Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 15


Prophet 15

    Dad played those three songs at a coffeehouse open mike night on Halloween and they went over brilliantly.  He won the girl, blowing Mr. Classical Pianist off the stage with his dangerous folk rock appeal.  I feigned an illness caught from too much time in the cold without a jacket and boycotted when I realized it was in a basement cafe, but I did peek my head in through a back corner of the ceiling and saw the entire set.  It was quite a high to see the joy and adulation the crowd bestowed upon my father.

    Based on his open mike success, the venue wanted to book Dad for his own forty minute set the following week.  I agreed, figuring a few more songs wouldn’t hurt.

    “Stealing” music was about to be taken to an entirely new level.  File sharing was a hole in the bucket compared to actually claiming authorship.  Was it wrong to teach my Dad some future hits, intercepting potential royalties from the artists who created them?  I can justify downloading since it creates hype, selling concert tickets and increasing album sales when fans truly want to support the bands.  But if someone stole the song from the artist before it was ever created, that was much worse.  The potential for profit was gone.  One single can make or break a band’s career.  And I’m not even talking about one hit wonders.  Even perennial chart toppers need an initial spark to kick-start a career.  Would Nirvana have been as big as they were without “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to start the phenomenon?

    I knew I’d never get caught, but is it right for a lover of music to undermine the creation, arguably the most important part of the process? I recognize the irony in the fact that I had no problem eliminating Nelson from existence, but had a real moral dilemma over potentially denying Huey Lewis credit for “The Power of Love” under similar circumstances.  Am I really that bad of a person?  I suppose everything’s relative.

    The plan wasn’t foolproof.  Lyrics and melody are a big part of the equation, but the actual performance is equally important—perhaps even more so.  There are hours upon hours of bad covers (and even bad originals) to prove that point.  Attempting this was almost as much experimental as it was necessary.  I thought I was into something good combining my father’s skill, personality, and charm with my future knowledge and critical ear.  We were three for three so far…

    Weighing the pros and cons, I eventually settled on a reasonable compromise in my head.  I’d only teach my Dad one song per artist, and it wouldn’t be their biggest hit.  When all was said and all was done, I’d steer him away from a musical career, leaving my meddling as an undocumented footnote in the college of musical knowledge.

    We followed the same writing process as before.  This time I backed off a little after providing lyrics and any notable intros or solos to see what Dad could do on his own, only jumping in with hints of the original if his interpretation lacked a can’t miss hook or seemed to go too far astray.  The end results were what good covers should be: distant cousins once removed rather than blatant carbon copies of the source.  We spent about an hour on each song, hammering out a workable set in just two sessions.

The setlist we came up with:

        We Can Work It Out (our ‘known’ cover)

        Won One (Roommate)

        Whatever (Oasis)

        Piece of Sky (The Wonder Stuff)

        Lounge Act (Nirvana)

        Only (Anthrax)

        Nowhere Fast (Carter USM)

        Captain Jack (Billy Joel)

        O Lonely Soul, It’s a Hard Road (Mary’s Danish)

        Martyr (The Mr. T Experience)

    He was a big hit again.  Nelson’s Mom officially dumped Nelson’s Dad and my dad became her absolute ultimate shortly after this show.  Most amazing to me was how Dad could not only learn but truly master nine new songs in less than a week.  My mission was accomplished and I was ecstatic, which is probably why I caved when Dad asked for a fresh setlist.  Since steering him away from a musical career already seemed far-fetched, I decided to at least humor him for now.  I abandoned all of the rules regarding artist rights this time around and went for the jugular with a barrage of hits from the future.

The new additions to his repertoire:

        Sunshine (Jonathan Edwards)

        Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)

        Alive (Pearl Jam)

        I Want A New Drug (Huey Lewis & The News)

        Summer of ’69 (Bryan Adams)

        Missing You (John Waite)

        Start Choppin’ (Dinosaur Jr)

        Your Wildest Dreams (The Moody Blues)

        White Wedding (Billy Idol)

        Straight Up (Paula Abdul)

       Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)

        Debonair (Afghan Whigs)

    I admit I was living dangerously on some of the choices by deviating from the relative safety of music from the distant future. Some of the songs were only a couple years from release and could very well have already been written and performed by now, but I was feeling invincible based on our past successes.  If anything came of it there could be trouble, but since this was a local show at a no-name venue it was unlikely to be an issue.  If Dad went on to record an album (which was quickly moving from remote possibility to forgone conclusion based on the buzz he was generating), I’d try to make sure he either kept those songs off or at least didn’t credit himself as songwriter.

    At one of our rehearsal/writing sessions we had just finished balladizing “Dead Horse” by Guns N’ Roses when we decided to call it a night.  I took the opportunity to broach a more important subject.  It was time to take away his ball and chain.

    “Absolutely not,” he objected.  “I know this started out as a game, but I’ve grown attached.  That’s never happened before.  She’s going to be my manager.  And she wants to meet you too.  My mysterious songwriting partner who’s too superstitious to go to my shows.”

    “Very superstitious.  Writing’s on the wall,” I sang back.

    “That’s good.  Let’s use it.”

    This was a conundrum.  My very existence was somewhat in jeopardy.  I say “somewhat” since I had already considered this possibility and knew I could just go back further and undo what I had done.  I wasn’t sure how much time I had to play with if I really screwed things up, but my best estimate was that I would probably continue to exist at least up to the point in time where I should have been conceived.

    For a backup plan I could always have my Dad beat up Nelson’s Dad and tell him to keep his damn hands away from his future wife.  But I wanted to have it both ways; to somehow find a way to let my Dad keep his fledgling stardom, keep myself in the picture and keep my sister alive all in one fell swoop.  Perhaps I was getting a bit greedy, but this folk rock star stuff was just too much fun.

    It was time to play the Yoko card.  “She’s holding you back artistically.  If you had the time you were focusing on the relationship to focus on your music, we might be able to come up with some original tunes.”

    “What are you talking about?  We just wrote two albums worth of original songs in a week.  Or you have.  I’m your mouthpiece to the world, and I don’t mind at all.  The writing is your department, I’m just the frontman.”

    I sighed.  “You’re a regular Johnny Bravo.”

    “Johnny who?” said Dad, not catching the Brady Bunch reference that was still at least a half dozen years ahead of its time.

    I wasn’t quite ready to trump in and reveal the true nature of my involvement, so I had one more chord to play.

    “I can’t meet her, because she already knows me.  I’m...in love with her.  That’s why I wanted you to break them up, so I could have my revenge.”

    Although it made no sense, that comment had the shock value I intended, but not the end result.

    “I don’t know what to say.”  He paused as he searched for the right words.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.  If the choice is you and the music or her, I choose her.”

    “But don’t you see?  She only wants you for the music and the fame.  When she walks out that door you’ll come looking for me.  Like you said before, AWAB, right?”

    As I said this, the doorbell rang.

    “That should be her.  Wait here, and we can all talk about this.”

    Dad exited the bedroom before I could vocalize a response.  Even Mr. Awab couldn’t help me now. 

    Not wanting to explain myself here, I left via the bedroom wall to blink ahead to a time when I could get Dad’s undivided attention again.  I’d have to throw everything on the table, and hope that he handled it better than my younger selves had.