“Wait a minute, you’re saying you’ve been to a hundred of his shows?”
Russ put down his hot dog, and wiped a spot of spicy mustard off his upper lip.
“Well, it’s a hundred if you count tonight. Oh, and there were three times I saw him with the Troy Lithgow Band,” he said to his granddaughter. “And those count too. Cooper was the real force on stage with them.”
“Which one was the best?” Christie asked.
Russ wracked his aging mind. Every one of those shows had something special about it, but there were so many special moments to sort through. Most musicians plummeted in quality as the years wore on, but not Collin Cooper. The last fifteen years were a renaissance for Russ’ concert-going. Ever since his daughter grew up and became independent, he could follow the tours closer than ever. He could travel for them further than before. There was catching a guitar pick in Angel City, his live collaboration with the Praha Philharmonic Orchestra…
“Definitely when I saw his first solo show in Perth, with your grandmother,” he said. That was all the way back in 1994, when he studied in Australia for a year. And in all honesty, poor Ming-Zhu wasn’t into it. How they survived so many years of marriage (and enjoyed it!) that way was a mystery.
“What was cool ‘bout it? Did you meet him?”
“It was our first date! And I’ve never met Collin.”
Christie reached for her hot dog, flicked a few stray chopped onions back into the bun.
“I think you should meet him,” she said, before taking a mouthful. “You should tell him that he helped you meet lao lao!”
The Hoi Polloi Stadium was but a short walk from the park. Russ could still handle it, but Christie challenged him. She wasn’t particularly fast, but she hounded him about meeting the legendary Collin Cooper.
“So why haven’t you?” she asked, for the fifth time. Russ decided that she might change the subject if he actually gave an answer.
He smiled a little. “I just don’t wanna look like a fool in front of my idol,” he said. “And I’m happy that way.” There was enough about Collin he learned from interviews and the Metal Archives. Bothering him with malformed questions about his music or Aboriginals wouldn’t go over well, would it? At least not from Russ.
Christie was patient for the wait to get into the stadium, though. Through bag and pocket-check, and waiting for the show to start. She didn’t even beg for overpriced stadium food. That hot dog must have sated her.
“But can I get a shirt?” she asked.
“I paid enough to get in already.”
Russ didn’t skimp when it came to buying tickets. He refused to see Collin in any seating further away than the floor. It was easier when he was just a struggling guitar prodigy in West Australia, but now the man sold out bigger clubs and stadiums in America. It did wonders for ticket revenue and drowning out the occasional racial slur.
Luck was in their favor. They wormed their way right up front to the barrier between the crowd and the stage. He held Christie up, to help her see above the crowd. Collin didn’t play metal that was quite suited for moshing, but sometimes the people still got rowdy. He’d hate himself if Christie got trampled by a crowd.
The excitement bubbled up as he walked on stage. It exploded when he opened with “One Giant Desert” from his latest album. Maybe Russ remembered all the classics, but there was no song of Cooper’s that he didn’t appreciate.
“Did he play this song when you met lao lao?” Christie asked.
“No, but I’ll tell you when,” he said.
Good thing the set was transitioning to “Time of the Wagyl” from his first EP, after he played through the meat of his latest album. It was a longtime favorite of Russ’, though he couldn’t help but always associate it with his first kiss with Ming.
“That was so cool!” Christie said, as they walked out of the stadium. “I didn’t understand some of the songs, but it was cool.”
“Some of it’s in Noongar. His mum was big on saving their language,” said Russ. “I think the real experience is the music, though.”
“I liked the violin girl.”
“I remember the first violinist he hired…first American on the roster. You can’t beat him, but I like Jo too.” The clock on top of City Hall read that it was well past midnight. “I know it’s not a school night, but your mum won’t let me do this again if I don’t get you home.”
“Fine…woah, someone’s parked at the fire station.”
“Yes, Christie, firefighters tend to park there.”
“No, I think it’s Collin!”
