Pairing: Simon & Garfunkel
Summary: What if they didn’t meet as teenagers, but at a later time? Could you imagine them falling in love again?
Review: this series has not been Beta’d…yet…
Disclaimer: Eventhough this story is based on several things both Paul and Artie said over the years, this is in no way biographical. It’s an exploration of an alternative timeline.
A dreamy note floated lazily away crossing the street and into the branches of an overhanging tree. It was high and clear and you would guess it had come from an angel, or more in the realm of every-day-life, from a girl. The note was followed by a whole range of notes neatly building a melody, undisturbed finding a way to heaven. Had it been a film, the birds would have chirped in, the sun would have reappeared from behind a cloud and flowers would spontaneously bloom. Queens was not a fairy tale landscape and the dirty grey tarmac reflected the livelihood of a suburban area. It did not stop the young boy from singing out loud. Nor did the passer-by’s first giving him weird looks, but smiles broke through the confused frowns. It was not hard to be captivated; the young boy’s voice was trained and the melodies escaping his pink mouth were simply another exercise.
Art’s ears perked up with delight at the possibility of producing such clear sounds and he pushed his voice higher to see how far he could stretch it. He let the notes fall in rhythm with his footsteps as he went back to the start of the song. He didn’t really notice the other people on the street or the glances and the smiles. Yes, he knew the delight of enthusiastic applause and seeing people moved to tears by his song. It was addictive. There was bliss in singing, but Art also felt loneliness. He wasn’t sure what he was missing, what he was craving.
Art started singing when he was five. Hardly surprising, his parents sang a lot, his mother sang almost all the time. Art liked that; Art did that too, singing to himself all the time. It helped he found it so easy to control his voice and make it soar. Their family evening consisted out of singing harmonies to a collection of songs, popular and traditional. They also had a tape machine on which they would record their harmonies and then play with the sounds a bit by turning the knobs, slowing it down making them sound like giants, or the other way making them sound like mice. A lot of fun was to be had with the tape machine.
Art’s two brothers sang too, of course, but Art stood out, in every single way. It was not only his remarkable shock of blond, afro curled hair, but also his sparkling blue eyes and of course his clear voice. His brothers weren’t bad at singing; Art was just the best at it.
Even though they encouraged their sons to sing, Art’s idea of making it as a professional singer was not as much appreciated and his mother would often turn off the tape machine and send Art up to his bedroom to do his homework. She shouldn’t worry; Art was not going to let his schoolwork suffer. Besides, school was easy; it didn’t require that much of Art’s time. He loved doing maths; it was dependable and precise, like Art himself. Art loved the challenges of solving maths problems. To him it was like going on an adventure, mapping out another reality. For instance, he kept a close track of the baseball results, wrote them down and calculated opportunities, advances and fall backs for teams. He even dared to go as far as predicting who would win the league that year, based on his calculations taking in account fitness of the men and matches played. He could go on about how he came to his conclusions, finishing long after the last attentive eyes had glazed over.
If Art wasn’t singing, he was quietly dreaming. Dreaming about the adventures he was going to have. About singing everywhere outside of Queens, of getting his song on the radio and people saying to each other: “I heard that song on the radio. The singer is really good.” He dreamt of being in a band and singing their own original songs in perfect harmony. Art could write the harmonies, he knew he could, and teach them to the other members of the band. Their voices would stun audiences and every performance was closed with loud applause and cheering. They would do an encore, maybe put in some cover songs, bow and then retire to their dressing rooms, exhausted but content.
Sitting in the middle of his bedroom on the floor, legs crossed, those scenes went through his head. He would start humming to the songs his imaginary band was singing. His imagination might run away with him, but in the end he would wake up to a world where he was just sitting in the middle of his bedroom with no-one to share his dream with.
Artie sang in the Synagogue on his mother’s suggestion. He sang in talent shows encouraged by, once again his mother, and his brothers. His father would usually frown and tell him as long his schoolwork wasn’t suffering under it…. Especially the talent shows opened up a world to sing to. Audiences could be varied and Art would be able to sing the popular tunes. He specialized in ballads; he could bring grownup men to tears singing those. All the appeal of singing were still true, but with his young sensitive mind an interest in girls was also developing and there were loads of girls in those audiences.
In one of these audiences sat a young boy, dark, quiet, with piercing melancholic eyes. He was small and most of the time he couldn’t see what was happening on the stage. Talent shows always were a mixed bag of disappointing renditions of covers interfered with the occasional surprise of talent. Part of the appeal of talent shows was the infusion of dreams it installed in the young boy. He wished he could sing or play some instrument. His parents once tried to put him on piano lessons, but it bored the young boy and soon he gave up handing his piano teacher over to his younger brother who seemed to have an aptitude for playing the piano. His parents were a bit disappointed, especially his musician father. Fortunately, the boy was a good scholar scoring high in school. They had high hopes for him, and it fed his father’s hopes he would become a teacher.
