Fu Cuo received two presents on his 18th birthday over the winter holidays. One was a birthday cake from AK and the other was a performance contract at the Livehouse given to him by Tan Si.
After opening the envelope, Fu Cuo flipped the performance contract front and back repeatedly to read its contents and he couldn’t find any words like “it’s a joke” to indicate it was a prank. Even AK thought it felt surreal. While stuffing his face with cake, he said, “Stop looking at it, he’s pranking you. The real gift is this cake. I bought it with him last night.”
Fu Cuo looked up at Tan Si who was silent, the cream on his chin had accidentally dropped onto the contract with a plop sound. Tan Si, who had been acting mysterious with an inscrutable expression all this while grabbed the contract at lightspeed to shake off the lump of cream.
At that moment, the abandoned warehouse became pin-drop silent. Fu Cuo, who had cake smudged all over his face, and AK, with cake smeared all over his hands, exclaimed in unison: “…It’s true?”
Tan Si cleaned the contract with a paper towel. “This Livehouse just opened and the place isn’t too big. They’re currently inviting bands to go perform…” He said while cleaning.
Before he could even finish speaking, AK rushed over and hugged him. “I’ll go! Tan Si, I’m so glad we have you! What Livehouse is this, let Grandpa AK have a look—”
He couldn’t help but yank the contract from Tan Si as he spoke, lowering his head to scan the words written densely on the piece of paper. “So many words.” He muttered in excitement. Tan Si retrieved the paper before folding it. “It’ll be faster to understand if I explain it. Anyway, this livehouse is inviting bands to do opening performances for them. I sent them the videos of our performances in the park and at the square to try our luck. Who’d expect them to actually reply to me… But first things first, it’ll be a mixed line-up. The fee to perform isn’t much, it’s the amount of a minimum guaranteed fee.”
AK nodded his head vigorously and grabbed the contract from Tan Si again. This time, Tan Si gave it to him. AK finally found the name that would tug at his heartstrings from the dense lines of words. Raising the paper up with a swish, he showed it to Fu Cuo. “West Winds! It’s West Winds!”
Fu Cuo saw the three words “Band – West Winds” on the contract. It was the first time he felt his heart beat so violently to the point his chest began to feel numb.
The performance would be held at the beginning of next month which meant they had three weeks left. Due to it being a mixed line-up kind of gig and they were a rookie band with little to no recognition, it was only thanks to the fact that the boss of the Livehouse liked their performance videos that he allowed them to perform two songs. AK posted the news on Weibo immediately. Back then, they only busked in parks and the plazas of commercial areas a few times. Occasionally, a couple of rock ‘n roll fans would approach them for small talks after their performance and ask them where they usually performed, so there were bound to be some familiar faces every time they perform. However, none of the three dared to call those people their fans. The limited number of familiar faces they recognized was reflected in the number of followers on AK’s Weibo because, among the three of them, only AK used Weibo.
Fu Cuo and Tan Si never really paid attention whenever AK posted something on Weibo but today, the three of them were guarding AK’s phone after AK sent out the post. Five minutes after the Weibo was sent out, they received their first comment:
[ Wow, really? Congratulations, I’ll be there to support you guys! ]
Another three minutes later, the second and third comments rolled in:
[ Can we pick a song? I want to hear you guys perform “Beautiful”! ]
[ Be sure to sing “Beautiful”, it’ll definitely help West Winds gain more fans! ]
The three of them were huddled together, foreheads against their foreheads, as they argued on how to reply to these comments. After replying to more than a dozen comments, Fu Cuo’s felt his neck getting stiff. He noticed that the sky had darkened outside the windows after finally lifting his head.
“Hey, stop browsing.” He got up and grabbed AK’s phone before throwing it aside. “It’s getting late, let’s hurry up and rehearse.”
“Yes, let’s!” AK stood up as well and scampered to put together his drum set. “Let’s hurry up!”
Tan Si watched as the two of them connected the speakers and set up the drum set. “We gotta start off by choosing two songs first.” He said.
