The Dreamers Young musicians “Alpha & Omega” await their big break in the recording industry.

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Jul 11, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s Note: I must have been in a mood from hell when I wrote this story. I was out of college and it seemed as if my days as a musician were over – at least for the time being. So I took out my frustration on the characters in the story! It takes place in the days of tapes and record albums and 45 rpm singles and disk jockeys as kingmakers. As I reread it, it seemed a bit dated, so I did some gentle rewrites for this posting.

Danny Keller casually picked up his guitar as he asked the question: “Tom, how long have we been playing in clubs?”

“Three years,” I replied.

“And how long have we been sending tapes to record companies?”

“Almost three years.”

“Do you think we’ll ever make it? Or are we just a couple of dreamers?”

I took a sip from my glass of tea, and thought for just a moment. “I don’t know, Danny. I just don’t know. I picked up the mail on the way home a few minutes ago, and there were two more rejection slips. It’s getting so RCA doesn’t even return the tapes anymore.”

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Danny muttered, mainly to himself, “Alpha & Omega. The singers nobody knows.” (Danny and Tom had been born on the first and last days, respectively, of the same month, thus the duo’s name.)

“Well, at least we’re known in Austin,” I said.

“Sure.” Danny put his guitar into its case. “All over the country, they’re saying, ‘Austin, Texas: home of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Alpha & Omega.’ Let’s admit it, Tom. We’re getting nowhere fast.”

I was trying to look cheerful, just for Danny’s sake, but deep down, I knew he was right. We had formed “Alpha & Omega” just after graduation from junior college. The folk-rock scene was popular then, and we did a lot of that style of music. Later, after we moved to Austin, we changed our repertoire to add a country flavor – the kind of “outlaw” stuff Willie and Waylon were doing. We were doing all right in local clubs around the University campus, but for Danny, that wasn’t enough. So we made tapes, and sent our songs to record companies big and small. It was a rare day if we even received a personal reply. Most of the time, the form letters simply read: “We are sorry to inform you…” and went downhill from there. Danny kept them all in a scrapbook, and the pages were almost full. I didn’t know whether he could last through another scrapbook.

“Look, Danny,” I said after a long pause. “We’ve got a gig tonight at the Crossroads. Maybe it’s our turn to be discovered.” I knew the chances of that happening and so did he, but at least it was something to say.

“Yeah,” he said somberly. “I guess we’d better get those strings changed.” He reached for his guitar once more, and I reached for mine.”

The Crossroads wasn’t one of the major nightspots in Austin. They couldn’t afford Willie or Waylon, but they could afford Alpha & Omega with no problem. After an hour or so of the music, and passing the bottle, the crowd didn’t seem to mind that the singers were unknowns. In fact, many of the same people showed up from time to time, and we established what Danny called “our crowd.” We were there two or three times a week, singing the same songs, and taking requests that were jotted down on napkins.

One night, some weeks later, one of those napkins was the bearer of more than a simple request for a song. The message read:

Still making like Simon and Garfunkel, huh? When are you two going to get real jobs? Oh yes, please play a song for me. “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain” seems appropriate. What do you say? — Paul

“Paul Donovan,” I whispered to Danny. “See him way back in the back?”

“That’s all we need,” said Danny who had already broken a guitar string, and had spilled his drink on the floor.

We played his song, and then announced a fifteen-minute break. We headed for the rear of the club to talk to Donovan.

“Well, well, well! Tom Griffin and Danny Keller…the poor man’s Peter, Paul & Mary – without Mary, of course.”

“Hello, Paul,” we muttered, almost in unison. “What brings you here?”

“I was driving by, and remembered you were playing. I thought I’d see if you’d learned any new songs.”

“We’ve picked up a few,” I answered. “How are things in law school?”

“Not bad. Another year, and I’ll be finished – then I can help you negotiate that major label recording contact I’m sure you’re about to nail down.”

“Paul, why don’t you crawl back under a rock?” Danny said.

“Look, Paul, Danny and I both know you were the top honor grad in your class, and we know you’re doing well in law school. But we have our own thing, I don’t see why you have to make fun of it.”

“Because you’re dreamers. I’m just trying to convince you that you’re getting nowhere with what you’re doing. It’s almost impossible to score big in the record business. You have to know somebody or have lots of money. I don’t see why both of you don’t quit this nonsense and go back to school.”

Danny’s head was down. “I guess I have to admit that record companies haven’t been waiting outside our door. C’mon, Tom, it’s time to get back onstage.”

The crowd cheered as we picked up our instruments, and I wondered for a moment if both of us wouldn’t rather have these fleeting moments of acceptance rather than a lifetime with a law degree. We played for another hour and a half, then packed our stuff and headed for the apartment.

We were tired from the night’s activities as we hauled the sound system up the stairs to our third floor suite. With one arm still locked around a speaker column, Danny pressed the key into the lock and backed his way into the room. When he flipped the light switch on, he almost dropped the column. There was a girl asleep on the couch.

“April,” he exclaimed as the light caused the young lady to turn over.

“It’s about time you two got home,” she half talked and half yawned. “I’ve been back in town almost two hours.”

