..:: CONTENTS ::..

..:: POETRY ::..
Charles Bernstein
  The Bricklayer's Arms
kari edwards
  from: obedience
David Harrison Horton
  Articles of Favorable Treatment (February 1912)
Mark Kanak
  derating curves 
  support bearing 
  paunsdorf, the six or the eight 
Friedrich Kerksieck
  Fifteen ways of water: 
Yung Seoul Kim
  Midnight Jade 
  On Asian Pears
Sundin Richards
  A Rooster In The Garden
  Looting Mary-Celeste 
  Hillbilly Dictionary 
  The Ruination Of My Right Arm   
Jeremy James Thompson
  Febrifuge & Foxtrot 
  PEEPERS (lick the candy mirror) 
  Beloved: Refrain\ you are a reel of film 
  Schmaltz Routines 
  Wearing the antique guile hat 
  Moon Shine (V/T)arnish

..:: PROSE ::..
Adam Benforado
Martha Clarkson
Todd Scott Moffett

..:: ART ::..
Wes Tilson
  Cycling Mandalas

..:: REVIEWS ::..
J. Mara Goldberg
  Lyn Hejinian, The Fatalist 
Chad Lietz
  Claudia Keelan, The Devotion Field 
J.D. Mitchell
   Stephen Ratcliffe, Portraits & Repetition

..:: ETC ::..
  Contributor's Notes

..:: ARCHIVES ::..
  Volume I, Issue I
  Volume I, Issue II


Todd Scott Moffett


     The first time he came into my store he must have been eight, a little guy, not even as tall as the racks. I had no other customers, so I put down my Rolling Stone and watched him step away from his mother -- she stood just inside the door, clutching her purse to her chest. The store had barely eight hundred square feet. Two racks of records on the floor and one against each side wall. Posters of rock bands over the bins. Nothing special. But he walked inside as if into a cathedral, the air going still around him, his sneakers making absolutely no sound on the carpet. As I said, he was a little guy, his arms and legs like drumsticks poking out of his T-shirt and jeans. But immediately I knew he was different from any other kid.
     I've said all that before, in the other interview I gave way back when, the one the LA Times printed. But they never went beyond that, focused only on the Local-Boy-Makes-Good angle and didn't want the truth. Maybe you'll listen to me this time. Maybe you'll hear what I have to say about the kid and know why he was so special. Are you listening? You want me to go on? All right, then. Let me go back to that first day at the store.
     You really had to be there to see him in action. He held his hands before him, chest high, as if holding a box. And as he walked by the racks, he looked at the records -- through the records. His eyes got big and then they filled with a light as clear and as dense as water. As he passed a record, that light filled with music. Even from my nook in back I could see staff lines and notes and chords shimmering in it. Then I could hear the music myself -- faintly, as if he were wearing those Walkman headphones though this was years before Walkmans -- but clearly, very clearly, not like the muffled noise that would come from a Walkman, but as if each musician had come alive in his head and was playing again in the studio where the music had been recorded. Part after part, song after song built in his head until all the songs flowed together into one melody. Not rock, not jazz, I couldn't place the melody and never have in all these years since, when I remember that day.
     In time with that melody, he walked around and around the store, circling the racks in a sideways figure eight, and with each pass, his eyes found another record, found dozens at once, and filled with that music, filled with colors and shapes and scents and tastes and God knows what else, as if he were turning that music into something solid and drinking it in. And the music I heard swelled with more notes, the melody widening past the breath of a symphony, harmonies breaking and reforming like Legos, guitars and basses and drums and pianos and trumpets and synths and all the instruments playing far more complexly than any human could force them to play, in higher ranges, to lower depths. Blood rose in his skin, from his hands, up his arms, up his neck, into his face; his skin flushed crimson, almost violet, as if the blood were about to burst free. Then his hands shook like they would fly off through the wall. I got worried he'd hurt himself, shatter his fingers on the records. When the crimson filled his face completely, he stopped by a bin, reached with both hands -- I jumped off my stool, but nothing happened. As calm as could be, he pulled out a record: Cream. Clapton and Bruce.
