Sy Retton made a leisurely lap of the New Year’s Eve party in his suburban Los Angeles home. The bartenders at all four stations were busy. All the right people had showed up – radio people, movie people, TV people, other music people – and were mingling nicely.
The fireplace was crackling along both for atmosphere and warmth as the evening started to get a little nippy. But Sy smiled, thinking about the frigid Wisconsin winters he grew up with. He had left the snow and the cold behind him, along with his birth name of Sylvester Rothahn and the slate of increasingly serious misdemeanors attached to that name. But hey! More than half the people in the room had pasts, many of them even more unglamorous and ill-spent than his.
Sy had found his new life writing music and had worked his way to the top of his profession. Movie producers, record producers, bandleaders – they all called him when they needed something new and special. He had always delivered, and that was why they were gathered in his beautiful home to ring in 1962.
There was plenty of music at the party. Sy had a top-of-the-line hi-fi and a wall of albums made by him and his musical guests. He hadn’t touched the turntable since the beginning of the evening; the partygoers were taking care of that themselves.
Something caught Sy’s ear, a faint thread of music that wasn’t on the record player. He followed the sound down a hallway. In the guest bedroom that was serving as a cloakroom, a boy in his late teens sat on the floor with a guitar he had liberated from Sy’s collection of instruments. The boy was the son of someone in the middle tier of importance, but he couldn’t recall offhand which associate producer the kid belonged to.
The youth was quietly holding court with others of his age and a couple of adults who had wandered away from the main room, perhaps as chaperones. He was playing a peppy little tune on the guitar, and his audience obviously appreciated it. Sy stood in the doorway, listening carefully. Before too many people could notice his arrival, he reattached the smile that had slipped off his face.
The teen ended his song to a round of applause. Sy grinned down at the youngster.
“You make my stuff sound pretty good, there, kid. Nice job.”
The boy hesitated. “Oh, um, thanks. Thank you, Mr. Retton.”
“I thought you said that was one you had made up, Tommy,” one of the girls protested.
Sy came to the rescue. “Don’t worry about it, son. It happens to all of us. One of the curses of the music business. It can be tough to keep track of what came out of your own head as opposed to what came into it from someone else. I once wrote Rhapsody in Blue only to remember that Gershwin had already done it.”
Even the boy laughed at the obvious joke, although a little nervously. Sy saluted the room with his martini and went back to the living room.
He woke late the next day, but without a hangover. He had been careful about that as there was important work to do this first day of the new year.
Sy sat down at his piano and tooled around with a melody. It was the same one the young guitarist had played the previous evening. He took up his pencil and wrote notes on the blank music sheet. After not quite an hour of remaking chords and phrases, giving it the old Sy Retton touch, he played the song from start to finish and decided it was a hit waiting to happen. Now he just needed some lyrics.
“Tough luck, kid,” he said to the absent teenaged musician. “But it’s been a dry stretch lately, and I gotta prime the pump. Happy New Year to me.”