Rock n’ Roll is the Cure
Angelica follows Nicolas around the side of the large tent, past the wooden risers of the stage. He pulls aside a stretch of canvas letting her exit first. She notices the sun has already set as she steps through onto the grassy meadow. Among the innumerous strands of lights behind the tent, there are several cars, two vans, and one very dated RV.
She waits to allow Nicolas to take the lead. She follows as he leads a straight line toward the RV.
The RV is not hideous. It’s just old. Well taken care of, clean, but mostly old. Angelica can hear rustic blues playing from the vehicle at a mellow level and pace. She recognizes it, an obscure song from country blues artist, Roarin’ Willy Kilmaris. The whole field smells like a summer evening’s wet grass mixed with the smell of popcorn and sugar.
Nicolas steps up on the first rung of the RV’s folded down steps. He knocks twice on the rounded milky glass and opens the door without waiting for a response. He steps inside and holds the spring slap door open for Angelica.
Angelica steps in admiring how well taken care of the, what she assumed to be original, long carpeting is. Orange shag is not a style choice you see often these days, especially one without any round black cigarette burns, burns she expected as the air was thick with several kinds of smoke.
Sitting at the fold-out table of the RV is Ivan Rocket. How does one look like a 20-something-year-old George Harrison, Curt Cobain, and Buddy Holly all at once?
Ivan has a blonde bedhead shag and military issue style reading glasses with a western cut suit bunched at the calf over metal-tipped scrunchy boots. Angelica can’t figure out if he’s before his time, after it, or plain out of it.
Nicolas introduces Angelica as Ivan finishes tapping the filter of a cigarette on the acrylic marbled tabletop. He pops the smoke in his mouth and half gets up to shake her hand. It was warm to the touch and not at all clammy as she expected it to be. He points to the smoke in his mouth and raises his eyebrows in polite uncertainty.
“No problem,” she says sitting down and hearing the crack of springs and an alloy slap as Nicolas leaves the RV. From her pocket, she pulls her phone and holds it up showing an app with a big red RECORD button on it and give him the same uncertain look.
“Have at it,” Ivan responds and then continues, “Angelica Whateley is it? And you write for?”
“The Arkham Music Review,” she replies, making sure to repress any possible misassumption of pride or misery over her employer.
“That’s a creative name. Well, it’s nice to meet ya. Feel free to fire away.” he says invitingly, lighting up his face with the lighter as he pulls a cherry on his smoke.
“Well, the thing I can’t stop asking myself is ‘What is Ivan Rocket’s demographic?’ So, I’ll just ask you. There is quite the collection of Americana out there. What would you consider your demographic to be?” she asks.
With smoke rolling out of his mouth he responds, “All folks are welcome. I mean, what would Elvis’s demographic have been at the time?”
“White people,” Angelica says.
He chuckles and quickly corrects his question. “Okay, well what would it have been if the world wasn’t filled with assholes?”
“People, I guess. So, your demographic is people?” she asks.
“I can’t think of an artist that wouldn’t want it that way. Sure we run in scenes, but we create art to be consumed. The more the merrier,” he responds.
Angelica continues her line of questioning. “So is that what you are creating here? Art? Because your press manager seems to think you’re a witch doctor or a faith healer.”
He pulls another drag from his smoke and answers. “There are a lot of terrible diseases out there. Things you definitely need to go to the doctor for. I don’t help people with cancer. I help people suffering from a blackness in their souls. The cure for that is some light and some happiness.”
“Is that the blackness between the stars?” she asks.
“Yes, but let me stop you there. I don’t pretend to know what the blackness is… or isn’t. Blackness is the absence of light. Not sure if that’s a something or a nothing. Sure we all know that something will kill ya, but eventually, having nothing will kill ya too.”
“You have some profound views considering the lyrics to your song Rock n’ Roll is the Cure.” she requites.
