Sheet Music - A Rock 'n' Roll Love Story (3 page)

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

 

As scheduled, two days later Michael Wade came back and sat in on one of White Rush’s practice sessions.  For years the band had been using the old Play House in the town Annie lived as their practice site.  It was owned by Annie’s uncle who let them use it for free during the day as long as they played one gig there every month.  The location was perfect for Annie.  It was within walking distance of her apartment and the diner where she worked.  The stage was large and lofty and the lighting bad but the acoustics were fabulous.

They had played and practiced at the Play House hundreds of times but on this day it felt like the first time they had used the stage.  They fumbled to find the wall outlets and juggled amplifiers around mindlessly, aware of the fact Michael was in back of the theater watching them.  The deal was just that.  He would silently attend a week or more of their practice sessions, at the end of which, he would give them his professional critique on the strengths and weaknesses of the band.  The end result would be a better, more commercially marketable band.  It was all part of the bands’ grooming process to ready them for performing on stage as the opening act for Thrust.  In the long term, they could possibly pick up a record contract with their new exposure.

There was a lot to do in a short amount of time and all were expected to make some sacrifices; first of which was to change their practice schedule.  Instead of meeting once a week for a few hours, they now had to practice every afternoon from one o’clock to six o’clock in the evening.  Their club dates were diminished to Saturday night only with the club sites to be approved by Bostonian Promotions.  Sunday was their one day off to do as they pleased.  They were asked to take a leave of absence from their day jobs and instead they would receive a weekly allowance from Bostonian Promotions.  The allowances were not much but it was understood that they would have to make do with it.  The bottom line was Bostonian Promotions, as well as Thrust, wanted White Rush to eat, sleep, and dream about their music and nothing else.  When they were not practicing, they were expected to be working on new material.

These details were all agreed to and a contract stating as much was signed at the initial meeting.  No one had a problem with it except for Gary.  He now felt owned by Bostonian Promotions and hated the idea of being told what to do.  He called it a dictatorship and resented every aspect of it.

“No band practices every day,” Gary balked.

“They do if they want to make it big,” Buzz replied, shifting his drum set.

“I can remember practicing until my fingers bled,” Michael added, as he slowly approached the stage.  “It all depends on how badly you want to make it.”  He sat with a fluid motion in a front row seat and stared directly up at Gary.  “If the sacrifices are more than you’re prepared to make, then maybe you ought to pick a different career.”

A steely silence hung over the stage.  It was as if an imaginary line had been drawn and both men were waiting to see who crossed it first.  Annie looked at Michael’s eyes.  Two days ago, they were soft and smoky.  Now they were dark charcoal and cold.  She gasped and looked away.  Gary was blowing this whole deal for them, before it even got off the ground.

“No one said it was going to be an easy ride,” Michael added, never removing his eyes from Gary.

“Yeah, well everything was fine before
Al
entered us into your fucking contest.”

Michael stood with a loud whoosh.  “I can get you out of that contract quicker than it took you to sign it.  The choice is yours.”  He turned and began to walk toward the front door.  “I’m going to get a cup of coffee.  You can give me your answer when I get back.”

They waited until they heard the slam of the door before they dared to speak.

“What the hell is your problem?” Buzz jumped on Gary.

“You’re acting like a child,” Annie added.

“Don’t blow this deal, man,” Ivory scolded, lighting up a joint.

Gary shook his head.  “You guys are all assholes!  You shove this whole deal down my throat and just expect me to jump for joy!  They
own
us now, is that what you all want?  You're gonna stand in line and take your allowance check every week like a good boy and hope to hell you have enough to pay the rent?  You are all out of your fucking minds!”

Annie stepped away from Gary.  “I'd like to shove that guitar down your throat, Gary!”  What do you think the big time is like?  You become the property of a record label.  You get an allowance and you sell records.  Lots of them.  You start playing in large arenas instead of the cramped clubs we've been in.  And you have millions of adoring fans!  If you can't see this for the sweet deal it is then you're a bigger idiot than I thought.  And, if that is the case, then maybe you
should
pick another career!”

