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Volume I, Issue
..:: POETRY ::..
..:: PROSE ::..
..:: ART ::..
..:: REVIEWS ::..
..:: ARCHIVES ::..
Volume I, Issue I
Volume I, Issue II
Volume II, Issue I
Volume II, Issue II
Volume III, Issue I
Volume III, Issue II
Volume IV, Issue I
Todd Scott Moffett
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
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
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.
"Lady," I said, "There's no way I can take your
money. Money can't pay for what this music is giving this
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.