“Hmm, yeah, I suppose I deserve that for the comment about your paper’s name.” He smiles while saying, “It’s not really about the words. It’s about the tones. ‘I love you’ can mean the beginning, the end, or assurance of continuance depending on the tone you present it in, but with the right tone on the right day, it can change your world permanently.”
“Okay” Angelica redirects the conversation. “Let’s land this spaceship for a few minutes. What band would you consider to be your greatest influence?”
He looks at her with disappointment. “Listen darlin’. I’m a good judge of intention and you want to make a name for yourself.” Angelica tries to hide her chagrin as he continues. “Probably best not to just ask me the standards. I’ll happily answer them if you’d like. I have answered the standards all day and all week.” He puts out his cigarette. “But, for some reason, I like you more than I like most and that’s sayin’ something cuz I like everybody.” He pulls a joint from his cowboy-shirt breast pocket. “So, you have my ears and my voice at your disposal for the next 10 minutes. Ask me whatever you think will make you stand out from the other guys and gals writing.” He lights the joints, exhales over his shoulder, and passes the joint to Angelica.
She takes the joint, looks at it, hits it, holds the hit, exhales, and says. “How did you discover your sound?” followed by a swallowed cough disguised as a clearing of the throat.
“There ya go.” He says with a wink and a nod taking the joint back. Angelica is irritated at being patronized by a man even younger than her, but the look on her face asks him to continue. The joint is passed back and forth as he tells her what she will later decide is the most insane rockstar origin story she’s ever heard.
“When I was a kid I was terrified of the dark. Visual hallucinations brought on by extreme fear-based anxiety or some shit.” He doesn’t make eye contact with her. Not out of insecurity but seemingly out of confidence. He’s too busy pulling a story he knows but hasn’t put to words in some time. “The only thing that helped was my mom singing to me. As she would sing, I would hum along. Eventually, I knew the song. Every night it would change melody, yet every night I knew it as though it was the same lullaby I’d heard for years. As she would sing and my hums would accompany her, I would see the shadows of my room stretch in the dark.” He smiles to himself. “It was psychedelic man.” He pauses to give the joint a few puffs ensuring it won’t go out.
“Just like any kid who wet the bed until 12, I was a rebellious kid. I found drugs. I found music. I quit the drugs and kept the music. But no matter how messed up I’d get there was always the humming… All night every night. It brought me peace then, it brings it to me now. I found that every once in a while I would sleep at someone’s house or shack up with some girl and the shadows would be thicker. Eventually, I understood that the extra dose of darkness that I felt was the shadow inside them. So I would hum the song, watching the bend of the shadow within them.”
He finally looks her in the eye. “So now, sticks, strings, and keys hum instead. Play it from the right angles, at the right levels, it not only moves the shadows but can destroy the darkness entirely, igniting the blackness between the stars that have fallen to earth and rested in our souls.”
Angelica stares at him doubly longer than one should. One length of time for the high and the other, her engrossment in the story.
“So which song is the one?” Angelica asks, not blinking.
“They all are. There is only one song,” he says flatly extinguishing the joint in the massive and insanely full glass ashtray.
“But they all sound like different songs?” she asks.
He looks her directly in the eye and says, “I know. But they aren’t.”
Nicolas enters with a quick double knock. With a bygone twinkle in his eyes, through an excited whisper, he says, “It’s showtime”.
Angelica stands to the side of the tent, a new cup in hand listening to the ambient chatter in the tent. Nicolas stands at the side of the stage and claps twice loudly and the chatter stops. He steps down the side steps and disappears into the backstage shadows.
The lights dim and change from white to primary colors. The grand red and gold curtains slide open in the silence. All Angelica can hear is the creak of the curtain’s rigging.
The back wall of the stage is covered with an expanse of machinery. Amplifiers, patch bays, cords and equalizers, each with at least one small light. It was like a wall of Christmas stars of cold blacklight-blues, angry reds, and greens between.