Annie stomped off the stage in disgust.  Buzz and Ivory followed her outside to get some air and sat on the stone steps together.

“He’s going to blow this deal and break-up the band in the process,” Annie sighed choking back tears.

Buzz threw a heavy arm over her shoulder to offer some comfort.  “No, he’s not.  He’s just pissed because his level of control over the band has been diminished.  He’s not that stupid to throw away a deal of this magnitude.  But he’d like you to think he would.”

“Want a hit?” Ivory asked Buzz, handing him the joint.

“No thanks, it’s all yours.”

“Shhhh, what’s that sound?” Annie asked.

Heated electric rhythms vibrated from the theater in quick fluid bursts of brilliance, as Gary brought his guitar to life.

“Sounds like Gary has chosen his career,” Buzz answered, listening to Gary’s quick riffs on his guitar.  Relieved, they headed back inside.

Nobody said a word and quietly picked up their instruments and joined Gary in mid song.  Half an hour later they were at full rock level when Michael slipped back inside the theater.

“That was a good practice,” Michael commented.  “And I’m glad you decided to pursue the opportunity, Gary.”

Gary ignored Michael’s voice and continued to pick-up around the stage area.  Annie stopped what she was doing and released a private sigh of relief when she noticed the warmth was once again back in Michael’s face.  As if he knew she was looking his way, Michael’s eyes silently locked onto hers.  The air stopped short in her throat and she felt unable to move away from his stare.

A slow smile melted the lines in Michael’s face.  “Annie, isn’t it?” he asked, as if he was unsure of her name.

“Yes, that’s right,” she softly replied, completely amazed he had gotten it right the first time.

“You have a really strong voice,” he offered.  “I mean, you sounded great,” he quickly added, shaking his head.

Perhaps it was her imagination, but Annie swore Michael seemed as nervous as she was.  Even in the dim lighting of the theater, it appeared to her that he was blushing slightly, the notion of which made her heart lurch.  She smiled at him, and he returned one to her then turned to leave the building.

“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” he called out over his shoulder and shut the door behind him.

The sun was beginning to set and cool the late afternoon air.  Michael shivered and went to his car.

 

 

 

Michael steered his black Porsche back toward Boston.  The trip was a blur to him, as his mind wrestled with thoughts of Annie.  How unexpectedly she had crashed into his life and turned it upside down, with nothing more than a smile. 

He pulled up to the gated entrance of Brian Lofgren’s driveway.  He and Brian were the co-founders of Thrust and best friends, but they acted more like brothers.  Some said they even looked as if they were related.  Brian and Michael disagreed; Brian was far shorter than his stage brother and his facial features sharply chiseled like a bronze sculpture. 

It was hard to imagine Brian without Michael and vice versa.  For the last twenty-two years, each trusted the other implicitly with the other’s life, and what a life it had been.

Michael knew Brian was a night owl and would still be awake.  He reached out his car window and pressed the call button on the intercom box. 

A few minutes later the raspy voice of Brian rang back at him through the speaker;  “Who’s out there?” Brian asked, a note of concern in his voice.

“Who the hell were you expecting?” Michael grinned.

“I should have known,” Brian laughed.  “Come on in!”

Michael waited while the ten foot black iron gates electronically opened then he throttled his car onward up the long, winding drive and stopped by the massive front door.

Feeling edgy, he approached the solid mahogany double doors.  Before he had a chance to knock, Brian opened one of the doors, shirtless, unshaven whiskers on his face, and his hair wild and uncombed.  It was obvious Brian was not expecting company.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Brian chirped with excitement.  “Come in, come in.”

All the guys in Thrust were like brothers but Brian and Michael shared a bond that, at times, even scared them.  Sometimes it was a love hate relationship, other times it was pure acceptance and adulation.  Their shared years of sobriety had taught them that.

“You out cruising alone tonight?” Brian asked, quickly checking outside before he closed the front door.

