Paul parked his rusting, dented Ford Model T between a silver Rolls Royce Phantom and a cherry red Roamer Roadster that was polished to a shine. He turned to his friend in the passenger seat and smiled. “We’re here!” he exclaimed.
George gripped the inside handle on the car door. “What if he finds out we’re crashing his party and throws us out?” he asked nervously.
“No worries,” Paul assured him. He jumped out of the Tin Lizzie and pulled his left handed Washburn guitar out of the back seat. “Everyone’s welcome at Gatsby’s house, as long as you’re dressed well and in the mood to party!”
George slid out of his seat and grabbed his prized ukulele off the floor of the car. “But don’t you suppose he’s hired his own musicians? I wouldn’t want to barge in on anyone else’s gig.”
“C’mon,” Paul urged his friend. He started walking towards the mansion. “The house band won’t notice. There are people literally spilling out of the building and grounds. We’ll just set up someplace out of the way and see if we can’t attract a small audience.”
“We’re not going to be busking again, are we?” George challenged. “You know I hate doing that. Makes me feel like a beggar.”
“Nah,” Paul insisted. “We’re just here to make some connections that might help us land some gigs in the future. And maybe chat up some flappers, if opportunity knocks! Look, over there – by that fountain. There’s a nice open space where we can set up and catch people’s eyes as they head towards the pool.” He took off at a clipped pace.
George hurried after him, nearly tripping over the legs of a sleeping drunk as he ran across the lawn.
Paul hid his guitar case behind a bush, then stood in front of the fountain and quickly tuned his instrument. “Hey folks,” he called to the revelers standing a few feet away. “Gather round! My friend and I want to play you a song!”
He nodded at George. George plucked a quick instrumental intro on his uke, then Paul started singing:
When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine?
Birthday greetings? Bottle of wine?
A large-nosed man broke free of the small audience and walked up to Paul. “I’ve heard this song before!” he interrupted. “You sang it at the speakeasy on Sixth Avenue last month. I’ll sing along with you! Hit it boys!” He turned to his drunken friends and started singing in a deep, scratchy, off-key voice:
If I’ve been out till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
The crowd gathered closer around the three men, then started drunkenly shouting out requests for a different song.
Paul threw an angry look at the large-nosed man, then gestured for George to stop playing. “Right, so I guess you folks don’t like that number. But I’ve written another tune which should please everyone!” He strummed a chord on his guitar and started singing a short a cappella introduction about a working girl living in the north of England. Then George joined in with a jaunty rhythm on his uke while Paul belted out his song’s first verse:
Honey pie, you are making me crazy,
I’m in love but I’m lazy,
So won’t you please come home?
The revelers started dancing along to the song, but when Paul started whistling the chorus, one of the women called out to her friends. “Hey gals, let’s go swimming!” She threw her champagne glass into the bush that hid Paul’s guitar case, than ran towards the pool. The rest of the small group followed after her, except for the large-nosed man.
“I told you we should have started with some Hoagy Carmichael tunes,” George said dismissively to Paul. “Nobody wants to hear new material.”
“Nobody? You think I’m just a nobody?” challenged the large-nosed man. He made a rude face at George, then started laughing. “I have a name. I’m Richard Starkey. But folks call me Ringo. Maybe you can guess why.” He held up his hands and wiggled his ring-bedecked fingers at George and Paul. “I run a speakeasy on Madison Avenue, and I came to this party to scout out musicians. I’m always looking for new acts to play at my club.”
Paul and George exchanged excited looks, then turned back towards Ringo.
“I’ve written a lot of songs that are very hip, very contemporary,” Paul boasted. “Besides the two you just heard, I’ve got a list that includes ‘Your Mother Should Know,’ ‘My Baby’s Request,’ ‘You Gave me the Answer,’ and…”
George cut him off. “And we play popular hits too,” he assured Ringo. “Like ‘The Sheik of Araby’ and “Ain’t She Sweet?’”
“Can you play ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’?” Ringo asked. He snapped his fingers to count in a rhythm, then started singing:
Pack up all my cares and woes,
Here I go, feeling low,
Bye, bye blackbird…
George and Paul nodded to each other and started playing along. Paul sang the next verse louder in a futile attempt to drown out Ringo’s nasally drone:
Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar is sweet, so is she!
Bye, bye blackbird!
The crowd by the pool started dancing along to the song, but they didn’t draw any nearer. After Ringo crooned a final coda of “Blackbird, black-bird, black-birrrd, bye-BYYYEEE,” the flappers turned around and started jumping fully clothed into the water.
