GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
5/9/11-MARIE CONGER

Vale of Peers

Over the decades, since the 50s, A telephone pole in downtown Lexington, KY has been stapled with COUNTLESS flyers for local, regional and national bands. It helps tell the story of the rich musical history of Lexington—a southern town …with an open-mind for music. From Louis Armstrong playing at the Phoenix to Local Punk Favs “Vale of Tears” to the “Twinkettes” and the “Metropolitan Blues Band” and many more.

The poles were like today’s Facebook…seen by walkers, bike riders and drivers. The flyers constantly replaced by newer announcements.

 

*A tiny language advisory for this one: two “s-words”, I think.*

 

Ashteroth and Bison were two dark souls on a mission through the world. They sought to spread a message of despair that was the only truth, a message known only to them and their small coterie. A message that could only be conveyed through music.

They were putting up flyers.

The circle of their influence was ever-expanding. Already they were two blocks from the club where their performance was to take place on the following Tuesday. The sense of impending power was a heady draught.

Ashteroth bore his band’s message of pain and loathing well on his small, perforated frame. The network of piercings: ears, nose, lips, cheek, tongue, nipples, epiglottis, interconnected with a cat’s cradle of chains, rubber bands, bits of bone and feather. One might think from his slight, ninety-eight pound build that the metal web girdling his face made eating an infrequent affair. One would be right, partially. But more importantly, one would be at risk of missing the metaphor provided, that being just how utterly shit this thing called life really was.

Bison, on the other hand, was an understated figure. Perhaps everything in Bison’s world was understated. Light did not seem to penetrate far into his eyes, deep set as they were beneath a brow which recalled less sapien times. Sound, as well, might have its own challenges navigating the narrow, occluded pathways of ears fortified by years of backyard wrestling.

The two approached their next target. Formerly a telephone pole, now a beacon, a pedestrian broadcast system, beautiful in its crudeness. A simple trunk of tarred pine, given a layered husk of weathered sheets, each applied by a unique devotee, piercing its hide until patches of staples had grown their own fearsomely seductive texture.

Ashteroth hefted his stapling sidearm and prepared to do his own mini-Martin Luther. He directed Bison, keeper of the message: “Cover up the git with the accordion.”

A previously undiscerned mass sitting on the pole’s other side addressed them. “You fellas got a smoke?” The voice was rough but amiable, the face worn but hearty.

The face was also surrounded by unkempt hair, to which Ashteroth’s disdain gave vent. “Sod off, ‘freedom rock’. We’ve got less money than you.”

Yeah, we’re musicians,” Bison chimed. Or, perhaps, clunked.

Real musicians.”

Yeah, not sellouts like you hear on the radio.”

Charmed by this unintentionally telling exchange, the disheveled stranger continued. “I grok ya, dudes. So what do you play?”

Ashteroth’s antipathy continued unabated, but his artistic sensibilities would have their say. “Bison plays his own custom-made nine-string bass. I play laser theremin.”

Far out. And you are?”

Ashteroth,” said Ashteroth, with the defensive accompaniment usually required for this pronouncement.

Alright. Folks call me Billy Baghdad.”

Ashteroth scowled up and down Billy’s rumpled, probably seated mass, forming his own conclusions. Bison’s presence continued to challenge the concept of emoting as an inborn talent.

Eh, folks started calling me that, I didn’t stop ‘em, life kept goin’. Say, what’s your band name? Maybe I’ve heard you.”

Ashteroth’s armor was chinked. “Well, we haven’t personally gotten on stage yet, but our band plays everywhere.”

Ah, you’re roadies then?”

Ashteroth’s chains shook in disgust. “Roadies!” He spat, then exclaimed, while wiping spittle from a chain, “We’re not some dumb grunts, geezer. We’re the heart and soul of the band. We give them the strength to carry on, after everything’s turned to shit.”

Or when the beer’s run out.”

Shut up, Bison.”

