My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Belongs to Hasbro and any songs, albums, etc referenced here belong solely to their original artists- I'm just playing around with them for fun. No profit is sought and no copyright infringement is intended,
Author's note: If you find yourself wondering how ponies play guitar, and other music facts... just repeat to yourself "It's just a fic, I should really just relax..."
Besides, if they can play a cello or a tuba? I think we can all just suspend our disbelief for a while.
And now for our story...
Chapter 1- Wasted Years
Macintosh pulled open the doors of the almost forgotten old shed, coughing a bit from the cloud of dust and musty air that escaped. His ears caught the faint pitter-patter of tiny feet, probably mice, fleeing the sunlight that touched the piled junk and rubbish inside for the first time in years. Tucked where it was on a remote corner of Sweet Apple Acres, Macintosh was surprised that the whole thing hadn't burnt down years before. Nopony would have noticed.
He coughed once more and looked down at the little filly next to him. "Eeyup, there ya go," he said.
Applebloom's amber eyes were wide. "What a load o' junk!" she gasped. "And we're s'posed to sort through all this? I hate spring cleanin'."
"This ain't possible," she declared.
"Well, ya ain't gotta help," Big Macintosh intoned, chewing the end of a sprig of wheat absently. "I mean, there is an alternative, an' I'm sure A.J. would be right pleased t' have help spreadin' all that manure over th' east fields."
"Can't believe I'm 'bout t' say this, Big Brother, but that's actually startin' to seem like a tough choice," The filly said.
"Eeyup." he grinned, ever so slightly. "Just think, ya could even earn yerself a cutie mark in that. I wonder what that would even look like."
That brought Applebloom up short. "...So... junk-sortin'...how's this work, again?" she asked with a rather weak smile.
Big Mac chuckled softly and ruffled her mane with one hoof. "I reckon th' best way is to just start pullin' stuff out into th' light o' day. We get a look at it, then sort it into a pile o' stuff t' keep, and a pile of trash t' take to the dump tomorrow. Not too different from sortin' apples, if ya think about it."
The siblings got to work in earnest, sorting through almost three decades worth of hoarded knick-knacks, mementos, gadgets, widgets, and trash. Mostly trash. Macintosh stuck to the heavier items, while leaving the smaller treasures for his sister. After a few hours work, they had a very sizable pile of throw-aways, and a much smaller pile of keepers. Macintosh didn't relish the thought of several wagon-pulls to the local dumping ground, but that's what spring cleaning was all about.
"Big Mac! Big Mac!" Applebloom called as he was sorting, "I found somethin'! What is it?" She was dragging out what looked like an old metal wash-tub, but Macintosh immediately noticed the tightly-coiled copper tubing that had been attached to the basin, and knew what it was.
"Well... uh... hm...' He had to think about this carefully. There were many ways to make money in agriculture, and over the years the Apple family had pioneered most all of them... including methods not strictly legal. He cleared his throat nervously, as he searched for a convincing explanation - there were some things Applebloom wasn't quite old enough to know about yet. "Well... I reckon that there's an old chemistry science project someone threw out, sis," he said slowly. It wasn't exactlya lie... it was obviously a condenser from an old moonshine still, probably from his Granddaddy's day, from the looks. So it was old and it was a science project, since a distillery did demonstrate some very interesting scientific principles, as did its end product.
"Ooooohhh..." Applebloom said, eyes wide. "I can take it t' school an' show Miss Cheerilee!" she cried excitedly.
"No!" He half-shouted before catching himself. "I mean, uh... nah, I don' think so, Sugarcube," he said in a more reasonable tone of voice. "That ol' thing's seen better days, an' it ain't no good to nopony no more. Let's just...mmm..." he glanced over at their large pile of trash, that would soon be in a very public trash-dump. "Let's just stick it back in th' shed fer now, mkay?" That would keep it out of sight until he could disassemble the illicit device later for more discreet disposal.
She nodded, and helped Macintosh move the apparatus back into the old outbuilding. "Must've been a right winnin' science project if somepony kept it all this time, it looks it's from Granny Smith's school days," the filly said as they finished storing it.
"I reckon so," Mac agreed.
Applebloom turned back to their slowly-diminishing pile of work, and her eyes brightened as they caught sight of another curiosity. "Mac! Mac! What's that?" she cried, pointing a hoof at something in a dark corner of the old shed.
