Once there was a man who wrote a song so powerful it came to life and moved into his house. He was proud of its success: it won awards and earned money which it shared with him. However, unfortunately it was very promiscuous and kept bringing home women. He would meet them in the kitchen in the morning, looking dazed and eating his cornflakes. He worried that his song was better in bed than he was, and also he felt grumpy at constantly running out of cornflakes. To make matters worse, the song resembled him physically and they were often confused with each other. The world was suddenly full of people convinced he had had deep, tender conversations with them. He took to hugging absolutely everyone he met in order not to risk offence. He could only wonder how the song coped when his own friends assumed it could talk to them about Monty Python or graphic novels.
One day, on a third successive morning of breakfasting on the gritty bits from the bottom of Kelloggs packets, something inside him snapped. He was starting to find his song’s company annoying in any case; though intelligent and cultured by the standards of a song, its range of interests was inevitably limited.
“This must stop!” he exclaimed aloud, temporarily jerking the lady sitting opposite from her happy reverie. He leapt (still in his dressing gown) into his car, drove to the house of a fellow-musician, and pleaded with him to arrange the kind of cover version that would replace the original and take the song off his hands.
“I’m sorry,” said his friend, with pity in his eyes. “Even if I were capable of it, it’s far too soon for that to be possible. Your song is too young and strong and – you must face facts – it gets around.”
He nodded sadly. It did. “What can I do?”
“Well, when absolutely everyone who might hear it is sick of it, it will naturally die.”
“It mostly meets people on the internet. How many internet users are there?”
“About three-and-a-half billion.”
“Another possibility is to create another song to be its faithful partner, and then there would be fewer people trying to share the cereal.”
“That’s not how it works for that song, I’m afraid.”
“Sorry I couldn’t be more help. And thanks for the hot, passionate remix I had with your song on Wednesday.”
The songwriter drove home feeling even gloomier than when he’d set out. He knew it was no good trying to expostulate with the song itself; he’d tried that before and the song had sympathetically taken his hand and assured him it felt his pain. And of course it did feel his pain – it knew his lingering insecurities, past rejections, and continuing need for love – but it totally failed to understand how much he wanted, just occasionally, the privacy to hang around in his underpants playing Street Fighter 2. He had to accept that it wasn’t going to leave, die, or become any less amorous any time soon. If one of the two of them was to move on, it would have to be him.
He began to spend long periods of time away from home. Increasingly he allowed the song to stand in for him in interviews and on social media. The song had romantically long, tousled hair, so he cut his short. At first, as he travelled around looking for ideas, the song kept popping up to join him, distracting him from the newer music he was trying to make, but this happened less and less as time went on. It never became safe to stop hugging everyone.
From afar, he followed his song’s progress. As time passed, to his surprise and amusement, it began to take on a public role. It was regarded as a national treasure and a source of common pride, and sent to foreign countries as a representative. It was consulted for its perspective on marital harmony, gender stereotypes, and even grammar. It travelled even more widely than he did. He was happy that it seemed to be doing some good, and happier that he could leave it to get on with it. However, he was not permitted to remain thus detached. One day he got a rather serious phone-call.
It was an important person from the diplomatic service, urgently requiring his presence. His song had caused what could escalate into an international incident: at a trade summit of great delicacy, it had been accused by the Americans of radicalism, by the Chinese of reactionism, and by the Russian Prime Minister of seducing his wife. The songwriter was hurriedly flown to the venue (in Cairo) and told he was to attend a banquet at which he would mend all the terrible damage done by his song. As he waited outside the vast, becrystalled banqueting hall, straightening his bow tie, an attaché rapidly briefed him.
“Don’t mention renewable energy, feminism, religion, the public sector, copyright law, healthcare, national sovereignty, any country you’ve been to that’s notably capitalist or communist, coral bleaching, or the role of the arts. And try not to look attractive.”
Taking a deep breath, the songwriter did his absolute best. Trying to be as charming and yet unsexy as possible, he talked for ninety minutes about technical specifications of microphones. Everyone was delighted by him and world peace ensued.
After this the songwriter flew home. He was exhausted from his ordeal, but he realised that he needed to take control, once for all, of his song. It was many months since he had seen his house, and he found it amazingly full of people. Not only were there a very large number of women, some of whom looked vaguely familiar, there were also quite a lot of men, all with a noticeable family resemblance to each other. He realised that these were more of his songs, brought to life by the power of enthusiasm directed at them – romantic songs, but also funny songs, odd songs, long songs, loud songs, complicated songs, and songs about the difficulties of songwriting. Around their feet assorted infants crawled, stumbled, played, gambolled or merely whined irritatingly – all the little works of fan art, of extremely variable merit, born of his music. And at the centre was the song that had started it all, looking handsome, sad, guilty, wanting his forgiveness and his love. How could he not love it? It was, after all, only a song. Nonetheless he walked over and punched it on the nose.
I would like to say that after this the songwriter lived happily ever after in the midst of this free-loving musical commune. However, he wanted to work on new material and it was all a bit much. So he got in a manager to keep his songs in line. And then he changed his name, dyed his hair, turned gay and moved to Queensland.