“Yeah, yeah, quit complaining.” Roxanne Pelligrini, no longer a kid of fourteen but a young lady of almost twenty-four shot her companion an irritated look. “I broke a nail, I had to file it. You try playing a guitar with ragged nails!”
“Use a pick, dummy.” Pizzazz snapped. “We have a concert in two days, then a tour…you gonna stop then to do your nails?”
“I don’t have a pick. You took them all and wrecked them.” Roxy, as she was generally known these days retorted. “If you could even play a guitar properly it might help, you know.”
“Shut your face.” She snapped. “Now, play, will you? We’d kinda like this song done before midnight?”
“Whatever.” Roxy shrugged, testing a chord or two. “Okay, I’m ready. Stop whining!”
Mary Phillips and Sheila Burns, the other two members of the band, who were better known to the world these days as Stormer and Jetta respectively exchanged looks, and Jetta rolled her eyes heavenwards. Roxy and Pizzazz generally had a fairly good relationship, and their sparring rarely led anywhere, but it could be annoying all the same. Jetta had never had much time for Roxy, though they were closer these days than they had ever been before, and Stormer, who had a special soft spot in her heart for the unruly bass player, was a peace-lover in general, not liking the band’s frequent spats.
“Alright, finally.” Pizzazz rolled her eyes heavenwards. “Okay. I say we go over the new song again. Someone is still playing flat.” She glanced meaningfully at Jetta, who shrugged.
“Ain’t me, love. Me sax is in key with Stormer’s synth. Maybe you’re singing flat.” She suggested. Pizzazz glowered, but did not rise to the remark. She merely picked up the microphone once more, turning her back on the British born sax player. Jetta generally dared to say things to the lead singer that neither Roxy nor Stormer would ever get away with, for she commanded a great deal of Pizzazz’s respect. The spoiled only daughter of a billionaire, it could be very difficult to argue a point with Phyllis Gabor.
But Jetta did it, and more often than not she got away with it.
Roxy sighed, playing the opening chords of her bass line as the group began their song. She was bored with practicing, if she was honest. Her attention span for work had never been great, and the studio was hot. Tempers flared all too easily in the California sunshine, and hers was no exception.
The Misfits had been together for some time now. They had begun with only three of them, and then Jetta had joined them a year earlier, taking their numbers up to four. Roxy had resented Jetta’s arrival in the band, but these days she accepted that the saxophonist was part of the Misfit setup, and that was how it was.
Roxy had been fortunate in many ways, for she had been in the right place at the right time. She had learned to play guitar from a street musician she had known back in Philadelphia, and, had she known it, had a natural talent for the instrument. She had only improved with the onset of the band, and there was good reason for her remarks to Pizzazz about playing. Pizzazz messed about with her guitar but discarded it all too often and had little real talent or enthusiasm for it. Roxy, on the other hand, loved the sounds the bass guitar made in her hands, and she was more than up to the lines of music Stormer wrote for her.
Stormer had always written the songs in the group, that was the way it was. The other Misfits did not want the work and had not her flair, for though she was the youngest, Stormer was without a doubt the most gifted of them all. At twenty-one she had masterminded every one of the Misfits’ many hit records, and though she didn’t share their reckless, careless attitude to the world, she was generally accepted as one of the gang these days.
Stormer and Roxy had met one stormy night a year or two earlier, and, despite their vast character differences they had developed a bond. Though Roxy would not admit that she needed anyone, she did need Stormer, for her companion had developed ways to help her band-mate learn lyrics without the need to read. Roxy was shy of revealing her inner thoughts or feelings to anyone, afraid to appear weak, but she knew that, should she need it, Stormer would always be there for her. It was an understanding which had built from an unlikely pairing, and both girls felt a comfort from it.
Both girls were vital to the band’s music. The difference was that Stormer was well aware of how invaluable her contribution was, for Pizzazz had been forced into admitting it when the synth player had had a spell of going solo.
Roxy was still very much in the dark about how important her guitar lines were to the songs the group performed, and it had made her insecure about her status within the band. It was partly this which kept her from completely accepting Jetta…she disliked competition.
Once the group had run through their song for the ninth time, Stormer set down her synthesiser on the table, moving over to the window to open it.
“This place has no air.” She observed. “I think we got that one now, Pizzazz. Can’t we run through some of the old songs? We haven’t played them in ages and if we’re going to do a proper repertoire at the concert we need to have them ready to go.”
