You get to be the manager for a few minutes. You’re at your desk, working on something administrative—maybe something’s late—maybe everything’s running smoothly and you’re suspicious—maybe you’re goofing off between phone calls. What you aren’t doing is suspecting anything that would make you the focus of the first scene in the movie about somebody else’s adventure of self-discovery. You’re minding your business, keeping things in order, dealing with your everyday stresses.
But today is not every day. Today is the most interesting day of someone else’s life. And you get to help.
Your phone rings. You answer. It’s one of your sound engineers, that Titan guy. He puts in solid work—really understands the music. An ideal man for the job in a lot of ways; he shows a lot of care for doing his part to catch the best sound. Good mind on him, and he seems to like being part of the gigs. Sure, sometimes he’s a little subdued, but who isn’t? It’s a job. There are always days of being subdued.
“Hey,” you say, ready to provide one of the canned answers to the kinds of questions the sound engineers ask—you’re already trying to remember where the spare microphone stands are. You had a feeling you were running short this week.
“Hi,” Titan says. “Could you put together a resignation letter for me? I’ll sign it on Monday. I’m moving to Barcelona.”
You pause. You sit back in your chair. You think about something to say.
There probably isn’t anything obvious to say.
“Sure,” you eventually say.
“Cool,” Titan says. “See you Monday.”
A Story of Heartbreak Either Way
Starting stories is easier than middling them. The middle is the dull part where this leads to that—where we hurry—because as people we’re addicted to climax. We fast forward through the progressively more predictable middle bits because they always have a certain reasonableness. A beginning implies a certain middle, and we develop an instinct for predicting that middle. And even though middles have certain ends, ends always have more fireworks.
We writers have a certain strength, though. Which is the lack of soundtrack. The beginning of the story has a particular cadence to it, you see, that suggests one of two middles, and you can tell by the musical drop at the end of the scene which way to feel.
Either the music will be something eerie, like “If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray, or strikingly absent, and you’ll know that Titan’s made a horrible decision. He’s triggered a horrible tragedy that will end in a drug-induced fugue where, in forty years, some young musician will move to Barcelona and find him with all his limbs splayed off a park bench, drunk off his mind, strung out on cheap cocaine, with a cautionary story to tell of heartbreak and never quite making it.
Or the music will be something upbeat. Something with a familiar, or at least catchy, first few seconds will begin and lull you into a comfortable sense that you’re about to be led on an adventure. There will be struggles, yes. Heartbreak, certainly. But it will be a story of victory. Continuing with the classical definitions, it will be a comedy, in which our hero achieves happiness after many adventures of a growing sort, and will get the girl (or boy) in the end, probably. I envision maybe “Long Way from Home” by The Heavy would be a good song for this commencing scene. It’s got a sufficiently unclear tone; it wouldn’t give up the story too quickly.
That’s what the movie would do.
A written-down story doesn’t have to do that. I can give you an ambiguous beginning and you won’t know the story you’re getting till we get there.
Fortunately for Titan, he seems to have the second kind of story. If the movie of the part of his life I’m writing about gets a movie, then that first scene (which is, apparently, factual, unless Titan’s using it as a cover story because he’s actually a French Canadian Spy (probable)), that first scene gets to end with a cool song. “Rhythm Doesn’t Make You a Dancer” by John Fratelli would be a pretty good song. Maybe that one will make the cut.
An Engineer Driving This Train
Titan moved to Spain. It was a process of elimination. He decided on Europe, went through the vast list of languages that he just happens to know, and decided he didn’t want to speak any of them, and also England’s climate was going to be too cold and wet which was something that he’d never dealt with before since he comes from Canada.
After this process, he decided on Spain. When I talked with Titan, I kept asking him if he had a plan. “Tell me what your plan was. Did you have one?” His answer gave me a great deal of comfort about the state of the human race.
“Not really,” he kept saying.
How his life went sort of surprised everyone. That was the enduring theme of the story. He seemed to surprise even himself. He was in Barcelona for not very long when he apparently participated in an open mike night on a whim. He was there with friends. They didn’t know he could sing and play guitar. They really didn’t know that he could write songs. At that open mike, he played two songs. Because of that performance, the people who ran the venue offered him a job.