His eyes tracked to where she was pointing, and widened when they saw what was there. "That's... huh." Mac walked over to the corner and drew out a plain wooden case, as tall as he was long from shoulder to tail, a few hoof-spans wide, and several inches deep. He gently laid the box down on the floor, and stared at it quietly.
Applebloom walked up beside him. "Big Mac? What is this?" she asked quietly.
"Somethin' I thought I lost a long time ago, Sugarcube," he replied. He reached out a hoof, and flipped two brass latches on one of the long sides of the case, and opened it. Inside, cradled in soft cushioning, was an electric guitar. Its V-shaped body was stained in a sunburst pattern, darkening from a transparent honey-color in the center where the pickups were to a caramel color around the edges. The fretboard was marked and worn from much use, but it was otherwise still in excellent condition. "This here's a solid piece o' my teenage years," he said quietly.
"I didn't know ya played guitar, Big Brother." Applebloom said, looking at the instrument with huge eyes. She reached out with one dainty hoof and gave the strings a strum. She winced at the sourly discordant sound that was produced.
"I reckon she's a mite bit out of tune, after all these years," Mac said. "I ain't picked this up in nigh onto ten years. I put this into storage and forgot about it right after the band I was in broke up. An ya need an amplifier t' get proper sound from it, anyways."
"Ya had a band too? How come nopony ever told me?" she demanded.
"This all happened when ya were nothin' barely more than a newborn, almost. T'was really just a thing I did fer kicks when I was in high school, not a big deal or anything."
Applebloom was almost prancing in excitement now, her eyes bright. "What kind of music did ya play? Did ya play any concerts? Oh! I want t' hear ya play! Did you make any records?"
"Easy there, sis!" he chuckled. He knew how excitable his little sister could be; he was already resigned to a million questions. "We played rock music, and no, we played a few small concerts, but mostly we just made a racket in the barn an' annoyed the heck outta Granny Smith. And we did a couple o' records, but they really just got handed out to our friends and the few ponies that came t' our shows. Heck, I don't even have copies of em anymore."
"What about the other ponies in the band? Do I know them?" she asked.
That brought Big Mac up short, just a bit. "I dunno, Sugarcube. I ain't talked t' none of 'em in years." He frowned, looking back down at his guitar.
"Why?" Applebloom's question was less demanding in tone. Young though she was, she could always pick up on changes in his mood very quickly. "Why did ya break the band up?"
"Eh, it just stopped bein' fun. An' we all had t' grow up, and stop dreamin' about bein' stars, and do grown-up pony things." There were other reasons too, but they were beyond explaining to the young filly.
"Are ya gonna start playin' again?"
He sighed. "Prob'ly not. Heck, I probably barely remember how. An' it's pretty hard thing fer a pony as big as me, standin' up on one's hind hooves fer so long at a time."
He smiled and raised a hoof to forestall any further questions. "I think we've got more work t'do, and we're runnin' outta daylight. Tell ya what, if we can finish up here, I'll take ya an' yer friends t' Sugarcube Corner later when they come over later, deal?"
"Deal!" Applebloom exclaimed.
He smiled and gave the the guitar one last look before he closed the case and slid it over to the corner. Out of sight was not out of mind, however, and Macintosh found himself letting his mind drift back to old memories as they worked. The ringing ears, the acrid smell of the smoke from cheaply improvised pyro effects on their stage, and the surge of adrenaline that he got from the applause. He chuckled to himself at memories of his lead singer and the bassist arguing over who used the last of the styling products for their manes. He remembered the thudof the bass drum, more felt in the body than heard with the ears, and the elation he felt when he and his co-guitarist perfectly executed a harmonized riff they'd practiced together for hours and hours in his bedroom. That is, when she wasn't practicing making out with him instead.
That memory brought a blush that he hoped he wouldn't have to explain to Applebloom, but she was totally intent on her work now, promises of sweet rewards driving her to be diligent.
He turned back to his own share of the clutter and sighed. His little band may have never been famous, or drew huge crowds, but they'd given it a good try. He supposed that was good enough. He was a grown pony now, after all.
The following day found Big Macintosh taking one of his rather infrequent trips into Ponyville proper, to deliver a large order of dried apple chips for a sudden large order that had come up.
Applejack looked up from the sales ledger she was intently reviewing as he approached with two sizable bags of the dried fruit slung across his back. "Thanks fer comin' on such short notice, Mac."
"No problem, AJ, things were slow around the orchard anyway," he replied. "Who needed sixty pounds of dried apple chips, though?"