Paul was getting bored with the mediocre singers crooning their way through popsongs. The rest of the audience too seemed to be patiently and politely sitting through it. Paul played with his tickets while his eyes scanned the flog of girls near the stage. What was going on? Why were they so excited? Some were really cute. It must be for some performing boy, Paul figured his dreams once more taking flight. Imagine he was that boy, the girls would adore him, think he was cute, they would fall in flogs at his feet. It was better than becoming a teacher. Maybe Paul should have another stab at the piano, or better another instrument, like a guitar. Paul had no idea if he could master the guitar or sing; he never tried either. Surely he must have some feel for music; his father was a musician and his younger brother inherited some if not all of that talent; it must be in Paul’s blood as well. Paul lazily toyed with the idea while the flog of girls was moving towards the stage, an exited buzz rising from the crowd. Paul was still dreaming, not paying attention, when the next contestant was announced:
“The golden boy with the golden voice. Let’s hear it for him!” The audience just kept to politely applauding, except for some girls who were cheering enthusiastically.
Paul only half noticed it, but his attention snapped to the stage when the boy started to sing. The rest of the audience seemed to hold their breath to hear the first clear soaring notes before erupting into wild applause. Paul now completely awake from his daydreaming sat up trying to see the stage. He caught glimpses of a blue shirt, blond curls and the most lively blue eyes Paul had ever seen. That combined with the almost girlish high voice was quite enchanting. To Paul it became clear why those girls had been so eager to be close to the stage. He wondered once again if he could sing; he should really give it a try.
For about 3 minutes there was almost no sound other than the boy’s voice. It was as if everyone was holding their breath. Paul sure noticed he was rather breathless when the boy finally finished the song. The audience leapt to their feet, another wild applause and more cheering from mainly girls. Paul was lost among the sea of people towering over him. He stood on his tiptoes trying to catch another glimpse, but there was no way. He could hear the host’s voice thanking Artie Garfunkel for that beautiful rendition of “They’re trying to tell us we’re too young” and the clapping slowly died down as most people around Paul sat down. Paul intentionally didn’t sit down, hoping to catch a last glimps of the boy. He could only see the boy’s back and the blond halo of curls disappearing back stage. One of the girls grabbed Paul’s elbow pulling him down into his seat: “Wasn’t he great!? He is so handsome!” Paul nodded quietly noticing the glow across the girl’s face. Paul decided right then right there, he was going to ask a guitar for his birthday and teach himself to play and sing.
Paul, always a quiet introverted boy, walked home alone, the afternoon and specifically that boy, mulling through his head. Artie Garfunkel, with the golden voice, attracted all the girls. Paul was impressed and intrigued. There was something else about that boy, something beside his voice and pretty face; Paul couldn’t put a finger on it. Never before had anyone struck him like Artie Garfunkel. Paul let the name bounce through his mind; it filled him with a warm excitement. Had he been older, he might have worried if he was gay, but his 9 year old mind didn’t recognize that funny fuzzy feeling as being in love. Maybe he wasn’t anyway, and he simply recognized Artie as a gateway to girls, to success and adoration. One thing Paul knew for sure; they had to meet. That evening in his scrapbook (of baseball heroes), Paul wrote Artie’s name, his cheeks burning in the process. Making sure no-one would ever discover, he carefully stuck the pages together, only leaving the corners loose so he could pull the pages apart. “Artie Garfunkel”. Paul knew there was an adventure to be had.
A few months later Paul celebrated his 10th aniiversary and got his first guitar from his dad. His father showed him his first chords and Paul set out to practice. It wasn’t as easy as guitar players made it look and Paul had trouble getting the picking right. His younger brother, not only a prodigy on the piano, sat watching Paul cringing and pulling faces as Pauls struggled through the chords. He couldn’t help yelling at Paul from time to time: “You’re doing it wrong!” Paul frustrated took his guitar to his bedroom to practice in quiet and peace, but his incessant picking came to an early end when a string broke. Discouraged Paul put the guitar aside.
Paul’s father assured him breaking a string wasn’t a big deal; it happened to him from time to time. He put a new string on Paul’s guitar, but Paul had lost some of his zest for playing. Not that he wasn’t practicing at all; he just let his slow progress and his brother’s sighing and groaning discourage him. Now and then he would open his scrapbook and pealed the pages apart to stare at the name for a while. He wasn’t good enough to play and sing with Artie. Sometimes it was a reason to practice even harder, but more often than not, it made Paul give up altogether. His plans were interrupted in the summer of 1953 when his parents decided to move back to New Jersey to be closer to family. That would take him away from Artie and shut oppertunties of a friendship down completely. It was reason enough for Paul to pack up his guitar and not take it out for a year or two.