     The music in his eyes focused into a single stream of notes. He was listening to that record, colors and shapes and notes spinning in that clear light -- you know how dead leaves swirl in the eddy of a big river? That's the way those shapes danced. And I could hear the music on that record more clearly than I had ever heard it before. No crackles, pops, or distortions. Like it's in my head, perfectly preserved. You think you've heard "Sunshine of Your Love"? No. You've never heard it. Not like I heard it that moment. Those guys sounded better than they could ever sound themselves. I've never heard it like that again, either, not in the hundreds of times I've played that track, vinyl or CD. Clapton's vocals crooning through the verses, howling through the chorus, Bruce's bass forming the tonics of all the chord progressions, building with Clapton's guitar. The kid was infusing their music, infusing them, with the awesome sound he knew lay in that song. He was just bringing it to the surface in a way they could not.
     Then he turned toward me.
     You know, when I was that age, during the Korean War, I saw a woman in church one Sunday -- my folks brought me and my brothers to services every week, and one day this woman I'd never seen took the pew across the aisle from ours. Not a lot of churchgoers that Sunday, the pews outnumbering the people. The organ was playing "And If Those Feet" before the preacher came out. She knelt on the bench, hands together. I don't know how old she was, thirties maybe. She wore a burgundy calf-length dress and matching flats, a coin purse dangling from her elbow, a white hat perched on her head. She was crying, white gloved hands wiping away tears. But when the organ came to the end of the hymn, she looked up, and her face held a rapture I didn't understand until I was older: it was as if God had come to her while the music was playing. Her face bright with light coming from somewhere else. I stared at her and my own heart burned, my own eyes ached to cry. When the preacher came to the pulpit and told us to rise, I stood with the others and then turned to look at the woman again, but she had gone. I told myself then that I was going to create music that made people cry like that woman had cried -- knew my future lay with music. I don't know how I knew, but I knew. Funny how things turn out, isn't it?
     When this kid turned to me from the rack, my heart and eyes burned again, just like with the woman, but a hundred times hotter. He grew with every step as he walked up to me, his eyes spilling that music. It wasn't just Cream anymore. He was hearing through it, making it grow with his lights and shapes and smells, transforming it into some unearthly strain of music. Like he could not only hear each note but hear the fingers and the picks and the strings and the keys and the lifeforces of the men playing the music. I could hear it, too, actually hear Clapton's fingers pluck the strings, hear Bruce breathe in the moment before he tore through the final major chord that lifted the sunlight out of the song. When the kid stopped at my counter, he was still this little kid but he was ten feet tall now, filled with that music. I stared up at him, I swear, and my bones ached, as if he was about to turn up the sound on the music I was hearing and shatter me to bits. He looked at me like that woman looked before the preacher stepped out, and I knew what he was thinking. Like with the woman in the church, I don't know how I knew. I just knew. The kid thought I was God, that I was the only one who could give him what he wanted. He was bringing the record to me like an offering in hopes I could give him more.
     His mother had stepped up to the counter with him. She wasn't anything special. A small, bony woman with bulging eyes, wearing these crinkled bell bottoms and a tie-dyed blouse. Huaraches with broken straps. Patches on her knees. As drab and as ordinary as anything could be next to that kid. She fiddled with her cracked leather purse and pulled out a tiny wad of bills wrapped with a rubber band.
     "On me," I said.
     She looked up at me, through me, like the kid. "Why?"
     "Lady," I said, "There's no way I can take your money. Money can't pay for what this music is giving this kid."
     She nodded, smiling, sort of, like she was torn between saying thank you or trying to say something more, and put her arm around the kid's shoulders. When they left the store, the music fading, the shapes in the kid's eyes vanishing, a great big breath of air rushed out of me. The store was emptier than before. Like it was a stage with saxophones and trombones and clarinets draped on chairs and stands, the musicians gone.
     After that, he visited two or three times a month. Each time he'd go through the same ritual, weaving through the racks, his hands out. Then his hands would shake like a tuning fork and he'd lift another record from a bin. Always just one record. A strange mix of stuff, too. Sometimes classical -- he liked the Russians, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev -- sometimes jazz -- Benny Goodman or Weather Report -- but mostly rock, Led Zep, Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, Bad Company. Everything across the board. And he always picked a great record. I mean sometimes, he'd pick an older record, one everyone knew was a classic, like he was filling in stuff that came out before he was old enough to hear it. But a lot of times he'd come to the store the first day I had something new, and that record would turn out to be the best one of the year, or the best in several years, or the best the band ever produced. That was wild, man. I remember the day Led Zep's sixth album came out, the one with "Kashmir" on it. I'd barely broken open the first crate when he stepped into the store and marched right into the storeroom with those hands shaking. He picked the first one out of the crate, and the music swirled through the air around him, Page's guitars in perfect time with Bonham's drums, Plant's vocals so seductive that I -- well, I won't go further.
