By: Mitch Marmon
Our exodus story for this evening centers on our hero Masha, and her band The Vassals and their difficult departure from Cedar Rapids, IA to the promised land of the music industry, Los Angeles. Masha is the lead singer and guitarist, and sisters Miriam and Erin play bass and drums respectively.
Not long after winning a local battle of the bands contest in the summer after Masha graduated from high school, Perry Ramsay, the then new owner of the Abu Cymbal (a bar and music venue in downtown Cedar Rapids, IA) signed the band to a 5 year contract to be the house band. Masha, had always looked up to Perry when they were growing up. Perry was 5 years Masha’s senior and had been like an older sister to her. Perry had taught her to play her first chords, and once she had seen Masha’s talent for guitar playing and songwriting, she handed down her old beat up acoustic to Masha. Masha always cherished that guitar and used it to write all the band’s new songs. When Perry signed the band, Masha thought it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Perry’s father had built Abu Cymbal into an institution, a cornerstone of culture in Cedar Rapids. Every touring band that came through Cedar Rapids wanted to play there. Being the house band seemed like it would be their ticket to a steady career in music.
Masha began to see things different not long after the band started at the club. She saw a different side to Perry that she had never seen before and had learned that there was a lot more to Perry’s father than she had known. The Cedar Rapids temple of sound that was Abu Cymbal was built on exploitation and disrespect. Masha found out from the employees that Perry’s father would go on tirades of verbal abuse, refuse time off when reasonable requests were made and would vindictively fire people when he knew it would hurt them most.
Perry followed her father’s footsteps and began to treat Masha, the person whom she once loved like a little sister, and the rest of the band like dirt. Perry fancied herself queen of the music scene in town and treated her employees as peons, deserving of no respect.
After about two years of working for Perry, Masha had no idea what to do. She felt completely stuck. She knew that Perry would sue her and her sisters for all they were worth if they reneged on the contract and that the lawsuit and the aftermath would be a blow that the band might not survive.
One Saturday evening in the summer after their regular gig at Abu Cymbal, feeling almost completely defeated, Masha decided to go to a bonfire at the animal sanctuary where she volunteered. The fire was built in the large grazing field meant for the flock of sheep. Masha was able to decompress a bit with her animal loving volunteer friends but still felt defeated as the fire was dying down. She stayed after everyone left, staring into the flames, meditating for a miracle.
After a while, she noticed headlights pulling up the drive. It was a Tesla, something that wasn’t too common in Cedar Rapids. As the car pulled up and the driver stepped out, Masha couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Allison Mighty, the record producer. She had produced some of Masha’s favorite albums growing up. Ally Mighty was one of the biggest success stories of Cedar Rapids. She had left the city in her youth and made it huge in the music industry in Los Angeles.
Thinking of nothing else to say, Masha blurted out, “You’re Ally Mighty! What are you doing here?!” Ally laughed and said, “Looking for you!” Masha was confused and dumbstruck. Ally waited a second for Masha to gather herself and began to explain. “I’ve heard some of your demos on Soundcloud and I’ve been watching you for a while on social media. You write all the songs, correct?” Masha nodded yes with wide eyes. “I caught your show tonight. I was tucked away in the corner booth in a wig, so that’s why you didn’t see me.” Masha couldn’t believe it. “I’ll cut to the chase, because I don’t beat around the bush when it comes to things like this. I want to cut a record with you and your sisters in Los Angeles.” Masha sad “YES, YES, one thousand times YES. This can’t be real, how is this happening.” Ally responded “Oh it is happening and it is very real Masha. It’s not every day I see an act like yours. You have a future in music.” Masha’s heart leapt and she was on cloud nine for a second, but she quickly crashed down to reality when she remembered her contract with Perry.
Masha explained the situation to Ally Mighty, contract, abuse of power by Perry, and all. Ally was dismayed, but not surprised. “Perry sounds a lot like her father. It’s a shame that the apple fell so close to the tree. I had hoped things would be different when I heard She took over Abu Cymbal. I had a few run ins with Perry’s father back in my youth. I worked at Abu Cymbal for a few months before I left for L.A. He treated me like human garbage. Don’t you worry about that contract, though Masha. Abu Cymbal will not stand up to what is going to be thrown at it.”
Masha was perplexed. “What do you mean,” she asked. “The venue will go under within 5 months,” Ally responded. “What? How do you know?” Ally said “You may not believe me right now, but I know because I’ve seen whats going to happen to that place. A string of incidents will force the venue to close, ten incidents to be precise. You’ll be in L.A. before the new year.”
Masha was a bit uneasy seeing how certain Ally was of herself. Masha was never one believe in divination or spirituality or anything hocus pocus-y and had always been put off whenever someone started to talk about it. However, she refrained from judging Ally because of who she was.
“I get visions from time to time,” Ally said. “I haven’t had one as clear as I do about Abu Cymbal, you, and your band since I experienced the vision of myself leaving Cedar Rapids for L.A. and becoming a producer. I know you may not trust me now, but let me give you my number and I’ll text you when each incident is about to happen.” They exchanged numbers and said their goodbyes and both went on their way as the final embers of the fire burned out.
Masha recounted the story of her encounter with Ally at the bonfire to Miriam and Erin. They were both shocked and in disbelief. As the ten incidents began to plague Abu Cymbal, all three of the sisters quickly developed faith in Ally. She would text Masha 2 hours before each incident occurred like clockwork with a description of what was going to happen. First the pipes rusted and turned all the water in the venue brown and had to be replaced. Next, a critically endangered mother frog with her clutch of eggs was found in the water feature in the back patio which caused a judge to order the temporary closing of the venue till the eggs hatched and into tadpoles and could be safely captured and moved to a more suitable home. After that, a termite infestation was found to have caused extensive damage to the building. Then, a wild bison somehow found it’s way into the venue after hours and went berserk, destroying much of the interior. Next, E. Coli contamination on the romaine lettuce used in the kitchen then caused many people to get sick and sue Abu Cymbal. Then, an outbreak of staph swept through the employees leading to painful, unsightly boils which caused most of them to be unable to work. A violent ice storm destroyed much of the outer facade of the building. Next, a swarm of the previously-thought-to-be-extinct rocky mountain locust descended on the block where the venue was located. Then, there a series of wiring mishaps lead to a blackout inside the venue that lasted for days, and finally, a pyrotechnics malfunction at a concert caught an onstage curtain on fire and caused the venue to burn to the ground.
The ten incidents really did a number on Perry Ramsay. Losing Abu Cymbal made her question her priorities. In the end she decided to sell the property and the business. She apologized to Masha and her sisters and expressed to them her sorrow that she turned into a tyrant. She then released Masha and her sisters from the contract and apologized for how she had let her father’s legacy corrupt her. She wished Masha and the band good luck with Ally Mighty in L.A.
Masha, Miriam and Erin left for L.A. free from the oppression of Perry Ramsay and ready to embark on a sure to be illustrious career with Ally Mighty on their side.
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