Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
A Friday in March 1995
Jake, a pair of orange plugs visible in his ears, waited impatiently in the wings of the main stage of Lawndale's Recreation Center as the ninth of nine groups competing in the Spring Fling Battle of the Bands butchered ten thousand years of human musical heritage. Jake rubbed his nose just to assure himself that the noise had not induced bleeding. Neck Tourniquet as they billed themselves could have made The Sex Pistols sound like The Moody Blues in comparison. Melody was unknown to them. They banished harmony. Jake supposed that they had rhythm. The drummer at any rate beat on his kit much as an ancestor of his might have pounded two stones or tortoise shells together. He guessed that he could kindly say that it was an experiment in atonal Avant-garde rock if he was not so certain that it was simply a matter of the quintet being horribly incompetent musicians.
Jake shook his head. The only reason that he was at the contest in the first place was that Trent asked him to be there to hear Trent's band, Samodiva, which he formed with a girlfriend the previous summer, but what Jake proposed God disposed. The scheduled host, a local DJ, managed to plow into a stop sign on his way to the event. The half-empty bottle of Johnny Walker in the floorboard of his car cast doubts on his story that he swerved to miss an old woman with a walker.
Kathy Muller, Chairman of Lawndale's Parks and Recreation Commission, quickly corralled Jake to be the emergency fill-in emcee the moment she spotted him coming through the door with his eldest daughter and her friend.
"Please, please, please, Jake," she begged. "I can't get up there. I'd pass out."
"I can't be a judge," Jake told her. "My neighbor is in one of the bands."
Kathy waved one hand frantically while shoving a clipboard at him with the other. "You don't have to," she said. "The audience votes by applause. All nine bands are on here."
"I'm hardly Johnny Carson," Jake replied.
"No but you are here and sober," Kathy answered.
Neck Tourniquet's third and final 'song' ended with the bassist yanking at the strings of his Ibanez, the drummer pummeling a cymbal with his fist, and the guitarist dancing on a wah-wah pedal as if he was Baryshnikov but most people were watching the contrabassoon player writhing about the stage as the vocalist licked his instrument.
Jake plunked the plugs from his ears and stepped out onto the stage thinking that the applause must be deafening because he could not hear it although he could hear laughter.
"Thank you," he said lightly clapping one hand against the clipboard. "That was Neck Tourniquet, our final act of the evening. Now you yourselves will decide who has won 1995's Spring Fling Battle of the Bands. As I call the names of the groups, cheer for your favorites."
Jake quickly ran through Little Willie and the Danglers, North Pole Penguins, Samodiva, Expelled from Bayside, Abandoned Pier, Leaves of Grass, Fake ID, Cheeky Lad, and ingrained in his memory with no hope of ever forgetting this side of Alzheimer's Neck Tourniquet. He liked Leaves of Grass the most but North Pole Penguins and Expelled from Bayside captured the hearts of the young audience although Jake was pleased that Trent's band got a respectable amount of the ovations.
Standing near the front of the stage with her arms folded across her chest Kathy discretely flashed four fingers. With a barely discernable nod, Jake leaned into the microphone. "Very, very close according to our sophisticated meter," he said. "But by a hair Expelled from Bayside!"
Kathy extended to Jake a small plaque that she extracted from her purse. With a beaming smile, Jake presented it to the winning sextet as a photographer from the Sun-Herald snapped his picture. KSBC also captured Jake on videotape presenting the award. The next morning, both brought a smile to Edie White while Gwen Hathaway's husband suffered through a rant from his wife about upstarts and her people not letting her know that the media was going to be there.
Jake maneuvered through the crowd of young musicians pausing to shake hands and to pass along words of praise and encouragement.
"These bumpkins aren't ready for the future of music," growled the vocalist of Neck Tourniquet as Jake greeted her. "All they want is to be spoon fed pop pap."
"Artists are rarely accepted at first," Jake said smoothly. "It takes time for the masses to appreciate genius."
"Yeah, that's true," she replied. "Hey, you're pretty cool for an old guy."
"Thanks," Jake answered slipping by her.
Jake spied Trent standing with Jane and Daria out on the floor. More than a few people, mostly girls, wandered over to Trent flashing smiles and bestowing hugs. Jake chuckled. It was fortunate that Trent's jealous girlfriend, Monique, was nowhere around or she would be on them like a cat after mice.
Captain," Trent drawled as Jake eased his way to them. "What did you think?
"I thought that you did well," Jake said.
Trent nodded slowly catching the subtle stress that Jake placed on the word you. "Yeah, thanks," he replied.
"From the applause, I think that you finished third," Jane said.
Trent shook his head. "No more than fourth, fifth maybe," her brother replied. "Leaves of Grass I think was third."
Daria snorted. "Shoegaze has come and gone."
"Yeah, but they were tight," Trent responded. "Cool lyrics, too. I wish I could write like that."
"I don't like bands that give themselves some drug reference name," Jane said. "It's like we're supposed to automatically think they're edgy and dangerous."
Jake squeezed her shoulder affectionately. "Come over to the house tomorrow," he chuckled. "I'll introduce you to Walt Whitman."
"Do you mind if I come over?" Trent asked.
"Sure, sport," Jake replied. "You're always welcome."
