The fictional Miami band False Gods opens for Lynyrd Skynyrd at their Miami Hydroplane Course show, April 1975. Needing a real Southern rocker to lend credence to their support of the greatest Southern Rock band of the century, they invite Tom Petty, late of Mudcrutch, to play his battle song, ‘Born a Rebel.” to warm up the crowd so a ‘free bird may fly.’
SKYNYRD SHOW REHEARSAL
We arrived at Michael’s at the same time Robby was lighting up with Dave and Jazz. Stu and Mike Jr were oblivious, but John knew what was up. Still he followed Stu to the drum kit and guitar amps. I give him credit for choosing his own path, but I knew he’d like to return to the hazy daze of a stoned brain. He was tuning up my old Mustang when I sat beside him, not saying a word.
“What?” John complained
“Nothin.’ I’m just chillin’ wid yoose.”
“You talk funny, half hillbilly, half Brooklyn.”
“My roots don’t go deep.”
“You better seem a real Southern boy at Skynyrd.”
“Jeezus. You wanna be tarred and feathered.”
“We got U of M football security.”
“They’re just good ol’ boys who’ll love watchin’ Yankees gettin’ their asses kicked.”
“I heard this song by a band called Mudcrutch. They’re from North Florida.” I took the Mustang and ran a couple of chords. Then I stood up and sang, with the amp up,
“Hey hey hey!
I was born a rebel.
Down in Dixie on a Sunday morning
Yeah with one foot in the grave
And one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel.”
Songwriters: PETTY, TOM
Rebels lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
I gave the guitar to John and he played it back to me note for note, except he jumped into the air as he sang ‘hey, hey, hey.’
Jack came over and asked if that was a new song.
“Naw, I heard it on the radio. Some band in Gainesville. They put out a 45 from their demo. Think we could use it at Skynyrd?”
“We still need to prove our Southern roots?”
“I love being Southern.”
“In two years from Alaska to Cracker.”
I went and called Jay. He said he’d talk to a friend at the University of Florida about Mudcrutch.
Iggy said he’d get a big Rebel flag we could fly.
Jack was jumping around, going, “Yee Haw.” He sounded like a mule, not a cowboy.
John and I went back to working on songs, ignoring them.
“Fuckin’ fake hillbillies,” he snarked.
“Now you know what it was like for a week on the road,” I told him.
We smiled at each other. It made my heart sing to know he was happy.
The Out-Crowd left. After ordered-in pizza, we ran through the songs we had put into our set. It was a good hour of non-stop rhythm and blues. Then we tried putting certain songs together. In between songs, Jack and I made up dialogue, supposedly to entertain the crowd. Sometimes it was so lame, the rest of the band just moaned in despair. Better that they were tuning and shifting and playing riffs while we talked. We did better at the jokes when no one was listening. We needed a sound-man to keep the vibe going. We’d have to make do at the concert with whoever they had on the board. Some songs were so good, it made me tingle. Others made me worry no one would like them. It was an uneven practice.
At the end, I gave a pep talk that papered over my own doubts. It didn’t help overcome our insecurities.
Robby stood up.
“Hell, man. We’re going out there and doing our thing which is having fun. I ain’t worried that I’ll fuck up ‘cause Michael’s right there to catch me when I fall. Jack and Hippie are rhythm machines, And Tim? Well, he knows the Jacettes sing better than him anyway, so he can go cry on them.”
He was right. We were too serious about being the next big thing. We just wanted to have fun. Even practice was fun.
At Nutrition in school, Hippie asked when Jack and I were planning to have dinner with his two moms. Thursday was the night of the Baptist Youth Group. I told Jack we’d have a great time rolling around with other kids, cautioning him not to speak in tongues or else the youth group would pursue him relentlessly, for speaking God’s Word.
“I’ll be a false god,” he quipped.
“Don’t you dare,” I ordered him.
“We’ll be there on Thursday. I think we should go to the Hydroplane Arena and do a sound check in the afternoon. We’ll go afterwards.”
I called Jay and asked him to set up a time on Thursday afternoon for a sound check. We had played outdoors, but these acoustics were going to be weird, right on the water, playing to a crowd 100 feet away.
“I spoke to my friend in Gainesville. He knows the singer for Mudcrutch. No problem for you to play their song, as they’ve broken up.”
“Cool, but how do we credit it as a cover?”
“Their singer is a big Skynyrd fan. He asked if he could sing the song with you guys.”
“That’s cool. Is he young?”
“24. That sound too old?”
“How old are you, Jay?”
“The same, 24.”
“You wanna hang out with us, too? You can be his sponsor to the Kingdom of Youth.”
“Really?” He sounded 15.
“Of course. You can be a good ol’ boy, right?”
“Shucks, I don’t needs ta try.”
“See what I mean,” as I punched Jack.
“What?” he hadn’t been listening to the call.
“Jay’s coming to our show.”
“Great,” he yelled.
Now Jay was giggling.
“You just got hired as Assistant Manager, Jay.”
“Isn’t that what I always do, anyway?”
