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Dr. Thomas Stills kept his mouth shut. It was the least he could do, really, besides locking up the basement and remembering the password to all his files. He was glad he didn’t have a wife or husband, because he wouldn’t have been able to give an explanation, or at least an explanation that wouldn’t completely shock them. He was lucky enough to have already gained the reputation of only talking when spoken to, and even then, he didn’t always answer.
At work, Tom used the computer with his colleagues. He worked the four screens easily, unlike his partners who were used to only two screens. He helped Smart with the animals sometimes, and sometimes mixed chemicals with Caring, but usually it was just Tom and his computer. He was left alone while the others went on their own way, but he was a good boy and did what he was told when they asked him to raise the speedometer by 4%, or something of the sort.
At home, Tom locked himself up in his basement and listened to old—ancient—records, flipped through photo albums of rockstars and their leather jackets, their flashing lights, their guitars that were made of hardwood and lacquer coating. Out in the public, Tom could never do that: People would regard him as too strange to talk to, to look at, to hire. The world had slipped into ignoring their past. Now was now, live in the moment, trash your items from generations before. What’s a family history? Every life was a fresh start.
No, music had not gone obsolete. Rock had. The only music genres that survived through all those tough years were techno and—surprisingly—folk. The piano and guitar had thrived on their own, too; it seemed they couldn’t just die off like the violin or the clarinet had. The piano and the guitar had so many tricks and lovely sounds that no one had the heart to dispose of them. They had evolved, though: The piano used in songs today snaked around the player in a full circle with a chip detached that marked the start and end of the piano, and a way to get into the circle in the first place. The guitar’s neck had lengthened and was holographic; it popped up at the press of a button, allowing easier storage and transportability.
Tom had found rock interesting 15 years ago, but the past had intrigued him from the very start. His parents had blasted rock and roll when he was a child, before it was weird to do that, to wallow in the past. They read and told him fairytales and fables and classics—Huckleberry Finn, Romeo and Juliet, Harry Potter. Tom’s name, even, was different from the new style of adjective names that had bloomed: it was an old name, a name with lots of history and character. Acts and bills and years passed, and suddenly Tom’s friends went quiet when he mentioned The Rolling Stones or The Beatles or hell, even Beethoven. They stared and blinked when Tom described the last game of football he played with his father. They fidgeted when Tom marveled at the cotton that people used to wear when it was just plain holograms on a white cloth now.
So Tom learned to shut his mouth, to say nothing about the past, and to feign interest in the new techno album out. He didn’t dislike the new music—it just didn’t spark him like the old music did.
The first band that sparked him was The Velvet Underground. Tom had been 10-years-old, and he had been stunned. It was all so simple, but sounded so brilliant. The timing of the notes and the smoothness of Lou Reed’s voice was perfect. His mother had caught him sitting in front of the stereo, open-mouthed and barely breathing, and she burst out laughing. The spark was the most wonderful feeling Tom had ever experienced, dominating love and happiness by far. It filled him and made him feel that, at last, the world was in order. It was his mind finding relief at something he didn’t even know he had been looking for in the first place. The world flipped and zeroed in only on the sound of the guitar, the pureness of the voice, and the crash and burn of the drums.
The spark occurred when, as implied, Tom heard something that he particularly liked. He had felt many sparks since that time when he was 10—the bass line in Old Yellow Bricks, the drop in Take Me Out—but that first time with Heroin was phenomenal, legendary.
The biggest and most grabbing spark was to Juicebox of The Strokes only a couple years ago. Tom had been going through old music files in the internet, and buried under piles of rock music was this curious title.
Immediately all senses except hearing turned off.
His mouth went dry.
First the bass—and a guitar on its bass strings—drummed in steadily but demanding attention, feigning like it was getting louder or faster when it was exactly the same.
Another guitar hummed in, shrilled in, slowly, louder—and then a beautiful rhythm went. Only 17 seconds in and already Tom was hungry for more. He didn’t even realize there hadn’t been a voice until it came.
Julian Casablancas sounded light, pretty, happy, but there was no smile in his voice. And then suddenly he was screaming. The guitars blared. Julian’s voice became scratchy and rough, but it clicked perfectly. His screaming wasn’t tasteless like Tom had heard in some punk rock songs: it had tune and intonation. Tom could perfectly picture Julian’s mouth at how articulately Julian pronounced words. Tom tasted every breath Julian took.
And then Julian was singing again, but he had a scratchy edge to his voice that he had lacked at the start of the song. The guitars and the drums kept up with him easily, like they had known him for too long and thrived on all his secrets.
The guitar shrilled like it had when it had come in at the start of the song, but it chopped into little notes at the end of the whine. Tom had heard better solos, but guitar solos didn’t have to be particularly impressive to awe the listener. The chord pulled harshly at the end was superb. It was as excellent as Julian’s words when they instantly jumped back in place.
