Sideman - Chapter 01

Thursday  /  August 29, 2019 / Stories

©2019 Virgil Reality

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Virgil Reality is the Author of the Universal Memes Trilogy.

Sideman is the first thing I ever wrote, once I decided that I wanted to improve my writing for prose, articles and even my technical documentation. It was a great journey to write about the time and subjects explored in Sideman and the research made me appreciate music and life just that bit more.

As much as it is a story about that time, it is really a story about following your dreams and not second guessing them.


Four summers ago, my wife died.

She was always practical, taking care of herself as well those parts of life that intersected with mine. I took one chance after another, barbecuing and pickling myself regularly. Just a regular guy from our time.

We got old and by some quirk of fate, she went first.

Now I’m missing her love and I’m full of memories. There were good years and bad years. You hung together because you were a team, you had your quarter acre and your family. Ok as we got older, we’d bicker. Not seriously though. It was just like a play with the themes and dialog well established.

Mostly good and some grumbles.

We met in 1946. I was a soldier returning from the war; finished months before. It took time with so many to return home.

I’d been injured as well on my second posting. Hit on the thigh by a bullet or a bit of shrapnel. It really doesn’t matter. It hurt like hell once I actually noticed it and my leg went a bit numb. Could have been fatal if it hit the artery, or maybe if the Corpsman hadn’t been around and somebody came to finish the job.

It wasn’t that I didn’t take cover fast enough. Getting injured or killed was inevitable by that stage. Everybody was running an insane dash towards the trouble. We were going all out for victory.

They dragged me out of harm’s way and the front kept moving forward. When it was clear, then so was I and I was taken to the field hospital and evacuated.

Some short weeks later I was still in the hospital when it ended, and the Axis powers surrendered.

Time to go home.

Whoohoo “Operation Magic Carpet” it was called. A plan to move almost 8 million over 14 months from December 1945. Some guys managed it earlier; though for most, it was a lot of confusion and waiting.

Not only our guys. We had to send our prisoners back home as well. Poor disheveled souls returning to defeat and an uncertain future, though at least with a future. It was nuts!

For me, it ended up being another 5 months. I demobbed with a lift from the navy and went back home to a different chaos.

Straight into a repatriation centre on the West Coast, to fill in endless forms, get processed and be released.

The voyage, the paperwork, the delayed and packed trains; home seemed so close enough to touch and not. Locals were great though and their generosity made it bearable.

It was the lifting of a great weight. The homecoming seemed like it would never end, buoyed by the jubilation of the people. The pride of the nation swelled up and spilled over.

There were parades with ticker tape and confetti. Everyone was caught up in the euphoria of victory to cloud the horror that had been in its place.

I was intact, bit of a scar on the leg, covered by trousers. Others weren’t. Missing limbs, sanity or instantly switched off in their full blaze on the battlefield.

The public danced as they always had, changing the colour of their hearts back to peace and the hope of a better future. Well why shouldn’t they, it had been paid with the noblest currency, the blood sacrifice of a victorious nation.

In that victory; at a victory dance; I met my wife.

Trumpets blared, trombones countered, and saxes took up the melody, backed by the piano, bass, guitar and drums. The Swing sound. It grabbed you and you wanted to dance.

These guys were pretty good and swinging it up at the local hall, in this happy town. Soldiers of course were popular and just about every guy here was a soldier, even the band. Just repeat for probably every place that had a hall and a group of returning ‘citizens’ ready to let loose and locals ready to clap them on the back for it.

There were arrangements of whatever hits of the day, lots of standards. Some things I didn’t recognise, though I had been out of the loop for a while. Couples danced the foxtrot and some waltzes and some riskier dances as well.

I loved the sound, I always have and that brought back memories even further back than the war. In fact, I guess the war had taken that from me and I didn’t know who I was going to be now in my demob suit, finally a civilian again. I tapped along to the beat.

They had refreshments. Punch, self-severed by a ladle out of a big bowl. Bits of fruit floating in it. Sweet and acid refreshment.

“How are you soldier? Want some punch” a lady enquired having already served herself.

“How can you tell?”, I said.

“How can I tell what?”

“That I’m a soldier?”

“In that suit!” she said with a look of surprise, “Look around.” she gestured. A lot of us were in our new temporary uniform.

I laughed. She laughed.

“What’s your name?”

“June’‘, she said, and as she said it a miracle happened. The band played a foxtrot “By the light of the silvery moon”

“June, by the light of the silvery moon.”

She laughed at my corny joke and I asked her to dance.

She laughed and that was that for over 60 years.

Now that part of my life is over, and she’s gone. I have to do my own medicating or have the nurse come in. Blood sugar, injections, schedules and I can’t think straight. I’m old.

Sorry I’m rambling. You can see right what I’m trying to tell you? The music. That’s the key. The war took away my music and as soon as it came back, there was life again.

That Swing music where I met June was already special to me and had been years before.

Sure, I’d go into my study during our marriage, close the door, pour a Scotch (or three) and play my jazz and swing records. There was the later Jazz. Miles, Coltrane and even some stuff my son “turned me on to”. He bought me a stereo for my birthday, and I worked it out enough to play my tunes.

In the cupboard were some 78s and I had a lot of vinyl by the end. Even a few compact discs.

Swing was my thing.

I love Swing music in particular as I saw it transfix and change a nation. When I think about it, the tears come and then the other tears and then the other tears. My wife, the war, the accumulated journey and music.

This is the story of Swing, or at least my story of Swing.

I had been there on the bandstand. I know the thrill and the uncertainty of being on the road, the true reality of earning a paycheck and the feeling of power and rhythm from a really great tune.

I was a Sideman.

That’s one of the guys in a band that fills out the sound. I’m not the leader, I’m not the soloist. I play a part to make the thing whole. We are the steady musical shoulders that hold up the greats and propel them into the stratosphere.

I became a Sideman by the lure of the big city and the endless possibilities it represented.

Way back, I grew up in farming country. The town had a main street with a few stone buildings, town hall, library and small shops and stores. There was a dairy and other light industry to take produce, milk and more, to market.

I was getting near the end of my schooling and slowly getting more responsibility from part-time work at the dairy. My father worked there full-time and that’s how I got the job.

I helped lift milk churns, shovelled stuff and milked cows with a foot driven machine or sometimes by hand. My days consisted of doing chores, working some, suffering the perceived imprisonment of school and family life on our farm.

It was our own world untouched by outside events mostly………..except one.

October 1929 the stock market crashed, and life got harder.

There was less money and customers made smaller orders, (with some cancellations). The dairy needed less people and they let some go, my father being one of them. We had to fall back on our farm, our own cows and our town, where everyone knew each other. In that way, the land really protected us from the worst. My parents sometimes had a certain look in their eyes, that had a cold stone edge.

There was still optimism. Largely driven by the preacher and the good hearts of the people. Some had great desperation. Stills popped up due to prohibition, for those who wanted a drink more than ever.

The calendar kept happening and soon it was Armistice Day. No one played the bugle and as a senior my teacher volunteered me for the job. The town had one and some even said it was from the Civil War. I never had that confirmed. It was old and dented though, with a terrible brassy mouthpiece.

My teacher had a piano in the schoolhouse, and she played the notes. I had to work out how to blow it and that took some time. It was like being punished and trying to wrestle the devil with your lips. I had a week and had to ask her a couple more times for the tune.

Click here to continue to Chapter 2

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