“You’ve been working for Mike Sr. Now you work for us.”
“How’s that’s different?” he sounded confused.
“Now we can fire you if you don’t do what we tell you,” Jack shouted into the phone.
“Get your ass over here. I’m lonely.”
We all were giggling.
“Clear case of sexual harassment.”
“Whatever,” we both yelled.
After practice, I remembered what Coach Earl had said. I decided to call Scott.
“What’s up?” he said.
“Not much. How about you?”
“Com’n, Scott. I know you got State Finals this week. I called to wish you luck.”
“I wish you were there to pump me up, like last year.” He was still so obliviously clueless to what he was saying.
“Coach has banned me for being a quitter and a bad influence,” I noted.
“Can’t you just come?”
My heart skipped a beat. I really wanted to be there for him.
“What night is it?”
“Friday, at 6 pm. It’s the first event. It’s at Ransom.”
“You gonna win again?”
“Doubtful. I finally matched last year’s time, but those same guys are now 4 seconds faster.”
“Five seconds. You can do it.”
“Thanks. Can you come?”
The old feelings were kicking in. I had to be part of it.
“I have an idea. The meet’s at your school. Can you find a place outside the pool where we can play. I have the perfect pump-up song for you.”
“We’ll play a song that’s sure to get you going.”
“Thanks, Tim. It’ll be cool to see you at my meet.”
“We’ll get there about 6. After you’ve warmed up, come out to the parking lot and show us where we can set up, where you’ll be able to hear it, even in the water.”
“Won’t it pump up the other swimmers, too?”
“Naw. This song will be just for someone special. You’ll know when we start playing.”
“You can’t tell me now?”
“I’m going for surprise, the max effect. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”
After school on Thursday, we hauled our equipment out the causeway to Key Biscayne, where the hydroplane course was located. Seating for the fans was bleachers that were at the edge of the water, looking out at the concrete judge’s stand about 100 feet offshore. Jay had arranged for the promoters to have a skiff ready to haul us to the concrete stand where we would play. We set up and played a few different songs. It took us a while to get the amp levels high enough. The Rebel song from Mudcrutch was a good sound check, with the ‘hey,hey,hey’ chorus. There was no backdrop where we could drape the Rebel Stars and Bars flag. I told Iggy that his job would be to wave the flag when we played ‘Rebel.’
“We got to let that redneck from Gainesville sing with us?” Jack complained.
“It’s his song. Just ‘cause ya live in a big, fancy house don’t mean ya ain’t no redneck.”
“Right. Just ‘cause yer from Alaska don’t mean ya cain’t pretend yer one , too.”
“We calls ‘em roughnecks. They’s all from Texas.” I countered
Never put down where someone’s from.
After the sound check, I called Jay about acoustic problems. After conferring with Mike Sr., he got back on the line.
“We have to get an amp for the Gainesville guy, so we’ll swap out all the amps with more powerful ones,” Jay decided.
“Marshall Stacks, Marshall Stacks,” Jack yelled.
That night was dinner with the moms. I warned Jack that Marge was blunt and opinionated. She took time to mellow to you. Hippie was his happy self that we wanted to come to his house.
“Why was Gregory’s picture in the paper? “Marge held up the shot of him escaping barefooted from the Waldorf. “What he do to be photographed?”
“He was just trying to catch up with us walking to Central Park,” Jack explained.
I knew the simple explanation was not what she wanted.
“After the Church performance on Easter, all the photographers started following us and were staked out at the hotel entrance when he came out running without any shoes. They made it look like shots from the Beatles’ movie, ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’”
“You think you’re the Beatles now? You want to be in a movie?”
“Actually, there is a movie coming out from the Viscaya show on last New Year’s.”
“Well, ain’t you special? How come Gregory hasn’t been paid for the movie?”
“Mr Antonio has set up trust accounts for all of us. We were paid $30,000 for shooting the movie. If it is a success, we may get even more.”
“Gregory just gives us a hundred bucks every once in a while,” Madge complained.
“That’s what we make for a show. Usually half goes into the trust accounts from those shows, as well.” I thought how different it was for Hippie who gave all his earnings to his moms. They needed it.
“I hear about musicians who end up broke because they get cheated out of their earnings.”
“Mom, Mr. Antonio ain’t gonna cheat me.”
“Well, all I know is they were traveling in limousines around New York City while Gregory had to ride in an old De Soto with no roof. I hear De Soto is out of business.”
“Mom, we loved that car. We drove it all the way from Miami.”
“They got to fly while y’all drove?”
“You got to fly, too.” Hippie protested.
“Yeah, second class, while they all sat up front.”
“Did you have a good time on the trip,” Jack asked, in order to change the tone of the conversation.
“I was taken aback when the Baptist Church was only for Black people.”
“Mom, we ain’t racists.”
“Not when you’re the only white folk in Harlem.”
“You didn’t enjoy Gregory singing there.”
“I’m always proud of our boy.”
“Y’all goin’ to youth group after dinner?” Marge asked
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Jack enthused.
