The Music Blog: The Voice

Chester Burnett Born June 10, 1910 Died January 10, 1976

The Voice

I wrote earlier that in my opinion there are 3 bluesmen who stand alone at the top, 3 greats impossible to really rank from that point so they are 1a, 1b, and 1c. For the longest time Burnett was my clear number 1. He was the artist who gave me my real love of blues music and I think he is the most talented of the three greats and maybe just maybe he does deserve to be clearly back ay number 1. Maybe by the time I finish this blog he will be.

Most won’t know him by his name, most will only know him by his artist name, but that name will be almost universally known. Like most blues names the origin is a bit of a mystery. Burnett himself gave different versions on how he became known. One story has it that his grandfather told him stories about the wild wolves in the area and of course threatened him with them, he told Chester about how they howled and that stuck with him. Another story has Jimmy Rogers giving him the moniker and Chester once said when he discovered that he couldn’t yodel that howling seemed to work for him so he became Howlin’ Wolf. Howlin’ Wolf was the greatest blues singer ever, hands down. From his earliest performances it was said about him that shows were so good so raucous that he his voice alone could make the floor shake that he sang with his entire soul and that at a Howlin’ Wolf performance you would be equally thrilled and scared out of your wits by the man. He was large over 6’3” and always weighed around 300 pounds. He has a song where he proclaims he was 300 pounds of joy and another line says he was built for comfort and not for speed. Yet he was a gentle giant, soft spoken but he could be tough. I saw an old clip once from the late 60’s on some documentary or other and there were a group of old bluesmen gathered around and they were talking about their early days. The stories were great but from one man Son House there was clearly some underlying bitterness and it was directed at Holwin’ Wolf who just took these jibes and jabs in stride until finally he had enough and he ripped in to Son House who backed down so quickly that you knew Howlin’ Wolf had a reputation.  For the rest of the interview Son House didn’t have much to say but Howlin’ Wolf went back to that soft spoken demeanor like nothing had happened. That moment has always stayed with me. You had to be tough to work the old juke joints where Howlin’ Wolf started.

Howlin’ Wolf could also do more than just sing. He was an excellent musician and could play guitar and harmonica. Now some of the reason why he stopped playing guitar is that later his guitarist was Hubert Sumlin who I think is the greatest blues guitarist to ever walk the planet. He grew up however surrounded by blues greats and like Robert Johnson loved Charley Patton one of the early greats, a prolific songwriter and recording artist. Patton was also known for his showmanship and he took an early interest in Howlin’ Wolf teaching him to play the guitar which is pretty amazing in its own right. If you are not sure just how cool that was imagine growing up next to someone like George Harrison and having George love you so much that he gave you personal lessons on how to play the guitar. That’s some guitar instructor. Patton also was known for the way he twirled his guitar played behind his back or over his head and all of these tricks he taught Howlin’ Wolf. Later when Howlin’ Wolf wanted to learn the harmonica Sonny Boy Williamson II taught him how. If you don’t know who Williamson is, well he is also in my top 10 all time bluesmen and might be the greatest harmonica player ever. So Howlin’ Wolf was a master musician because he was taught by greats but he was always known for the voice.

Howlin’ Wolf went on to form two amazing partnerships. When Willie Dixon wrote a song for Muddy Waters that was recorded at Chess Records Howlin Wolf asked Dixon why he had never written a song for him. Dixon was one of the most important figures in Blues music because he owned and operated Chess Records a recording studio for and managed by black men. Dixon was a tremendous song writer and performer in his own right. He went on to write many more than just one song for Howlin’ Wolf. The other important relationship Howlin’ Wolf formed was with his guitarist Hubert Sumlin who again in my opinion is the greatest blues guitarists ever. Sumlin was always understated which seemed to work amazingly with Howlin’ Wolf’s big voice but in many ways he set the standard for the way both rock and roll and blues guitar developed from the 60’s on.

There is a great story which says a lot about Sumlin and even more about Howlin’ Wolf. Before his death with his health failing a group of famous and successful English rockers who had grown up listening to the blues and had done much to bring its popularity to all-time highs in the United States invited Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to London to record with them. These sessions were mostly driven by Eric Clapton and became known as the London Sessions. Now Clapton had made a mistake in the mid 60’s with a young black guitarist who was in England to start a band and jumpstart his career. He was hanging around and one night he asked Clapton if he could come on stage and play. Clapton being God and all said sure. Jimi Hendrix introduced himself to the world and humbled Eric Clapton by playing Killing Floor a Howlin’ Wolf song that Clapton did not believe could be played live. Yet Howlin’ Wolf always played the song live, he had Sumlin who created the original riff playing guitar for him. Clapton wanted no guitarist to be around him who was better so he set a stipulation on Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters that these rich English rockers could not afford to bring the two bluesmen’s bands over so only Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters could be accommodated. It was total bullshit, Clapton alone could have afforded it. Neither Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy particularly liked this but they did agree. Howlin’ Wolf had serious healthcare issues with his heart and kidneys and both of these men wanted to earn money for their families so they went. During the Howlin’ Wolf sessions they were trying to play one of his standards and failing badly so Howlin’ Wolf kept stopping them, trying to give them instruction on what he was looking for. He was a kind generous soul and he was trying to be nice. It would have been great to have gotten his impressions of the ego driven Clapton but he had a lesson for Clapton. You can tell by the way Clapton speaks during the session that he believes he is the best guitarist there. Howlin’ Wolf had told them how it should sound and then backs away gently by telling them how they should play how it feels to them. This now is one of my criticisms of white people especially Englishmen playing the blues because they don’t know how it should feel because they cannot relate where the song came from. Clapton makes the suggestion that Howlin’ Wolf should show them how to play it. Howlin’ Wolf says he can’t play in a sort of aw shucks man moment but remember who taught him. Howlin’ Wolf had spent years in the 30’s and 40’s playing juke joints and playing guitar with every trick Charley Patton had ever shown him. He didn’t play guitar later because he didn’t need to and could focus on singing. So he picks up a guitar and a slide and plays exactly what these Englishmen couldn’t. It is so sublime and Eric Clapton had nothing to say.

Howlin’ Wolf died shortly after the London Sessions. He went in for kidney surgery and died of complications a few days later. He was survived by his wife who he had married in the early early days and her two daughters who he loved and cared for as his own until the day he died. Howlin’ Wolf had always made money in the business and his wife managed their finances. He always paid his musicians very well and even provided health coverage for them. He was one of the good people to ever walk the earth, giving music to us all. His first two albums Moaning in the Moonlight and his self-titled first album which became known as the Rocking Chair album for its cover are absolute blues masterpieces. Listen and its pretty easy to see why I have him rated as the greatest blues singer of all time and one of the three greatest bluesmen ever.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Lightning Strikes

Samuel John Hopkins born March 15, 1912-died January 30, 1982

Lightning

In the blues world people used the term to describe someone really fast. Lonnie Johnson was one of the first bluesmen to be called a Lightnin’ Boy. Somehow others escaped the moniker. Robert Johnson was an absolute virtuoso but was never called Lightnin’ at least that anyone knows about. Who knows with Robert Johnson, right?

