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The director gave the signal behind the camera, and began counting down.  Mary Travis summoned up her best smile and faced the studio audience as the director pointed at her.

“Welcome back to today’s edition of Good Good Morning.  My next guests have been making music one way or another all their lives, but only recently have they had the opportunity to do so on a national scale.  Their first single went straight to number one on the Billboard charts and stayed there for ten weeks – the longest any song has stayed in the top spot this year.  They’ve just released their second single, and it, too, is burning up the charts, so history may repeat itself.  Please make them feel welcome – Los Magnificos!”

The audience roared as seven men entered from the wings, though one of them seemed a little reluctant; he had to be chivied along by one of his fellows and nearly dragged to a seat on one of the sofas next to the one herding him.  Los Magnificos were an unexpectedly varied group, ranging in age from a man who was clearly on the far side of 40 to a kid who didn’t look a day older than 18.  Two of them had decided that suits and ties were the order of the day, two had on slacks and button down shirts but had forgone the ties, and the other three wore leather jackets and jeans.

The man seated closest to Mary waved to the audience, grinning, and the applause was heightened by some distinctly female squeals before dying away altogether.  “Thank you, everyone,” said the man who had waved, his smile stretching wider beneath his mustache.  “That’s one hell of a welcome!  Can’t tell you how much we appreciate it.”

Mary’s smile turned real for a moment; she had genuinely liked these men when she’d met them during the practice run, and couldn’t deny that they had presence and charisma, even the young man who was currently staring, appalled, at the one with the mustache.  “It’s a real pleasure to have you all here this morning,” she said, her voice warm.  “I’ll just give everyone’s name for the sake of those watching at home who somehow may not have heard of you before today.”  A titter of laughter followed her words, mainly from the audience, but some from the men on the sofas as well.  “First off, to my right is Buck Wilmington…” A chorus of shrieks rose from the audience once more, and Buck waved again, eyes twinkling, wearing an easy grin.

“Next to him,” Mary continued when the noise had died a little, “Chris Larabee…” Another round of appreciation from the audience followed, which Chris acknowledged with a short nod of his head and a tiny smirk.  He was wearing a black leather biker jacket over a plain dark tee-shirt and blue jeans that hadn’t quite worn out at the knees but were clearly thinking about it; black biker boots completed the bad boy look.  He was seated casually on the sofa next to Buck, one arm slung over the back, ankle on the opposite knee.

Next to Chris on the third cushion was a smaller, younger man, impeccably dressed in a dark Armani suit, a blindingly white shirt, and a tie patterned in green, white, and black.  He exuded a sense of money; he should have looked out of place next to Chris, but he didn’t.  “Beside Chris is Ezra Standish…” A few more shrill noises from the crowd, to which Ezra responded with a smile that showed the gold tooth that had rather surprised Mary earlier.

“In the next seat,” Mary continued, leaning forward a bit, “we have Vin Tanner…” This time there were actual screams from the audience, much as Buck had received only moments ago, and Vin seemed to shrink down further into his seat.  He’d been the one that had seemed reluctant to be on stage, though Mary’s own impression of him hadn’t been that he was shy.  He wore a brown leather bomber jacket, one that looked like it had been worn – and worn hard – every day for twenty years, though his jeans were in better shape than Chris’s.

“Beside Vin is Josiah Sanchez…” On the second sofa’s other cushion sat the oldest man in the band, his hair glinting silver in the lights.  The audience made a few swooning noises at his introduction, and he grinned and waved.  He had been the one making sure Vin didn’t bolt.  Like Chris, he wore a black leather jacket and jeans; the jeans looked new, though, and he’d paired them with shiny black dress shoes.

“On Josiah’s other side is Nathan Jackson…” A few more appreciative calls from the crowd drew Nathan to raise his hand, and though his smile wasn’t as easy as Buck’s, it was startlingly white in his dark face.  He, too, wore a suit and tie in conservative black and white, though the tie was flecked with startling red.  He smoothed it down with one broad hand.

“And last, but certainly not least, JD Dunne.” JD flipped back the hair that hung into his eyes and offered a tentative wave and smile to the audience; he received a few shrieks in response, and promptly blushed.

“I suppose the first question that I have for you,” Mary said, shifting slightly in her seat, “has to be how long have you all been together as a group?”

The group looked at each other, expecting someone else to answer; various members shrugged, as if some kind of silent conversation was taking place.  After a moment, Buck spoke up.  “Well, that isn’t exactly an easy question to answer.  I mean, Chris and I have been in three different bands together.  He and I go back at least 12 years—”

“Thought it was 10 years,” Chris interjected, and the others snickered at what was clearly an in-joke.

Buck just rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, yeah, you’ve got your version, I’ve got the truth.”  Laughter rippled through the audience.  “But to really answer the question, the current lineup,” and he waved a hand to encompass the entire spread of them along the sofas, “we all have been together three years.”

Mary straightened; that hadn’t been the answer she was expecting at all.  “Really? Only three years?  That seems like a very short time for a band to have achieved everything that you have!”

“While what Buck said was true,” Josiah said, his voice deep and carrying even without the lapel mike he wore, “it doesn’t tell the full story.  While we officially got together three years ago, the band has actually gone through a couple of iterations – different drummers, different guitarists, different people leaving and coming back for different reasons.”  He patted Vin heavily on the shoulder.  “Vin here’s about the only drummer Chris hasn’t driven off in a week.”

Her immaculate eyebrows arched in surprise, Mary turned to Chris.  “A week? Are you that much of a taskmaster?”

Chris shrugged with a careless air.  “The drummer’s gotta keep up with me, follow my lead sometimes, or he’s not worth his sticks.”

Buck laughed.  “I think we’re just lucky Vin puts up with your sorry self, stud.”

