Rock & Roll Graveyard (A 'SCREAMS!!!' HALLOWEEN CONTEST! Entry)
|I had my acoustic guitar slung over my back, making me the second luckiest of the band. The drummer, Jack, had the honor of the easiest climb with only a bass pedal and his sticks. The bass guitar is heavier than my six string. It was all relative, though, since Max was about 6’ 3” of solid muscle. That’s why he also packed a case of beer and some ice for the ratty old cooler we had stashed. Our front man would most likely drive up later. He’d have to get loose of his ol’ lady. I think all of us envied him to some degree. If he wasn’t sitting in air conditioning in his house, he was in his car. The rest of the band had to walk up to our hang out. It was an old Confederate cemetery no one visited, and it was on the southwest slope of the highest point in town. Being near the top, and with prevailing winds coming from the west, it often had a nice breeze. That was nice for me and Max, since we shared a stuffy room a couple blocks away.
“Remind me why I’m trudging up here again?" Jack asked.
"Because you live with two people, we live in shitville, and we’re loud" I responded.
"Why not Eric’s place?" We both stared at Jack, then we all laughed.
"Right." Max answered with a snort.
"Besides, Bill the caretaker seems to like our shit!" I added.
"Well, he never calls the cops, anyway." I said.
"I think he might be deaf." Max countered.
Jack grabbed his buckets from behind the maintenance shed. He was the youngest of us, and still had a little acne on his fair facial skin that was framed by long blonde hair. We all wore it that way. He arranged his "set" in front of a tall monument that had a ledge that served him well as a seat. It wasn’t practical to bring actual drums, but Jack could keep a nice bass beat with his pedal, and could do a fair bit of comping on the buckets. He’d carved them up with a utility knife to get the sounds he wanted. Max unzipped his bag, and we both slung our instruments. A few minutes later we were working on a tune for a gig we had the next weekend. We played the local bar scene, and it paid the rent, but it meant doing lots of covers. I thought myself a fair hand at writing music, and I knew Eric thought he was the king of lyrics. He was studying music and something else at Arkansas, which got us some real practice time a few hours a week. We had a half dozen originals and perhaps that many again in the works.
"Well, that’s always a fan favorite." I said as we finished playing.
"Want to do that one Eric finished last week?" Jack asked.
"Hold on, let me get a drink." I grabbed my cheap beer off the ledge of a statue.
"Well, hell, I need one." Max said and walked to the cooler.
I looked over at a headstone that intrigued me. "Who do you think she was?"
"No idea." Jack replied. "It sure don’t say much." All the marker had was a name and two dates.
"Had to have died in a battle somehow." Max was the only member of the band who'd grown up in the area. "Only way to get buried here."
"Maybe a field nurse?" I asked.
When I couldn’t sleep at night I’d walk up Rock Street, aptly named for us, and worked out some chords and riffs. At first I packed a 9mm, assuming rednecks would show up sooner or later, and be none too happy to see a long hair. Apparently, they had other engagements. That left me alone, and I always worked on a new pieces for part of the time, and usually when it was ready, I knew how to dedicate it. This one had me stumped.
"Hey, guys. Listen to what I’ve been working on." I started to play. "Think you can add some bass and beats?"
"Oh yeah!" They both started kicking in.
Both were curious when all the guitar work was done, and I explained. "I enjoyed coming up and composing late at night."
I explained about the headstone, and Max laughed, "Who’re you, Dickie Betts?"
"No no, he was writing about some girlfriend and just named the song after someone at Rose Hill."
"I guess it just inspires me. I know nothing about her, but she must be here for some reason."
"You are one strange dude." Max said
"I know it will look like an Allman Brothers ripoff, but if it’s instrumental, we can name it anything."
"In Memory of Margaret Landis?" Jack chuckled. It was the name on the marker.
"Woman we know shit about!" Max countered and laughed.
"I don’t care what it’s called, I’m just workin’ the licks. In fact, I’d been working it for months."
"What kind of lyrics you think Eric will put to it?" Jack asked.
"He won’t. If anyone writes for this, it’ll be me."
"Oh, he’s going to love that shit. You tell him yet?"
"The guitar work is damn good, man. Dickie would be proud."
"Thanks man. That's a solid compliment."