The story, to me, sounds like one of these fated unions. It sounds like it was a pretty sweet club already. They put on great gigs. They had a little bit they could learn about the tech side, though, and setting up shows even more expertly.
Enter this six foot four Titan who just happens to have a background in the technical side of running gigs who’s looking for some kind of permanent reason to stay in Barcelona, and who’s recently decided to pursue a musical performance as his life’s framing device.
To me, this is the most interesting part about Titan’s story. He’s a singer-songwriter, you see. He’s a singer-songwriter with a background in basically not doing either of those things. He’s an excellent example of the axiom nobody says but more people would do well to embrace: if you want to rock at something, understand how it works in the real world first.
He did what a lot of us do: he had a band with his buddies in high school. And, as many of our stories end, nobody steered that ship, so it went nowhere. He said that it really turned him off musical performance for a while. It didn’t turn him off music, however, and he went to university to study the engineering side.
When he got out of college, that’s what he did for a living. He set up and managed other people’s shows. For a living, he made other musicians sound good.
Which is kind of unfair, you know? It’s like he got the secret knowledge and the trade secrets, so that when he did decide to try being a performer himself he already knew the important, but obscure, knowledge of setting up shows from the perspective of the man in the booth who can make the switchboard do the magic you need to make the gig sound good.
It’s an unfair advantage, I think.
Still, I bet the gigs are some of the musically prettiest in town.
The club where he’s employed is like school for musicians. He says that some Britons from Liverpool saw one of the gigs there and said that it felt eerily similar to an underground club that The Beatles played in a lot before anyone had ever heard of them. They have a lot of gigs, they have a lot of musicians, and Titan’s had the opportunity to learn a crazy lot about performance and watch musicians who’ll be the next big thing, maybe, while they’re in their fledgling stage.
Me and Kristina, we’re inventing a genre. It’s called Ballistic Blues. We’re calling it that, because Blues is one of the two roots whence rock and roll sprang from, the other being country western. There’s this whole passel of bands now that have this sound from no genre. Bands like The Picturebooks and The Heavy, or Peach Pits, or John the Conqueror. They’re these bands that what they have in common is that you could pick them up and transport them into any club or bar that was used to rock and roll anytime in the last fifty years, and people would get the sound. It might be a little fast or a little heavy for some of the clubs, or a little quiet for some others, or it might be a little revolutionary—a preview of riffs to be plucked later. But these bands playing ballistic blues belong nowhen, because it’s clear they come from the heart of boogie/bebop/rock and roll. They’re steeped in it. They belong to no genre, because that’s over-complicating the question. They’re playing rock and roll.
I have been calling it inheritance rock, because it’s rock and roll that sounds like it knows where it came from.
Like so many other people before me, I spend a lot of time wondering about times that came before me. I guess it’s a human condition.
What I wonder about rock and roll is whether every important revolution has already happened. We’re never going to get our heads exploded for the first time by proto-metal bands slashing their amps, or see punk crack the façade of the scene again, or watch punk’s depression fester into grunge. We’re never going to hear hip hop for the first time again. We’re never going to be able to express our outrage about the idea of an electric Bob Dylan again. We will never hear Les Paul reveal his invention for the first time.
Has every important new thing in rock and roll happened? That’s what I want to know.
I don’t have an answer. It’s just a puzzle I ponder on sometimes.
I do know this: it’s a lot of fun to live in a time when the tumult of revolution is the schoolhouse of dudes like Titan. I enjoy living in a time when people like Titan, musically inclined types, can grow up listening to all the revolutions that came before, and learn from them that the “rules” aren’t, and it’s all right to just make slick tunes and move on.
Titan: inheritor of the blues, and engineer of music.
If you haven't already done so, we genuinely cannot fathom the idea of you not wanting to see this wicked guy go do his bluesy ballistic thing. He's playing Act 2 on Leap Day 2020 - a wild party on 29 February 2020 in EDGE Brewing Poblenou 4 to 8 pm