Author: jbulley

“A Band Named JimmyBob” by Jeffrey Warzecha

“A Band Named JimmyBob” by Jeffrey Warzecha

No corncob pipe
or timothy hay sprig
stuck in his kisser,
but the lead singer is wearing
a chambray shirt, felt hat,
and a crying, slung
twelve string. Insert
a weathered clawhammer
banjo in the background,
and frayed jeans cut-off just
above the high water line
and you get the idea.
Add two fiddlers, both
with beat-closed eyes,
and a barefoot tambourinist
with an on-the- rocks
in his striking hand
and you’ve got the band
on the stage’s left side.
On the right is
a Bourbon barrel,
two metal trash cans,
a couple wooden crates
and a menagerie of empty
cookie tins that comprise
the percussion section.
You can’t forget a show
like this: a no-name
dive off a dirt road:
intimate, visceral—
allowed in to see or hear
the magic of a local secret—
moments you feel you’re
a note within a larger song,
part of the river’s flow,
when the experience flitters
your stomach like free fall.
You feel that backwoods
accelerando? Affrettando?
That’s this unknown Kentuckian
backing band building
tension like the current
quickening before a waterfall,
crescendo approaching
the cliff’s edge, mist rising
from below it like the vocalist’s
hands, clapping faster
than hummingbirds’ wings,
alongside the button accordionist,
leading the stomping boot-
beat further downriver
to where they in unison
plunge into the coda,
keel us all over the brink.


Jeffrey Warzecha earned an MFA from Lesley University, is the recipient of The Connecticut Review’s
Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize and has new publications both in print and online.

“At Seventeen” by Karla Linn Merrifield

“At Seventeen” by Karla Linn Merrifield

Who was that cute boy,
brother as clean-cut teen,
with a folk guitar,
beardless chin to the mic
in the Franklin gym?
Who was my brother then, senior year,
with Gene in the middle, full-throated,
and Pete, nonchalant on his banjo?
Were they doing Tom Dooley or All My Trials?
Something Kingston Trio, something
earliest Dylan, a PP&M number?
The photograph, 1964 vintage,
a high school Kodak moment,
depicts my brother emerging
from the robin’s egg of innocence:
pre-Vietnam, pre-wine, pre-
long life of broken women.
The composition is such
there’s no telling the truth,
but I like to believe
his audience danced, classmates
sang along that December night
for Jimmy’s sake.


Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 600+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel toGodwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. Forthcoming this fall is Psyche’s Scroll, a full-length poem, published by The Poetry Box Selects. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poe Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

“Soundtrack for Growing Up” by Rebecca Hart Olander

“Soundtrack for Growing Up” by Rebecca Hart Olander

A one-winged dove ooh, ooing as dusk settled
and the car barreled toward home. The plea
of I don’t wanna do your dirty work twisting
around the pipes below a sink full of dishes
piled high. The way every girl named Alison
you met made you think of wedding cake
and licked fingers, made you wonder about
arrows, and whether true love was bound to
come with a quiver of pain. Early mornings
when the sun shone, the sky a knotted skein
of clouds amidst the blue. Raised on radio
and celluloid heroes, it’s hard to calculate
the cost of harm vs. good. The cemetry gates,
how love will tear us apart, how boys don’t cry.


Rebecca Hart Olander holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poetry has appeared recently in Ilanot Review, Mom Egg Review, Plath Poetry Project, Radar Poetry, Virga Magazine, and Yemassee Journal, among others, and her critical work has been published in Rain Taxi Review of BooksSolstice Literary Magazine, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Collaborative work made with Elizabeth Paul is forthcoming in Duende and They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press). She was the winner of the Women’s National Book Association poetry contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Rebecca lives in Western Massachusetts where she teaches writing at Westfield State University and is the editor/director of Perugia Press. You can find her at rebeccahartolander.com.

