A Beautiful Song

1st Novel

Three Long Days

2nd Novel

Soul Intentions

3rd novel

Soul Directive

4th novel

 

Fortunate Soul

5th novel

 

The Encore

The guy’s a long haired, egotistical, dope smoking freeloader who took advantage of my guitar teacher. At least that was the thought I had every time Skunk Baxter slithered into Gordy’s Guitars. Gordy was the proprietor of a tiny music shop at the corner of Princeton and Main, where I first learned how to strum a simple C chord in first position. Gordy later informed me that, despite the fact that Skunk looked the part of your average malnourished rock star with torn jeans and tee shirts one size too small, he never touched drugs. I did however see him dip his hands into the bin of guitar strings more than once and not dig into his wallet.

My sour attitude concerning Skunk changed one Saturday morning when Gordy slipped me two backstage passes to see Skunk’s band, Dr. Wu. The band would be performing on the historic Madison Square Garden stage later that evening. Not only did the passes have my name on them, but included was a hand-written note from Skunk personally inviting me to see him play in front of fifteen thousand of his closest friends.

I scooped up my best girl and jumped on the train that took us to the venue most musicians only dream of playing. Once inside the Garden, we were escorted through a maze of poorly painted hallways where I swore I could hear the echo of past performances. We were then escorted to a dimly lit stage by a roadie with bad breath and an even worse attitude. If not for his flashlight, we would have tripped going up the small metal steps that led us just off stage where Skunk and the rest of the band would be performing.

Moments later the band jogged onto the stage with only a dark red and yellow light cascading from the opposite end of the arena. I don’t remember much about the initial ninety minute set. Maybe I was too intent on watching the young girls attempt to crawl on stage while bulky men in black shirts tossed them back like rag dolls to the front row. Or maybe I was numb with excitement.

Either way, my life was about to change forever.

The band bounced back stage after their initial interlude for a brief respite from the sound of adoring fans screaming so loud I could barely hear Skunk yell at me from two feet away, “Now the real show begins.” The band was covered in sweat. The patrons were lighting matches and barking the names of the band members to return for another offering at the altar of music heaven. The stage went completely dark. The crowd lowered to a muted roar. I could smell the wafting of an aroma I had accused Skunk of partaking in a few days earlier. The band now moved back into their places on stage under the cover of darkness. That was until one bright light consumed Skunk’s long yellow locks and lanky body. His fingers danced across the fret board of his Gibson guitar to the opening riff of the Chuck Berry classic, “Johnny B. Goode.”

For the next several minutes, I was mesmerized along with the fifteen thousand strong invading Madison Square Garden. I now understood why Gordy would plead with me to practice my instrument for no less than an hour each day. I was in the presence of someone at the pinnacle of his craft. Skunk became one with his instrument while he bent those stolen strings to sounds that turned me from a kid with a cute girl friend and a far off dream to a teenager instantly on a musical mission.

I can still remember that moment as if it were happening right now. Only that night was over thirty years ago. My band, Dylan James and the Overture, is about to walk across the same stage Skunk played on decades ago. We are about to perform our second encore on the last night of our first farewell tour. The adoring fans might not be the same ones from that evening over so many years ago, but the hallowed hall reaches into my soul demanding greatness. The smells never seem to change. The floodlight about to hit my face will be just as bright and just as hot as the one that silhouetted my good friend Skunk long ago.

Our last song on our first farewell tour will rush through my fingers with the same passion I witnessed long ago. The Berry masterpiece will be reintroduced to most in the crowd who weren’t even a glint in their daddy’s eyes when Chuck or even Skunk would duck-walk across the temporary stages around the globe playing a rock and roll anthem forgotten by far too many.

I am a pawn in the history books of a vast music library. But this is my chosen journey in life and I welcome it. Every drop of energy pulsating in my body is given to those nameless faces in the crowd, who plunk down their hard earned cash on tickets, to gaze at me as I do what I do. They inspire me to be better with their stomping feet and endless digital photos on their cell phones. Their cheers make me rise up and practice my life’s work until my fingers bleed. I’m continuing a tradition started long ago by guitar greats who suffered in small town bars before sparse crowds only wanting to play one last time in front of a live audience.

As I take one last scan of the crowd before being shoved back on stage, I wonder how many that listened to my music or witnessed me play became encouraged to play an instrument or write a musical masterpiece themselves. After all, part of being a pawn is to elevate others to the position of capturing the heart and soul of the next guitar king.

There is a young lady in the front row, likely half my age, her face beet red from imploring my band to return to the stage for one last act. Her body language is somewhere between delight and hopeful anticipation. She had better be ready because the real show is about to begin. I will strut across the stage to my usual position, just to the right of our lead singer, five feet in front of our drummer and across the stage from our keyboardist and bass player. From my mighty perch, class will begin when I strike up the solemn notes for the tune that changed my life forever, Johnny B. Goode. I’ll leave the duck-walking to Mr. Berry.