“The Filler: A Senectitude Story” by Tom Gumbert
The Filler: A Senectitude Story
The atmosphere is electric. Young starlets with luminescent skin and high voltage smiles bedazzle, while the matronly veterans, robbed of their youth, counter with figure flattering Versace dresses and Harry Winston diamonds. Industry demigods sporting iconic fallal, wave to adoring fans in the balcony. Cameras, red eyes glowing, pan the crowd, capturing the glitz and glamour, beaming it to the media devices of an adoring world.
“Are you comfortable?”
My eyes turn to the cherub hovering above me, resplendently dressed in white. “If you need anything,” she hands me a device, “press this.”
Giddy with excitement, I fidget. Tonight I step from the umbra to receive a lifetime achievement award, and I know what you’re thinking—you’ve never heard of me.
I am a Filler.
“Tonight’s honoree, while unknown to most of you, is a legend of near mythical proportions within the industry,” the MC asseverates. “During a career spanning the infancy of rock to present, his contributions have been indispensable to music’s greatest stars.” After a brief pause for effect, the MC urges, “Dig the digital.”
House lights dim and the mega-screen illuminates with Mick and Keith, sitting poolside.
MICK – “The first time I ever heard of the guy was from—.”
KEITH – “John.”
MICK – “Yeah, right, John. He was telling me how he and Paul had been in a writing frenzy and knew that what they had was good, really good, but felt something was missing, some little thing that would take the music to another level.”
KEITH – “Elevate from good to GREAT.”
MICK – “Right. And this guy, who’d just been like hanging out and no one seemed to really know, well, he made a few suggestions and it was like—”
KEITH – “Bloody hell, this is really IT!”
Offscreen voice – “What was IT?”
MICK – “The Fill, man. This dude just dropped the perfect fill.”
Offscreen voice – “What’s a fill?”
KEITH – Lighting a cigarette, taking a drag and blowing out a long stream of smoke. “Every song has some gap—no lyrics and the music is like repeating,” he makes a circular motion with his finger.
MICK – “Usually it’s at the end of the song as it starts to fade but sometimes it’s around the chorus, and this genius even managed to work it up front.”
KEITH – “So the fill, fills the bloody gap.”
Offscreen voice – “Doesn’t sound impressive.”
MICK – “Are you kidding me? Are you a numpty? I mean, yeah, you can fill with about anything, but to get the perfect fill.”
KEITH – “Liftoff.”
MICK – “Stratosphere.”
Offscreen voice – “Example?”
MICK – “On Let’s Spend the Night Together, the ba da da da part throughout the song.” Mick shakes his head, “A real corker.”
The scene changes to a studio where a string section tunes their instruments.
BONO – “My most memorable fill was an accident. We were working on Vertigo, it was late and everyone was knackered, but I kept pushing. Someone in the booth cracked a joke about the band working as hard as ‘Mexican field hands.’ Then where I sing, ‘hello, hello’ he blurts out ‘hola!’ and we all crack up. The producer gave him the boss eyes—called him a stook, but it just clicked for me. We started again, I did the count down in Spanish, then added ‘hola’ and when we finished everyone was like, ‘fuckin’ aye.’”
My voice and image fill the screen. “I was born to be a filler. My father was an auctioneer and I grew up listening to the call, its cadence dancing its way into my brain. He taught me the great auctioneers could call a special language recognizable only to their kind. When I was eight I was watching him—he’d been at it an hour or so when in the middle of his call I heard, ‘bringmeadrink, bringmeadrink, bringmeadrinkson.’ It blew my mind.
“I started calling at sixteen, and discovered it was a way to flirt with the daughters of auctioneers.”
Offscreen voice – “Can you give us an example?”
ME – “Once I was calling and it went late into the night. I scanned the crowd and only saw a few of the kids hanging out along the fringes. There was one particularly sexy girl, and I thought, ‘Why not take a shot?’ So, I’m up there calling, ‘I got twenty, twenty’s what I got, who’ll give me thirty? Someone give me thirty, thirty, girlyou’relookindirty,’ and I saw her mouth fall open. I got thirty and when calling for thirty-five was able to slip in ‘I’llmakeyoufeelalive.’”
Offscreen voice – “Did it work?”
ME – Huge smile, I wink.
Leaning close, the cherub whispers, “It’s time.”
A compilation of music, each with a memorable fill, inundates the theater as the names of the artists I’ve collaborated with, roll on the screen. I’m escorted the short distance to the stage wing and when it finishes, my name appears and the MC booms out my introduction.
I step to the microphone but before I can speak, there’s loud, incessant beeping and a flash of scalding white light.
My eyes blink rapidly, my mind struggling to comprehend. An alarm’s sounding and from the hallway, I hear running.
In the window I see the reflection of a frail man with tubes in his nose, etiolated by disease. My chest constricts, and I gasp repeatedly, unable to fill my lungs.
Men burst in but the cherub stops them. “DNR,” she says, avoiding my eyes.
The door closes behind her and I am alone.
Over the harsh noise of machines, I hear Springsteen on the radio, singing The River: “Is a dream a lie that don’t come true, or is it something worse?”
The reality of my life, an unaccomplished, unmarried, unfulfilled man, washes over me. I’m not a has-been, I’m something far worse—a never-was. A dreamer who never dared. I gag on the salt of my tears as the light around me condenses to a pinpoint.
I live along the Ohio River with my wife Andrea, in an area that was once an active part of the Underground Railroad. Operations Manager by day, and all-around daydreamer, I have been writing for a decade. Concerned about the state of the world I am becoming an activist.
My short stories have appeared in online and print publications including Sediments Literary-Arts, Black Heart Magazine, Meat For Tea: A Valley Review, Rathalla Review, L’Ephemere Review, Yellow Chair Review, and Five2One Magazines:Sideshow. I co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published All Things That Matter Press in March 2014.