“The “Dean from Hell” Guitar, on its Role in Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” by Daniel M. Shapiro

“The “Dean from Hell” Guitar, on its Role in Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” by Daniel M. Shapiro

The bristly drawl waits inside me,
warms my mahogany neck, courses
through the smoothest rosewood.
If you have tattoos, you know
what it’s like to be told, Careful:
It’s permanent. The ink
that labeled me from hell
isn’t going anywhere. I’ve
been designed for top speed,
Space Ace in a hot DeLorean.
This bridge, these humbuckers,
they built screams out of exhales
mistaken for sighs. You could call me
a hillbilly, mock my V-shaped head,
but I could tremolo from here to where
we used to practice our scales, snake
from groove through rolling hills to a solo
no one can buy without the devil’s loose change.
That solo used to play me, but now it’s gone.


Daniel M. Shapiro is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, including How the Potato Chip
Was Invented, Heavy Metal Fairy Tales, and The Orange Menace. He is a special education teacher who
lives in Pittsburgh.

“The Wanting” by Ralph Greco, Jr.

“The Wanting” by Ralph Greco, Jr.

In mere minutes the cherry-red curtains would part, Duane would strum that power chord, the hot spotlight would smack Tony in the face, he’d grab the mike and open his mouth; it would all happen. But beyond the fear of not being practiced enough (a fear Tony held so deep he was sure that if anyone needed an extra jolt of stage-fright he could easily supply it), he felt that his burning desire to be here, his “wanting” as Duane had called it, was about to slither down his stocky body, through his legs and out his Reebok high-tops. Tony Grimaldi was about to sing, for his very first time in front of a live audience, leading Duane DeFranco’s band (the most popular rock and roll band in the high school) and poor Tony was having some serious doubts that he’d live through the next few seconds. As Julia Debons stood at the left side of the stage, long loose curls flattened by her headset, and John Anderson stood at the right, his big arms poised on the curtain’s rope, Tony realized this was “the moment” and he wasn’t all so sure he was ready for “the moment” now that it was here.

How this all came to be, how Tony had gotten himself into this mess in the first place, was such an incredible story that Tony only half believed it himself—and he had been in the thick of it all.

What’s worse, Tony had made it all happen.

*           *           *           *           *

On a fateful November day of this first year of his life in high school, 1977, Tony had somehow managed to pry himself from his plastic lunch table seat. Ignoring his two friends Bob and Greg, he had walked the tiled expanse of dull green cafeteria floor to the “senior’s section” of the large round loud room. Chubby-cheeked Tony walked right up to the lunch table to Duane, Steve and Ray (the three remaining members of the band Muscle) and the five friends they were joking with. Months later, Tony still wouldn’t be able to recall the other people who were sitting at the table that day-all faces except for the band members a blur in this uncharacteristically brave moment of his-but he could recall the intense feeling of everyone in the cafeteria suddenly stunned into silent seemingly staring at his back. But Tony hadn’t much care—or he was simply too nervous having gotten up the nerve to follow through with his fantasy.

Actually, Tony did care, but he couldn’t allow himself a second thought then, a quick glance back at his usual table in the sophomore section; he had to push on. His plan had been to just walk right up to Duane’s table, that most popular table in all the school, the table everyone who was anyone would love to sit at to ask if the rumor was true.

“Yeah?” Duane asked turning his clean-shaven, sharp face completely on Tony the minute the sophomore had reached him.

Duane was definitely king of the table. From this castle, he caught every movement, every pass, and every visitor. All eyes on him, Tony caught the question in his throat and tried not to faint.

“I…I,” Tony started.

He wanted to stomp his foot, punch his arm, scream, anything to halt this nervousness. He knew he’d only have the briefest second to say what he wanted.

“Spit it out kid,” Steve said. Tony looked down at the chubby boy to his right, sprawled across three chairs.

Tony didn’t know Steve Rainy any better than he did Duane or Billy, and he expected to be just as frightened of him as he was the rest of the band. But when Tony looked at the brown-eyed senior, he couldn’t help but smile. Steve’s eyes may have been dark and heavy-lidded, but his big oval face was open and kind. The big teenager was smiling the broadest grin Tony had ever seen and, despite his “spit it out kid,” Tony felt suddenly at ease, and his question just poured forth.

“Heard you were looking for a singer,” he coughed, his words dropping across the table as heavy as the ham and cheese sandwiches everyone was trying to digest.