     Except for that one time, he did his same routine over and over again, circled the racks the same way, the same number of times, eight passes. As he came to the register, holding his record out to me, he'd look at me with those eyes, and I'd see that deep bright music and the question behind them, asking me for whatever more I had to give him. I'd hear that music, one song on each album played more perfectly than human hands and minds could fashion it, like God was channeling it through him to tell us how it should have been played. His mom stood in the same place by the door until he walked to the register. She would offer to pay, and I would turn her down. I wondered later if the routines connected him to this world, if he really had connections. In all that time I had the shop I never moved the racks, never remodeled, never touched anything that would make the kid feel out of place. Even when Brisby came down on me. But I'll get to that.
     After a few months of his visits, I started testing him, brought down some of my own favorite records: stuff by Van Morrison, Derek & the Dominos, Hendrix, Santana. I hid the records in the store to see if he'd find them. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't. When other customers watched him go through his routine, their eyes would get just as big as his. I always wondered if they heard his music the same way I did. Or if they heard it at all. I could never tell. Some of them would bolt out of the store, some would stay, fascinated, their faces like sunflowers following his light. But none of them would talk about it. I take that back. One time this teenage girl -- doing the whole ironed-hair, glass-bead-necklace thing -- she froze when she watched him. He came right up to her, stopped, pulled out a record from the bin, and gave it to her: Crosby, Stills, and Nash's first album, the one with "Judy Blue Eyes" on it. She freaked and ran right out of the store. Forgot to pay. But she came back the next day, crying. Had my money and kept asking me where the kid was.
     "Will he be here again soon?" she said.
     "What's wrong?" I said.
     "That record he gave me -- it's so beautiful. It makes me feel so different..."
     "Sorry. He comes and goes when he wants."
     She turned away like I'd smashed her record player with a bat. I never saw her again.
     After five years of his visits, I got the note at the store asking me to go to the talent show -- yeah, the junior high show. I still don't know who sent it. Maybe his mom. It wasn't signed. No return address. But my fingers prickled when I read it. I knew the kid would be there. So I closed the shop early, went home to change clothes, and drove up the hill to the school. Damned if the lot wasn't already full when I got there. Parents holding car doors and tailgates open, kids streaming toward the auditorium with violin cases and trumpets and trombones and saxophones and music stands dragging after them like lumpy tails. Those kids were wearing red or blue sequined gowns or white and black tuxes like they were going to prom. I had to cough to keep from laughing. But a lot of people had come without kids. Other relatives besides the kids' parents, maybe, or friends, or maybe people who'd heard about the kid, I don't know. I found a seat in the back -- ugliest cramped little auditorium you could imagine. A rectangular box with a wooden stage raised at the far end, walls covered with that drab gray plasterboard, ceiling covered with black sound tiles. Hot, no AC, everyone smelling like sweat and cologne and dinner, all of us pressed together onto these tiny folding chairs.
     The first few kids who came out sounded like I thought they would sound, one kid's arm still too small to find seventh position on his trombone and making all those notes a quarter tone sharp, one girl blowing overtones on her flute because she was peeking out of the corner of her eye to find her fingerings, one kid's reed drying up on his clarinet and making it squeak like he was killing a rat. And no sense of tempo. Poor woman playing piano accompaniment slowed down to match them, picked up when the kids found their way again. The grownups were good, applauding and encouraging. Then halfway through the show the woman got up from the piano. The kid walked out with a guitar and a stand, set them down, went and got another guitar and stand. His mother -- white cotton dress, not threadbare, but washed too many times, you know what I mean? -- she brought out two mikes and two portable speakers and patched them up. The kid was a little pale, wearing a blue suit, hands drying themselves on his sleeves. He sat in his chair and started tuning the first guitar, a six-string Gibson, but what a tuning! I swear each note he plucked off those strings was already tuned beyond any pitch a normal instrument could hold. Then he twisted the knobs, and the strings sang even sweeter. And I knew all that light and sound he'd shown in the store was about to come out at full strength.
