“I want you off the band,” Lucy, our songwriter, announced to our lead singer stoically. Lucy was a warm-hearted person, but she had the uncanny ability of growing detached and aloof if the circumstances required it.
“You can’t do that,” he retorted. “I’m the lead singer, the superstar of this band.”
Some superstar we had on our band. He was never on time for rehearsals. If he was late, he always had an excuse. An excuse that made him right and made us wrong. He had a way, a way of being both the perpetrator of the crime as well as the victim.
His emotions swayed from right to left like a pendulum. But it wasn’t enough that he was a moody prick. If it was high tide for him, it had to be high tide for the rest of us. If it was low tide for him, it had to be low tide for the rest of us. If he was having a bad day, he would spread it to the rest of the team like a virus. We were always cleaning up after him.
While the rest of us learned to suck it up and keep going whenever the audience booed or jeered at us on stage, he would fall apart and create a drama over the smallest criticism.
“The audience is too shallow to recognise my brilliance,” he would proclaim as he gazed wistfully in the mirror.
When he looked in the mirror, he saw an artist. They say that the eyes are the mirror to the soul, but perhaps it’s not our own soul we see through our eyes. We have to look into someone else’s eyes to see our own reflection. And if he had stopped for a moment to look into our eyes–and not in the mirror–he would have seen it.
How much he had disappointed us. How much he had let us down. In his world, everyone was number two. We existed to revolve around him. He was selfish. What a terrible feeling–to love someone who was in love with himself; with his own image; with his own reflection.
“I’m with her,” our pianist said as he stood next to Lucy, in solidarity. “We want you off the band.”
“You’re just the pianist,” he said as his eyes grew red. “Who notices you? You’re background music, you understand? Background music…”
One by one, he attacked us all, alienating everyone who had had the misfortune of loving him. We were such fools, for loving someone who was only in love with the persona he had built up for himself. In his world, he shone brightly for all the world to see. In his eyes, he was an artist. In our eyes, he was a narcissist. In his eyes, he was the light and we could only ever belong in the shadows.
At the time, I was the lead guitarist. We needed a lead singer, for sure, but who in the world needs this?
“I’m with Lucy,” I said in solidarity.
“How dare you!” he said as he lunged at me. “She’s just a songwriter. Who cares? We can get another one. But you will never get another me. None of you can survive without me.”
“My decision is final,” Lucy said. “You’re off the band.”
“You will regret this,” our fading superstar proclaimed. “I’m the reason why there’s a line out the door, not you. You’re just a plain and mousey girl. You’ll probably die a virgin.”
The rest of us dropped our jaws in horror. But not Lucy. She stood there poised and unshakeable. She was the rock of our band. It was her strength that had allowed us to succeed. She was like a black widow spider that spun her magic in the wee hours of midnight. We were all part of her jewelled web. Each one of us a jewel she collected to create a masterpiece that included us all. A masterpiece where everyone shone together.
“You are off the team,” she said sternly and without a trace of emotion. “You are not welcome here, anymore. Pack your bags and leave.”
Our fading superstar raised his hand, his eyes bloodshot with rage. I stood by, horrified. I wondered, why the Creator saw it fit to create people like this in the world.
Lucy was a small woman. To us, she seemed frail and awkward. Like an ugly duckling we all knew would one day transform into a swan. But while she was an ugly duckling, she had to contend with people saying nasty and demeaning things about her and her sexuality. But ugly duckling or swan, to me, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever known.
I was a young lad at the time. I was on my high horse, about to jump in like a knight in shining armour. Our fading superstar was like a gorilla thumping his chest, saying, “Look at me! Look at me!”
He was big and strong, yes. But he was no match for the black widow spider. I didn’t have to jump in. I didn’t have to do anything at all. She unleashed her venom on him with the power of her words, not her fist.
He would suffer in silence for the rest of his days.
We weren’t professionals or anything like that. We were just a bunch of college kids. We formed a band cause we loved music and wanted to jam together. We also thought it was cool. And you know, at that age, anything that is cool is something that gets you dates, adoration and fanfare. It is a peer-conscious, self-conscious age.
I realise that a lot of what we thought was ‘cool’ back then, isn’t cool at all. The way the fading superstar behaved. The way we all tolerated it. The way Lucy wouldn’t. The way he made a dig at her sexuality when she stood up to him. The things we think are all fun and games, when really, they aren’t.
We can hurt people badly without realising it.
I’m in my late 30s now. After college, I went off and got a regular job, but I’m slowly making a comeback. I’m returning to my artistic roots.
I met Lucy recently. She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. As expected, the ugly duckling has morphed into a beautiful swan. But should that come as a surprise to anyone? What else was going to happen to an ugly duckling? She was always destined to be a swan.
Lucy’s not a conventional beauty. She’s not like one of those ‘physical commodities’ which grace the covers of magazines. She isn’t the type of woman who would appear half-naked on a billboard. She’s an old-fashioned sort of gal.
In my eyes, though, she is pure perfection.
Lucy has the sophistication of Edith Piaf, the regality of Anjelica Huston and the elegance of an Empress who holds her head high as she watches over her empire.
Lucy also ended up being my first girlfriend. But more than that, she was my best friend. Someone whom I could open my heart to. Someone who taught me about my heart and all its treasures.
After the fading star left the band, Lucy insisted that I take over as lead singer. When she first brought it up, I thought she’d gone mad. I was used to being a shadow and she wanted me in the spotlight? What did I know about charming an audience? I was studying to be a scientist and a lawyer.