“What’s your name?” Duane asked from across the table; he seemed a mile away.

“Tony.”

Tony felt the pull to look over at Steve again, to gather some confidence from that funny face, but his eyes were now locked on Duane’s small blue eyes.

Duane DeFranco had a face nobody could read. It wasn’t mean, but it wasn’t friendly either; a long nose, high cheekbones and a thin line of lips. Bob had quipped, “totally cold, man,” and that was exactly what Duane was. He was one of the most popular boys in school and also one  of the most mysterious. He was quietly polite, never raised any trouble, but he had a reputation of being very serious when he spoke (which he had never done to Tony before) and deeply devoted to his band and their music. He was considered the best guitarist in Marrymount High and his band, Muscle, was always invited to play every season’s talent show. But the spring concert was two months away, and Muscle had just lost their lead singer.

You sing,” Duane said.

This wasn’t a question, merely a statement, and Tony breathed a silent sigh of relief not actually needing to admit the fact out loud. Having to say, “I’m a singer, and I thought maybe I could try out for your band,” had seemed so silly to Tony when he had practiced it in his mirror the night before; luckily, Duane had saved him the trouble. The question was: what would Duane now do with this information?

“Pick you up in front of the gym after school,” Duane said and then went back to his sandwich and the tall red-haired girl sitting to his right on the radiator.

The normal conversation around the table continued, and Tony turned as quickly as he could without seeming like he was escaping (which is exactly what he was doing), and slowly walked back to his table of frozen buddies as the world returned to normal around him.

At 2:45 Duane pulled his car to the front of the gym, and Tony waved and opened the passenger-side door. Duane kept the radio at a moderate volume, quite contrary to what Tony had imagined this long-haired guitar player enjoying, and drove to his house. After a few preliminary questions: “Where do you live?” “Sophomore right?” “Got a microphone?,” the two boys settled into a bumpy silence.

Duane’s clean car was also something of a contradiction, Tony thought as he sat back in the immaculate black and gray checked bucket seats. Duane should be driving a big gas guzzling van or maybe even a motorcycle, right? Tony pictured the rest of the band hanging out of dented doors, music blaring, and cigarette smoke or worse pouring from half-cracked windows as they hit the shore on weekends trying to score summer gigs they weren’t  old enough as of yet to play. But as Duane pulled up his tree-lined street, up into his driveway and shut the car off, Tony realized his assumptions of Duane could be (and very well were) completely wrong.

A minute later, the two boys were out of the car, walking around the side of Duane’s red brick house, crunching a few wood chips scattered over the brick side walkway and to the open side door.

“Hey kid,” Steve greeted Tony as the younger boy descended the basement stairs before Duane. The big drummer reached his heavy hand across the couch he was sitting on, and Tony shook it.

What’s up?” Billy managed from across the room. He was sitting at Steve’s glossy black drum set, his lanky arms draped down the front tom-toms like he belonged there.

Get up man,” Steve chuckled from across the room. “Battle stations.”

Billy jumped from the drums in mocked attention, vaulted across the room, his long legs and skinny body making him look like a scarecrow lumbering about, and came to stand at his squat bass amp. He put a  blonde bass guitar around his neck as Duane made his way down the stairs.

Use that mike,” Duane said, waving at the silver microphone and stand in the center of the room. He crossed behind Tony, faced his five-foot high guitar amp and lifted his jet black Les Paul guitar.

Tony walked to the center of the room and the silver-headed microphone on the high stand. Managing a quick twist to the center of the stand, lowering the mike to his mouth, Tony was happy to be doing something while the players behind him plugged in and shimmied.

Here was the moment of truth. Here was what all those countless hours in his room in front of his mirror had pushed him toward. For better or worse, Tony’s hours of screaming over his radio, straining one eye to gaze at his reflection in his closet mirror, those study-hall singing ‘lessons’ with Tina watching “The Midnight Special” incessantly—all that work had led him to this moment. But then, Tony was filled with a blinding panic that rose around his white Reebok high-tops all the way to his black, curly-haired head.

What was he going to sing!?