“Bless you, child.”
The Moms’ fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy, with greens on the side, made me remember great Sunday dinners in North Carolina.
At Baptist Youth Group, Hippie’s ‘pledge’ girlfriend, Anna, took us under her wing. The kids were enthralled to hear about our tour. The youth leader let us take over as we recounted the days in Charlotte with censored descriptions of the Roadhouse shows. We promised to bring Iggy next time as he was the redneck hero of our disputes. The girls would be easy prey for the Iggy dog collar.
When the youth leader led us in prayer, we were quickly on the floor, moaning and rolling. No encouragement got us to speak in tongues, although many of the girls did so. I felt sad when I looked up to where Casper had watched us the last time. The girls all saw my tears and were quick to comfort me. Religion is such a blankie.
Hippie dropped us off at Jack’s, thanking us for coming.
“There’s hope for you boys yet,” he complimented us. We both agreed that we felt great after the night’s out of character activities. Kids are kids, everywhere.
Friday afternoon, and school was out for the weekend – our weekend. We were all loose and past worrying how well our songs would do.
Jack described our mood, “We be buzzin’ like flies on a pile of dog shit.”
Checking in with Jay, he told us Tom from Gainesville was waiting for us at Michael’s.
“Shit, we have a high school thing we have to do. He’ll be bored.”
“Naw. He said he wants to hang out and get to know you all.”
“Yeah. What better place than a high school swim meet?”
I was so glad we didn’t have to practice. Time for fun.
Tom was sitting with Jimmy Olson, obviously plugging his musical ambitions with the press. Jay was sitting with them, too.
“Jimmy, my man,” I greeted him.
“Tim, meet Tom. He said he’s playing with you guys tomorrow.” He was a skinny guy, with a loopy, buck-toothed grin, and long, straight blond hair. He looked like Cousin It from the Addams Family.
“Yeah. We’re big fans of his Rebel song. Everybody thinks we’re a bunch of city boys from Miami. Hey, Tom, everyone makin’ you feel at home here?”
“You’re Tim. This here is yer band?”
“Hell, no. We’s all in charge of the chaos. Robby got us all together at first, over Halloween.”
“Samhain,” Robby corrected me.
“So, yer all devil worshippers?”
“Naw. Just Robby. He calmed down a bit after I beat him down.”
Robby glowered at me.
“So yer name False Gods ain’t ‘bout religion and you needin’ ta be worshiped?”
“Naw. We’re just makin’ fun of bands that claims they gotta be worshiped fer entertainin’ people.”
“Cool. My last band broke up ‘cause everyone was worshipin’ themselves and wanted the fans to do so too.”
“That don’t sound like much fun.”
“It was hell tryin’ to make it when everyone thought they deserved to be idolized.”
“Yeah. How’d ya hear ‘bout us.”
“Yer single was on the radio here and I loved it. We need a song that says we’re a Southern band even though we’re from Miami. Not much cred there.”
“And Tim tries bein’ a good ol’ boy, but he’s really a cracker from Alaska,” Jack poked fun at me.”
Tom guffawed, “Cracker from Alaska? That’s rich.”
“We drove up to New York over Easter and played at road houses to make sure we could open for Skynyrd. We just play what the crowd wants to hear, and sometimes what makes ‘em mad, as well. It makes for wild shows,” I bragged.
“Yeah, last weekend we played a frat. The football team chased us up a tree and we bombed them with mangoes,” Jack piped up.
“I should git me a hard hat fer tomorra?”
“Naw. You’re cool. I hope once we play “Born a Rebel,’ you’ll stay on stage and play with us. Can you jam on a song you’ve never heard before?”
“Sure thing. Just show me the fingering before you start.”
“This will be so cool,” I enthused.
Tom snorted. “You’re kids having fun. Just started playin’ six months ago, doin’ parties and road houses. Now you git to open fer Skynyrd. What did I miss about success? I’ve been tryin’ ta make it since I was ten. Ya wanna hear another Mudcrutch song?”
“Go ahead an’ bedazzle us.”
“Fer us, it’s ‘cause kids bein’ friends means no one takes hisself too serious,” Robby explained.
I paused the love fest. “We’ve got this high school thing we gots ta do. If’n ya want ta skip it, I don’t blames ya.”
“Hey, I ain’t that old. Are you playing or what?”
“Well, we’re settin’ up outside the school’s pool and playin’ a fight song for our friend who’s in the State finals tonight. You don’t mind?”
“’Course not. Kin I bring my guitar.”
We packed up our gear in Hippie’s car, with Jay driving Jimmy and Tom separately. I liked Tom. Jack and I piled in with them, so we could get to know him better. My good ol’ boy cred meter was on the rise.
“So what fight song are you playin’?”
“I cain’t explain it, but it’s Credence’s ‘Proud Mary.’ My buddy Scott will get all emotional when we dedicate it to his ma, whom we all call Mom. It’ll get him out of his head, so he can be a superman in the water.”
“Now I really feel like I’s back in high school.”
