It’s only Rock and Roll, but I like it.
I woke up this morning with a burning desire to write another post. It was a consuming need and felt like the fate of the world depended on it. The world waited until after coffee. Then I sat down and wrote a long and deeply personal post. I revealed a lot about who I am and I mused on deeply personal feelings and demons that I wrestle daily. I delved into worries and fears that even those closest to me are unaware. In some way it was cathartic writing it all down, ready to share it with whomever decided to read it. But then I highlighted it all and hit the delete button.
I still feel kind of like a dick for erasing it. Even more so for giving into my weaknesses by cramming it all back into its box and locking it up. As I write this, I’ve got my headphones on and set to shuffle. It brought up Queens of the Stone Age’s Fairweather Friends and it washes away a little of this feeling. (Not because of any fairweather friends, but because its just a great song) With it is a reminder that music is one of the things that I feel so passionately about. One of the most important pieces of myself. It’s also my drug. It’s the heroin I take to hide from having to deal with the really hard stuff. It washes over me like a wave of euphoria, my speakers are a needle in the arm. The guitar/bass/drums/vocals are my boyfriend or girlfriend for those amazing minutes. A riff is an orgasm, a drum fill is foreplay, a tasty bass line is beautiful afterglow. I can feel this immaculate gorgeousness instead.
But then there is the brutal reminder. Shuffle just popped up Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt. Don’t get me wrong, the Nine Inch Nails original is still an emotional powerhouse. But then Johnny’s bare guitar and shaking vocals start and just rip all that shit out I ignore out. The song is physically painful in its beauty. I literally can’t listen to it in public because it leaves me in tatters. It makes me have to deal with my bullshit.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve cried on the shoulder of a guitar solo more than once.
That’s the essence of music though. It gives us a more physical texture to our emotions. Because of this I try hard not to be a musical snob. Who am I to say what a person feels or doesn’t feel to even the most trite of pop tunes. Though the popularity of certain songs makes me wonder if some people are really as shallow as they appear. I suppose it can be argued that all music is honest and it’s how you listen to it, but I’m enough of a musician to know that’s bullshit. Some of it is just repolished and repackaged turds.
In this spirit, I present the below. I submitted this story to a contest (it didn’t win). I think it could still use a little work, but I’m posting it anyway. Back when I was playing bass and taking names, I used to say that if you were to cut me I would bleed rock and roll. I said it because it was witty, but there is truth in it. In those flying guitars and thunderous rhythms are pieces of me. Balls out, raw and gritty, unflinching rawk was my inspiration for this story. As well as the freedom, honesty, and essences of life it contains. Enjoy.
Rock and Roll
“Why are you so sad all the time, Will?” Sherry asked him. Her bright blue eyes held a caring and concern that normally would soothe him. But this time they couldn’t, her wholesome and safe care was not enough. She couldn’t give him what he wanted; only what she thought he needed. There was a purity to her that tasted like homegrown Jesus and lip gloss. He cared for her and they had been making teenage plans for themselves pending adulthood. Instead of hopeful anticipation it grew a despondency in him; a listless and fidgety energy that left him sullen and short with those around him. The dry and unusually oppressive summer, was slowly turning to fall, only sense of relief that could be found. But as Sherry followed him down the faded grey asphalt road he looked around and realized that even the fall wouldn’t be an adequate balm. Brown dirt, brown weeds, brown buildings, even the blue sky had brown eyes. Fall would come on drab, leading to a bleaker winter.
He made an involuntary sound at the back of his throat. If I’m still here in the winter, I might just go crazy, he thought, and I would embrace the insanity. Sherry gave him a concerned look, as if able to read his mind, but he didn’t acknowledge it. Whatever troubled him wouldn’t allow him to face her. As if he had a devil inside that winced away from her innocent light. A mile or so ahead was town, such that it was. It was no more than a few criss-crossing streets where everybody knows your family, your name, and your business. Old trucks and out of date sedans that never went anywhere drooped in front of red brick buildings. They just moved the same abbreviated routes and would for time immemorial, like in a time loop. The same people doing the same things until the universe itself finally just gives up on them.
“Do you ever want to just leave?” he asked so abruptly and suddenly, Sherry looked a little scared.
“Sure, someday,” she started tentatively. “I want to see things; visit the city.”
“I mean right now. What if we take this road and just keep going. Just keep walking until this is all too far behind us to come back. Never stop.” he said pointed forward past the road that eventually dipped out of sight.
“You mean never come back?”
“Yeah, just go. Don’t look back and see what the rest of the world looks like. We can go visit a hundred cities.”