"Pinkie Pie. She's got some sort of experimental dessert, or somethin'," Applejack said, shaking her head. "I didn' pry. She'd still be standing here talkin' 'bout it if I did."
Mac nodded in agreement.
"Anyway, since ya said there's not much happenin' up on the Acres, why not take the rest of the day off? It's been forever since ya been around town anyway."
"That's an idea," he said with a shrug. "Might be nice just t' wander a bit."
His sister grinned. "Try not t' let the mares mob ya too much."
He rolled his eyes, but didn't reply to her insinuation. "I'll pick us up somethin' nice for dinner, maybe," he said as he unloaded the apple chips, and set off.
Macintosh wasn't sure why it was that he rarely made trips into town - when he was younger, he spent a great deal of time in Ponyville. While he'd never be accused of being a social butterfly, as a colt he had enjoyed wasting time aimlessly in the park with his friends from school, or window shopping for many interesting, expensive, and totally impractical things in the shops and stalls that surrounded the town square. And of course, there had been the handful of times he and his band had managed to book an actual gig and play for an audience. Mostly just parties for school-mates, or impromptu band-battles, but a few times towards the end they'd managed to play nights at the Cider A-Go-Go (about the only club in town that catered to Iron Mare's kind of music.)
Iron Mare... they really must've been sampling some of his granddad's cider when they came up with that name. It probably sounded pretty profound at the time, Mac reckoned, rather than silly. The logo looked good on the bass drum, at least.
Big Mac had no real destination in his wandering, being content to enjoy a lovely day and exchange polite greetings with the towns-ponies, but when passing a nondescript storefront, a sound from within stopped him in his tracks. A familiar low, rhythmic thrum-ing bass guitar, playing a line that evoked a feeling of ponies galloping.
At least, that's what he'd been going for when he wrote it.
The sign above the shop door showed a stylized representation of a treble clef and a guitar, with the words THUNDERCLOUD MUSICAL *SALES* *SERVICE* *LESSONS* beneath it.
It could not have been a coincidence, and Big Macintosh decided he had to know more. He opened the door and found a small showroom filled with musical instruments and gear almost to the point of being impossible to navigate, even though the shop seemed devoid of customers.. Along with the more traditional orchestral woodwinds, brass, and strings were well-maintained displays of guitars, basses, drums, and keyboards. Whoever ran the shop was catering to an eclectic taste, indeed- rock music was a distinctly niche genre in Equestria. Taking care not to knock anything over, Macintosh turned a bend around a large double-bass drum-kit, following the sound of the loping bass guitar. The unseen player's time wasn't perfect, and they stumbled a bit over some of the changes, but the performance was still very solid and he could tell it was definitely what he'd written with the rest of Iron Mare, all those years ago.
Reaching a back corner of the store he saw a small gray pegasus colt, still without his cutie mark, completely oblivious to Macintosh's presence as he leaned intently over a bass guitar that was almost as big as he was. While he had mastered the trick difficult of balancing on two hooves to play the instrument (indeed, this physical demand was one of the reasons rock musicians were uncommon in Equestria,) his concentration on staying upright was compromising some of focus on playing. Still, it was a difficult bassline, and the colt was doing a credible job.
Big Mac waited a bit longer for the young pony to finish his practice, waiting for the last notes to finish ringing out of the amplifier before politely stamping his fore-hooves on the floor in applause. "Nice job, son. That there was some mighty fine playin'."
The colt nearly fell over out of shock. "OH! I-I didn't know anyone was listening to me!" he blurted out nervously.
"That's all right. I didn' want t' distract ya from your playin'," Macintosh said. "I know how it is when ya get focused on yer practice."
The pegasus colt set the bass carefully down on a nearby stand and flicked the off-switch on the amp with one small wing. "Yeah, I kinda lose track of things," he admitted. "Glad to hear someone likes this kind of music, though. My brother says it's totally an underground thing. Oh, my name's Rumble, by the way," he said, pushing a bit of unruly dark mane out from in front of his eyes.
"That really fits fer a bass-player," Mac noted with amusement. "Big Macintosh," he said, shaking the colt's tiny hoof with his huge one.
"Hey, I've heard of you! Your sister's one of the Elements, right? That's so cool!" Rumble said. "My brother talks about all the stuff they do, it's pretty awesome."
"Eeyup, it's somethin' else, just like yer bass-playin.'" Mac said. "That song y' were just playin', did yer brother show you that too?"
"Yeah! It's called 'The Trotter!' When my brother was younger, he was in a band, and they played it. They even got a few records put out, I mean, just underground stuff, but still, that's crazy awesome."