Samuel Hopkins was called Lightning but maybe not for the reason outlined above. Was he a virtuoso? Absolutely he was. Was he fast, fast as anyone? Oh yes he was. Rolling Stone Magazine has him rated in the top 100 guitarists of all time. He was born in Texas and as a child the blues music was all around. He met Blind Lemon Jefferson when he was only a child and announced then and there that the blues was in him. So he learned the guitar at an early age and as he grew and developed he was the only guitarist that Jefferson wanted or allowed to play with him. Hopkins was skilled and as he got older he made two attempts to make it as a blues performer in Houston. On his second attempt he was discovered by Aladdin records and traveled to Los Angeles where he recorded with a pianist Wilson Smith. It was there an Aladdin executive dubbed Hopkins Lightning and Smith Thunder in an attempt to make them more attractive to listen to. He recorded more and then returned to Houston and afterwards rarely traveled away from Texas until 1959 when he went to Carnegie Hall and from there Hopkins was introduced to the world.

I discovered Lightning Hopkins pretty late in my blues journey. That is somewhat surprising given how high he is on my list of all time blues artists. It’s also not surprising as there are hundreds of blues artists. Don’t even get me started with those with Blind in their name and who actually was and who wasn’t really blind. A friend gave me his complete Aladdin recordings and that introduced me. I loved him instantly and every time he comes around on my playlist enjoy him a little more.

Hopkins music is tremendous and like John Lee Hooker he was a tremendous storyteller and concert performer playing many large folk festivals. He later toured the world. Sadly he died of cancer at the age of 62 in Houston. Hopkins closely resembled the old school blues performers who often would come on stage alone and play in such a way that one man sounded like a band. He is truly a virtuoso talent. He has great songs and is a really good singer. He is rated number 5 on my all-time list of bluesmen and he is well worth listening to in an exploration of the blues.

Mike out

The Music Blog: The Storyteller

I have listened to a lot of blues over the course of my life especially in the last 25 to 30 years. When it comes to the blues there are basically 2 schools or styles and as you dive in you will hear people reference Delta Blues and Chicago Blues. Of course there are also a group of yahoos who talk about Texas Blues and point to artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Listen I would like SRV a lot more if people quit referencing him as a blues man because he isn’t. He plays rock and roll and like most rock and roll it’s infused with blues riffs and rhythms but that doesn’t make it the blues. Sorry it’s just not. Now personally I have never understood why there has to be a distinction between Chicago and the Delta. They are connected, without the Delta there really isn’t a Chicago style as that’s where the influence was. Blues men travelled up to Chicago for bigger crowds, more money, more opportunity and the Blues took hold. This is also why Memphis became such a hot spot for the blues. Hey there are songs about Highway 49 which went north.

Now in my opinion there are three greats, three bluesmen who stand so far apart from the rest who had so much more influence than the rest that they stand alone. There are many others who come close but fall somewhere in line behind these three. Each of the three is distinct from one another as they can be. All three were born in the Delta. All three played and contributed to that Chicago style. For the longest time, the ranking of these three was clear to me, there was a 1 a 2 and a 3, close but that’s how I viewed them. My number 1 was the greatest blues singer to ever walk the planet but the more I listened to the other 2 the more I realized that there was room for someone else. So I changed that ranking and another was my number 1 for a while and then the third guy had a turn. Finally I came to the conclusion that I could not rank them so now they are 1a, 1b, and 1c.

Today’s subject is maybe the one guy that universally is loved. He just had that way with people, a great story teller, a tremendous musician and of the 3 I think links blues and rock better than the others. He was electric.

He was born in 1917 although the year of his birth is in question, in Tallahatchie County Mississippi. He was the son of a sharecropper He was the youngest of 11 children. The only music allowed in the home was religious music until 1921 when his parents separated and his mother married a blues singer William Moore who introduced him to the blues. He would always credit Moore with the development of his playing style, the one chord style that was prevalent in the region. A sister’s boyfriend gave him his first guitar. This man, Tony Hollins was also credited with developing his style of play. He never forgot those two men and always gave them credit.

He left home at the ripe old age of 14 years old and claims to have never seen his parents again. He moved to Memphis where he began playing on the famed Beale Street. During World War II he moved to Detroit to work at the Ford Motor Company. After the war, he began playing in the Detroit clubs and realized that people were having a hard time hearing him. He bought his first electric guitar shortly after. In 1949 Modern Records released a demo he had recorded. At the time he was working as a janitor in Detroit. The song Boogie Chillin’ became a small hit and introduced the world to John Lee Hooker.

If you have never really heard John Lee Hooker’s music then it’s a good time to start. Over the years people have discovered my love of the blues. I have been asked to put together cd’s for people and to make suggestions on where to start, who to listen to. I used to give people the path I took, Holiday, Bessie Smith and then Robert Johnson. Holiday is a tremendous singer, I think the best of all time and she is great to listen to whether you are interested in jazz or the blues anyway but her music is not really symbolic or representative of classic Delta Blues. Smith is difficult to listen to, her music is old and it sounds tinny, most of its just her and a piano and she can turn people off in a hurry. Robert Johnson is amazing but he has few recorded songs, 28 to be exact and many of those are just different takes. He also can be difficult to listen to, to hear his words and good luck figuring out what he was doing on the guitar. He often added a 7th string. Nowadays when people ask me I tell them to listen to john Lee Hooker. You can hear the influences to rock and roll in his music. He had that wonderful unique style. To me it always sounds like he is starting in the middle of a song, that’s his style unique to him and blues boogie will get you moving. Mostly it’s that wonderful deep mellow voice. Yes I would start with John Lee then it doesn’t matter who you listen to as everyone will have to compare to him.

Hooker recorded a lot of music. He did not get paid royalties and so he hustled and worked for it. He often would record the same song early in his career under different names and provide a different version or take on the song every time.

In the 60’s blues music became very popular because of the rock and roll artists who loved it and claimed its influence. Many blues legends joined forces to make money playing with the white rock stars many of them English white rock stars. Yet Hooker had always played with anyone who wanted to play with him. In 1970 he recorded with Canned Heat. He just enjoyed playing. He also always seemed a lot less bitter than some of his contemporaries, his music not suffering as much from the highs and lows of blues popularity. One of his big songs was Boom Boom which he recorded a couple of times. Of all the blues artists out there I have always found Hooker the most likeable. He was great at telling stories and for him it was just part of the gig. He was a prolific song wirter and while many other blues artists were content to play many blues standards most of the songs Hooker sang were original songs that he wrote. He had that great delivery and sometimes he would actually talk through a song telling a story rather than sing words like the song House Rent Blues and in the background he is just playing away. He has slow songs like The Waterfront and up tempo songs like One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer all done in his unique style.

Hooker died in his sleep in Los Angeles in his home at peace with the workd.

So there you have it. In my opinion, Hooker is one of the three greatest bluesmen ever. Stick around because a second one is really close by.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Eleanora Fagan

Eleanora Fagan born April 7, 1915, died July 17, 1959.

If you don’t know who she is, then that’s certainly alright. I will introduce you to her. She was an incredible woman.

You might even be surprised, or learn something but If I could have a wish it would be that this particular blog entry makes you think.

I know there are a fair chunk of you that know my feelings on what blues music is and what it is not. I think I can even hear a few of you groan. If you don’t you can go back to that previous blog on the blues and read up and then come back to this one or you will get enough maybe from this one to know and hopefully to understand through the eyes of my friend Eleanora.

Sometimes it is very hard to understand things that happened long ago because your context is the here and now. Blues performers walked or hoboed from juke joint to juke joint to play. Now the people who attended these shows didn’t want to go and hear a bunch of sad songs about the lives they lived. They didn’t want to hear about loss, about hopelessness. They lived that every day. Blues performers played blues songs for sure as well as dance numbers and sing a-longs. Their job was to keep the crowd dancing, keep them buying hooch. The more they did that the more they got paid.