Chapter I: a New Era
Paul slung the guitar case on his back, grabbed his heavy suitcase and followed his new friend overseas towards a small apartment block. The brick walls were as grey and wet as the streets and it all looked dirty and old, as if the house could tumble down on them any moment. The front door was friendly enough, mainly because it was open and a hot steam of freshly cooked food wafted out on the street. Some youngsters, boys and girls, all of Paul’s age, were hanging around it blocking the entrance. It being the sixties and with flower power in charge the group of youth were friendly and smoking some interesting substances by the smell of it. Paul nodded at them as he inched passed following the shadowy figure into the house. Inside it was dark and the smell of food grew stronger making Paul realize how hungry he really was. Living on the streets of Paris was all romantic, for a little while, till the summer nights grew colder and wetter and Paul could no longer deny the rumble coming from his stomach.
“You want something to eat?” a friendly girl with too much make-up on asked, her English with a thick French accent.
Paul nodded eagerly. It seemed all the girls present in the house were now in the room with Paul offering him food, drinks, cigarettes of all kinds and other forms of enjoyment. News travelled fast; it seemed at least a quarter of the French female population now knew there was another American in their midst. Paul didn’t complain, as a matter of fact, with his mind now dulled to the street life of a poor travelling musician, he wasn’t used to this much attention and the overload of things to consume. Not to say he was rejecting offers, there were too many to accept them all. To be fair, certain offers Paul pretended he hadn’t heard. Others like the food, drinks and cigarettes Paul gratefully accepted.
Paul spent the evening in a dozy mood, beit from the amount of food and drinks or maybe someone slipped him one of these other cigarettes. Whatever the case may be, it left Paul sleepy and he didn’t move from where he sat down when he came in, the whole evening. At some point some people picked up instruments and there was music. Even though Paul’s guitar was right next to him, he didn’t join in; his fingers felt thick and inflexible, not suitable for playing and he was still too shy to join in with the singing. The general atmosphere, his full stomach and his tired legs and feet soon carried him into a dreamlike reality rocking him to sleep. Sheltered by other spectators, his sleeping form wasn’t noticed by the blond afro-curled boy who sang that night. Neither did Paul hear, let alone recognize, those clear tones. By the time Paul woke up, the music had stopped and the musicians had gone to bed, including the singer.
Paul left the house and met up with the only proper English speaking person he had met in Paris so far. He was a Brit going by the name of David McCausland. It was nice to speak English, especially since Paul was not exactly fluent in French. Over breakfast they discussed their travels so far and their plans for the rest of the summer. David invited Paul to come over to England; he could stay with David and his parents. The invitation was attractive, but Paul also knew it was not going to happen this summer.
After a brief pause David changed direction of the conversation: “You play that guitar? He wondered pointing at Paul’s guitar.
Paul glanced at the beaten guitar case leaning against a wall. Slightly embarrassed he replied: “A bit,” quickly returning to his croque monsieur.
David obvlious to Paul’s embarrassment continued: “Why didn’t you join in the other day?”
“I’m not good enough, ” Paul said without looking at David hoping it would stop the conversation. For a few moments it seemed David was going to let it go, but he was too intrigued.
“You carry that thing around everywhere.”
“Yes?” Paul was now suspicious of where the conversation was going.
“I thought you could play it.”
In a reflex Paul defended: “I can play it!”
“Really?” David sounded mock surprised annoying Paul a little. “I haven’t heard you play it, so I don’t have any proof you really can.”
David studied Paul’s face, dark eyes trying to hide in an absent collar, his cheeks red with what David was to suggest next. And there it came: “Tonight, when they get their instruments out, you’ll join them.”
Paul didn’t answer, instead he put his face in his cup of cooled down coffee trying to hide away from David. Wasn’t this what Paul wanted anyway, playing with other people, or in a band? Didn’t he want to feel the magic of making music together? Why did his shyness always get the better of him? All the plans of school, studies, a steady job, were just because Paul didn’t have the guts to go after his dreams. It was nerve racking; the idea of having to show what he could do on his guitar made Paul very nervous. He always believed that other people were much better at playing, definitely at singing. Paul wasn’t even sure if he could sing at all.
David, sensing Paul’s nervousness tried to encourage him: “C’mon, you’ll be all right. You can just sit in the back and play along. I’m sure you’ll be fine….”
It did give Paul a bit of encouragement to just go for it, till David deflated his whole support a little: “Unless you suck, of course.”