“Yeah, yeah, I guess you’re right.” Pizzazz sighed, setting down her microphone and reaching for the folder of manuscript paper that generally occupied her guitar parts – few and far between as they were. “So what do you suggest, miss fussy? Any requests?”
“Well, something I can play in would be nice.” Jetta lounged on the windowsill, idly twisting the cord of her saxophone around her finger. “A lot of your early ones don’t ‘ave sax lines…I don’t much like bein’ stuck out like a sore thumb doin’ nothing.”
“You do backing vocals.” Pizzazz told her pointedly. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Well, makes me sax look a bit dumb, that’s all.” Jetta smiled slightly. “I can harmonise with Stormer’s synth in some of the songs, but in others I ain’t got a hope.”
“I can write in a sax line.” Stormer suggested.
“And totally wreck the song in the process.” Roxy rolled her eyes. “Great, Stormer, that works.”
“Well, Jetta has a point. If we’re doing old songs she oughta have a part.” Stormer responded quietly. “Just because we recorded them before she joined the band doesn’t mean she should be left out.”
“Oh, I’ll manage.” Jetta shrugged. “Don’t fuss about it, love. I’ll ‘armonise backing vocals, like Pizzazz said.” She smiled wryly. “Sure that’ll keep me occupied.”
Roxy strummed the first few chords of Queen Of Rock and Roll, frowning as she hit a wrong note.
“Ugh. I’m real outta practice on that one.” She observed in disgust. “Talk about an impossible bass line – you forget it ten minutes after you got it right!”
“You played it fine when we played in Morvania, so quit moaning and start practicing, huh?” Pizzazz told her. “I wanna play that one at the concert. It rocks.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Roxy grimaced. “Stormer, you know where the music is for this one?”
“Sure…its in the cabinet, in a folder marked ‘Tour: Europe 86’ Stormer nodded, moving over to the filing cabinet. “Let me see…it’s in here somewhere.”
“If Roxy’d learn to read then she could find it for herself.” Jetta observed.
“If Jetta’d learn to shut her big mouth then she’d be a lot more popular with everyone!” Roxy retorted.
“Oh, cool it, the pair of you. I thought you’d done with sniping at each other!” Pizzazz sounded frustrated. “We’re never going to get anything done if you just sit and squall!”
“Since when has work meant anything to you, Pizzazz?” Roxy demanded. “You never used to be so fussed about us practicing all the time! What gives?”
“What gives, smart mouth, is that we’re not recording for some two-bit company now. This place belongs to me, unless you’d forgotten, and we’re the biggest thing it has. So, we’re going to get things right.” Pizzazz responded curtly.
“Boring.” Roxy rolled her eyes. It had been this way, though, ever since Pizzazz’s father had retaken control of the music company and given it over in its entirety to his daughter’s charge. Harvey Gabor had been seriously ill and the shock of his illness had brought him and his unruly child closer together. Though Pizzazz would always be spoiled, opinionated and selfish, she had a special place deep in her heart for her father, and together they had come to an arrangement. Harvey would support his daughter’s career by buying back Stingers Sound and making it Misfit Music once more, but the company would be in her name and it would be her responsibility to make sure it was a success. Pizzazz had rehired Eric Raymond as chief executive of the company, knowing how he operated and wanting to bring him back under thumb, but she was determined that her company was going to be a success, and that meant that her band were going to be bigger than ever before.
They weren’t the only band signed to the label. The Stingers, a band formed in Europe were also tied to contract with the company and this had brought Pizzazz an amount of malicious pleasure. Riot, the group’s singer had played games once too often with Pizzazz’s emotions, and she had taken her revenge, bringing the group firmly under her control once and for all. Riot no longer held an allure for her, of which she was very glad. His magnetism had faded beneath his arrogant behaviour, and she had pushed him aside. She was a designing woman once more, and she was not going to let her father down.
Not this time.
So far, Misfit Music had been successful. The Misfits were, after all, a big name band. So they weren’t quite as popular as their bitter rivals, Jem and the Holograms, but they were big business. And Pizzazz intended to keep things that way.
Stormer located the missing manuscript, passing it across to the bass player with a grin.
“Here it is.” She said. “It’s a bit screwed up – can you decipher it okay?”
“It’ll do.” Roxy replied gruffly, taking the sheet of paper and casting her eye over it. Though letters were beyond her, she had learnt to read music, thanks again largely to Stormer’s support.