AK, who was squatting in front of the drum set with his back facing Tan Si, turned around and said, “Beautiful! Beautiful! Let’s do a LOTUS song for the other one. What about “Great Waves”? It’ll be super hype if we perform it live on that day!”
“Nope, we can’t.” Tan Si said. “This is a commercial performance, so we can only sing our own songs.”
“Eh?” AK looked at Fu Cuo with a blank expression and blinked, “Then Brother Cuo… What should we sing?”
Fu Cuo was also stumped by this question. Back then, whether they performed at parks or by the streets, they would sing songs from bands that had already debuted during their lives in order to attract passers-by. Later, Tan Si announced the completion of “Beautiful” and suggested that they sang it live. Ever since then, they would perform their originally self-composed track during their lives. Although he has also written other songs apart from “Beautiful”, they were all experimental tracks for the three of them to play and sing in private. Those tracks were their fleeting addiction and he’s never thought about publicizing them; he couldn’t bring himself to.
“It’s fine.” Tan Si gave him a pat on the shoulder. “We can just choose one of those tracks of yours, write some lyrics, and re-compose the melody. It wouldn’t turn out bad.”
Aside from selecting the songs, there was in fact something he was more worried about. He’s but the temporary vocalist for their band and he really wasn’t good at singing at all though he did dig his own grave. His vocal range wasn’t wide enough yet he wrote the chorus of “Beautiful” on such a high note. His voice would always crack slightly every time they performed, but it was never too obvious because they performed in laid-back settings. However, the sounds projected and the sound effects used were all top-notch at the Livehouse. He’d be a goner the moment he opens his mouth.
They rehearsed “Beautiful” twice before nightfall and as usual, Fu Cuo’s voice would either crack or go out of tune at the high notes. He stared at the microphone in his hand and felt that singing had officially become his nemesis. Showing up to the Livehouse like this to be judged by hundreds of rock ‘n roll fans and leaving the horrible impression of “what kind of shitshow band is this?” for West Winds to a bunch of strangers? He absolutely wouldn’t allow it.
Even AK realized that he couldn’t sing well. He coughed and said, “Why don’t you…lower the key? Or you can try changing the high note in the chorus to something else?”
But he was neither willing to lower the key nor splice out a complete song just to hide his own shortcomings. Just like how every boy would have his own dream girl, every guitarist also has their own dream lead vocalist; and “Beautiful” was written for the sake of his dream lead vocalist. The vocalist of his dreams must have an extremely wide vocal range, skillful singing techniques, rich expressiveness, and impressive appeal. All he needed to do was write up good songs for the lead vocalist and dedicate them to him.
Classes recommenced a week later, and AK rushed to post notices for a lead vocalist at school. Such an out-of-place notice was sandwiched between various other notices and advertisement posters like a single snowflake cascading onto a pile of snow; no one took it seriously at all and soon, it was buried by other posters.
That afternoon, Fu Cuo and Tan Si waited for AK at their usual rehearsal spot but he was a no-show. Instead, a call from AK reached them:
“Hello, Fu Cuo? That, uh– You guys go ahead and start rehearsing first, don’t wait for me. It’s my deskmate’s birthday today so he invited us to the karaoke.” He said in a hushed tone and a light chuckle followed after. “I’ll be on the lookout for a new vocalist for West Winds when I’m there!”
Fu Cuo and Tan Si exchanged glances, leaving Tan Si no choice but to joke along. “Who knows, maybe you’ll actually find someone.”
Since AK wasn’t present, Fu Cuo and Tan Si went through a discussion before selecting two tracks. The lyrics of those tracks were all just random scribbled-down words when he wrote those songs, making them too underwhelming to be sung on stage. Hence, the two of them had to make arrangements and change the lyrics. After busying themselves until nine o’clock at night, their absent drummer finally finished his karaoke session and sent them a voice message on WeChat in a tired voice.
“..Fu Cuo, have you and Tan Si chosen the songs yet?”
