LP: Time of No Reply by Nick Drake
Year? Hannibal Records HNBL 1318
Favorite Track: Black Eyed Dog
The singer-songwriter looked at her watch. The Jazz Twins were running late, their frenzied bop forcing customers to lean against the frosted glass window in the front of the coffeehouse. They thought they were showstoppers. They plainly sucked. Alison would have one or two lonely, mostly deaf old men to stare at her as she fumbled chords she recently learned. She pulled her guitar against her chest. Imagined what Joan Baez and Bob Dylan thought before a concert. What would Nick Drake do?
The Jazz Twins in fluorescent orange jumpsuits common in the Post Acid Noise era ended their set with a screaming cover of I Love Living in the City. A tiny girl with big glasses clapped. It took Alison a second to realize she was the waitress. Got-You-By-The-Beans was empty. The second time in two months for Alison. She needed to adjust her schedule at the library and play before the Jazz Twins unleashed their anarchy.
Ryder and Parker, the Jazz Twins, came over to her table with drinks in their hands. There was a third drink. Something red and sugary.
“Looks like your work is cut out for you,” Ryder said. At least, who Alison assumed was Ryder. They were identical twins down to the artificially grown beards. Ryder appeared the taller one because Parker slouched according to the owner of the cafe. “We probably should have started with I Love Living in the City. It’s hard to tell who your audience is going to be.”
“Next week, we have something really special that we have been working on,” Parker said, his fingers still going over the holes of his saxoxylophone, “Mahler’s 1st Symphony. Parker and I have been practicing for almost a year.”
Alison suppressed a giggle. She did mix up their names.
“Well, I will be out of town next week. Save a vid for me.”
Alison climbed onto the wooden platform spray painted a uniform black that served as a stage. Her instrument was already tuned, but she had to fiddle with the amplifiers and sound board to find that clear tone she was looking for. The door jingled as a young kid with spiky hair came in. He wore a black military jacket and boots, the laces a careless yellow color. He sat really close to the stage, his long legs almost touching the microphone stand. Alison felt his eyes on her. Her mind raced with potentials. Was he attracted to her? Was he merely interested in her music? Or lyrics? Was he just your regular coffeehouse creep? The kind with kitchen knives for hands.
The Jazz Twins tooted a mock applause when she started playing. The door jangled again and four teenagers came in from the cold, rubbed their hands, surveyed their phones which glowed with a multitude of lights, then left. Alison strummed her guitar feeling the music welling in her. Letting it develop its own pace before she layered it with words.
It dawned on her she had no reason to do this. The Jazz Twins were musicians. Sure they appreciated other musician’s work, but their focus was on their own craft. The waitress was being paid and, being that yet again the Jazz Twins cleared out an Open Mic night, sour for tips were going to be small and far between. The chef was wearing a pair of noise canceling headphones, salting soups to the beat of his own drum. And then there was the weirdo boy in the front row. Eyes concentrated on her own.
She sang half a line before she put down the guitar.
“I can’t do this tonight.”
She was standing by a sign post snow flurries streaking against the dull orange gaslights when he caught up to her.
“You can’t be an artist every night,” he said in a soft voice, “At least, an artist in the public’s eye.”
Alison fumed, “I don’t need your pity. Or your help.”
“I would like to hear your play.”
“Why? Because you like me? Because you like to be seen dating artistic types? Because you want your silly little opinions validated? Because–”
“I am the listener,” he said softer like his voice was as fragile as the snowflakes getting caught in his hair. “I am always the listener. There is always an audience even when you think there is none.”
Alison paused. She hadn’t recognized the obvious. Only when a stray flake touched his eye did she fully comprehend the situation. He wasn’t a desperate creep or lonely nerd or self-obsessed music snob. He was incapable of any emotions. He was an android. No wonder his legs were impossibly long.
“You were built to listen to music? Why? What is the purpose?”
His mouth moved and she could see the twitches in the jaw, the servos and gears moving behind the spray-on skin grafts. It appeared so unnatural now that she knew how to detect it.
“I have the same purpose you have. To be. I could just listen to the best of the best. Attend exclusive parties in Californian Mexico or Neo York II. Personal concerts. Be present during album recordings,” hands in pockets of his coat now like the pelt of some winter wolf, “But I found that I better serve my purpose listening to the new, the up and coming. To remind them to keep going. There is always an audience out there. Never give up.”
Alison shivered in the cold. She liked what the android said, however, it felt too simple. Too emotionless. What would it know about singing to a void? What would it feel like? The skin looked fake like a kind of stretched plastic. The eyes were too intense.
“I want to hear you play.”
“It will have to be a private show. I can’t go back there ever again.”
“No, I suppose not. That part of the journey is over.”
“You lead the way.”