Chapter 1 — The Beginning
It was the year nineteen hundred and seventy-eight...
...Disco fever was hot and heavy in the air, and nightlife had a whole new meaning.
Me, myself, and I were cruising around a local hang down near L.A., always looking for new musical talent, drinking my usual, and mostly just having a good time. At that time, I worked for Capitol Records, which originated out of L.A. I didn't hold a super influential position, but like all people in the music business you had to work hard to make your way up the corporate ladder. Physically looking into a possibility is how that possibility becomes a reality, so that's exactly what I was doing.
I took a long sip of my Manhattan, my eyes scanning the room again. I had a regular spot in this night club; how the architects laid out the floor plan of this place was borderline magical, the acoustics were fantastic, and from where I always sat at the bar I could hear everything. Back in the kitchen, head chef Lee was having a very quiet disagreement with a waiter named Jimmy. By the sounds of it, Jimmy was lacking a few brainwaves. Two women wearing matching gold halter tops with no backs were walking out of the bathroom, both giggly because they got their monthlies at the same time. There was also a guy currently whispering some very vulgar suggestions into a young brunette's ear on the complete opposite side of the place...I really hope, for her sake that those were suggestions...
"Hey! Off in la-la-land again, Briggs?" I looked up to see my coworker, Brian Whitland. He also happened to be a decent friend too. I cracked a smile.
"Nah, just surveying the tension. Rooms like this are always filled with interesting possibilities." Whitland sat down on the glittery red stool next to me with a sigh.
"Sometimes more interesting than a television, isn't that what you normally say?" I nodded at him in the affirmative. He took a drink; scotch on the rocks and smacked his lips. "So, head honchos got a field assignment for you." I raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, does he now?" Whitland nodded, his elbows both resting on the back of the bar.
"Yeah, Epic records called, and they wanted a consult for a solo album they've got coming out next year. Said they needed a decent mixer for a song their artist is suck on."
"What artist?" Whitland turned his head to face mine, both of us no longer looking out at the crowds. His expression became devious as he looked at me.
"That's the million-dollar question, isn't it?" Brief pause, "I wasn't told, so don't go prying. The only thing I do know is that this one's popular enough to ask anyone he or she wants to work on it, and they'll come running. Plus, they offer ten grand just for a mix." He shrugged at the end of his sentence and went back to his drink. My jaw fell ajar.
"Ten grand? Are you serious? Just for a damn mix session?"
"Epic wasn't joking, and neither would I when it comes to that kind of money. OH! Look at that girl. Damn." He watched one of the gold-top girls walk past, she gave him a little cutesy wave.
"That one's ridding the red wave, probably want to steer clear..." Whitland gave me a look. I quickly put my hands up in response. "I'm just sayin'. But seriously though, ten grand is insane. Obviously, I'll do it because ten flipping grand. Also, I really want to find out who the heck is willing to pay that much for a mix from me of all people." I took another sip of my drink as my eyes glanced back at the crowds of people.
"When you find out who this artist is, you gotta let me know Briggs." Just then a glass flew through the air slammed into the wall, shattering on impact.
"Looks like those weren't suggestions after all..." I mussed aloud. Whitland raised an eyebrow at my words, but I didn't answer his unspoken question. Downing the last of my drink, I set it back on the bar counter with a five-dollar bill. "If they'll let me, I'll tell you who the genius is that wants to over-pay for a mix. Till then, goodnight Brian." I stood up, my black leather jacket slung over one shoulder.
"I'll take that as my cue to hit the road too. 'Night Astoria." With that, I left and went home for the night. Sleep was becoming harder to come by recently, so naturally I laid in bed wondering who in the world this artist was...
The next day I reported to my head honchos' office before skipping over to Epic Records, I needed to know what time this crazy person was expecting me. A resonating deep voice replied 'Enter' to my knocking. I opened the door to see my boss sitting at his desk, piles of paperwork surrounding his figure.
"Hey, Boss." I shut the door behind me; he didn't look up from the paper he was scrawling on, but he knew why I was there nonetheless.
