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Cacophony and Cascade

November 19, 2011

He sets the bowl of mushy Mini-Wheats aside and takes a sip of his coffee-laced hot chocolate. The snow outside was building up pretty nicely, but his back was aching most disagreeably. He used to love shoveling snow. Any excuse to get outside and feel the flakes brushing against his cheeks always made him smile. Well, used to always make him smile.

It was the car wreck that had changed it all. Not an actual car wreck. Just what he referred to as his life. His marriage had floundered, his debts had soared like the space shuttle programme, and his waistline had expanded to roughly the size of a barge. He’d kept most of his hair, which was akin to a modern day miracle, given the obvious pattern baldness on his mother’s side of the family. Clearly, he’d inherited his father’s genes on that score, which was a small blessing indeed.

Feeling listless, he wandered over to the music workstation he’d put himself into debt building, and started flipping and switching things on until he had an array of LED screens and blinky lights shining up at him like parishioners on Christmas Day.

He ran his hands over the keys experimentally, listening to the sounds blend together without having any real sense of melody. He didn’t have a song in his head just yet. He was looking for ideas to stitch together. It was the overture, so it had to have a bit of everything in it, but he needed to build the elements that the rest of the album would expand into proper songs. He’d written quite a few lyrics, and some of the chord structures were in place, but a lot of it was still labelled ‘To Be Fixed Later’.

Well, later had come in the middle of the night with a phone call from his soon-to-be-ex-manager; finish the album or declare bankruptcy. Either way, it was over. The band had scattered to the four winds. If he took this album on tour, it would be with a whole new lineup. Once upon a time, that prospect would have excited him. Now he wondered whether he was really up to this anymore. A new band would be hard to trust for while, if ever. He’d have to write enough material that he felt sure would sell, just to pay the hired help to do their bit, at least until they started thinking as a band, again, if they ever did. There were just no guarantees.

He felt old, and yet here he was again, contemplating starting over. But where to start, exactly, eluded him. He tried thinking of an old idea that hadn’t made it far through the jamming process with the band, a little figure he’d come up with on the spur of the moment while Drake had been tapping out a rhythm he’d heard in a movie or something. Randy hadn’t been there that day; Randy hadn’t been around much at all toward the end there, having sensed that it was pretty much done long before it had occurred to anyone else, including himself.

So it had really been down to him bouncing ideas off of Reg, who had been a bit distant that day as well, coming as it was after the news that Reg was planning on leaving the band soon. He’d thought that jam session was probably going to be a bit of a downer, but in fact, the three of them had rallied and hammered together some really strong ideas, some of perhaps their heaviest work to date. It seemed a waste to him not to put those ideas to use now.

The problem, then as now, was that those jams had lacked structure, and there hadn’t been anything light and relaxed in the midst of it. Drake had been pretty upset about Reg’s news, and wasn’t in the mood to play anything that could be construed as friendly that day.

Interestingly, he found that, as he played over those keyboard figures he could remember, they suggested lighter passages that hadn’t occurred to him during that last jam session. He started up the multitrack and began hammering down the ideas one by one, not really thinking too much about the structure,knowing he would probably dissect the entire performance and rearrange everything later. He didn’t really like computer composition much, but there was something to be said for it when you didn’t have a band to bounce ideas off of.

He hadn’t really noticed Kara standing in the doorway, as he had been in the middle of a rather dark passage that required lots of concentration. But as that section wound down, Drake’s phantom drum part still ringing in his ears, he looked over and noticed her expression, and without really thinking about it, he went into a piece he’d been thinking about that just seemed to fit there at the end; a sunny little number with big white key chords and lots of warm, high melodic singing, called Breaking Through.

There have been other hearts
As broken down as mine
We didn’t invent them
They’ve been with us for all time.

But there’s one thing we know
To take the pain away
Our love has to grow
If we’re to face another day.

All the while
We’ve been holding on
With no idea what to do
We go forth
With hope, faith and love
Pushing ’til we’re breaking through.

“That’s nice,” she said, smiling. “I like that one, Rich. Is that new?”

“Yeah, sort of. I wrote the riff for it years ago, but didn’t know where to take it until the other day, when I just started writing words for it. I’m still not sure if it belongs ont he next album, but I like it.”

“It’s good. You should use it to close the album with.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. If the rest of the album is going to be like what you were playing before, you need to go out on a high note. That song you just played sounds like a radio song, liek the end of that Bowie album you like.”

“Outside?”

“Is that the one with all the pointy music in it?”

“Yeah, Outside is pretty pointy.”

“Then that’s the one. I like that song at the end. Strangers something. When We Meet? It’s like the storm breaking.”

“Yeah, that was a great song. He’d written it for his previous album, but it just sounded better on Outside. The sun comes out and the shadows fade, and it’s a perfect end to an amazing journey.”

“Your new album should be like that.”

“I had been thinking of writing in some sort of grand finale…”

“No, trust me. This is better.”

He thought for a few seconds and realized she was right. “Thanks, angel. Ready for your coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“Coming right up.”

© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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