We met Stu and Scott in the Ransom parking lot. I told Scott we were going to play a song to cheer him on. He expected me to have some elaborate strategy to get him to drop his time the 5 seconds he needed to win.
“No, dude. You stick to your race strategy and steady pace. Just let the song whip you up for the first lap. Get out ahead and the others will remember last year. They’ll bust their butts to not let you get away. You go back to your pace until the last lap. We’ll keep playing until you win the race.”
“Don’t worry. Our band will chase away all your doubts. Believe me, you will win again.”
“I believe, you Tim. Yer my lucky charm.”
He hugged me and left to get ready.
Stu had found us the perfect spot outside the pool fence, with power close enough for our amps. Nobody bothered us as we set up. Right at 6 pm, the PA in the pool came on. After a prayer, they started playing a recording of the national anthem. Tom looked at me and we both joined in on guitar, just not Jimmy Hendrix style. After ‘home of the brave,’ we broke into ‘Dixie.’
The crowd loved it and soon everyone was singing along. Most of the people were from upstate. The officials looked concerned, but figured the school had authorized us to play. We sat down to wait for Scott’s event, the 500 free final, which started the State Championships.
They started announcing the swimmers. Scott was in lane 8, the outside lane, just like last year. When he stood up on the block as his name was read, I turned on the mic.
“This song is for the greatest mom in the world, Mrs. Watt,” I announced. We all broke into ‘Proud Mary.’
Scott looked stunned. He expected the song to be for him. He gulped and the tears started flowing. I had a momentary doubt that we may be screwing him up. But he went down for the start and took off like a flash, sprinting the first lap. This year all the others kept up with him, aware that his strategy won the race the previous year. Just as I had told him, he settled into his regular pace after the first lap. All the other swimmers kept up the torrid pace pushing each other and jockeying for position. They forgot about Scott who had fallen back. We turned up our amps, so he could hear us in the water. With 100 yards to go, the fast pace begin to pick off the early leaders, who had never swam this fast before. Scott moved up on the pack, which looked like they were beginning to flail. With the last 25 yards to go, we turned the amps to maximum.
‘Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin’
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river’
ROMDHANE, ANDREAS JONAS SAMMY / KOTECHA, SAVAN HARISH
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, CONCORD MUSIC GROUP, INC
Scott rolled up the last two competitors and won by a length. The crowd exploded. Tom did the leads to ‘I was Born a Rebel.’ We all followed him, our first public performance of his song.
Stu was jumping up and down with his mom, who was smiling like an idiot at us outside the fence. I caught Coach Diaz shaking his head at me. I had tried to make it seem like we were just a cheer squad for Scott, but he knew better. Oh, well. That train left the station long ago. We started packing up our equipment but were delayed by all the fans who seemed to know who we were. Even Tom had fans from Gainesville there. We told them to come to the show the next night. Scott came running up, hugging and generally molesting me. He finally had embarrassed me.
“How did you know that song would get to me so bad?”
“Didn’t I used to call you CB?” (Cry Baby)
“Those tears made me crazy on the first lap.”
“Then you settled down and won the championship again.”
“Thanks, Tim. You are the golden child.”
“Hey, I’m almost 17.”
He looked at me and burst out crying again. I turned him around into the arms of Mrs. Watt. Some things never change.
We finally got the equipment loaded into Hippie’s car. It was time for pizza and beer at Sorrento’s. Tom seemed a bit dazed when Robby lit up a joint at our table in the back of the restaurant.
“Y’all gonna get stoned right here in public?” he asked.
“Don’t worry. It’s cool,” Robby passed him the lit doobie.
Checking to make sure no one was looking, he took a furtive hit. We all watched for his reaction, as we hadn’t shown him how to smoke a Robby special.
“How’s our Miami weed?” Robby asked him
“Ta be perfectly honest, it ain’t shit,” Tom was honest.
We all burst out laughing.
“What?” Tom complained.
“Here. Let me show you,” Robby moved over and held the joint so the Robby special hole was blocked. Tom took a massive hit, exploding almost the instant the smoke-filled his lungs. We were in hysterics.
“Still ain’t shit,” Robby asked, showing him the hole he had blocked.
“You little fucker,” Tom grabbed and shook Robby. We were still laughing when two pitchers of beer arrived.
“Tryin’ to git me stoned and drunk?” Tom complained.
Jack stood up and sang our drugs song:
“Heroin and cocaine make a speed ball
Dilaudin or codeine will soften the fall
Thorzine puts you away for a while
Pot and beer just make you smile.”
“Ya got that right,” Tom enthused.
Fully charged up, we went back to Michael’s and taught Tom all our songs. He was a natural, picking up chords easily and throwing in his own licks. It became a big jam session. Mike Sr. wandered in and we made him play bass on Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ I noticed that Boy Reporter Jimmy Olson was scribbling away in his notebook.
“Writin’ ‘bout us?” I drawled.
“Check out the Herald in the morning,” he promised.
“Big time reporter now, huh?”
“Still just a stringer. You guys are my main beat.”