“Yeah.”

“You look tense,” Brian remarked.

“You alone?” Michael asked, his eyes darting around the vast layout of the house looking for Brian’s wife and kids.  “I need to talk to you about something.”

“No, but I can be.  Come on, we’ll go out to the studio.”  Brian pointed Michael in the direction of his new state-of-the-art recording studio that was recently built onto his home.  “Go ahead, I’ll meet you out there.”  A few moments later he appeared carrying two bottles of imported water.  He handed one to Michael before sitting down in a director’s chair with his name imprinted on the back.

“Okay, so what’s got you so perplexed, my friend?” Brian asked, leaning back into his chair.

“I just came from a practice with my band.”

“So, how’s it going?”

“They need a lot of work.”

“Don’t they all,” Brian laughed.  “I bet it reminds you of us, back in the day!”

“They could use a bass player.”

“So get ‘em one.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Of course it is.  We have full range to do whatever needs to be done with these bands to get them on the right track.  If they need a bass player, get ‘em a fucking bass player.”

“I don’t know.  The lead singer is going to be a problem.  I’ve already had one go-around with him and I’m sure it’s not the last.  And the keyboard player is a dope head.”

Brian leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms on his knees.  “Been there, done that.  You can handle all of this shit.  So why are you coming to me?”

“I’m thinking I should change the lead singer.  The rhythm guitarist has a better stage presence than the asshole out front now,” Michael said thoughtfully.

“Then put him out front.  You’re in the drivers seat, Mike.  You don’t need my permission to make these adjustments.”

“The rhythm guitarist is female,” Michael’s voice trailed off.

“Oh, I should have known!  This is all about pussy, isn’t it?”

“No, this one is different.”

“They’re all different, month to month for you, Bro.  You live your life through your God-damned zipper!”

Michael shook his head in protest.  “I’m telling you, this one is different.  You’ll know what I’m talking about after you meet her.”

“Mike, I don’t have to meet her to know what she looks like,” he sniffed.  “I’m willing to bet she’s blond and thin - but not too thin, with long legs you’d love to use as a scarf in the winter to warm your ugly face, and tits slightly more than a mouthful.  Am I right?”

“You forgot to mention her blue eyes,” Michael laughed, realizing the history he shared with Brian.  They knew each other too well.

Brian returned the smile.  “I know you better than you know yourself.”

“You really think so?” Michael asked with sarcasm.

“Yeah, I do.”

Brian leaned back against the canvas chair and clasped his hands behind his head.  “Look, if we didn't have this contest hanging over our heads, I'd say go for it.  Take her back to your place and screw her out of your system.  But we
do
have the contest and for that reason I can't give you my blessing.  So I am strongly suggesting you keep your hands out of her pants.  One night with her wouldn't justify the damage you'd do to her band or to the future of the contest.  Besides how would it look if they found out you were sleeping with the singer from the band you're
supposed
to be sponsoring?”

Michael lowered his head and studied his hands.  “First of all, I wasn't looking for your blessing.  And secondly, it would take a lot more than one night to fuck
her
out of my system.”

Brian raised an inquisitive eyebrow.  “Really?”

“Yes.  I’m quite certain of it.”

Brian watched his friend drift toward the door.  “Sounds to me like you’re getting in over your head, buddy, and into a place you probably shouldn’t visit.”

Michael turned to face him and shook his head.  “I don’t think so.  It feels right to me and it’s a great place.  In fact, I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be.”

Brian followed Michael to his car.  “Hey, dick head,” he yelled with hands on his hips.  “Don’t even think of coming back here and telling me you shook anything more than her hand!”

Michael smiled at Brian and turned the key in the ignition, essentially drowning out the sound of his friend’s voice in the process.

“Did you hear me?” Brian shouted.

The black blur of Michael’s car sped from Brian’s driveway, leaving him in a cloud of exhaust.

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

By the end of the first week, Annie and the band were finally beginning to feel somewhat comfortable around Michael.  That is, everyone except for Gary.

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