Music City Madness: Chapter 74

Crammed in the last row of the standing-room-only section reserved for VIP guests, Melissa maneuvered around a pair of taller gentlemen gazing at the Jumbotron and the swooping television cameras above the sold-out space inside the Bridgestone Arena, where thousands of delirious, screaming fans enjoyed another Brooks & Dunn ballad. Caught in the rapture of live music, her life made sense again. She had her boys. She had an agent who supported her decisions, and she had her career on track for the first time in years. Her carte blanche pass to the best show of 2010 notwithstanding, she embraced the action off stage, an anonymous observer lost in the crowd, adrift in her indecision about the man who stole her heart.

Sid put his hand on Leland’s shoulder. “You’re on in ten minutes,” he shouted backstage above the sound of live music.
Leland picked at the strings on his unplugged guitar while the rest of his band huddled in the staging area amongst the entourage of country acts waiting to grab the spotlight. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“No you’re not. You were born for this.”
“I’ve got a big act to follow.”
“In ten minutes, you won’t remember who played before you.”
Leland shoved his hand in his pocket when his phone vibrated. His heart sank when he read the message from his wireless carrier, prompting him to enroll in paperless billing. “I’m not sure I can do this…”
“Yes you can. Your whole life has brought you to this moment. Right here. Right now. You pull this off, and your career will explode in ways you never dreamed of.”
Leland looked at Sid through sad eyes. “In some ways it already has.”
Sid acknowledged the stage hand who gave the one minute warning. “You’re almost up. Whatever feelings you have for her, you need to put them on hold.”
“What if there’s more to life than music?”
“Music is your life.”
Leland heard the audience erupt when Brooks & Dunn finished their set. “Maybe I’ve been pretending to be someone else for so long I can’t remember who I really am anymore.”
“You need to focus on the here and now. Put your feelings aside. Think about your future. This is your night, Leland.”
“Maybe, but I’d give anything to have Melissa in my life again.”

Brad Siegel studied Leland from the bank of video monitors inside the master control room. Behind him, a sound technician stepped over coax cables protruding from a wall-mounted patch panel. Production assistants and television executives lined the perimeter segregated by racks of equipment, camera control units, video servers, digital effects computers, and other electronic apparatus for the concert.
“He sounds flat,” Brad announced with his eyes on Leland and his band on stage. He pressed a single headphone speaker to his ear to hear the stage manager barking about bad lighting.
“We’re live,” a production assistant commented from across the room. “No one will hear the difference.”
Brad pointed to one of the video operators. “Switch to camera number five.”
The assistant manned the controls for the pan-tilt-zoom heads mounted along the catwalk near the ceiling. “Switching to number five.”
Brad pointed to the video monitor that showed a woman and a girl with an amputated arm standing in the right wing. “Who are they, and what the hell are they doing back there?”

Leland played through the song without incident, well aware of the crowd’s tepid response to the music he’d rather forget than have to play again. Undistracted by the glare from infernal sidelights and the high intensity arc lamps above him, he finished the song note for note with the band he’d inherited from Brad Siegel and the major record label vying for their share of future spoils. When the token applause ensued, he looked out at the sea of bodies packed inside the largest venue he’d ever played, perhaps the only major venue he would ever play. For now, the next few minutes were his to own; a decision he’d made the night before; a decision he hoped would change his life forever.

Brad hovered over a soundboard. He watched Leland slip off his guitar and step toward the piano at the back of the stage while the band made their exit. “What is he doing?”
“Don’t know,” the production assistant replied. “He’s gone off script.”
Brad slid his hand down his face. “Patch me in. I wanna talk to him now!”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“He took his ear bud out.”
“Then kill his microphone.”
“I can’t.”
“Then go to commercial!”
“We’re not scheduled for another—”
“I don’t give a shit! I want him off the air!”

Leland sat at the grand piano and adjusted the gooseneck microphone in front of him. His heart pounded in his chest. “I wrote this song for someone very special,” his amplified voice boomed through the concert hall. “Someone who means the world to me. If you’re here tonight, you know who you are. I realize I can’t change the past, but I’m hoping this will show you what I’ve been trying to say.”
He played a melodic intro in E flat major, letting his fingers caress the keys before he took a deep breath and started to sing…

I close my eyes and feel your smile
Hoping that you’ll stay awhile, and share your thoughts
In my life I’ve known true love
But still I find I’m thinking of, something more
Something I cannot ignore
I hold your hand and kiss your lips
If only I could make you see… (sustain)

A man like me
Could fill your heart and soul, with all the love you need
A man like me
Could help you live your life, beyond the walls, of recent memories
A man like me…

(piano plays on)

I hear your voice inside my mind
And then I find
An empty space has filled this place and left me here without you
I know our time has come to pass
On faded lines of moon-lit paths
That lead us back to what we had
Reflections, of the time we shared, and thoughts of what could be… (sustain)

A man like me
To help you live your life, beyond the walls, of recent memories
A man like me
To hold you close at night
And never let you go
A man, like, me…

The past is gone, tomorrow’s now
But in my heart I know somehow
I need to set you free
Still, I hope one day, you’ll find a way, to open up and see

A man like me
Would lift you up and fill your heart, with all the love you ever need
A man like me
Would help you rise above this barricade of recent memories
A man like me…
A man like, me! (sustain)

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