Artie stretched and yawned in his foreign bed. He wasn’t exactly sure where he was and he allowed his conscience to piece it all together slowly. All he knew was that he was rather content, free and in a foreign country with lots of new people, new cultures and new adventures. Artie loved travelling; it broadened the mind and it came with a freedom Art didn’t know back home. He snoozed in the bed for another half hour letting the memories from the last couple of days wash over him. So far his travels had brought him what he had been looking for; everything he couldn’t do or see at home. He did some of the typical tourist attractions like the Eifel tower and a guided tour through the city. When he was done playing tourist, and was slowly running out of money, he dipped into the local youth culture looking for cheap places to eat and sleep and meeting other youngsters from all over the world. He followed his ears to the music, seeking out spots he could fall in, harmonies he could enrich or vocals he could take. There was a richness in Europe, a trend in music going on, taking the youngsters of the day on a new roller coaster, new avenues to explore. Most of all, Art found people to sing with, just as fleeting as back home in New York, but newer, different. Especially, Art found a new audience, their mouths and their eyes wide open as he sang them a song. He still loved to enchant people with his voice.
Next on his agenda was a nice French breakfast, then he would go out on the street again to see if he could find more music. There were new forces to look out for; the Beatles in the UK were making waves and back in America Bob Dylan was making waves. Art felt more attracted to what Dylan was doing, the gentleness of songs bringing harsh messages to the public. It worked. Art liked that, because those things needed to be said and they needed to be heard. Art really liked the Folk genre in general anyway, he could easily fit his trained voice and his skills in harmonies in that genre. He only needed to find the right person to do it with, especially now he didn’t have his tape recorders to produce his harmonies with. There was considerable talent on the streets of Paris. There was an overload of youngsters wielding their guitars and fending with their songwriting, some of them really promising. They didn’t catch Art’s heart completely. It was all lovely and Art could make his vocals fit the music, but the music never really seemed to wrap around his voice. This love making was a one way street it seemed.
Art sat up and stretched one more time before he slid his feet out of the bed and onto wooden floor. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and observed the room for a while. Other beds in the rooms, some occupied, some empty but slept in. Art checked the time, it was nearly 12 o’clock in the afternoon. Okay, brunch then, or didn’t they do that in Paris? Lunch was fine too. Still a little sleep drunk Art got up wobbling on his feet as he made his way to a tiny bathroom where he splashed some water in his face, his head already out of the door executing the his plans. He could go to Montmartre; the artistic outpouring there appealed to Art, the tourist overflow that was likely to be there, not so much. He wasn’t sure he was going to find many musicians there.
Still dreaming about the rest of his holiday Art got dressed and made his way to the tiny kitchen to see if there was any food. By the smells of it, there was cooking, a hot meal. Art wasn’t sure if his empty stomach was up for a hot meal already; he only just got up. As he sniffed out the meals he was greeted by several broadly smiling girls. Art returned the smile sgreeting good morning, the flog of girls following him to the kitchen. Jeanie, the girl who introduced Art to this little community, immediately got up when she saw Art.
“Good morning,” she heartily beamed. “There’s fresh soup and baguettes. You want some?”
She was already reaching for a soup bowl when Art stopped her: “Actually, is there coffee? I would like some bread though, please.”
Jeanie nodded: “Bread. Baguette?”
“Yeah, some of the baquette is all right.”
“Jam? Butter? I’ll make it for you.”Jeanie didn’t waste too many words, but got to work right away.
Art mumbled an okay and sat quietly down.
One of the girls pointed at him: “You sing,” she cheered.
Art had just taken a sip of his coffee swallowing and nodding: “Yeah, you like?” Meanwhile he observed he too started cutting out words. He figured especially during eating food, it was economical.
Art nearly choked on a bite of bread when someone suddenly patted him on the back quick hard: “Hey man! Great vocals yesterday!”
Art was still couching when he looked up to see his new American friend Matt whom he met on the plane. Between coughs he thanked him.
Matt started a one-sided conversation with Art: “Yeah, I used to sing in do-wop groups.” He looked down at Art expectantly, but Art was chewing away on his jammy baguette and slurping hot coffee.
When Matt didn’t get a reply he picked up the conversation again: “I used to sing harmonies…in those do-wop groups….” Another look at Art. “Do you sing harmonies?”
Art looked up from his coffee: “Hmmm? Oh….yeah,” then he took another big gulp.
“Maybe we could do some harmonies together,” Matt suggested wiggling his finger from himself to Art indicating the two of them.
Art answered with a mouth full of bread: “Great.”
“Maybe we can work something out for this evening,” Matt said starting to plan their cooperation.
