Star

The chords of the guitar sounded, the lights came on, and he came onstage. She watched from the crowd, wishing she could have the stationary, movie-like experience of being as if absolutely alone. But there were people pressing close on all sides and the crowd surged forward and she was born along with it as everyone pushed closer to the barrier. There was an elbow in her ribs and someone was stepping on her foot. She didn’t care, even though the physical pain was reducing her ecstasy.

But there was still a leap in her stomach as she saw him open his mouth wide and begin to sing into the microphone. His voice was almost lost amid the crash of drums, the hum of the bass and the distorted guitar. The speakers were right above her on the right and the sound was too loud to register in her ears properly. She focused instead on the sight of him, the way he moved, the way his chest heaved as he belted out the notes and the beads of sweat that appeared on his brow as the hot spotlights lit him up brilliantly.

The crowd seemed to make a wrong move, and suddenly everyone was falling, falling, falling back. She fell, the point of the falling triangle, and felt body after body crash down on her. She didn’t scream. She didn’t yell. As the breath was knocked out of her and her eyes blackened, she saw his image in front of her, the way he’d been looking right at her for a moment there. He’d seen her. That was all that mattered.

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Feeling the Years

Ever since coming home from school, I’ve returned to taking voice lessons. My teacher wanted me to be in the music-school’s end-of-year concert, which is how I found myself roped into singing the lead in Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” as well as doing backing vocals for half a dozen other songs.

The other girls singing with me are of various ages between eleven and eighteen. I’m the oldest by three years, having recently turned twenty-one. Let me tell you, nothing makes a twenty-one year old feel her years like spending hours with girls six years her junior and realizing that they’re actually not as interesting to her as the eleven-year old. What is it about the middle teenage years that seems to erase half their brain-cells? One of the other singers, an incredibly talented girl who’s also very sweet, polite and bubbly, actually takes Justin Bieber seriously and thinks that he’s the bee’s knees.

Then there’s the issue of the guy who used to be my guitar teacher when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school. I hadn’t seen him for ages, until tonight when I found out that he was leading the rehearsal we were having. Since seeing each other he’s become more clean-cut and I’ve had time to go wild and come back down a little again. It was strange seeing him and realizing that six years had passed since spending weekly hours together with our guitars. Knowing that I’m now at an age where he looks at me like an equal, an adult, is frightening in some ways, exhilarating in others.

Growing older is strange, but so far it’s not actually displeasing.

Radio [Flash Fiction]

Jacky listened to the radio every day. He listened to it as a boy, hiding his transistor under his pillow so he could hear the rock music they played after ten. He listened to it as a teenager, sitting in his room and smoking cigarettes with his friends, and they would strum the air and yell at his parents whenever they tried to offer snacks and soda. He listened to it in college and grad school, often tuning to the classical stations because the sway of the music helped him concentrate. He listened to it as an adult and heard about the Berlin Wall coming down on the night that he met his future wife.

Twenty-two years later, he was still called ‘Jacky’ by everyone he knew, even though his state ID card and licence said ‘John.’ And he still listened to the radio. At this moment, he is listening to NPR and the familiar voices which have been around for half his life. He is lying in bed, alone at the moment, listening to the nurses pattering back and forth in the hallways. He tries to speak but can’t muster up the energy. He tries to move his arm and reach the call-button, but he fails at this as well. It has frustrated him in the past days, and he has felt, for the first time in his life, the urgent need to jump out of his skin.

But he has found a way to deal with it. The trapped feeling, he knows, will drive him mad if he allows it to take over. So he doesn’t. Instead, he listens to the radio that his daughters and his wife insist on leaving on by his bedside at all times. They know how much the radio has always meant to him, and he is thankful.

Please Hold, We Will Be With You Shortly

Dear Sir, Madam, Non-Binary Identifier or Automaton,

I would like to point out an apparent flaw in your system. By “you,” I refer, of course, too all companies in general, whether they are private medical practices or credit-card companies. I hope you will forgive me for lumping you all in the same group, and believe me when I say that after extensive research I have come to the conclusion that the issue at hand is relevant to each and every one of you.

It is not a very big problem, to be truthful, but I believe that you could solve it quite simply. Let me come at the matter in a roundabout fashion – please imagine yourselves using a telephone in order to reach a particular service you wish to use or inquire about. Now, think of automated recording that answers. It tells you, in some form or another, that your call is very important, but that other clients are being served at this time. It requests that you stay on the line, and promise to be wish you shortly. After some variation of this form, music begins to play.

