.play.until.your.fingers.bleed.

"Play until your fingers bleed."

That's what he'd told me. So I did. The metallic red leaked onto the copper coiled strings and down onto the fret board and neck. The final touches to a masterpiece. Blood, sweat, tears – all of them had breathed life into that little guitar, the one I'd found in a pawn shop for five dollars and a cigarette.

He said a lot of things, about music, about those "damn wannabes", about life. He painted a dark world with his words, a world you could never trust, not even for a moment – he was always talking. Sometimes he would go on about the old days, when leather jackets were a dime a dozen, and Led Zeppelin belted out 'Stairway to Heaven' while the rest of the world thought they were God. Music back then was all about drugs, sex, and rocking out, but mostly drugs and sex. The numbers usually varied depending on the amount of bottles he'd drained, but girls were abundant each night, and a dealer was at their beck and call without so much as a nod.

I was the next generation, or so he'd claimed. "Music runs through your veins, kid. You can't run from it even if you tried." I hadn't. There was no use to run from infallibility, from destiny. Sometimes it felt hopeless, like destiny was some humorous alleyway with a dead end, and I'd been the idiot to blindly walk there. His words always rang through my mind, reminding me, always reminding me: "You'll never be the best, kid. That's not why you play. You play because it's as much a part of you as blinkin' and breathin'. Music isn't supposed to be about popularity, it's just nice when people like what you play."

I'd never enjoyed those 'Top 40' "Hits". I'd never liked the radio, but he said that was because I was a "true musician". True musicians were anti-radio, anti-popular, and yet…what I didn't understand was how those "unique" beings became so wrapped up with that list, the egotistical politics that latched on and never seemed to let go. No matter how much you tried, you could never escape the need to be someone. What I'd learned was that musicians were only human, and humans demanded an ego-stroking. The more stroking, the more addicted one became. After awhile the musician was not a musician, but a machine, born out of music and pulled and teased and stroked into an organism meant for pushing out what "the people" wanted to hear. What did they want to hear?

They didn't know. He knew they were helpless, knew that no matter how many hits he cranked out the crowd would be thirsty for more, sucking him dry until all he could do was sit on his couch and reminisce to a half-talented kid and his piddly guitar. The man knew his stuff – he'd seen what I hoped to see.

The most important lesson he'd taught me was music. Just music. Nothing more, nothing less. Music wasn't about who you played with, what you played, where you were, or what language was spoken. Music wasn't about the producers, or the record companies, or how many fans you had, how many groupies you fucked, how many joints you smoked. Music was about your soul, music was pure, music was life.

"Play until your fingers bleed."

That's what he'd told me, just before he'd died.

So I did.

A/N: For all you musicians out there; you know who you are :)