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Making Noise (excerpt from Terminal Monday)

November 24, 2011

In the days to come, Richard forced himself to work on The Bridge, promising himself that he’d have the lyrics completed by the end of November. He’d had to face facts that he was cursed with the dreaded two-disc album, which wasn’t going to make it an easy sell to either record producers or stage managers.

He had initially gone in trying to be merciless, editing out any plot points that didn’t absolutely need to be there, but in the end, the only way he could tell the story quicker would be to cut out several scenes, like Marcia had initially suggested, mainly involving Claire and Stacey. He didn’t think the section with Claire was absolutely crucial to the rest of the story, but he didn’t want to short change Dana by giving her fewer numbers to sing. If anything, he had to give her more parts, not less.

Finally, he did some rough math and estimated that, if he broke the story roughly in half, he could make it a two-disc set, fitting in all of the numbers he was thinking about to tell the story better, and removing about ninety percent of the non-musical parts in the script. He was finished the bulk of the lyric writing by about the twenty-eighth, but needed more time to polish some of the dodgier bits before he could commit to rehearsals.

By the time he was finished sorting out the musical cues he’d use to get the last ten percent of the non-musical script worked in as spoken sequences, it was December third, and the gang was getting antsy. Randy and Dana had both taken to showing up on his doorstep at irregular hours to go over chord progressions or melodic figures. The unusual part was, while at first they were careful not to show up at the same time, eventually they stopped observing such niceties and started crashing one another’s sessions, working almost as if they weren’t mortal enemies. Richard wasn’t sure what to make of it, but he tried not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

They had already started rehearsing and recording demo versions of the spoken bits to see how they worked with the rough demos of the scored music parts. Richard had started to divvy up the male vocals between himself and Randy, figuring he’d work out harmonies and extra character bits with Drake when the time came. He already had one number with the editor written for Drake’s range, and was considering writing bits for Richard’s family as well.

When Reg showed up at his door one day, he almost had a heart attack. The man looked like he’d transformed into a motivational speaker or evangelist, and was dressing like a page out of a Sears catalog.

“Big Guy! How are you?” Richard cheered, reaching up to give the man a big bear hug, which he returned with almost professional skill.

“I’m alright. It’s been a while. I thought I’d stop by and see how things are coming along, see if you needed any help.”

“Help? You mean you already know about the project?”

“Yep. We had a visitor up at the house who played us some of what you’re working on, and convinced me that I should get involved.”

“A visitor? Which one was it? Randy or Drake?”

“Neither. It was Dana. They’d talked it over between themselves and figured she’d be able to sell the story to me better than they could. I won’t lie to you, Rich. When Dana told us what the album was actually about, we had to have a little talk to decide what we thought. Some of what you’re trying to do bothers Annette a bit, but then, I never knew you to write anything too bright and cheerful. I just decided that the moral of the story was the important thing. It seems to be a story about redemption, and I like that. So I told Dana I was in, and here I am. Now, what can I do to help?”

“Well, I hadn’t really planned on bringing in the band until I had the majority of the songs composed,” Richard confessed.

“Right, and I remember you and your compositions. Randy tells me you’ve written some pretty tricky stuff, and the band figured I could come over and help you simplify things, to give us room to breathe. I remember how frustrated you used to get when we couldn’t play songs the way you’d written them. I figure this album of yours is too important for you to get upset and quit on before we’ve had a chance to make it work for you. Why don’t you play me what you’ve got and show me what you had in mind, so I can tell you if you’re asking too much too soon?”

“Alright, Reg, but I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t really write these parts with The Distance in mind. I’ve been trying to pare them down a bit, but there’s still some pretty crunchy stuff in there that you might not like.”

“Play me something and I’ll tell you what I think, okay?”

“Okay, Reg.”

They listened to music for the better part of the afternoon, replaying certain sections and going over some of the riffs and passages on basses and guitars, Richard sometimes switching to keyboard to give Reg a better idea of the kind of tones he was looking for. Reg was already streamlining parts and making suggestions for the transitional bits, and Richard smiled remembering how their partnership dynamic used to work. Reg had always been the quiet one, but the final arbiter of what worked and what sounded good, and it was nice to be reminded of that facet of The Distance, which Richard had forgotten.

At the end of the day, Reg put his big black bass away and said, “Well, it’s time for me to get back to the wife and kids. I think you’ve got the makings of a good album. A long one, but then, you always wanted us to be a progressive rock band. Maybe now you’ll get your chance.”

“So you think it works?” Richard asked, somewhat surprised.

“Oh, it needs work,” Reg nodded firmly. “You’ve written some good lyrics, and the songs you’ve written sound good. But you really need to let the rest of us to do our part. You’re trying too hard to do everything for us, leaving nothing to chance. Trust us. That’s the thing you always had trouble with, back when we were still a band. You never learned to trust us to want to make the songs as cool as you did.”

Reg headed for the door, but then stopped and turned to Richard, and said, “Maybe you were right back then. Maybe none of us were good enough. But we’re all older now, and we’ve all had time to think about what we’d have done different if we had it to do over. Even Drake’s back to practicing, peeing off his neighbours and waiting for you to get the band back together. Drake brought us together the first time, but it was you who ended it, and it has to be you who puts us back together again. So what do you say? Is it time?”

Richard nodded slowly. “I guess you’re right. I’ve been holding this thing so close to my chest for so long, I’ve forgotten that it won’t work until we’re all together, carrying it as a band again.”

“Alright,” Reg cheered. “So find us a place to rehearse and set the date. Start passing out tapes and chord sheets so we can learn the music. If we can do this as a proper band again, maybe we can give you that applause you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear.”

“Thanks, Reg. You can’t imagine what this means to me,” Richard croaked.

“Oh, I think I can. C’mere, Little Man,” Reg replied, arms outstretched.

They hugged again, Reg lifting him off the floor and crushing him before setting him back on the floor, huffing.

“You know, you really need to lose some weight,” Reg teased, and turned to go.

Richard closed the door and headed back to his chair to think. In many ways, the Distance had always been something of a sore spot for Richard. He’d had such big hopes for them, even after it became clear to him that they would never be a conventional rock band of determined musicians honing their craft and learning as many songs as they could. He’d had to content himself with the fact that, when they played together, just jamming some new melodic figure over one of those galloping rhythms Drake and Reg were so good at, they’d been able to make something special; Fragile and imperfect, but filled with potential.

He supposed there would be a lot of work involved in getting Drake and Randy back in shape musically. It seemed Reg had kept at it, and seemed to be an even better player than he had before, though still very much his own sort of player, and not as nimble and fussy as Richard.

Truth to tell, the real work would be getting himself back in shape. With Reg back on bass, he’d have no choice but to get back to actually playing the keyboard; something he hadn’t made a serious effort to do in years. Once upon a time, keyboard had been the instrument he expressed himself best with. The melodies he’d created at the keyboard were the most electrifying of anything he’d written, at least to his ears. Not a technically brilliant player, but exciting in a rough, moody way. He’d finally have to swallow his pride and suffer endless hours of duff playing to get his voice back, both vocally and instrumentally.

© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

from Terminal Monday.

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