     He tuned while his mom adjusted the mikes, one for him and one for the guitar. Then as his mom left the stage, before the MC could come out to introduce him, he started playing Cat Stevens's "If I Laugh." And the whole place froze just like that girl did. All that heavy hot air vaporized. The room started to grow. Nobody was breathing. That light was pouring from his guitar all over us, and we were completely surrounded. I felt like I'd swallowed a rod of lightning; from my throat to my belly, I was shivering with excitement. And his playing. My God. Flawless. Every pick, every strum perfect. You know how sometimes you hear the strings squeak under a guitarist's fingers when he moves his hand on the neck? Well, this kid never squeaked. Then when he began to sing, he caught up his own voice with his playing and set it free. Mind you, I'd never heard him speak before, let alone sing, so the surprise of hearing his voice, and then the surprise of hearing such a beautiful voice, this pre-teen voice, clear and high, carried by that perfect guitar -- damn, I was weeping before he got to the end of the first verse. The music was so pure that it didn't even seem to be coming from the strings or from his mouth at all. The strings, the voice, were an excuse -- or a transmitter -- for the sound that was being created elsewhere. By the end of the song my mind had drifted into a daydream of finding my high school sweetheart and singing the song to her. It's a sad, regretful song, but here I was so happy. And then when he plucked the last note, the sound swelled through that hall, through the doors in the back, into the air outside, to wherever it had come from. I blinked my eyes, snapped out of my daydream, and still, no one was breathing. I swear, not one of us breathed once through that song, like while that liquid light had us, we didn't need to breathe, the light would sustain us.
     Then he played another one, Steve Howe's "The Clap." And the notes sprang from the strings like gumballs tumbling from a broken machine, bouncing and scattering, but still happy and beautiful, mind you, like he was throwing us treats. Even though I'd heard that song before, the kid was adding to it from his own spirit -- some energy in the sound waves leapt from the strings into the air. Then he stopped playing right in the middle of the song and picked up the other guitar, a twelve-string Fender. Now the notes had twice the sweetness. Every blood cell in my body was trying to swim to the surface of my skin and listen to him. The woman to my right choked out sob after sob; the man to my left rubbed his cheeks with his hands, up and down, his mouth gaping, his eyes streaming. We were all struck so dumb that we didn't even wipe our eyes, just kept looking at the stage.
     Then he played a song I'd never heard and have never heard again. He was making it up as he was playing, I'm sure of it. It was like the beautiful mix of sound that I would hear as he circled the store, that huge symphony of sound, but at full volume now, and even more beautiful. Somehow horns and strings and drums and reeds and synths and basses and tubas and trumpets have joined in the sound, filled it into an ocean. Chord after chord after chord of such beauty, like crystal stairs leading into three-dimensional rainbows, like basketball-sized raindrops floating from pink clouds. I couldn't feel my seat anymore. At moments he veered from the normal eight-tone scale to something else -- not whole note scales but quarter-tone or fifth-tone scales. He created new harmonies that brought the lightning rod in contact with my heart, shocked it like a live wire touching a car battery. Give me more of that, the blood in my body seemed to say. A craving like no hunger I'd ever felt rolled through my stomach. My lungs gasped. There was no air left in the place. His guitar had pushed it out with that liquid light, the sound swelling so loud and pure that it swallowed his speaker like a wave crashing over a rock and drowned it out.
     The kid himself absorbed every ray of light on the stage and grew, like he did in the store, grew with his sound, ten feet tall, twenty, his blue suit running and glimmering like water. He was seized, not merely raptured, but seized with his sound, seized with his light, his eyes as big as oranges and his arm blurring over the strings. He was in that place he went to and he was giving us a glimpse of what it was like. Only a glimpse. Because his hand was playing as fast as it could and for all the beauty, I knew that he couldn't play fast enough to get out what he was trying to express. Holy God! I daydreamed, I floated, I circled, I swam in that stream of music, I climbed to the tops of the tallest trees and looked out over forests and mountains and pure sunlight. My ears weren't just ears anymore. Hearing those sounds, they became me.
     Then it ended. He finished the song and stood up and carried the guitars offstage. I blinked and blinked and wondered if he was coming back. Surely he hadn't finished. Sweat drenched every inch of my clothing. All around me not a sound. Two hundred grownups as lightheaded and dreamy and teary-faced as I had been. We couldn't even clap or shout to show our appreciation. I don't even remember the rest of the program. Who would? Those poor kids following him. And as I drove down the hill that night I prayed that someday I would hear him play again.
     Someone at the show must have been with the record label or had a friend in the business. Because a week later, the kid came to the store, and his mom -- all dolled up now, an ankle-length fur coat, designer purse, dark shades, and a long silk scarf to cover her hair -- came back to my nook with a sheaf of papers in her hand and a huge smile on her face.
     She handed the papers to me. "What do you think?"
