America’s Sweetheart


Brianne spent that summer at songwriter’s camp.  Actually, Swell had been contacted by the International Songwriter’s Hall of Fame to either give a talk or lead a workshop that July in Antwerp.  Unfortunately, Swell had a record-setting fifth album to wrap up, so she had sent Bri in her stead.  A three-day excursion at the Antwerp Expo followed, along with a public concert at the Royal Conservatory located at De Singel.  This was a post-modern exhibition space catered to the visual and musical arts and certainly too good to be true.  At least in Bri’s case.

Before she called Ev to assure her that she totally just took Jon Bon Jersey’s ghost writer from the 80s by the hand and demanded to know how she too could commercialize a poorly quoted prayer for instant fame and fortune, she grabbed a good seat at her first “unsung heroes (quite literally)” seminar of the weekend.  Bri didn’t suggest everyone introduce themselves through song, nor was she the first to share with the group after intentionally repeating an English word other than “thunder” or “struck” sixty-five times while composing lyrics for a new hit song.  She did, however, put up quite a fight once she was pressured into drinking with the rest of the group her second day of the conference. 

Even so, Bri was certainly glad to be around other gifted lyricists.  Professional peers who dreamed of someday being Swell Lyre’s competitive rival rather than her favorite electric Gibson locked in a cow skin case during her next acoustic tour.  Until that day, she’d avoid custom rosewood curves altogether and sink to the bottom of a 16th century water table for the sake of “community” in a Flemish bar. 

“You should’ve called me.”

Swell knew Brianne had found herself in similar situations ever since her teenage years, but she couldn’t help but believe that Bri had compromised her personal beliefs this time because of her.  Not as a direct showcase of servitude to an all-powerful being, but gratitude towards a trusted friend who continued to open doors usually reserved for a handpicked few. Up-and-coming musicians showcasing more self control than Bri ever did in the face of adversity, given their font and text size choices when completing an essay entitled “Why I Won’t Get My Drunk On With A Disguised Park Ranger On The Blue Hair Mountains The First Chance I Get”.

Bri still wasn’t okay with the idea of being anyone’s teenage dream, nor did she realize that Swell hadn’t played a show in Antwerp in nine years.  Swell had also never dined in the basement of Pelgrom, a historic stopping place for pilgrims traveling south dating back to medieval times.  Aside from the tiled floor, the refurbished cellar was encased entirely in brick.  The arched entryways accented the rugged decor with a cavernous sense of “spook me” solitude, but before the stars came out or Swell Lyre floated down a sweeping staircase in her most elegant dress and claimed the wandering soul of her most faithful intern to date, Bri had taken to quoting scripture in front of a slew of religious practitioners. 

“‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead be filled with the Spirit.’” 

Ephesians 5:18, not that anyone let the matter rest there.  Doesn’t the Bible encourage drinking in moderation?  Rejoice and be glad in God’s holy name—and a little sippy sip he’s already preordained just for you, Bri Baker!

When she spoke to Brianne next, Swell was tying up some loose ends with the documentary people following her around.  They had been doing so since production on her new album began.  It was still early morning, as she looked out over the water from the courtyard of her hotel in Lisbon, the site of one of her upcoming music videos later that summer.  The entire city was still muted by a bluish black haze better seen than disturbed by a cultural institution’s unrehearsed words, but this didn’t stop Swell from assuring little miss Upchucks Like Woah!, “Bri, listen to me.  You do not have to compromise your faith.  Not for me, not for your next big break.”

Brianne was sharing a double that weekend like most of the guests from the conference.  She had weaseled her way down into the lobby past three separate bushels of green apples housed inside a color-matched interior wall, before she fired back from a cushy lounge chair, “That is really easy for you to say.”

No little kid wanted to be mocked in the back of a public school bus.  No daddy’s princess wanted to admit that her father was self-employed but moved his family around a lot for the sake of tax evasion once she finally got to sit at the cool kids table.  Worse yet, no aspiring solo artist with Swell Lyre as her personal social etiquette advisor wanted to bring shame upon an entire generation of pop queen dignitaries for the sake of something she’d tinkle out ten minutes later.