The reason why I am writing that is that when you learn who this blog is about well your first thought might be, wow is that person a blues performer. You might even think they were a jazz performer. In fact if you said that this person was the greatest jazz singer ever I wouldn’t argue. Jazz though, especially back in the 30’s and 40’s had many blues elements in the songs and jazz bands played many popular blues numbers.  No I am quite sure in my heart that the person I am writing about is the greatest singer of all time, male or female any genre you want to select, including the blues.

You see, that’s one of my problems. I simply don’t understand why some people only listen to one type of music. I am part of a blues fan group and I am shocked at how limited they are. They literally listen to what they think is the blues all day every day. Now first most of them love a bunch of white people pretending to be blues artists and that’s all they are, pretenders. I have no problem with someone loving the blues, but that music has been stolen from black culture without understanding at all where and why it derived. It is listened to and played by white people including Englishmen who don’t have a clue what the music means. They couldn’t.

Take young Eleanora. Her father abandoned her mother upon learning she was pregnant. He was an itinerant jazz performer riding circuits trying to make a living trying to make a name for himself. Eleanora’s mother worked the trains and she was mostly raised by her mother’s half-sister in Baltimore. She was truant a lot and spent time with the nuns at reform school. Her mother came in and out of her life. When she was 11 a neighbor attempted to rape her but was caught. Her mother then moved to Harlem. At 14 Eleanora went to live with her mother only to find that she was a prostitute and so soon was Eleanora. They were arrested and spent time in a workhouse.

By the age of 17 Eleanora knew she wanted to be a singer and began singing in nightclubs around Harlem. She created a professional name for herself Billie from the actress Billie Dove who she admired and Halliday after her father. She later changed that to Holiday. At 19 she recorded her first songs. And so you can see by the age of 19 years old, how much had happened in her life. She didn’t sing the blues as much as she was the blues.

Early in her singing career Holiday ran into her father. It was inevitable really as they were both playing the clubs. They reconciled and reconnected which has always astonished me. Holiday began to get noticed more and more, Count Basie noticed her and she was soon singing in his orchestra. Later she sang for a white orchestra leader Artie Shaw and his predominantly white orchestra. Shaw was good to her but the times were not. She would sing for mostly white audiences and then return to hotels where she was forced to use the kitchen entrance and the service elevator so as not to upset white patrons. Yea she knew the blues. If you want to know what was happening in the blues world, mostly nothing. It was the same as it had been musicians traveling from town to town recording a little or a lot depending on the artist and playing for juke joints mostly in the south or in Chicago. Jim Crow still ruled the land and to understand where the blues came from you have to understand, empathize and even cry for Emmit Till, for little girls blown up in a church in Alabama, for the lynching that still took place, for the hundred of atrocities committed simply because of the color of a person’s skin.

At the height of her career, Holliday made over 250,000 dollars in a three year span. She didn’t receive royalties but instead was paid upfront per recording. She did well for herself outperforming and out earning many white contemporary artists. But she wasn’t white. Holiday discovered narcotics, heroin, and drank to excess. Later the alcohol use would destroy her beautiful voice and she was arrested for narcotics and went to prison. It is doubtful a white artist of her stature would have done so. Billie Holiday was the blues. When she heard a song from a poem written by a Jewish man she wanted to sing it even though she knew the subject matter was so controversial that it possibly could ruin her career. Her father had died after being turned away from a hospital because he was colored. Yes, Billie Holiday wanted and needed to sing Strange Fruit. When it was played live all the lights would turn down and she would not sing until everyone was quiet and still. She wanted the words to hit home, she needed them to know and understand what it meant to have the blues. A solitary light would shine on only her face and when the song was over the light would go out and when the lights came back up Billie Holiday would be off stage. It was a powerful message. Her label would not record the song so she found another label that would. She had courage too.

She spent nearly two years in prison for possession of narcotics and when she was released she could only sing concert halls as she lost her cabaret card. She drank more and late recordings cannot hide the damage done. Yet she still drew huge crowds to hear her sing. But she couldn’t stop drinking and was hospitalized with cirrhosis. She improved and was discharged her doctors imploring her to quit drinking. She tried but relapsed, tried again and couldn’t stop. Of course nowadays she would have rehab options but then nothing except to dry out. She tried, she certainly did not want to die. She got sick again, inevitably and was hospitalized and she died.

Eleanora was just 44 years old. She lived the blues and she died the same way.

Somewhere in my mid 20’s I decided that loving music so much meant that I should branch out and learn a bit more. I wanted to learn about the blues and I read a lot about the blues before I ever listened to a blues song. From those earliest days my understanding of what was and what wasn’t formed. I also read many things about Jim Crow and sharecropping. I read a lot about the civil rights movement which I had already done but now did even more of and I began the process of selecting which artist I wanted to begin with. Sometimes great choices are made without any real idea why you made them. Even though I knew she was more singer than what a traditional blues artist was I selected Billie Holiday and a collection called the Quintessential Billie Holiday. I fell in love with her voice. I always want to be in a quiet place when I listen to her. There is so much sadness, so much forlorn about her delivery. Yes, Billie knew the blues. Many of her songs are jazz standards but many like Bessie Smith before her, like her contemporary Ella Fitzgerald were every bit the blues song. I can’t give you songs. If you don’t know her music then find some and listen, really listen to the words of her song but more importantly how she delivers that song. She is the best.

You did good Eleanora, you did great.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Egads, There is Gum in Hair

I sometimes wonder about today’s music and the youth that listen to it. For the last few years I have wondered if the music of my youth, my adolescence is just dead, maybe that’s why so many bands continue playing like the last gasp of a dying animal. The rock and roll I grew up with is dead replaced by something strange and electronic. My youth though had all the great bands, bands left over from the 60’s and the rock gods of the 70’s. I saw a lot of them, not as many as some, more than others but since this is my blog we will keep the focus on me.

In Texas we had these huge summer concerts that came every year sometimes played in the Cotton Bowl sometimes Texas Stadium. They called it the Texas Jam. The first band would start playing around 11 maybe a little later and the last band would go on late. It was music all day. I went to most of these through high school maybe even a couple in college, although honestly most of them were forgettable, not nearly as good as seeing one band in concert for one great show. In the summer before my junior year, just 16 years old my cousin and I were supposed to go to the Jam but he pulled out at the last minute and sold me his ticket. I literally forgot about it until the last minute and my friend Guy and I drove to Dallas at like 2 am. We parked, slept a little in the car and then when gates opened we made our way down to the field. Astroturf in the Texas Summer was essentially a roasting pan. We had very little money, no sunscreen and my fair skin just burned. There was a group of older young adults behind us and they shared sunscreeen and food with us. Somehow Guy scrounged some money and I sold the few loose joints I had on me except for 2. So we endured and then the music played. Don’t ask me who played, the usual suspects I am sure; Ted Nugent, Nazareth, I think Boston later. Somewhere in the late afternoon I discovered that I had a big wad of gum in my hair and for the rest of the day I worried at it and got part of it out. It was in there, sweaty nasty hair with a wad of gum. Guy and I moved for the last couple of acts into the stands and I worried at this gum some more. Naturally Guy said it would have to be cut out. Some time during the day the drains clogged so the outside of the field flooded and we had to walk through ankle to mid calf high water to get to the stands. It was just more misery, now my feet were wet with nasty disgusting water, I was sunburned and there was a wad of gum in my hair. The last band was Heart.