     I knew what it was, had seen a couple in my younger days. A record contract. Also an agreement to join a band -- the band: The Dread. What an awful name. When I saw the name in the agreement, I had a premonition that things wouldn't work out.
     I turned to the kid -- still wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Small. They didn't fit him. Ankles showing under the pant legs and ribs showing under the shirt. As if five years of growth had caught up to him in seven days. I said, "Hey, Richie, you made it. You don't need to hang around here anymore."
     He didn't answer, kept circling the bins. He still had that starry light in his eyes. But the music that I heard did not have that special quality to it. It simply repeated the melodies -- beautiful, but enervated. No symphonic swelling of instruments. By God, he should have been going at it solo. How could he work within the limitations of other musicians? Who would want to force him to? They feared him, the execs. Feared his power. "No," I said.
     "No what?" said the mother.
     "This isn't right. You've got to stop."
     She snatched the papers out of my hands. "It's a done deal. You're just jealous like all the rest."
     Jealous? Hardly. But she had already turned and marched toward the door, and I didn't care to say to her back what I wanted to say to her face. The kid, like a forgotten puppy, came to my counter in her wake and held up a record -- Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life.
     "You can still choose not to, kid," I said.
     The kid's eyes dropped, the light in them dimming -- that sent a chill through me -- and he turned to follow his mother.
     Within weeks came the Spin article that had the bios of the band's lineup. It only confirmed my premonitions. Here was this thirteen-year-old kid with these twenty-somethings. They'd never give him a shot. And boy, was I right. Listen to their three records: you can hear the change in their sound. That first album -- it's a great album, don't get me wrong. It was the last hurrah of the Progressive Rock movement, the best of what Yes and Genesis and King Crimson and Kansas did. But on that first album, it's weird listening to the kid. His guitar has that sweet, sweet sound to it, but not nearly what it was during the show. Like the record has confined his sound the way the auditorium could not. His guitar still gathers up the band and turns them into a force. You can hear him anticipate every lick played by the rest of the group, weave them into melodies that no one had ever made before. I remember hearing the title cut on my car radio for the first time. I turned the music up loud, until the bass rattled the speakers in my doors, but still, the music did not fill the car -- fill my ears -- the way his playing had overwhelmed me during the show. Some particles of air, I sensed, were not vibrating with the sound, unaffected. That sense left a hole in me somewhere. I didn't daydream. I didn't have visions. I didn't even cry. But the DJ was so taken by the song that he didn't say anything for ten seconds. I mean ten seconds of dead air. Then his voice shook when he got back on the mike. I wondered what would have happened if they'd heard what we'd heard that night at the show. What would they have thought? Would the kid's music have stopped traffic? Caused accidents? Held the world in its course for just one second while his music bathed us all in bliss?
     It's worse with the second record. By then, the rest of the band has started to crowd out the kid with their playing. Overplaying, really. Any rise in volume or jarring riff to break the kid's melodies. In the third album, the kid is gone. A couple of riffs poke over the rest of the music like a hand out of water, but he has already drowned.
     Worst of all, he stopped coming to my store. Never saw him once while he was in the band. I tried to send messages through my contacts in LA but all my letters came back unopened, and none of my phone calls to the record company were ever answered.
     You old enough to remember the last concert? The one at Hollywood Park -- the race track, yeah. The stage on the infield grass, the general admission crowd on the dirt where the horses run, the overflow behind the rail where the race spectators would sit. Weird place for a concert. No one has ever performed there since. Eighty thousand screaming, yelling kids wedged into a few yards of dirt that night. Standing room only, no seats. Huge light banks, like at a Kiss concert, on the sides of the stage, and a fireworks show behind it. I'm going to tell you a secret about that show, clear up a mystery that no one solved -- mostly because no one bothered to interview me again after the first album came out.
     Here's what happened. My record wholesaler from LA was in the store the afternoon of the show and gave me a ticket as he was leaving. I almost turned it down -- I'd stopped trying to reach the kid for months -- but then he also gave me a backstage pass. A dark little flower bloomed in my belly and told me that I had better go. That something was going to happen. So I jumped in my car and fought the traffic all the way into town and got there an hour after the gates opened. The crowd had already trampled the track into a cloud of dust and torn down a chain link fence separating the grandstands from the paddocks. A lot of cops were cuffing some kids pushed up against a row of port-a-potties. Here and there, as I threaded around patches of kids who'd sat and squatted in circles to break out sandwiches and colas, I smelled puffs of marijuana. Somehow I squeezed into a spot by the stage-right speaker tower just before the show started. When the stadium lights cut out, the kids jumped to their feet and started screaming.