“I don’t even know that one.” Jetta stood over the bassist’s shoulder, skimming over the notes. Exceptionally clever, the sax player had indulged most of her intelligence in trickery, mischief and deceit, but when it came to the crunch she was more than equal to the task before her. And, as Stormer had discovered on more than one occasion, she wasn’t always as tough and as composed as she presented to the world. Born of working class parents, and growing up in a London council estate had not made childhood easy for Jetta, for her parents were obsessed with money and gambling and her only brother had been jailed for armed robbery some years before. Jetta considered herself the only success the family had produced, but she had shrugged off her real identity for the most part. She was content to be Jetta the sax player, and that was that.
She was also more than happy to stay in America, for she had no desire to be anywhere near her grasping parents if she could possibly avoid it.
“Haven’t you heard this one yet?” Stormer glanced at Jetta in surprise. “Boy, that proves how long it is since we played it!”
“Well, if I don’t know it, I’m gonna have a job contributin’ to it.” Jetta offered the synth player a droll smile. Though at first she had respected Stormer and her ‘sensitive nonsense’ very little, she had developed a fondness for the unassuming synth player and the two girls had an understanding between them. Though it wasn’t the same kind of almost protective relationship Stormer had with Roxy, it was companionable, and within the group the four girls had begun to realise exactly how much they relied on each other, even without the band’s music to consider. When talking to her elder brother Craig, Stormer had once jokingly labelled them a dysfunctional family, and in many ways that was the truth.
“Well, we’ll play it for you.” Pizzazz shrugged. “Roxy, you gonna play that bass line properly or you gonna mess it through?”
“I’ll play it. Quit griping.” Roxy tested a chord and then pulled a face at the singer. “If I go wrong then tough. Let’s get it over with, huh?”
Jetta settled herself down in a chair to listen, as the group ran through the up-beat song. She had never felt like an outsider in the band, even though they had had more than a year together before they had even met her. She had bonded with Pizzazz almost at once, commanding the singer’s respect with her exceptional musical skill and her will to fight back.
“Though I did think I knew all of their old songs.” She mused as she tapped her foot in time with the melody. “I like it…where the ‘eck did Pizzazz say they played it? It’s got real rhythm.”
A smile touched her face as Roxy, struggling with the complex bass-line, played a wrong note or two, and Pizzazz sent the guitarist a glare, though she didn’t pause in her rendition of the lyrics. Jetta had an amount of respect for Pizzazz’s skill at performing. Though it was more than a little true that the girl was no gifted guitarist, she did not lack in confidence and Jetta knew that she was more than half the Misfits’ act.
“She’s the pizzazz.” She observed to herself with some amusement as the three girls finished the song, casting them a grin.
“Well, it ‘as beat.” She remarked coolly. “What do you want me to do? Sounds as if Roxy needs a bit more practice, don’t you, duckie?”
“I’ll give you practice.” Roxy growled. “When you can play a bass line like this note perfect after more than a year then you can talk, okay?”
Jetta shrugged carelessly.
“Don’t need to, sweetie.” She said with a nonchalant smile. “You’re doing such a good job.”
Roxy’s eyes narrowed but she had learnt by now that that was Jetta’s baiting tone and it was best not to rise. Instead she played through the difficult passage again, this time getting it right.
“Great, Roxy. Play the thing right after we’re done with the song!” Pizzazz sounded exasperated.
Stormer toyed idly with the strap of her synth.
“Pizzazz, do you want me to write Jetta in a part? Because if so I’ll have to go do it now, if we’re going to play this tomorrow.” She said.
“Sure, whatever.” Pizzazz shrugged. “I think we’re done for now, anyhow. I’m bored and Roxy needs to practice.”
“Okay, I take the hint.” Roxy grumbled. “Thanks for nothing, Pizzazz.”
“Well, you screw it up tomorrow night and you might find yourself playing a different kind of gig.” Pizzazz raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, kiddies. Let’s leave her to it.” And with that she walked out of the room.
Jetta put her saxophone in its case, fastening the catches and lifting it, heading towards the door.
“Stormer, you comin’?” she asked.
“Yes…I’m coming.” Stormer cast Roxy a backward glance, but followed the sax player out of the room. Roxy sauntered over to the door with a sigh, pushing it shut and locking it. Then she trailed back to her guitar, scooping it up and glancing at the manuscript.