Has there ever been a band that has reinvented themselves or made as many comebacks as Heart? Even now, after Ann and Nancy Wilson spent the last couple of years quietly feuding they are back. It’s an odd thing to wax and wane the way they have but they have been to the depths only to rise again. They started off so well too one of the best debut albums ever with the songs Magic Man and Crazy On You with one of those iconic guitar intros, this one acoustic. The first album I bought was Little Queen for the song Barracuda which rapidly became my least favorite song due to horrible radio overplay to this day. Later I acquired Magazine through dubious and nefarious means (I stole it) from my sister. Those two albums should have been one but for the horrible dispute they had with their label before they finally excised themselves from the difficulty and made. For the most part I drifted from the Heart world. Oh I liked them but like other artists there were other bands I wanted to spend my money on. In college I bought the album Passionworks, and honestly despite the fact that it was a horrible flop I really loved the album, Heart seemed doomed to fade away like so many 70’s bands that did but a strange thing happened. Nancy Wilson happened. In the mid 80’s Heart released an eponymous album and the video world brought a svelte hot Nancy Wilson (in really tight clothes) to the forefront playing guitar like the rock goddess she is. Before it had been Ann Wilson’s voice but now they could sell sex too. The songs What About Love, Never and These Dreams gave the band a new breath of life and for a new generation whatever they had done before was gone. Personally I liked the album Bad Animals better but in the 80’s world you had to keep going and Heart really struggled with that and they faded a little and then once again bam they let lightning strike with the album Brigade. I thought it was cheesy especially that hit song All I Want to Do is Make Love to You. The album lacked substance. Mostly Heart settled into a nice niche. Luckily the 2000’s have made those great bands a place and a fan base that looks back on the nostalgia on how it was when bands really played instruments and knew how to rock a song. They made a few albums a few good albums and they got older and Ann and Nancy just stopped having the same vision, I am happy they made their way back together back playing the music that so many of us loved. As a teen my friends would come over and we would argue on which of us would hook up with which sister yea as if we had a shot.

The Morning after the Texas Jam that year I handed my dad’s girlfriend a t-shirt because she always wanted a t-shirt and she sat me down in a chair to get that wad of nasty gum out of my hair. She wasn’t a whole lot older than me about twelve years. Can you say midlife crisis? She used peanut butter and worked it in there and then took a comb and worked some more (ouch) and pulled and managed to get it free, All in all it was a memorable experience, not the best but it sure has stuck with me and I remember sitting in the stands as Heart played last. It could have been worse, the Texas Jam could have headlined with Zappa (hah you thought I wasn’t going to reference him) but thankfully it wasn’t his deal and I am sure us Texas rockers would have booed his ass off the stage. We know what rock and roll is in Texas.

Mike out

Calvin Ring: The Sound of Darkness Chapter 3

3

 

I woke the next day in complete confusion with the girl sitting on my bed and looking down on me. The last memory I had was leaving the fortune teller’s shop and sending Amy on her way. I was sure thankful that she visited me during the day. I remembered the words of the fortune teller though. I was a mess for sure, a jumble of thoughts in my head.

“Hey, you okay?” Amy questioned. “Some run last night huh?”

“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t remember last night.”

“Is that how your magic works, you forget the next day. I know you have magic. I have magic too, just not that kind. By the way, the fortune teller is my mom. She called me and told me to watch out for you. Of course that’s what I have been doing anyway, watching out for you. She knew you would come and see her. Isn’t that strange?”

“You’ve been watching me?”

She nodded, pleased with herself, not knowing that she had just crushed me. “I guess I should have known.”

“Well,” she said, “I’m a seeress like my mother. It was her who began to see all the ripples, and she tracked them to you. After that she sent me here to watch over you, while your magic did whatever it was going to do. She didn’t know if it would be good or bad, so she wanted to be prepared for the worst if necessary. When I had not seen you for a few days I decided to drop by. I was worried about you.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t want me to die on your watch,” I said testily. “I should have known something was up, otherwise why would you be interested in someone like me.”

“What do you mean someone like you?” she asked.

“A nobody, a loser. I have zero friends, so I should have guessed.”

“Well maybe you have one friend now. You’re blowing it a bit out of proportion Calvin. My mother sent me to watch over you, that’s true. She is magically strong in her own way, but if something bad was going to happen, the Gypsy community she serves needed to know, needed to be able to plan. I enjoyed yesterday Calvin, I really did. I was happy to finally meet you. I’ve seen what you’ve been doing at night, in my own way. I don’t have a lot of friends either. We sort of keep to ourselves.”

“Yeah sure,” I said as I lay back down. I turned my back on her, and being the good seer that she was, she decided it was time to leave.

“I’ll be back later,” she suggested. “But think about it, I was honest with you about being sent to watch you, so why would I lie about the rest. It’s not good to keep secrets to yourself, to be alone and isolated. I feel for you and I would like to be your friend. It’s up to you though. I can help you understand what’s going on. I am sure it’s quite a shock. A lot of it I don’t understand myself.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I will think about it.”

 

I did think about it, a lot. I loved this girl, felt so close to her soul to soul and now I was learning that it was not what it seemed. Part of me shouted that nothing was ever what it seemed, so I should deal with it, move forward and welcome her into my life as a friend I desperately needed. I was bitter though and I spent the next week pouting about the injustice of it all. I should have known though because nothing good ever happens to me. Amy comes by every day, and I admit I am less than hospitable. I don’t trust her or any Gypsies. Why did any Gypsy have to be in my life anyway, including the ghost or spirit of my dead mother?  I was not going to do anything to any of them. I was harmless as I had always been. I did not understand what the big deal really was. Amy has tried explaining multiple times, but there really isn’t anything to explain. She was told to be my friend, to watch over me, as if I were a child. On top of everything I was being hunted. Every night since, I have gone out and every night there are demons around to some degree or another. They watch me, and I am sure are learning all about me, what I can do and what I can’t. They follow in my wake every night. Defiantly I sometimes challenge them and they go screaming into the night only to come back. They don’t seem to have any agenda, or maybe I just don’t understand.  Like Amy they watch, waiting for some hidden command and I don’t know what to do about them, but at least they don’t lie to me and pretend to be my friends.  Amy asks about them, asks about my safety. I no longer know though what safety means. Every night there are things for me to do, and lately every night seems to bring more death and chaos. I have been surrounded by it. I rescued people from a burning building only to find more that I could not get to in time. I wish I knew what was happening to me. I wish I didn’t have that ominous feeling that was only worse at night when I was so perceptive of things around me, that something was coming for me.

Death seems to come in many guises. When you live in the city, you just get used to it; crime, poverty, and disease just seem to take their merry toll. For the most part, normal people live their normal lives and just ignore the death around them. People learn to not frequent bad parts of town, and unless death touches them directly are ignorant of its dark passage through time, its weave and intercourse through the people around it. Yet, if you are not fearful of it, are willing to see it for what it is, death is just another thing. It is neither cruel nor sympathetic. Death is not good or bad. Occasionally death is just, but just as often it is random and takes the good over the bad with striking regularity. I have come to know death quite well and one could say that we are intimate strangers. Occasionally death uses me; uses me to mete out a little cruelty of my own. The difference is that I am anything but random, anything but nice and the good have little to fear from me. I am there on the horizon, coming when least expected but always at night, always sudden, a fleeting shadow, the sharp blade of a knife.

