It was a breezy night, and the calm winds frisked the trees that grew above the rooftop bar we were in. I was chilling with Len and Jerry, both who just finished their shifts at the turntables. A foreign talent—we’ll name him Russo—had since taken over the decks.
I had somehow figured that the trials and tribulations of a writer made for great conversation. I guess alcohol does that to you.
“I can’t write without drinking,” I’d started. “It’s always whisky and a whole lot of silent brooding. And you get a thousand words in, and you realise how shitty your work is, and you start over.”
I always romanticise myself as a writer. I like to fancy myself as someone who writes in a wood cabin, furiously banging away at my Remington typewriter with only the finest spirits as fuel for my inspirations. I’d furrow at the words, rip off the paper, and trash it in a bin full of unfinished drafts.
Of course, the reality is me getting drunk on cheap beer, listening to Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam, barely eking out two hundred words in days. But no one needs to know about that.
By the time we’d come to our final bottles, Len’s eyes had glazed over while Jerry fostered a newfound interest in Russo’s performance. I wasn’t fazed by their disinterest; I was tipsy, and I had angst to let go.
“Can you believe it?” I asked. “This guy with two-dotted ellipses and periods outside his quotation marks gets more upvotes than me! I’m like, ‘Whaaat. How are you getting this many likes when you don’t even take the craft seriously?’ It’s as if the world doesn’t even car—”
Jerry stretched his palm towards my face. “Shh. Did… did Russo just cut his songs?”
“You know I actually realised that a few songs ago,” Len said. More proof that I’d bored them to death.
Jerry threw up his hands, exasperated. “Seriously? He’s not even going to bother mixing? Might as well just play Spotify then. Wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Whoo,” a nearby stranger shouted. “Lauryn Hill? This DJ is the bomb!”
Jerry glared at the guy, then looked over at the dance floor. “People are dancing? But Russo’s not even taking his job seriously!”
As if on cue, Russo faded to another song, much like how a crashing wave would drown out a train whistle. Still, the crowd cheered, to the dismay of Jerry.
It’s hard not to feel for him. He probably spent a week curating his playlist, matching the tempo of the beats to the setting sun, masterminding the perfect vibes for a sunset party, and no one flinched a muscle. Then one guy comes in, spams popular tracks, and is a hit with the crowd.
“I should’ve just Googled a hip-hop playlist and let that bitch run,” he said.
I patted Jerry on the shoulder. He wasn’t alone in being underappreciated.
“Well,” Jerry said. “I’ve had enough. Enjoy your night, guys.”
As Jerry left, Len turned to me and spouted some nuggets of wisdom: “I kinda feel the same way Jerry does, not because of popularity, but because I take the work seriously. In the end though, I just want to play what I love, and have that handful of people appreciate me for who I am.”
And she was right. It’s hard when you have to fight to stay true to yourself, only to find that just seven people in the world actually like your work. It’s hard to keep going when you’re writing for a readership of one, or singing to an empty hall.
Perhaps there’s even a science to pandering to the masses. Despite the flak they get, maybe Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj have an aspect of showmanship down to the science. Maybe writing about glittering vampires and unrealistic BDSM are what the people want. They probably know something that we don’t.
What I think is that in the end, what really matters is you leaving the world with work that truly reflects who you are, because as cliché as it might sound, everyone else is already taken.
Len and I clinked our bottles and drained them dry. “Shall we go?” I asked. Len nodded. As she packed her bags to leave, the music faded out—in Russo fashion—to a sample loop I’ve grown more than accustomed to.
Bam bam, bam bam dee dum…
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Bam Bam! I love this song!”
“Damn it. Hate to admit it, but I do too.” Len’s grimace broke into a smile. “More beers I guess?”
The night turned from drunken shuffles into full-on boogieing, and as we cheered and gave Russo the thumbs up, I wondered if he knew something that we didn’t.