They all left ahead of me, and I decided to stay awhile. The air was cooling nicely, and I could strum my guitar with impunity. I looked at the grave while I composed, it was inspiring in a way. Late at night it was nice and dark. It helped me work. I hated the lights on stage, but it was part of the job. My solace was being in the graveyard alone. So, when I saw headlights pass the drive to my foul apartment, I knew the car coming up. It was Eric. He used a flashlight to get to our outdoor studio, then put it in my face.
"Back off, dick."
"Oh, sorry." He said without a hint of sorry.
"Why are you here at two in the morning?"
"Mandy is asleep, and I figure you have weed and booze."
"I do," and handed him a joint.
"And I hear you have a new set of dots, too."
"It’s not on paper, just something I’m trying out." I passed a pint of whiskey.
"Well," he said. "The sooner I have it, the sooner I can put words to it."
"I’m not sure I want words."
"What?" He turned to ice.
"It’s turning out to be an instrumental."
"So I’m cut out…"
"For one song? How is that cut out?"
"Figure it out." He stomped back to his car and left.
The music turned out to be awesome. Jack and Max laid down some tracks that made what I’d done come alive. I told them some names I had in mind, and we discussed them. They were unaware of how much time I spent up there alone. They also didn’t know how many nights I’d composed up in the cemetery, feeling a chill when it was 95 degrees. Or, the couple times I saw odd light around the grave out of the corner of my eye. It would be dismissed by my mates, and maybe rightly so.
"Have you finished the tombstone?" Max asked a couple weeks later.
"You know, the song about the woman on that one stone. You talked about it before."
"Well, yeah. It’s an instrumental. No way I could put any words to it." I sighed. "I can't find out anything about her."
"I asked around, no idea why she's here." Max said. "Like I said, they only buried the killed in action here, and women weren't invited to the party."
"Maybe she was a nurse or something." Jack finally spoke.
I paused. "Who knows?"
Eric showed up a few nights later. He was more animated and excited than usual, and it didn’t take very long for him to start talking, but he was always dramatic like that. We waited while he fished a cold one out of the icy water. Jack passed him a joint, and he toked it a couple times.
"Guys, this is really good news! Awesome news!"
"We just got the best gig on campus. For Halloween night!"
“Go on,” I said. “It’s party central, especially since it’s a Friday night.”
"Yeah well, how’s the Greek Theater sound, smart ass?"
"Sounds great! Good exposure. Who’re we opening for?"
"That’s the thing, were not." We all looked up.
"What?" Three of us said almost together.
"We’re the headline, man. Another local is opening for us!"
"Did you know the Greek Theater sat 6,000 once?" Max said out of the blue.
"That’s how they tell it. Back during WWII."
We pondered that while Eric babbled on a bit more. We knew the instrument work mostly went on here, and he, according to witnesses, loaded our tracks and sang in front of a mirror. His vocals were decent, and he had a good stage presence, but it would never be enough to make it big. I’m not sure any of us would. There are thousands of bands just like us, and everyone knows only a few make it. His biggest asset was his connections, and he’d come through. This was more that a bar engagement, and we all knew it. We asked Eric to stay and rehearse with us, but he had things to do, and would join us at the real rehearsals.
The next two weeks were almost nothing but sleeping and playing. Eric had actually worked some magic at the U of A, and we spent a good deal of the time in a music room. He was right in one regard, everything sounded better when we were plugged in and Jack was behind a real drum set. We even did the new instrumental a couple times, and it really sounded terrific. Our lead singer even gave some grudging respect. In fact, while we put together the set list for the concert, it was added in.
“Okay, what’s the title?” Eric asked.
“Good question, I haven’t really figured that out yet.”
“Hadn’t you better? The show is tomorrow night.”
“Just add it as ‘Untitled.’ It’s got to come to me.” I said, even though I’d wrestled with if for weeks.
It was a bit of a chilly night for the Ozarks, but perfect for an outdoor show. There was nothing worse than baking on a hot stage. We’d finished tuning up, and Robbie the Roadie was making sound adjustments. The sorority throwing the party had gotten a light man and done the decorations. We were ready to go, but we were nervous, and trying to relax before a big show is difficult. Our opener also had to prepare, so we were headed off stage. Robbie was taping down our set list to the stage, and I glanced at it. Untitled was scratched out.