It seemed so odd at times for me, knowing that up until a few weeks before I was completely normal.  Well maybe not normal as I am quite unremarkable, unusually so, magically so.  Just a few months previous I had worried that I would never have any friends, and now I worry about someone who says she wants to be my friend.  While I had never had any friends before, I had grown accustomed to being alone in everything that I did. I now had watchers and one of them claimed to be my friend. I had gone from the guy that others pushed around to the guy that was a menacing presence that others had to watch out for. At least the chicks still laughed at me, at least the ones that saw me in the day. The ones who saw me at night, usually screamed loudest of all. I did know that everything I had thought I knew about my mother was all gone and I didn’t quite know what to think about it, or what she had done to me. I was kidding myself though and I knew it. I was one screwed up person, confused and feeling like I had nowhere to turn. The worst part was that it had been my silly idea to go see the Gypsies, only now I even wondered at that. Everyone seemed to have magic. I seemed to be in some sort of vortex, not of my own making, being controlled by the whims of others. I was getting tired of this lack of control and I needed for it to change, for me to get control of things. I just didn’t know how. Like most things of late in my life, I was beginning to believe that it would be my magic that would give me clarity, enable me to understand and control the world around me. This thought inspired me, and frightened me at the same time.

I wonder what exactly is my blessing, this magic of mine?  I wished that I knew. Amy’s mother, the fortune teller, had told me that my mother had enhanced my magic with her own to protect me. Yet, the logic of that was strange, as most of the things I had done in the last few weeks were not for my own protection but for the protection of others. I had thought about it a lot. Sometimes it seemed as if the nights were training me for something more dangerous in the future, perhaps to deal with those who hunted me, whoever they were. Again, there was that feeling that something was coming, and coming for me. There was my Grandfather and apparently there was at least one other, one who had sent a demon army to hound me. I was told they wanted to capture me, but demons didn’t seem geared much for capture. They were quite equipped for damaging me. My magic responds to need, the need of others and the need of myself at times. There is nothing I can do to prevent the change and certainly nothing that I can predict other than the pain and the confusion, although for the past few nights I have just sat on my balcony and watched the night. Every night I came out the putrid stench was there, communicating to me the needs of others, a sweet stench like spoiled garbage that compels me to act. Now, there were many and the smell permeates the night around me. I can hone in and follow a single strand never really knowing where it will lead. It’s so random though seemingly without any purpose. It made no sense if the magic was created for my protection.  I have learned to never anticipate what skills I might have at my disposal. Sometimes I am lightning fast, other times spectral in nature, or strong. I usually have incredible mind skills but every time I have anticipated having a certain skill set I am humbled by the nature of the gift, usually painfully. Was this my mother’s idea of protecting me, or some sort of cruel joke? It would figure though that magic used for good purpose on me, would go awry. All of that aside, I didn’t even know what had triggered the whole thing in the first place. Maybe, I never would. Could it be that my magic was enhanced to train me? It seemed it was, giving me more and more to work out every night, humbling me when I lost focus. I didn’t know anything about magic or anyone I trusted to tell me. I mean seriously, a few weeks ago I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that magic was real, so again it was not exactly like I could look in the yellow pages and find a sorcerer I could learn from. So maybe my magic was recognizing my own need that I needed guidance and learning of a craft in a world where there was no one to teach me. It was an intriguing thought, but who had time for intriguing thoughts.

I am in a different world at night, a world of shadow and much closer to the death that others just choose to ignore. I am intimate with the night, its caress like that of a lover at least what I imagine that would be like, having no experience. There are things in the dark, things that others don’t or can’t see. Some of these things are beyond your wildest imagination and others beyond your most frightening nightmare. Some of these things are beautiful and others comical, but most are best not thought about. There are almost always demons of various size and shape skulking about.  More than a few of these generally take a special interest in me, which only makes the change that comes over me more difficult; more curse than blessing. I know eventually I am going to have to do something about it or they will, but at least of late the demons have chosen to leave me alone. I also see my long dead mother at night, wandering in my periphery, a beautiful garishly dressed Gypsy woman, always smiling and always with me. I don’t know for sure, but she seems proud of me, which is good enough for me, but I would still have answers from her if I could. Again, that feeling that a showdown was coming at me, coming at me from multiple directions, or maybe that’s how it feels before the bottom really falls out of things. Maybe I was going mad.

As I said my basic skill set does not change. I have heightened senses, sight, sound, smell and touch. I also have incredible healing powers surviving everything thrown at me including gunshots which of course are still quite painful. When the sun comes up though, I am stuck with whatever residual wounds are left and unhealed. I have spent the day writhing and bleeding in bed, praying for the night. I also don’t remember the night before. It always works that way, never the night before but I can remember two nights previous. Because of this I jot down notes before dawn comes or tell Amy because she won’t leave me alone until I do. I need to do something about Amy, but just the thought of her makes me sad and confused. During the night I hear and see everything including things that happened years ago. I thrive off the resonance left behind from centuries of violence. It nurtures me like manna. These are the things I have learned but it sure doesn’t seem like a whole hell of a lot.

I seem to be particularly sensitive to sound. Have you ever had someone shout directly in your ear? Someone can shout a mile away and that’s the way it is for me. I have learned to filter some of this which has helped but sometimes it’s a beating. One night a woman screamed in such a way that surely I thought she must have been attacked. I sprinted miles to reach her only to find her standing on a chair screaming at a spider. I dispatched the spider and if she had a little floor damage as a result then that was the price to pay for the damage she inflicted on my ears. A car honking can make my whole body spasm at times. As I said though, filtering was something I had learned, something I was still trying to get better at. The results thus far were mixed but encouraging that it was possible. I sighed as I thought that it would be nice to have a guide book, or a set of instructions. If my own magic was training me, then it was leaving some important gaps I thought.

Several days had passed since the demons had nearly caught me at the bridge. I was out in the night, where the confusion was less and the danger more. I was walking about directionless when to my sudden discomfort I found my ears assaulted by the most brilliant of screeching. There was no way for me to even catch my breath as this wall of sound attacked my bearings. If you could magnify the sound of fingernails on a chalk board to ten or even a hundred times normal it still would be far short of what assailed me that night. I made it to my knees and put my hand to my ears. Now, so you might grasp how my senses work, merely putting cotton in my ears does not come close to filtering sound. It helps but not nearly as much as in my normal state.  I had some cotton wadded up in my coat pocket and I quickly stuffed it into my ears and I was able to filter some more through will alone. It was still excruciating, and a distraction. I stumbled about and leaned in a doorway. I wondered if I might be under some sort of attack, something new. I was so suspicious and paranoid of whatever was hunting me that naturally that was my first thought. I knew so little though of what had happened to me though and I knew that what I didn’t know could kill me.

The sheer noise of the screeching was disorienting. I recognized that it was not safe for me to be out and that I was going to be vulnerable. The shadows that were always about, flitting on my periphery were still there. Yet I could also see that something had them disturbed as well, and it seemed likely to me that it was the screeching they heard on the wind. It was the first bit of information that I was able to discern. Whatever the screeching was, it did not appear to be psychic in nature or directed just at me, but what did I know.  The second thought was I had no idea who was hunting me or what they would send. Acting cocky was not going to change that.  Yet for some reason it was encouraging knowing that the demons were so disturbed. Maybe they would be a lot less concerned with little old me, after all my nemesis was all teeth and claws, two things I hated more than anything else. I might have chosen to just go back to my apartment but Amy was back there and dealing with her was the last thing I needed. It was better to face the demons, the night and the awful screeching.

