Songs in the key of Sorrow
The following is all true and not based in fantasy or fiction at all.
“You are total rubbish. You’ve made a mockery of the human voice with your tone deaf crooning. Now bugger off.” Almost as soon as I had arrived to perform I was being whisked away by producers and security guards. A woman with a headset and a clipboard had her other hand on my back guiding me through the winding labyrinth of Fox Television studios. Disembodied hands gave me an American Idol water bottle and T-Shirt as they steered me towards a long hallway with a door to the outside already propped open. They said something about me owning none of the intellectual property or my own likeness on the show, pushing me through a fire escape door and closing it behind me. I looked around squinting at the sunlight I. the back parking lot I was ushered out to with no fanfare. From the front of the building I could still hear tweens screaming for Ryan Seacrest even though he’s like sixty years old now. I could feel the rumble of the bass from inside the building. I looked straight ahead over a chain link fence and saw a Taco Bell. I needed comfort food with no delay. Little did I know that in less than a year for all intents and purposes I would be dead. At the very least the company in my personal hell would ask me to sing.
I step into the Taco Bell and notice in the far corner a bearded man mashing away at a typewriter. As I go up to the cash register to order my food a tall man in a Taco Bell shirt with dark hair and a cigarette hanging from his lips walks up. As I go to order my meal, the lights dim expect for on him as he begins looking at something just over my should as if he’s talking to someone behind me.
“Roy Campbell age thirty six, a fame chasing loser down on his luck after another get-famous-quick-scheme turns to dust. Roy has stood here dozens of times in the past wondering what else he would be willing to give up for a chance at fame as he’s waiting for his fat soaked, artery clogging Quessadilla. But little does Roy realize now, this is the first time he’s ever stood in this spot as a newly minted denizen of … the Retro Zone.”
I turn around and look behind and back to cashier. The lights again now normal as he stand there staring at me.
“What the fuck was that?”
The man at the register just stares. Cigarette still smoking in his mouth.
I sigh in resignation. “Ya know what? I don’t even give a shit, dude. Just give me a Quesadilla.”
I had tried out for American Idol and became a laughing stock. I told myself I only did it to try to meet Gwen Stefani and realized last second that she is actually on that other singing show but I knew deep down it was actually to quench my insatiable appetite for fame like that Taco Bell guy said. I was destroyed by the judges. My audition video went viral. People would throw snowballs and big gulps at me in the streets. Women would point and laugh as I walked past. Little kids flipped me the bird. I had destroyed my own life and it seemed that redemption was an impossible task. I spent months homeless, drinking milk out of the carton. I was eventually rescued by an Ecuadorian nun. She took me in, bathed and fed me and let me stay with her in her small one bedroom apartment. She had never watched American Idol. I was thankful.
Eventually I would get a job as a line cook and save up for my own studio apartment right next to a Best Western Motel. I bid Aitana The Nun a tearful goodbye, packed up my garbage bag full of clothes and was off.
But one night as I was brewing up a batch of moonshine I like to make with the motel next door’s unused chlorine reserves I heard a sharp rapt at the door. Nervous I was caught siphoning chemicals from the property I peaked out the peephole slowly… but no one was there. I opened the door slowly, looking out into the quiet apartment building hallway, seemingly set ablaze by the setting sun’s crimson glow through a small dusty window by the stairwell.
At my feet lay a sapphire case with three faces I knew all too well gracing the cover smiling smugly. Paula, Simon and Randy. A handwritten sticky note was attached to the binding of the case. The note read, “Never too late for second chances. Yours, AI”. I may have been done with American Idol but American Idol wasn’t done with me.
American Idol was developed by the now defunct Hot House Creations. Based out of the United Kingdom they were best known for developing the game, Gangsters: Organized Crime.
It was published by Codemasters – who is one of Britain’s oldest video game publishing companies. Mostly known for its racing titles.
The game isn’t really that bad. It’s your typical rhythm and timing game. Press X, O,  or ^ when it reaches the middle of the screen. Time it to the music and you’ll do fine- press it too early and it’ll sound like Alvin & The Chimpmunks singing.