     That was weird, too. It was pitch black, and I suddenly felt like I'd been buried alive, like the kids were mounds of dirt risen around me, hot and moist and earthy-smelling. Then the stage lights snapped on and the band was onstage rolling into their first number, "Fly by Me." I didn't really pay attention to the song at first. I looked for the kid. Center stage I saw Marty Gregory, the rhythm guitar and vocalist, dressed in some sort of silvery jumpsuit like he was one of those purple-haired women in that old TV show UFO. He was ripping his guitar in double time, making big eyes at the girls standing closest to the stage, real hammy. Something on his head -- a crown, maybe -- flashed red and green lights like a string of Christmas tree lights on speed. Then I saw John Blew stage left, wearing one of Elton John's old sequin coats -- that's what it looked like. From time to time a cloud of smoke billowed in a column from the floor and surrounded him. Then I saw Cris Blacksheer rear stage on the drum set, lifted on some sort of hydraulic pedestal that rose and sank all through the show. Neon lightning bolts and shooting stars and bullets built into the stage set flashed around him as he wailed through his drum riffs. Then the kid -- older, taller -- stage right, almost hidden behind the side stage curtains, in his T-shirt and jeans, still with his Fender twelve-string, but looking like a roadie caught onstage with the other guys.
     I listened really hard -- hard as I could through the amps and the screaming -- for some sign of the kid's guitar work. It was there, but he didn't play anything that wasn't on the record. No variations in the melodies, no showmanship in the chord changes -- nothing extra like you'd expect in a live show. He could have been playing air guitar for all we knew, his part just piped in. Nor did he look up at the audience. Kept his head buried in the strings, his hair falling over his face like paint pouring from a can.
     The band performed like that through half the show, the kid trapped in his corner, the other three flashing and prancing and mugging for the crowd, the stage props smoking and lighting only when they moved, only when they were spotlighted. But after the smoke cleared on "Mercy," and the amps hummed out the last chord, the kid's head popped up, and he looked at the crowd like one of them had stuck him with a pin. His eyes widened and darted left, right, left, searched, searched, looking -- for me, I thought. At least for somebody. But I didn't know who else he could have possibly known besides me. No friends that I knew of or had read about. I waved a hand at him though I knew he couldn't see me, and I remember thinking, Play me something, kid. This was the time he could raise us to that impossible height he had reached with that junior high show. Eighty thousand of us. Waiting. Eager. Yes -- something in the crowd waiting, too. Screaming with joy at the music being played but screaming in part for some hunger to be filled, some portion of their souls to be purified. They knew -- not as well as I did -- that the kid could answer. They had heard the potential on the albums and had come all this way hoping he could give them something more in person.
     The kid knew it. I saw his expression fill with understanding -- you know how a person's face lifts and his mouth grows tight and his eyes look at what they're seeing as if they are seeing it for the last time. Part realization and part determination. He confirmed my guess when they started into "Blind Side." He cut into the opening like he was hacking at a tree with an axe, chopping the first three chords. Then buzzsawing into the first verse, his guitar split between the beauty and grace that I had heard before, and another emotion I had never heard or seen in him: anger. Something hard and dark and ominous behind his playing, the sound snarly and growly like Nirvana's sound came to be a decade or so later, but much darker, much harder. It sounded like he was going to creep up on the rest of the band and swing that axe into them.
     They heard it, too, those other three. As one they jerked their heads toward him, Gregory and Blew standing shoulder to shoulder as if they were going to rush him together. They barely got back to their places in time for Gregory to start the lyrics. Throughout the song, the kid played all the same notes that I'd heard on the record. He had not even changed the settings on the guitar from what I could hear. But somehow he cut that hard edge through the song, lifted it and swung it at the others. Yeah, I could hear it; his guitar sound flying from the right speaker tower to the left and back again as if it were stalking the music being produced by the others. No prancing around by the boys, either. Gregory and Blew stayed put onstage like they were guarding their instruments, and when they acknowledged the crowd at the end, you could tell they were forcing it, their voices strained and their mouths set hard -- and their eyes glancing daggers at the kid.
