Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, “The Band’s Tale,” Part 1

will: Welcome one and all to the first part of the first Tale from the Mos Eisley Cantina: “We Don’t Do Weddings: The Band’s Tale” by our current bete noire, Kathy Tyers.

Just when I thought I was out…

Let’s dispense with one matter right now: yes, the Star Wars universe features a style of music that, while we would call it swingy or even jazz, is officially called “jizz.” Apparently the term was first mentioned as “jizz-wailing” in the novelization of Return of the Jedi, but it was here that it first became “jizz.” And yes, that is also a rather crude term that I’m not going to dwell on. We’re trying to be PG-13 here, except maybe for the swearing, so enough, we’re moving on.

z: Potentially unnecessary, but: I am in complete agreement with my esteemed colleague here.

will: We open in Jabba’s Palace, and the motley crew of “guards and henchmen, dancers and bounty hunters” of a variety of species, many unconscious. It’s a regular Caligulan scene. We haven’t heard our narrator’s name yet, but he tells us that he’s a member of “Figrin Da’n and the Modal Nodes, members in good standing of the Intergalactic Federation of Musicians,” who used to have full-time employment as Jabba’s house band. Nice work if you can get it. Maybe.

z: I do like the name “Modal Nodes.”

will: Actually I lied. The first thing we see is a picture of one of the musicians, and thus, we know we’re dealing with the “Cantina Band.” You know, the people who are diegetically playing one of the most recognizable bits of Star Wars music (and that’s saying a lot)? So, context.

It seems Jabba has a fondness for swing music, though less so than torture and money–he pays well, anyway.

z: No, really, the narration makes a point of explicitly stating Jabba enjoys torture and money more than music.

I actually like this. And begin to suspect that Tyers might have been a performing musician at some point in life.

…yup, from the biography at the end of The Truce of Bakura: “She and her husband, Mark, have recorded and released two folk-music albums.”

will: Preempting me, here.

The band has finished its set, and our narrator breaks down his instrument, which is called a Dorenian Beshniquel if played in a symphony orchestra, but “this is jizz,” so it’s called a Fizzz. As much as I find the narration here a bit heavy handed (and remember who wrote this?) I get and even appreciate the attempt to draw the distinction between stuffy, formal music and this freeform music. (We’ll later learn that a Fizzz is reeded, so I’m thinking clarinet or oboe.)

z: Or bassoon.

Although the one instrument I can think of that has a naming difference between the symphonic and folk settings is the violin / fiddle, not one of the woodwinds. But, hey, Star Wars.

The narration is heavy-handed, but… here it works a bit better, because what I’m getting is the sense of a mildly-diva performer. The next paragraph about the band members’ species is only going to add to that sense. It’s somewhat caricaturish, but it works.

will: Tyers then takes the opportunity to infodump that the Bith, this band’s collective species, is basically perfect to be musicians, complete with the line “a superior evolutionary level,” but I’m willing to chalk that up to character BS, not author.

z: Right.

will: Anyway. Figrin Da’n himself is swabbing down his not-a-saxophone, and the rest of the band are likewise packing up. One member, Tech, is slumped over his “Ommni Box,” which is something like an on-the-fly amp and soundboard. And we learn that Tech doesn’t like being in the band, but he lost the Ommni Box to Figrin in a card game, so he’s sort of stuck.

z: Hah. This is giving me bad ideas re: orchestral recruitment…

will: Figrin calls out to our narrator, whose name is apparently “Doikk,” and offers a card game. Doikk shoots him down, while holding tight to “my Fizzz. My Fizzz.” Seems Tech isn’t the only Modal Node who’s caught between an instrument and a hard place.

z: Poor guy. Poor guys.

Yes, of course you can figure out my sympathies without even trying here.

will: Figrin calls Doikk “thermal,” even for a musician, and asks what sort of jizz musician doesn’t gamble.

z: …a prudent one?

will: Doikk gets very personal about his Fizzz, and says he’s not about to bet it on a card match:

Not even to placate Fiery Figrin Da’n, a bandleader who criticizes every missed note, owns everybody (else)’s instruments, and isn’t shy about giving orders.

