So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star
Johnny sat at the window. He had been stuck in
his tiny apartment all afternoon because of the never-ending rain that plagued
his day off. Of course, with his luck, tomorrow would be a bright sunny day as
he returned to work at Station 51.
He stared long and hard at the bar that stood next to his apartment building. He thought of going down there and getting himself drunk, but what was the use? No matter what hour of the day he went in there, he just couldn't find anyone under 40, or for that matter anyone who weighed under 200 pounds. It just wasn't his day.
"This is crazy," he mumbled to himself, standing up. He walked around the living room a minute to get the blood flowing through his legs again. He looked around for something- anything- to do. He saw his camping gear in the corner. No, no outdoor activities today. He saw a pile of dirty clothes creeping out his bedroom door. He glanced at his watch. "Nah, too crowded this time of day." He hated running into his neighbor, Mrs. Williams, in the laundry room. She was a nice old lady, but she could never tell a story in under two hours. He didn't want his day to be completely wasted away.
His eye then caught the gleam of light bouncing off of a string on his guitar. "Okay," he said, picking up the instrument and taking it to his recliner. He started by placing his fingers carefully into the position for a G chord. He strummed on that for a while, then moved to an A chord. He had to stretch his fingers out a bit for a C chord, but the guitar agreed with him- he strummed out a perfect C chord. He smiled at his accomplishments. He had only been playing for a couple of weeks, whenever he had a bit of free time. He liked the fact that he could play chords, but what he really wanted to do was play lead- just like his idol, George Harrison. "That man sure can play." Johnny's eyes wandered over to the Beatles poster he had hanging on the wall above his television set. He'd give anything to be like him. All the money, all the women- just with that one little talent he
had. Boy, did Johnny envy him.
"There I go again," he stood, threw his guitar where he had been sitting, and went back to the window. It was useless. Johnny could never be like George. It just wasn't possible.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Just as Johnny thought it would be, he
traveled to work in perfect Southern California weather. He scoffed at the sky
as he stepped into the station. "My dumb luck," he mumbled.
"What did you do this time, Gage?"
"Huh?" he said, completely oblivious to Marco walking beside him.
"You said `My dumb luck.' What did you do?"
"Oh, that." John walked through the door to the locker room. "I overestimated myself."
"Overestimated yourself? About what?" Roy chimed in, hearing his partner's depressed voice.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just. I don't wanna talk about it, okay?" Roy held up his hands in surrender. If Johnny didn't want to rant and rave about his problem, Roy was not going to make him.
For once, Johnny was quiet as a mouse at breakfast. No one liked it much. They could tell that at any time he could explode into one of his rambles. If he did, they wouldn't get a moment's peace until the end of their shift.
All of a sudden, the young paramedic stood up and walked out. No one knew what was going on, but no one wanted to ask either. "Roy?" Cap
said, figuring he knew something.
"I don't know, Cap. Johnny isn't right." Roy walked out after John, finding him rifling through the back of his Land Rover. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," Roy could hear John say as he threw random objects from the back seat to the front. Johnny pulled a blanket off of something and draped it of the front seat. He took his guitar out of the vehicle and pulled the strap across his shoulder.
"Johnny, what's with you? Why did you bring that thing back here?" It had been three weeks since Johnny had showed everyone that he finally
had some kind of musical talent. They were impressed that he found his niche, but they didn't really want to be serenaded by him again.
"I am going to practice. Is that okay with you, Partner?" John was beginning to get a little angry. Not at Roy, but at himself. Roy was just the closest thing to take it out on.
"I'll never understand you," he muttered, walking back into the station. John made a face at his back. He didn't care what anyone thought. If he wanted to be as good as his idol, he was going to have to practice- hard.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Johnny was relieved to discover that his shift
was going slow. In four hours they hadn't had one call. To pass time, Johnny sat
on the floor behind the squad, strumming away on his cheap acoustic guitar. No
one as of yet had complained, but Johnny was ready to give up. He had his little
booklet in front of him with all the chords and he practiced all of them. `The
first step to lead guitar is rhythm' he thought to himself. `If I can't be
George Harrison, I'll settled for being John Lennon.' But the constant sliding
from chord to chord was damaging the tips of his fingers. He didn't play often,
so his fingers hadn't toughened up yet. "Screw it," he muttered, "I'm taking a
break." He leaned the guitar against the supply cabinet and made his way to some
coffee. To provoke his already dismayed attitude, the coffee pot was two drops
from empty. He started to make a new pot, being careful not to use the
fingertips on his left hand much. They ached, and the indentations from the
strings sure looked awful.
"Gage, why are you practicing so hard? Got a band?" Johnny stopped what he was doing. He eyes widened at Mike's comment. He turned
around, and for the first time that day, had a grin on his face.