Amy had been my dream girl. Before the change, she was the highlight of my day, the girl I thought about constantly, the only girl to ever really notice me. She was that bright spot but I only ever saw her at the mailbox, where she would always wave to me. I never spoke with her, never wanted to destroy the illusion that she really liked me, I could think that she waved to me because she was interested and I was just too stupid to take advantage of it, but things like that never happened to me. Now that was all changed. It was hard for me to believe what she said since she had been placed there by sympathetic Gypsies, mostly her mom concerned with my well being or to ensure I didn’t destroy the world or something. Since learning this I have realized that she is just like all of the other girls, completely unconcerned with the likes of me. She makes the pain I go through nightly seem miniscule as nothing compares to how my dreams have been shattered. Since discovering this though, Amy has been there in my apartment most nights when I change and even occasionally when I get home. She is the worst kind of distraction, the worst kind of pain. I would rather be gunshot than see her daily, knowing I will never have her; knowing how much I love her. She is I think the coolest of all cools, the neatest chick going. I didn’t know anything though.

Now it was all I could do to concentrate on my surroundings. It was not too hard to concentrate and smell that clean scent that was Amy. I had caught myself before focusing more on her than what was going on in front of me, or around me. There were demons hunting me, and I was much more focused on Amy than anything with teeth and claws. Maybe that was my gift’s way of telling me that Amy was more dangerous. I felt let down by Amy and let down by myself for letting myself feel the way I did about her. Was I in love with Amy? Well how should I know? I have not even been on a date, ever. Not even ugly girls noticed me, and trust me even an ugly girl would be better than the loneliness I feel. You have no idea what it’s like to spend all of your life without a friend and if it wasn’t for my dad, I doubt I would have had any conversation at all growing up. So I wasn’t exactly out looking for rings, if that’s what you mean, but I also could not get her out of my thoughts, could not erase the feelings I had when she told me that she was a Gypsy. What kind of Gypsy named their daughter Amy Moonflower? And for that matter, what kind of Gypsy was a hippy anyway? So I turned on her, turned on her sometimes viciously. She never even attempted to explain herself, explain how she really felt about me, which only reinforced that I was just one more chore for her. I was a chore which no doubt kept her awake at night, waiting for me. She could not do the things that I could at night, but she understood a lot about what I was seeing. She was more mystic than witch or seeress, but seeress was what she called herself. I didn’t really know what to feel about her. I wanted to feel nothing, but so far that was not working out too well.

Meanwhile I had this horrible screeching which I could feel down to my feet. It was coursing through me, setting all of my nerve endings on fire, and I kid you not when I say that at that moment I would have preferred to have been shot in the head rather than hear that horrible screeching. It was my own nightmare. I searched for the source, sniffing the breeze and not getting a single clue. I struck out at a run, moving through blocks like a wraith, eating up chunks of ground with every step, but I was moving blindly. I was oblivious to anything around me, running, running trying to escape that screech or find its source and at that moment it did not matter which one it was. Then suddenly the screeching stopped, and I stood hunched over panting heavily. As usual, there was laughter around me, laughter directed at me. I was near the pier, the touristy section of San Francisco. I started walking, the laughter like daggers at my back but soon I was forgotten, and then the screeching started again. I had my bearings though and it seemed as if the source was near downtown, so I headed off. It was not easy to focus, between the screeching, the resulting disorientation and whispering thoughts of Amy it was all I could do to move in the right direction, but I was persistent if I was anything.

Downtown San Francisco was usually busy at night and it was no different that night. Sometimes at night I have difficulty determining what’s in the normal world and what’s in the shadow world that I also see within. There are for lack of a better word, ghosts or other worldly things. They are unlike my mother who appears much more real. Instead they are like wisps of smoke floating around. I have tried to touch them but they are so ephemeral, like a presence felt but not seen, like touching the night. They are oblivious to me though and it makes me wonder just what really happens to me after the change. Am I mad, trapped in some sort of false reality? No one else could see them, and these people walked around now unaware of the screeching that was driving me crazy. I feel like I am living sometimes in someone else’s stream of consciousness. I must have appeared near mad to the people walking about, holding my head and muttering to myself. I was too well dressed to be homeless so I had to be something else. Someone was bound to call the police on me.

When I saw her I was not quite sure. In fact I must have looked at her three or four times before I noticed something amiss. There was no special aura, or any coming into and out of focus. It was something different. She also did not appear to be the screaming shrew I thought I would find so it was easy to discount her. When I first saw her I saw a beautiful girl, the kind that would never notice me at all.  The second glance I gave her though indicated that she was a very old woman. Now time sometimes moves differently in my world, but it doesn’t move quite that strangely. So I suspected something was wrong so I made my way towards her, daring her to look at me. When she made eye contact it gave me a chill. Her gaze was direct and before my eyes she shimmered from young to old. Her eyes though were like dark coals, burrowing into me. Yet my eyes bore into her as well triggering my own need. She was the source of the screech and something about her triggered a memory of something I had read. She was a banshee or in my case a screaming banshee. I didn’t know how she had made it to the city. Her wail was for someone about to die and in a city that meant many possible candidates. I knew that with so much death around her that she must have been bewildered, and why her wail was so constant.  I willed her quiet. I have no way else to describe what I did like so many of my skills and occurrences at night. I just willed her to be quiet, to shut up and to give me some relief. I sat down tension draining from my body. I put my arm around her, and she laid her head on my shoulder. For a moment I could imagine what it felt like to have a girl friend but even I realized that a girl friend who is beautiful one moment and an old hag the next and sings about death all the time is just no good, not even for me. I mean I was desperate but she was half mad and not human so the relationship really had no future at all, as much as I thought it might.  After all, what would we talk about? So after sitting there for several moments comforting her, soothing the pain, I sent her on her way. It was strange for me, as I didn’t even know where she came from, and she couldn’t tell me. I communicated with her through my mind, calming her but telling her to go back and she did, wherever that was. I watched her walk into the darkness until that darkness grew misty and she became less visible finally disappearing altogether. It had been a strange night. As usual, I didn’t understand what had happened, or how I had accomplished what I had. I thought not for the first time that it was just one more reason to wake up unable to remember anything of the night before. Maybe it was my mind’s way of recovering. My ears needed recovery that was for sure. They echoed with pain, causing spasms in my head, like some strange seizure. I could almost feel myself twitching. I wasn’t even sure if this was something I could heal from, and so far I had healed from every wound imaginable.

I stood up and stretched and began walking the long way to my house. I could have gone hunting for something evil but I was exhausted. The screeching had worn me down and I was so relieved at it being gone that I decided a leisurely walk was in order. The bad guys could wait. So I walked and naturally my thoughts drifted to Amy. It was hard for me to not be disappointed. It was why I had never talked to her in the first place, because I did not want to be disappointed. I had just decided that talking to Amy would be a good thing, an opportunity to put all of my feelings right in front of her. Rejection could not be worse than what I was feeling at the moment. That’s when I noticed that I was not walking alone. The screeching had stopped but it had left me frazzled and unable to really focus which is naturally why I was thinking about Amy in the first place. The screeching was no longer bothering the demons either. There were not a lot and I was thankful that the screeching must have caused more than a few of them to go to ground, or wherever demons went when they were distressed. Maybe they had all gone to some demon bar. Still, there were enough of them and I was far enough away from home that getting away was not going to be easy. They were also really close. Losing a demon is not really that hard. They are not the brightest bulbs in the lamp and most of them were a few loads shy if you catch my meaning. Still though, these were close enough that I wasn’t going to be able to ditch them. I thought about trying to catch a cab but I was not even sure if a cabbie would see me, or if I could even find a cab. So I kept walking, searching for an answer. I was tired. You try walking around with a screaming banshee in your ear and see if it doesn’t make you tired.

