Monday, March 24, 2008

Play the Song

One of my finest last minute birthday gifts. Kayla suggested I write her a story (an honour of a request) and I suggested I pay her library fines. Here is half of her gift.

Musicians know that you get used to the pain of playing. Instruments hurt. They steal your breath, slice your skin, and damage your ligaments with their relentless demands. Either you build the right muscles and your skin hardens or you quit. It takes time. Music is mostly for lonely people who use the pain to feel alive. It's penance for rock star dreams. The faithful know that if enough worshipers flock to the altar then one of them emerges as the sacrificial lamb.

She made it. She had the record deal. She heard herself on the radio. Now she had the chance to play to thousands of strangers who liked her before they met her. They had bought her album. It was that song. It had become the collective anthem for sad. We all had walked slowly in the rain or stayed on the line to hear the dial tone or felt a dog's heart stop while that song had played. Here are some important statistics about that song that could never be collected:
-Second most total volume of tears caused by a song while listener was in public.
-Fourth greatest average decibel increase when appearing on car radio (the so called "turn it up" effect).
-Most often sung in the shower (indexed by an exposure-to-shower ratio)

Most listeners could not articulate their addiction. They were not aware of the single line that kept them listening to the song. In the third verse she sang "and I found myself, found myself, forever lost" and her voice cracked with emotion. It took great strength for her to continue. The art had almost overpowered the artist. It was a gasp of reality for a culture that was submerged in photoshopped images of beauty and food.

The setting for the concert was beautiful. Summer. Outdoors. They came in great numbers to hear her play the song she had written. She played. She was full of joy. They booed her. In one tremendous voice they booed until she stopped playing.

"What do you want from me?" she was frustrated. She yelled into the mic and it bit their ears with feedback.
"Sing it like it's supposed to be sung." The crowd yelled in unison as if they had rehearsed.
"It's my song." she said.
"Sing it like it's supposed to be sung." The crowd said again, still speaking as one.
"I'm not going to pretend I'm sad." she yelled at them and left the stage. She was crying.
"Do the song now." The crowd said but she had already left. Someone saved the concert by playing her CD through the massive sound system. The familiar recording soothed the masses which were on the verge of rioting.

When asked about the concert no one mentioned how uncanny it was that so many people had spoken as one. Yet they all said the same thing:
"It was bad. She didn't know how to play her own song."

The style became more whimsical than I intended. When I originally thought of the idea I pictured Umberto Eco phoning all of his buddies from semiotics. At least now the story has been created and can enjoy the luxury of retrospect.

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