I shudder to refer to the tinny loops of notes as “music” but I suppose that it is the best and least offensive name for the noise. In a world that has birthed string-quartets, orchestras, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, it is incredible that such sounds still exist outside of the endearing false notes of a beginning violinist. Furthermore, in a universe that has come to use radio waves as well as the Internet for transmitting music, it is hard for me to believe that the options for cheap, or even free, music is so hard for companies to come by.

It is my opinion, and I am sure that others will concur, that the collective “you” to whom I write, that such alienating and disturbing music is the cause of many a headache, not to mention heartaches, missed dates and other inconveniences. I will check the statistic on bleeding ears and get back to you on that when I get more information.

If you truly value your customers, will you please consider trying to play something that doesn’t loop every fifteen seconds? I can almost guarantee that your callers will be in a much better mood when one of your highly-trained service providers answer the phone, thus causing quicker and more efficient service, which would lead to more satisfied customers who would use your services more often.

As a Good Samaritan, I am not asking for any share of the extra profit.

Sincerely,

Slightly Ignorant

Thoughts on Genius

Disclaimer: Forgive me for the pompous and maybe too flowery nature of this post. I’ve been reading Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf and I wanted to try my hand at writing something like this, trying to articulate my thoughts with more than my usual drivel of words. Forgive me, again, if I sound obnoxious, and if I do, believe me, I won’t force any such thing upon you again.

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If there is a feeling that accompanies the witness of genius, surely it is awe. Seeing a great masterpiece of art, listening to incredible and unbelievable music, or turning the pages of a book where words, simply words written one after the other, convey the genius of the author – these experiences all come hand in hand with mixed emotions, and at their center, awe.

Somehow, genius seems to give one both the feeling of great insignificance and great community. At one and the same time, one feels tiny compared to this piece of majesty and beauty that touches one’s senses, but also part of a vast body of all the others who have appreciated and seen and felt what one has felt. The illogical nature of this emotion – for if one is small, how can one be large at the same time? – goes hand in hand with genius, which is something, I believe, that no one, not even its possessor, can fully understand. We can understand aspects of it, appreciate parts and facets of it, but never the whole. Perhaps we could gain a full picture of the nature of genius if we collected each and every person’s idea of what the piece, be it a painting, a piece of music or a novel, conveys, we might reach a whole in which we understand both what the genius meant to pass on to us and also what he or she didn’t, what we understand, we who are the vast organism that at one moment in time seem to exist only to appreciate the piece.

There is genius that is cold, calculated and smooth, the results of which would be cold and calculated too if only we didn’t have the need to insert emotion into everything. To this kind of genius we give our own thoughts and feelings, the stirrings in our bellies and the pictures that flash across our minds. We exalt something we may not understand, but why shouldn’t we do so when something has this quality that is so hard to define – genius?

Then there is genius that gushes with more emotion, more heart and soul that we can take in a single view, a single read, a single hearing. To this genius we may do a damage as we try to reign in our emotions and control them, simplify them, understand them. Maybe we shouldn’t try to do so, though, for maybe it is this genius most of all that we ought not to try and understand – maybe it is this genius that we ought to let take us for a ride, whirl us around without apparent, obvious sense and comprehension. Maybe swimming in the place where all emotions stem from, somewhere deep in the soul, is good for us, once in a while.

 

A-Trane

A-Trane, the famous and successful jazz club, has free jam sessions every Saturday night. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Sunday morning, though. The jam session starts officially at midnight-thirty, but the show before it doesn’t usually end until one o’clock or later.

The night in question was just another Saturday night or Sunday morning, and the bar was jam-packed. Every kind of human creature above the age of eighteen was there. There were university students dressed sensibly, and those that dressed more provocatively. There were couples in their late twenties, yuppies who drank red wine and tilted their heads toward each other intimately. There were groups of middle aged men and women, friends out for a night of good music, good beer, and good company. And then, of course, there were musicians, who closed their eyes to listen properly or tapped their feet as well as they could to the fast paced or gentle jazz beats.

If smoking were still allowed, the place would be full of the blue tendrils of softly curling cigarette smoke, the smell of illegal substances, and the pungent scent of cigars. In lieu of all that, there was chatter, a strong smell of wine, spirits and beer, and an atmosphere that was as thick as the smoke would have been.

The main shows were over for the night. Many left, but just as many piled in, until the blonde lady at the front told them that the room was full and they’d have to wait. The ones who stayed after the main shows were the real enthusiasts – either for the music or for the alcohol – and they kept their seats jealously as the others crowded behind and between the small wooden tables. When a chair was vacated, someone inevitably pounced to take it, even if it meant that they’d be looking at the saxophonists extremely large feet from quite up close.