They were not exactly herding me. They didn’t have to because even their dim witted minds could figure out that I was not going to get away. I tried to discern where I actually was, and was wondering how close to water I was. It seemed a very good idea to keep moving and they were quite content to let me, which only reinforced to me that whatever was about to happen, wasn’t going to be a warm fuzzy positive experience that I could reflect on later, and maybe get a laugh out of.  This was bad. Yet they seemed to be waiting on something, keeping close, surrounding me. Occasionally one would venture close enough and reach out and touch me, like they were counting coup. I was thinking that someone or something was about to lose a finger or two.  It didn’t matter what I did though, they were not really concerned with me getting away. I was in the bag, but they were still waiting for something.

I soon found out what they were waiting on. As I rounded a corner, there he was; the meanest ugliest demon of them all. He was my nemesis or at least that’s what I had named him, how I described him to Amy. I had nightmares, or daymares or whatever you would call bad dreams during the day about him. I had named him TC to myself, for teeth and claws. I had read somewhere that naming your fear was half the battle. It had not worked to date though. He was all teeth and claws though so the name at least seemed appropriate. He had more than the usual complement of arms, but how many I could not say because they constantly changed morphing here, and disappearing there. So while I could not tell how many arms he had, I did know that there were some really sharp claws on the end of them. He only had one mouth though, never changing, with long fangs and at least two rows of sharp little teeth.

I honestly could not tell you what came over me. Maybe it was the fact I was so exhausted from the screaming banshee, or maybe my obsession with Amy caused me to have a serious lapse in judgment. In hindsight it was probably due to the inescapable fact that once TC showed up the other demons began making their circle tighter and tighter, but whatever it was I decided it was a good time and place to make a stand. I have read accounts that Custer came to the same conclusion at Little Big Horn, trying to reach high ground, not knowing that the Indians were there too. I doubted that it would have mattered to Custer and whatever he was thinking; his plan had not worked out too well. Those boys down at the Alamo in Texas also didn’t fare too well. Naturally as soon as I stopped walking all those thoughts came crashing down on me.  The demons that were shadowing me just circled me which only made me think more about Custer. The circle broke and TC entered, clearly their champion. If demons were inclined to clap and cheer this would have been their moment. This was not going to be pretty but at the same time I wondered what my blessing might have in store for me and my nemesis. I needed something, and I felt it fire somewhere deep inside of me as if coiling itself for combat. I faced him squarely and began stepping to the side, looking for an opening, but he was big, I don’t say that lightly, as small as I am, big is still big.  Anything with that many teeth and claws was not going to be defensive so I guessed it was not going to give me long to think about it. Sometimes I hate it when I am right.

If anyone ever tells you that demons are slow hulking creatures, or you see them represented in movies that way, then send them my way and I will set them straight. TC closed so quickly that all I had a chance to do was raise my arm in some sort of half hearted defense. Naturally the arm gave his teeth a nice target and he grabbed me like a pit bull and slung me around a bit. After shaking me like a ragdoll he slung me into the nearest wall, hard enough that bricks fell on my head from somewhere. Demons weren’t too bright, who the hell had told me that? That circle of demons sure didn’t mind getting out of the way to let me hit that wall. They seemed plenty bright to me. Oh, this was not going well. I was barely to my feet when he was coming at me again and I decided that it would be best to not give him my arm again which was already dripping blood. I dodged his second charge, my gift coming to my rescue as it was no normal matador movement, but something quicker. I laughed when the demon hit the same brick wall head first that I had struck moments before. It was comical watching him stumble. I was hoping I could use that trick again but he turned and took a swipe at me with at least two of his many arms. One of them raked my face and the other my waist and I growled in response, something deep and primeval, surprising me with the violence behind it. He closed on me slowly taking swipes and I took a few at him too connecting with one. He was solid and whatever demons are made up of, something soft is not one of the ingredients. It was a losing battle for me. I couldn’t counter anything, couldn’t block enough because he just had too many arms. It would have been better had he punched me but he didn’t. Everything he did was a rake of claws and every one of them drew blood. I stood there shaking my hand as he came at me again and thought that I had probably broken it at sometime.  We exchanged a few more blows, but I have to tell you that claws against skin do a bit more damage than fists again demon hide. There was a lot of blood on the ground and I was strongly suspicious that it was mine. I thought long and hard for something that might work but he was not giving me a lot of time and the next thing I knew I was in some sort of demon bear hug, only his claws were sticking in my chest and I was pretty sure coming out through my back. I was briefly scared, not sure what would happen if a claw managed to pierce my heart. I had never had such a wound, although I had been shot in the chest with a shotgun before. I remembered the fortune teller telling me that the demons probably only wanted to capture me and take me back to their master, but this appeared very much like a killing to me, my own killing. Since he was squeezing the life out of me, I decided that it was not an opportune time to worry about such mundane matters. I kept feeling that need flare up, getting hotter and hotter, more intense, my adrenalin seeming to feed it. Yet it didn’t come to my rescue as if it were waiting on something, some sign from me. I was losing this fight and I just didn’t really have any ideas. The more I thought, the more it all slipped away from me.

In defense I reached up to that snout of his and began prying his jaws apart. He kept his grip on me though and I exerted a bit more pressure. He was in bad need of a serious breath mint but I could not let that deter me. So I kept prying his jaw apart further and further, his teeth glistening and sharp. I was almost thankful that it was his claws in me and not those teeth. My arm was still throbbing and dripping blood. In fact, I was pretty sure I was a bloody mess, and my clothes in tatters. Something had to give though. It was going to be the gift enhanced strength of my arms or his jaw and it was his jaw which finally lost. It snapped with a pop that sounded like the fourth of July. Okay, it wasn’t that loud but his scream when it popped rivaled the banshee and that was for sure. He let go and stumbled backwards reaching to his jaw with at least two of his arms. Then my gift took over. I was thinking how nice it would be to have a nice demon strength rope when one just appeared, right from my eyes. It was golden as it sailed through the air and I began waving my arms in direction twirling them like a lariat. He screamed louder when the golden threads hit him and his body steamed in response and I just kept it up, twirling and spinning wrapping him like yarn around and around. I didn’t stop until he resembled a large ball of twine and then I squeezed and squeezed, compacting him smaller and smaller with my mind until he was the size of a tennis ball. I laughed and bounced him on the ground. It was a dead bounce and I decided that I would have to do better next time. The other demons were howling looking for their friend, their champion and my nemesis. My need though was red hot and it was giving me a magic that is difficult to explain. I stood there a moment, panting, blood dripping from hundreds of punctures and deep tears. I looked as if I had been thrown through a plate glass window, or maybe worse. I stared hard at the circle of demons focusing on the four or five directly in my line of sight. I was unconcerned with what was going on behind me. Whatever TC’s defeat had done to them included mass confusion and lots of howling. My attention remained directly to my front staring down the demons as I walked towards them. They gave way, slowly, whimpering like defeated dogs, more afraid of me than anything. One was slow in moving and I turned on him, my eyes gazing as if they could burn a hole right through him. He whelped with pain and took off running, four or five others moving with him. I took the opportunity to escape, running for my life. I had no doubt that my nemesis had been the toughest the demons had that night but I doubted my ability to whip ten or twelve of them despite how powerful I felt. So I ran and I ran oblivious of my surroundings. Sometime later as I crossed the bay, I took the opportunity to throw my bouncing ball of twine as far into the ocean that I could. I thought that if he could get out of that, as much as demons hated water then more power to him.

