The Photographer’s Concerto
“Charlotte,” she said, extending a hand. “Charlotte MacKay. I’m the photographer.”
A figure in black extended his hand. It was sweaty but cold and the reek of curry wafted over her. “Michael Bailey, band manager. Knock yourself out.” He stepped to one side allowing her through to the side of the stage. Around her black figures unwound mic cables, tuned guitars and placed various bottles around the stage. The crowd congregated at the other end of the room, sipping beers and drawing on cigarettes.
The thud of a kick drum felt like a punch to the stomach as the drummer ran through a sound check. From the side of stage, Charlotte watched the lean musculature of the drummer’s left arm as it raised and lowered like a pendulum, cracking the snare. Through the viewfinder of her camera she reeled off a few shots.
With the sound check over, the crowd pressed forward to the barrier, drinks abandoned at the bar. The lights dimmed and the crowd gave its approval: whistling and yelling, their voices tearing apart the darkness. Four shadows crossed the stage, fine-tuning, swigging from bottles, turning volume knobs. At the crescendo of the crowd’s voice the lights exploded like a thousand suns and the band struck the opening chords.
Across her line of sight passed the bass player and lead singer, Charlotte glimpsed the guitarist. He wore an unbuttoned paisley vest, no t-shirt and long shorts with his guitar sitting slightly high. His hair danced around his shoulders and the guitar was an extension of his arms. Moving from the side Charlotte dropped between the barrier and the stage. Squeezing past the bouncers she stood before the guitarist, a worshipper before the shrine. Putting the viewfinder to her eye she sought the soul of this man.
Behind her the crowd pulsed in an orgiastic cycle of adoration, worship and dancing. Charlotte’s heart quickened, racing in concert with the shutter. Each frame captured a little of his essence, a relic to be fingered in quiet moments of prayer and contemplation.
The set finished and the house lights raised but the crowd lingered, unwilling to let go just yet, savouring the rapture of the music. Charlotte squeezed past security, back to her camera bag. From the corridor leading off stage a figure emerged, his head wrapped in a towel. His chest gleamed with sweat as he towelled off his head, drying his hands before offering one to Charlotte.
“Jake de Brito.”
His voice was softer than she imagined, and she noted a slight fragility in his frame, obscured by the stage lights. Bereft of his guitar he stood before her, a mere mortal. She watched his fingers move involuntarily, forming shapes and patterns in the air like a secret language; the fingers invoking sounds from the darkness of the void.
“Thanks for, like, coming to take photos of the band.”
“No, it was fantastic. I haven’t done a band shoot for ages and this was an awesome gig. What the street press are writing about you guys is spot on.”
He shrugged. “Did Michael, like, look after you?”
“Yes, thank you.”
A voice called from the corridor leading back stage. “Jake, you comin’ man?”
“Yeah. Hang on,” he yelled back. “Might see you soon, yeah?”
Charlotte watched Jake disappear into the black. The persona captured on film was powerful and articulate; a shaman who summoned life and let it explode through his guitar. Without it, he was human but the magic boiled away at his fingertips.
“Hey, MacKay.” The waft of curry shot through with beer and cigarettes announced Michael Bailey’s arrival behind her. “Thanks for shooting. Send your invoice to my office.” He handed over a business card. “If you want, you’re invited to the post-gig party. Address is on the back.”
Charlotte scanned the address and pocketed it like an Access All Areas back stage pass.
Killing the engine of her Datsun 180 she flicked on the interior light and rummaged amongst the loose papers and film canisters on the floor of the passenger side. Finding an old lipstick she applied it while looking in the rear vision mirror. Pocketing another full roll of film she made her up the driveway to a broad fronted house.
At the end of a long corridor a second-hand clothes store explosion of flannelette, torn denim, scuffed boots lounged on chairs, stood in doorways and congregated in every spare area of the huge lounge room. The stereo cranked out late night radio through the haze of cigarette smoke. Adjusting her leather mini skirt Charlotte felt more glam metal than grunge, the bulkiness of her camera bag against her thigh an added layer of self-consciousness.
She lent against the doorframe, scanning the room unsure of where to go.
“Hey, you’re the photographer from the gig.”
“And you’re the drummer.”
