Roger hung his head, bumping it against the mic stand and muttering to himself, his short hair shining golden under the track lights of the studio. He couldn’t hear me swearing on the other side of the soundproof glass. I punched a button on the console and backed up the tape for what seemed like the millionth time. I spoke then so he could hear me in his headphones. “Rog, do you want to take a break?”
He didn’t move and I thought maybe the signal hadn’t gone through, but then he ripped the headphones off his ears and stood clutching them. Then he said something I couldn’t hear–I had turned the microphone off when he’d started banging on it. I potted the monitors back up.
“…hopeless.” I think he was saying something about the song. “This just isn’t going to work.”
I was having the same thoughts, not about the song, but about Roger. “Dammit, Rog–”
The door to the control room swung open and Bart came in, carrying a grocery sack. “What’s up? Did I miss anything?”
“No.” I flicked a glance at the forlorn figure standing behind the glass. I spoke into my mic again. “Rog, let’s take a break.” The digital clock read 3:00 A.M.
Rog pushed through the heavy silent door that separated the recording chamber from the control room. “Hi,” he said to Bart.
“Hey, Roger Dodger, have something to drink.” Bart slid down the wall next to the groceries and tossed him a can of Yoo Hoo.
Roger tossed it back, speaking slowly as if we might not understand him. “This has milk and chocolate in it.”
Bart looked up from under unruly bangs. “I know. That’s why I buy it.”
“It’ll ruin my voice.” Roger sat down in the rolling chair next to me, his face glum. “No thanks.”
Another look flickered between me and Bart, one of many that seemed to be coming with greater and greater frequency these days. I suppressed a sigh. “Why don’t we call it quits for tonight.”
“Fine with me.” Roger didn’t meet my eyes. “See you at home.” And he left.
Bart sighed with relief. “Gods, Daron, what are we gonna do with him?”
I chewed on one loose fingernail. “You think he’s hopeless.”
“Yeah, I do.” He climbed up into the empty chair, cracking open a can of Yoo Hoo for himself. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to get his head out of his ass with a crowbar. He’s so stuck on his precious voice that he doesn’t even want to use it to sing, forgodsake. If you think we’re having problems in here, just wait until he’s out in a smoke-filled room with a bad sound system.”
“You’re right.” But I held back my comments.
Bart didn’t. “And let me guess what was just going on in here, he was having trouble ‘interpreting’ your lyrics, right? Couldn’t ‘get the feel’ for them. Fuckin’ artsy artist-y art art art-out-the-ass.” It was rare to see Bart so pissed he got vulgar. “It’s such bullshit. I mean, he never had this kind of constipation back when he was writing all the words himself.”
When I’d first met Roger, I’d liked his pretension, that black-beret aura he cultivated, so different from the workaday guys I knew outside school and so seemingly rebellious compared to the other conservatory students. I thought he was serious about his own music. As I was learning, it meant that he was serious about himself and little else. Bart was still talking.
About me. “If you don’t make some more money soon, you’re going to be in deep shit. Aren’t you.”
The semester ended in two weeks and the bill for the next one was about to hit. I wasn’t doing too bad, though; I had enough saved up to go part time, then maybe I could catch up in the summer. “Roger isn’t about to become a cash cow, head in ass or no,” I said. “You and me can make more playing acoustic at the coffeehouse than the three of us could doing club gigs. So don’t even start talking about him being a, a… financial liability.”
“I still say we might be doing bigger, better gigs with someone else. We’re going nowhere, bwana.”
“I can’t fire him.”
“I can’t.” I thought about why. First off, he was my roommate and my life would get real difficult if he didn’t want me around anymore. Secondly, we’d have to start from scratch with someone new. Third, I couldn’t figure out how to tell him. “I just can’t.”
Bart exhaled in disgust. “Daron, just what kind of control freak are you?”
“Not a very good one, I guess.”
“I’m serious, you insist on having control over these things, and then you don’t exercise it.” He swiveled the chair to face me. “To hell with the contracts. If you want, I’ll do the firing.”
“No.” I was beginning to hate those contracts. I’d been going on Remo’s model, no manager, one member of the band holding managerial control, that is to say, me. “How about we dissolve the band?”
I stood up. “I’m going to say to Roger, ‘Rog, we’ve decided to break up the band. It’s been great but…'” Bart was staring at me. “See, then you and I can start a new band, and I think Roger’s ego will be less bruised.”
“Why are you so worried about how Roger feels about this? It’s his fault.” Well, at least Bart’s taking this stuff seriously now, I thought. He no longer thought of the band as a hobby. Usually, that thought made me happy.
I dimmed the lights in the studio until it was completely dark on the other side of the glass. Now I was looking at my own reflection. I was keeping my hair at shoulder length until it all grew out. Roger had been trimming it for me.
“It’s what I’ve decided,” I said. “And we’re starting a new band. And we’re going to call it…” I flailed for something that was at the tip of my tongue. “…Moondog Three.”
Bart digested that. “Sounds as good as anything.”
“Yeah, did I tell you I changed my name?”
“Or, I’m about to.” I went through the control room shutting things off, rewinding our tape and stowing it in my bag.
“That’s ambitious.” Bart picked up the groceries. “To what?”
“I’m keeping my first name but chucking Marks. Moondog works as well as anything.” I shut off the lights as we backed out the door into the lobby. I clicked off the lights on the Christmas tree in the waiting room and on the obligatory fish tank. Candy had set that up after the owner had changed the name of the studio to The Aquarium. The name fit, what with all the big glass windows separating rooms. I locked the outside door behind us and armed the burglar alarm. Using the studio in the middle of the night when it wasn’t booked was worth more than what they paid me.
“So, when are you going to tell him?”
“Tonight if he isn’t asleep. Tomorrow, otherwise. You want to meet back here tomorrow, anyway?”
“Sure.” He hefted the electric bass in its case. “We’ll both be there. You want a ride home?”
“Sure.” That was another good thing about Bart. He had a car.