Maybe this was the partnership Artie had always been looking for. This guy was willing and motivated. Art, not being the forward type, let Matt do all the planning, this way Art could judge the situation and ascertain if and how this could work. Of course he had plans, he always did; he knew what he wanted from a partnership. He also had some experience, because he got around as well, also did some singing with different people, in different groups, on different street corners. It was all viable experience and it taught Artie a little how to cooperate or influence, trying to coax out the best sounds, the best harmonies they could produce. Art found with every group it was different; every group had its own balance, its own identity and every group had people in it affecting that balance. No matter how different, no matter how good the groups had been, they had never fully satisfied Art. Art always wanted something better, was always slaving over getting the balance right, long after most had judged it good enough. More often than not, it had meant Art’s loss of interest and eventually exit.
So, how perfectionistic was Matt going to be? Was he willing to repeat repeat repeat, till they met perfection? Was he willing to practice over and over again and work till every little detail was perfected? It was hard not to lose faith and keep going after so many had proven not willing to fidget for so long, but Art’s heart was still craving the harmonies, a cooperation, and inspiration to keep singing and finding new melodies to bring to the world. Did Matt write songs? That would really help.
Art swallowed the last bite of baguette and joined the conversation: “You think we’ll be ready for this evening?”
Matt nodded enthusiastically: “Oh, sure!”
“Hmmm,” Art doubtfully hummed bringing the mug of coffee to his lips.
Paul tuned his guitar quietly in the back. David was talking to some French girls in his broken French. They seemed to understand him well enough and they were giggling a lot.
David suggested practicing some songs, so Paul had something to play this evening. Just to be prepared, might the opportunity present itself. David checked with some guys who claimed to be there, they listed a few songs and David introduced Paul telling them he would join them this evening and if he could get a heads up so he knew what to play. The community was very open and Paul was not even asked if he could play at all. It made him nervous; hopefully they weren’t expecting another Dylan or Elvis Presley, because Paul was neither of them and was even sure that he couldn’t reach their level of craftsmanship, no matter how badly he wanted to.
Several musicians were unpacking around Paul to get ready for the evening. A lot of girls dancing, so a lot to lose. It was a bit a contest who could get the prettiest girl. Timidly he plucked his strings as he watched and listened to the first boys warming up. They all seemed to have something in style that Paul didn’t have. They were tall, they were chiselled, they were cool or peaced out, they were copies of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or something more hard-core like the Rolling Stones. Already they were attracting the most girls and this was just warming up. Those girls didn’t notice the quiet, small, dark boy in the back churning out some timid melodies and using some interesting techniques. If only he had the courage to step forward, step out of the shadows and play were everyone could see and most importantly hear him. Paul didn’t have the guts, nor the confidence that what he was doing would be found interesting by anyone. So he kept to himself and only shuffled out of the shadow when David told him to.
“Show him what you can do,” David ordered.
Paul squeezed passed two taller, cooler boys towards David and a young man with cerulean eyes and wild, dark blond hair.
“What shall I play,” Paul asked his question barely louder than a whisper.
“Play what you played me,” David suggested: “That was really good. Oh, by the way, this is Thomas; he needs someone else besides me to support him, he’s a singer.”
Paul nodded: “Okay,” and started to play.
The faces were at first polite, then slowly heads in the room started to turn to see who was playing. Thomas’ face was lighting up and David looked proud at his find.
It was something Paul couldn’t describe, because he didn’t fully understand it. All he knew was that something came over him when he was playing. When he was playing he forgot all his inhibitions and his shyness about doing it in public. Unfortunately, that usually came back to him straight after he played his last note. Now he was in the music, almost playing as if his life depended on it. He sought the freedom, he rode the emotional wave, lived in the music, completely failed to see the curious faces turning towards him. He also failed to see the sparkle in Thomas’ and David’s eyes, and the girls who also turned their heads away from the local guitar hero and inched a little closer to see and hear the new music. By the time time Paul played the last note, the room was silently listening, the buzz quieted down, you could hear a pin drop.
Paul lingered for a few seconds in his last note, the spontaneous applause waking him from his referee. His cheeks immediately coloured a bright red and he could feel cold sweats breaking out in his neck. Thomas and David stood in front him, clapping wildly. Some of the girls were now standing in front of him, their eyes ablaze with excitement.
“You American? No?” one of the girls squeaked.
Paul undid the strap and lowered his guitar self-consciously, yeah he was American. He tried to slink off back into the shadows, but David quickly grabbed his elbow.
“So what do you think, Thom?”
Thom stuck up his thumb: “Definitely!” Then he turned to Paul: “Can you sing? I need someone to do some backing vocals.”
“Oh,” Paul abashedly exclaimed as he stumbled backwards: “Oh, no uhm, I dunno…I mean, I don’t usually…”
Thomas smiled: “You sing in the shower?” David laughed loudly.