Front and center stood Ivan Rocket. Still in his cowboy suit, now holding a bass guitar. In front of him is your typical statement rockabilly mic, all boxed and chrome. Behind Ivan is his band. Four people standing in a row. Two men and two women, all of which somewhat androgynous and clean wearing matching black cowboy suits.
“Welcome one and all. We are Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars.” He says calmly into the eyesore of a microphone.
The crowd cheers.
Ivan responds humbly to the fanfare. “Thank you for being here.”
Many of the people in the crowd yell “thank yous” and other terms of adoration.
He turns to the band behind him.“Y’all ready?” he asks. With a group nod, they go to their instruments. One man at the guitar, one woman at the drums, and the other two prepare to helm the wall of gear. Then all four of the supporting cast do the oddest thing. Each pulls a black piece of cloth from their pockets and blindfolds themselves. Already intrigued by the interview, Angelica leans in all the further to try to decipher this odd turn.
The guitar starts and quickly the audience’s unison hand claps follow. Then Ivan starts to sing.
Angelica is surprised that the music is oddly tame with a 50s vibe. Simple lyrics, simple music. “I suppose the cure to the most complex, ununderstandable ailment in the world is three chords and a song about a girl?” She thinks. “Still, there is something oddly pleasant about it… Not sure if it was the joint, the possibly spiked drink from Nicolas, or the music, but I think I like it.”
She takes another swig from the solo cup, swaying a bit with the tune while taking in the mess in front of her.
The musical tension and hidden discord start to climb signaling that the beat is about to drop. She sees Ivans hand familiarizing themselves with the frets. She sees the drummer go from staring through the darkness of her blindfold to focusing on the unseen drums before her. The two in front of the wall of lights are standing still, each with a finger on a switch blindly looking up the monstrosity of equipment.
The beat drops in with one synchronized thunderous sustain that evolves into a rhythmic pulse as her ears adjust. The volume levels don’t hurt. They are perfect. The low end almost feels like waves against her body.
The moment the beat dropped the crowd started to move.
Angelica remembers her purpose and fetches her phone from her purse and holds one hand above her head to video the welcome musical assault, the melodic cacophony that is Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars.
Looking around the room the different groups of people have blended into one. Like a diverse drunken family reunion compelled to dance a professionally choreographed dance of St. Vitus. The only wet blankets of the festivity are the family members of the sick. They seem confused. Confused and concerned for their loved ones who only moments before looked to be at death’s door, but now gyrate with the rest. The room reels and writhes and hops and bops with intoxicated glee.
That’s not to say the dancing is great. It’s not a show of technical skill or years of practice. It’s unadulterated joy in motion. Each appearing to be dancing to their own beat. Different syncopations and different tempos. Every once and a while two would come together and make eye contact and their unique styles would blend into an interconnected, joyful gambol. Then, with seemingly blind acceptance, move apart and back to their own pace once again.
The bass and beat smash and release in step. Each hard hit causing the lights to dim. With each thump, the tent’s most likely underpowered electrical system dims the lights even more. Dimming and rebounding until the pulsating of the lights and the music together become one fluid action. A slow strobe, in and out.
In the stroboscopic light, the dance moves become poses. Each flash of the lights, a snapshot of the festivities. Each return of the darkness a silhouetted negative of the previous moment.
Angelica is entranced. “Shit I can’t handle this,” she thinks. “My eyes are going crossed and I’m going to have the dance of all America burned onto my corneas forever.” But still, she stares. The dances are rhythmic and consistent. The dances have not changed, but the shadows? The shadows are changing.
Each snapshot’s shadow grows longer. Stretching across the floor like sunset. Peeling away behind each of them bringing the dancers forward, dropping the shadow ever further back. It is blissful vertigo, a reliable unsteadiness.
She feels as if her eyes have turned to a single fisheye lens. The broadening shadows bending at the edges of her vision, then swirling into a vignette.
Angelica blinks and rubs her eyes, then darts toward the door for some fresh air to ventilate whatever was in that joint, or that cup, or that music.