Duane solved any and all problems by hitting the loudest power chord Tony had ever actually been in a room with, and the band began playing “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad.” This was one of the few Bad Company songs Tony not actually knew, but he could manage.

The funny thing about coincidences is  that they do happen. Tony had read that quote someplace and knew that, here in Duane’s basement that first hour, it surely applied. The cover songs the band had kept playing—The Who, Bad Company, even Jethro Tull—Tony knew and kept singing, never missing a word or beat. Every song they picked he knew, even songs that they were all too young to have ever actually heard on the radio when they were first popular. Somehow these three seniors were in complete sync with him, a frightened sophomore who had only ever kissed two girls in his whole life,  one of whom was, technically, his best friend.

“Cool,” Billy said after the last song. Tony turned to look at the skinny blonde-haired boy who was smiling at him.

Real cool,” he added.

Hey, that was good kid,” Steve said from behind him.

A silence descended on the room as Tony waited for Duane’s opinion.

“We practice four nights a week,” Duane offered as Tony slowly turned to the big guitar player. “Need a ride?”

*           *           *           *           *

That was two months ago. Now, Tony stood on this stage with “his” band, ready to sing “their” songs. He could hear the two girls tap dancing on the other side of the curtains. Mary and Tina Maran were the best dancers in the school, and though Tony had a crush on Tina and would have liked to have watched her dance , here he was, standing with his band, locked at his place at the microphone.

He managed a quick glance over his shoulder and returned Steve’s smile from behind the drum set.

Tony remembered…

*           *           *           *           *

“You sing real good,” Steve said.

Duane and Billy had gone to the local convenience store for some soda (again, Tony was surprised, these guys weren’t trying to score beer from an older sibling or something) while he and the big drummer sat waiting on the cold basement steps. It was Tony’s third practice with Muscle, and he was still trying to shake off the shock that he, a sophomore, was signing with these seniors.

“You guys think I’m okay?” Tony asked.

You wouldn’t be singing for us if we didn’t,” Steve answered.

“Look,” Steve continued, placing his big hand on Tony’s thin shoulder. “Duane’s never gonna say too much. I’m his best friend, and he hardly speaks two sentences to me a day. If you are singing with us, it’s because we all like ya.”

“Cool,” Tony said and smiled. “But I mean I am a sophomore and you guys…”

Who cares man?” Steve answered standing up as the side door above them opened. “If ya can sing, ya can sing.”

Tony had needed those words of encouragement so much then and was grateful to the always smiling drummer. He wished he could see more of Steve when they played; the big guy was always able to make a face and crack him up when he needed it. But Tony wasn’t really good at moving; he was barely comfortable singing.

Tony had known he had a voice since he was little. His mom always told the story of how she would catch him in his room signing into a borrowed chess piece from his dad’s set, making believe the rook was a microphone. It was no wonder he had grown up wanting to sing and did so at any opportunity. To have made this step though, to actually be singing in front of people, and people he respected like the guys in this band, was a reality Tony would probably never get used to. To be hanging out with Duane DeFranco every night after practice, even though it was just for a drive home, was just as crazy a reality.

 

“You really play good,” Tony had said on the way home that night.

So far Duane had picked him up and drove him home every night for practice except one and like Steve had just warned, Duane had spoken maybe a total of four sentences. Most times it had been about music or groups that Duane wondered if Tony had heard. Tonight though, Tony wanted, needed to talk to the group’s leader, to  just make a simple connection, anything so he wouldn’t be so nervous around the big senior. Also, in a good-natured way, maybe he wanted to prove Steve wrong. Maybe Tony would offer more than two sentences to him.

“Thanks for letting me sing with you guys,” Tony offered as they drove down Duane’s street.

“Band decision,” Duane said, his intense eyes stuck on the twisty dark roads ahead.

“Yeah, but it’s your band,” Tony continued. “Thanks.”

“You can sing, man,” Duane said and turned down a two-lane road. “If you can sing, really sing, I want you singing for my band.”

“Well, that’s what I want to do,” Tony said and smiled.

Another five minutes of silence passed as Duane steered the car across town to Tony’s neighborhood. As they came to Tony’s long dead-end street, Duane suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. Parking the car in a low idle, Duane turned to Tony.

