The Guardian

“Well, it gave me goose bumps, so it has to be good. Let’s get to work on the B-side of our demo record. I can’t wait to play My Girl Drove Me Insane for Chris and Frank and Zane,” Ralph Gilbert, bass guitarist for the garage band known as The Aspirations, said.

Sy Clarke yawned as he looked at his watch. “It’s already 7:30 and I’ve got a chemistry test tomorrow I need to study for. Maybe we should call it a night?” The Aspirations’ rhythm guitar player, Sy often was the member of the band least given to using music to become rich and famous.

“But I’m just getting warmed up. Let’s just spend another half hour on the next one before we quit. Since it’s going to be the B-side, we can knock it out in no time.”

“After we take a break.”

Sy switched on his bedroom’s radio. When a commercial ended, Smokey Robinson’s high-pitched wavering voice took listeners to a place called Go-Go as his backup singers The Miracles repeated the song’s title Going to a Go-Go throughout the tune until it became a hypnotic chant.

As the DJ praised the hit from Motown, Sy asked, “You think they sang going to…” as he imitated the dance moves he had seen the group make on television, “…enough times?”

“That’s it!” Ralph pulled the radio’s plug from an electrical outlet. “For our next song, we’re going to do the exact same thing.”

* * *

The following Friday after school, The Aspirations met at Zane’s home to hear what Ralph and Sy had written. Listening to My Girl Drove Me Insane left drummer Chris Fernandez scratching his head and lead guitarist Frank Wade scowling. As usual, their record producer Zane remained stoic.

“It needs more work, a lot more work,” Frank said to break the silence.

Ralph ignored the criticism and turned to the one he had been certain for days would praise his song. “What do you think, Zane? You’re the expert.”

Zane drained the last of his ice-cold beer and crushed the empty aluminum can against his forehead. He burped and threw it toward a growing pile of trash in the corner of his living room.

“That song hit my ears just like that can just hit my head. It’s passable for the B-side of your demo record because a lot of times the record company people and DJs never even bother to listen to the B-side. Now let’s hear what we’ve all been waiting for, your A-side. Hit us with your best song.”

“Uh, that was our best song,” Sy said.

“Well, don’t be bashful. Let’s hear the other one. Time is money, especially in the record business, boys.” Zane raised both hands as if signaling an orchestra to stop warming up and prepare to play.

Ralph pulled his solid body bass closer to his body as if it were a shield and waited for Sy to trade his electric guitar for an acoustic one.

“This is called Listen to That Sound,” Ralph said.

After playing a four measure intro of softly strummed chords punctuated by occasional deep notes from the bass, Sy and Ralph sang, their voices blending to create what sounded like a third instrument:

 

Listen to that sound

The one coming from underground

The sound to carry you back

When life wasn’t so black

It’s not too late

To turn your life around

 

When I was just a child

Maybe two or three

There were lots of stories

From the books my mother read to me

Tales of faraway lands

And treasures buried in the sand

 

So listen to that sound

The one coming from underground

The sound to carry you back

When life wasn’t so black

It’s not too late

To turn your life around

 

Growing up and becoming a man

Is not what I thought it would be

Where are all those good things?

Mom said were waiting for me

All those things she said

Were just around the corner

Up ahead

 

So listen to that sound

The one coming from underground

The sound to carry you back

When life wasn’t so black

It’s not too late

To turn your life around

 

Seems like everything has a price

Do this, say that, pretend, pretend

And don’t ever offend

But don’t mean what you say

All people seem to want

Is how much you can pay

 

So listen to that sound

The one coming from underground

The sound to carry you back

When life wasn’t so black

It’s not too late

To turn your life around

 

Sy bowed his head as if not wanting to hear any feedback.

Ralph turned his pleading eyes from Zane to Chris to Frank and back to Zane. Frank’s response did not surprise him.

“I need a beer to clear my head, Zane. Is it okay if I get one?”

“Help yourself.” Zane pointed toward the kitchen and waited until Frank could not hear his lowered voice.

“That was good, boys. I like it. All it needs is a soft beat from drummer man Chris and a few licks from Frank and we will have ourselves a decent demo for me to shop around town.” He glanced at his watch. “I have another appointment to make down at the marina. You guys work out the parts of your songs for lead guitar and drums with Frank and Chris and then make an appointment to record them with me.”

“You mean we can still do My Girl Drove Me Insane?” Ralph asked.

“Sure. Who knows? Maybe it will chart around L.A. as a novelty song. Stranger things have happened in this business for the B-side of a forty-five.”

 

Saturday, February 12th

Chris Fernandez lifted his head from the hand propping it up and stared at the four textbooks on his desk. Each required either a chapter read or essay written or test studied for.

Maybe I can do my homework tonight, Chris thought.

He flipped on his transistor radio and listened to part of California Dreamin’. The line about going into a church and faking a prayer made Chris shake his head and turn the radio off.

That’s my problem, I’m just faking it, Chris thought.

Sure, he had worked hard for more than thirty hours perfecting a drum part to match the two songs written by Sy and Ralph. But somehow, The Aspirations succeeding as recording artists seemed much more unreal than the California dream that had sent The Mamas and The Papas to the top of the charts. The most religious of The Aspirations, Chris decided to turn to the One he used only as a last resort. He knelt by his bed.

“Lord, I ask You to have mercy on us. I know our music doesn’t glorify You in any way but it’s all we seem to know. Please show me how to help Sy and Ralph.” He felt an unwelcome nudge in his soul. “And Frank, too.”

Chris paused for a moment of reflection, something learned during a religious retreat he had attended last year. A still small voice seemed to speak within his soul: You are the guardian for The Aspirations. The revelation snapped Chris’ upper body backward. How many times had priests’ sermons or sisters’ or brothers’ lessons at school centered on bearing your cross for Jesus Christ’s sake?

But being a guardian for three dopey friends?

“Are you sure, God?” Chris asked.

 

(Adapted from 1966, which is available for free from Amazon from Tuesday the 30th through Saturday August 3rd)

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