I listened to him play, my eyes closed. Sliding inside the music, in between the notes like a secret whisper. He played for a packed, rowdy, and not totally appreciative bar, but I liked to pretend he played for me alone.
There was a time when he had but that would soon be over. This would be one of his last anonymous gigs. His debut album dropped next Tuesday. That would be the real beginning of his career, of his stardom. All the arrangements had been made, just as surely as notes on sheet music.
Oh, but my boy liked to improvise. He liked to riff and rumble and hiss and whine. He liked to take a song he’d played a hundred times before into new and dark places, deep woods and dirty alleys. Sometimes even glittering, shiny mountaintops. My boy liked to improvise and surprise and startle you with sudden changes, slow burns, and blue notes that made you ache for things you couldn’t name. He could play gentle and loving. He could play fierce and bleeding. Literally, fingertips oozing blood onto the strings and down the copper top of the custom guitar I’d given him after he signed his record deal.
I opened my eyes to watch as the music got louder. He played with his whole body, not just his hands. Swaying, bending, shaggy black hair bouncing, arms flexing with effort. Eyes barely open and biting his lip. He tried hard to be the cool guy, nonchalant and unimpressed with it all. He failed miserably at that. Take him to a second hand record store full of old vinyl and he’d purr like a kitten with a fresh mouse. It wasn’t something I did for all my artists but for him I arranged private tours of places like Sun, the Delta Blues Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame. My dear boy swam deep in those holy waters.
Yes, my boy respected the old traditions. Nobody did it this way anymore but for our deal we found ourselves a crossroads. He handed me his old beat up acoustic, I tuned it for him, played a little blues for him, then handed it back. His eyes glowed under the moonlight and I trembled when he kissed me.
He was my favorite since Robert. I had to admit that at least to myself. Over the course of my existence I’ve been both male and female countless times, every color, race, nationality. I’ve collected the souls of great composers who wanted out of obscurity. Violinists who wanted to play on the best stages of Europe and traveling minstrels who wanted to keep the coin coming their way. Opera singers, vaudeville acts, blues and jazz and country and Satan help me, even a guy who dreamed of writing commercial jingles for Madison Avenue. Hey, you gotta go where the work is. Blues made my kind a legend but it was rock and roll that brought us into the big leagues. People will sell their souls for all sorts of stupid reasons but musicians – I don’t know what it is about them. I just know it was what I was drawn to all that time ago and I still am. My kind – the ones that deal with musicians – consistently have the highest success rate with the sole exception of those who deal with politicians.
The song turned low-down and dirty and I turned my attention to the stage. He raised his head just enough to give me a little half grin, a promise for later. I shivered, caught the eye of a waitress and ordered another drink. Sleeping with my musicians was no biggie, we all did that. It was just another way of building the business relationship, gaining their trust. Okay, getting them on the ropes. At first I thought it might be fun to tease my delicate small town boy, show him some of the male faces I’d worn over the years during intimate moments. Instead I found myself wanting to give him what he wanted, and he very much wanted this tall curvy female form. Those hands of his that vented so much fury on a guitar would be so gentle with this flesh. He’d twine his fingers around this hair the color of autumn leaves and ask for stories.
He knew what I was, of course. No hiding that when you’re out to make a deal, not once you get down to brass tacks and the fine print. My traditionalist boy liked to hear about the old blues players I’d known, the early rockers, the country crooners, even the jazz players. We’d sit in bed until morning tinted the sky and I’d teach him songs that were never recorded, techniques lost to time.
My darling boy had a passion for music, and I had a passion for my boy. For the first time in my long existence I’d fallen in love. A demon – in love with the man whose soul they’d bartered for – whoever heard of such a ridiculous thing? Hopefully no one. It was so far against the rules and so unlikely I don’t think they even bothered to put it in the rules. But I knew what the consequences would be, for both of us.
Tuesday his life would change. The wheels were already turning. The deal done, he would begin his new journey as a rock star and I’d be expected to move on to another musician, another deal. My fresh drink burned with an unaccustomed bitterness. I closed my eyes and let myself get lost in his music while I still had the chance.
Demons don’t cry. Not even when you play the blues. That’s what I told myself, anyway.