“You don’t have to try and convince me that you want this,” the older boy started. “I know what it’s like wanting.”     

Suddenly the senior’s blue eyes lost a bit of their usual intensity, and his high cheek-boned face softened. Tony turned fully to the bigger boy and waited for the explanation he knew was just bubbling to fly out of Duane’s tight lips.

“When I was a sophomore I wanted to play in my cousin’s band,”  Duane began, shifting a bit in the driver’s seat. “But I couldn’t play. I really couldn’t.”

The big boy laughed a bit, and Tony smiled back.

“So I just practiced my ass off, day and night, all the time. I met Billy and Steve. We had a couple of singers, but nobody who was as dedicated as us. But all the time we just kept practicing and practicing. I mean, I went to school, hit the books and all. I even worked all last summer digging ditches with my uncle to get the cash for this car, but any other time we were practicing.”

“So when I saw you come up to our table at lunch I sensed you had it,” Duane finished.

“Had what?” Tony blurted so quickly he wasn’t even aware he had spoken.

The desire man,” Duane said, and then turned back to the steering wheel and pulled the car from the curb.

“Whatever it is you want to do, playing guitar, sing, digging ditches even” Duane spoke while driving up the hill to Tony’ street. “if you don’t want it, don’t have the desire—I don’t care how smart you are or how talented, you won’t ever really make it—not in your heart, with yourself. You have to have the desire and respect that desire.”

So that was it. That was the link, the reason that Duane hadn’t laughed at Tony that first day in the cafe. Duane remembered what it had felt like to want something so bad that your desire could best your reason. And the older boy had seen the “wanting” in  Tony. It was a truth of life, Tony had always known, that if you worked hard, practiced, studied, and put unyielding effort into a task, you might not be the best, actually you might even be laughed at, but if you fulfilled your desire, you coddled your self-worth more than any applause or money could bring you. Duane had formed a band with players like himself, hungry but a bit unskilled and through hard work and their desire, most importantly their respect for their desire, they had succeeded in being a band Tony had a desire to sing with.

*           *           *           *           *

But was it true? Could wanting, desire, respecting your own needs be enough?

Tony’s upper lip was sweating now, his right foot tapping in place as he searched his memory for the first line of the song he was about to sing. Man, he had thought that first practice with Muscle was nerve—racking; it didn’t come close to how he felt right now on this stag.

Sure, Duane had it all, it was easy for him to fondly remember being a scared sophomore now that he was a confident senior, a guy every guy wants to hang with, and every girl wants to make—out with. Sure, it was easy for him to impart a little wisdom down to Tony, to make him feel at ease, but had he spoken the truth? Would Tony’s desire, his need to sing, get him through the next five minutes?

Suddenly there was no sound. Actually,  it was that the Maran sister’s rhythmic tapping had ended,  followed by polite clapping from the full audience beyond the closed curtain. But these normal sounds seemed so foreign to Tony’s ears, so far off and out of place in his nervousness, that he thought his world had suddenly shut down, and he was no longer on the planet.

But then he heard, someplace far far way, the light voice of Andrea Kola as she thanked the Maran sisters and…and…and began to introduce Muscle.

Other than the blinding spotlight and “shurp” of the curtain opening, there was nothing else to mark Tony’s introduction to live performance. Duane strummed his guitar, Tony clutched the mike stand, and suddenly the words came flowing up out his throat, through his mouth and fell beyond the hot colored lights at his feet.

And the words were the right words.

Tony Grimaldi was singing and wanting.


Ralph Greco, Jr. is a professional writer living in the wilds of Northern New Jersey.

“The Hacking Cough Intro in “Sweet Leaf” by Jeffrey Warzecha

“The Hacking Cough Intro in “Sweet Leaf” by Jeffrey Warzecha

Ozzy bit a bat’s head off, headed for rabies shots,

proved checked-in cough was habitual from joints

with Iommi by calling from the hospital phone

a friend who played the intro to “Sweet Leaf”

on repeat for the ER doctor. Coughing was a favored

vocalise and solmization for Ozzy. A frequent chord for Iommi.