As she gazed at it, her gaze was caught by the characters at the top of the sheet. She knew what it said, for she knew the name of the song, but she couldn’t make sense of the words. With a muttered curse of frustration she pushed it aside, focusing her attention on her instrument.
“Who needs to read.” She told herself decidedly as she ran through the chord sequence again. “I can play, can’t I?”
She paused, biting her lip as she remembered.
“Roxanne’s just too stupid to learn!”
“She’s just dumb, look at her, she can’t even get the book the right way around!’
“Roxanne can’t read, Roxanne can’t read!”
“Even my six year old brother can read. What’s wrong with you – you thick or something?”
The phrases reverberated around her head and try as she might she could not shut them out. They had plagued her childhood all the more, for she knew deep inside of her that no matter how hard she tried she just could not learn to read. It didn’t matter how many remedial classes they sent her to, or how often she got stuck with the guidance counsellor talking about the evils of fighting in class. It had eluded her, and she felt sure it always would. Jetta’s teasing cut through her like a knife, though she would never let the British girl see how much it hurt her. To Jetta it was simply a game, but to Roxy it was more than that. She felt it, every time someone mentioned it.
She hated being made to feel stupid. She wasn’t stupid! Oh, but sometimes she wondered…
“They just don’t understand what it’s like. Any of them.” She told herself out loud as she drummed her fingers idly on the body of the guitar. “Well, I’ll show them. All of them. Somehow…” she sighed heavily. She’d said it before and yet here she was, in the same situation. She knew she’d done well for herself, but it was a skeleton that haunted her whatever she did.
“Roxy can’t read…imagine the scandal.” She murmured to herself. “But…oh, from what I came from…I sure showed everyone back home that I had it in me to be a star! I got a home, I got a job, I got money…hey, who needs to read? I’m a celebrity!”
The words carried strength but they were hollow, and she found her mind cast back to a year or two earlier, when she had made the idle boast that she could make it big in showbusiness if she should choose to. It had been a cold, windy day, and she had been with Jake, a street musician who played guitar on the corner to put together enough money to scrounge food. He had often given her the chance to play around with his guitar and, beat up as it was, she had loved the sound it had made.
That day had been different. Link and the other Red Aces had dropped by, and had been typically dense in comprehending her interest in Jake and his guitar. There had been some teasing, and Roxy had surprised everyone, even herself by telling them that she could not only play but that she could write music as good as Jake anyway.
There had been amusement at this, but Roxy was not one to back down and, determination in her eyes she had taken the guitar, settling herself on the pavement and remembering all he had taught her.
And, as she had sat there, cradling the precious instrument in her arms, she had found inspiration. Words she had not known she felt had come to her lips and for the first time in her short, difficult life she had allowed herself to be swept away from all the hardship, allowing herself to dream for the first time of a world that did not involve the need to scrounge or steal or shiver in a cold and badly ventilated squat. The song had been her resolve – her resolve to change…and she had taken herself up on the challenge.
Slowly, she began to play the all too familiar opening chords of her song. She had never written a song before or since, because she had never felt the right way to do it, but she had faith in this one. Not that she’d ever played it for the other Misfits, for she was still insecure in many ways behind her tough veneer, and unwilling to face their scorn. The song had no manuscript, the lyrics had never been put down on paper, and yet she knew them all as if they were right there in front of her. And here, all alone in the safe confines of the studio, she permitted herself to dream once more.
Somehow she would escape everything. She would leave her troubles behind her…move on with her life and forget the past.
She wasn’t that girl anymore, anyway. She didn’t need to share her memories.
Outside the studio, un-noticed by the bass player, Stormer crept up to the door to listen, her attention caught by the unfamiliar melody. She had been hunting for manuscript, for she wasn’t a natural eavesdropper and knew only too well in any case that Roxy in an enforced practice situation was not to be tangled with, but something in the sincerity of her band-mate’s voice had made her pause. Roxy had never sung lead vocals for the Misfits, nor ventured her own music into the melting pot for Pizzazz’s approval. And yet, here she was, all alone in the practice room, singing something which she had undoubtedly written herself, for Stormer knew it wasn’t one of her songs, and she also knew that Roxy’s illiteracy prevented her from reading anyone else’s lyrics.
“And she’s good!” she realised. “Really good! I wonder what inspired her.”
Rummaging in the cabinet for the manuscript paper she had come for, she listened as the last notes of the song died away. Hesitating for a moment, she moved back towards the door, pausing and then knocking, for she knew Roxy often locked it when she was practicing alone.
