The Edge of the Known – Book Four
Seven years have passed since Edge of the Known exploded upon the scene, turning the musical world on its head. For founder member Brandon Chane, those years have brought a sense of stability and peace that he seldom knew throughout the mad days of his reckless youth.
Nonetheless, he exists in an uneasy truce with himself. The music still burns inside of him, though he turned his back on it long ago, believing that he’d already delivered his message to the world. When his old mentor, Saul Mason, begins revealing secrets out of his own harrowing past, Brandon hopes he can uncover something there that might reawaken the wild passion of his Muse…
Chapter One: Godfather of the Movement
None of us really know where our need to speak, or to write, or to paint or sing or dance, really comes from. It’s obvious, though, that this inner imperative never leaves some of us alone; and this, too, is a mystery. Your whole life can become a tightrope walk: a tilt of surrender to the urge one moment; quickly compensated for with a jerk of resistance the next.
And maybe in this way you manage to maintain some sort of balance, poised as you are on your slim rope of self-awareness, which is pulled tight over the Abyss. But this abyss is really an opening into infinite possibilities yet unborn.
I’d once believed – or at least hoped – that I could retire from that tightrope walk after making one mad bound across the chasm, which I suppose is much like thinking that one orgasm will sate your cravings for sex forevermore.
The ‘return journey’ started out with an admittedly smug gesture on my part. I’d been imagining myself a sort of benevolent and avuncular figure for the new generation of musicians coming up. Why not? After all, many of them pointed to Edge of the Known as a pivotal influence, the guys that inspired them to pick up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks or even to set pen to paper for the first time.
Spurred by this fantasy, I started rambling one night to my wife, Janie. “Let’s just invite all the bands that regularly play at Alchemist Brews to come throw some weekend bashes here. It could end up being the biggest break any of those guys have gotten so far. When word of the thing gets around, they might end up playing for crowds ten times as big as the ones at the club. Then the local papers – Chapbook, maybe – runs a story about our weekend festivities and it gets even bigger… their name’s in print… that’s how these things get rolling.”
We had the space for it. In fact, the combined royalties that I’d earned from the band and my first published memoir had enabled us to purchase a house on acres of converted farmland that had actually hosted a popular annual Reggae festival for several years running. Walking barefoot amidst the patina of decomposed cornstalks and wildflowers, I could feel it through my toes, the way the ground still harbored those vibes, the joyous beat that thousands of stomping feet had imparted.
Janie was a medicine woman at heart, so she was always naturally drawn to any activity that fostered an art-as-community experience. On that level she loved my idea. It appealed to her tribal bones as much as to her spirit of whimsy. But she was also familiar with the oft-times unruly world of rock’n’roll, and wasn’t sure she wanted to transform her home into the local hub of such madness.
Little Tanner Chane, our nearly three-year-old son, was no doubt the chief cause of Janie’s hesitance. Thus far into his ebullient and exploratory life, he did evince some signs of his dad’s (at least occasionally) rowdy nature. But we both felt protective of his softer side. He could be reflective, even taciturn; Tanner was a fresh soul who often spoke slowly and chose his words carefully as if he already understood how potent they could be for either good or ill.
During his moments of careful reflection (“Takes after his more stable mom, thank God!” I’d joke), I could catch glimpses of how the natural currents of my own life might have flowed, had they not been alternately dammed and split by the spiritually-bankrupt belief that I had to fight for the preservation of my inner life; that I had to carve out my place in a ‘cutthroat’ world, to show all my doubters their woeful mistake. All that needless bravado, stemming from the conviction, deep down, that the question of my worth was at the mercy of something outside of me.
I’d once tried to divorce myself from the world, and so of course it must treat me like a lover spurned, right? Yeah, my mother had died in my teens after being an ineffectual phantom presence in my life; and my father’d had a cruel tongue and some bitter strength behind his blows. But no one had forced me to take the stance that I’d adopted early on in life.
Because our nature is fluid and free, so is our destiny. And mine moved most powerfully and joyfully when I perceived it all as self-chosen.
Tanner’s expression as he slept could be the most poignant of sights for me: a glimpse of what could have been and what could still be, all at once.
Tanner. If you knew my wife, and had witnessed her love for making clothing out of cured buckskin hide, then you’d understand the significance of the name that she’d chosen for our son.
“Maybe Auntie Rachel will take him out somewhere for a few hours if I ask her?” I suggested.
Janie at once acknowledged the flaw in this idea with a sly smile. “If we’re throwing the kind of shindig you’re envisioning, you know she’d much rather be here for it.”
“Yeah,” I acknowledged. “Especially since, last I knew, she had a band herself, or was in the process of forming one. She wanted to call it Theta – something to do with brain waves…”
“Yes, I know,” Janie said with a smirk.
I doubted that Rachel’s band, if it had even coalesced, had played a single gig yet. At seventeen, my kid sister was still too young to play in the bars. There was a thirteen-year gap between us, so while I was staring at thirty Rachel was still a minor. But I knew her talent and passion; I’d witnessed it firsthand. In fact, her Muse had even helped to catapult my own band to stardom. I suddenly realized that I would love to give her this opportunity for exposure.