I didn’t want to walk into my apartment through the front. I had no idea what time it was or who might be lurking about. The last thing I needed was to show up in tattered and ripped clothes dripping blood all over the carpets. Demon wounds must heal slower than normal wounds like gunshots, broken bones and bruises from the various bashings I have received but I could tell that the blood was flowing less freely, the pain more dull. I wondered for a moment if that meant that I was out of blood, and if that might explain why suddenly I didn’t have as much pain as before. Regardless, I was pretty sure that it was going to be a bad, pain filled day in which I spent the majority of it waiting for nightfall and hoping I didn’t die. It was times like these that I wished I trusted Amy a little better. Some tender loving care from the woman of your dreams was not a bad thing to wish for. I mean, really, when was something great going to happen to me? How much bad luck could one shrimpy Caucasian have? I approached my apartment from the back and was relieved to see all the lights were off, meaning that Amy was not there. I was relieved about this and also strangely disappointed. I ran up the wall and grabbed hold of the railing and swung myself over. I landed heavily and actually dropped to a knee. Oh, it was not going to be a fun day. I stumbled to the sliding door and opened it with difficulty. As I walked inside the cool breeze of the ceiling fan hit me and the coolness was a comfort for a brief moment until the chills hit. I slid to the floor leaving a smear of blood on the glass of the sliding door. It felt nice to be sitting, inside and marginally safe.

She was sitting in the dark. I had not noticed her. I laughed semi-hysterically, thinking that I should have known that she would be there.

“Tough night Gypsy Boy?” she asked.

“Well, there’s one fewer demon,” I said as I lost consciousness.

The Music Blog: Heeeeey Kool-Aid

From a purely writing perspective I am actually pretty organized. My first two writing projects were novels and that took a lot of organization and structure. You might not think that about me as in so many ways I am so unorganized. Most things I write are all organized in my head. I spend a lot of time working it out in my head and then when I think or believe I have the right of it I let it fly, take wing and give it freedom to evolve like a child in some ways. I don’t know if other writers do things this way but I do.
So this blog posting will start with a brief, if you can say that about me, historical timeline that some of you might know, and for some it might be new information. Most of this is just coming from my memory of things and I may have a few dates criss crossed a bit but mostly this is correct.

Between 1960 through 1962 Timothy Leary ran a well known study of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the mind. Now I don’t need to dive deeply into this study and get into what he was or was not trying to accomplish or hoping to find. This is only important because one of his test subjects in California was Ken Kesey.

Now you may or may not know who Ken Kesey was. He did a lot of things but let’s begin that after exploring creative writing Kesey wrote the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which was published in 1962 giving him both wealth and some name recognition.

By this time Kesey was a big believer in the positive effects of LSD and in marijuana. He bought a large isolated ranch in the hills and began to attract a following of people who journeyed there to experience LSD which was not illegal and be turned on. Many of these followers became the core group for the Merry Pranksters a group of hippies who maybe formed the first hippie commune and went on to participate in the organization of everything counter culture including Woodstock.

In 1964 the Pranksters and Kesey decided to take their act on the road and hold parties across the country. Kesey bought an old International Harvester school bus which was painted psychedelic and named Further. Along with a few select Pranksters took off on a cross country tour of the USA in the hopes of turning the entire country on to LSD. The driver of the bus was legendary beatnik/hippie Neal Cassady who did not actually take LSD but was a speed freak. They never actually made it across the country they ran out of acid first and went back to California where they had a new idea.

In 1964 the Pranksters began renting large concert halls and coliseums to hold acid tests. Essentially an acid test was a giant LSD party. There were usually two trashcans full of kool-aid one with acid thus making it electric and the other with none although occasionally they laced both of them. The Pranksters would ensure that bad trips were dealt with kindly and provided music to enhance the experience. The first band they used was Country Joe and the Fish although the Pranksters said that one night collectively the crowd froze the band in mid song and that was it and they were replaced with a band called the Warlocks.

In 1968 journalist Tom Wolfe published an account of this famous cross country trip, the acid tests, the pranksters and the 1965 arrest of Kesey on Marijuana charges.

In 1981 a young voracious reader entered the University of Texas at Arlington and fell in love with 5 floors of books and used his access freely and somewhere in 1983 or 1984 discovered Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The warlocks who participated and provided the music for those tests went on to change their name to the Grateful Dead. Now as far as I know there are only two bands that have gone from bands I despise to bands I love; the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Grateful Dead. Nowadays I would never evaluate a band the way I did the Dead. First there was the name and I guess part of my disapproving parents came through but I was seriously concerned with the name of their band. I know it’s laughable but there you have it. Before you think my parents were some sort of prudes they were not, they just didn’t understand or like the same music I did and they were concerned about the effects this music might have on me, you know parental stuff. Now my other reason for hating the Dead was a little more practical, I knew one song. Casey Jones was the only Grateful Dead song I ever heard and I absolutely to this day seriously dislike this song. That song though did two things it reinforced my belief that they were just a drug band and that their music would be some sort of shock rock.

I gave the Grateful Dead a chance after Tom Wolfe’s book. It wasn’t run to the store and buy every album or even any album. I found someone who liked the band and had music and I listened with a few beers and a lot of laughter and a funny thing happened. Well Cold Rain and Snow happened and to this day it’s one of my five most favorite Grateful Dead songs. Then Morning Dew, and New Minglewood Blues all from the first album. My goodness what music I had been missing and it was so far from what I expected. I just sat there in wonder, and maybe slight drunkenness like any good Samurai. I was in love and this time it wasn’t with the girl although she was pretty awesome. There were other songs too Scarlet Begonias and China Cat Sunflower and on and on. There was no doubt though which Grateful Dead albums I would start with though. About a week after this I bought the two back to back masterpieces of American Beauty and Working Man’s Dead. So even though these two albums brought me the two worst Dead songs ever the aforementioned Casey Jones and Truckin’ they also brought me Box of Rain, Friend of the Devil, Till the Morning Comes, Cumberland Blues, Uncle John’s band my very favorite Dead song and Dire Wolf. Just like that they were a band I loved. I had gotten it all so wrong. They were wonderful musicians with wonderful melodies and songs. They were not a heavy band not a shock rock band and while some of their songs had wonderful psychedelic titles the songs themselves were oh so good. Of all the bands I listen to, have ever listened to I cannot name another band that I feel so lucky to have found. Garcia loved acoustic instrumentation and loved the sounds of Americana namely Bluegrass. He was a great banjo player and all of this love is incorporated throughout his music and that of the Dead.
So if there is a lesson to be learned and it would actually take me just a few more years and one more amazing band to learn that lesson is that you have to be a little careful judging bands or artists based on their name or a small sample of songs. Unless its Zappa let me save you the trouble you can listen to his entire catalogue of music and he will still suck.

Mike out