One he fake-fingertip licked into mean riffs,

plucked like leaves off the devil’s lettuce then laid on the fretboard.

Just another cross he dangled round his neck.

 

Birmingham phlegm never vacates one’s throat—

it’s like a laryngeal squatter, unignorable, unforgettable:

like riding a bike made of graffiti and sheet metal

factory pollution. Like a bird that builds a Brummie nest

and keeps coming back to roost, or one that flies away from home

and congregation to form a solo career out of pills

and dead guitarists, eponymous music festivals and rocklore,

feels the incessant throat-tickles of home

that resonate like reverb and vibrato.

 

Combustible herbage hacks and chart-toppers were sole

communication forms during their migration-separated years.

Whenever Ozzy flew to rehab, Iommi could feel it

rattle his lungs, tingle from nostrils to sinuses

like disturbed dust. For every hit another hit.

Iommi never looked for needles,

though tried finding psychedelics in dens,

cocaine in snow mounds, eventually health in a haystack.

He apologized to men he street-fought as a thug kid,

tossed away knives, forgave the fiend inside.

 

Finally he reconciled with Ozzy after gnarly years

when Ozzy’s inability to fly high and straight solo

finally ended. They shook hands at the airport,

flew home to revisit places that inspired

Beelzebub-beats: the factory that stole Iommi’s digits,

clubs that shapeshifted Ozzy into part-frontman, part-phenomenon.

And when they deplaned, both inhaled, then coughed.


Jeffrey Warzecha earned an MFA from Lesley University, is the recipient of The Connecticut Review‘s Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize and has new publications both in print and online.

“Theremin” by Robert Beveridge

“Theremin” by Robert Beveridge

The core of any computer

is the motherboard. Cops,

priests, the Medicis, Lehman

Brothers, all must bow

to circuitry named for the woman

who bore us all. We warm

our hands over resistors,

capacitors, parts none of us

have names for, and expect music.

We feed them: more memory, better

processors (though the days

of the daughterboard are long past)

endless lines of code. And yet

whether they sing seems often guided

by the hands of imps, the whims

of shysters bearing soldered flowers.


Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances include The Literary Yard, Big Windows, and Locust, among others.

“Listening to L. Cohen, I paint a forest primeval in the backyard of my brain” by Karla Linn Merrifield

“Listening to L. Cohen, I paint a forest primeval in the backyard of my brain” by Karla Linn Merrifield

surrounding cerebellum’s irregular gray folds,

seeding violet lilacs of language

with the yellow pine of pleasure,

red oaks to ward off fear,

blue spruce among an evergreen assortment

to warrant your great attention.

In my mind’s eye some saplings mature

capable of moody indigo blooms, others

in groves of Chinese orange trees able to come

fully to orange fruition in a single day.


Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 600+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel toGodwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. Forthcoming this fall is Psyche’s Scroll, a full-length poem, published by The Poetry Box Selects. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poe Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

“This Girl” by Michael Cowgill

“This Girl” by Michael Cowgill

Joy feels no joy here in the cramped backstage area. She holds her guitar neck with her left hand, adjusts her Beatles’ wig with her right, ignores the chatter of her bandmates, her sisters in music, who more and more grate on her like a sharp note.  She still loves the music, loves the band’s concept even, a four-girl Beatles tribute band, playing those beautiful songs and dressing like them but with a feminine touch. Cheeky, a little sexy but limiting and exhausting. Joy has songs of her own she’d like to play and record, ambitions beyond the tribute band circuit, the Beatles fan festivals.  She’s thought about going to back to college, backpacking through Europe, making a pilgrimage to India.

“Jesus,” she thinks, “I’ve played George so long I’m becoming him.”

“You OK?” Ali says.

Joy glances at her, nods.  Ali tucks a strand of red hair back under her wig, grins her perfect grin. So Paul, perfect in her gray suit and Nehru jacket.

“Big crowd,” Ali says, this time trying out her dodgy Paul impression. The last fifteen minutes before show time, she likes to “get into character.” None of the others try that hard. They know the music, they wear the wigs and outfits, but they don’t play characters.  Right now, Liz–the John of the group–scrolls through a dating app on her phone, looking for some after-show New York City fun. Nora warms up on a drum pad, her focus on the brick wall in front of her, her jaw chewing away at a piece of gum. Ali? Ali taught herself to play bass left-handed for authenticity.