Thomas didn’t wait for Paul to reply: “I can teach you. You’ll be fine.”
Thomas looked around the room, saw the people crowding around them, some girls agape at Paul’s skills and Americanness, and Paul still trying to slink off to a quieter spot.
“Let’s find a room where we can practice,” he pointed in the general direction of outside.
Paul quietly nodded, feeling his cheeks burn. He could really do with some fresh air and he wanted to get away from all the attention; it was all a bit much.
Somewhere in the half dark, where Paul left his guitar case and bag, he fumbled some stuff into his bag and carefully laid his guitar in its cover. He knew he really looked like a travelling street musician this way, a little bit beaten, a little bit rough, but determined to make the world a better place, one note after another. He almost dared to liken himself a little to Dylan. Maybe he wasn’t as skilled as Dylan and Paul couldn’t convey the double meaning or undecidedness in his lyrics like Dylan could, but he was convinced he had something to say and he knew he could write the English language well; he Mastered in it. For a few minutes, in his safe little world, he could be like Dylan. The moment he turned around and saw the other musicians, it was decidedly confirmed he was not Dylan, but Paul Simon, a no-one from New Jersey who dabbled on the guitar and who would probably give in to his parents’ wishes and become an English teacher. Yes, that was who he was.
With a sigh he followed David and Thomas out of the crowded café and into another building with a quiet rehearsal room. There were instruments everywhere and Thomas brushed some candy wraps and other rubbish into the garbage .
“Okay,” he announced. “I’ll show you the stuff I want to play this evening.”
Paul was still unpacking his guitar. David was taking place on a table near Thomas, guitar in lap, still fumbling with the strap. Paul joined them without saying a word.
Thomas pointed at him: “You should play the lead guitar.”
Paul was shocked by that phrase; no-one had ever said that to him before.
Thomas meanwhile turned to David: “No offence, mate, but he’s better.”
Thomas was in the lead since he was the singer and he already had a setlist and even a few self-written songs. The song s were not bad, but Paul could think of some improvements. At first he followed Thomas lead, sheepishly playing what was asked. He was reticent about deviating from what Thomas wanted and had written; they were his songs after all. However, as Paul got the songs better in his fingers and certain aspects were starting to annoy him, he tentavily played it differently. Thomas stopped the session.
“What was that!?”
Paul shrunk a little in embarrassment.
“What did you just play there?”
The bloods of self-consciousness and fear of failing immediately invaded his face and neck and the cold sweats were back.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
Thomas noticed Paul’s cheeks glowing up: “Why are you so shy about everything you do? There’s no need to be so embarrassed.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled again.
David sat quietly laughing a little and petted Paul on the back: “Keep going! You’re doing great!”
Thomas agreed sticking up his thumb again.
Paul took a deep breath, tried to force the blood away and calm himself down. The confirmation from both boys encouraged Paul to improvise more, play to the music and embraced Thomas’ singing.
Ah yes, the singing. David, very kindly, took up the backing vocals. With Paul singing along, Paul didn’t need to worry too much about his singing, and when they needed another voice, he could somewhat hide his voice under Thomas’ and David’s. That Paul was comfortable enough with.
Art had very strong ideas about how the harmonies should sound. No, they didn’t always sound exactly the same as on the radio. No, they didn’t need to, as long as it sounded right, as long it sounded beautiful. Art new what he could do; he knew his own voice well, its range, its tone and its overall ability. Matt on the other hand wasn’t as well trained as Art had hoped, but he was pretty good with harmonies and he had a good feel for music. With a bit of tweaking and with some exercise Art was sure they could make soaring harmonies together. Matt however, wasn’t keen on writing new harmonies, he’d rather stick to what he heard and learnt to sing, because that was how it was on the radio and how, to his mind, the songs should sound. It was a bit of a battle of opinions; sometimes Matt gave in, but most of the time Art converted back to the well known harmonies. They weren’t bad, it just didn’t please Art quite as much.
Then there was the case of fitting the voices together. For a part that had to happen naturally, for another part you could give it a push. The latter did require the devoted effort of both parties. Art was game, at first it seemed so was Matt. Except that once Art started the process of bending the voices to one another, Matt had some problems with it.
“I just don’t sing like that!”
“You can learn,” Art tried again.
“You’ve been saying that for the last three hours.”
“Yes, because it’s true, but you have to cooperate.”
“You can’t expect me to do something that’s just not me. That’s not how I sing.”
Art sighed; they seemed to be stuck in a vicious circle.
“Listen, if you really want to make those harmonies work, you have to bring the voices together. You don’t do that by just singing in tune. Every voice has its own timbre, its own tone. And every man has his own pronunciation and use of the voice. If there are differences left in voices, they should complement each other.”