“I’ve written another song about a blackbird,” Paul told Ringo. He put his right hand to the neck of his guitar and started playing an elaborate instrumental introduction.
“That’s great,” said Ringo, cutting him off. “Tell you what, why don’t you two boys join me inside. There’s someone I want you to meet. I think he’d be interested in your work.”
“Is he a publisher from Tin Pan Alley?” Paul asked excitedly.
“No, he’s a gent with thick, round glasses, so I call him Owl Eyes, and he fancies himself a songwriter too,” Ringo replied. He took a step towards the mansion and motioned for Paul and George to follow him. “His work is a little edgier than yours, Mister…I’m sorry. What did you say your names were?”
Paul and George introduced themselves.
“Right, right,” said Ringo indifferently. “So as I was saying, this fellow’s work is a little edgier than yours, Mr. Mac. But I think the two of you might make a good song-writing team. He could put a little salt and vinegar into your sugary confections, and you can maybe soften him up a bit.”
Ringo strode across the lawn and into the mansion, cutting a path through the revelers, and led George and Paul into Gatsby’s library. There they found a bespectacled man lying on a sofa and reading a book.
“Owl Eyes!” exclaimed Ringo. “I knew I would find you here!”
“My name is John,” the man replied without looking up from his page. “Just because you go by a nickname, Richard, it doesn’t mean everyone else does.”
Ringo ignored him. “I’ve brought along some musicians I’d like you to meet. Messers McCartney and Harrison. I thought you might work together well as a team.”
John lifted his eyes and examined Paul and George briefly. Then he looked back down at his book. “Nice uke,” he said sarcastically.
“Want to hear me play it?” George asked, and before John could reply, George started playing a firey acoustic rendition of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on his instrument.
John sat up and watched George in awe. “That was fuckin’ amazing! What do you call that song?”
“Haven’t given it a name yet,” George replied with a proud smile. “I’m thinking of just calling it ‘Shimabukuro,’ after the bloke who sold me this instrument.”
John shrugged. “Suit yourself. But I think it might catch on better of you set some words to it, and gave it a name people could pronounce.”
“Which brings me to my purpose,” interrupted Ringo. “I thought maybe you lads might like to have a little jam session and help each other polish up your songs.”
John rolled his eyes, but rested his book on the end table and stood up to shake hands with George and Paul. “Sure, I’ll give it a go. But I’ve got to fetch my guitar. It’s upstairs in my bedroom.”
Paul stared at him wide-eyed. “You live here?”
John laughed. “Nah, I’m just crashing with my old school chum Ewing Klipspringer for a couple of nights. Gatsby lets him sleep in a spare bedroom on the top floor of the East Wing in exchange for giving occasional concerts on his custom-made Wurlitzer for the party guests. Gatsby thinks my friend is a “phonic genius,” but he’s just a world-class freeloader.”
“So you’re squatting with a squatter,” George noted dryly.
John laughed. “I suppose you could say that. C’mon. Follow me upstairs and you can drop off your instruments in the little corner of the guest room that Klipsy set aside for me. Then we can come back to the party and get legless on the free gin. It’ll loosen us up a bit before we audition our songs for each other.” He started walking out of the room.
Paul threw a nervous look at George. “What’d’ya think? This wasn’t exactly our plan.”
George shrugged. “I thought our only real plan was to crash the party. And since we’ve succeeded in doing that, we might as well enjoy ourselves.” He followed John out of the library.
Ringo chuckled. “Go ahead, Mr. Mac. Drop off your guitar, then come downstairs and meet me by the fountain when you get the chance. The night is young.”
* * *
George covered his eyes with his hands and cursed as he tried to reposition his gangly body into a more comfortable position on the upholstered wingback chair. “Play a little quieter, you two! Can’t you see that I’m hungover? And shut that bloody curtain. It’s too bright in here.”
Paul threw him an unsympathetic look. “It’s almost four in the afternoon, my friend. We should let the last rays of sun shine in before night falls.”
“And it’s good to see the sunlight again after that rainstorm,” Ringo added. “The way it was pouring, I thought this whole mansion might wash away into the harbor!”
“It’s been raining?” George replied in a tired voice. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Enough with the weather report,” John grumbled. “C’mon, Macca. Let me hear your next diddy. You must have written at least one song that doesn’t sounds like it was a hit before your mother was born!”