“Our family and friends are here. I just want to visit places, but this is home. It’s safe here.” She said earnestly.
“To hell with safe,” he blurted out. Anger was rising in him, but it wasn’t directed at her, it was nameless and detached.
“You should see Reverend Parker.” Her voice betrayed her fear. She had never seen him like this. They lived in the cusp of transition, not quite adults but too far beyond children. All friends and lovers held the faceless fear of their companions growing in a different direction than themselves. This is what made her so uneasy; if he outgrew their home he outgrew her as well.
“I don’t think one of his trite monotone homilies is what I need.” he tried not to sound bitter as they continued down the lonely road. It didn’t matter how far he walked, it was always just a circle. All roads led back here. Sherry lagged behind, unable to match his pace.
“You aren’t thinking of running away, are you Will?” she asked quietly, catching up with him in front of a feed store.
“No,” he answered hiding the sound of defeat. He felt his youth wasting away at that simple word. It was a lie. He had thought about it but didn’t have a direction to run to. Or the balls. This little hick town had instilled a failsafe in its population. It whispered how scary the real world was and to venture too far into it would swallow you up. Some left and they were never seen again, validating that fear. Others left and came back; praising just how much better it was to be back home. They had made it as far as the corner drug store as the evening sun was settling in to release its lasts bursts of incredible light before giving up until another day. A breeze lazily drifted by them, playing with a bright yellow paper. He grabbed it and studied it.
“What’s that?” she asked peering over his shoulder. The over Xeroxed picture was almost a black blob. They strained to make out four yellow and black figures standing in determined poses. They held their guitars as weapons, their sneers were shields. His heart took an extra beat, they looked menacing, dangerous, but more importantly, they looked like freedom. A sloppy hand-drawn logo held a name of dark promise; King Blowtorch. Will looked up the sleepy road and saw a strange vehicle parked out at Millar’s barn.
Millar’s barn was where every dance, ho-down, and revival happened. Saturday night could be a night of swinging dance and old Millar’s expert banjo, and then Sunday morning it was the Evangelist from the next county selling Jesus’ love like snake oil. Without a second thought, he walked towards it. His only care now was to find the origin of this flier and the devil’s promise that it held.
“I’m going home,” Sherry said, a little scared. “Are you going to walk with me?”
“Yeah sure,” he mumbled not really hearing her and not changing direction. Silently she disappeared. The setting sun was blinding as he approached the dusty barn where a road-weary van rested surrounded by dead grass and powdery dirt. A squat hairy man emerged, his arms full of coiled cables. He wore a sleeveless shirt and torn jeans. The curious teenager saw the tattoos on his bare arms, a riot of writhing ink and color. The painted figures were such a stark contrast to the drab surroundings and he wondered if the man was there at all. The man gave him a cursory glance as he passed. All Will could do was hold out the flyer to him.
“Show starts in an hour. It’s going to get loud around her.” His scraggly beard opened to reveal a toothy grin. “Rock and roll, man.” he said as way of explanation and went back to his work. Dazed, Will turned around and plopped down against a nearby telephone pole.
Rock and roll! The raggedy man confirmed what the flyer promised; Rock and Roll! “Will watched the procession of instruments parade from the cramped van. His excitement built as the large kick drum appeared. The same name in the same lettering as the cheap handbill was emblazoned across it.
“So what is it?” Sherry said, making him jump. He hadn’t heard her approach. She wore a look of determination that told him she was going to go along with his foolishness, if only to make sure he didn’t get into too much trouble.
“Rock and Roll,” he told her and held up the yellow flyer that he had yet to let go of. “They should be starting soon.”
As if others had heard him, people started to show up. They parked their rusty cars and hand-me-down pick-ups in the dead field next to the barn. They tentatively disappeared inside. Random hits of the drums and an occasional jangling cord slipped out. Finally they followed, Sherry a step behind. The curious locals, mainly kids he went to school with, were milling about and laughing amongst themselves. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they had no idea what no one here knew what they were in for. The small wooden stage held the vision of anticipation, stacks of speakers, some battered and scarred guitars, and a wounded looking drum kit. After a few minutes the same squat man stepped up to the stage and tapped the microphone.
“Testing! 1…2…3!” His voice echoed and raised dust.
“Too loud.” said a future homecoming king. The man looked him dead in the eye and gave him that same toothy grin; only this time it was something more menacing about it.
“If you want to go home, it’s okay.” he said to the wholesome girl clinging to the boy. “It’s your last chance to get out while you can.” She shook her head and squeezed her boyfriend’s hand..