“Christ, Artie. We’re just gonna sing some songs together, not present a science project.”
Exasperated Art turned away from Matt; maybe not such a good partnership after all. Maybe he could salvage the situation.
“Okay, let’s turn things around; you take the higher harmony, I’ll take the lower.”
“How’s that gonna help?”
Art bit his lower lip, trying very hard not to lose his patience: “Let’s just see if it works better.”
Now Matt sounded exasperated: “It worked fine!”
“Will you just take the higher harmony! Please!” Art spat out finally having lost his patience.
Matt didn’t seem all that impressed as he shrugged: “All right, whatever.” He lifted his guitar into his lap and gave Art a suspicious look. Now Art didn’t look very impressed. Matt strummed his guitar, but some of his initial fire and motivation had disappeared. He got the right key and he found the high harmony all right and Art managed to fit his harmonies fine, but neither of them was feeling it anymore. Art really wanted to join the musicians again, he had a blast the night before. It was all fun, and it was his holiday, he could let his standards slip for once and give in to Matt’s ideas of how to do it.
When they finished the song Art bit his lower lip saying nothing as he watched Matt pack his guitar. He was with his back to Art most of the time, avoiding eye contact.
“Yeah still want to sing?” Art wondered.
Matt’s shoulders slumped and he took his time turning around to face Art.
“We can just do the songs, join in with the rest of them. It’s fine. It’s the summer holidays after all, I’m sure it’ll be fun. We’ve got the songs down, really,” Art tried again.
Matt fumbled with a corner of his shirt. He sighed before he responded: “I suppose.”
Art got up only now noticing how stiff he had gotten. He stretched out his hands above his head as he arched his back. He was actually hungry as well.
“Let’s go eat something, I’m hungry. We’ll decide what to do after.”
Matt sighed again: “Okay.”
Paul and his companions were happy with their collaboration, Thomas even suggested Paul should play some solos; David agreed even though he had hoped he could play some. Paul found it quite fun to play with Thomas and David since they were very encouraging and enthusiastic about his playing; it gave him courage to step into the limelight. The nerves he was feeling during dinner were, for a change, not crippling. As long he didn’t start overthinking what he was about to do, he was fine. Concentrate on the music. Concentrate on the food for now.
They were having a nice dinner in the house were the stage, or rather a carpeted open space in the middle of the room, was already waiting for the musicians. It was cheaper to join the others early and this way they could take their time eating and setting up their gear. The mood was also relaxed and there was an atmosphere of freedom and possibilities. It helped keeping Paul calm. He didn’t think he was ever happier playing music. Back home, after a year hiatus from his initial guitar introduction, Paul started practicing again, alone in his bedroom, without his little brother rolling eyes at him. He maybe was shy, but he did have perseverance and he was determined to get the technique of picking down. The first few weeks he played trial and error till his fingers bled. After a while his fingers became more calloused and his picking more skilled. Before long he could play his first tune.
He mainly played for his own dreams in hopes they would miracously come true. He was still hoping he would somehow turn into a second Elvis Presley. Later on, when Paul realized he would never turn into a second Elvis, he was ready to give up guitar playing again and he would have if it had not been for the Everly Brothers. Their image was not as outlandish and far from what Paul dreamt he could be. There was only one problem, the singing and especially the harmonies. Paul gleefully crooned along when he caught them on the radio and he happened to be on his own. Unlike his guitar playing, Paul had difficulty deciding how his singing was and that didn’t help his confidence, so he kept quiet when other people were around. Of course in the mirror, with his mother’s brush substituting as a microphone, he was a good guitar player and singer and his and his invisible partner’s voice blended together beautifully. They were a top act, admired by many.
He also dabbled a bit in songwriting; it seemed a logical step, since his dad, a professional musician, also wrote songs from time to time. To Paul’s surprise, when he sat down to write a song, the music came first, the words later. It was a surprise since Paul was looking at a study in English; he felt right at home in those classes. He expected the words to come easy, but they didn’t; half of the time it was not really what he wanted to say, but he had trouble finding interesting words that fit the music. He could be more determined about the songwriting, but his parents, especially his dad, tried to discourage him so he could spend that time studying. Since he was never going to be Elvis Presley and since he wouldn’t ever be the Everly Brothers either, Paul didn’t fight his parents in that matter. Instead he wrote a few tunes he kept to himself. Silly little things, no-one would be interested in hearing them anyway.
