Music City Madness: Chapter 6

Leland parked his truck at arm’s length from the access control system outside the gated condominium near Vanderbilt University. He cranked his window down and squinted at the light reflecting off the aluminum key pad as the morning sun crested over the West Nashville horizon. Eager to arouse his long-time friend and agent, he jabbed the call button twice. He waited with the motor running, his hand tapping the guitar case on the seat beside him until he heard a muffled reply through the speaker grill.

Who is it?

“You told me to get here early,” Leland answered.

Leland?

“The one and only.”

If I told you to play in traffic, would you do it?

“You missed a beautiful sunrise.”

I’ll catch it on Netflix. Come back in a couple hours.

“I have a new song.”

It better be good.”

Leland nudged his Stetson and dropped his tinted sunglasses on the dash. He wore his work jeans and a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up. “Take your hand off your junk and buzz me in. You’re making me late for work.”

A buzzer sounded, and the steel gate opened in front of Leland’s truck, granting access to the upscale property.

Leland cranked his window up and drove to the first open spot he could find. He climbed out with his guitar case, the dented driver’s door moaning in protest when he shoved it closed.

He rode the elevator to the penthouse suite inside the luxury condominium tower and found Sid in a silk bathrobe and slippers in the hallway outside his unit. “You look like an extra from The Walking Dead.”

Sid scratched his ruffled hair. “You’re going to join the walking dead if you show up this early again.” He brought Leland inside the three-bedroom condo with a panoramic view of the city. Platinum albums decorated the walls interlaced with more autographed head shots than the Hard Rock Café. Italian lacquer filled the living space. Granite counters and maple cabinetry complemented the gourmet kitchen. A Steinway, black as the ace of spades, occupied the formal dining room with a Yin Yang canvas print on the wall behind it. “Next time, schedule an appointment with my assistant.”

“You don’t have an assistant.”

Sid poured himself a glass of pulp-free orange juice. “I’m working on it.”

Leland propped his guitar case on the leather sofa and unlatched the lid. He lifted the guitar by the neck and slid the strap over his shoulder. He played a pentatonic scale to warm up. “I wanted you to hear this first. Some of the notes are rough, but the song has potential.”

Sid drank his OJ. “It better have more than potential.”

“I’m tired of playing piss-in-a-bottle honky-tonks.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” Sid replied sarcastically. “I would have booked you on tour with Kenny Chesney.”

“I’ve paid my dues.”

“To whom?”

“Everyone.”

“Struggle builds character.”

Leland picked at the guitar strings. “How?”

“Thomas Monson. Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.”

Leland arched his head back and strummed his guitar vigorously in protest. “I’m tired of swinging a hammer for a living. I want to write music. I want to perform on a big stage.” He stopped abruptly and cupped his hand over the sound hole. “I want to touch people in a way no one has before.”

“Sounds illegal.”

“I’m serious.”

Sid finished his OJ and poured another. “Tim McGraw needs a studio musician on his new album. I floated your name to his agent.”

“I’ll pass.”

“This is a solid opportunity.”

“I don’t do session work anymore.”

“Since when?”

“Since I decided to focus on my music career.”

“Session work is bread and butter for your career. Few musicians ever meet a star like Tim McGraw, let alone spend time inside his recording studio.”

“I want more.”

Sid opened the French doors to the balcony overlooking the city landscape. “You’ll have your shot when you’ve earned it.”

“Music isn’t something bestowed upon the worthy. Music is something you feel.” Leland cleared his throat. “Listen to this…”

 

I’m here today and gone tomorrow…

More than friendship on my mind

Let me show you what I miss, with a slow and tender kiss

Comin’ from inside

 

I’ll kick my boots off for a while

Touch your face and see you smile

To enjoy what I’ve been given

 

Been away from home too long

Different verse but same old song

This time, I’m gonna listen

 

I’m here today and gone tomorrow…

Tuck the kids in bed tonight

Sip wine by candle light

And let me show you what you’re missin’

 

I’m here today and gone tomorrow…

I’ll turn the bed and pour your bath

Tell you jokes and make you laugh

While I melt away your sorrow

 

If I could only find a way

To live forever in a day

I would beg, steal, or borrow

To stay with you and not be gone, tomorrow…

 

Leland waited for Sid’s reaction. “What do you think?”

Sid rubbed his goatee while a dog barked in the adjacent residence. “I think you woke the neighbors.”

“I’ve got another one—”

“Hold your horses, Rhinestone Cowboy.”

“I could play it in a different key. Maybe slow the tempo. Add a chorus line.”

“It’s not a hit.”

“But it has potential. If you heard it in the studio with a slide guitar and some background vocals…”

“You can dip it in platinum for all I care. The song doesn’t work. Period. Maybe a B-side track at best.”

“In your opinion.”

“I earn a living with my opinion. Play the cover songs like everyone else. You have to write from what you know before you can write beyond what you know.”

“I’m not like everyone else.”

“Do you even know any songs from the Country Top 40?”

Leland ran his hand through his hair. “I’ve paid my dues.”

“Son, you haven’t begun to pay your dues. You might think you own this town, but this town doesn’t know you. Nashville doesn’t give a shit about you or your music. This is a business. Music doesn’t run on hope. It runs on cash. Plain and simple. Labels want small investments and big returns. No one cares if you’ve played for thirty days or thirty years. You’re just another voice in a crowd of thousands.”

“Then tell me what I need to do.”

“Keep playing. Keep singing. The more exposure you get, the better.”

“I’m tired of playing the honky-tonk circuit.”

Sid looked at Leland and spoke with his hands in the air as if holding an invisible ball. “It’s not always about what you sing, it’s how you sing it. How you connect with your audience on a purely emotional level. Artists spend their whole lives chasing dreams they never catch. Talent and desire aren’t enough. You have to know your audience.”

Leland packed his guitar. “I gotta go.”

“I’ll set up a meeting with Tim’s agent.”

“I’m more than a studio musician.”

“Don’t underestimate this opportunity, Leland. You never know what’s on the other side of the door unless you knock.”

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