"Epic is expecting you at 11:30 in studio B. You're going to be meeting up with Quincy beforehand, so he can give you the lowdown." His head moved up from his paper to look me pointedly in the eyes. "Don't screw this one up, Briggs. There's a lot riding on this mix, it could end up being a life-long partnership with Quincy's artist. Quite frankly, we both need it..."
"Quincy...Quincy Jones?" I was surprised.
"Yes." I tried to reply, but my words got caught in my throat. "Now go, being late gives a bad first impression." I started towards the door of his office. "I'm gonna want a full report by tomorrow!"
"Got it, Boss!" I hurried out the door and took the steps downstairs to leave. This was going to be an interesting day, that much I could already tell.
The winter weather in LA was light by northern standards; the sun was out, but there was a breeze whistling around that could have chilled a frozen drink. I zipped up my leather jacket before getting out of the driver's seat of my vehicle. With my transportation now locked, I turned around to face the Epic Records building. This was a big moment for me, I could tell, it was palpable in the air around me. There was a weight almost keeping my feet in place, and for a moment—just like in the movies—time felt as though it stood still.
I could hear my watch ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Do I go inside? Should I leave? Do I stand here like a fool, making myself late? A million questions were running through my head, I was psyching myself out. I blinked, and just like that the trance I was in broke. I shoved my keys into my jacket pocket and walked up the stairs into the building.
Inside was nice, warm. My eyes glanced around until they found the receptionist's desk; I walked up to the young lady they had working. She was moving around on her rolly chair, quickly filling new and old papers. She looked professional, like she was meant to be there glasses and all. Her eyes caught mine and she rolled back over towards me with a smile.
"What can I help you with today?" She asked sweetly. I looked down for a moment, a little intimidated by her niceness.
"I'm here from Capital Records, I was requested for a mix session at 11:30 today in studio B." Her eyes lit up at my words.
"Oh, perfect! I'll give them a quick call to let them know you're here." Her hand reached for the phone, but she looked back up at me, "Astoria Briggs, yes?" I nodded. "Oh, wonderful. Just one moment, please if you'll have a seat." The lady gestured towards the seating area behind me as she began to make the call.
I walked over to the freshly furnished seating area and plopped down on a comfy-looking, olive-green couch. Epic spared no expense by the looks of their waiting room; all the furniture was new—it still smelled like a furniture store, I noticed—the carpet had just been featured in this month's issue of Home Magazine too. What was a bit odd, was that there were zero magazines anywhere. A waiting room with nothing to do, how conceptual...After a number of minutes the lady behind the desk popped back up above the counter with a wave, motioning me back over again. I got up a bit reluctantly from my spot on the couch and walked over to her again.
"They're ready for you, Miss Briggs. The studios are back through those doors and to your right, you should be able to find studio B without a problem." She smiled again at me, encouraging my discomfort from earlier.
"Thanks." I gave her a small smile and walked through the doors, taking that first right as per her instructions. There it was with a nice, labeled plaque right next to the door. I stood slightly to the right, my left-hand hovering over the door handle. Get it together, I thought. Taking a deep, shaky breath, I grabbed the handle and opened the door.
It was dark inside the studio; all the lights had been turned off in the recording booth. A single light was on above the mixing table, but the chair in front of it was empty. Did I get the right studio? The plaque said "studio B", I was sure of it. One tends to triple-check details such as those when nervous...It was clear someone had been working in the studio, papers laid strewn with black-ink scribbled about. The trash can was over-flowing with crumpled-up papers and food wrappers, and there was a pair of black Levi jeans tossed across the couch that was next to the studio door.
After looking around for a few moments I decided to shrug off my jacket, laying it on the couch with my car keys on top. It was comfortable inside the studio, something about the darkness was almost welcoming after the initial confusion. Walking over to the empty chair in front of the mixing table, I tried to seek out some hints as to what the people might have been working on before I showed up. The majority of the notes I couldn't decipher properly; I was fairly good at reading poor handwriting, but this alien language evaded me quite well. I sighed. Looking around one last time, I plopped into the empty chair and spun around a few times. Choosing to spin in the chair was probably my first mistake, because the next thing I knew all the lights were on and someone was walking out of the recording booth.