And gambles compulsively, at least by Doikk’s standards.

But Doikk gets sidetracked by a new arrival, and dumps us a backstory: when they first started playing for Jabba, one of the Hutt’s assassin droids provided Doikk with an alibi when he was accused of what amounted to lese majeste. But because Jabba just wanted to see something get eaten, he threw said droid into the rancor pit. The droid was “beyond repair,” so Doikk thought.

The droid–apparently not beyond repair after all–approaches the two Bith, holding up its arms to show it no longer has weapons for hands, and asks to talk to Figrin.

It then confirms that it is only here to deliver a message, as its new owner reprogrammed it and removed its weapons–and wiped its memory, it seems.

Doikk calms down, remembering that it’s not the assassin droid you can see that’s the problem (comforting), reflects on the horror–so to speak–of removing an assassin droid’s weaponry, and asks who now owns the droid.

The droid quietly reports, “Mistress Valarian,” Jabba’s new competition for Mos Eisley. Welp.

The message is that Valarian wants to hire the Modal Nodes to play her wedding.

The immediate response is the title of the story.

Doikk explains that weddings are an awful gig–takes days to learn the material, lots of changes on the fly, the timing is awful, nobody listens to the music…for this paragraph alone I expect Tyers has or solicited experience in a band.

z: Nonono, wait, we’re not shortchanging that paragraph. Because oh my stars yes:

You’re treated like a recording…

…which can be less irritating if you go in expecting that, but you have to get into the mindset…

…told to repeat impossible phrases and lengthen the usual processional…

{shuddering flashbacks to that one Bach Prelude Incident}

…and ordered to play the final chord as the nerve-wracked principals arrive center stage…

…which can be something you can take pride in managing, because it takes skill, but, hey, that’s extra stress you’re not getting paid extra for…

…Then the reception, where they inebriate themselves until no one can hear a note.

See the above re: “recording.” But that can be all right too, if you go in expecting it.

All this for half-pay.

…not always, but occasionally, see above re: recording.

So yes, Tyers has done this. The one thing she either never encountered or couldn’t figure out how to work in there: The potential of seventeen kinds of fresh hell in requested music. Most innocuous: Having to smile and nod when someone asks for Pachelbel’s Canon for the prelude (…which is a piece I will not touch with a ten-foot pole of my own initiative, ever)

will: Rob Paravonian to the white courtesy phone, Paravonian to the phone

z: Less innocuous: “Freebird!!111!,” least innocuous: “….you…. want… Lacrimosa… as in “the Day of Tears…” from Mozart’s Requiem… as in a funeral mass setting… as your first dance. Ooooo-kay, you’re paying.”

{looks around at the sudden silence}

…what?

will: Aaaaaanyway. (Admittedly, I like Lacrimosa. Not as a first dance though!)

Turns out Valarian has mail-ordered (male-ordered?) another of her species, which Doikk describes as huge, smelly, furry, and clearly incompatible with a desert environment…and the droid continues that the deal is actually pretty good–they’re just playing the reception, they’ll be provided transportation, lodging and meals for the gig’s days, drinks, five breaks during the performing…and three thousand credits.

z: The “meals” thing is a big thing for performing musicians, too. Valarian is one of the good ones, it seems.

will: Which Doikk thinks of as enough, even just his share, to start his own band and live in the finest habitats, which seems a bit extravagant for our best guess at what credits are worth, but whatever–Doikk is off his game just long enough for Figrin to be drawn in and ask if they can play sabacc, before Doikk is reminded that they have an exclusive contract with Jabba. Too late, though. Figrin makes a deal.

They fly into Mos Eisley at night, when it’s a little cooler, being chauffeured by a service droid, which also (like the assassin) doesn’t have a restraining bolt, which inclines Doikk to like Valarian. It being Mos Eisley, people avoid being curious, and the speeder arrives at the Lucky Despot hotel–a beat up cargo hauler sunk into the sands by investors and turned into a hotel.

