Beyond the Shadow
Ogden knew the city. Not like a cab driver. knew his way around but would get lost like a tourist if he moved beyond his turf. Ogden felt the city, breathed it, lived it. He had become so close to it that he had the city in his bones. Sometimes he wondered why that was.
He had been born in the middle of nowhere, further east where America still looked like it was covered by infinite nature, humans staining the land only occasionally. In his home village, just a couple of houses really huddled around a crossroads for safety, people still had the feeling that nature was an inexorable force. They had to rebuild after tornadoes, battle the creeping plants cracking open streets and walls, supplies had to brought in from far away to maintain civilisation.
When he went west, to the big city, he was blown away. Suddenly it was the other way round. Everything. Everything was put there by human hand. Even nature was there only by the mercy of man-kind. Nature grew restless everyone in a while, like horse half-way broken, weary but with still some fight left in its heart. But man didn’t give a fuck. They would mop up the debris. Rebuild. And that was that.
For Ogden this was a revelation. He had come here because he fancied himself a musician, a singer and actor, a creative type. Legend had it that boys and girls like him moved west to the great city. Here they would pass through many arduous trials. If they were worthy they would be elevated to become stars. He had expected many challenges, thought he was ready for them all, but nothing had prepared him for the immensity of human achievement he saw himself confronted with.
It almost broke him. For a while he could not imagine a world where his insignificant self could grow or even prosper in this place.
However one day a second revelation had come to him. This city was made by man. Not by a single god like person, but by millions and millions of them. Everyone from menial worker to highly qualified specialist had assembled to work together to build this incredible monument to modern civilisation. This was the American Dream made manifest.
He channelled his sense of wonder into his music. He wrote strange songs about the strange city which got him recognition in a certain crowd of people. He never broke out of that niche. He lived. He always had enough money to pay the rent and most weeks he had enough to eat. Something wasn’t right though. He worked hard on his music. He always kept an ear on the ground looking for other new artists that had appeared with a new vision to share with the rest of the world. He grew constantly. As a human being. What did not grow was his wallet.
For a while Ogden had doubts about the American Dream. He was following the rules, yet somehow life did not follow. He went through hardship, he never gave up, he constantly improved himself. Yet success never followed. It turned out that he had not been paying attention. He had been blinded by his ambition. He was a good musician, yes. But was that what he was really best at?
What he was actually best at was sniffing out greatness. As he moved through the many communities inhabiting the city he knew which within their group had raw talent or a spark of genius. It did not take long for him to realise that these people were usually so caught up in their art, that they had no idea how good they were and what was worst these people had no clue how to get their work out into the world.
Ogden knew. So he left his guitar behind, all his songs, his poems, his pictures. All the things he loved but knew he was not good enough at. He sacrificed them to the past so that he could help those with real talent to grow.
He now put all his energy into bringing the most brilliant artists of the city to the attention of the others. And the American Dream rewarded him richly. Even in his first years were he was basically shuffling around the underground scene uniting galleries with painters and stages with bands, he began to earn very well. For him this was a sign that he was on the right track.
And he never stopped. He never stopped immersing himself into all aspects of the cities culture. For Ogden there was no good art, no bad art, no ‘is that even’ art. There was only raw potential. When he found it he did all in his power to bring it into the open. Give it space to evolve, reach its peak and shine. To do this right he had to be so close to the city that he basically became a part of it. No other task could have made him happier.
Ogden was the ruler of his own little empire when Carlton Alexander appeared. Carlton was not the first representative of one of the international titans that came knocking on his door, but he was the first executive that came in person. The first that went through the trouble of getting to know him first and only then make him a generous offer. Money alone was not enough for Octavian Ogden, the attitude behind the money had to be the right one. Carlton was the first one who asked the right questions. There was nothing about how much it would cost him to hire Ogden. There was a long conversation about the state of art in the city. Who was up and coming, which people were past their prime. Who should be boosted above the masses through the power of the titan Carlton represented. This man was not rying to blindly hire him because some had told an assistant of his that Ogden was good. No Carlton Alexander had a vision, he had shared it with Ogden and offered him to be part of it.
He agreed. While he remained an independent freelancer, when it came to music he worked now exclusively for Carlton Alexander and all the music labels he represented.
The thing that rankled him the most was Carlton had found about the band, while he was still convinced that it was one of the many urban legends that were doing the rounds. The city was full of them. The man with the trumpet that appeared in bars enchanting the audience and leaving with half of their painful memories and half of what was in their wallets. The sprayer who made graffiti that warned those who could read its symbolism of impending doom. The fire that burned in empty lots returning the ruins of the buildings who once stood there. Crap like that. He heard them every other day.
