"You still don't get me, do you, Jack?" he groaned. "If it were that easy, everyone could do it. I am an artist. My job is to uncover the hurts that people like you spend your whole lives working to bury. Amateurs think that my talent is playing the riff. They're wrong, a monkey could learn to play it. Check the studio musician's directory for examples. The hard part is not playing the riff, the hard part is thinking of the riff!"
I was following him around his living room while he gestured with a bottle of gin.
"When Charlie and I started, we wanted to be the Everly Brothers. Simple as that. It was Charlie who came up with the notion of writing our own songs. I never would have been arsed. But I figured it out the same way I figured out tricky chords and Carl Perkins solos, and I loved the songs we wrote. But you know what? No one else did. No one else wanted to hear 'em. We'd do one of our originals in the pub and everyone would talk through them and tell us to play something they could sing along to. Couple years go by, beat groups become the rage. We only hooked up with Simon because his mother was rich and he had all the gear we coveted. We get a break, get on the telly, play those same songs — now everybody loves them. The same todgers who hated them in the pub are screaming for 'em now. You know why, Jack? Coincidence. That's all success in music is. The song they ignored in '61 is their favorite in '65 because of an accident of timing. Bring out the same song in 1970, it would be a flop. It's the coincidence of what I write and sing happening to line up with what people want to hear at that exact moment. A different moment, I'm washing dishes. Right now, I got nothing to say that any of the tossers buying Soundgarden records would want to hear."
It was Baxter the drummer who provided a fresh infusion when he got Emerson stoned and played him some new records from Africa. The next time I saw my client his lights were back on.
"Flynn!" he said, running around his Sagaponack beach house like a teenager in love. "You have to listen to this!"
He put on a CD that filled the room with languid, tropical guitar blues over a rolling rhythm.
"It's a player from Mali called Ali Farka Touré! Listen to that! It's the mother lode, it's where the blues began! This cat is who they left behind in the village when the slavers came through and dragged the rest of the tribe in chains to the Mississippi Delta!"
I looked at the CD cover. An African man in a long dashiki and a black beanie sat with an electric guitar in his lap, staring at the camera like he was about to bite it.
"He doesn't look that old."
"He's playing ancient traditions, nutbag. He's like a griot of the blues."
"Emerson," I said, "this is lovely music but come on — he probably learned his tricks from John Mayall records, same as you did."