"What did you just say?" Johnny asked.
"I asked if you had a band." Mike looked worried. Johnny looked possessed by a new idea. The guys were worried.
"That's a great idea!" John exclaimed.
"Oh, forget I said anything," Mike replied.
"No. Mike, my Boy, I think you're on to something. Any of you guys want to start a band with me?" There were no takers. His face fell. "Chet, didn't you tell me you always wanted to play the drums?"
"Well, yeah, but-"
"Well, then, what better time to learn than now?" John flashed his pearly whites toward Chet. Chet just shook his head. "And Roy, you can play the piano, right?"
"Uh, Johnny. Unless you want Christmas carols and `You're a Grand Old Flag,' I don't think I can help you."
"Oh, c'mon. Hear me out. All we need is another guitar player. Marco? What about it?"
"Sorry, Johnny. My schedule is filled up right now." He smiled, and Johnny scowled at him.
He glared at Gage. "Do you think I want any part of this?"
"Why not?" Johnny's smiled faded when Cap returned to reading the newspaper. "Mike. How about you? You look talented." He slapped Mike
on the back.
"Uh, sure. I guess I could-" Johnny didn't let him finish. He whooped and hollered, returning to his guitar. If he was going to be the George Harrison of. oh, what was the band's name? Oh, he'd figure that out later. But if he was going to be the George Harrison of this band, then he needed to practice.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
While coming back from a run, John and Roy made a stop at the grocery store. They needed to pick up ingredients for tonight's dinner. Roy was shopping around, looking to see what he needed, all while Johnny stared at the young ladies shopping. He didn't have anything better to do. He'd wink and wave, but they ignored him. "Can we get going?" John whined.
"You know, you're worse than my kids sometimes, Johnny."
"Yeah, well at least they get treats for coming with you."
"If you shut up I'll buy you a lollipop, okay?"
"Ha, ha. I'll wait out in the squad okay?" John made his way out of the store, but something caught his eye before he could get back to the squad. A music store sat at the edge of the strip mall that the grocery store was located in. He idly walked to the shop front. He stared through the window front for a while, admiring the Fender electric displayed. It was too rich for his blood. He went inside the shop anyway.
Everything caught his eye at once. Guitars, drum sets, sheet music- sheet music! That was it. That's what he needed. He needed to concentrate on learning one song. That was the trick! He marched over to the sheet music. There were about a thousand songs on that rack. Johnny had no idea where to start. What kind of a song should he try and learn? A ballad? No, he wanted a rock song. Who to pick? That one was easy. He looked for the letter "B". He found "Beatles" rather quickly. But what song to choose? `Something with a good guitar lick' he thought to himself. "Day Tripper," he said out loud, holding it as if it was the Holy Grail.
He took it up to the old man behind the register and paid for it. "You like this noise?" He asked Johnny.
"Sure do." He pulled the money out of his wallet to pay for it.
"What are you, some kind of policeman?" He looked at John's uniform through squinted eyes.
"I'm a fireman," John said, hoping the guy would understand.
"Oh, well why didn't ya say so!" John tried to smile politely at the old guy, but his face just wasn't up to the pleasantry. The guy handed him his purchase and John left, taking one more look at the Fender in the window.
"Where were you?" Roy asked, looking frustrated. "I've been sitting out here for ten minutes."
"Oh, I was in the music store. I got this." John pulled the sheet music out of the bag. He gave Roy his biggest smile.
"Day Tripper." Roy read it out loud as if he'd never heard of it before. "Hmm." He handed back to Johnny. "Oh, by the way, I got something for you in there." He pointed to the grocery bag. Johnny looked. He pulled out an orange lollipop. "Of course," Roy continued, "I don't think you deserve it. You weren't exactly on your best behavior."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Back at the station, while Roy cooked dinner, Johnny had Chet and Mike sit down with him and listen to his rendition of "Day Tripper." They noted how slowed he played the chords, but at least they were the right ones. "Johnny, that's nice, but doesn't it go faster?"
"It will, in time."
"Oh, and there might be a problem with me playing the drums."
Chet laughed. "Uh, this might be kinda hard for you to hear, but I'll break it to you gently. I don't have a drum set." Johnny never thought of that. Drum sets were expensive. Even though Chet was interested in playing, there was no way he could talk the guy into spending all of his money on a drum set.
"I'll figure that out, okay?"
"Here," Mike said. He pulled the guitar away form Johnny and started to strum the chords of the song with ease. It was even the right tempo.
"Mike! You're great!" Johnny was excited, but a little upset. He knew Mike didn't mean to show him up like this, but nevertheless, that's what he was doing to Johnny.
