Short Prose: “New Song”

Archiving some writing.

Fig Tree in Camperdown Cemetery

New Song

It had never come this easy before. He’d done reggae, rap-rock, jazz fusion, moody blues, dark punk, death metal, doo-wop, blue-eyed soul, classical, afrobeat, crust punk, digital hardcore, and alternative everything. He’d pumped out techno beats, layered six-harmony a cappella tones, and once rapped for four and a half minutes straight using only obscenities, but it had never come this easy before.

The room is well-lit and the floor and walls are constructed from pine wood, the perfect timber for his acoustic six-string’s dulcet tones. The fresh aroma reminds him of a carpenter’s shop. Standing twelve by twelve, instruments clutter space, encroaching on the miniature stilted stool positioned centrally in front of his lone microphone. They hang off of the walls, higher and higher in the air, threatening a cacophonous avalanche should some earthly rumble quake the room. Keyboards, abstract drum set pieces, guitars and basses at ground level, the basis for most music. A higher gaze recognizes seldom-used tools, alto and tenor saxophones from his jazz days, trumpets and trombones, their bells still gleaming, a polished sheen. Still higher, at the quarter’s summit, hung the rarities, waiting to be brought down for an interlude: kazoos, Indonesian metallophones, pan flutes, Aztec slit drums, and a rusty accordion.

But they have no place in this particular morning’s song. Right now, it is just him and his guitar. He plucks the open G and B strings gingerly, relishing the perfect third they create before settling into a melody. He plays nothing complex; in fact, it’s a traditional tune, modeled off of basic progressions that any amateur could pick up immediately. Still, it rings true, an augmented seventh hanging in the air like an invitation to the theatre.

He increases his speed, running his forefingers repeatedly around the fret board as a well-seasoned miler might jog before a race, pacing himself to get in the mood. The scant sounds are coming together now, and he hears the first words of the song, sweet and light: I see a star on the sycamore tree. It never bothered him where the words came from or how they fit together (more often than not, they didn’t). He never wrote his lyrics down, and in fact never bothered to refine their meaning; the words had always arrived posthumously, wisps of White Sea foam curled on the crests of soundwaves. That was how he meant it, unedited life caught forever on a tape.

Suddenly, he has it. He strums evenly, matching his shoe’s tapping click track to keep tempo. In and out, in and out, in and out and in. Mistakes are common for this part but he rarely makes them, each purposeful flick of his wrist brimming with confidence and little trepidation. After finishing, he rises to grasp a tambourine off the wall, and settles back into the rhythm, complementing his background. Clink, Clink, Clink Clink Clink rattles the hollowed drum, matching his guitar perfectly.

Bass follows, a dropped D tuning brings a crisp rumble to the low end of the register. Bum bada Bum Bum Bum. No piano, after consideration. The complexities of the ivory might have suggested a backdrop for the tune, but in the end they’d intrude on the melody, and, after all, this was all about the melody. Besides, bass provides more than enough foundation for him to coat his six-string over.

With the skeleton of the song in place, he begins to add its true bones, sparsely sinewing his original guitar line throughout his framework. It flutters airily, cascading over the simple structure and filling it with pure, invigorating life.

He tinges the strings repeatedly, building a fine, joyful film over the dollop of music. It caresses him, eyes closed, mouth open wide, completing the opening couplet: I see a star on the sycamore tree, five limitless lines drawn away on a breeze. And those few words mean more to him than a thousand leaky windowsills or a million dying sea lions or a billion burning stars, because they are his and they are him.

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