"Thanks," Trent said looking past Jake. "There's Monique now. I gotta go. Bye."
"Well, girls," Jake began after Trent left. "It is still early. What would you like to do?"
"Mess with drunks on Dega street," proposed Jane.
"Drag racing down by the quarry," Daria suggested.
"Go down to Seven Corners and watch cars crash," Jane countered.
"Satan worship at High Hills Park," Daria shot back.
"How about really cutting loose and getting some banana splits?" Jake asked.
"Risky, Dad," Daria replied. "If the press got wind of it, your political career could be over after only two months."
"I'd just blame demon rum and enter rehab," said Jake. "Although you would have to stand by me teary-eyed at the press conference."
"Now that's living on the edge," Jane said. "Let's get to Baskin-Robbins."
The following Saturday
"Have a seat," Jake said to Trent as he sat down on an overstuffed chair in his den. "What's on your mind?"
Trent dropped himself onto a small sofa. He paused collecting his thoughts. "I had a blast last night even if we didn't win," he finally ventured.
"That's cool," Jake replied. "So what's the problem?"
A small sigh of exasperation escaped Trent. "On one hand I really like being a musician," he began. "It's not about some ego trip or anything. I like playing music. I mean, really like it. It feeds something inside, ya know."
"I get that," Jake replied. "What's on the other hand?"
"I got three scholarship offers so far," Trent said. "Swimming scholarships. Free rides to some good universities. I know kids that would give up body parts for that. I'd be a fool to pass it up."
Jake frowned. "I don't see the conflict."
"If I go off to school, I'm walking away from the band," Trent explained.
Jake looked inquisitively at the teenager. "Is it the band or Monique?"
Trent rubbed a hand over his hair. "Monique is the band really. She writes the songs, does the vocals, handles the arrangements, plays rhythm guitar."
"What do you get out of it?" Jake asked.
"I get to play better songs than I can write," Trent replied.
"I have never heard a song that you wrote," said Jake. "How many have you composed?"
"Not many," Trent replied shrugging. "They don't fit Samodiva's style."
"In other words, Monique doesn't like them," Jake guessed.
"Well, no, she doesn't," replied Trent. "Ballads are the only thing that I can write halfway decent and...uh, ballads don't fit Monique's vision of the band."
Jake leaned forward. "Sport, you're wanting my advice, I take it."
"Okay," Jake began. "Personally, I'd hate being a professional musician. It is very difficult to make a living simply being one. The record companies and venues control the industry. If you're lucky enough to get a contract, you have to be very, very careful about what you sign. Plus, you're talking about spending forty years or more touring months at a time if you can't get enough local gigs that'll keep body and soul together."
"So don't do it," Trent said dejectedly.
"No, I'm not saying that," Jake replied. "I'm just making sure you look at the whole picture. That being said, the happiest people in the world are those whose vocations and avocations are the same. I love what I do. Helen steering me into the law was one of the best things that ever happen to me. If being a musician is your path to happiness then, by all means, walk it but give yourself every chance to succeed."
"First, accept the scholarship to which ever university has the best music program," Jake said. "Learn the craft although getting a business minor wouldn't hurt. Having an ace in the hole is always good."
"Most of the bands that hit it big don't go to college," Trent pointed out.
"Yeah, true," Jake agreed. "But you have a desire to get better. I heard the longing when you spoke about Leaves of Grass last night and I can tell you that you won't get better by shackling yourself to someone who actively discourages you."
"She doesn't discourage me," Trent said.
"Monique is the band," Jake quoted. "Doesn't sound like a hothouse of collective creativity to me. Anyway, that's my take on it. What you do is up to you. You're an adult now."
Trent nodded as he rose. "Thanks for listening, Captain."
"Anytime, Sport," Jake replied.
Hey, Captain," Trent said when he spotted Jake entering the café.
"Hi, Sport," Jake replied. "What's up? What did you want to see me about?"
"Thought that I'd buy you lunch, ya know," Trent said. "Just to say thank you."
"Never turn down a free meal," Jake laughed. "But what are you thanking me for?"
"For helping me make up my mind about college," Trent said.
"What are you going to do?" Jake asked.
"Table for two, please," Trent said to the hostess.
"Keep me in suspense," Jake quipped as he fell in behind Trent.
Trent waited until they sat down and the server had gotten their drink orders. "Frankfort College," he said simply.
"In Pennsylvania?" Jake asked. "That's not too far from where I grew up," Jake said in response to Trent's nod. "I almost went there instead of Middleton, in fact."
"It has the best music department of any of the schools that offered me scholarships," Trent said.
"Yeah, I remember their choir from when I was a kid," Jake replied. "They used to perform all over the country. Even sang for Eisenhower in the White House once."
Trent took a long sip of the Dr. Pepper that the server sat before him. "Actually, Captain," he said. "I want to thank you for a lot of things. Mainly, I guess, just giving a damn. Dad's practically a stranger and Mom's...well, Mom is Mom. Even when she's here, she really isn't but since you guys moved in, it really hasn't mattered. You and Helen have...ah, hell, I love you guys, ya know and I appreciate all that you have done for Jane and me."
Jake nodded. "Helen and I love you and Jane, too. You remember that. As long as we alive, you have someone you can turn to."
"I'll keep that in mind when I'm a starving musician," Trent joked.