     For the rest of the concert, they fought him. Sang louder, played louder, glared at him more frequently. The kid fought back, his sound swooping from tower to tower and from speaker to speaker like a harpy. Sometimes it actually seized upon a chord or a note that the others played, and I swear I heard glass breaking, like one of the stage lights had blown. I even saw Gregory shudder one time it happened. The crowd's reaction was very strange, very dangerous. The screams became yells and shouts, dropping an octave and losing their joy. One kid beside me started bellowing obscenities and throwing his trash -- empty soda cans, a balled-up lunch sack -- toward the stage. More garbage flew after that, and more, before the cops pushed through the crowd with their sticks. Then some of the kids eyed the cops like they were going to start throwing things at them, too. Someone got smart finally and doused the crowd with the stage and stadium lights for a minute, blinding everyone to an uneasy calm.
     Then came the last song, the title cut from the first album, "Ever to the End." On the record, it starts with the kid playing solo for eight bars, before Gregory enters with the first verse. But the kid played through his eight bars, cut through Gregory's vocals, shut up the rest of the band and played. He was trying, really trying, to make something beautiful. The sound rose through the air like a bird, filled the air like bird song, chattered and trilled and started pushing the air, swelling through the air, as it had at the junior high show. The crowd fell silent, the kid beside me who'd thrown his trash gaping and wiping away tears. Relief filled me, tension dropping from my shoulders as if I'd set down an armful of grocery bags. This was what I had come for, what I had wanted to hear since that other show, what I had feared I would never hear when he had joined the band. He was bringing melodies together as if he was borrowing a note from everyone in the audience, finding a pitch or a tone that only they could utter with their voices. Eighty thousand notes lifting from eighty thousand hearts and drifting toward the stage to be caught up in his hands and transformed into --
     The rest of the band broke in on the solo and finished the song. If the air around us had been glass, we would have died in the rain. Shards of sound fell around us, notes that the kid had played just a moment before plunging into the dirt. The kid stopped playing, then started again, barely strumming, his eyes glassy and empty. The crowd snapped out of their silence, some yells and shouts rising again, but others clapping along and waving -- at the kid, I think, though I never figured if they were thanking him or imploring him. They hadn't quite got their fill, that was all I knew. And the band didn't let them. Once the song ended, the kid ran offstage. The others said their good nights and left. No encore.
     Now I was desperate. I had to get to the kid. Pushing through the crowd -- most of them shouting about how short the show had been, rightfully so -- I got to the stage area and showed security my pass and ran around the speaker tower to the stairs leading backstage. I didn't see much. It was dark, and I had fallen into some sort of tunnel vision, seeing nothing but what rose up a few feet before me. Flashing my pass at another dozen security people, I jumped the stairs three at a time and pulled open the door.
     Absolute mayhem. Roadies diving everywhere, yelling and chasing one another about with mikes and speakers and guitar and drum cases. Hangers-on thrusting fingers at one another and screaming in each other's faces, spit flying. Denuded scaffolding, sets and props hanging by ropes. Dim backstage lights throwing shadows about like tenpins. Rushing towards me, his guitar strap still wrapped around his shoulder but his guitar gone, the kid, flailing his arms to knock his way through the crowd. His mother, dressed in some black leather pantsuit, hair exploding in kinked curls and teased bangs, pulled at his collar and shouted at him. Her words floated to me over the din: "Get back here. Don't you dare run out on me!"
     I stopped. The kid saw me and stopped. His eyes went wide again -- this time with fear and hope. His mother saw me, stopped, and let go of him, more out of shock than anything. The next few moments happened very quickly, and I don't remember everything. The kid stretched his arms toward me, chest high, and I heard him say, "Get me out of here." I knew what he meant. He wanted out of this life. He wanted back to my store. I grabbed his hand and started to say I'll do anything for you, kid. Then Gregory burst from the crowd behind the kid, face smeared with the ugliest expression of hatred I had ever seen -- makeup running like quicksilver, his eyes and lips trying to squeeze his nose off his face. His white-knuckled hands raised the kid's guitar over his head, then brought it down. I jumped forward with my hand over my head. Then I felt a huge pain burst through my left ear. I ran into a body -- the kid's. I heard a scream. I fell and landed on the floor. Then I looked up to see the guitar come down again on the kid's right arm -- twice. I remember thinking that the kid's playing days were over. He might play, but he would never play, you know what I mean? Then a flurry of bodies swarmed between us and I blacked out.