Which makes no flipping sense; this should be a ship that crashed here, was too expensive to salvage, and then got turned into a hotel. Come on.

z: That would have been cooler. The whole thing about salvaging and salvagers in The Force Awakens was awesome; it instantly triggered my imagination.

will: We also get a callback to the “traditional appraisal of somebody else’s ship,” what a piece of junk, which also doesn’t work. Trying too hard. Again.

z: No, because the whole point of that line is Luke blurting it out reflexively, unable to control himself, when he sees the Millennium Falcon.

will: Anyway. They unload into the ship-turned-hotel, but the Lady herself isn’t there to greet the musicians. Doikk figures she considers musicians “the help,” which feels harsh–maybe she’s busy? With her wedding? But eh.

z: Yeah, that’s a bit too much. Besides, you want to deal with whoever’s in charge, and if that’s the bride, then you have bigger problems.

…this may be foreshadowing on my part.

will: May be.

They get escorted to the Star Chamber Cafe, where they do a soundcheck, and then sit down to eat. As the suns finish going down, the sabacc tables come online. Seems that the hotel doesn’t have a gambling license, so they have to be a bit sub rosa about their sabacc equipment–and Valarian pays Jabba to warn her about raids.

I grant this was written in the mid-90s, and this is still the rather zip-powie brand of the universe we’re in, but this much of an attempt to do Underworld Affiliations feels so half-assed.

Anyway. Figrin heads to the gambling tables, to lose on purpose; the others join some other game. Doikk buys a guard a drink and gets some information about the groom, before he sees one of Jabba’s employees, an Arcona who serves as Jabba’s driver when he goes from country to city. (That is, palace to town house.)

z: Thing I had not thought of before this book: Of course Jabba has a town house.

will: The Arcona, Kodu, approaches Doikk, gets him mixed up with Figrin, corrects himself (apparently Bith all look alike to non-Bith, but their voices are distinct enough), apologizes, and says he has information for sale. Doikk sees that Figrin is busy hustling, playing drunk, and (while wondering when he became the band’s manager) offers ten credits for the information, figuring Figrin would cover him.

z: …he became the band’s manager when he started voluntarily doing manager-like things. That’s how it works everywhere, folks.

will: Don’t we know it.

The haggling settles on thirty-five, and Kodu reports that Jabba is pissed at the Nodes for skipping out on their contract–seems he noticed the backup band wasn’t as good. He fed two guards to the rancor, and put a bounty on the Nodes, for their return alive it seems–so there you are then.

z: Doikk characterizes Jabba’s noticing that the substitute music was sub-par as “the worst compliment ever,” which, okay, fair under the circumstances.

will: Doikk thanks Kodu, who exits, and Doikk heads for Figrin. He drops the news, Figrin looking like his pupils are dilated–he’s either high or faking it. They commiserate and plan: they don’t have anything irreplaceable, and while Tatooine has been good for steady work, it’s past time to move on. They’ll leave after the wedding, since they’ll have the money they need. And with Figrin dropping his high-on-spice act long enough to cajole Doikk into taking the first shift awake for security, we’re going to break here.

On the one hand, there is some heavy-handedness to a lot of the description, to the tone, to the narration, and it seems like the camera jerks wildly from place to place. So, basically, Tyers.

On the other, as a first taste of the fact that we’re getting a side story unrelated to the principal characters, it’s not all that bad. Of course these are smaller stories. That’s the point. And being from the perspective of the random background musicians who are still significant characters because of the iconic nature of the music? A nice touch.

All in all, could be a lot worse.

Z?

z: That is exactly how I feel, too. Also, a lot of the humor is working for me. About the only universe-building-level thing here, as you point out, is the Underworld Affiliations thing, and that’s weak, but the conflict of the story doesn’t feel forced, the “in” into the Cantina is well-chosen, and the musician main character’s voice is rather authentic to my ears, and I daresay I have some small experience there. (I’ve been an entertainer and a performer both. They are different things.) So I’m going to go with “so far, so good.” Next week we’ll find out what happens if you take a gig that you really knew you didn’t want. Until then, may the Force be with you.

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