But Lucy believed in me. She believed I could do it. In the early days, I was lousy. I was so self-conscious and concerned about what others thought of me that I was terrible. My focus was on myself and not letting anyone down. When I wasn’t focusing on that, I was focused on whether or not I was getting it ‘right’. With time, I came to realise that it wasn’t about me and my insecurities. It was about learning to sing in harmony with the group. It was about knowing and understanding that we all needed to be in sync with one another. If we weren’t, the audience would know it. No audience is ever easily pleased or effortlessly wowed.
Who cared if the spotlight was on me? It still wasn’t about me. It was about us. We were making music.
And so I let the spotlight shine on me like a crazy diamond. Our peers threw garlands around my neck. I was applauded and celebrated. In everyone’s eyes, I was the new star. The new rising star.
Girls started to ask me out. I was the cool guy. I loved the applause at the end of a set. I liked the fact that people appreciated me. But, I wasn’t dumb. I knew who the real star of the band was; and it wasn’t me.
It was the girl who wrote the songs. The magic lay not in my voice, but in her magical fingers. It was my love for her and her songs that allowed me to sing. She was the voice and I was the instrument. When I sang her songs, it was like her heart and mine beat as one. She would stand teary-eyed backstage, her eyes sparkling at me with quiet pride.
Years have passed, but I can still remember what it’s like to make love to her. I was her first and she was mine. Yea, so we were both old-fashioned, but not that old-fashioned. I even got her ‘a promise ring’. It was a symbol of the commitment and fidelity I’d made. We thought we would get married one day.
That never happened.
We didn’t ‘break up’. We never had an ugly argument. After we graduated, the band disbanded. We went our separate ways, on our separate paths. We all settled into our lives. Became professionals. Got jobs. Started businesses. Had families. Some of us fulfilled the dreams we had in university. Some of us gave up. Some of us changed 180 degrees. Nothing ‘bad’ happened. We just grew apart.
But there was always one question on my mind–what happened to that spark, that tender flame I felt for Lucy? I hadn’t felt it since…
She may have called herself mousey, plain and never considered herself someone any man would take a second glance at. But, I always knew, I had rivals.
It’s not that easy to find a black widow spider, you know. They hide themselves away from prying eyes for good reason. The only people who get to see the webs of their creations are those who are worthy. They don’t do it for fanfare. They don’t it for adoration. They do it because they are the true artists, spinning a web of dreams.
And we, her fellow band members, had inadvertently fallen into her trap–the silk web that she had spun to catch her prey. But I swear to God, I would never be anywhere else. I would never want to be anywhere else.
I later found out that she dated the drummer at some point, too. And then, the saxophonist. Not at the same time, but one after the other. In a way, it was like we were all married. Married to her. Married to each other.
We were all boys that came together because of one woman. If we were still immature brats, maybe we’d turn around and taunt each other for all having ‘had her’. Maybe we’d fight amongst each other for who was her favourite. Maybe we’d even compete like a bunch of gorillas, thumping our chests loudly. But we couldn’t be bothered. Maybe we’re too old. Maybe we’re past the age where we want to tease and taunt about these things. Maybe we don’t want to be that ‘fading star’. We’d much rather be together. We’d rather stay together.
She may have been my girlfriend at university, but now… she’s married to the guitarist. The one who came in after I became lead singer and took my place. I had always known it would happen eventually. He had always loved her and I’d just gotten there first.
Was I jealous? It drove me nuts. In some ugly place deep down, I thought she was mine. That she belonged to me. But then, I made a decision to get over it. That pendulum tide of emotions that never last. It simply wasn’t my place to decide who she would marry. The choice was hers.
So, at their wedding, I just decided to be happy to see our guitarist and songwriter end up together. They were a better fit for each other. I had taken from her throughout my career and was never able to give back. The adoration I received on stage was not mine to keep. The adoration she truly deserved, I was unable to give her. Sure, I loved her. I cared for her deeply. But what can a taker ever give someone who gives so selflessly? I’m like an exploitative miner who took from the earth and couldn’t give the earth anything back in return.
So in the end, I decided to be happy for the both of them. That’s why at their wedding, I was the best man. That’s why I wished them well. That’s why I didn’t ask her to give me more than what she had given me. That’s why I promised myself that if given another chance, I would be the one to give. Return the favour. Allow her to feel the accolades and adoration I was allowed to receive because of her. I wanted her to know, what it was like, to feel the abundance of love that I had had the privilege to receive because she came into my life and added me to her band of jewels.
The word ‘band’, as in music group, or even as in wedding band, comes from German. It is related to the word ‘banner’. In the traditional sense, a banner is a long strip of cloth with something written on it. It’s something that gets and captures our attention. We’ve all glanced at wedding rings on wonderful people and wondered, “Why isn’t he or she single?”
I can still remember, how Lucy would peek in from backstage, a secret sadness in her eyes that only I ever saw. While she was there working away in the shadows, I took centre stage and claimed the glory. Even after all these years, I can still remember the thunderous applause and the standing ovation of the crowd. The numerous garlands they wrapped around my neck.
“They love you,” she said one night, with a tinge of melancholy and veiled longing in her voice. It was subtle. She had done all the work behind-the-scenes and yet her voice remained hidden and unheard. She was that black widow spider. The ugly duckling waiting for the day she’d be a swan.
“It seems we have a new star,” she said bittersweetly.
“Oh please, Lucy,” I said. “We all know who the real star of this show is.”
“And who is that?”
Lucy laughed. A knowing look in her eyes. She had known it all along. And one day, she will shine brightly, not like the Sun, but like the brightest jewel of the night sky.