So the bad that appears out of no where riding an infinite double-decker bus which is also a mobile stage? Sounded pretty urban legendary to Ogden. This time it was simply an exaggeration, also happens all the time. Usually he could sniff them out in time. That Carlton’s army of talent scouts had found that band before him… No good. Was he getting old?
He pushed those negative thoughts away. Getting angry got him nowhere. Now that he knew the band existed, he knew that he would find them. The city was a small universe full of different worlds. He had been to all of them and he was there always travelling between them, always watching. This was his city. There was no one who could hide from him forever.
The first thing he did was shift worlds. He left the world of the super rich powers, who ruled the world of entertainment from their sky scraping temples. He crossed into sibling worlds of the stars where the famous mingled among each other. He did not stay long, just listened to the grapevine for a bit. The news trickling in that something was going on. Someone was making a huge spectacle. In this reality they were all still eyeing each other suspiciously, believing that it was one of their own trying to pull some kind of stunt.
Interesting. If the stars were speculating about it, it meant that a newcomer had appeared in the city making a power play. It also meant that who ever was it was going to rise high. Maybe they would crash and burn afterwards in some spectacular fashion or just crumple up like a dead insect blown away by the next big thing. But right now they were rising. This meant that Ogden had to hurry. He had to find the band before anyone else.
He left the world of stars moving to the underground. Here the strange, the crazy, the contrarians, the incurably full of shit, the ones whose art did belong either to the past or the future but not the present and the ones so brilliant that everyone was blind to their genius lived. It would be a bit of a slog but this was the place where he would find the band he was looking for.
He was wrong.
The underground world, just like the world of stars was only vaguely aware of them. Those who knew about them jealously guarded their knowledge from all others, for such was the nature of the underground. Octavian had friends here though who owed him a lot of favours.
This was intriguing. He passed through more worlds. Always with the same result. Vague rumours.
For a moment he was stumped. Where ever he looked there were a few wild stories doing the rounds but no one knew for sure. This did make him feel a bit better. So far it totally looked like an urban legend although this one was to evenly spread across all the worlds of the city to be just a normal legend. Still it meant Carlton’s scout must have lucked out. It would be him that would get to the band and sign them.
If they had not appeared in any of the worlds yet he had to track them down in the spaces in between. There were always points were social spheres overlapped, neutral zones that had never been claimed by any culture, hallowed grounds that were left untouched and the parts that were deemed repugnant by all but those who had no other choice but to remain there. Ogden decided to go to the adolescent packs fluctuating between the different camps not quite sure with home to pledge their allegiance. Extraordinary things would be found by them first. The packs never felt quite comfortable in the company of the old ones because they could never could shake the feeling that they were not taken seriously. It was this chronic lack of poise that made them the most flexible of all the groups. If anyone could be said to be native to the space between the worlds it was them. The same could be said about bums and hobos, but these were exiled into this space. The adolescent packs while having their home there moved into every world until the day one of the adult tribes would accept them as one of their owns. The only other species that moved so freely through the cosmos of the city were the crows.
Ogden talked to many packs. His assumption was proven to be correct, the young ones knew about the bus. Or busses. Depending on which tribe he was talking to The Band With No Name appeared either in one gigantic mega bus more than a block in length or in three different busses which were still ridiculously long but on a more sensible scale. Ogden made a mental note that there were only these two variations. Furthermore while the description varied somewhat the wre consistent with each other. The adolescents also had one name for the one long bus. They called it the Block Buster.
Another things all stories had in common was that the concerts always ended the same. The music would suddenly stop, often in the middle of a set, leaving not silence but the sound of sirens approaching. The young ones would panic, many of them very drunk and very underage, shooting away in every direction trying to avoid the cops while the Band With No Name packed its things and vanished into the night.
The most important thing was that no one could really tell him what the music was like they were playing. The usually grabbed into the genre bag throwing together all they could find there in an attempt to make sense of it. All who had heard the music agreed on one thing. It was fucking awesome.
Many of the witnesses had become obsessed with this music, it now haunted their dreams, filled their minds during the day, inspired them to break out of the path they had been following in a daze and try something different. Not indy label different. Really different. Like the Band With No Name.
Ogden followed the trail. When ever he passed through on of the established words he passed on the message that he was looking for the Band With No Name. It was a gamble. In doing so he was going to cause a new wave of foaming rumours to crash into the city. It would mean that sightings would be reported to him more rapidly though, he had people who he could trust in all the worlds. Downside was that his competitors were going to take note in a day or two. By then Ogden was hopefully already near the mark and the others distracted by bullshit rumours.
Then it was back to gathering information. The band always appeared in different places. No rhyme or reason to it so far. A day before the concert fliers and posters would appear announcing the next concert. They would always arrive on time. With only one exception a couple of days ago when they failed to do so. The next day there were new fliers with pictures of the place were the concert should have taken place identifying plain clothes police officers on the crowd.
Their legend grew.
“You were there when they played?” Ogden asked a girl that looked like 22. Looking at her friends he was pretty sure that she was no older than 15.
“Twice.” said the girl beaming with pride. Even the boys in her pack who used up most of their energy to appear manly could help themselves but nod in respectful approval.
“Impressive. You are the first one who managed to get hold of them twice.” he said to her, the compliment setting the girl alight. Ogden suspected that the compliment might have been a bit to much, the girl appeared as if the endorphin rush was taking her to the places heroin addicts dreamt of reaching.
“How did you pull that off?” he asked.
“Connections.” the girl said sending off waves of smugness that had narcissists in a two mile radius broke in to cold sweats feeling that a great wave of force was displacing them from the centre of the universe.
“You know someone from the band?” Ogden asked, instantly regretting it as the girl suddenly turned bright red, here eyes wide open, jaw taking a running jump towards the floor.
“Oh. My. Goooooood. That would be so fucking cool!” she half shrieked. Her eyes were still focused on another plane, the ones around her also went glassy eyed imagining for one moment to know the band. Talking to them. Crusing the night inside the Block Buster.
“No.” she was slowly returning to reality. “God I wish I did…”
“I now a guy, he’s 18,” she added to the envy of her female and the annoyance of her male pack mates, “and he is one of the pilots.”
“A pilot…” Ogden had learnt that if you want people to keep talking you just say something that they just said. Usually he was more subtle about it but this girl would take any excuse to keep on bragging about her exploits.
“Yeah. He is a flier guy, he hands them out. The band is strictly stone age. They don’t announce things on the Internet. At all. So if you can’t grab a flier your shit out of luck.”
“An idea where he gets his fliers from?”
“No idea. He doesn’t even know. Got the job from a guy who knows a guy. Before a concert the fliers appear on his door step. He has his own place so he gets it delivered there. Next day there’s an unmarked envelope in his mailbox with one hundred bucks in there.”
“One hundred?” Ogden was surprised. Not only was the method of delivery so utterly melodramatic that it served as its own PR but they paid the kids 100 $ to hand out fliers?
“I know! Right? “
“So when the next concert happens you are going to know.”
Another wave of smugness washed over him. The more lucid narcissists in the neighbourhood were now near to a terminal nervous break down. The luckier one could self medicate with some generous helping of cocaine.
“You can bet your life on it grandpa.” said the girl. Ogden died a little bit when he registered the ‘grandpa’ bit but he kept his pokerface going.
“When the next concert is I need to know.”
“You?” asked the girl.
“Yes, me. All my friends heard of the band. But so far no one has actually heard it. And I totally want to be the first.”
The considered his words for a moment before they started nodding. What that old man had just said like made total sense, maybe he was one of these fabled cool old people their myths told them about.
“Tell you what,” one of the professionally male ones said with a confidence that was 90% hard work. “You buy us a bottle of vodka and a couple of six packs and we tell you.”
The girl Ogden was talking too turned around with a quick motion towards the guy who had just intruded into her territory. She inhaled sharply but did not say anything. She turned back to Ogden with a sightly displeased expression.
“No way.” she said. “Two bottles of vodka, fours six packs and two big bottles of water.”
“Deal.” said Ogden without missing a beat.
“Deal.” the girl said obviously happy with this outcome. The others in the pack were also congratulating each other, marvelling at having found a cool old one. They could not believe their luck. They had a direct line to the Band With No Name and now their own adult to buy them their drinks.
“Just one question.” said Ogden.
“What do you need the water for?”
“What do you think it’s for, for the vodka we can hardly take it to a club or anything in the original bottle. Duh!”
The pack decided that the coolness of the old ones had its limits.
An hour and several beers later, Ogden had returned to the pack like an alcoholics version of Santa Clause, he left with at least one possible avenue to the band. More importantly he now knew what the band looked like in the first place.
There were five people in the combo. Two girls three guys. The band leader who everybody called ‘King Crimson’, was the keyboarder. Ogden’s mind boggled at the very thought. Not only had they a keyboarder but he was the band leader? Didn’t that break several of natures laws? There were two guitarists. Both dudes. And a lady drummer and girl bassist.
Walking away Ogden felt his confidence grow. He now had a mental image of the band, he knew a bit more about their modus operandi. He had befriended a pack of teenagers who were obsessed with them giving him a direct source to all the news about his not quite so mysterious target, they’d also alert him to their next concert.
Once that happened he would strike.