“What?” Clearly startled, Roxy’s voice was on the defensive, and there was the sound of the lock being pushed back as the door was yanked open. “What do you want? I’m trying to practice and I do wanna get out of here today, you know.”
“I was just getting manuscript, to write Jetta’s part.” Stormer faltered slightly, for, fond as she was of the other girl, she knew Roxy in a temper was not to be messed with. “I kinda heard…heard your song, Roxy. I wanted…”
“You were spying on me?” Roxy’s eyes opened wide with anger and she grabbed Stormer’s arm, pulling her roughly into the practice studio and slamming the door behind them. Stormer clutched the manuscript to her, her own eyes big with fear. Roxy was angrier than she’d ever seen her band-mate before, and yet there was something else in her brown eyes – a haunted look, almost fear. “Why?”
“I wasn’t spying…Roxy, it was an accident.” Stormer protested. “And…and anyway, I don’t know why you’re upset. Your song…it’s really good.”
“You…really think so?” Roxy was taken aback.
“Yes, I do.” Taking advantage of her companion’s surprise, Stormer settled herself on the edge of the table, idly toying with the manuscript in her hand. “You wrote it yourself?”
“Of course I did! I ain’t as dumb as you all think I am!” Roxy bristled.
“I never thought you were dumb, and I don’t now.” Stormer chided. “You know that, Roxy. When have I ever called you stupid?”
“You…haven’t.” Roxy conceded with a sigh. “You shouldn’t be here, Stormer. You shouldn’t have listened. I don’t play that song for people, you know. Not now. I played it once, when I was in Philly, and it shut people up, but I don’t play it otherwise. You should never have come back here.”
“I think you should be proud of it. I never knew you could write…or sing like that.” Stormer replied quietly. “I…I suppose it isn’t written down?”
“Of course not! It’s in my head and that’s all it needs to be!” Roxy retorted.
“I could write it out for you, if you’d like me to.” Stormer offered tentatively.
“What’s the use? I know it, and noone else is ever hearing it.” Roxy paused, turning to fix her companion with a glare. “You got that? Nobody else knows about it and noone else will. You write the songs in this band, not me…and that’s how it’s staying. It’s mine and noone else is going to hear it.”
“Well, if that’s what you want.” Stormer knew when not to argue with her companion. “I wish you’d let me write it out, though.”
“Why, so you can gloat about being able to write stuff down when you know that I can’t?” Roxy demanded. “I didn’t ‘write’ the song, Stormer, I made it up. So why does it need to be written now, huh? To make me look dumb?”
“No! Of course not!” Stormer shook her head. “I just thought…”
“Well, don’t.” Roxy snapped. “And you’d do better forgetting you ever heard me play it. You got that?”
“Why don’t you want the others to know about it? Roxy, it’s really good!” Stormer looked confused.
“Because I don’t.” Roxy retorted stubbornly. Comprehension flashed into Stormer’s blue eyes.
“Oh!” she murmured. “Roxy…are you afraid that they’ll think you’re soft, for writing about how you feel?”
“I’m not afraid of anything, or anyone.” Roxy folded her arms. “Not you, not Pizzazz, not Jetta. I can do fine without any of you and what you think of me doesn’t bother me. I just don’t want anyone horning in on my business, okay?”
Stormer was silent for a moment, considering.
“I know you better than that.” She said finally,
her tone quiet. “You don’t have to play the tough girl with me, Roxy. I
know that if you hadn’t been afraid of the storm that night we’d never
have met, and I know that you were terrified when we did that hanglider
stunt before the Music Awards a year or two back. But if it means so
much to you, I shan’t mention the song to anyone. After all, it’s
yours. Not mine.”
She stood to leave, but at the doorway she paused, turning to fix her companion with a thoughtful look.
“Don’t underestimate what you can do.” She murmured, then she was gone, leaving Roxy staring after her.
“Wimp.” She muttered to herself once she had recovered her composure, reaching for the discarded manuscript and settling down to fix the bass line properly in her head. “Who needs her anyway? Who cares what she says?”
But inwardly, she felt a little glow of pride. Stormer, who had masterminded so many big hits with her musical flair had liked her song, had praised it. Though wild horses wouldn’t drag it from her, Stormer’s compliment had meant a lot to the mixed up bassist.
She did not play her song again that day, instead focusing all her attention for once on the task in hand.
Maybe it wasn’t a hollow song, after all.
Maybe…maybe she really had changed.