Many musicians have tried their hand at memoirs, but telling true stories of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll is easy. Far fewer musicians take on the challenge of penning fiction, which is part of the reason Scale is so special: It is the first novel written by Keith Buckley, best known as the frontman for Buffalo, New York, hardcore unit Every Time I Die. The story centers around Ray Goldman, a 31-year-old struggling musician, with the book’s odd chapters and even chapters each representing a different side of his psyche. Today, we’re happy to bring you an excerpt from Scale, which you can read below. (Once you’re done, don’t forget to pre-order an autographed copy.) And now, chapter 20 of Scale by Keith Buckley.
In the winter of 2001, a band called Alkaline Trio had booked a show in town, and according to the venue promoter—who was a friend of Frank’s—they needed a local opening act in hopes of selling more tickets. Just as he had done at Merlin’s, Frank volunteered me without consultation. On paper, this made him my manager and, as such, he was entitled to ten percent of whatever pay I was to receive, which would be exactly five dollars. It was a selfish act of charity, but being that it was inarguably beneficial for me I had no leverage with which to fault him for his intuitive opportunism and couldn’t even hope to do so without sounding unappreciative. I was cornered by his manipulative public virtue. There was no choice left but to play my songs and share the spoils.
“They need to put your name on the flyers,” he told me as we sat one night drinking whiskey and water at a bar called Father Baker’s where the floors were crooked and sticky, the walls were covered in pseudo-philosophical black marker musings, the cocaine was bountiful, and the jukebox played only The Rolling Stones. I hadn’t ever been on a flyer before. Up until that point, my semi-weekly open mic night performances were advertised only through word of mouth. “So you’re going to have to come up with a stage name.”
“Why do I need a stage name?” I asked with a half smile, trying to downplay my excitement. “Why can’t I just use my real name?”
“Because it’s too human. That, and people who see your last name don’t even know how to fucking pronounce it. All those Polish names have like five consonants at the end without any vowel between them.” He turned his stool toward me. “This is a big deal, Ray. You’re an undeniable talent and you have a real chance at making a legit career out of this. But if you keep going down into the world your fans live in, they’ll never see you as something special. Your real name is a mortal name. Now you need one that is immortal, the one that takes the high stage and plays above the rest. You can’t be immortal and mortal at the same time.”
“Okay. I get that.” I thought for a second. “Can I at least keep Raymond?”
“No, but you can keep Ray. Raymond sounds like an old man and nobody wants to be like or be with an old man. Now pick a last name.”
“Frank, I have no idea how to pick a new last name. There are too many things to consider.”
“Then don’t think about it. Look around. The answer is probably here somewhere.” I began scanning the room. Ray Megatouch. Ray DivorcedFather. Ray OverweightGothGirl. Ray HealthCodeViolation. Ray GoldenElvisBust.
“Goldman,” I blurted out. Frank leaned in closer. “Say that again?”
“Gold. Man.” I said, annunciating slowly. “Like that Elvis,” tipping my bottle toward the spray-painted bust that sat under a red light behind the register. “A gold man.”
“It’s good. Ray Goldman. That’s a good name. I like it.” He reached out and shook my hand, making it official. “Welcome.”
Ray Goldman had an uncanny command of the stage the night of his first performance opening for Alkaline Trio. He and his small but loyal fan base flawlessly exchanged the room’s energy, moving it back and forth like the sea and the shore trading waves, stunning undulations that lifted him up to breathtaking heights before gently setting him down again on earth. It wove around his hands and face, playfully twisting in the warmth of the light that shone down on him like an old cat. He was out of my body. When he left the stage after his set and regrouped in the tiny dressing room the venue had reserved for him, he was met by Matt, the singer of the headlining band. Matt’s eyes were wide and curious, an upside-down cross hung from around his neck, and his thinning hair sat atop his head like short pale flames. He knocked as he opened the door.