“What the… Eric!” I yelled.
“What? Keep your voice down, people are arriving.”
“Let ‘em. And explain this!”
“You said you’d title it,” He shrugged. “You didn’t.”
“So damn what?” I was hot.
“No one leaves their music without a title.”
“Oh, like Led Zep?” I snorted. “If you knew anything about music, you’d know the fourth album is untitled!
“That’s true,” Max added.
“Besides, this has zero to do with that, if you don’t want to be “cut out,” learn keyboards, asshole!”
I stormed off, but instead of going backstage, I walked around a bit. If I didn’t burn off some of the hatred I was feeling, I’d never be able to play. We had a pretty strict “no drinking” rule before concerts, but when a random guy with a flask offered, I took a couple slugs. I wasn’t exactly hiding, but I needed some space. The other band was just about to start, and I sat where there was a view of the stage and watched. They were probably three-quarters through when Max walked up.
“There y’are. We’ve been kinda lookin’ for you.” His accent was always thicker when he was stressed.
“Well, now you found me.” I replied sourly.
“We goin’ on in twenty,” He said as quietly as he could with the music up. “You playin’, right?”
I sighed. “I don’t want to, Max. But I can’t let you and Jack down.”
“I was hopin’ that’d be the case. C’mon.” He grabbed my arm and tugged me along.
We passed security and headed up the back ramp. “Well, look who’s back.” Eric said smiling.
“Shut your piehole, son, or you’ll be singing without some teeth.”
He backed off, and I found a pillar to lean against while they wandered around. The other band, Apex, came off, and they dropped the lights. We wouldn't start for another ten minutes, but I went out in the darkness the stage afforded and picked up my axe. It wasn’t plugged in yet, so I could play it quietly while I waited. The others came out a bit later for their last checks. We got set to go, they brought the lights, and Jack tapped his sticks and counted to set the beat. It actually turned out to be a great show. I’d never played angry before, but it sure worked out. Of course, it’s damn hard to stay pissed when you put out that much energy. Then just like that, we we’re all done except for an encore, which Eric announced like he was a big time rock star. We headed back stage to rest a couple minutes and get some water.
For a green room, it wasn’t much. A couch, a couple chairs, and a table that held the items we’d asked for in our rider. Some water and juice, along with a few snacks, but no one was hungry. My three band mates took the couch, while I sat facing them in one of the chairs. Randy, as his usual odd self, hopped up and sat on the table. I just gave Eric a death stare, and everyone was silent for awhile.
Jack spoke first, “Well, I thought that went great!”
“Yeah, it wasn’t 6,000 people though.” Max said. Randy laughed, not even understanding the joke.
I turned and looked at the clock. “About five minutes and one more song.” I let out a deep sigh. I figured after that, our band was done for good.
When I turned back to them, they were all white as sheets, and Jack had his mouth agape. Max made a very slight pointing gesture. I spun around, and not ten feet from me was a Confederate soldier in full battle uniform.
“What the…” I started, but such a chill went through me, and I couldn’t finish.
“What are y’all staring at?” Apparently, Randy couldn’t see him. No, he couldn’t see her. It had to be a woman, but you could hardly tell.
We were frozen, but she glided over to our roadie and touched his arm. “Play my song.”
It was Randy’s mouth moving, but it sure wasn’t his voice. “Play… my… song.” Then just like that, she was gone.
Max spoke first, “You think we should play it?”
“Did that just happen?!” Jack was still bug eyed. “And hell yes, we play it!” Eric nodded, too.
We headed back on stage a little shaken. Eric asked, “Should we still leave it untitled?”
“No, I’ve got the name…” Then I whispered in his ear.
Eric got to the mic. “We’re going to do one last song, a new instrumental written by our picker, Jon.”
He looked over at me, smiled, and finished, “It’s called One Soldier’s Secret.”
Jake tapped out the time, and then we rocked that place. Even Eric was dancing around the stage enjoying himself, ever the showman. The crowd may have wondered why we kept looking stage left, because they couldn't see the woman who had appeared once more to hear her song. Max played his way over to me and shouted, “Dig it, man! Our first groupie is a ghost!” As we finished the last of it, she put her hands over her chest, smiled, and was gone. But, I had a funny feeling we just might see her again.