     I woke up three days later in a hospital bed. The doctors told me they'd had to operate once to repair the bones in my face and then operate again to remove a splinter of my skull that had nearly pierced my brain. In total, I was in the hospital a month and in rehab another month. Never had visitors. I got some news clippings of the concert to read about what had happened, and a lot of the articles talked about the mystery man who had been attacked backstage. Word too about the kid's operations to save his hand and about Gregory's sentencing. To this day I wonder who had kept my name out of the papers: the kid, trying to protect me; or Gregory, trying to cover up what he'd done? Or someone else?
     Whatever. I never found out. All I know is I had to sell my building to pay for the hospital bills. Brisby. I kept the record store as a renter, but Brisby owned it. If I'd seen him at the escrow office and not one of his suits, I would have sold to someone else. Two weeks after the sale, he came in with his polo shirt and OP shorts and Vuarnets hanging around his neck, looking like some high schooler. He came in and looked around the store, shook my hand, said everything looked great. Never asked me how I was. Never asked if I needed help.
     At the end of the first six months, he sent me notice that my rent was raised. Tripled. No way I could take him to court, either, broke as I was. I would have moved the shop, but it was happening all over the city that year, the old buildings bought up and the rents raised. I had no chance.
     The last time I saw the kid, he came to the store two days before I closed it for good. Brisby was in the store that day. Had his tape measure going all over the place, measuring the walls and the floors and the ceilings. Asked me to fetch him things -- sodas and scratch paper and pencils and crap. Son of a bitch. I got him his stuff and held his tape so he could make his pencil marks. On the posters, mind you. Couldn't wait two days for me to clear out.
     Anyway, the kid walked into the store. Still dressed in his jeans and T-shirt. Huge scars on his arm, as if it had been ripped open by bear claws. His mom wasn't there. That didn't surprise me. He froze as soon as he took his second step inside, looked at Brisby, looked at the tape measure, jumped back outside for a glance at the store window -- where I had the going out of business sign -- drifted back inside, then looked at me, his eyes wide.
     "Sorry, kid," I said.
     He looked at Brisby again. His mouth opened wider than his eyes, his face went crimson, and he howled. The pitch of that cry still makes me shiver. He still had the perfect, piercing tone. But the cry tore from him like the devil was twisting his feet. Then he bolted to the first bin and pulled records out and threw them. Hard, against the walls, like he was trying with all his strength to shatter them along with the records. I didn't do anything at first. But Brisby jumped from his ladder when he saw what the kid was doing. Yelled at him to stop. By now the kid had emptied the bin closest to the door and he was tipping it over. Records still sliding down the walls, fluttering about. Crackling under his feet. When Brisby moved, I moved. I ran to him and bear-hugged him before he could get to the kid.
     "Let go of me," Brisby yelled, his face inches from mine, all red as he tried to break my hold. I almost laughed at him. His face, this close to me, looked like a cartoon face, exaggerated, too big. Here he was yelling at me, then screaming, for me to let him go. But I didn't. I told him to shut up. And he did. He must have heard something in my voice. He shut up and we both watched the kid break every record in the place. The kid's movements start looking like his old routine, circling the bins, hands shaking, but now those hands shook the whole store apart. Records by the handfuls flew against those walls and crunched and clattered like plates. The kid broke a little bit with each record, too, as if each fragment had chipped off of him, shrinking him. And the kid's eyes held an anger so deep that it flooded from him and swamped the store. I swear I could hear the darkest, hardest guitar riffs -- far, far harder than what he had played at the concert, sinister even, like they had been forged in hellfire. And I could have sworn that as violently as he was behaving, he was trying his hardest to restrain himself so that hellfire wouldn't spill out and burn us, too. Maybe Brisby heard the music, and that's what kept him so still. The kid swept faster through the store, faster, howling -- and his howls in tune with that music. Howling and throwing and smashing. And as I watched him, I knew for certain he wasn't going to live much longer. I knew he would die young, die and take all that music with him. I thought, though, he would die within a year, maybe. Didn't think he'd die now, twenty-odd years later.
     When the last record shattered, he stomped to the doorway and left. And I did something I'd never done before. I followed him to the door. I let Brisby go and followed him.
     "You son of a bitch," Brisby yelled after me. "You're paying for all this shit, you hear me? Every single record he broke."
     I didn't care. All I wanted was my last look at the kid. He stomped all the way down the hill from my shop, toward downtown, kicked up eucalyptus leaves and dirt on the sidewalk, spun the dust and mist thrown at him by the sunlight. I thought about running after him and saying something to him. But I let him go when I saw -- I swear this is what I saw -- the air in his wake shimmering, all the dust and leaves and dirt falling into place, lining up in the air as if he'd put them on a staff.


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