When The Holograms Invade

Part two. A short story about the horrifying future of the music industry.

Read part one here. You can download this story as an ebook for your Kindle here, or for other e-readers here. Instructions for transferring this file to your Kindle can be found here.

The story so far: In 2130, the only music industry that’s left is run by ExxonGoogle, and it’s entirely made up of holograms of dead stars. But then a boy with a guitar suddenly becomes a sensation.

Nancy Reagan, Antique Store Owner

The hologram music invasion spelled an end for a number of careers — musicians, piano teachers, companies that manufactured musical instruments, entire departments in high schools and universities that were formerly responsible for the education of future songsmiths, their expertise no longer needed. But hologram music had been a boon for Nancy and Frank Reagan. The Reagans’ recent spate of good luck had started over a year earlier, with an old man who had brought in an antique guitar to be reconditioned. Nancy’s husband, Frank, did most of the reconditioning, though he knew nothing about how such an instrument operated.

But Frank had done some research on guitars and was able to restring it and give it life. Probably not the life such an instrument deserved, but it was better than nothing.

“You know how to play it?” Nancy had asked when the old man came to pick it up.

“Nope.”

“What are you planning to do with it then?”

“Just thought it was too nice to lay around broken.”

The musical instruments that came into the Reagans’ store were never intended to make noise again. Folks wanted them shined and cleaned so they could hang on walls as decoration, or to give them as gifts to other people: horns and guitars and mandolins and harmonicas, drums and saxophones and accordions and flutes. The typical customers were middle-aged homeowners, but lately it had been a different demographic — men and women of mixed ages, asking questions about how the contraptions worked, and if they came with instructions. Neither Nancy nor Frank had any idea how they worked. Now they could not keep the things in the store for more than a day. As soon as the antiques arrived, Frank reconditioned them and Nancy put them on display.

There had been concerts. There had been riots, the police robots getting tough on the young kids gathering to listen to live music which had not existed in the Reagans’ lifetime. The Reagans hated to watch the trouble in the hologram news, but they loved the profit.

“It’s a shame,” Frank said. “It’s not like we invented the stuff.”

“It’s just junk,” Nancy said, rubbing her husband’s hand. “A passing phase.”

“Yup, a passing phase,” Frank added.

“Junk,” Nancy confirmed.

Lincoln Wagner, Music Industry Lobbyist

“I’m not officially here on behalf of ExxonGoogle,” Lincoln Wagner explained to the room, “but sure, for argument’s sake, if it progresses the conversation, I’m here on behalf of ExxonGoogle.”

“What does Lenny want this time?”

“He wants a problem solved.”

“The kid?”

“He’s selling out minor league baseball stadiums. Those aren’t that big, mind you, but it’s impressive for someone his age. In the past year he’s become known. If he had an actual album to sell, and we measured him against some of ExxonGoogle’s top artists, he would be the 142nd bestselling artist of his day.”

“That’s impressive.”

“It’s impressive. We’re very proud of the boy. He’s absolutely terrific.”

“It’s good for the country.”

“It’s great for the country,” Lincoln agreed.

“It’s good for the music industry.”

“It’s great for the music industry.”

“But?”

“It’s awful for the music industry,” Lincoln explained. “And it’s awful for the country. The music industry and this committee have come to an agreement. We can control the young people based on the musical content we make available. And hologram musicians are inanimate. They don’t possess a revolutionary spirit. They’re not programmed to induce change. They simply output music for the sake of music and never let emotions get involved. This boy is different.”

In 2130, crime was nonexistent. That vast number of video cameras stationed around the globe, which made hologram news so relevant, also made crime impossible since everything was recorded. Music had nothing to do with the decrease in crime, but that did not stop music lobbyists, such as Lincoln Wagner, from pointing out that controlling music was a way to control citizens.

“Go on,” someone said.

