The musician is upset about something. I watch him pace up and down his dressing room, muttering lyrics, riffs and curses under his breath, pulling a strand of his greasy hair like a thread he needs to tear off, and suddenly standing still in front of the mirror to watch himself; the heavy eye make-up, which I think is the result of some belated identity crisis that already caused a number of headlines, the remarkably cheerful blouse, the blisters on his hands from when he was too rough with me. The musician is tired. He has been for quite a while now.
He wasn’t always.
I remember him when he was young, when it was just the two of us and a few newbies who we would occasionally allow into our mythical process of creation, when he would laugh and cry over big and small things, regardless of the hour or the actual cause of these bulging emotions. Maybe a text message from some girl he fancied or the first time one of his songs featured on the radio. He was so easily accelerated.
He’s a great musician. Deep down he knows this. And not because of the fans yelling love letters to him, or the ratings of his newest album, or the prestigious venues that now want to book him; it’s not the handshakes or gasps — he’s never relaxed when it happens, despite him telling others how much he loves and needs this appreciation to truly acknowledge himself as an artist. He is always on edge, finding it hard to focus, to speak honestly. He merely acts in shrugs and short, stupid sentences, mean stuff mostly, things he thinks make him look and sound cool. Occasionally they do.
No, but sometimes, when it’s just the pair of us, when we’re in a studio and make something orgasmic, something truly sensational together, he will grow close to tears and he smiles and strokes my neck and he shakes his head in happy disbelief, sitting down next to me, letting me lean into his lap.
‘My God,’ he’ll say. ‘Would you believe that?’
I do, I believe in him, always. I have to. It’s my only job and it is an easy thing to do nowadays, having known him for so long. I have been with him from the very first day, have followed him all over the world, through rows and rows of security checks at airports, through endless jam-sessions in foreign hotel rooms and exhausted performances in damp and disgusting bars in faraway places like Louisiana or Singapore, where nobody had a clue who we were.
He trusts me. If there’ll ever come a day when he’ll lose me I don’t know what he’d do. Probably pretend it’s no big deal, that it’s just ‘bloody typical’. He’ll bury my previous existence, profess to everyone he’s got a dozen or so girls to take my place, but we all know it doesn’t quite work like that. I was the first, am still the only one. I have witnessed it all; its birth and growth. All those others — what do they know? They’re just pretty and quiet and they might look cool, and they might do exactly as he tells them to, whilst he sometimes has to spend hours fidgeting with the pedals when I’m on, getting so frustrated he warns me he will throw me out the window, that I’m no good, that I’m garbage — but he doesn’t mean that. If you look him up online you’ll see what I’m trying to say here. I’m always there, right in his arms or else I’ve been given a first-class seat next to the drumkit. He always keeps me near.
‘See, she won’t ever let me down, you get me?’ he told his bass-player the other day, when the guy was complaining about my eerie state. I love that he refers to me as ‘she’ and ‘her’. It makes me feel like a lover.
I haven’t much ambition in my life, unlike him. Don’t get me wrong, I want us to be the best, to reach the unimaginable, to make it big, I really do, but I myself am perfectly content just spending time with him in his old Peckham basement or his sister’s garden, just playing some half-forgotten tunes or Bluesy covers. He will grin secretively, he will stroke my curves, tickle my strings and I do really feel like a lover then. It doesn’t matter how many girls he’s got wrapped around his ringed index finger cause I know I’m the one he needs. It took some time before I truly believed this, but now it’s clear as day and I will punish him if he treats me badly, and like a true lover he’ll always come crawling back and beg for forgiveness.
The thing I worry about most, to be honest, is that one day I’ll be without him. I am not as afraid of that as I used to be, when he was in his dark period, when I would find myself more often than not dumped on the floor of some dodgy backroom, where he would be cloaked in other people’s bad ideas and wouldn’t even recognise me; would trip over me and let me lie there vulnerably, wide in the open, for any greedy, sweaty hand to grab me and abuse me and he wouldn’t care, cause he stopped caring altogether. Those were ugly times.
He made the girls cry, too. Sweet Melanie, I couldn’t even be jealous of her. I actually grew to like her; she always took care of me, made sure I would be safe, that I would be taken care of, where he himself was treating me with the utmost indifference. She even got angry about it at some point, told him it was despicable how he was treating his favourite thing in the world, that it clearly showed how much of a selfish bastard he had become. He was a selfish bastard, and it pains me to say how much I tried to defy him as it still feels like I betrayed him somehow. But he betrayed me first, I guess. So I actively stood my ground, wouldn’t give into those pining, aimless fingers, would turn false and dissonant, just to show him. Oh, I drove him mad, I can tell you. He very nearly threw me out for real on a few occasions.