Watching the other musicians flaunting their songs and earning them the girls’ attention, Paul somewhat regretted not honing his skills as a songwriter. Yes, he wrote the occasional song, but he wasn’t an experienced songwriter, so his songs weren’t that good. Of course, that was all Paul’s judgement since no-one ever heard them, and if it was up to Paul, no-one ever would. He was happy enough to play along on other people’s songs, maybe do a little bit of backing vocals. Thomas said his voice was quite nice and with a bit of exercise he could learn to become a good enough singer to sing backing vocals in a band or something. Paul was blown away by that remark; he didn’t see himself as a singer.
The nerves became more heightened as the evening grew older and closer to Paul’s public debut on guitar and vocals. It was a good thing he could hide behind Thomas and David. As usual he found himself a spot in the dark of a shadow were he could warm-up in peace. He was so dark and small, it was easy to disappear in a crowd. For a little while he was able to play without obstruction, without distraction, without acknowledging he was warming up to perform for people. It was when David came looking for him that Paul really started to feel the nerves, but he couldn’t let Thomas and David down. Meek like a sheep he followed David towards the open circle. Thomas was already there setting up a paper with the setlist on it, a glass of water and a tambourine. Paul could feel the blood streaming to his cheeks. He could pass that off as heat from the clammy crowd. He quietly took a position behind Thomas, David squeezing his shoulder.
“It’s all right, you’ll be fine,” he tried to encourage Paul.
Paul nodded sheepishly.
Thomas waited for the crowd to silence then turned to David and Paul to start playing. Like in a dream his fingers started picking the strings and music floated from his guitar dancing around the notes floating from David’s guitar. Thomas gave one last ensuring smile and then turned to the crowd and started singing. Everything about the experience felt unreal. There he was, in a band, playing guitar and providing some backing vocals. It all seemed to happen automatically; Paul’s fingers automatically new what strings to pick or suppress and his voice automatically sang the backing vocals. He listened with surprise and shock to his first public solo, almost like an out of body experience. It was much easier than Paul imagined and with the music sounding right, even the sounds he was pulling from his guitar, Paul’s confidence and enjoyment grew influencing the songs for the best. Soon enough he was completely in the moment and the three of them even got the crowd dancing. Paul was basically beaming in the back, unable to control his grin. Thomas gave him one of his familiar thumbs up after one solo and David was smiling broadly at him.
Yes, Paul had never been happier.
Art flicked the last bit of his cigarette away. It was quiet on the street and he was surprised how short the day had seemed even though it was in the middle of the summer. It had been an interesting day, starting out late, then rehearsing with a new friend the whole afternoon. Art wasn’t so sure anymore about his ideas about singing and harmonies. So far, no-one had been patient enough to stick with it and make it to the finish with him. Maybe it really was him, maybe he really id ask too much. Whatever the case, after dinner things didn’t go as planned.
Together Art and Matt found a small café to eat something. At first they were quiet; their arguments and differences in opinions had cooled their young friendship. Uncomfortably they sat at a table sipping their drinks and waiting for their food. They had some awkward conversation about their holidays and further plans when another young man broke in requiring after their nationalities and their further plans. Matt was going to stay another week in Paris, Art was looking to travel eastwards soon. The new boy perked up immediately telling Art he was going to travel to Prague by train and if he liked to join him since his previous travelling partner had decided to stay in Paris. The tickets were for a train leaving that evening from Gare de l’Est to Luxembourg and from there on to Prague. Since Art had lost interest in the music evening and since he was still looking for ways to travel to the east and since he had never been in Prague before, he said ‘yes’ on the spot. He realized only a second too late he was abandoning his shared plans with Matt and he suspiciously turned to him. Matt shrugged, he caught on that Artie was never going to do whatever he wanted anyway. So Artie was free to go, he only had to go back to the house to pick up his stuff.
When Art arrived back at the front door of the house youngsters were pouring in for a cheap meal and the music to follow. With difficulty he made his way up to the room he had slept in the night before and where he had left his bags. He was travelling light, only one backpack. He grabbed all his stuff, mainly dirty clothes, together and stuffed them unorganized in the backpack. Once he was packed he took one last look around the room making sure he wasn’t forgetting anything and trying to memorize the room. He spent a good three nights in this room and it had been a lot of fun. Then he made his way down the stairs, backpack on back making him awkward and inflexible. He nearly knocked over a guy with a guitar on his back, a small fellow balancing for a moment and then disappearing in the crowd. He also nearly hit a girl in the face with his backpack, but this time he had time to apologise before finally stepping out of the house.
He made his way to the station where he would meet his new travelling companion and his friend to take over the train ticket. It was all very straight forward. They met in front of the station, Art handed over the francs he had left and received in return the train ticket and a bottle of soda. Then he followed his partner into the station and to the right platform his eyes already ablaze with new adventures. They’d be sleeping in the train, but that was fine with Art. He gave Paris one last look and then he stepped onto the train.