"Yeah, Mike, you can really play," Cap said. John was jealous. Cap never complemented his playing. Everyone sat around Mike and listened to him play until dinner. Johnny was hurt. No one wanted to hear him play like that.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
John practiced day and night while he was off work. He even broke a date to stay home and practice. All the hard work paid off though. Johnny could finally play the riff in "Day Tripper." The only problem is, it didn't sound good on an acoustic guitar. What he needed was an electric guitar with an amp. He couldn't make excuses anymore. He hopped in his Land Rover and drove to the music store he had visited to get the sheet music.
"Back again?" was the old man's greeting to Johnny.
"Yeah. Say, do you have any used guitars?"
"Sure, all the used stuff is back there." He pointed to a little alcove in the back of the store. Johnny made his way back there and started to look around. When he spotted the guitar that he liked, he picked it up. It was a bright, fire engine red guitar. The brand was a name John didn't recognize. He didn't care. It was cheap, it was red, and it would soon be his.
"Does the amp come with it?" he asked as the old man had finally made his way back there to help his customer.
"No, but I can give you a good deal on one of these." The men stood there a while and talked business. John ended up with the guitar and amp, but also with an old drum set. He had almost wiped out his savings in order to buy it all, but he knew it was going to be worth it. The- now, what was the name of their band going to be? Well, whatever they were named, Johnny knew they'd hit big. They'd be bigger than the Beatles! No, maybe not that good.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Johnny had those boys working like dogs on this band idea for two weeks. Cap was upset when he saw John carrying a bunch of drum cases into the station, but they set up the drum set in the back of the apparatus bay. After a few days, Chet could play just as good as Ringo Starr- well, almost. Mike continually showed off his impressive skills. Johnny did his best to keep up with them, but sometimes he'd hit a wrong note if they went too fast. Roy just stood with Marco and watched. John wanted him to be in the band, but he wasn't going to carry a piano into the station. Cap would have had something to say about that.
"Guys," Johnny said, holding up a brightly colored piece of paper. "Our time has come."
"What are you talking about, Gage?" Chet said.
"There's a club- here." He slammed the flyer on the table. "They're having a Battle of the Bands. We can enter."
"John, we're not that good." Mike had a concerned look on his face.
"Yeah, sure we are. We'll be competing against bands just like us."
"Why don't we wait a bit?" Roy said. "If we get better, we can enter
the next one."
"Uh, can't. I've already entered us. All we have to do now is think up a name for our band."
"How about the 51's?" Marco offered.
"Nah, it needs to be something better. Something catchy." Johnny thought until his head hurt. "I've got it! The Firemen!"
"Really? That's any better?"
"Well," Johnny said, offended, "if you can think of something better, I'm sure we'd all like to hear it." No one said a word. They were now officially The Firemen.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
John was extremely nervous on the night of the show. Not only was the club packed, he knew that out there somewhere sat Cap and Marco.Even
Joanne and Chet's cousin were there. Johnny couldn't take the pressure.
"Johnny, what's up with that shirt?" Roy said, looking at him in disgust. Johnny donned a red and white flowered shirt. It look like it came from the women's side of the department store.
"Roy, it's a costume. It's not like I'd wear this shirt off stage." Johnny tried to put up a front. He had actually worn the shirt on his last two dates. No wonder they hadn't called him back.
"Show time," someone said to the band. They all lined up, waiting to make their entrance.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, playing `Day Tripper': The Fireman!" They run on stage and got busy. They started out well. But there was one note on the piano that was very off. The club owner had warned them that the piano needed tuning. That wouldn't have been a problem, except every time Roy hit that note, Chet's drumming was off. Then, Johnny hit a couple of bad notes when Mike accidentally sped the whole thing up. It wasn't there best attempt at it, but it wasn't the worst that the audience had heard.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The winners were announced later that night. The Fireman came in ninth out of ten bands. They found their supporters and waited to hear their encouraging words.
"It was. nice, real. nice," Cap said.
"Yeah, you guys did a good job." Joanne kissed Roy, who seemed upset. He hadn't expected much, but he wanted to be closer to first than last. `It's all Johnny's fault', he thought.
"Thanks," Johnny said, trying to take all the credit. The rest of The Firemen glared at him. "What?" he said innocently.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The members of The Firemen disbanded after that first show. Johnny sold the drum set and his acoustic back to the music store. He kept the fire engine red guitar, but only as a souvenir of what could have been. Though he was no George Harrison, he still idolized the man. And getting that girl from the club to go out with him wasn't a bad ending to his career as a musician.
Though The Firemen are no more, they continue to work together at Station 51.
Note: I'd like to dedicate this to my brother, the guitar player. Rock on JJ!!!
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