Mac's eyes went wide. "Wait jus' a minute... who's yer-"
"Big Mac! Is that you?" A voice came from a door behind the music shop's counter, leading to what presumably was the store's back room. A moment later a coal-black pegasus with a blue-white mane styled into an outrageous mohawk emerged, dragging out several road cases on a small cart. It was Thunderlane, an old school-foal friend of Mac's, and also former bassist for Iron Mare. "It is! Wow, Mac, I haven't seen you in years! How have you been?" he asked as he rushed around the counter to meet him. "Rumble, this is Mac, he was the guitarist in the band I was in when I was a kid."
Rumble looked back at him in amazement. "You were in Iron Mare?!"
"Eeyup, I played a little guitar," Mac said modestly.
"And wrote most of our songs," Thunderlane added. "And produced our records. And kept our rehearsal space in one of his family's barns. A pony of all trades. But now mostly apples from what I hear, and doing quite well at it." The pegasus clapped his old friend on the back with one hoof. "I really glad to hear things are going so good for you and AJ. I kept meaning to look you up when I got back to Ponyville last year, but stuff kept getting in the way."
Mac smiled. "That's alright, Thuds, I know how it gets, eeyup. But I thought ya were goin' back to Cloudsdale with yer family after the band broke up."
"I did," Thunderlane replied. "Let my folks talk me into trying to be a weather-pony. That.. didn't work out so well," he said ruefully. "I'm not the greatest flyer anyway, and I don't have a head for all that thermodynamics and meteorology stuff that they teach you for that. So I moved back about a year ago and opened this little shop." He ruffled his little brother's mane with one hoof. "The squirt here helps me out when he visits."
Mac nodded. "Business been good t' ya? Not many ponies are into th' kind of stuff we played, but I saw ya got a lot of other stuff in here."
"Yeah, orchestra stuff, of course. And some stuff for that crazy electronic music that's starting to get popular."
Rumble laughed impishly. "You just keep that around so Vinyl Scratch will shop here." The colt turned to Mac. "He's got it baaaaad!" he said, elbowing his brother in the ribs.
"Oh, be quiet," Thunderlane said, obviously embarrassed. "She's just a good customer, that's all."
"Yeah, whatever," Rumble said, obviously unconvinced.
Mac chuckled. "Wow, looks like we both could stand t' do some catchin' up."
Thunderlane nodded. "That'd be nice, actually. Did you keep up with any of the others from the band? I mean, after we all kinda drifted apart after Ace decided to back-stab us all-" he growled.
"Now, there ain' no reason t' be gettin' all ornery," Mac cautioned. "Ace had reasons fer what he did, I'm sure."
"Yeah, money before friends," Thunderlane responded. He shook his head. "Doesn't matter now, anyway. But like I was saying, hear anything about the others?"
"I heard Pokey sang in a few bands after we broke up," Mac said. "An' I think managed t' get kicked out of every one. He always was a bit too fond o' his cider, that one."
"Yeah, he was a funny dude, though." Thunderlane's face became curious. "How about... y'know..."
Mac knew exactly who his old friend was talking about. "She went t' Canterlot. Ain' heard from her since." Mac shrugged and turned to examine a rack of guitars on one wall, letting his mind drift.
"Maybe she wants to hear from you," Thunderlane ventured. "She really did like you, Mac. And mares do like to be chased just a bit."
Rumble nodded. "Hm, that's good to know, Thuds. Is that what you're doing with Vinyl Scratch? Or are you just looking for mane-care tips?"
"You be quiet, and you can't call me 'Thuds' until you're like, twenty." He turned back to Macintosh, "But.. anyway, you playing any these days? Maybe we could get together and just jam a bit? No bands or anything, because I know you're busy... just for fun."
"I ain' put hoof to strings since I had t' take over th' Acres," Mac said. "I just didn' have much time, or heart for it. Actually, m' lil' sis and I found m' old guitar in a storage shed where I'd put it years ago."
"The Pegaus V? That was a sweet guitar, y'know."
"Eeyup." He sighed. "Actually, I prob'ly should just sell th' thing, somepony could get some-"
Macintosh's words were cut off by the sound of the door flying open hard enough to slam into the wall next to it. "Hey yo, Thuds? Where are you?" came a gruff voice from the pony who'd just entered, A stocky cream-colored earth pony stallion with a brown mane and a rather ridiculous set of muttonchops and a handlebar moustache. It was a pony Macintosh recognize, and he felt his ears lay down flat on his head of their own accord from anger, though he said nothing.