“All right; Rachel needs to play,” I decided. “Look, we’ll start it in the afternoon and have it all wrapped up by midnight. I mean, every last cigarette butt and piece of equipment gone by the time the clock strikes twelve. Hell, I’ll even hire a couple of the guys from Alchemist’s and maybe some other clubs to be our bouncers for the night.”
Our porch, where we were now sitting, lay about a dozen feet from the lip of a green hill, one that rippled down in three soft, fat ribs to the meadow. Down there I could already see the stage and the milling crowd, feeling the air and the loamy flat quickening with the reverberations of distortion, cymbals, the snap of snare and thrum of bass and the clap of sandaled feet.
The beatific vision of Oneness was possible anywhere. Why not here?
It would be some time before I could recognize the deeper motives that drove this whole mad scheme. But Janie, who’d probably grown more familiar with the corridors of my soul in its wanderlust than I had, by this point, understood it. Maybe that accounts for the marked sweetness in her manner towards me that day.
Lying between our wicker chairs was an oak carving of a blacksmith’s anvil (only one nearly four times the size) that served as our rather exotic coffee table. My wife leaned over it to give my shoulder a little nibble. This was the soft tigress, serving me warning before the challenge.
“You know… some of those guys, if not most, are gonna try to get you to hop up there and jam with them. How will you respond to that?”
“I’ll tell them that I’ve scarcely picked up a guitar in years, and that my Muse is stale as cobwebs and old yeast in the cupboard.”
I’d already given the matter a great deal of thought. I still owned the Les Paul copy that I’d played at the gig that had ultimately earned Edge of the Known its recording contract. I had the acoustic upon which I’d written our biggest-ever hit, the one I’d played on the album that earned us our fullest flush of fame and infamy.
But I no longer regarded them as tools for making music. Nor did I turn to them in my moments of duress and confusion, like I’d always confided in those sacred six strings as a teenager. I’d written out a lot of my old pain by this time. What remained of it I shared with my wife, whenever it welled up, or maybe with a few close friends.
No, my guitars were like mementos from a lost self that I’d parted ways with at some crossroads somewhere.
About a third of my recorded songs had been written with one of those instruments in hand. And I knew that I’d always be fiercely proud of those songs. They’d distilled much of the essence of the man I’d once been and had preserved it for all time. Most of them had been birthed in deep pain, though, and I could scarcely look at those guitars without reliving some part of it. They were like letters from an estranged lover, black-and-white photos of dear souls passed on.
Janie went still and quiet for a while, and I sensed that she was gently marshalling an argument. I watched her bite down upon her first impulse. Then she said in a low voice: “I know I’ve brought this up before, but… Wouldn’t it be possible to enjoy playing even if you don’t consider it ‘great art’?”
“Ah, you know it’s not just that!” I tried to smile, but remembered turmoil wielded a heavy pull. “It’s the way people treat you, after you’ve ‘made it’. Particularly how it was with us, where the whole thing became virtually a legend.” I shrugged. “So often, it just ends up with people staring starry-eyed; or they try to find really dramatic things to say to impress me; or they throw my old riffs in my face when I try and jam with them.”
A few bands who played around Sadenport had invited me onstage with them as a “guest performer” over the last couple of years, and all of these things I’d just mentioned had occurred on one of these occasions or another.
“I want to see where some of these new bands can take it,” I summarized. “And nostalgia is not going to get them there.”
Janie was tenacious, though. “Just don’t get pulled into it,” she argued. “I’m not suggesting you play your old hits with some young backing band. I’m just thinking about some kind of situation where you could just revisit that feeling of enjoying making music with other people.”
“It couldn’t be the same,” I said at once.
I’d never managed to surmount that particular shadow. Edge of the Known hadn’t just been the band I happened to play in; they’d been my favorite band. I would have thought so even if I’d never recorded and performed alongside Carlos Rodriguez, Tommy Visconti and James Crichton. Their collective attitude, philosophy and dedication to the Muse had resonated with my own to a greater extent than any other artists I’d known before or since.
“Can’t it be enjoyable even if it doesn’t take you to those same lofty heights as before?” Janie persisted.
Unfamiliar pain had welled up from a blind angle, and suddenly I couldn’t speak. Unresolved beliefs and old wounds formed opposing wedges that trapped me between them like a pinned fly.
“I didn’t think it was such a big deal anymore,” Janie said, noticing my conflict and rubbing my shoulder. “I thought that writing your book helped you to put some distance between yourself and everything that happened, so that it wasn’t this massive weight on your back anymore.”
“I know. I thought so too.”
What more could be said? I didn’t understand these undercurrents well enough to articulate the needs that they spoke for. Dammit! My wife deserved more than an empty man with hands full of ashes and doubts. I let her hold me until the fiercest lashes of those waves washed over me and then settled.
Janie’s loyalty had so often been my anchor against those waves. “I’m not afraid of the path that you’re on, Brandon Chane,” she’d told me many times. She’d seen my heart even when it was invisible to me, when the bowels of despair had eclipsed my eyes. Don’t think I ever forgot it, or failed in my deep gratitude.
Now, in this unforeseen moment, she added, “I just don’t think that the music is done with you.”
I could only acknowledge this with a slight shrug and a smile.
Her smile was wider by far. “You just can’t see yourself right now, is the thing,” she chided. “But I’ve been watching your whole face light up as you talk about all these ideas. I know –” She wagged a finger. “There’s a lot more going on than just the desire to see some local bands play at our house!”