Paul re-tuned the E-string on his guitar and looked squarely at John. “Okay, since you didn’t like my ballads, I’ll play you a fast number I’ve been working on. It’s called ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.” He played a short intro, then started to sing:
Well, she was just seventeen,
A real beauty queen,
And the way she looked was way beyond compare…
John cut him off. “Well of course this bird’s looks were incomparable if she was a beauty queen! You should say something else to describe her, and not just repeat your first remark.”
Paul furrowed his brow at John. “Like what?”
John thought for a minute, then winked knowingly as he sang, “Well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean…”
Paul frowned, but then the corners of his lips started curling into a smile. “Okay, you win. Your line works better. You managed to suggest something sexual about the girl without saying anything explicit.”
Ringo crossed his arms in front of his chest and smiled smugly. “See? I told you two that you could bring out the best in each other. Now John, why don’t you play that waltz for Mr. Mac that had such a haunting melody? Let’s see what he thinks of your lyrics.”
John nodded and put his left hand to the fretboard of his guitar. “Alright. So this is a tune I worked up after I spent the night with a girl from the Valley of the Ashes, then woke up alone in bed.” He started strumming a three-quarter beat and singing:
I once had a girl.
Or should I say, she once had me…
Paul smiled, then spoke over John’s brief instrumental solo. “Very clever, using two meanings of the word ‘had’ like that in your first line.”
John nodded his thanks, then continued singing:
She told me she worked in the morning and glanced at the clock.
I told her I didn’t, and asked her to please suck my…
“Right!” shouted Ringo, cutting him off. “That’s where I think Mr. Mac might help you tone down your lyric.”
George sniggered from his chair. “Oh, I dunno. I rather liked where John was leading with his song.”
John bowed theatrically at George. “I believe in shaking things up a bit.”
“Like Mamie Smith did in the ‘My Sportin’ Man,” George replied. He sat up straight in his seat and started singing:
That gun of his shoots all day long
He never jams his pin.
His barrel’s hot but never warm
He rams his rod right in!
John blanched. “Did you just say Mimi Smith sang that song?”
“No, Mamie Smith,” George corrected him. “She recorded it with her band, the Jazz Hounds.”
John sighed in relief. “Whew! I thought you were talking about my auntie there for a minute!”
Ringo stood up from his chair. “Help Owl Eyes with the lyrics to his waltz now, won’t you, Mr. Mac? I’m going to step outside and use the gent’s.”
Paul grabbed a sheet of paper and pencil and started scribbling down lyric suggestions. A few minutes later, Ringo returned to the room, his face flushed.
“Gatsby’s back! Christ, boys, be quiet!” he warned the musicians gathered in the bedroom. “We don’t want him to find us shacking up in here!”
“He won’t mind,” John said confidently. “Gatsby knows Klipspringer’s practically moved in. He sends his maid up here to change the sheets on the mattress every Tuesday at three.”
Ringo threw an anxious glance at the shirtless man snoring on the bed. “But does Gatsby know that the four of us crashed here last night too?”
“I’ll go tell him,” John said. He set aside his guitar and walked into the hallway, then returned a few seconds later. “Gather round, lads. Come to the staircase and get a load of this. That nutter Gatsby is throwing dozens of shirts over his balustrade onto some flapper on the ground floor!”
Paul, George and Ringo exchanged puzzled looks, then joined John at the staircase overlooking the grand foyer and watched the peculiar spectacle unfold before them.
“She looks like she’s, I dunno, almost aroused by what he’s doing,” Paul suggested.
“Almost?” John challenged. “That bint’s having a bloody orgasm! Just look at her face.”
“I can’t see her expressions from here,” George said. “She’s too far away.”
“Here, try these,” John said, handing George his glasses. “I had these made by the oculist Dr. T.J. Eckleburg before he closed up shop. He made the best specs in all of New York!”
George slipped John’s glasses over his face and smiled. “Damn, you’re right. It’s plain to see!”
“Hey, Gatsby’s done throwing his shirts,” Ringo noted. “He going back downstairs to be with that girl.”
“What do you suppose their talking about?” Paul asked.
“I dunno. Look through these and maybe you can lip-read,” suggested George. He handed the glasses to Paul, then looked at John. “Those lenses are amazing! I bet that once I got used to that prescription, without looking out of my window, I could see the ways of heaven!”
Paul let his eyes adjust to the powerful refracted lenses for a few seconds, then focused his gaze on the woman. “Hey, I know that bird! I’ve seen her face in the society pages. She’s Mrs. Tom Buchanan of East Egg. Why do you suppose a married matron like her would be getting so hot and bothered over our man Jay?”
John ripped the glasses off Paul’s face and slipped them back over his own eyes. “Well obviously these two share a past. I can read that in each of their expressions.” He pointed to his thick lenses. “The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg see all!”
