Rock n’ Roll is the Cure

~1~

Angelica followed Nicolas around the side of the large tent, past the wooden risers of the stage. He pulled aside a stretch of canvas and let her exit first. She noticed the sun has already set as she stepped through onto the grassy meadow. Among the innumerous strands of lights behind the tent, there were several cars, two vans, and one very dated RV.

She waited to allow Nicolas to take the lead and followed as he led a beeline toward the RV.

The RV was not hideous. It was just old, well taken care of, clean, but mostly old. Angelica could hear rustic blues playing from the vehicle at a mellow level and pace. She recognized it, an obscure song from country blues artist, Roarin’ Willy Kilmaris. The whole field smelt like a summer evening’s wet grass mixed with the scent of popcorn and sugar.

Nicolas stepped up on the first rung of the RV’s folded-down steps. He knocked twice on the rounded milky glass and opened the door without waiting for a response. He advanced inside and held the spring slap door open for Angelica.

Angelica entered admiring how well taken care of, what she assumed to be original, long carpeting was. Orange shag is not a style choice seen 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 was Ivan Rocket. “How does one look like a 20-something-year-old George Harrison, Curt Cobain, and Buddy Holly all at once?”

Ivan had 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 couldn’t figure out if he was before his time, after it, or plain out of it.

Nicolas introduced Angelica as Ivan finished tapping the filter of a cigarette on the acrylic marbled tabletop. He popped the smoke in his mouth and half got up to shake her hand. It was warm to the touch and not at all clammy as she expected it to be. He pointed to the smoke in his mouth and raised his eyebrows in polite uncertainty.

“No problem,” she said sitting down and hearing the crack of springs and an alloy slap as Nicolas leaves the RV. “Smoke-filled rooms are an acceptable occupational hazard.” From her pocket, she pulled her phone and held it up showing an app with a big red RECORD button on it, and gave him the same uncertain look.

“Have at it, record away.” Ivan responded and then continued, “Angelica Whateley, is it? And you write for?”

“The Arkham Music Review,” she replied, 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 said invitingly, lighting up his face with the lighter as he pulled 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 a collection of Americana out there. What would you consider your demographic to be?” she asked.

As smoke rolled out of his mouth he responded, “All folks are welcome. I mean, what would Elvis’s demographic have been at the time?”

“White people,” Angelica said.

He chuckled and quickly corrected 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 questioned.

“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 responded.

Angelica continued 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 pulled another drag from his smoke and answered. “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 Blackness in their souls. The cure for that is some light and some happiness.”

“Is that the blackness between the stars?”

“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 requited.

“Hmm, yeah, I suppose I deserve that for the comment about your paper’s name.” He smiled then said, “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 said, trying to redirect the conversation, “let’s land this spaceship for a few minutes. What band would you consider to be your greatest influence?”

He looked at her with disappointment. “Listen darlin’. I’m a good judge of intention and you want to make a name for yourself.” Angelica tried to hide her chagrin as he continued. “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 put 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 pulled 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 lit the joint, exhaled over his shoulder, and passed it to Angelica.

She took the joint, looked at it, hit it, held the hit, exhaled, and said. “How did you discover your sound?” followed by a swallowed cough disguised as a clearing of the throat.

“There ya go.” He said with a wink and a nod as he took the passed joint back.

Angelica was irritated at being patronized by a man even younger than she was, but the look on her face asked him to continue. The joint was passed back and forth as he told her what she would later decide was 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 didn’t make eye contact with her. Not out of insecurity but seemingly out of confidence. He was too busy pulling a story he knew but hadn’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 we’d been practicing 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 smiled to himself. “It was psychedelic, man.” He paused to give the joint a few puffs ensuring it wouldn’t go out.

“Just like anyone who wet the bed until 12, I was a weird 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 when I was on those drugs, 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, of Blackness that I felt, was the shadow inside them. So I would hum the song, watching the bend of the shadow within them.”

He finally looked 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 stared 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 asked, not blinking.

“They all are. There is only one song,” he said unequivocally, extinguishing the joint in the massive and insanely full glass ashtray.

