Fiction: Tempo Rubato

An essay by an unnamed musician, as provided by Jonathan Danz
Art by Errow Collins

Tonight, backstage is too hot, too dark, too much like some high-ceilinged mausoleum straight out of one of those old Friday night TV horror shows. The strap of my dinged-up Telecaster bites into my shoulder. Tonight, like most nights in recent memory, this guitar is like my very own stone of Sisyphus. Truth be told, I don’t know if I can roll it up the mountain one more fucking time. I don’t know if I can go out on stage yet again and pretend I’m me.

Vegas–swarm cams, drinkbots, holo-betting, omni-feeds, every last bit of it–can go to hell. The guy on stage now, the Buddy Holly impersonator, even with his bitglam in effect, comes off more like an impersonator of a Buddy Holly impersonator. He’s opening with “Peggy Sue.” Poor bastard. There’s nowhere to go from there but downhill.

Everyone’s an entertainer these days, what with voice plugins, appearance modifiers, movement enhancer neuro-mods, and every other trick. There’s no work at the art anymore, just show up and let the tech do the work.

Me and my new band, we’re the only completely analog performers in Vegas. Re-Invaded And It Feels So Good, that’s our act. Real clever stuff. The crowds eat it up. It’s fresh, in a manner of speaking, especially after seeing a hundred enhanced shows in a hundred casinos. After a while, it all blurs together.

I know, I know, that’s what they said when we were all flooding into the U.S. during the British Invasion. I’m a connoisseur of irony. But when something stands out from the pop-star one-offs and Rat Pack 3.0 crooners, people take notice. People don’t know they’re craving something different until they get it.

These Vegas performers could stand a lesson in “less is more,” but instead they’re all in on everything. All that tech must seem like magic to these fools, but tech ain’t magic. Believe me, I know from magic. Not like this Buddy Holly guy.

Look, I liked Buddy Holly back in the day–we all did–but that sound aged about as well as a bottle of piss. When you hear it, you know exactly when it came out. It never evolved. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if his plane hadn’t crashed.

Sometimes I wonder if Buddy wasn’t the lucky one.

Illustration of a guitarist on stage from the point of view of backstage. Another guitarist waits in the wings.

But damn if every time I hit that first chord on stage, I’m not transported back to our first live gig in Coogan’s Pub in Dartford.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2019 collection.

A British Invasion musician learns the secret to rock on for evermore, but after outliving his mates and winding up as an impersonator of himself in Vegas, he wonders if it’s time to hang it up.

Jonathan Danz is a speculative fiction writer living in West Virginia with his wife, daughter, and cat, all of whom are artists in their own right. He attended Viable Paradise 21 and narrates for various science fiction, fantasy, and horror podcasts. He likes books, bikes, and beer.

Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards mashing the surreal with the familiar. They pay their time to developing worlds not quite like our own with their fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. They probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of their work can be found at

“Tempo Rubato” is © 2019 Jonathan Danz
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Errow Collins

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