“We got the beat. My aim is true.”
That night’s jam was so much more fun than the serious rehearsing we had been doing leading up to the Skynyrd concert. We got our happy vibe back. Tom fit in and got us out of our heads about how serious we had to be to play to a stadium of drunk fans. Jack and I went to bed feeling it was Christmas, with the anticipation of kids awaiting Santa, without the worry about whether we’d been naughty or nice. That night we were definitely not nice. We awoke to Robby swinging in our window, waving a copy of the Miami Herald.
“We got a big write-up in the Arts section,” he crowed, shocking us out of our beauty rest.
“Jimmy Olson said he’d do a feature.”
“Yeah, there’s even a photo of the swim meet gig, with Tom and you two all playing Dixie.”
“Grant’s not gonna be happy.”
“He’ll figure it out. We did that rap jam in New York. When in Rome and all that..”
Robby was all hyper, jumping onto the bed and bouncing up and down. Jack moaned and rolled out of the bed, naked as a jay bird. Robby took a good look, noticed me noticing him and shrugged. He winked and I laughed. Ever since Tom showed up, he was much less up tight. Having Tom, another Southern boy, around had broken the spell of my anger. Bygones.
We got dressed and brought the paper to the kitchen where Susan made us pancakes and eggs. Dad read the article. Ever since he accepted that being a rock musician was an actual job that paid, he stopped thinking I was a nihilistic anarchist.
“It says you guys continue to come up with crazy fun shows. Everyone should expect more antics and mayhem at the concert tonight. Who’s idea was it to play at a swim meet, or should I not ask?”
“Well, Scott won the state title again because we showed up and distracted all those crackers from up state.”
“Mr. Castle,” Robby was actually having a conversation with my dad, “you’re a businessman. Do you think our band can be a well-paying business?”
“Do you have a budget and a projection of next year’s income?”
“Hell, we don’t even know how much we’re makin’ tonight.”
“Who controls the finances?”
“Well, Tim is always givin’ our earnings away. He even pays the girls who do backups the same as the real musicians.”
“Mr. Antonio controls the money. He has trust funds set up for everyone. We only get enough cash so we have spending money,” I defended myself.
“Any idea how much it cost to take your ‘tour’ to New York?” Dad went right to the details.
“We got a bunch of cash for the shows which I gave to Mike Sr.”
“Except for what you gave away to that church in Daytona Beach,” Robby argued.
“It looks like the money issue is already dividing you boys. If’n you wanna keep the band together, everyone needs to understand how the finances work.”
“Yeah,” Robby agreed, the little rat.
“Well, we hired Jay as an assistant manager. I’ll make sure we get a full accounting after tonight’s show is over.”
I was none too happy to have Dad and Robby ganging up on me. I was glad when we left to go to Michael’s. We all rode our bikes, with Robby reading aloud the Herald story.
“Miami’s favorite teen wonder band, Falsetto Gods, made another pop-up appearance at Ransom School to cheer on guitarist Tim Castle’s swim team-mate, Scott Watt, at the State Swimming & Diving Championships. True to form, the fish boy repeated his championship swim from last year as the band played a cover of the Credence Clearwater Revival hit ‘Proud Mary,’ dedicated to Scott’s mom. It was enough to send the Watts boy to tears at the start and to a come-from-behind victory in the 500 yard freestyle event. The band even played Dixie after joining in on the traditional Star Spangled Banner, much to the pleasure of the upstate Southern boys. Joining the boys was Gainesville’s Mudcrutch singer and guitarist Tom Petty, who ended the mini concert with his single, “Born a Rebel.’ There was much whooping and hollering in the crowd, even though it was a Miami boy who won the race.
False Gods opens tonight’s open air concert at the Miami Hydroplane Course, headlined by Jacksonville’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. The local boys will be hard-pressed to prove they play authentic Southern Rhythm & Blues against the ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ superstars from North Florida. What they’ll bring to the stage tonight won’t surprise their local fans who have watched these teens conquer the local scene with antics and energy. Overcoming the tragic death of band founder Jace Conning, they defied rumors of their demise with a knockout Spring Break tour of road houses in Daytona and Charlotte, a battle of the bands with Bruce Springsteen at Asbury Park, an opening set for Patti Smith at Max’s Kansas City in New York, two sets at the iconic CBGB’s, Easter Services at Abyssinian Baptist where bassist Gregory Hippie sang Amazing Grace, and finally a Pink Floyd tribute at St Patrick’s Cathedral where the alter’s crucifix supposedly wept diamond tears. What did you do on your vacation? Oh, they also set up homeless shelters for teen runaways to be run by the Catholics and Baptists in subtle recognition of their underground name, Teen Jesus. The shelters are called Jace’s Place. In case, you weren’t listening, they also shut down Coral Gables High to end de facto segregation of the Black students being bused in from Hialeah. These boys defend all Southerners.
Tonight’s concert is sold-out, but there’s no limit for what is termed ‘boat people’ by those in the know, and we’re not talking Vietnamese refugees. Any way you can get there, you’ll be sure to catch the show of the year. These boys are firecrackers.”