“But they all sound like different songs?” she questioned, confused by his answer…

He looked her directly in the eye and said, “I know. But they aren’t.”

Nicolas entered with a quick double knock. With a bygone twinkle in his eyes, through an excited whisper, he said, “It’s showtime”.

~2~

Angelica stood to the side of the tent, a new cup in hand, listening to the ambient chatter in the tent. Nicolas stood at the side of the stage and clapped twice loudly and the chatter stopped. He stepped down the side steps and disappeared into the backstage shadows.

The lights dimmed and changed from white to primary colors. The grand red and gold curtains slid open in the silence. All Angelica could hear was the creak of the curtain’s rigging.

The back wall of the stage was covered with an expanse of machinery. Amplifiers, patch bays, cords, and equalizers, each had 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 was your typical statement rockabilly mic, all boxed and chrome. Behind Ivan was 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 said calmly into the eyesore of a microphone.

The crowd cheered.

Ivan responded humbly to the fanfare. “Thank you for being here!”

Many of the people in the crowd yelled back “thank yous” and other terms of adoration.

He turned to the band behind him.“Y’all ready?” he asked. With a group nod, they went to their instruments. One man at the guitar, one woman at the drums, and the other two prepared to helm the wall of gear. Then all four of the supporting cast did the oddest thing. Each pulled a black piece of cloth from their pockets and blindfolded themselves. Already intrigued by the interview, Angelica leaned in all the further to try to decipher this odd turn.

The guitar started and quickly the audience’s unison hand claps followed. Then Ivan started to sing.

Angelica was surprised that the music was 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 thought. “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 took another swig from the solo cup, swaying a bit with the tune while she took in the crowded mess of scene diversity in front of her.

The musical tension and buried discord started to climb signaling that the beat was about to drop. She saw Ivan’s hand familiarizing themselves with the frets. She saw the drummer go from staring through the darkness of her blindfold to focusing on the unseen drums beneath her. The two in front of the wall of lights were standing still, each with a finger on a switch, blindly looking up at the monstrosity of equipment.

The beat dropped in with one synchronized thunderous sustain that evolved into a rhythmic pulse as her ears adjusted. The volume levels didn’t hurt. They were perfect. The low end almost felt like waves against her body.

The moment the beat dropped the crowd started to move.

Angelica remembered her purpose and fetched her phone from her purse and held one hand above her head to video the welcome musical assault, the melodic cacophony that was Ivan Rocket and the Blackness Between the Stars.

Looking around the room the different groups of people 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 were the family members of the sick. They seemed confused. Confused and concerned for their loved ones who only moments before looked to be at death’s door, but now, gyrated with the rest. The room reeled and writhed and hopped and bopped with intoxicated glee.

That’s not to say the dancing was great. It wasn’t a show of technical skill or years of practice. It was just unadulterated joy in motion. Each appeared to be dancing to their own beat, different syncopations, and different tempos. Every once in 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 smashed and released in step, each hard hit causing the lights to dim. With each thump, the tent’s most likely underpowered electrical system dimmed the lights even more, dimming and rebounding until the pulsating of the lights and the music together became one fluid action. A slow strobe, in and out.

In the stroboscopic light, the dance moves became poses. Each flash of the lights revealed a snapshot of the festivities. Each return of the darkness a silhouetted negative of the previous moment.

Angelica was entranced. “Shit I can’t handle this,” she thought. “My eyes are going crossed and I’m going to have the dance of all America burned onto my corneas forever.” But, still, she stared. The dances were rhythmic and consistent. The dances had not changed, but the shadows? The shadows were changing.

Each snapshot’s shadow grew longer and stretched across the floor like a sunset’s pall, peeling away behind each of them bringing the dancers forward, dropping the shadow ever further back. It was blissful vertigo, a reliable unsteadiness.

She felt as if her eyes had turned to a single fisheye lens, the broadening shadows bending at the edges of her vision, then swirling into a vignette.

Angelica blinked and rubbed her eyes, then darted toward the canvas flap of a door for some fresh air to ventilate whatever was in that joint, or that cup, or that music.

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