartbreak and poverty, he should have said. “Eating healthily,” he half-lied, because he was partial to a bit of broccoli, and thus was the second healthiest individual he knew.
“Hmmmm.” Her smile widened, and she leaned forward to indicate a section of the page just below the photograph. “You see there?”
He did, being in full possession of a set of eyes as he was, and noted bullet-points, a considerable run of them.
“What does it say next to the first one?”
“It says…” Oh fuck. Oh fuck. “It says…” [A shallow breath.] “All of your friends are cunts, your mother is a ball-point pen thief.”’
“Yes.” Her stare did not waver while the “cunt” word in particular crashed around the room like a metal fucking bear. “And what is that?”
He tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. “A lyric. Just words.”
“Right, right. Written by you, of course?”
“Hmmmm. And what does that mean, exactly, all of your friends are … ?” She shrugged in lieu of the final word, unaccustomed to saying it within the confines of the small office—or indeed, her life—as she probably was.
“It’s…” He had only the beginning of the sentence. Silence followed.
No point in hiding now, he thought, and fell into the truth, or something approaching it. “It’s … self-explanatory really.”
The interviewer’s smile dropped away. “I’m sorry?”
“The meaning of the words is self-explanatory.” He looked down the list of bullet-points then, all of which contained examples of his silly lyrics, most of the plucked highlights riddled with a sequence of healthy Anglo-Saxon fucks, a word, he saw, that he used more often than most conjunctions. “All of your friends are…” He paused on the threshold, then piled in, “cunts. You must know someone like that.” Be someone like that, he thought. He would put money on it, as little of it as he had.
The interviewer’s eyebrows did not so much take fright as orbit. With some effort she shook her head. “I must not, no. And…” She pointed at the page again, finger groping oddly at the air, “your mother is a ball-point pen thief?”
The young man smiled. “Yes,” he said, relieved to be moving on to consider the second section of the lyric, the part least likely to cause offense.
A dull stare. “Yes?”
“To you, maybe.”
To everyone, he thought. “It’s just a stupid juxtaposition of language. I mean, who would ever bother to steal ball-point pens?” His eyes flashed across her desk, catching sight of three such pens, one posing coy and top-less next to a half-eaten Snickers bar.
“Somebody’s mother apparently,” she said, pursing her lips. “This Gareth Brown fellow’s. Whoever he is.”
“He’s a friend.” A half-truth, too complex and boring to explain¹.
“And this is how you talk about your friends?”
He leaned forward in his chair, determining, somehow, to regain the initiative. “If you look at the second page of my resume…”
“No,” she said, and brought her hand down firmly onto the desk.
“No, as in ‘I won’t be doing that.’’’ She actually did the air quotes and that is what really hurt him. “That would be a waste of my time—and yours, if that matters at all. We wouldn’t want anybody with a mind—or a tongue—like you working in this office, whatever the relevance of your experience.”
“Why did you invite me in for an interview then?”
The interviewer’s smile returned, though only for a moment. “We like to give everybody a chance here, Mr. Falkous, see if you couldn’t convince me that the—whatever it is— was an aberration. Clearly it was not.”
“Clearly,” he said, and looked out of the window. It was raining—it was always fucking raining.
“People are not pieces of paper, after all.”
No, he thought, but they can be reduced to that with the right equipment. He stood. “Thank you for your time,” he said, his voice even despite the tightness in his chest.
“Sure,” said the interviewer, who had returned to considering—or pretending to consider —his resume. “You know the way out, I assume?”
“Good.” She did not look up, so on the way out he placed the three pens he had managed to steal from her desk—one top-less, as previously discussed—into her pot of coffee, and had made it halfway down the stairwell—the office was on the fifth floor—before he realized he’d left his mobile phone on her desk.
¹ The song was written about the wrong person, in the end (although he was called Gareth, I got that bit right), but by the time I realized it, the whole thing had been written, demoed, and clutched to our hearts. The real Gareth Brown is a lovely guy, as a matter of fact, and competes in jiu-jitsu, so tell him I said that.