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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Music · #648329
The failure of a rock group and the making of a star...

Canned Mushrooms

         The drummer sprained his wrist. He walked off shaking his head and moaning. The guitarist plucked too hard, and a string snapped with a loud twang.

         Can’t say that was any worse than the noise coming out of the lead singer’s voice. His voice was worse than the screech of a steel rasp sliding against an old piece of aluminum piping.

         The band suddenly announced that it was shutting down for the night. I felt like cheering.

         Canned Mushrooms, they called themselves. Well, as far as I was concerned, their mushrooms had botulism.

         So why was I hanging around in a cheap bar, waiting to hear how many times Canned Mushrooms could go flat in the same song? Ask my boss. He was the father of one of the singers, and I was scheduled to follow the kid's band for the next couple of weeks . . .

         Rick, sprouting a beard that looked like cat whiskers, was the band member I was supposed to be writing about. I was impressed with him. He was the only one of the kids who had any chance at a singing career. I'd heard him practice, and he sang like a minstrel. But the others weren't giving him a chance. They were dismantling their equipment right with the kid on stage attempting to sing his only number.

         I bit down on my slice of lemon and sucked on it. Then I looked around the smoke-filled bar. For the first time that night, heads had turned. People had stopped talking and were listening.

         I knew why. The boss' kid had real talent. Up on that stage for his first solo, he'd come alive. He was draining all sound from the room with the sweetness of his voice, soaking up the drinkers' attention like he a moistened sponge. His voice held the entire room.

         I took a sip of my bourbon and put it down on the table before the ice jiggled. The kid’s voice was sending shivers up my spine, but my teeth were gritting on foul lyrics. Where in Hell had he gotten that rubbish?

         There are two kinds of arrows
         The kind that’s in my shin
         And the kind that’s in my marrow
         Where I’d have a fin
         If I’d been a fish.

         There are two kinds of love
         As if you didn’t know
         The kind like turtle doves
         That go coo and coo
         And the ones that make you blow.

         You’re the love I never had
         And now I never will
         For you were bad, bad, bad
         And one day you’ll pay the bill
         For being so terribly mean.

         The audience and I knew the song was appallingly bad, and yet we stomped our feet, clapped our hands, and whooped like howling monkeys.

         The other band members had finished packing up their stuff and were standing in the spotlight, blinking as if the whole idea of applause was more than they could fathom.

         And the kid? He looked like he'd gone into shock, clinging to his wooden guitar with a flood of tears streaming down his face. It didn’t matter that the music had stopped or that Rick didn’t know what to do; the audience was still spellbound.

         “Sing another,” I called out and sat down, amazed that I’d said anything. I hadn’t meant to, but the kid’s tears were killing me. Anything would be better than him standing there bawling in front of us.

         Somehow my voice activated the kid. Rick shot a glance in my direction, wiped at his tears, and strung a couple of chords while his fingers tuned the instrument. Then his voice hummed an opening chord. The crowd took on the silence of a school building on Saturday. Nobody picked up a glass; nobody moved.

         “This is one that Gary just finished,” Rick said hesitantly. “Is it okay if I play it, Gary?”

         The drummer, a tattooed black-leathered biker-type looked pleased. He nodded. The lead singer socked him in the arm. Fungus, they called him because of his deep, hoarse voice. I thought the name matched the guy's greasy, green hair perfectly.

         Up on stage Rick began:

         We been blue for many a day
         ‘Cause there’s been no clue...
         It can’t go on this way
         ‘Cause you’re gone. Boo hoo.

         You should’a felt something
         Some kind of little ping.
         Us doin’ all the cookin’ alone,
         Eatin’ only old corn pone.
         Without you being here,
         I’m almost down to tears
         Remembering how you use ta’
         Swish that skirt around,
         Pouring out a slug
         Of coffee in our mugs. (Refrain)

         Ain’t no fair you being gone.
         We’s just having fun.
         When we called you a mean ol’ cat,
         And when we said you’s fat.

         Herbert has to sweep the floor.
         I have to clean the sink.
         The apron just up and tore.
         It’s driving me to drink.

         Can’t think why you left
         ‘Cause now we have no chef.
         We all been missing you,
         And we’re feeling kind of blue.

         Darned if the kid didn’t work his magic again! But once again, by the time he'd finished, his eyes were leaking worse that a sinking ship. Again I started up the applause. Rick blinked a couple of times -- like it surprised him the audience was still there. Then he fainted!

         I sprang up to get him, but so did the whole first row. One of them just happened to be the son of someone who knew a recording studio, and that led to someone who knew someone who . . . You get the picture. Little Rick became a star that night.

         Today, wherever Rick sings, the girls eat him up. He still plays those terribly corny songs, and then he cries. The young girls swoon when the tears come, same as they did for Elvis when he did the pelvis moves decades before, and according to the trade magazines every concert Rick plays is sold out!

         Canned Mushrooms folded after that night. Gary went to Hollywood with Rick. Fungus -- I hope the kid washed his hair until all the green came out. The other band members are probably bussing tables or doing factory work. And me, I went back to the Hoover Chronicle . Then I wrote my story.

         Occasionally I go bar-hopping now. I try to catch the new bands the first time they get up on stage. There’s a kind of unexplainable conjuring that happens in that production. The lights go low, the band tunes up, and then the spotlight comes on. Sometimes bands freeze up and nothing comes out. Other times bands are just okay. And sometimes, they’re not half bad.

         But when the lights come on, and you get a feeling in your stomach, like something special might occur, the hope, like it's some kind of barometer or something rises up inside you, and you lose your breath until the band's played that first verse.

         Yep, it's true I hit the booze pretty hard most days because nothing ever comes of it, but I figure, if that miracle happened once . . .

         So I keep coming round. I order a Bourbon, and I sit, clinking the ice round and round. Oh, and I listen and hope for the magic. One day I'm sure it's gonna happen again. That day I'll get to see it all over again -- that moment when the stage gives birth and another star begins to glow.



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