Swell fired back, “I am being so serious right now, Bri.  I don’t want this for you.”

“What if I overreacted?”

1 Timothy, verse 25 states, and I quote, “Stop drinking only in water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” 

Loosen up, choirgirl!  You look like you haven’t been out this late since senior prom!

Swell didn’t know everybody in the music business, but had Bri named names she would’ve been able to pin down a few troublemakers before the poor girl took her first sip of Belgian broil that night.

“Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” 

— Proverbs 20:1

“What if you didn’t?”

When Bri didn’t answer Swell right away, Swell contested, “You may think you have to see this journey through to the end because of all the doors I’ve opened up for you, but the moment the spirit is telling you something nobody’s willing to hear, not even you—”

“It was bad, Swell.”

Actually, a part of Bri had reveled in the opportunity to talk about her faith freely, despite the toxic personalities trying their best to weigh her conscience down.  She had explained in some detail the circumstances in which Jesus turned water into wine in the second chapter of John, before their discussion took on a broader scope.  Bri assured her new friends in order for them to share in the blessings promised to them by the gospel, they had to refrain from overconsumption and always seek out the good of others rather than the good in themselves.

This of course led her new admirers to believe that she was everything Swell Lyre continued to be portrayed as towards the ends of the earth, but Bri wouldn’t admit to not standing up for Swell once she started catering to the unanointed whims of someone other than a suicidal wretch in college party threads.

Clara Silver may not have ever been proud of nearly causing Swell Lyre’s premature death on more than one occasion, but she surely would’ve joined in the tease-fest after awhile.  Especially after the girl from a Kentucky town with only one operable traffic light started asking the same question Brianne had after spending hours on end cycling through old albums from a century past.

Who writes this stuff?  A whole song about the right click of the wrong door?  A hook about a woman inspecting her lover’s genitals the moment he walks in the door?  Recurring knockoffs that couldn’t possibly say “Let’s Dance” any better than Bowie did, even with Tina as backup on the live version again.  Then there were unimaginative title phrases like “watch your words”, “so good so far”, and “leave well enough alone”. 

I mean even when these unknown “lyricists” were trying to speak in clever riddles the next rhyming line in the chorus proved to be so predictable that the song obviously had written itself.  Just like Will Smith’s best battle rap to date.

How that man has four Grammys and Tupac has none is a disgrace to more than Southern California and South Philly street cred—

Bri, you don’t look well.  Do you want another round, or do you want to assure us that Swell writes all her stuff again so you stay relevant by association through the rest of your “already affiliated” weekend?

After awhile, Swell asked her, “Well, what did you learn from all this?”

“Not to travel internationally again until you finish writing your first self-help book.  Or fake your own death.  Then we can spend all the time we want together.”

“Way ahead of you there, Davidson.”

“So about this new album cover.”

“Yeah, how many Y’s are there in ‘kayfabe’ again?”

“It depends on how far a departure this new album is really going to be from Real Swell.”

Actually, Brianne already had a first listen to all the new tracks, which had everyone in Belgium that weekend pretty curious whether they admitted it or not.  They all expected to hear Swell like they’ve never heard Swell before on this new album, but apparently they didn’t know what a treat they were really in for.

Swell foretold, “I’vealready hidden the names of my first three children on the album.  Whoever plays the record backwards first and tweets me all their names in the proper order gets a gillion dollars.”

Bri couldn’t help but giggle, before she responded, “That’s great.  I’m just making plans to be nowhere near you on the second Wednesday of October.  It’s already penciled in on my calendar.”

“Oh really.”

“Yes.  I’m onto you, Swell Annabelle, and so are Charles Manson’s grandchildren.”

“One, I’m still working on my track order, and two: how transparent do you think I am?”

“Don’t ask me; ask Buddy.  He’s been tracking your inbound phone calls for years.”

“No kidding?”

“That’s right.  We’re just waiting for you to hit twelve more alto G’s on this new album and the transmission will be complete…”

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