“You don’t look OK,” Ali says.

“I’m fine,” Joy says. What else can she say, especially right before a show?

“You feel good about that ‘Taxman’ solo?”

Joy studies her guitar, fingers a few chords.  Ali knows the damn answer, and she knows Joy doesn’t need to practice those parts anymore.  They’ve played them almost every night for three years.

“You know,” she says, “you should play that solo.”

Ali frowns. She has a great voice and great bass chops, but she doesn’t have Paul’s multi-instrumental genius.

“I mean,” Joy adds, “if we want to make it authentic.”

Ali waves her hand in dismissal.

“I don’t care about that,” she says, turning “care” into something that sounds more like “cuh.”

Joy shrugs.  Ali would love to play that solo if she could.

Then it happens.

She looks right at Ali and speaks.

“I’m thinking about quitting.”

It…just…happens.

Ali’s green eyes widen.

“Literally,” Joy says, “I was thinking about it when you interrupt. . . when you asked me if I was OK.”

“You don’t mean it.”

Joy shrugs again.

“I don’t not mean it either.”

Ali steps as close as she can without their instruments hitting, then speaks in her real voice.

“Did I do something?”

Joy raises an eyebrow.

“You know,” Ali whispers.

Joy blushes, looks away again.

“You know I can’t give you that,” she says.

“I know,” Ali says.

She rocks back on her heels.

“I thought you might want to get away from me.”

“No.”

Ali joins Joy against the wall.  Joy does want some space, but she can’t tell Ali that, even though it has nothing to do with Ali’s desires.  She needs time to herself today, tomorrow, maybe for a year or three, instead of time to herself surrounded by three other women and a slightly pervy road manager.

“Not right away,” she says, “not ‘til after the dates we have, but maybe then.”

“I can’t do this without you,” Ali says.  “It was always us.”

“It doesn’t have to stay that way,” Joy says.  “You could find a replacement or change up the act and have a dude or two around or start doing Paul songs instead.”

“Fuck that,” Ali says.

She pushes herself off the wall and retreats to Liz and Nora, puts on her chipper face again.

“You said it,” Joy mutters.

The others huddle, and Ali glances once at Joy as she talks.  Joy has had her fill of this, too, the ever-changing dynamics, shifting alliances, bruised egos.  Everyone loves the romantic idea of a band, this pure expression of friendship, the band against the world, and then everyone acts surprised when a band falls apart as if it’s never happened before.  This band in particular doesn’t have anything to do with friendship, other than Joy and Ali. They found the others through auditions, but the band only has two missions, one noble, one practical. The noble one: share this great music, honor this great band, show people “girls can do it, too.”  The practical: you can make money easier with someone else’s songs.

Their road manager gives them a sign.  Joy adjusts her wig again, makes sure her gray pants haven’t wedged themselves anywhere, brushes them off, and joins the others. They head out to the darkened stage, plug in, and strike that first magic chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Lights blaze. The club crowd erupts in applause. After the song, they take their Beatles-style bows. Joy used to feel a charge in these moments but looking out at these Baby Boomers reliving their youths and smiling at the band’s gimmick doesn’t do anything for her. They’ve served the audience a fast-casual twist on the McDonald’s fries of other tribute bands, not some hand-crafted delicacy.

For the few seconds before the next song, she ponders throwing her guitar down and leaving, just walking out into the Village in her stupid Nehru jacket, tossing her wig in the nearest trash can, and heading to Penn Station or Grand Central or the Port Authority to catch the next train or bus to wherever and never looking back. Then Nora counts them in by tapping her sticks together, and Joy plays and bobs her head and sings harmonies with Ali at a single microphone, their faces almost touching, their voices blending perfectly, and she understands Ali’s feelings even if she can’t reciprocate them.  In those moments night in and night out, they seem perfect together.

The song ends, they step back, take their bows, and Ali leans close, whispers.

“How could you leave this?”

