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Authors: André Vanasse

Millions for a Song

BOOK: Millions for a Song
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Millions for
a Song

By André Vanasse

Translated by Christelle Morelli
and Susan Ouriou

To Alexandre; for once, fiction beats reality.

Too bad, isn't it?

To Papaul; whatever the name—Paradis, Paquin, or Patenaude—it all comes out the same.

Warning: The events surrounding this story are a pure fabrication—in particular, the scenes concerning the bands The Box and
U2
. For those who might think otherwise, I hate to rain on your parade.
U2
did not make a hit of “Live in the Dark.” However, since only a privileged few ever become international stars, I thought I could at least let the Quebec band Nexxtep dream the impossible, namely following in
U2
's footsteps.

The Birth of a Band

one

W
henever Bruno gets
this excited, I can't help it, he sucks me in
too. Here he is, turning beet red, hopping up and
down, dancing all over the place, flailing his arms around
like a madman. You'd think he was part of some
wild dance-off. What a weirdo! You'll think it's weird, too,
when you find out what's got Bruno all worked up.
We've just listened to
Blumine
from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.
1 interpreted by Seiji Ozawa for the twelfth time in a row. That's what's got him so excited!

I can hear you already. “Wait a sec, Alex, who's Gustav Mahler?”

Right, who's ever heard of the guy? Trust Bruno Beaubien to go nuts over a musician no one else has ever heard of. At first, I did what you'd have done and asked as polite as could be, “D'ya mind taking two minutes to tell me who Goosed a Mallard is?”

He didn't so much as raise an eyebrow at my play on words. “A great nineteenth century Austrian musician, born in Kalisch, Bohemia. A disciple of Bruckner's.”

What kind of answer is that! I just about asked him for the guy's birthdate or—why not?—the name of his first girlfriend. I didn't though. Knowing what a stickler for detail Bruno is, I wouldn't put it past him to have the answer. Sometimes I wonder why he keeps turning down invitations to join the other whiz kids on the quiz team.

Anyway, back to Gustav Mahler. We listened to his music for almost two whole hours. He's good. Really good actually.

I like the guy. His music's a bit on the romantic side, but it's catchy in its unexpectedness. When you give yourself over to the music, it's like floating underwater. A real pleasure. Kind of like listening to The Box actually. But let's not exaggerate. No one beats The Box.

I might as well come right out with it. I've listened to its former incarnation, Men Without Hats, and The Box for a lot longer than two hours at a time. I've even watched one of their
DVD
s at least a couple of hundred times. There's no need to spell it out—I love that band. So you'll understand why what happened last Tuesday blew my mind. I was walking down Rue Bernard with Bruno and Mélanie, heading for the Palimpseste ice cream shop, when I spotted—I swear it's true—Jean-Marc, the band's frontman and songwriter.

The sight stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't believe my eyes. Jean-Marc, standing right there in front of me. “It can't be … that can't be him.” I stared, my mouth open wide.

Whenever I get emotional, all color drains out of me and I lose all ability to speak. People say I stay cool. They're closer to the truth than they think. It's like I turn to ice. I freeze. Just the opposite of Bruno. He turned bright red. I thought he'd explode. He was just as blown away as me, just as speechless. A good thing Mélanie was with us. That girl has guts. She marched right up to him and said, “Are you Jean-Marc from The Box?”

He answered good-naturedly, “Yup, that's me.”

With a big smile, like it was no big deal, Mélanie said, “You won't believe how excited my friends and I are to meet you. We're huge fans of your band. You're our idols. Would you like to have coffee with us?”

He was as nice as I'd always imagined, “Why not? I've got some time to kill.”

So
we sat down at a table at the Palimpseste. Well,
“sat down” might not be quite right. I definitely felt
like I was floating. Jean-Marc, at our table! I could
have kissed Mélanie, got down on my knee to her
right then and there and asked her to marry me, I loved her so much.

There was Jean-Marc, sitting across
the table, talking to us as easy as can be.
Relaxed. Like he was happy to shoot the breeze with
us. We bombarded him with questions. We wanted to know
everything. He took his time answering, listened closely to what
we had to say. When we told him we'd just
formed our own band, Nexxtep, and that we, too, wanted
to make and record hit songs, he didn't scoff at
us the way some might.

He encouraged us instead. Just when
he was about to leave—he had an appointment to go
to—he sounded a note of caution. I don't know why,
but he said, “Be careful. This business is full of
sharks just waiting for an opportunity to eat you alive.
And watch out for parasites.”

I have to admit we weren't too worried at the time. Who did we have to watch out for since there were only the four of us in the band and we were all equals?

Our understanding is clear. Mélanie's our singer and does some basic electric guitar. Bruno's the actual guitarist and Jean-François plays the drums. Me, I'm on the electric bass. As for the songs, we write them together. Once a song's finished, I enter it on my dad's computer.

We never fight. I can be a bit too bossy sometimes. I tend to like to be in charge, but that's just me. The others know that about me and accept it (not without some grumbling!). Anyway, I'm not about to change anytime soon. So they might as well take me as I am. Something they do on the whole, only ganging up on me every once in a while to even the score. Whenever that happens, I just keep my mouth shut. It's all part of the game. I keep quiet till the storm has passed, then take hold of the rudder again! You need to know what cards to play and when.

We've been rehearsing regularly for the past six months. It was slow going at first. We had to write and rewrite the songs line by line, figure out the melodies, rework them time and again, only to end up with less than stellar results sometimes. When that happened, we had to redo either the lyrics or the music again.