“Good thing I gave you a key or you’d have had to wait outside in the hall.” Danny kissed her.

“How was the crowd tonight?”

“Same as usual,” he replied, except that Paul Donovan showed up.

“Don’t let him get to you,” April said. “He’s just a big legal bag of wind.”

I agreed with April, but somehow, I agreed with Donovan, too. At any rate, I felt like Danny would have a better night now that April was here. He had met her shortly after we came to Austin. We’re at the Crossroads performing when she walked in. Danny asked her out later that night, and they became close friends. I had a crush on her myself at one time, but never followed up on it because of Danny. They did make a nice pair. He was just a bit taller than she; they both had blond hair, and both were thin. April was kind of cute with her long hair, bangs, and blue eyes. She no longer lived in Austin, but she came to see Danny fairly often.

The three of us stayed up and talked for a while, then Danny and April disappeared. I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to watch a movie – or at least part of one – on TV, but before long, I was fast asleep.

Morning arrived too fast for me. When I woke up, Danny was already making some breakfast, and April was standing in front of the bathroom mirror applying makeup.

“Did the bad dream go away?” she asked.

“How do you know I had a bad dream?”

“I mean Paul Donovan.”

“I forgot about him when I saw you last night. I imagine Danny did too.”

“I can vouch for that.”

“Hey, it’s already ten o’clock. I’ll bet the mailman has been here.” I threw on a pair of blue jeans and a shirt and rushed downstairs to the mailboxes. Sure enough, there was an envelope from a record company. I didn’t open it until I was back in the apartment.

“Brace yourself for another rejection slip,” I warned. But for the first time in three years, it wasn’t a rejection. At least it wasn’t a complete rejection. “Listen to this. DynaSound Records liked our new song, ‘Lonely In the Rain,’ but they want to hear it with more production.”

“More production?” echoed Danny as he grabbed one side of the letter. “I guess they mean a chorus and strings section. That means a lot of expense and headaches.”

“True,” I said. “But it may also be our only opportunity to show Donovan what we can do.”
“You’re right. We’ll do it no matter what it costs.”

That afternoon, I called Freddy Tyson of Olympia Studios, and asked him what it would cost to set up a session for “Lonely In the Rain.” It amounted to a basic hourly charge for studio time, plus additional fees for the side musicians, the back up singers, and the strings and horns.

Freddy told me not to worry about the strings – they could be dubbed in later, probably in Nashville. It all added up to a hefty expense, but Danny and I thought we could get the money. A couple of months later, the session was behind us, and “Lonely In the Rain” finally existed as a professional recording. We thought it sounded good.

April had gone back to her hometown, but when the news of the record got out, she immediately returned to Austin to help us promote it. As more time went by, we became more and more excited about our chances of hitting it big.

“I just heard ‘Lonely In the Rain’ on the air,” April told me as she burst into the apartment.
Danny hugged her. “I understand we’re on in Waco and Lubbock, too. Now if only Houston and Dallas will…”

I cut him off. “You mean if only we hear from DynaSound Records.”

“They were the first to get a pressing,” he said. “Meanwhile, we might as well look for all the airplay we can get.”

“Oh, I agree. But I just hope that recording session doesn’t go down the drain as far as getting a contract.”

April was animated. “Look, guys – in a few days, you’ll hear from DynaSound, and then you can go tell Paul Donovan to stuff it.”

More days passed with no word from DynaSound. We sent the record off to several other companies just in case. Still more days passed.

About a week later, I was driving back to the apartment from the radio station with some bad news. The program director told me that there hadn’t been all that many requests for the song, and that he had decided to drop it from the playlist. I had the radio on to see if any other stations were still plugging it. I didn’t hear the song on the way home – just a news item that another student had jumped from the University tower. University officials were constantly looking for ways to prevent jumps, but about nine people had done so anyway over the years.

Thinking about it contributed to my depressed mood.

A few moments later, I arrived back at the apartment, and walked by the mailbox on the way up. It was empty, and I suspected Danny had already gotten the mail. I walked on up the stairs, feeling, for some reason, that something was terribly wrong.

I turned at the top of the last flight of stairs, and headed toward our apartment. I was running now. I slipped the key into the lock, but that wasn’t really necessary; it wasn’t locked anyway. I swung the door open and looked inside. I knew my worst fears were true. April was sitting on the floor sobbing. There were two opened manila envelopes on the floor next to her, and she held a note in her hand.

“It was Danny, wasn’t it?” I asked slowly.

She made an attempt to answer, but then, instead, handed me the note. Its message was brief: “I’m tired of being a dreamer.”

The envelopes on the floor had contained rejection slips from two more record companies.

I helped April over to the couch. We sat there for several minutes, her head on my shoulder, but she never said a word. A moment later, there was a knock at the door, and I knew I was going to have to answer unwanted questions either from friends or the police. As much as I hated it that was the way I spent the rest of that awful day. When night came, April and I checked into separate hotel rooms. The next morning, she took a bus home.

I decided to leave Austin, too, and went back to the apartment to get my things before heading for parts unknown. I made one last check of the mailbox, and found a personal letter from the top A&R man at DynaSound Records. I threw the letter away without ever looking inside.

THE END

© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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