The fantasy rolls in Joy’s mind again, but now she has to sing lead, and she has no time to think about leaving or staying.  She has to perform, she has to tell Beethoven to roll over. Across the room, she sees an older woman they met in the train station in Washington.  Chatting with her, they learned she had seen the Beatles as a teenager and that her 14-year-old granddaughter loved them, too, so they told her about the show.  The granddaughter sits, tapping her foot but looking a little skeptical of the proceedings. Joy understands that, but she decides to focus all her energy on this girl, this one person, keeping her eyes on her as much as she can, playing her solos with extra energy, letting a little of her own style creep in.

When she steps back to her regular position, Ali grins at her as if to say, “See?”  They carry on, and Joy continues to focus her energy on the girl. A few songs later, the girl has moved up front, sometimes dancing, sometimes watching their hands, trying to learn.  She wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the cover of Abbey Road, the four Beatles not long before their breakup, crossing a street at a crosswalk. Joy likes it, points at the girl, gives her a thumb’s-up.  The girl flashes a big, bright smile, and Joy does the same. The girl averts her gaze.

They reach “Things We Said Today,” and as always, they take their cue from the live versions and do a rave-up during the middle eights.  Joy leans into it even more, and that pushes Ali, always a good musical listener, to open up her voice more. The girl bounces up and down. Her ponytail pops loose, and her long brown hair whips around her head.

They bow before a break, and the girl still moves a little, her hair a mess around her, sweat beading on her forehead.

This, Joy thinks.

They leave the stage, hurry to change into their cheekier Sgt. Pepper outfits, matching the Beatles’ original satin marching band uniforms but different: sleeveless with skirts and go-go boots.  Joy hates them but at least prevailed on Ali to forego fake beards and mustaches. Now though, thinking about the girl, about that moment of abandon, she doesn’t care about feeling ridiculous. She doesn’t care about the annoyances, the resentments, the jealousies.  She cares about the music and the girl.

Ali’s bare shoulder brushes hers, and Joy turns.  Ali’s face beams.

“Did you see that girl?” she says.

Joy can’t suppress her own smile.

“Yeah.”

“That–wow.”

Ali reaches out and adjusts Joy’s wig.

“We should do something extra,” she says.

They lock eyes, nod, know.  Ali looks over her shoulder at Liz and Nora.

“At the end,” she says, “Abbey Road, side two.”

She turns back, runs her hand along Joy’s cheek.  This has happened before. Joy doesn’t flinch, but she doesn’t relax either.  Ali’s smile softens into a frown.

“Don’t,” Joy says, then softer, “please.”

Ali’s eyes water.

Joy holds up her guitar and points at it.

“This,” she says, “just this and that girl and making her happy.”

Ali nods.

“And then?”

Joy locks her eyes on Ali’s teary eyes.

“Then,” Joy she says, “the girl in the next town.”

Ali nods again, wipes her eyes with the back of her hand.

Their road manager gives them the sign.  Joy tugs at her skirt to straighten it, and they find their way to their spots in near darkness, plug in again.  Nora counts them in, and purple lights, applause, and the girl greet their opening chords.


Michael Cowgill writes fiction, comics, and songs in Falls Church, Virginia, and is a member of the comics collective The DC Conspiracy. He also co-hosts the podcast Battle of the Network Shows. He earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of Evansville and an MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University. His fiction has appeared in Phoebe, and his comics have appeared in the anthologies District Comics and Wild Ocean.

 

“Piano, on its Role in Judas Priest’s “Epitaph” by Daniel M. Shapiro

“Piano, on its Role in Judas Priest’s “Epitaph” by Daniel M. Shapiro

This is the movie
the part in the movie
where the star basketball player gets hurt
and most of the others have fouled out
so the snotty kid
who annoys everyone
but deep down inside
is really an enlightened asshole
he comes out of the stands
borrows a uniform
that’s two sizes too big
and you know what he does
and that’s me here
that’s me on this song
no guitars
just me
and voice
but really
just me


Daniel M. Shapiro is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, including How the Potato Chip Was Invented, Heavy Metal Fairy Tales, and The Orange Menace. He is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh.