An excerpt from Pat MacDonald's soon-to-be-released novel "Space Kitty Blues"...
AN ANDROGENOUS DIGITALLY ENHANCED CAT on a gleaming checkerboard tile kitchen floor, having just finished a bowl of Kitty Love cat food is licking its lips lavishly, lusting for more. Eyes, determined and menacing dart up toward the cupboard.
Announcer: "Warning! Should you decide to join the millions of cat lovers across America who've made the switch to Kitty Love, you may notice a change coming over your cat..."
SPACE KITTY BLUES starts playing with rewritten lyrics "Gotta have my Kitty Love cat chow / Can't get enough of that stuff..." as Kitty leaps to the counter top, prowls, slinking sleekly, slightly alien and futuristic, eyes the cabinet, reaches heavenward, expertly paws open the door...
Announcer: "It is recommended that you keep the product stored in a high place, out of reach..."
Other brands of cat food sit undisturbed on the cabinet's lower shelf as Kitty climbs past them with supernatural agility onto the upper shelf.
Announcer: "...uh, better keep it in a locked compartment!"
Kitty, with furry furrowed brow studies a sturdy looking safe on the top shelf. "Man I wanna get it, how am I gonna get it down, down, down, get it down, get it down..."
Cut to: Kitty's paws on either side of the numbered knob, maneuvering nimbly, head nestled against the safe, listening to the clicks...
Announcer: (losing his cool) "This can't be happening..."
Kitty leaps aside as the safe door swings open to reveal silvery cans of cat food stacked and shimmering like bars of polished platinum, a feline fantasy mother lode.
Announcer: (regaining composure) "Now you know why it comes in a can!"
Ending shot: a close-up of Kitty, undaunted, paws transforming, razor sharp titanium claws extending...
Announcer: (tittering) "Oh my goodness! Kitty Love cat food-- be careful how you use it!"
Feebly hinting that the song was licensed for commercial use against his will by the evil publishing company, Matt squirmed in interviews. Soon, he stopped doing them. In reality Matt appreciated the easy cash and, having had no contractual clout with which to contest it anyway, agreed to the usage by default.
Initially (and understandably) Matt grew weak at the thought of a half million dollars, dumbstruck by the creative possibilities of having financial freedom beyond his wildest dreams-- until his accountant gave him the breakdown: Half would go to Monty (his publisher) and almost half of the remainder would go to the IRS. Then twenty percent of the quarter that remained would be paid to his ex-wife as per their divorce settlement, which would leave about a hundred grand-- hardly enough to support a lavish lifestyle for more than a year or so.
Fortunately, he would continue to receive periodic royalty checks. Though the size of these was decreasing with unrelenting regularity, the checks-- supplemented by the hundred grand-- would probably enable him to maintain a reasonably comfortable existence for at least a few more years.
At first, the money felt like something that needed to be hidden, like a stash of dirty pictures used for masturbation. He made meager donations to various charities to assuage his liberal guilt, but for the most part, he welcomed the windfall. With his post-FutureX career floundering, the money would buy him time to establish a new musical identity, time to record the songs he'd been stockpiling throughout the days of slow demise before the breakup.
As critics would later point out, these songs differed markedly from the ones he'd written during FutureX's heyday:
...much darker and desolate in their arrangements, sometimes evoking the image of a solitary man, stranded in the vastness of a post-nuclear landscape, struggling to be heard by someone-- anyone-- over the din of the only sound present after the echoes of the blasts have subsided: the ringing in his ears...
Had Matt the slightest inkling of the kind of attention this little one-minute video bite of cute commercialism would garner, or the extent to which it would impact his life, he would certainly have done everything in his power to stop it from being made and aired. At the time, it seemed harmless enough, amusing even, just an option, one of countless small choices made in a lifetime-- a passive decision actually-- a moment of...openness, let's say. But its effect on Matt's spirit was devastating.
Anyone in the U.S. who owned a TV saw the ad-- numerous times. The song had one of those catchy melodies people found themselves singing involuntarily whether they loved or hated it. At Matt's favorite hangout places, he'd occasionally hear voices across the bar doing little impromptu drunken a capella renditions. People would come up to him and say things like, "You're the guy who wrote that CAT song, right?"
His response in the beginning was usually just a shrug and a "yea, I guess so" or a "yes that would be me", displaying the proper amount of embarrassment without betraying the depth of it. Then he'd artfully change the subject, turning the attention onto the questioner with a question of his own: "So, are you a musician, or...?"
Often this tactic would work. More often, Matt was not let off the hook so easily. If some yokel sensed that this was a sensitive topic, he felt duty-bound to pursue it. If his probing nose detected the slightest whiff of shame, he was determined to see Matt wallow in it. "How does it feel to see your song bastardized like that?" Or (if one wanted to take the subtler approach), "Did you allow them to use your song, or can they just do that without getting permission?"
Sometimes, seeing Matt squirm, a more sensitive and compassionate individual would try to lighten things up with something like, "I guess you can't complain about the money though, hey?" But in the end, there was no consoling Matt. In his mind, he was a sell-out. There was no getting away from it. He knew there were people out there who actually felt sorry for him. There were also some who seemed envious. There were even a few lost souls who expressed pride in knowing a "celebrity." The extent of his embarrassment was surpassed only by the depth of his disgust. There was no getting away from it!MONEY HAS A WAY OF TURNING EVERYTHING IT TOUCHES INTO CHEESE.
Aside from the negative effects on Matt's social life, he also suffered creatively. His songwriting process became-- shall we say-- distracted. Whenever he had a good idea going-- some compelling riff or a piece of melody with some kind of lyrical hook-- Matt would see a little movie in his head, and he'd imagine his new half-finished song as the soundtrack. These mini-movies came in a variety of cinematic styles, but all ended more or less the same. If, for example, the lyric contained imagery about motion, he'd see an overhead view of a sporty sedan speeding and maneuvering through some mountain pass, the voiceover extolling the virtues of freedom and mobility, a product logo appearing on screen as the title line came around in the chorus. At that point, seeing the ad it was destined to become, he would invariably decide he hated the idea and scrap the song. After a while, he stopped having song ideas altogether.
Matt had always drawn strength from a sense of being the outsider, but now that he had so visibly entered the world of mainstream consumerism, he felt his edge was gone. Before long, he resigned himself to the realization that he was now one of them-- part of the system, part of the problem as he saw it. Because of this (and partly to alleviate his feelings of guilt) he became decidedly amoral. Frequent casual sex became his redemption. Sex was real. It was what we were put on this earth to do. There were certainly more ridiculous, less natural endeavors one could pursue...
He certainly didn't mind if people naturally assumed he had left music for reasons of being disillusioned and disgusted by the sleazy side of the business-- but in fact it was his disappointment in himself that drove him from the public eye. There was no getting away from it!
Or was there? Maybe it was time to take a couple people up on their invitations...
Matt liked the idea of Barcelona more than he enjoyed the reality of it at first:I land alone on the third of January in what turns out to be Barcelona's coldest winter on record. Elena - who persuaded me to come here for a little love holiday - picks me up at the airport. She waits until I'm in her car - ashtray overflowing with Marlboro butts - to tell me about the new love in her life. I feel tricked into coming. There's no romance in competing for someone's affections in a land where you don't speak the language. A heated discussion ensues, and before I can say 'Let me out of the car' she's driving like a madwoman through Plaza Espana. The speedometer reads 75 (kilometers) and I'm asking her to slow down or drop me off and she's throwing cassette tapes at me and screaming in Spanish: "Si Morimos, ES IGUAL!" ("I don't care if we DIE!!!")
Broken hearted and traumatized, Matt arrived in the neighborhood of Gracia with his old Smith-Corona, a suitcase full of light summer clothes and an unrelenting New Year's Eve hangover that rapidly turned into a nasty flu. He spent the first two weeks of his intended romantic getaway in bed coughing up phlegm and contemplating death. He'd stare up at the elegant ceiling of the apartment loaned to him by a famous singer-songwriter friend, thinking, "Is this where it all ends? This is the perfect place for it-- exotic, romantic, imperceptibly infected..." And had it not been for the kindness of Ricardo Almendro, his first friend in Barcelona, Matt surely would have stood a fair chance of fulfilling that grim little fantasy.
It had been arranged that Matt, upon his arrival, would go to a certain bar across the street from the aforementioned flat where Seņor Almendro would meet him and hand over the keys. With some difficulty, Matt found the place and upon entering, was greeted with a wave and a nod by a man sitting at a corner table sipping coffee. The gentleman dressed in shades of black: charcoal black sport coat over a light sweater in dark gun metal gray, topped off by a jet black beret-type cap, giving him a classic old-school Bohemian look.
"You are Matt Packard?"
"You're Ricardo Almendro!"
"I am honored to meet you. I am a great lover of rock poetry..."
"I'm honored to meet you! Uh...are you a musician?"
"No, I am not a musician," said Almendro, grinning sheepishly, obviously a little flattered and embarrassed by the question. "For a living-- and it is one of my passions as well-- I translate lyrics, from English to Spanish. Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, Patti Smith...the poets of rock, special artists." And almost inaudibly he added, "I am also a poet."
"I have been listening to your songs and reading your lyrics. I like them...a lot."
"I don't know if I could call myself a poet of rock."
Ricardo looked confused. "But your lyrics are poetry, no?"
"Well..." Matt bowed and shook his head..
"Why not?" Ricardo pressed.
"Well, in any case, I haven't been writing a lot lately-- lyrics anyway."
"I'm on strike I guess, a self-imposed hiatus from the music biz."
"Yes...the business...it is a dirty business..."
At this remark, Matt suddenly and inexplicably broke down and began weeping. And Ricardo, Matt's new friend, touched by this sudden and startling display of emotion, gave him some quiet unquestioning sympathy. And Matt took this opportunity to bawl openly and freely in front of everyone in the bar. In that moment, so far from home, Matt felt totally safe in his anonymity. Crying felt good. So the tears kept on falling, but for none of the reasons Seņor Almendro (or anyone) might have suspected. Matt was thinking, "What the fuck am I going to do in this town alone for six weeks? That bitch! She tricked me! I don't even know the fucking language!"
Copyright 2002 by Pat MacDonald
Last update: 2002-Dec-06