“Mitch. Come in and grab a beer.”
Following through the house Mitch took her to the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge.
“Let me introduce you around,” said Mitch.
Mitch lead her through the lounge, the only name Charlotte remembered was a girl’s with a towering teased and tasselled fringe in need of a structural engineer to code it for safety.
In the kitchen a group of guys gathered around the table, populated with loose cards, a bottle of Jack, cans of beer and bottle tops, and loose change. She recognised Michael Bailey, the bass player and singer but her eye fell onto Jake.
“I suck. That’s why I’m not invited to play,” said Mitch.
“Mind if I take some photos?”
Through the lens she snapped Jake’s fingers as they tapped the back of the cards. His hair was tied back into a ponytail and Charlotte noticed again the fragility. Not as a weakness, more a humility of character.
The radio cranked another tune. At the sound of a cello Jake inclined his ear to the sound and mimicked the song.
“Nice work cello boy,” said Michael.
Jake shrugged the insult and caught Charlotte’s eye as she moved the camera from her face. A brief smile formed on his lips as the opening lyrics invaded the smoky haze.
“I just died in your arms tonight.”
There was a chorus of disapproval from the flannelette wearing crowd but enough supporters to form a sing along.
“Mitch, take my place,” said Jake holding up his hand of cards. Moving from his seat Jake came to Charlotte. “I’m seeing you sooner than I, like, thought.”
He led her out onto a concrete verandah, a rusted Hills Hoist rearing up from an overgrown lawn. They tossed musical preferences back and forth until they found a common ground.
“You remind me of the drummer in my first band,” he said after half an hour of false starts and half-finished sentences. “His time was, like, more fluid than water and he often didn’t know where the ‘1’ was. We were playing rock’n’roll, meat and potatoes music, not some Billy Cobham fusion piece from Mahavishnu Orchestra.”
“Sorry I’m so awkward,” said Charlotte, pulling on the strap of her camera bag. “I’m usually more… articulate.”
“I find music, like, easier. Notes, arpeggios, solos. Words are clumsy in comparison.”
“Next time I’ll be less like your first drummer. Promise.”
“I’ll get your number from Michael.”
Tucking the photo portfolio under her arm to avoid the rain, Charlotte dashed from the taxi to the restaurant awning. In her mind she replayed Jake’s message from earlier in the week.
“Hi Charlotte, it’s Jake de Brito. I was wondering, if you had your photos ready you could, like, join us for dinner on Saturday night. We’re at Belafonte’s, say seven-thirty. See you then.” Even through the tinny machine speakers his voice sounded musical.
She had spent the week arranging the shots from the gig and after party, agonising over which shot and in which order to present them.
Shaking off the rain she stepped inside and the raucous laughter from the table at the rear pointed her in the right direction. Jake stood and kissed her politely on the cheek and introduced her to the rest of the table. The band was there, Michael, and a girlfriend or two.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked.
“Red wine, please.”
Charlotte sat down in the vacant chair, still awkward around these new people. She’d made a habit of existing on the periphery, invisible behind the camera. Putting the portfolio on the table, the girl to her left quickly snapped it up.
“These are brilliant,” she cried and the table turned its attention to Charlotte’s photography. “Oh my God, Mitch. Look at your arm!”
Blushing at the adulation she fielded questions from the girl to her left, identifying herself as an artist. A familiar topic allowed her to proceed smoothly, unaware Jake had returned. She sensed the quietness beside her, a reserved figure simply observing.
For the remainder of the evening her attention was divided between commentary on her portfolio and Jake. It pulled at her; she revelled in the attention her work received but it didn’t allow her to focus her attention on Jake. He politely deferred to the table, not offended by the interruptions. She wanted to drink from his presence, bathe in it. The continual movement of his fingers, playing imaginary songs, created gossamer strands around her heart.
Back at his place, she was surprised to see a cello positioned in the corner of the lounge room.
“I was classically trained from an early age. I wanted to learn guitar but my folks were classical musos. The guitar was, like, beneath them. Had they never heard of Slava Grigoryan?But it was Eddie Van Halen I idolised. I learnt cello as a concession in order to play the guitar. I even learned a bit of piano until they were convinced guitar wasn’t a passing phase.”
