Chapter 13: November 1998
David was only fifteen-years-old when Carlito first saw him behind a drumkit. Legally, that made him too young to even be in the venue, but there he was. And it may have been unusual to see someone his age hanging around in those sticky, smoky live rooms, but nothing about David was usual. Not that he looked out of place. He might have been way younger than any of the other musicians he performed with, but Carlito said he belonged more than any of them did. His eyes were lined with mascara, his hair was past his shoulders and he drummed with a cigarette in his mouth. He had the clockwork skills of Dave Grohl and the weird outsiderness of Kurt Cobain.
Three years on, the makeup may be gone, but still David fits in like Carlito said he would. The only strange thing is that he’s not a full-time member of a band already.
“He’s always played with whoever’s around,” Carlito says. “Whoever he wants to.”
I hold my breath and wait for him to play. When he does, the room fills with electricity. He’s limber and loose, yet defined and sure-footed. He’s a natural, catching beats like a juggler. His hair is damp with sweat and he sweeps his hand through his vertical fringe between songs. His eyes are wide like he’s permanently waiting for someone to deliver a disappointing punchline. At the same time, though, it’s clear he isn’t waiting for any punchline at all; his complete disregard for anyone else’s presence is obvious. He doesn’t respond to or show any awareness of the clapping from the small crowd of people watching and when he takes his Mother Love Bone vest off the sense that he’s alone in the world only becomes more prominent. Physically, he has been shaped by his drumming. The roundness of his muscles is pivot-like, his straightness articulated by his compressing limbs.
As soon as the set is over, Carlito introduces him to us, but he hardly seems interested.
“I’ve got to see someone,” he says and walks lazily away, towel over his shoulder, t-shirt in one hand. He gets as far as the bar, leans on it and starts whispering in the ear of the girl serving drinks.
“He’ll never join our band,” I say, talking to Carlito but still looking at David.
“My mates, he will join for sure,” Carlito replies, “he is not as bonkers as he looks.”
We smile. It’s impossible not to. Carlito’s optimism, combined with the lightness of his accent, constantly takes us by surprise.
It’s time for the next band. David leaves his spot at the bar and sits down again behind the drum kit.
“He plays for these guys too?” I ask, shouting over the music.
“He plays with everyone,” Carlito hollers back.
Again, I’m transfixed by David’s disarming style. His posture is so relaxed and fluid, and yet he drives the rhythm so precisely and exactly.
“That was cool,” Chambers says to him when he comes back off stage and instead of brushing off the compliment, David pauses, rubbing his hair with his towel.
“Thanks, man,” he says, and I see a connection between Chambers and David that maybe they feel too.
Earlier, when I’d noticed David’s t-shirt, I’d thought it a shame that Chambers wasn’t wearing his own Mother Love Bone hat, but he and David don’t need to see each other in matching outfits to know they have something in common.
“Did you listen to the music I gave you?” Carlito asks.
“Yeah, sure,” he says but I’m not convinced he knows what Carlito’s even talking about.
“So now you know what I have been saying,” Carlito says as if no one can listen to our homemade demos and not hear that they are the best songs ever.
“Yeah, sure,” David repeats.
He looks at Sawyer and she smiles at him. I see him through her eyes, his bare chest glistening and suddenly I don’t know if I want him in our band. But it’s obvious that we need his glamour. We’ll be rock stars. And the fact that I find him threatening in ways I will never admit conflicts confusingly with the realisation that I am eager to gain his approval.
“Come to practice your drums with us tomorrow,” Carlito says.