“Whoo-ee,” Robby was on fire. When we got to Michael’s the whole Out-Crowd gang was there, complaining they were left out of our show. Jay had explained there wasn’t room enough for any hangers-on. The stage was too small. We already had 5 musicians, 3 back-up singers, plus Tom and Jay (and probably Jimmy Olson), and the three U of M security team. I felt the boys’ pain.
“What’s the ‘boat people?’“ I asked.
“Anyone can take their boat out to the hydroplane course and anchor between the stage and the stands,” Michael explained. “Know anyone with a boat?”
Mike Jr. piped up, “’Sus and his brothers have a boat. I bet they’ll wanna go.”
He came back with a big grin, “They’ll be here at six.”
There was a boat ramp at Michael’s, which bordered a canal. From there was access to the Bay.
I worried about John.
“Call your mom and make sure it’s okay,” I told Stu and John.
They gave me the look which made me feel like the older brother I was. Iggy wanted to be on stage, and then there was Jenna, plus we all wanted Max there. That made over ten people, which Mike Jr. said was too much for ‘Sus’s boat.
I called Dickie Mertz for the first time in two years.
“Dickie, my man. It’s Tim Castle.”
“Tim, my rock n roll hero. You must want something to be calling.”
“Well, to be honest, do you know about our show tonight at the Hydroplane Course?”
“Yes? Everyone reads the Herald.”
“How’d you like to attend?”
“What’s the catch? It’s been two years since we’ve seen each other.”
“The concert’s sold out and we have no room for friends due to the small stage. How’d you like to be one of the boat people?’
“Do I look Vietnamese?”
“If you squint your eyes…”
“Hah. You’re still a card, Tim Castle. I guess you mean will I take your friends in my boat.”
“That would be great, my man.”
“Listen, old chap, I really want to see this wild and crazy show by you and your band. Where do I meet you?”
“Do you know the boat landing near the Antonio’s?”
“Of course, they’re real Gables people.”
“Well, Michael Antonio’s our drummer. Be here by six. There’s another boat coming as well.”
“Sounds like an armada?”
“Don’t they teach you anything in public school? The Spanish Armada? Trafalgar?”
“Ya got me there, but let’s hang out tonight.”
“I can barely wait.”
Robby and Tom were in stitches listening to me suck up to the preppy.
“Was that the Alaska Cracker version of a good ol’ boy accent?” Tom gasped.
“Fuck you boys. He’s got an 18 foot Whaler and he’s comin’ tonight.”
“Do we all havta suck up to ‘im,” Robby laughed.
“Ya can suck yerselves, boys.”
“That idea requires a joint,” as Robby pulled out a special from behind his ear. Tom shook his head and expertly negotiated the Robby hole.
Jay had arranged another sound check with the added amps. A limo picked up the five of us musicians and drove out the Key Biscayne Causeway. A boat took us to the stage. Spec’s Music had gone all out with true Marshall Stacks for each guitarist, including Tom. Wireless mics were a new thing and we had to be hooked up with bulky transmitters strapped to our lower backs. Since our show attire was the normal low-cut frayed jeans and unbuttoned long sleeve shirts, the wireless equipment made us look like robots. It was worth it to be able to move around the stage without a trailing cord. Our guitars were still tied to the amps. It took some time to be hooked up and get used to the new sound system. The stacked amps put out an incredibly loud sound. We were given individual monitors so we could hear ourselves over the amped sound. I hated the monitors as they only worked when I stood right in front of them. I figured I wasn’t going to listen to myself. If I screwed up, who cared? We finally were hooked up and able to run through a couple of songs. All the wattage was overwhelming. This was not the sound we played at small clubs and parties. We played Dixie, and the sound guy was pumping his fist and singing along. It was a good sign for that night.
By the time we got back to Michael’s the Jacettes were there, looking especially sharp. We went over the backup vocals on Tom’s ‘Born a Rebel.’ Tom liked to repeat the ‘hey, hey, hey’ line and had the girls echo him. The excitement was building. I told Iggy he was in charge of the boat people plus waving the Confederate battle flag. Dickie had arrived with his Whaler. I introduced him to the Out-Crowd kids. He proceeded to inform them that he was Captain of the boat and he had a list of do’s and don’t’s to follow. They totally tuned him out. Robby grabbed him and proceeded to get him high for the first time in his life. He soon was a blithering idiot. He totally fit in. Max was running around, scoring a second-hand high. Weed was in the air. I kept Jack under tight control, figuring he could wait until we were going on stage to be at the peak of his testosterone high. ‘Sus and his brothers arrived in the smallest boat I could imagine. They even brought their 10 year little brother whom they called Chewbaca or something. Stu, John and Mike Jr. piled in with them. There were only a couple of inches between the gunwale and the water. I told Iggy to keep Dickie’s boat next to them as they motored out to the Hydroplane course. There were seven in the swim team boat and seven in the Whaler (Dickie, Iggy, Dave, Jazz, Debbie, Grant & Clyde plus Max). They took off just as we were loading into the two limos. They really looked like Asian Boat People in their overloaded fishing craft.