Chris smiled.  “Oh, I reckon that’s true, too.”

“So what happened three years ago?” Mary asked, leaning forward again.  “What was it that drew you all together?”

“I reckon it was Seminole more than anything,” Nathan said, taking over the tale.  “Chris had just run off another drummer,” Chris smirked at that and Buck chuckled.  “So right then it was just the three of them – Buck and Chris and Ezra, no drummer, and you can’t have a rock band with no drummer.  Then the band that Vin had been in busted up, so he was looking.  Me and Josiah’d been playing together – not in a band, just jamming sometimes to keep in practice.  We’d go to this club called Seminole, because we liked the groups that played there.  Vin’s old band played there nearly every week, and so did the three of them when they had a drummer.  We figure the old fellow who owned the club, really good guy, he’s gonna need some acts to fill in, so the two of us offer.”

“Little did we know,” Josiah continued, “that Tatsanagi had already called Buck, Chris, and Ezra, and Vin, too, and told them to come down.  He said that we might just as well play, too, since we’d brought our instruments to audition.  Then just as we were settling in, JD came in, toting two guitar cases as big as he was—”

“Hey!” JD said, scowling as the others laughed.  “It’s not my fault I take after my mom!”

“—and said he’d heard there was an opening, and could he audition?” Josiah grinned toothily.  “He looked so glum that the rest of us were already there that we said he could play with us… if he could keep up.”

JD’s expression softened at that, taking on a slightly smug cast.

“Whoo, the kid could play,” Buck added.  “He made that guitar sing like nobody’s business.”

“We just kinda… clicked,” Vin said, speaking for the first time.  “No sense wasting the talent that was right there.”

“And between the seven of us,” Ezra went on, his soft Southern accent drawing a few sighs from the audience, “we’ve got at least 60 years of experience playing on our own or in different groups, so we’ve paid our dues, so to speak.”

“So Mister Tastanagi brought you all together,” Mary summed up.  “What does he think of your success?”

The group’s faces turned sad and solemn.  “He was killed,” Nathan replied, his voice heavy.  “A robbery at the club last year.”

Mary winced.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Well, we reckon we’re doin’ him proud,” Vin said, lifting his chin.  The others each nodded their agreement.

She decided it was time to steer away from that part of their past.  “Some bands that are just starting out will do covers of other artists’ works, while others will rely on the strength of their own material… which tack do you take, or are you somewhere in the middle?”

As one, the group threw off their sadness and grinned, except for Vin, who looked like he wished the sofa would swallow him.

“We did a few covers at first,” Buck said.  “It’s just easier to get a feel for each other in doing something we’ve all heard or played before.  But Vin’s our lyricist, has been almost since the beginning.”

A blush crept into Vin’s cheeks as the crowd applauded.  “The songs really resonate with people,” Mary said encouragingly, “and that is equally due to the words and to the music.  Do you write both?”

Immediately, Vin waved a hand.  “Naw, I just work on the lyrics.  Ezra helps polish ‘em sometimes.  The others all come up with the music.”

“That’s impressive,” she said.  “So all the songs on your album were written by all of you?  Pretty soon, new bands will be covering your songs.”

Los Magnificos all laughed; as if they can’t believe that would ever be true, Mary thought, and smiled.  They’ll be in for a surprise someday, I guess.

“On the subject of lyrics, if you don’t mind my asking… where do you get your inspiration?”

Vin pinched his lips; clearly he’d been expecting – and dreading – that question.  Smoothly, Ezra said, “Where does any songwriter get his inspiration? From things he sees, things he reads, the life he lives… with a healthy dose of imagination, of course.” He winked at Vin.  Vin rolled his eyes, but his lips twitched.

“So if I were to ask what the inspiration was for your first single, Live to Ride, the answer would be…”

Vin rubbed a finger over his lip, and reluctantly said, “Horses.”

“And the modern equivalent,” Ezra added.

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me,” Mary said, shaking her head.  “The modern equivalent?”

“Motorcycles!” JD burst out, grinning happily.  “For the video shoot we all brought our own motorcycles to the set, and they’re all in the video with us!  They had stunt doubles there, but all the shots of us riding are really us riding.”

“Of course, some of us you can’t tell, because we’re actually wearing helmets like we’re supposed to…” Ezra said dryly, shooting a look at Chris.  Chris just arched an eyebrow in response, and Buck laughed outright.

“Let’s play a clip from the video,” Mary said, gesturing to the screen on the wall to her left.

The lights dimmed in the studio.  After a moment, the screen dissolved into the opening shot from the video – an open field with only a few yellow patches of dry grass.  In the distance, a cloud of dust rose up in the air, and suddenly the roar of an engine blasted unexpectedly.  Except it wasn’t really an engine, as the next shot revealed; it was JD, making his guitar wail.  The music swelled behind him, as the camera moved across the field, cutting back and forth to pick up each of the others with their instruments, coming to rest on Buck as he belted out the first verse.

Today, I gotta feel the wind in my face
One more day to see the world flying by
Today, I’m gonna drop that ol’ rat race
Just for today, I’m gonna live to ride!

As the next bar of music played, the shot flipped to the dust cloud, and a motorcycle shot from its billows.  The rider was bent low over the handlebars, but still clearly recognizable as Chris, wearing a smirk as he glanced over his shoulder.  The next rider out was Buck, and he skidded flashily, leaning hard as his back tire swung around.

The 30-second clip ended just before the second verse started, and the lights bumped back up.  “Just to whet your appetites,” Mary called over the applause.  “We’re going to take another break, and when we come back, Los Magnificos will play their new single for us!  Stay tuned!”

The director counted off for the commercial break as Mary turned back to the group, and a wild cheering filled the studio.

***
October 10, 2016