The call came the morning I finally gave in and decided to believe in myself. I was sitting on a bar stool in my apartment, perched amongst the destruction wrought by celebratory friends. Plastic wine glasses were everywhere, from a trash bag explosion. Champagne stained the carpet a light brown. Ryan had written a country tune for his kid sister to sing on her poorly selling iTunes collection, and Taylor’s people bought it instead.
When Taylor’s people buy a song from you, you’re set. At least for a while. Ryan brought a case of cheap wine to my apartment (mine has a balcony) and we partied all night. We even listened to him sing the stupid thing. Something about the innocence of hand holding. I was drunk on red wine and envy but I was too self conscious to disappear, like I was still a kid and this was a grocery store where I could throw my temper tantrum.
I had my big break in a similar fashion, two years ago. The money and the girl I met while I was in the studio recording it disappeared like most Billboard Top 200 dreck. Michael was supposed to sing it. His people brought in someone else while Michael was working on another track – Michael would come in later and follow the kid’s phrasing. Michael never made it, though. He got sick, and then he started working on that world tour, and then he was dead. I got the money, but the song never played anywhere.
It’s kind of like buying a ticket to the movie, and then someone just tells you the plot, bit-by-bit, for two hours. You know what happened, but where’s the style?
The problem is that a song can make you enough that “doing nothing” is a viable option. Michael buys your song, and whether he sings on it or not, you’re set for 5 years of good choices or six months of stupid ones. It’s very easy, and convincing, to consider partying “research.” After all, I write party songs, don’t I? Even though most of the time is spent sitting around at a piano or with a guitar, staring off into space and pretending like you’re feeling whatever it is you’re pretending to be feeling. It’s harder to remember to party with a hangover.
That morning I was thinking about the person I wish I was versus the person that I am and eating a bowl of cold cereal. I believed that the other person existed, that person who I wanted to be, the me that could be. And then I was there. I was sitting on the couch eating french toast, and I was wearing sunglasses, and I immediately understood that this was exactly the thing that was supposed to happen. Hang in there, I thought. Believe in yourself.
And then the phone rang. I picked it up. Well, he did. “Paul here.”
I liked that. Usually, I just instinctually said, “Hello?” Saying, “Paul here,” seemed like many people called, sometimes expecting a secretary, but no – you have Paul.
“That makes a lot of sense,” I said into the phone. I watched me nod, and smile, and take off my sunglasses. I watched me twiddle air piano keys, which is something I do when I’m excited about something. “Of course, right, it’s Justin’s song now. Doesn’t need to have a past. No past in pop!”
That didn’t make sense. Pop is all about repackaging the past. But I supposed I was agreeing. Better me seemed to understand that it’s better to get off the phone successful than self-righteous and annoying. He hung up.
“I did it!”
“What did I do?”
“I sold it! That Michael song! Justin’s people want it. They need a lyric change, something about how he doesn’t sing about sex explicitly, so there’s that detail. But! I did it!”
I looked at myself, wearing a slim cut grey suit and an expression of pure delight on my face, and I compared myself to me. I was wearing a pair of holey boxers, and cereal stuck to the hair on my legs. It made sense that I would sell the song, and not me.
“So what now?”
“Everyone celebrated Ryan last night. They aren’t going to want to celebrate again.”
“I don’t think it matters. Celebration is fun no matter what.”
I watched me pick up the phone again, and call someone. “I’d like a cleaning crew around to my place. I want to get it ready for showing.”
That made sense. New place, new life, new song. Well… old song, made new. The Justin kid didn’t have Michael’s soul, but he would work for the song. I wouldn’t even have to go in this time. They had the track with that singer’s phrasing on it. I wonder if Justin needed someone to phrase lyrics for him. I doubted it.
I put on clothes and a jacket, then pulled another jacket out for myself. I threw it on the couch. When I got off the phone, I walked with myself down to the local cafe, and felt the hangover acutely, remembering trying to kiss Lucy last night and shuddering at the memory of her recoil.
Behind me, I was calling her. “Lucy, I did it! I sold it! My song sold!”
She sounded overjoyed. I listened while I talked to Lucy, hearing the one side of what it sounds like when I’m successful and not downtrodden by all the nothingness that made my life so bleak. It’s amazing how miserable you can make yourself when you don’t have anything truly sad to be depressed over.
I sat down at a cafe table and I followed shortly. My hands shook while I motioned for coffee, and my hands were still while I ordered orange juice and seltzer.
“I think I’m going to go away for a while,” I said.
“I think that would be best,” I answered confidently, nodding at my phone.