We arrived at the staging area which was a whirlwind of activity. We went into the band tent, face to face with Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Man, you boys are young.” All the members had shoulder-length hair and scruffy beards.
“Not so young we don’t git high,” Robby stood up to him, pulling a joint from beneath his shoulder-length blond hair.
“Spark it up, boy,” Ronnie proclaimed. Several joints were soon going around.
“This weed is primo,” Ronnie said.
“That’s why y’all came to Miami.” Jack observed.
Their manager walked in and promptly grabbed the joints.
“Looks like yer mama’s here, boys.”
“I ain’t havin’ some stupid time on stage,” the manager stated.
Robby, Ronnie, and Tom silently went out the back of the tent to continue their new friendship. The remaining musicians stood around yakking about their lineups. We told them we used the double drummers like they did. I explained how we’d play Neil Young to get the crowds riled up, then bring them back with ‘Sweet Home Alabama.”
“You play our song,” one of them asked.
“We’ve always been a cover band until we got this show. We started playing our own songs jist a coupla months ago.”
”Ya gonna play one of our songs tonight?”
“Only if’n Ronnie sings with us,” I piped in.
“She-it. Y’all wanna jam on stage?”
“Let’s jist see how it all goes?” I responded.
“We do ‘Free Bird’ as a duet,” Jack confessed to Skynyrd.
“What part of ‘I’m leavin’ here tomorrow,’ don’t y’all get?”
“Mary sings like she knows she’s goin’ with.”
“You boys are all crazy. Who had that weed. Where’d he go?”
“Robby always has weed. He and Tom took Ronnie out back.”
There was a mass evacuation out the back once the manager left. Jack and I went out the front of the tent to check out the crowd. The stands were filling up. The boat people had arrived early and the prime center-stage water spots were filled already. I looked in vain for the Out-Crowd, until I saw Iggy waving the Confederate flag. He had Dickie, who was moronically under Iggy control, drive through the bobbing boats until they had arrived at the stage. They were towing the ‘Sus boat. Iggy jumped on stage but was tossed back by security. He kept waving the flag and screaming at security. The crowd was loving it, unless your boat had been dislodged by Iggy. Then Robby appeared with Tom and Ronnie, hauling Iggy and the flag onstage. Security watched as the four of them ran off stage. The crowd was really cheering now. It was time to go on. I yelled at everyone and we were all jetted out to the stage. Everything was set up. We picked up our instruments and began playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ yelling at everyone to stand up. People started yelling back and booing. Then we played ‘God the Save the Queen,” which only made the crowd even crazier. I looked around for Robby who wasn’t on his drum set, no surprise there, as he was higher than ever running around the stadium with Iggy (with the Stars & Bars), Tom and Ronnie. They were at the chain link fence beside the stands conversing with the crowd that was trying to get in. Tom had his mic-headset on.
I yelled into my mic, “Hey, Tom. What’s next?”
“ Dixie,” he shouted back.
“Then you better sing,” I told him as I started playing the Southern Anthem, with Jack picking the notes as if he was on a banjo.
“Well, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,” Tom sang on cue.
Right from the start half the crowd was singing along. I could see the stands shaking and boat people jumping so much it was pushing the boats back and forth. The crowd outside the fence surged forward, and people were able to jump the fence, overwhelming security.
“Hey. Leave them kids alone,” I yelled into my mic. “That’s our drummer.”
Iggy raised the flag and their group ran into the boats next to the shore, making their way from boat to boat to the stage with Tom singing, “Away, away, away down south in Dixie.”
“Yeah, Miami The Confederacy lives tonight.” I observed, while I played a few bars of Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man,’ over and over. People started listening and recognizing the hated song. I switched to a few bars of ‘Sweet Home Alabama, “Neil Young will remember….”
Security tried to secure the gate. Fights broke out until the Miami PD showed up with six German Shepherds on leashes. The crowd moved back. The stage manager yelled, “Play.” We started with ‘False Gods.’
‘Where others feared to tread,
they gave us up for dead,
memories linger eternally,
as Lucifer’s proud plea,
a world of our own,
on high a black throne,
sing to make them see,
happy for eternity
…we are False Gods, we are False Gods…
a world so meek and blind,
we laugh at all of mankind,
we’re Satan’s band,
a world of endless flaws,
facades and miracles applause,
eulogized but despised,
shed your false disguise,
fall to your knees,
utter useless pleas,
…we are False Gods, we are False Gods…
pray in foreign tongues,
shoot your useless guns,
sacrifice hallowed sheep,
shun cold, dark streets,
you’re just nasty fleas,
Set your minds at ease
…False Gods, False Gods…
we live eternally,
we hear your painful screams,
keep cold certainty,
know just what we mean
….We are False Gods, False Gods..