Under the orange streetlight was none other than Collin, at his van with some of the band members. He talked to Paul the bassist, while Jo smoked off to the side. The rest might have been keeping the roadies in line, but Russ didn’t know for sure.
“We’re not going to bother him,” he said. “And it’s late. I’m feeling it.”
But Christie ran off before he could finish.
“This is a mistake!” Russ was ready to sob into his palms, alone under the streetlight. “And now my whole family is gonna look like-”
Christie was motioning to him, and Collin did not run to hide in his van. His heart raced as he gingerly approached them. It wasn’t like Christie to try and trick people like that, not at all! But…what if it was?
Russ received no berating. Not even a dirty glance from Collin. Instead, he got the man’s warm smile, warm like the setting Hamakhaave Desert sun. He offered his calloused right hand.
“Uh…Russ Maguire. Been a fan for years,” he said, gripping onto Collin’s hand like a vice. Only then, being less than two feet away from Collin, did it hit Russ that he was just an aging human too. He and Russ were nearly peers. Much of his curly black hair was grey like fresh charcoal. Creases formed in his otherwise-immaculate brown skin.
“Your little koolang says you’ve been to a hundred of my shows,” said Collin. “And that you met her grandma at one.” It was strange to hear the man speak to just one person. All Russ ever heard of him was on albums, on stage, and in the occasional interview. His once-thick Aboriginal accent diminished and near-died over those forty years.
“I did…back when we were studying in Perth. I know, it does seem kind of creepy-”
“Creepy? I changed your life! I’m just shocked we haven’t met! You missed out on a lot of autographs.”
“You mean…you’ll give me one?” Russ asked.
“I sign anything…though not that.” He pointed to Russ’ black shirt. It had the old logo for the Collin Cooper Project on the front. Boy did he miss that side-project. “All I have is black ink.”
“Well…I can’t say I was expecting you to sign anything. So I didn’t bring it,” said Russ. Boy, he would kill for Collin’s signature on some vinyl sleeves.
But maybe Collin had an idea, as he rummaged in the back of his van.
He pulled out a blue notepad, and a marker. “Maybe you can transfer it, or get it tattooed. Wouldn’t be the first to,” he said.
“You really didn’t have to do this!” said Russ. “But…thanks.”
“Maybe you can catch me again at the next show.”
“Yeah…no reason to stop now.”
Collin then had to grab a bottle of water and load up the van. There was a show in Sonora City the next night. Presumably, every member of Collin Cooper’s band needed to sleep. Maybe even he was a human that needed to as well. He ripped out the autographed paper and waved good-bye to both of them.
Home was just a short walk away for Russ and Christie. But Russ’ thanks couldn’t wait until then.
He hugged his granddaughter under a nearby streetlight, kneeling down to her level.
“Thanks a bunch, muffin,” he said. “Let’s see if they’re still selling shirts.”
A/N: Word count:
I can’t believe it’s fluff! Fluff from Trip!
Maybe there’s someone out there who’s gonna start a crack theory on how this ties into Eight Cicadas, because I was boring enough to reuse a performer from that universe (not Collin, but “The Troy Lithgow Band” is indeed a project of Troy from Cicadas). Story from the same universe? Probably. Relevant? Nah.
Stuff to translate is pretty simple. Lao lao (perhaps more properly rendered as one word but whatever) is Mandarin for your mother’s mother. Koolang is Noongar for child. I have no idea if it has any endearing connotations in Noongar, but it just sounded cute on my end. 😀 Hamakhaave is the root word for the Mojave.
Kind of a stupid in-reference for me, but Collin’s bandmates are actually a few of the spouses from The Escapists, one of my for-fun challenge families from way back in 2013. They’re all Starlight Shores pre-mades of some kind (three ghosts and one living pre-made I killed), but it doesn’t take much to make them stage-worthy!
Edit 12/08/2016: First place! Omg. The new banners are bigger than before and I’m too lazy to fix it.