Saturday, 4 June 2016

Roll That Crashamattazz

Roland Gold has dreamt up a new number but isn't speaking to Bill. Their whole partnership is a crash of symbols, darling.
Gold rolls out of the guest bed and puts on his purple silk gown with the Chinese dragon. He trollies along the west landing and swerves into the studio. The first thing you need for a spanking new number - his fingers click - is a spanking new tune. He turns on the piano and sets the vol to low. No sense waking up the whole building. The rag he hums is somewhat perky. His fat bum settled on the stool, he presses Record.
With Roland's playing, it will take half the morning to work out all the notes. The tune's just a chromatic thing: seven notes dribbling down the scale, with twiddly-bits at top and bottom. Being a blues, it is simply the knack of transposing bars by intervals. Simply? Even in his own estimation, Roland has never been that much of a musician. As to his skills on the sequencer, who is he trying to kid? Playing in the open key, he runs through the tune with his right hand. It swings nicely. Then he switches up to G, where he can pick out the blue notes, and rapidly runs into all kinds of technical snags.
After an hour, he leaves the studio and pirouettes down the empty landing into the upstairs kitchen. He pops a couple of muffins into the microwave and switches on the espresso. Those machines, at least, are all primed up and ready to play.
Back in the studio - between slurps and munches – he gets down to the serious work, filling out the left hand, even kicking round some ideas for the bridge. A bridge? Shucks, should have seen that one coming. Should have gone to bloody music school! It's always a hassle stretching ideas between set bars. All alone, too! No overpriced sessions musicians to spark off these days. Top of the Pops seems fifty years ago, not just twenty-five. Anyhow, the structure of his music keeps to its predictable... ahem... characteristic course. And soon enough Lunchtime looms. The song is recorded to flash. He pops it in piano and the words 'beginning playback sequence' scroll across the little screen.
Roland lights up his first joint of the day. When not working, he can hold out until noon without a single drag. His pact with the obnoxious weed is that he smokes only plain leaf, which stinks the place out. His tastes have not varied in years. But even on a bad working day, he puts off that first puff until he has come up with something worthy. Worthy may be a phone call. It may mean a tête-à-tête with Shit Face. It may involve getting up before dawn to be driven halfway across the country. He may be in the grim depths of some Northern Hole before he allows himself that first biff. But he will have something in hand: a contract with a well-known signature, a porcelain cup and saucer with R.M.S. Aquitania stencilled underneath, a cheque worth six months' boots & panties for Bill. Roland lights up and taps play on the keyboard.
The racking of his cough means he hears nothing first off. A joint no longer raises the hairs on the back of his neck. Instead, his lungs tighten, his brows narrow, his tummy gurgles, lunch puts itself on hold. Smoking actually means sharpening the front of the brain by inducing a slight headache. He listens again. Blue wisps rise and blue notes tinkle on the piano. If Roland breathes less easily, his fingers at least can relax. Slight mistakes and slurred bits aside, he is pleased with the morning's work. He pictures the customer smiling. Lou Steiner emerging from a cloud of cigar smoke and shaking him firmly by the hand,
Rolly, you listen to your Uncle Lou. Actual royalties don't mean shit any more, the public ain't been buying music since forever. Origination is all that counts: the good honest tunes you sell to nice people like me. 'Music by Roland Gold' - that is good. 'Music and words by Silver and Gold' - better still. 'Music, words & choreography by Silver, Gold and... I know, let's call in Joe Diamond. The whole concept will go for... well, call it one year's tax, your school fees & a new Jag for Bill.
After his reverie, Rolly remembers what Bill says to him the night before. He stubs out the joint and straight away rolls up another. The music has long stopped, but the tuppeny riff repeats itself on an endless loop in the back of his head.
Go and strangle thyself! Actually, that is a ridiculous notion, Billy Silver! How can you strangle yourself? Roland puts the lit joint in the ashtray and places his hands round his neck. Thumbs dig into his throat. Ugh! Impossible! He takes the joint up again and inhales deeply.
His husband was stone drunk! Stewed in his own juice. God he was annoying! His cheeky mouth was smeared with those mint chocolates. What gave him the right? Just because he still had the figure. The poise was there and the pose, but that was all. Lithe, coiled like a snake round a wine glass, crossing his legs in jeans so tight even a teenager wouldn't have worn them. Go and strangle thyself! Eeyach!
He gets up, hears his husband down the landing, fussing over little Josh and Kay. Does he never regret his mood of the evening? Does the cat cry when its milk is spilt? Roland shuts the door on them all and turns the volume up to eleven. Then he thinks better. No use flaunting himself.
The words, that is the thing. Gotta get some words down! But Roland rarely has the gab. His words cloy. Better do lunch. Line the old stomach first.
Shunning the publicity of a squalid kitchen visit, he dials for a sandwich and latte. Meantime, the second joint has gone out in the ash tray. Good-oh. Entitles him to roll up another! Such soothing work.
The radio is on, loud in the kitchen. Pirates have shanghaied another Korean freighter in the Gulf, petrol prices have gone through the floor, the Dollar and the Euro are at it again. The way they hack at Sterling, like a pair of kids with switch-blades, lunging from the booming Twenties to the busted Thirties and back again.
 He sees it in those old films, 'The Boyfriend', 'The Great Gatsby', 'The Sting'. He cringes at the stagey acting, sepia scenes in Bakelite frames. The images segue into sci-fi of the same era, 'A Clockwork Orange', 'O Lucky Man', '2001, A Space Odyssey'. Characters are hollow, cyphers of their auteurs' vanity; sets that went millions over budget yet still managed to look cheap. Something is cooking in this mix of old and new: nostalgia for a past past - dreaming of past future. Pints of bootleg here, vials of Synthomesc there. Another Great-Timing Crash-Reminding Ratta-tatta-Razzamattazz.

Sept 25th. 2012, 'Crashamattazz' (music by Roland Gold, words by Bill Silver) goes into a presentation for Lou Steiner. The crapy gaff where the great man does his music buying is a little sound studio off Greek Street. If the deal is good, he stands you a slap up meal at the cheap Italian joint on the corner. Lunchtimes they do a greasy spag bol. Over a carafe of the house Chianti, Lou talks money. He takes options on a handful of promising jingles, which his expert ear says will do nicely in the market. He signs the advance and hands it over. But he waves his cigar-hand at the dance routines and set pieces. So much for pastiche.
When you gonna stop living in the past, Rolly? 
Advice that will lie shredded on the cutting room floor.

June 8th 2016, the rag from 'Crashamatazz' – by the late, great Roland Gold (they don't write like him any more) turns up in a TV advert for 4GPlus. There are no words, no break, not a scrap of harmony just a raggedly blues riff that loops for a full thirty seconds of Prime Time. Everybody is whistling or humming it at work and on the tube. That evening, Bill tunes into the ad after watching the ten o'clock news. He raises his glass to Roland's memory. As it happens, the first royalty cheque for twenty grand is propped on the mantelpiece. How Rolly used to turn them out! Pity he'll never roll another.

© Philip Lee, June 2016.

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