La Bataille Des Bandes
© 2015 by Hal Howland.
From The Sculpture Gardener: Short Fiction
Marcel Anjou was justifiably proud of the fact that his native France had failed, or, perhaps more accurately, had not bothered to produce a single rock star. At twenty-seven, Marcel had established himself as one of Paris’s foremost classical guitarists and as the city’s leading interpreter of Django Reinhardt. The Conservatoire de Paris alum was nonetheless always on the lookout for ways to make a decent living: neither sporadic chamber-music concerts nor the odd jazz gig generated enough income to pay Marcel’s way.
Marcel had grown up in a home filled with music of all kinds, dominated by his boomer parents’ nearly obsessive love for the Beatles. Marcel knew the group’s thirteen studio albums and all the singles by heart—guitar parts, harmonies, lyrics, mythology, everything—and it made perfect sense to him that the Beatles were the one rock group that every successive generation around the world appreciated. All the other bands, during and after the British Invasion, were either too sloppy and derivative or too clinical and pretentious to sustain his interest—especially when a file cabinet bursting with serious works from the Renaissance on down to last Thursday was competing for his attention. Marcel saw popular music as the sonic equivalent of fast food and avoided both accordingly.
Family and friends had often told Marcel as a teenager that he bore a striking resemblance to the young John Lennon. Years later, during one of Marcel’s financial brainstorming sessions, he considered the overabundance of Beatles tribute bands touring the world and hit on a novel idea: a decidedly French Beatles tribute band that would sing the group’s repertoire en français. (The “boys” had, after all, thrown their German fans a couple of bones in the forms of “Komm, gib mir deine Hand” and “Sie liebt dich”—recorded, ironically, in Paris. Marcel considered the ugliness of spoken German and wondered how the same society that had developed a language that sounded like an old man spitting up phlegm would go on to give us Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. And how do we explain that many people lining up behind a creep like Hitler? Marcel conjectured that both the Germans and the Japanese were actually extraterrestrial aliens just waiting for their next chance to take over the planet.) Everything else about Marcel’s band—clothes, equipment, stage presence—would fit the familiar storyline. Marcel knew that certain songs would require lyrical concessions—he could not imagine singing “Elle vous aime” with a comic refrain of “Oui, oui, oui!”—and, in a private Gallic protest against Paul McCartney’s touristy pronunciation, Marcel had already decided to forgo the sweet “Michelle.” But a few minutes of thought produced the perfect band name: Les Quatre Fab. Marcel’s girlfriend, a respected graphic artist, produced the iconic bass-drum logo, complete with “drop T.” In homage to his musical parents and their liberal politics, Marcel adopted the stage name Jean Lenin. Despite his preference for deep hollow-body jazz guitars, Marcel searched
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