He poured two glasses of wine, offering her a seat on the lounge. “Besides, playing cello doesn’t get you the chicks.”
“Do you still play?”
“All the time. It’s different to guitar. Feel. Tone. Pitch. Sound.”
“Would you please show me?”
Setting his wine on the low bookshelf Jake placed the cello between his legs, resting it against his shoulder, tightening the tension in the bow. With a light finger he plucked the strings, his ear held close to the strings as if he were listening for a heartbeat. Charlotte watched the tattooed arm adjust the tuning pegs.
Satisfied with the tuning Jake drew the bow across the strings, pulling out long notes, full of longing, resonating deep in Charlotte’s chest. She pulled a camera from her handbag and a roll of film. Careful not to interrupt the virtuoso she adjusted the camera’s settings and closed her eyes for a moment, carried by the music. Opening her eyes Charlotte moved between notes and passages with the rhythm, pressing the shutter in time with the music. Through the view finder her eye caught the lines of the bow perpendicular to the strings; Jake’s arched fingers against the neck, his knee hooked into the curve of the cello’s body.
Jake grinned at her once, changing the tune to a quicker, lighter pace before the sonorous tones emerged again. Charlotte crossed her arms and held her camera to the right of her chin, studying her subject. Moving back to the couch she wound off the film and began to reload.
“The sound is sensuous, almost melancholic, yet beautiful,” she said.
“Playing cello is like making love to a woman,” said Jake, his legs straddling the dark stained wood. His fingers rested lightly on the body of the cello, the bow waiting for the invocation of music, the horsehair tickling the strings above the bridge.
“And like all guitarists, you name your instrument.”
Charlotte crossed her legs on the couch and sipped at her wine.
“What’s her name?” she asked.
The woman frowned, no knowledge forthcoming.
“From The Color Purple,” he said.
“The movie with Oprah in it. I’ve seen it. But isn’t Celie raped by her father and beaten by her husband?”
“I read the novel. It’s the redemption found in love. And you can’t treat a cello like a loose woman. That’s what guitars are for.”
Returning his focus he looked at the woman seated on his couch. She leaned back into the furnishings, her feet crossed beneath her.
“If this is your lover,” Charlotte said indicating the cello with her wine glass, “how do you make love to her?”
Jake adjusted his legs around the cello. “You embrace her. Find the position where she is resting against you, comfortable and intimate. The body of the cello has the shape of a woman, curved and full.” Jake ran his hand down its body as if he were feeling a woman’s breast or the curvature of her thigh. Taking up the bow he began to play.
The cello’s notes, full of anticipation, took up the melody. “Each note made up here on the neck is her breasts: sensuous, ripe, engorged. With each touch you develop the song. You caress, press, touch.”
Jake saw Charlotte glance down at her own breasts, the fingers of her hand fiddling with the shirt button, perhaps conscious of their small size. He hesitated to make eye contact and let the music weave throughout the room, passionate incense perfuming the room.
“When you make love, you must remember all parts of a woman’s body. You embrace her to feel the softness of her skin, to inhale her fragrance, to consume her. But her breasts are but one part of the symphony.”
The bow arched and fell as Jake pulled and pushed it across the strings watching flakes of resin disintegrate from the hair and float under the light. The strokes gained intensity, no longer pushing and pulling, but thrusting with controlled ferocity. The music reached a crescendo, held sustained but not resolved. Jake plucked at the strings, a quick pizzicato, holding the tension. Attacking with the bow, the notes were drawn out in a hasty flight up and down the neck of the cello. An improvised solo, pushing, pulling, thrusting.
The bow arched sharply, the final note held in a vibrato by his fingers on the neck. Jake felt his breathing slow and become deeper. He rested his hands on his knees, touching the body of the cello, a light intimacy, with the headstock leaning into his shoulder.
Charlotte, the raven-haired woman with the camera for eyes, placed her empty glass on the table. Crossing the floor she felt Jake’s arm curve around her waist, pulling her into his lap. Positioning the cello between her thighs, her hands shadowing his fingers. The bow moved arched slowly over the strings and her fingers followed his like a spider on the neck. Even now she could feel the vibration through the bow moving up his hand and into hers.
Turning her head, her mouth brushed against his ear.