I yelped in surprise, jumping out of the chair. The person who had been walking out of the booth was obviously startled by my sudden cry out amongst the silence, and yelped right back at me in response with a jump.
From the carpeted floor I looked up at my surprise visitor, I hadn't really looked at who it was at first for basic reasons.
"So yo- "
We started talking at the same time, both of us chuckling slightly. I took the hand he held out, helping me up off the floor.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." His voice was quiet, but genuine. I smiled, brushing off my pants as if there was something to brush off of them.
"It's alright. No harm done, really." Pause. "I-I'm Astoria." I held out my hand, and he grabbed it without a beat.
"I'm Michael. It's nice to meet you, Astoria." A moment of silence; my eyes wandered about the floor, embarrassed for some reason.
"So, I take it you're the artist willing to pay too much for a mix then?" I asked crossing my arms. His eyes lit up at my words, a playful glint in them. Quickly a smile graced his features as he walked up to the mixing board.
"Yes, I am. I've been having a heck of a time trying to figure out this one song...Gosh, where is it?" He was shuffling through the papers I mused through myself only moments ago. I walked over.
"Sorry, I think I might have moved it unknowingly..."
"That's ok. Oh! Here we go, take a look and tell me what you think." Michael handed me a previously crumpled paper, I held it up close to my eyes seeing if it would help clear up the penmanship I was trying to read. No luck. I moved the paper down from my face and decided honesty was the best policy.
"What exactly, does it say?" I realized how absurd that sounded, but it was too late to take back my words, so I quickly tacked on a few more before he started laughing—which was exactly what it looked like he was about to do. "I mean I'm having a hard time reading the handwriting..." I confessed to him, blushing.
"Heh, the song's called "Get on the Floor". I wrote it out pretty quickly, so why don't we go over the audio I have for it so far?" He took back the papers, and motioned for me to sit in the chair. I sat, watching him bring over another chair to sit down next to me at the mix board. "Something just seems to be missing, and I'm stumped. "He fiddled around with a few buttons and moved a tape over, then his voice was playing over the speakers. I listened intently, there was already some background to the vocals but it was mild compared to the rest of the song. It didn't sound right at all.
"I totally hear what you mean. I'm gonna play it back to..." I rewinded the tape to about 35 seconds in, "There. Do you hear that? You could use a bit more emphasis on 'Especially' with the background fade. I guess you'd call that a forward fade, though..." The song played a bit more till we got to the chorus, I paused the song and turned to Michael. "You've heard Stevie Wonder's 'Superstitious', right?"
"Yeah." He looked intrigued.
"That funky bass guitar, you know? Ba dum, bum, bum..." Michael all but jumped out of his chair.
"Yes! That's it, why the heck didn't I think of that? I'm gonna have to call in my bassist, probably for tomorrow...he likes Tuesday's off for some weird reason." He shrugged. "Anyway, that's brilliant. Thank you." I smiled.
"Oh, it's no problem. This went a little faster than I thought it would, if I'm being honest...Hey, can I ask you a question?"
"When I first walked in, why were all the lights turned off?" I raised an eyebrow, questioningly. He froze briefly before looking away from my eyes. His answer must be somewhat personal, I mused. Sometimes a person needs time to reply, so I waited a few moments before he let out a long sigh, turning back towards me.
"Q and I have been trying to get a decent take on this one song...it's kind-of...emotional."
"Oh." The gears in my head began to turn, "So, you guys turned the lights off to get a better feel for the song...makes sense." Michael nodded. I looked up from under my eyelashes at him; he's shy, I thought, it's kinda cute. "The song made you cry, didn't it?"
All seriousness was suddenly gone as Michael burst out laughing, I had hit the nail right on the head. I laughed along with him, as it was difficult not to; Michael's laughter was infectious. Eventually our shared laughter died down and we wiped the tears out of our eyes, settling back down into our chairs. We looked at each other for a moment, smiling like goofballs before he spoke.
"Hey, are you going to Barry Gibb's house party next weekend in Miami Beach?"
"Um, no can't say that I am...Why?" I shrugged. Never been to Barry Gibb's house, let alone my co-worker Brian's house. He gave me a smile in response.
"Well, consider this an invitation!"
This was how my life got turned upside-down...