But he came around. And so I forgave him. Melanie never did, nor did a number of his old friends but I had no doubt, no regret, no grudge. He knows this, he tearfully confessed to me how I was the only thing he had left in this wicked worrying world, that I would always be there for him and that he knew this and would never abandon me like that ever again. We made some of our greatest songs then. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I liked it, liked how it was again only us, nobody else to distract or exploit him. They do that, you know. They don’t understand what goes in, they only care about what comes out. But not me, cause I’m right there, rowing it from one side to the other like Charon.
How could I ever be with someone else if he’d be gone? How could I ever let anyone else touch me, claim me, even if it were to turn me into the most beatific melodies or a burial of melancholy — how could I ever translate someone’s smouldering headaches if that person wasn’t him?
Trust me, I tell him, calmly, silently, and he does. We were both so young and gullible when we started and look where we are now. They sing your name. They even sing mine, sometimes.
‘You’re the real hero, you know?’ he once told me, after an exasperating session that had driven all his bandmates out and we had finally managed to finish the track, both covered in blood and sweat, but feeling ecstatic and proud. He put me down in my stand, brushed a few bloody specks from my neck, some of which are still there, having turned dark and solid now; my own tattoos. ‘You make all of this happen.’
I’m happy to do it. I don’t need any gratitude. I am satisfied with the feeling of his tensed, strong fingertips dancing all over me, covering the crowd in sounds that make them go crazy; to be a part of it, to help create it and to know we did something fantastic and made it tangible — it’s all I need.
I remember this one particular night, when a little boy, no older than twelve he was, came to say hello with his dad, looking at me with such awe in his big, budding eyes, so different from my musician’s currently weary glare, that I couldn’t look away.
‘Pretty thing, isn’t she, sonny?’ he told the boy who nodded, impressed. ‘Want to hold it?’
The musician doesn’t often offer that to strangers, but he saw something in that little boy I guess, some innocence or drive, and so I complied and did my best to sound as candid as ever and the boy nearly teared up.
‘Guess I’m going to have to buy him one when we get home,’ his dad whispered to the musician, winking, and ruffling up his son’s hair. I sure hope he did.
It really moved the musician, this little boy and his love for me. We had a good couple of nights after that, spending it by ourselves in his dad’s old cabin up north, where we stayed up for hours, sitting on the rickety veranda, playing together; silly songs, dark songs, pretty songs. We are old now, older than his dad had been at least, and we could both feel it. But it was ok, for perhaps the very first time the musician seemed to be ok with it. I never had much difficulty with it myself, being a guitar and all; if anything, it only adds to my worth, but I know he struggles with his age a lot. He feels he’s not permitted to grow old. But he finally accepted it, partially at least. It was a very intimate experience, one that I will cherish for as long as I can still sing.
‘This is really all that it’s about,’ he murmured at some point, swigging a bottle of Jack Daniels and looking morosely at the colouring sky. It was nearly morning. That still hasn’t changed. ‘The music should be the only thing that matters. Just the music.’
But it didn’t last, this realisation, not to him at least. He has tons of worries. He is struggling, growing more and more cynical, losing his conviction along with his immortality. I can see it. And I pride myself lucky, lucky for not having to worry about such human things, merely about the tightness of my strings and the hands that are holding me and carrying me around and whether or not they are his.
Perhaps, after he’s gone, he’ll give me to that little boy who left such a lasting impression on the both of us. I think I could be ok with that. I think I can find comfort in that idea. I suppose he would, too. Sometimes I wish I could tell him such things, but then I realise how hopelessly banal that all is, those breathed words and promises, and I decide it’s fine the way things are. Like I said, I’m not ambitious, not really. I am loyal and I’m tough, I have been through a lot, most of it together with him, some of it alone, and I never needed words before.
By now I’ve learned that there is nothing as relentlessly comforting as surrendering yourself to the waves of song, to allow it to enchant you, to merge with the people both absorbed in their inner emotions as much as linked together through these threats of sound. And I help spin those and what more can something like me truly aspire to? Do I not live in the best of possible worlds? To feel loved in such an endless way, the way a musician loves his instrument, it’s all I ever wanted. There is nothing like it. And even though I cannot quite formulate it nor ever will, I don’t think I really have to. Cause if you listen closely, if you let it in, you will understand why.
You might even feel it yourself.
A boundless love that sings forever.
Pip Weytingh is a Dutch author, based in Amsterdam and London. She has studied Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University and is currently finishing a research Masters in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. As an independent writer, she has previously been published in the Canadian Magazine Blood and Bourbon and the Amsterdam-based literary magazine Heroine.