Jay Gatsby turned around and looked up at the four men gazing down at him. “I say, old sports,” he called up. “Fetch Klipspringer for me. I want him to play the Wurlitzer for Daisy and me!”
John swallowed hard and smiled back at him. “I’m on it!” he called down to Gatsby. Then he jogged to the bedroom, with George, Paul and Ringo close at his heels.
John started shaking the somnolent man spread across the bed. “Klipsey, wake up! It’s showtime!”
Klipspringer released a loud snore and rolled over to his side.
“He’s out for the night,” Paul noted.
“You mean the day,” George corrected him.
“Night or day, why is it so?” Ringo said irritably. “Either way, this snoozer is in no position to serenade Gatsby and his girl!”
John smiled at him. “But we are! C’mon lads, grab your instruments! We’ve got ourselves a gig!”
John and Paul ran to fetch their guitars, while George picked up his ukulele. Then John noticed a bell sitting on the nightstand, intended for summoning servants, and told Ringo to bring it to the stairs. “I want you to play that as a chime to ring in the new song I’ve been working on.”
Ringo frowned. “Um, Owl Eyes,” he began hesitantly. “Maybe you ought to run your lyrics by Mr. Mac first before you sing them to that lovely lass downstairs. Mrs. Buchanan might be lusting after a gentleman who’s not her husband, but she’s still a lady.”
“My song’s clean,” John assured him. “C’mon. Hurry up. We want to stay in our host’s good graces now, don’t we?”
He ran back to the stairwell and called down to Gatsby. “Klipspringer asked us to fill in for him while he’s getting dressed. He’ll be here shortly. But until then, let us entertain you!”
John turned to Ringo. “Okay. I want three clear rings, spaced a few seconds apart. Paul and George, watch my hands on the frets so you can learn the chords to my song, then join in as soon as you’ve figured them out.” He nodded to Ringo.
Ringo rang the bell three times. Then John started singing over a few slow strums on his guitar:
Our life together, is so precious together,
We have grown – we have grown.
Although our love is still special,
Let’s take a chance and fly away, somewhere, alone!
He grinned at the three other men, then started strumming a fast accompanying rhythm while he sang his first verse:
It’s been so long since we took the time,
No-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly.
But when I see you darling, it’s like we both are falling
In love again. It’ll be – just like starting over!
Gatsby took Daisy into his arms and started dancing with her, kicking silk shirts out of his way as he led her over the foyer’s parquet floor. George and Paul joined in with their instruments while John continued singing his lyrics:
Why don’t we take off alone?
Take a trip somewhere, far, far away?
We’ll be together, all alone again,
Like we used to in the early days!
Well, well darling…
John let his voice soar in a series of whoops that echoed off the mansion’s marble staircase. Paul and George figured out an impromptu chorus of ‘ahhs’ and ‘oohs’ and started singing harmony with John. Ringo grabbed a martini shaker that was lying on the carpet, threw in a few coins from his wallet, and started shaking it as a maraca to provide a rhythmic accompaniment.
After John brought the song to a close, he looked down at the ground floor. Gatsby and Daisy were locked in a tight embrace. Then Gatsby led her to the pile of shirts. Daisy lay down. They started making love.
John winked at George, Ringo and Paul. “Well, I think my number did the trick,” he whispered with a self-satisfied smile. “Let’s leave our lovebirds to their laundry, and see if we can’t polish up another song to sing for them when they feel like dancing again.”
Ringo rattled his martini shaker softly as he led John, Paul and George back to the guestroom. “Let’s see if we can find something I can use as a drum,” he suggested. “I used to keep rhythm for a Navy band back in the day. Maybe I can play along with you lot too!”
Paul nodded at Ringo, then leaned in towards John. “I’ve been working on a song with a similar theme as the one you just sang. It’s got a line in it that goes, ‘Carry me back to the days I knew then’.”
“That sounds promising,” John replied. “Those two downstairs seem pretty eager to recapture their old magic.”
George threw one last glance over his shoulder at the reunited lovers shagging in the shirts. “I don’t know, lads,” he said sadly. “All things must pass. None of life’s strings can last.”
John slapped him on the back. “Yeah, but who doesn’t want to try to recapture our happiest memories sometimes?”
Ringo found two long cigarette holders resting on Klipspringer’s nightstand. He picked them up and used them to drum a short rhythm on an ashtray sitting by the lamp. “And so we beat on!” he exclaimed. “Boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
* * *
Inspired by “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)