“We decided on two tracks, we’ll get your opinion during our next rehearsal.” Fu Cuo said. “How about you? Did you manage to find us a vocalist?” After sending a reply, he smiled bitterly at Tan Si. In fact, the two of them had no expectations in AK’s ‘search’ to begin with.
A video call came from AK. In the background, AK was seen exiting the karaoke place and he began walking on the streets. The boy with a buzzcut had a look of disappointment washed over his face that was projected on the screen. “Ugh, don’t remind me. The whole karaoke room was like a bunch of ghosts crying, their singing was horrible. There was a guy who had a fairly wide vocal range but he could never keep up with the beat of the songs he sang. There was also a girl who sang really well in the first half of the song, but her voice cracked as soon as she reached the high note…”
Fu Cuo had expected that much. “It’s fine, if we really can’t find anyone then we’ll have no choice but to lower the key…”
“Wait, hold on!” AK came to an abrupt stop and they saw him turning around on the screen.
Just as Fu Cuo was about to ask him what was the matter, he heard the sound from AK’s surroundings become louder. It was someone singing and AK was obviously headed towards the source of the sound.
The person’s voice was faint and barely audible, but it had some sort of magic pulling people towards it. Fu Cuo’s ears pricked up unconsciously and he listened intently. He heard a series of easily recognizable piano arpeggios and the voice shuttled naturally between those arpeggios. His heart that was being strung along by the singing missed a beat and realization dawned upon him — it was LOTUS’ “Rooftop”; someone was singing LOTUS’ “Rooftop”, and they were singing it so well…
Fu Cuo was familiar with the area that AK was in as well. The streets there would be filled with street karaoke booths in the evening since only a pair of speakers, a TV, and a jukebox were required to put together a portable karaoke station, and many people would go and sing at those booths. He was trying to figure out who the person singing was because the singing of that level must’ve attracted a crowd of onlookers. Many of the high notes in “Rooftop” were written in high Cs. Even Ji Shi’s voice would sometimes crack when he sings this song live but the person’s singing sounded effortless with no room for criticism. The person’s voice was unrestrained whenever they sang the high notes. On top of that, he managed to capture the vibe that the song was supposed to portray — the picture of gazing at the sky from a rooftop while telling a story about flying. Such unadorned singing seemed to belong to a prodigy incarnate. Though the audio quality was lackluster through the phone, the appeal of the singing was somehow oddly unaffected.
He knew the difference between the audio through a pair of inferior headphones and the actual thing all too well, so he hurriedly packed up his guitar and turned to Tan Si before saying. “You go back first, I’ll look for AK!”
“Huh?” Tan Si was listening to a song on his headphones. He took off his headphones with a puzzled look on his face. “What happened?”
“Nothing, I’ll be back in a bit!”
He sprinted out of the warehouse with his heart skipping in excitement. Maybe, just maybe, they might be able to snag themselves a new vocalist!
The karaoke place that AK went to was not far from the warehouse and you can get there in 10 minutes if you run fast enough. He was afraid that AK, who was impatient with an aggressive temper, would end up scaring the person away out of enthusiasm so he had to go in person to feel more at ease!
Running across the overhead bridge with his guitar on his back, the night breeze blew from the opposite direction that Fu Cuo was running towards. He kept recalling the voice as he ran. Although the audio quality from the video call wasn’t the best, the person enabled listeners to grasp the artistic concept of the lyrics with just their singing; a singer like that was the rarest anyone could come across. He was able to gauge the youth of an adolescent in the person’s voice despite the tone not being too distinct through the phone. He couldn’t help but think if the owner of such a voice was willing to sing his “Beautiful”, everything would then fall into place…
☆ 🖇️ 𖥻 ＜꒱ ୭ ✧ ˚. ᵎᵎ 🏹
tl/n: hellaurr Griseo here! i’m the translator for the novels “Get Married” and “Being Towards Death” on this website and i’ve been given the privilege of resuming the translation of this novel by the original translator! from here on out, i’ll be the translator for this novel so thank you for your support <3 and i would also like to thank kqi, the original translator for giving me the opportunity, do show them lots of love ⸜(｡˃ ᵕ ˂ )⸝♡