Okay, okay, Hasslehoff, no offense meant. I think being a roadie is a noble profession, myself. I’ve tried my hand at it a time or two.”

Ashteroth scrutinized Billy further. His unlimited stores of scorn were only familiar with giving vent. Retraction was a talent yet untried. Billy maintained beatific innocence.

Ashteroth finally broke. “You. You’ve done road work?”

Billy spread his hands and smiled.  “Guilty as charged.”

Name a band.”

Billy regarded the telephone pole above him. “Well, what have we got?” He shifted slowly. The layers of his clothing seemed to have settled into tectonic relationships, and his straightening acted as a force of nature, dislodging untold ages of sediment. Some time later, he had unfolded all of his seven feet three inches, and stood next to the two young men like a Sherman tank among shopping carts. Bison looked up, and up, at Billy, and a twinge in his brow was the only outer sign of his mental perturbations. He was comfortable in his usual role of “big guy”, and had taken the band’s suggestion for his stage name without question. But now, in some deep, dark furrow of gray matter, “Bison” was being reassessed for what others would call irony.

Unaware of the paradigm shift he’d had on young Bison, Billy had stooped and was taking in the sheaves offered by the telephone pole. His eyes alighted on a pale blue sheet with exaggerated dot matrix printing. “Oh, this guy. ‘Professor Mister Doctor’. One man show with forty-seven hand-made instruments. New wave electro-folk. Took twenty hours to set up. When he built The Gnarlogrooviophonic Device version 6.2, which required a 220 volt power supply and ran on Windows ME, I began having to set up for Saturday shows before Friday’s band had finished performing. That was awkward, man. More power to ‘im; but I had to move on.”

Ashteroth looked at Billy, then at the flyer. A pause, a dropped eyebrow, then, “Any others?”

Hmm.” Billy’s hands moved over the papers and quickly picked out a lime green sheet with angular scribblings. “Oh, this was too bad. ‘We Are Really Not Well At All’. Death metal group, lead by a guy that called himself ‘Rasputin’.”

Ashteroth nodded approvingly, and Billy noticed.

Yeah, it was more ironic than hardcore. He was a really nice, clean-cut guy. I thought he was straightedge, turns out he was just whitebread. And kinda torn between two masters. He wrote these love poems in secret. One day he was desperate to hide one from his drummer, and he tried to swallow it. Choked to death on his own sonnet.”

Ashteroth opened his mouth, but Billy had already spotted another. “Haha! ‘Crass Stitchly and the Mild-mannereds’.” his smile widened as he shook his head. “Prog Rockabilly group outta Nashville, by way of Sweden. Had a big hit with their third album, ‘Lord Jethro and the Valkyries of Cadillac’. Their stage shows just got too elaborate for me.” He chuckled. “At one point, I’d spent a whole month digging classic tailfins out of junkyards, mounting them on a movable stage platform to look like the Cadillac Ranch. After I spent another week with an arc-welder, covering them with runes, I looked at ‘em and thought, ‘Why are we working so hard on these visual gimmicks, man? That’s what drugs are for!’”

Billy glanced at the pole again, and immediately exclaimed, “’Britney Spears’s Conscience’! I’d forgotten all about those kids. They were this Indie/emo/navelgazing group. Took their name very literally, like Britney’s conscience was, like, displaced, and they had appropriated it.” Billy clutched earnestly at the air to illustrate his point. “It sorta led them to an identity crisis. When Britney was pulled over for letting her three-month old boy drink one of her bacon smoothies while he was driving down the PCH, they started to doubt their own existence.”

Ashteroth quickly searched for the oldest-looking flyer and stabbed at it. “What about these guys?”

Oh, ‘The All-Star All-Stars’!” Billy replied, wincing. “Real tragedy there. Super massive symphonic jam band. Couldn’t function without the fourth chair triangle player, and couldn’t travel ’cause police always broke up their convoy. They eventually settled down to giving concerts on their own land, which was unfortunately located over one of those giant limestone caverns.” Billy paused and shook his head. “And the lead bouzouki player had just told me they were ready to make their mark on the landscape.”

