all the other shadows
He would look back at his time working for the musician as perhaps the most influential years of his young life. It was the combination of his wisdom and growing dementia that made every interaction interesting.
The musician was by no stretch a household name. The band he was in had a few hits in the 70’s and kept on playing through the 80’s but even then he wasn’t the frontman, in fact he was the bassist, the least known member of any band (don’t let Sting fool you), so he could walk through a mall with no fear of being recognized.
He started mowing the musician’s lawn and it grew from there. The older the musician got, the more things the he asked him to do. Soon he was going over to the house on an almost daily basis. Mostly to bring new cans of Cheez Whiz and Ritz crackers. He seemed to subsist on little else.
The house itself was modest with no gold records hanging on the wall or pictures of the musician with famous people. Nor were there any pictures of a wife or children.
One day the musician told him a story, which he often did, most of them tawdry tales of drugs and sex with occasional Plato references, including one about the girl in the front row who flashed her beaver (it’s anyone’s guess how she got it into the club), to answer a simple question the boy had posed; “What was your favorite moment on stage?”
“Well” he started, “One day, early in our career, we got a chance to open for a very popular band. It was our biggest show to date. I guess the venue held at least ten thousand people and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Our set was well received, so much so that we were asked for an encore. You have to understand, an opening act getting an encore was pretty rare. So we were all excited and decided to give the crowd a safe cover song that we knew they would like.”
The musician began to get a faraway look in his eyes. The more he spoke, the softer his voice got.
“I don’t know if you’re familiar with the song Just Like Heaven…”
The boy indicated that he did.
“The song was one of my favorites because the bassline is so prominent. The song starts with just the bass and drums. I got to walk to the front of the stage and strike a rock star pose. The drummer did the little fill to start it and then, for reasons neither of us could figure out, we fucked up and were completely out of synch. We were looking at each other, trying to figure out how to get it right. The other members of the band were looking back and forth in a panic. Nobody knew what to do. We seemed to be stuck with no way out. It must have been nearly a minute that we were trying to get it right, but at the time if felt like hours. A lifetime. Finally, miraculously, we clicked and suddenly the song was recognizable and the crowd erupted in applause. I think they thought that we meant to play it fucked up.”
The musician leaned back for moment, as if to give the boy a moment to process things.
Then he continued. “It took me nearly a decade to realize that would forever be my favorite moment on stage.”
It took the boy at least another decade to understand why.
The last time the boy saw the man before he passed away, the musician gave him a necklace with an inscription that read “A shadow of fire poses no threat, but provides no heat. Burn baby. Burn.”
He wears it to this day.