Thunderlane sighed. "Back here, Ace," the pegasus said.
Ace stomped up to the counter, glaring at Thunderlane so intently that he seemed unaware of anypony else that might've been in the shop. "What's this I hear that my kit isn't going to be ready until Thursday?" he growled darkly.
"I haven't gotten all the bits back from the manufacturer," Thunderlane explained in a patient sort of voice. "They don't normally do maple shells, and we're talking about a seven-piece double bass drum setup here, you had to know this would take time."
"I paid you good Bits for that, I expected results," Ace said.
"Yes you did, and I told you it'd take time, you're just going to have to be patient."
"Colt O' War has rehearsals coming up for the battle of the bands. That contest is my ticket to a record contract, and out of this back end of nowhere. That kit better be ready" Ace leaned over the counter, staring the smaller pegasus pony down.
Macintosh had seen enough. "Ya should know Thunderlane well enough t' know he's as good as his word, Ace." the farm-pony said in a quiet voice. "Unlike some."
Ace's head snapped up to look at Mac. "Weeeelll, look who it is," Ace sneered. "How's it hanging, hayseed?"
"Been well," Mac said evenly. "Yerself?"
"Oh, just dandy," Ace said. "Still playing shows and selling out all the time. Heard you gave it up, went back up to that farm of yours."
"Didn' give up, just had stuff t' do."
"Right, sure," Ace said. "Probably for the best. Not every pony has what it takes for the big stage. That's what I'm shooting for, me and my band, I mean. Gonna slay 'em at the big battle coming up. You should come watch," he suggested. "After all, I suppose I couldn't be there without you."
Thunderlane looked at Ace as if he was a heartbeat away from bucking him in the jaw. "You mean, you couldn't have gotten there without the royalties and equipment you stole?"
"Stole? I stole nothing, I owned that gear, the receipts said so. I worked out the deal with the record label to supply you with that stuff, funded with my share of the songwriting credits from Ponyslave."
"Yeah, the label that shady cousin of yours owned," Thunderlane said. "That worked out real nice for you. C'mon, everypony knows you were too busy chasing mares to write anything."
"It doesn't matter what ponies think they know, just what's written on the papers." Ace's eyes narrowed. "Look, is this why I haven't gotten my kit yet? Are you trying to sabotage me? If that's so I'll-"
"Ace," Mac said in a calm voice. "Thunderlane wasn' ever anythin' but professional. He ain' tryin' t' cheat ya. I'm sure ya'll get what's yers."
That seemed to mollify the belligerent pony a bit. "Fine. Now if you'll excuse me, I have things to get ready. My agent wants to go over some things, so we'll be ready when the big day comes."
Mac cocked an eyebrow. "Don'cha think ya might be gettin' ahead o' herself?"
"Why? I've got the talent. It's meant to be. You were meant to be a farmer, I was meant to do this. It's why Iron Mare fell apart, no leadership, and not enough talent once I left. Just the way things work." He turned and waved a hoof. "Later."
After the door closed behind him, Thunderlane slammed a forehoof on the counter. "That jerk! He always does this! He's the only pony that gets under my skin like that!"
Macintosh took a deep breath. He'd held his own temper in check, but he understood Thunderlane's feelings. From the start, Ace had been a caustic element in their band, but it was simply so hard to find ponies that could play drums that weren't already in bands, there was little they could do but try to make it work. Unfortunately, that had also opened the door for him to double cross them. "What's this Battle o' th' Bands?"
"Oh, that," Thunderlane said. "It's kinda exactly what it sounds like. Anyone can enter, play for the judges, winner gets a record deal, pretty simple."
Macintosh wasn't a vindictive pony, but seeing Ace again after all the time that had passed, and hearing him all but admit to what he did had lit something within him. "Hey Thuds... you were talking about jamming again?"
"Well... yeah, but you didn't sound too down, a second ago."
"That was a second ago. Now I'm thinkin..." He reached up a hoof and plucked the low-E string on one of the guitars a the display rack, a bright red StallionCaster model. "... Now I'm thinkin' 'bout old times, I guess... Wonderin' if I still got it." Or if he ever hadit he admitted to himself. "Wonderin' if the band coulda been somethin.'"
Thunderlane's eyes were wide. "Are you saying..."
Macintosh smiled, just slightly. Suddenly, he felt just a bit like a colt again.