"Well, maybe. But not Castro. He barely speaks."

"Did you know that Castro now has a contractual clause that says he gets a producer credit on all your long-form videos and TV appearances?"

"Why?"

"Because he wanted it and what do I care? It's cheaper than giving him another raise."

"He's not a producer, though."

"Maybe he figures it looks good on his résumé. Maybe it's to impress his grand- mother back in Havana. Don't care. His lawyer pressed for it and we gave in. Only thing I didn't anticipate was that giving it to him would set off Wendy. She now wants executive producer credit on anything on which Castro gets producer credit."

"You going to give that to her?"

"I don't know. It's like satellite missile defense. The escalation never ends. The truth is, they've both been in their jobs too long. They resent that there's nowhere up for them to go, so they become obsessed with perks and titles. Castro has already gone from road manager to tour manager to co-manager. Wendy's gone from publicist to management associate. Every time I cough they look up anxiously to see if I might be dying. It's their only avenue for advancement."

Emerson was already bored with the topic. He said, "I should fire the lot of you and bring in a bunch of bright young college girls. Then I'd have money to keep my hedges trimmed without having to make idiotic pop records."

"I dare you. Put me out of my misery."

"Put you out of my misery, too."

"You need to listen to some new music, Emerson. Did you listen to that Smashing Pumpkins CD I sent over? Their producer would like to meet with you."

"I'll get to it."

"Don't treat it like a burden."

"Don't pretend it's a pleasure."

Emerson had fallen in love with music through Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers and had moved forward through Smokey Robinson, the Beatles, and Aretha Franklin. Discovering rock and roll was for Emerson like boarding a rocket ship that would blast him away from his working-class neighborhood and mundane destiny. As long as he kept moving forward through pop music — from Aretha to Sly to Stevie Wonder to Bob Marley to Steely Dan to Prince to Annie Lennox, as log as there was something new to inspire him to stay in the game — his trajectory outward increased. The past kept tugging back at him, though, like the earth's gravitational field. Eventually every musician finds his tolerance for new music waning. He knows the tricks, he recognizes where that riff was lifted from, he spots the swipe. He knows too much to hear new music with fresh ears. This is inevitable and it is dangerous. "How can I pretend to care about this silly little band on the cover of Q magazine when I have all these great old Muddy Waters reissues to listen to?"

The musician who starts to love going backward more than moving forward will inevitably forfeit his momentum and begin the long fall back to earth.

When I pressed him to write new songs, reminding him that he had in the past worked out clever ways to trick the muse into cooperating, Emerson tore into me again.

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