Licton Springs Review

Frayed By Denise Weide

Back in their glory days, they would have sold out the Garden. And now, a mere twelve years later, they were in this dive. A small theatre in Denver’s red light district. Tommy slung Betty over his shoulder and lit a cigarette.

Frankie played the opening riff. And drums soon joined in. The lights exploded on stage and the crowd roared. All 500 people.

Tommy sauntered onto the stage, took a puff off his cigarette and quickly threw it across the stage, he almost missed his riff. That was just the start of the evening.

He looked out at the crowd. Screaming with delight at their onstage personas. The men were old and fat. And we all thought the mullet was dead.

They had big mullets, mini-mullets, long mullets, hockey-hair-teased mullets reaching to the sky. They wore the tight ripped jeans and tried to look 16. And the women. Hair teased to the ceiling with enough AquaNet to blow up a federal center and cellulite creeping out from their mini skirts. Tommy could see one in the front row. She had airbrushed his name in her fake nails.

Possibly the only thing more pathetic than the aging hipsters screaming in the crowd was Tommy. 42. Recovering heroin addict. Struggling alcoholic. And a beer belly was beginning to show.

He snapped out of his thoughts and back to the stage. He didn’t realize how tightly he was gritting his teeth. His jaw began to ache. Fingers were slow tonight. He couldn’t hear his notes. Missing a few notes, he jiggled the wireless hanging from his back pocket. Still too low. But he quickly caught up with the rest of the band. Though no one in the audience could hear him. His fingers moved faster and he plucked harder. But Frankie’s guitar was drowning him out.

Fuck. He wiggled and jiggled the wireless again. Maybe the chord is frayed. He kept thinking while his fingers raced up and down Betty to keep up with the tempo. He ground his teeth harder.

He ripped the earplugs out. But still his riff was almost inaudible. He yanked on the knobs. Breaking the humbucker’s volume. Fuck. He threw it into the crowd. The seemingly endless song had finally faded into the dark theater.

Tommy ripped the guitar from his shoulder. Goddammit. First, he grabbed for Frankie’s open bottle of Bud. Chugged the rest of its cheap American contents.

“Bobby! What the fuck is wrong with my set?” He jabbed the guitar into the roadie. “Get it the fuck right.” He seized Bobby’s Marlboros and frantically lit one. His face was covered in sweat. He looked around for another beer. But didn’t see one. Well enough. He didn’t need it, right? He could do without it. Just focus on the music. That’s what he loved. The music. It was therapy. When he played he didn’t need the beer or the heroin.

He picked up the yellow telecaster, McQueen he called it, and slung it across his chest. It should be smooth sailing now. This was his song. Hard core. One of those songs you could let out all of your frustrations with. Cigarette dangling from his lips. The chords echoed in the hall, but then as drum-boy joined in, again Tommy overshadowed by his band mates. He strummed harder, and then he felt a slip and the guitar strap launched across his back. If it hadn’t been for his bad habit of resting his fingers on the bridge of his guitar, it would have fallen to the ground.

Talent. That’s what Tommy had. How many people do you know who can hold up a guitar with only a pinky finger and not miss a beat? Of course, his amp was still fucked. The crowd roared at his solo, but could barely hear it. He placed his cigarette between middle and ring finger and picked harder. His fingers were shaking.

He looked into the crowd. Somewhere just before the darkness of the audience was the red dragon. Smoke from his breath and fire from his nostrils. He stared Tommy down. The dragon knew his thoughts. He wanted the dragon. The dragon would steady him. But he knew the dragon would never leave once it coursed through his veins.

Tommy shut his eyes. And ground his molars. Picked harder. The song was almost over. Just a few more riffs. Concentrate, Tommy, concentrate. The green pick landed hard on the 1st string. TWANG! The slender string snapped near the coil and sliced through the air leaving behind a fine cut on his cheek. His fingers seized. And the song was over.

The crowd roared.

He said nothing to the roadies, merely thrust the guitar at them, spit on the floor and turned to find a beer. Frankie’s American piss was gone. He rummaged through the mass of bottles on the amps. Nothing.

Hundreds of empty beer bottles were strewn backstage. The crew could have their fun. They knew when to stop. They didn’t have his sickness. But they didn’t try to help him either. Frankie and Jeff would offer him beers. He tried to say no. And it had worked for the first leg of their tour. LA, Phoenix, Albuquerque. He’d been sober for the Southwest. But it was falling apart in Denver. The dragon was on his heels. He could feel the fiery breath.

The minute they entered Denver he could feel it. Bad chi, bad karma…call it what you want. But he felt something go wrong.

Maybe it was Mikayla. They’d been married a few months now. He’d regretted it the minute he’d done it, too. She married him for the money. She’d been a groupie in her teens. You know the type: stockings, leather skirts, 4 inch heels, hair six inches high. She’d been around the block more times than the ice cream truck.

This was the reason he didn’t drink anymore. One night in Vegas drinking with his buddies…woke up the next morning to an aging groupie wife. She told him she was “with child.” What could he do? The honorable thing. That’s what his parents would have said. So, he did.

A few weeks later she had “miscarried”.

Tommy found Frankie’s secret stash. Vodka, and the good kind too. He closed his eyes and poured the clear liquid down his throat. Absolut oblivion. Gasoline on fire. He savored the taste…opened his eyes and grabbed his acoustic.

This was their first hit. It went to #1 on the charts and began their glory days. It was a love song. Love, loss, soft riffs of heartache. Key of D minor: the saddest key of all.

He didn’t have to concentrate on this song at all. The vodka had done its job. He wrote it. Rolling Stone called it the greatest love song of all time. Yet he’d never been in love.

His thoughts were broken by the crowd’s roar. He looked out and could see the red dragon just beyond his reach. The vodka was wearing off and his hands began to tremble. The woman in the front row winked at him and made lewd gestures. He could have any woman in this place. But the dragon encroached. His fingers tightened. The chords hurt.

The dragon whispered. He could make the pain go away. The dragon’s hot breath across his face gave him a sense of calm. A sense of sleep long over due.

He walked off stage, letting his guitar drop to the floor, grabbing the vodka as he walked out the door. The band played on, unaware that Tommy had left.

The prick of the needle was like an old friend. It pierced his flesh and tingled as the red dragon entered his blood stream. So calm. But he didn’t want to lose the high. He filled the syringe again and let it flow through him. His eyes closed and body went limp; he was floating and the needle dangled from his arm.