It wasn't easy. Sometimes, we were fed up. But that's all part of a musician's job. You've gotta learn. As my dad always says in his teacher voice, “If at first you don't succeed …”

My dad teaches literature to college students. Worse yet, my mom teaches junior high French language arts in a fancy girls school. We had a huge fight when I decided to write songs in English for my band. Man oh man, did I ever get a lecture on the French songwriting tradition!

“You should listen to Yves Duteuil. You'll hear some great tunes.” My dad started humming “
La langue de chez nous.

The song's not bad. Some good songwriting, for sure, but it gets a bit too preachy about the French language. Not that that's the problem. The problem is it's not my style, and I don't feel like imitating Duteuil. That's exactly what I told my dad. “What can I say, Dad—French songs just don't do it for me. Rock's more my thing.”

My dad doesn't get why
we like English so much. He thinks we're bowing to
American culture. He claims we've got all the tools we
need to come up with our own songs in French.
Hit songs! “Why get all worked up over rock and
its beginnings: Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Little
Richard, and
tutti quanti
?” (His favorite expression.) “Why go
back to the days of the Hudson Hornet and Buick
Roadmaster, chrome cars and Brylcreem, when you could create songs
in Quebec's here and now and be even more successful?”

Confronted with my silence, he continued, “You've got to know, Alex, you'll never measure up to the American stars. You'll never manage a fraction of their success. Multinationals dominate the global market. In their eyes, you're just specks of dust to be swept under the rug before anyone catches sight of you. You're wasting your time, Alex, especially when you could be promoting our own culture and writing in French.”

What could I say? I just thought to myself,
You may be right, Dad, but who knows, we could become international stars one day instead. Why not? It just takes talent, hard work and a bit of luck …we can do it.

Despite our arguments over English, my parents agreed to let our band practise in the basement. But it took a whole round of negotiations with my mom to get their permission. My mom is nothing like the supple reed in La Fontaine's fable. No way José! She's about as pliable as a steel rod. I tried everything: threats, blackmail, charm. She did give in finally, probably out of sheer exhaustion, but not without saying, “At five o'clock on the dot, mind, five o'clock, I want silence to reign in this house. On that one condition only. If not, the deal is off.”

It's not so bad really. That gives us all afternoon to rehearse while my parents are out shopping. The problem, though, is getting everyone together at the appointed hour. Especially Mélanie who's been known to sleep for twenty-four hours straight if no one wakes her up. Getting up at three on a Saturday afternoon is completely normal for her.

Actually, that's not true, it's not the norm. She wakes up at a relatively decent hour because her mom forces her to. Otherwise, she'd sleep till … till next week. I kid you not!

Her mom was as cut and dried as mine. She
wants no part of having to wake up Mélanie for
us. She claims Mélanie won't get up in time and
doesn't want to be the one who has to worry
about it. “You'll have to come yourself, Alex. I'm throwing
in the towel without even trying. And don't bother just
phoning. She'll answer, but I swear she'll still be sound
asleep talking to you. As soon as she hangs up,
she'll close her eyes and head back to dreamland. I'm
the one who has to drag her out of bed
every weekday—there's no way I'm going to do that on
Saturdays, too.”

That's fine by me. Especially since Mélanie's easy on the eyes. Her beauty is “indiscriminate.” What I mean is this: knockout eyes, teeth, lips, breasts, or legs aren't what make Mélanie beautiful. It's that, all together, everything just works.

When I think about it, her kind of beauty's a lot less in your face than some of her friends with their stunning eyes, lips, figures, or whatever. Mélanie's beauty is all-encompassing. You don't really notice at first, but as soon as a guy spends any length of time with his eyes on her, he's a goner. Like a fly in a spider's web. It's fatal.

Not to give the wrong idea, I want to be clear here. There's nothing but friendship between Mélanie and me. In the beginning, we were head over heels! Like the other guys, I fell for her. Hard. Really hard in fact. For a whole two weeks. But it didn't take long for the two of us to realize we weren't meant to be a couple.

She likes to flirt too much to be stuck with just one guy. What can I say? As soon as she spots new prey, she's compelled to weave her web around him.

I'm too possessive for that. If I'm dating a girl, I don't want her looking at other guys. Plus, on top of it all, I'm a bit like her. I, too, like to flirt, play the seduction game. So we decided to call it quits.

The great part is that instead of getting into a huff and having a falling-out, we became the best of friends. There are no two ways about it, I love her like a sister. One day, Mélanie confessed, “You're the only person I can tell my deepest, darkest secrets to. I don't know why, but I trust you absolutely. I know you'll never repeat anything I say in confidence. Ever. Certainly not my biggest secret. I've never doubted you for a second.”

She's right. I would never reveal any of her secrets. That would be too awful. If I did, I'd feel like a traitor, a jerk.

That's probably why I understand her so well. The way she acts around guys and all. Her need to be charming at all costs. Her string of heartbreaks. Her certainty, every time, that this is the one, her true love. Then her disappointment a couple of weeks later.

Every time there's a breakup with her most recent boyfriend, she tracks me down and cries on my shoulder, her face buried in the crook of my neck. I say nothing. I let her cry her heart out. I stroke her hair, sweet-smelling like her skin. Finally, I say, “Forget about him. He wasn't worth it anyway. He could never have understood you ...”

BOOK: Millions for a Song
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