Lincoln straightened his jacket. “It’s just one boy, true enough. But his example has produced hundreds of new musicians, kids thinking they can make it as working artists. And the truth is they can’t. They cannot compete with hologram music because they aren’t good enough. And the cultural riffraff that could result from their attempt — long hair, pierced faces, tattoos, drugs, crime, all the things our society has spent the last hundred years eradicating — it could all come back based on this boy’s success.”

“Which is why you…”

“Which is why I’d like to request an assassination.”

“Lenny wants to kill him?”

“Lenny wants nothing. No one wants anything.” Lincoln feigned shock at the accusation. “Nevertheless, an assassination would put an end to this uprising.”

“Is there an uprising?”

“Not yet. But it’s coming. Check your history. Every successful revolution had a musical influence.”

No one was sure if Lincoln was making up all these facts or not. They didn’t intend to call him a liar, though. After all, he was a lobbyist, the most prestigious job in the country; he spoke wonderfully; and most important, he was white. White people were a minority and it was difficult to call a white person a liar without having the racism label applied to you. No one bothered to point out the obvious, either: ExxonGoogle probably already owned the rights to the boy’s music. It was possible if the boy became a musical star, he could certainly induce an uprising.

But if ExxonGoogle first promoted the boy as its first non-holographic musician, trumpeting his abilities, the assassination would create a bestselling artist, a marketing windfall, a rock and roll icon. Everyone knew dead musicians did not profit from assassinations; only the record label did. One bullet, one carefully orchestrated evening, and ExxonGoogle would have itself a new moneymaker.

“It should happen this weekend,” Lincoln explained. “Best if we remove all cameras from the stadium.”

Levon Davis, Rock and Roll Superstar

The invitation had come out of the blue for ExxonGoogle’s first non-holographic musician: That Saturday night, he and his band would play a sold-out crowd at the new Yankee Stadium. Baseball was by far the most popular sport; ever since steroids were legalized, there were dozens of homeruns per game. And now that certain teams were employing the controversial cyborg players, the fans flocked to watch them perform. Fortunately, it was an away game for the Yankees, and the stadium would belong to Levon for one night. He did not even have a name for his band, which he and his grandfather discussed over a cereal breakfast.

“What about Guitar Fever?” his grandfather asked.

“I hate it.”

“The Sucky Seven.”

“Not bad.”

“Levon and the Wailers.”

“Eh.”

“I got it,” his grandfather said. “Chuckwater.”

Levon stopped eating. “What does it even mean?”

“I haven’t the slightest.”

“I think I hate it worse than Guitar Fever.” The two concentrated on their cereal, running through a myriad of band names. “All bands have a name, but we’re different. We’ll go on stage without a name.”

“Without a name you say?”

“It’s a silly tradition really, one of those things no one even knows how it began.” Levon slurped his cereal. “Think about it — why would folks have to name their band? Why can’t they just go on stage and play music, and leave it at that? We just like the music, pure and simple. Naming the band is the first step in desecrating something pure.”

That night, at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, his grandfather sequestered in one of the exclusive boxes, Levon took the stage to raucous applause. On stage they were still just passable musicians, but the sound and the energy of a live performance made them sound like rock and roll gods. The audience was no slouch either. Fans who had only witnessed the holographic representation of the thing they loved suddenly erupted, the dormant joy in the deepness of their souls, as though it had always been there and only required a slight spark of mayhem to renew itself. The thunderclouds 30 miles in the distance did not forewarn anyone that the night would end badly, instead loosening the mood that this was an evening they would remember forever.

And they would. Soon they would weep. Soon they would cease applauding. Soon they would understand why infallible holographic musicians were preferred to the real thing because holographic musicians would never grow old or disappoint them or die. They would talk about the gunshot’s explosion for the next century — those who were closest, those who magically had an intuition that something was about to happen, those who were not even there but instead invented their history to appear closer to the carnage.

When he fell the gasps wheezed out of the stadium. That was when the real legacy began. That was when Levon Davis became immortal.

Jon Methven is the author of the very fine novel This Is Your Captain Speaking. You can find his last story for FWD, about the aftermath of an apocalyptic hack, here.

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