It’s full of songs that were monster hits back in the early 2000’s. Your typical 90’s boy bands, Britney, Christina. I stuck closer to adult alternative with Sixpence None The Richer and Al Green songs but as I advanced through the rounds it began to feel pretty weightless. The game doesn’t convey the feeling of urgency to perform well or the intoxication of competition. It just sort of feels like you’re pressing buttons listening to a song. Which is exactly what you’re doing, ofcourse. But the game does a poor job at distracting you from that reality.
As I played the game, blasting through each round (it only takes about a half an hour to complete the “career”) I began to sweat a bit. I was playing the game fine, almost too well, as if I could feel a current pulsing through me. Soon it became too much – it was like a bolt of lightning from the top of my head. The last thing I saw before I lost all consciousness was a glimpse at the clock. I had been playing American Idol for 74 hours straight.
And then all went dark.
“Lord Retro? Are you quite alright, Lord Retro?” I opened my eyes and momentarily slunk back into the chair. “It’s me, Lord. You gave me quite a scare. It seems your Family Man Chair gave you a bit of a shock again!” The man dressed as a butler was fanning himself looking deeply relieved despite the tears still welled up in his eyes.
“My…Family Man Chair…?” I meeked out.
“Yes. The special chair you had NASA construct you to see what your life would have been had you not won American Idol and become the most powerful man on Earth. I believe you named it after the popular Nicolas Cage film, The Family Man. If I remember correctly it did okay at the box office but was met with a tepid response from critics.” The butler seemed to sigh and continue on, “Although I don’t know why you must tamper with such things. You do know the next time you use the Family Man Chair it will be the last. You will have to stay there forever and give up all of this” he says with a shrug and a wave around the small room.
“What’s ‘all this’?” I ask gesturing towards the small shed I was in. The butler laughs, “Your memory must be hazy from the chair.” As he opens the door of the shed to reveal a palace made of pure gold. With lush trees and flying limousines hovering over a traditional drive way. The lush green even more eye popping in contrast to the black sky and the Earth as a backdrop.”
“It’s the moon, sir. They built a glass dome around it and gave it to you. Surely you remember. Right after you liberated the North Korean people and secured world peace with your beautiful rendition of, “Love Fool” by The Cardigans?”
Dumbstruck, I find it impossible to answer as I remove the chair helmet and stagger towards the doorway gaping at the Earth in awe. “…The…Moon..?”
“The Moon, Sir. Ever since you performed, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” that fateful September night. You’ve accomplished everything you ever wanted to fame wise but unfortunately, I fear, at a great cost.”
“At what cost, do you mean?” I asked bewildered.
The butler frowned and seemed to contemplate his reply.
“ A terminal loneliness, my lord. You’re emotionally damaged. Although you’re physically fulfilled – men and women from both Earth and Mars have been eager to court you – it seems as though you have made a trade off. Despite all of your personal and professional accomplishments a paranoid insecurity has sunk in. You have convinced yourself that you are unloveable and your past experiences have only justified that self prejudice.”
“What do you mean?” Confused and overwhelmed I pleaded. My stomach turning at the stress.
“The last woman you fell for asked you to sing the Batman Forever soundtrack eight times in a row! The one before that? ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’ twelve times. I mean, people love your voice. Not you.”
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo” I scream as I struggle to strap back into the Family Man Chair. “I must go back!”
“Sir, No!” The butler screams trying to unwrangle me from the chair. “You have eliminated world hunger!”
“I don’t care!” I yell flailing, hitting him in the back as he tries to lift me up.
“Lord Retro. You mustn’t do this! There is world peace now! If you leave all of this will vanish”
“I don’t care! Leave me alone!” I shriek.
“But they made your rendition of, ‘Genie In A Bottle’ America’s new national anthem!” The butler says in tears.
“Enough! I’m going back!”
The butler resigns winded. “Fine. If you must go I won’t stop you but I ask one favor of you. Just one.”
As I strap the chairs helmet to my head I give in. “What is it?”
“Before you leave… can you please sing that one Eagle-Eye Cherry song? Please, Lord Winkle. For me.”
I agree to.
As I do the butler cuts the power cord to The Family Man Chair ensuring I never leave.
Taco Bell Man steps out from around a corner, “Roy Campbell, age thirty six, craved fame and adoration so much he didn’t care that the cost could include the exact opposite: Alienation. Now Roy will have the rest of his life to realize when the world is not enough sometimes you’ll find yourself on a new world and sometimes that new world will be … the Retro Zone.