So this night at the A-Trane was the same as any other, perhaps. But it felt unique, incredibly cultural and grown-up for the two shy teenagers sitting close together. An older couple had offered them the seats right in front of them as well as the table. The teenagers thanked them profusely, and sat down eagerly. They sipped their beer when the nice waitress brought it over, and waited with anticipation for the jam-session to begin. Both were under the age of twenty and had never gone to a proper, indoor jazz club, although they’d both been to the jazz-bar in their hometown that featured live music once in while. Neither of them were experts on the genre, but both enjoyed it very much.

The seats they’d been given were a table’s length away from each other, so their knees touched lightly, but they couldn’t hold hands or cuddle. They sent happy looks at each other and smiled, thanking their lucky stars that they weren’t too close to the stage, and could actually see the drummer’s face when he got up to introduce himself.

“We’re Naked Jazz,” he said, his voice low and sexy as he leaned into the microphone. He was short, bald and rail-thin, but his voice was charismatic, and his hands were energetic and powerful, clutching the drumsticks that he was going to use in mere moments. “We’re going to start off the jam-session with four or five original tunes, and then we’ll open up the stage to the many talented musicians here tonight.”

And so they started. Their music was fast and furious at the start, messy in the way that jazz can sound before you pick out the melody and the fluidity of the tune. The bassist was dancing with his big instrument, moving back and forth as if it were a woman he was caressing. He smiled widely every time they all hit a particularly fun part, and looked like he was having the time of his life. He was bald as well, but muscly and stocky, giving an aura of danger about him when he wasn’t grinning.

The pianist looked like a real grown-up despite his dreadlocks. They were tied neatly behind his head, which had a nice gray beret on it. His glasses looked very much like a science geek’s specs, and he head a wedding ring on one of his dark hands. He played like the devil, jumping a bit off his seat sometimes and nodding his head to the music.

The trumpet player looked like he was right out of college, uncomfortable in his skin and onstage until he played. He did this extremely well, his precision perfect, his technical skills flawless, but amazingly every note still had soul.

The drummer who introduced his band-members with respect before was playing just as hard and well as the rest. His lips puckered and receded as he made the beat sounds softly to himself. His right hand held the drumstick in that way that looks so awkward but is the staple of a jazz drummer. He moved fast, bouncing on his stool and closing his eyes often. He never missed a beat, and drummed without stop, loudly when needed and so quietly sometimes that the cymbals sounded far off and haunting.

Finally, the saxophonist joined them for a couple of tunes. He was extremely tall, big footed, and his saxophone looked too small in his big hands. He played like a madman, eyes shut tight when he soloed, but meeting the trumpet player’s gaze when they started to play together, one giving a question while the other gave the answer.

Over an hour after Naked Jazz started, the teenagers, starry-eyed and happy, left the bar before the real jam session began and other musicians came onstage as they chose and joined in. It was two-thirty in the morning, and they were nearing exhaustion as they walked home together.

For the A-Trane, it was just another successful Saturday night. For the teenagers, it had been magical.

Busker in Berlin

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…

He sang on Wilmersdorfer Strasse, dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt. If it weren’t for the fact that he was busking, he could be taken for any other professional walking up and down the busy shopping street. In fact, he probably was a professional, maybe a lawyer or a teacher, with a roof over his head at night, and maybe a family.

His hair was white and silky, and it fell almost boyishly onto his forehead. His face was wrinkled, and as his lips moved each line was accentuated, so that once you could see the deep lines below his nose and then you saw the valleys in his brow.

So how can you tell me you’re lonely, and say for you that the sun don’t shine?

He smiled at the photographer taking his picture. He looked to the photographer’s left, and saw a girl smiling back at him, so his own grew wider. He came to the delicate melodic part in the song that he loved most of all, and he closed his eyes as his fingers plucked the strings.

In our winter city, the rain cries a little pity for one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn’t care.

He finished the song and saw a Euro drop from the photographer’s fingers and into his small case, littered with coins. He nodded, grinning, at the pair, and they smiled back and walked on. He looked after them, although they didn’t look back at him. He saw them draw nearer each other, remembering that they had each other and being thankful for it.

He didn’t need to be out there on the streets of Berlin, singing and playing for strangers. At his age, he could retire comfortably and didn’t need the income. But he didn’t play for the twenty or so Euros that would accumulate within a couple of hours. He played for the joy and the sadness, for the truth and the lies and for everything else that a voice, words, and a guitar could express.