A strong guitar riff and a mumble from Julian ended the song. Tom played it again.
That night, Tom went through every Strokes song in the library. He watched every music video, live concert, and TV performance on which he could get his hands. This was new. This was something he hadn’t heard before. This was, all in all, great.
Four years later, Tom still listened to The Strokes. He still watched the way Nick Valensi moved, and Fab Moretti banged his head, and the words spilled out of Julian’s pretty mouth. If Julian Casablancas weren’t centuries dead, Tom would’ve had a crush on him. Julian was perfect. They were all perfect. Tom wished he could have lived during The Strokes’ time to see them.
But he didn’t have to live during their time to see them. Tom could revive them. Holograms were all the rage nowadays; hologram back dancers were even used for dance shows. Why couldn’t Tom hologram a band from an old video?
Hologramming programs were expensive, but cheap ones were sold in chain software stores. Tom figured he needed the real deal, and he knew the different types of equipment needed for holograms, anyway. Tom figured he couldn’t buy them all at the same time, though; that would be too suspicious. He had to buy them separately every 2 or so weeks, and even then, he went on the busy Saturdays. Tom broke up the program to individual parts: Albert’s body, Nikolai’s bass, Julian’s mic. And then with all those separate files, Tom also needed to get rid of some of the data on his computer to fit all the components. He deleted some of his old lab records, because the past was the past, right? How ironic.
Setting up the hologram took a good 2 days. Fixing up the lights, balancing out the equalizer, tuning the synthesizer, and working out other kinks to make the perfect performance took 2 weeks.
And tonight, Tom would see the final product.
Tom booted up the programs. Every graphic pixeled in. Every sound boomed. Every light flashed.
Julian Casablancas smiled.
The Strokes were back.
Julian touched his lips to the mic. His voice was throaty and groaned, “How you guys doing?”
The crowd cheered. Tom glanced around him, but all he saw were 10-foot speakers.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s how I feel, man.” Julian continued. Albert chewed his gum with a smile. Nikolai ran a nervous hand through his hair. “This is f***in’ great. Hope you guys are having as much fun as we are.”
Julian glanced back at Fab. Fab grinned and nodded behind the drums.
“All right, you guys, this one’s called Reptilia.”
Tom had specifically chosen the Reptilia performance at the 2006 Wireless Festival. Julian always sang Reptilia like it was the end of the world. He closed his big, dark eyes and swallowed the mic.
Nick to the left of Julian danced behind his guitar. His awkward, skinny, far-too-long legs twisted and tripped, but he was charming as ever.
Nikolai kept a straight face and strummed at his bass with the neck pulled characteristically up. He looked the most collected of the five of them.
The corners of Albert’s mouth tugged down as he pulled off the lead. Albert glanced at Nick, grinned, and then banged his head of curly hair.
Fab kept a straight face, too, but Tom had seen him in interviews and off-stage. Fab was the silliest of the five: he danced with Julian, cracked jokes with Nikolai, flirted with Nick, and horsed around far too much with Albert.
Tom laughed and cried. Watching The Strokes perform right in front of him was overwhelming. Tom stumbled up to Julian—right in front of him—and watched the creases in his face and his knuckles on the mic. Tom reached out to touch Julian’s cheek, but of course, his fingers slipped right through him. He was a hologram, and not like the ones on the guitars today: This was a hologram of a video, an event that already took place, and it could not be manipulated. Tom smiled sadly. He retrieved his hand, and he settled for just watching Julian.
The door banged open. Tom twisted around and saw two bewildered policemen standing beside his computers.
“What the hell is this?” One of them said. He stared at The Strokes still playing.
The other policeman said, “Dr. Tom Stills? The neighbors were complaining about the noise.” He nodded at the band. “I can see why.”
“Officer, I can explain—”
“No need to, Dr. Stills!” The first policeman said. He marched up, spun Tom around, and handcuffed him. “Violation of the Present-and-Future act. You’re coming with us.”
“Please!” Tom exclaimed. “The song hasn’t ended yet!”
“Good. We can stop it before the neighbors complain even more.”
“I’ve been working on this for seven months! I’ve dreamed of it for four years!”
The policeman said, “And the Present-and-Future act was passed 16 years ago. Forget the past, Dr. Stills. Move forward.”
Tom sobbed. He cast one fleeting glance back at The Strokes—Julian screamed and held the mic for dear life—and then left with the policeman.
The other policeman scrutinized Albert’s twisting fingers, Fab’s waving arms, Nick’s lanky body, Nikolai’s bobbing head, and of course, Julian. The policeman’s face broke away from pensiveness. He smiled sadly.
“Whatever Happened?” The policeman said.