Then they appeared. Black boots and torn Converses led them to their instruments. The band was a mess of black and badly dyed hair, their t-shirts stretched and worn with names and faces no one recognized. They slung on and wore their instruments as if they were a part of their bodies. Nothing so pedestrian as an arm, maybe their heart, or their soul. For a brief moment they all looked at each other and something unspoken and powerful was communicated between them. Nothing was said, but Will could feel it. Before him was a troupe of devils about to fulfill a promise of sweet hell. The muddy blonde singer and the guitarist were skinny, covered in road and ink. The bassist loomed on the stage like a scary sentinel. The squat hairy man took up sticks and sat behind the drums.
Sherry clung to him, but she had already been forgotten.
The singer brandished her pick and looked him straight in the eye, daring him. She raked the pick across the strings and his entire being filled with The Sound. The world went deaf at that moment and he died. He was in limbo, he was an amoeba and formless. Then she did it again, changing chords allowed him to be reborn. Reborn into the world naked and screaming, but this time he was born a god instead of as the smitten.
The band screamed and howled; jumped and gyrated. Carelessly instruments swung around, broken drumsticks came at the audience like shrapnel while the sound assaulted. Song after song; notes and chords and beats wrapped him up and spit him out only to chew him up again. These dark wizards threw their entire bodies and souls into the music; deft finger flew across the neck of their guitars producing progressions of sound he didn’t know were possible. His heartbeat was replaced with the bass drum and feared if it ever stopped then he might die. The excitement of that idea spurred him on as he clung on to the driving beat. He yelled until his voice was raw to lyrics he didn’t even know. It was a demon’s lullaby being blasted out and he was gladly standing at the gates of hell.
He wanted to weep from rage and joy from the noise that smelled like sex and felt like redemption. It lit the soul on fire as he began to outgrow his skin. The already miniscule crowd had shrunk to just a brave few, trying to withstand the onslaught a little longer. For their reward they received evil sneers. The music was a dare, the crunching guitars and the punishing bass lines were a warning to those who valued their purity. But the opposite was happening to him, he felt pure for the first time. In the blanket of fuzz and volume he felt like he was home. This was what sex felt like without ever touching another human being. Time didn’t belong here so there was no need to keep track of it. He had no idea when Sherry had left his side. Her virtue and innocence would have never lasted long here.
While the band threw themselves around the stage, sweet sweat and raw emotion clung to every surface. Will clung to the front of it soaking in every decibel until the last note rang out and a muted silence brought back the rest of the world. He was disappointed, like a junkie he desperately wanted more. He feared he would be nothing but a walking husk without it. Ears rang and head ached but his mind never seemed so clear. The drummer stood up and winked at him. “Looks like you’re the only one we couldn’t scare off.” Turning he saw no one else. The others had run and hidden from a power they never would be able to understand.
Unceremoniously, they began gathering their equipment and rolling cords. All he could do was stand there stupidly. Fear rooted him to the spot because he couldn’t let them go, not now. Not after all that they have done to him, the newfound awareness they gave him, they owed him that much.
“Do you need a hand?” he finally asked the scary looking bassist.
“Sure,” he said and pointed at the tall cabinet that had been the transmitter of jarring low end. Eagerly he went to lift it to find it heavy from the weight of its dark quintessence. The bassists laughed and came over to help carry it into the tired looking van. Piece by piece he helped put their equipment inside and each one was both exhilarating and depressing. Once the last instrument was tucked away his saviors would leave and all he would have is the same loss as before.
Once the barn was empty of everything but the memory of sound, he heard the van door slam with aching finality. “Thanks for sticking around until the end.” The guitarist said from behind the wheel.
“Yeah, thanks for….everything.” There wasn’t anything else he could say, they had given him the last part of himself to finally feel complete and they were going to drive off and take it away. “I have never heard anything like that in my life and I want to spend the rest of his life hearing nothing but that. If I were to fall down dead right now, I wouldn’t mind. Rock and Roll would bring me back.” The sudden raw honesty burst from his lips and left him shaking. The singer gave him an appraising look that revealed nothing. “Take me with you,” he pleaded. When she didn’t say anything, he turned on his heel and walked away feeling ashamed. Red faced, he pointed myself in the last direction he wanted to go; back.
Will made it as far as the corner before the rumbling van pulled up beside him. The side door slid open and drummer called out, “Well, come on.” Without a second thought he fell into the cramped interior. “You need to stop at home for anything?”
“No. I am home.”
Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, it can’t rock unless it rolls.