“Ray,” he said excitedly. “We haven’t formally met. I’m Matt.” He came through the door of my dressing room and hugged me like we had known each other for years. “I just wanted to thank you for opening this show. Very impressive stuff, man. Very far out stuff.”
“Oh. Thanks,” I said humbly. “That’s nice of you. Thanks for having me.” I leaned back against the wall and threw my sweaty white T-shirt over my shoulder, desperately searching for something interesting to say but Matt continued.
“It’s also very feminine. It makes tough guys like me feel like it’s okay to be weak. To release the woman within,” he laughed. “That’s rare. That’s special. Do you have any records out or anything?” He asked as he took a swig of his beer. “I’d like to show some people.”
“Yeah, man. Definitely. Definitely. I think the guys at our label would really eat this up.”
“I have a few songs that I recorded in my room,” I said, modestly. “Nothing professional. The bass is way too loud on it. And I was kinda sick that day, so the vocals aren’t the best. Might have to pan it all the way to the left, too, if you’re listening on headphones.”
“Holy shit, Ray. This sounds like a terrible listening experience.”
“I don’t care. They’ll get the idea. These label guys are good at getting the idea.”
I reached down into my backpack that rested on the couch next to a warm case of complimentary beer and pulled out one of the ten cassette tapes I had dubbed to sell at that night’s show.
“What is this? No cover slip? No song titles?” Matt asked as he flipped it over and over again, surveying it for any sign of its content.
“No. I don’t have names yet. Sorry.”
“You’re so green. The gold man is green!” he yelled, proudly, looking around for somebody—anybody—to appreciate his wordplay. There was no one but me, and I only laughed because I was so nervous. “It’s adorable. It’s really adorable.” He leaned in and hugged me again. “We’re going to sort you out. Wait here.” He disappeared down the hall and returned a minute later with a blank piece of paper. “Nobody will listen to a tape that looks like this. We have to give it form.” Setting his beer down, Matt began folding the paper around the cassette tape to the exact dimensions of the case it came in. “Gimme a pen,” he said. I handed him one from my bag. “Okay…Ray…Goldman,” he said aloud as he wrote it on the spine. “Now. How many songs are on here?”
“Three,” I said.
“Well, you’re going to need more songs, that much is obvious. But first things first. What are their names?
“I haven’t named them yet.”
“Ray!” Matt said, leaning his face in toward mine. “If you had three children, would you wait until you sent them to school to give them a name?”
I laughed again, still as nervously. “No, of course not.”
“Then let’s name them. You and me. Let’s go.” I looked over the page of handwritten lyrics that flashed into my head, waiting for a word or a phrase to jump out at me. The first one appeared.
“Okay, number one is called ‘Morning Moon.’”
“That’s nice,” Matt said, writing it down. “I like that.”
“Second one I guess can be called,” again I mentally scanned the lyrics, “‘Tigers of Detroit.’”
“Okay.” He scribbled it down. “Last one?”
“That one can be called, ‘Biology.’”
Matt wrote it down and flipped the paper so what would eventually be the cover was facing up. “Now we need something for the cover. Can you draw?”
“Not at all.”
“Me neither. Okay, so we keep it simple.” He looked up and away, searching the far corners of his brain for something to stand out. After a few seconds he came back with it. He hunched over and drew a circle. Then in the middle of the circle he put a small black dot. “There you go. It’s the alchemic symbol for gold. Fitting, no? Goldman?” He handed me the new layout. It wasn’t stunning, but it was far more presentable than it had been a few minutes ago
“Yeah,” I said, folding and unfolding it again. “I think it works. I like it.”
“Wonderful. You’re ready for the world.” He shoved the newly completed tape into his back pocket and handed me one of my own warm beers. “You like drugs? Come with me. Let’s get lost.”
Keith Buckley’s Scale will officially be released December 15 via Rare Bird Books and autographed copies can be pre-ordered here. In addition, Keith Buckley is throwing a launch party for Scale on November 30 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto (tickets).