Here’s another oldie. ‘DDJJJ’. Guy was crazy for his music, called it ‘Acid casiocore’. He really struggled to find an audience, until he heard there was one club in the UK where people were really aching to hear his sound. In North Ornesby, between the Teesside Bridge Social Club and Boots the Chemists. I think it was called ‘The Shaft’.”

The club?”

Yeah, that’s right. I remember the landlord hadn’t ever installed the elevator, so he rented out the space instead. Cozy place, D tells me.”

Ashteroth pointed to another flyer at random. “How about them?”

‘The Soundstuffers’, yeah!” Billy gave a groovy thumbs up. “Brit-pop group from Appalachia. Had a big hit, ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdance’. But the brothers had serious artistic differences. And always fighting over who their manager was gonna be, their dad or their uncle. I had to skip out of that scene; it got a little intense once they started calling each other ‘Hatfield’ and ‘McCoy’.”

Ashteroth pointed wordlessly to another flyer.

Billy looked, nodded. “’Oblivious’. Lead singer OD’d on Ritalin.”

Despite himself, Ashteroth wrinkled his nose. “That’s a messed up way to go.”

Oh he didn’t die, just paid really good attention to things for the next couple of days.”

Ashteroth’s frown returned. He stood, nonplussed, looking up at Billy’s half-smile. Bison, it may be noted, was also nonplussed, but not in any new way. Despite Billy’s excellent use of the “Rasputin” character as an example of “ironic”, Bison’s vocabulary remained… “unembiggened”.

Well, it’s been real, Billy. Or not,” Ashteroth grumbled. “We’ve got to keep moving.” He signaled to Bison, who held up the new flyer while Ashteroth added to the pole’s legacy.

Sure, man. Nice meeting you. Just keep at it, you know? It’s not about the fame, or the money. Just do it for the love of the music. You’ll always be rewarded.”

Okay, whatever,” Ashteroth muttered, departing with Bison in tow.

Billy looked at the new flyer. “Hey, ‘Satan’s Bacne’ – is this you guys?”

Ashteroth stopped and turned. “Yeah, that’s us.”

Billy’s smiling eyes shone back through a grimace. “Oh, man, you guys suck.”

 

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.

 


9 Comments to “5/9/11-MARIE CONGER”

  1. Liz says:

    Love it! Great, subtle insight into a local music scene in Anytown. Love the humor too. Personally, any piece with a bouzouki and the proper use of “nonplussed” is off to a great start.
    ps. This whole project is awesome!

  2. Pat Bennett says:

    Giggled all the way through and then laughed out loud at the end! Love it!

  3. Cole Bennett says:

    Thanks Mom! Thanks Liz! I tried for days to get momentum on a deep music history piece, but my ignorance was too profound. So, when in doubt, make ‘em laugh. I hope I have! If not, full refunds for everyone!

  4. Marie says:

    Thouroughly enjoyed it, Cole. What a surprising and funny spin—no refund necessary! Marie

  5. Joe says:

    Choked on his own sonnet: man, that’s cold. I’ve never choked though I have gagged now and then. And the visual effects: that’s what drugs are for. Very funny.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks as ever, Joe! “Choked on his own sonnet” was supposed to be a play on Hendrix’s supposed fate, but then I mixed it with the “irony” of the guy being named “Rasputin” (and dying over something so trivial). The two jokes may have tripped over each other.

  6. Adam Gillett says:

    Proof there is a rich, untapped intersection between Pratchett, underground music and (pop) culture references. Very enjoyable read. BTW, Bison = Trevor Peres in his youth, before the beard consumed him.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Didn’t we always know that connection existed? :) Thanks a lot, Adam. Now that I’ve seen some pics of Mr. Peres, I have to agree. Very sapien challenged.

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