“One of the greatest song-writers of our generation."
That’s a term my grandfather would often use to describe men or women who changed the world through their perverse-but-enduring art. He would throw these useless opinions my way while I sat sipping warm beer and listening to his old MP3s through the 21st-century speakers he refused to throw away.
Listening to his music reminded me of staring at a dying animal, or slogging through a field of shit. The songs were too long, too slow, and the lyrics would often stray from the necessary pop music themes like “good times” and “war.” Without a doubt, at TunezUSA, I’d be hanged from the nearest tree if I ever tried to produce that swill.
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate some ancient elements of music. My songwriting partner, Hunter, occasionally scours the company attic for an old ukulele or banjo to employ on a song for 2 Kute or The Hoarsemen, two of our more salable music apps. Of course, you would never know what instruments we’d used after they've been fed through the SNGMKR; it’s all synthesized and uniform ear-candy in the end. Nevertheless, Hunter insists we use at least one “instrument” a month in our recordings. Authenticity, he’d say. Right.
Lately, though, the song-writing business has become more bureaucratic (and that’s saying something if you remember anything from your 21st-century music history class). Just last week, we were commissioned to write two songs a day for mandatory use in either high school house raves or for the new Par-T-Tanks that are currently rolling through Bangkok. When we sent the Tunez execs our first dance track, “Sit On It,” it was originally meant for the raves. Instead, they asked to hear it sung by the new music app, CHAINSLAW, because they figured it would work best enmeshed in gunfire. So “Sit On (My Gun)” it became. So it goes.
Worst of all, Hunter and I were informed of 2 Kute’s recent hologram concert disaster. I admit we were nervous about the concert from the beginning because, despite the over-long 3:14 minute song duration, we got the OK to program our magnum opus: “This One Might Hurt.” It was already a minor hit, after all.
However, we were told the disgruntled throng of teenagers who packed the cyber theatre downtown began grabbing their Media Managers around the two-minute mark and proceeded to litter the web with proclamations like, “THS S BORING KUTE S DED,” and, “2 looong.”
Hunter was devastated. 2 Kute was his creation, his baby, and he knew very well that his app would likely never be used again on any further recordings. Even worse, “This One Might Hurt” contained not one but two real “instruments.” When the execs found out, our attic stash was raided. That’s just how it works. We delivered a flop and had to pay our penance. Which brings me to what happened last night.
Hunter and I had been slaving since 6 a.m., programming song after song into the SNGMKR. After the whole 2 Kute fiasco, the execs had us forcibly locked into our shared 7’ by 12’ office until we pumped out at least 15 new hits for their new music app, The High Healers, who, according to the e-bio we received, were described as, “Three southern girls with a thirst for God… and BOYS!”
Hunter was still reeling from the loss of his 2 Kute app and it showed in his contributions. Virtually all of his lyrics contained mentions of “betrayal,” “deceit,” or some variation of “killing myself.” I could tell he wasn’t going to change this stylistic mode so I balanced things on my side by using bible verses and the usual teenage party tropes. When he noticed what I was doing, he erupted:
“Man, why do you keep writing the same freaking songs?”
I was fairly shocked at first. First, he rarely loses his temper; and second, he was accusing me of being artistically inept when what we’d been doing for the last 18 years was, in fact, writing the same songs.
“Look man, you know we messed up with that long 2 Kute track. We tried something new and the kids didn’t bite. That’s just how it is. I’m just trying to keep all my songs below a minute now and so should you.”
He lamely lifted his head and stared blankly out our sole office window which looked out on to a perennially empty parking lot. The music industry only employed around 30 staff members at a time, so the TunezUSA parking lot was mostly unused; a relic from the old days when humans carried the majority of the load.
“I’m just trying to add a little emotion," he said. "Some humanity. Remember when we did all those SadEyez tracks after the queen died? Man, those kids couldn’t stop streaming it. They understood the pain.”
“Maybe they did, I don’t know. But I’m fairly convinced the kids don’t feel a whole lot after they hear this garbage. And we have a new younger queen now, so we can’t afford to wait for another celebrity to die just so we can bring back the SadEyez hologram.”
“I don’t want SadEyez back.”
A streak of crimson began to form around his eyes and temples. I considered buzzing security to see if we could get a bucket of water delivered to our office, but then I remembered the recent water cutbacks.
“I just think we can do better than songs about house parties and oil barons,” he continued. “I mean, the product placement doesn’t even rhyme most of the time, and the Army Gangsta songs probably kill more listeners than they create.” He was right. If you streamed their last single 1 trillion times, the government would send you a semi-automatic handgun. You didn’t even have to listen to the whole 58 seconds of the song, just show interest. My neighborhood was flooded with gunshots for two weeks straight. I assume the pricks ran out of ammo eventually.
“So… what are you implying?”
“Well, we could make one final 2 Kute song. Like you said, not too long, but with a message. With a purpose! Hell, even if we have to use the SubliMachine.”
The SubliMachine was used predominantly in the mid to late 21st century when brands like KFC and Burger King desperately needed some help selling slop without having to modify their patented slop recipes. These days the program is rarely used save for the occasional embedded Chinese slander to keep everyone loathing those dirty thieves. When the war began last century, we had messages programmed into every song, ad jingle, and car horn. Its effectiveness was proved when a teenage girl from St. Louis savagely removed the eyeballs from an innocent middle-aged Filipino woman whose family, as it turned out, had been living in the United States for five centuries.
“Look,” I said, almost paternally. “You’re tired and you haven’t eaten, so let’s just send what we have and tell them we’ll get back to it on Monday.”
And just like that, Hunter, with a look of resignation, slowly shut off his screen and murmured, “I’m already done.”
On the Z-Train back to my apartment, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Hunter said back at the office. He referred to what we did as art. “Capital-A Art” is what my grandfather would say about some old dead musician. Back then, he said, musicians craved respect and earned it by creating something unique and moving. Which explains why it was absolute garbage. No companies had them by the throat or simply created them from scratch. They were just hundreds of artists preaching the good word of authenticity like evangelist preachers. At least we don't pretend to be God, I thought.
By 4:15 p.m. today, Hunter’s last 2 Kute song, “Lay Down” was streamed six million times. Almost instantly there was a nationwide ban on anything that could be tied up or hung. My nieces and nephews did it all in a row, apparently. Just enough curtain rod to squeeze little Amy in. The highways were a mess because no one considered overpasses. Parents started hiding all the guns, ammunition, and even kitchen knives, but the kids didn’t bother with them. After all, Hunter never mentioned weapons in the song.
His suicide note was found in his office drawer, folded crudely in a web of old guitar strings and wedged between some old music player and a paper notebook. In it he claimed his last intention was to make people feel.
Well, good job, friend. Mission accomplished.
Joe Fitzgerald is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, a waiter, an annoying music know-it-all, and a friend. He currently resides in Ottawa's restaurant-heavy Centretown district, where he plunders half his paycheques and wonders almost every morning where the heck he left his sunglasses the night before. His favourite Backstreet Boy is Brian.