… False Gods”
Songwriters: David Delgado, Tar Larner; Copyright: MIB
As we played, the Iggy group jumped from boat to boat. Their new best friends struggled to follow and soon many boats had fellow concert-crashers suddenly sitting with them.
“Hey, share that beer,” I yelled at a bickering boat that was about to break into a fist fight. “Y’all gots in fer free. Share the love.”
I looked over and saw fear in Dickie’s eyes. Without Iggy there to direct him, he panicked, gunning the Whaler as he tried to break free from all the surrounding boats. ‘Sus’s swim team boat cut the line attached to the Whaler, as Max jumped into ‘Sus’s boat to be with and protect John. All of Dickie’s random motion had pulled them closer to shore and a line of Miami PD police dogs and their handlers.
“Okay. Okay,” Jack yelled. “Where’s our special guest?”
Tom burst onto stage raising his guitar high. The crowd was itching for a cause to riot and ‘Born a Rebel’ was what they needed.
“Live from Gainesville, this is Tom Petty, late of Mudcrutch,” I announced him, to scattered applause. Iggy was right with him waving the Confederate flag like mad.
The song starts with a slow verse about Tom’s hot rod days, but when he hit the chorus, “Hey, Hey , Hey…” the Jacettes echoed him and our guitars, all three of them plus a bass and double drums caused a sonic boom that brought the stadium to their feet. The gate-crashers surged forward. The chain link fence collapsed, letting hundreds in at once. Pandemonium ensued. The police dogs were let loose on the gate-crashers. I saw one boy go down as a German Shepherd sank his teeth into the boy’s nuts. The crashers dashed toward the hoped-for safety of the boat people. Dickie’s wild driving finally got his Whaler free from the crowd. He headed directly back to Coral Gables, alone in his boat. We kept playing, repeating the chorus over and over. Iggy draped the Confederate flag over Tom’s shoulders. The Miami Police had rounded up a small group of crashers. It was an insult to their sense of dignity that so many had escaped their control. They started searching the boat people for faces they could recognize from the gate-crashing. After Dickie’s mad dash, the remaining boats moved toward the shore creating a measly 5 foot gap between the shore and them. It appeared to be a stand-off and things settled down. We finished ‘Born a Rebel,’ to much applause and hooting. Tom took a deep bow, pleased to get the recognition he deserved. Robby jumped up from behind his drums and yelled, ‘Monkey Song,’ as our next offering. I had a twinge of instinctual fear that we would be mocking the cops, but since we were safe on stage, I thought, “What the hell. Why not?”
Robby grabbed the stage mic,
Makes a stand
To take his joy
Going hand to hand
Flying out free
Branch to branch
Through the trees
“Free to be
A monkey like me
Ha ha ha
He he he
Haw haw haw
Chee chee chee”
He took off going boat to boat, singing the chorus:
“Ha ha ha
He he he
Haw haw haw
Chee chee chee”
As we kept playing to his antics, he arrived at ‘Sus’s boat, 5 feet from the police line, jumping up and down, scratching his underarms and mocking the cops. It was too much for them. One dog handler let his shepherd loose from the leash, yelled, “Sic ‘em” to the dog, indicating Robby. Max was standing next to Robby with his paws on the gunwale and let out a menacing growl and sharp bark. The shepherd looked confused, whining at his handler and looking nervously at Max. The cop reiterated his command and the shepherd made a leap for the boat over the five foot gap. Max snatched the dog in midair, snapping his neck and tossing him into the water. All the other dogs were whining and cringing.
Earlier – Lying in his corner of the music room at Michael’s, Max had been intrigued by all the comings and goings that day. He was disgruntled by the lack of smoke to keep his mood up and high. When Robby showed up, Max trotted up to him and gave his perfunctory bark. Robby was usually a ready partner in getting high, but not this day. Max’s afternoon delight was slowly fading with no immediate means to keep it rolling along. He was able to delay his second-hand high, but his patience was wearing thin. Even his demanding single bark elicited no response. The situation was becoming dire.
John came over and scratched his ears, always sensitive to his change of moods.
“What’s the matter, boy?” he asked. “No one paying you any attention?”
“Woof,” Max agreed.
“But I’m not smoking anymore ‘cause of swim team. I’ll go look for Iggy. Robby had to go for sound check at the stadium.”
Max didn’t like the sense of what John was saying, “Woof, woof,” he encouraged John. Then he lay in his corner, dispirited by everyone’s lack of concern over his needs.
Shortly he heard a motor coming from the canal at the edge of the backyard. Sometimes Robby would deal pot with people traveling on sailboats, who anchored in the Bay near Coconut Grove. Rushing down to the boat landing, he was confused to see four boys in a little boat pull up.
“Woof,” he asked, hoping they knew what he wanted.
John, Stu and Mike Jr. rushed up and started talking loudly with the boys in the boat. Max sniffed, but it only smelled of old oil and dead fish. He turned back toward the house, as the boys excitedly talked about their plans.
A second boat pulled up. It smelled much cleaner, but unfortunately no wafting weed odor. Suddenly Iggy rushed up.
“Woof, woof, woof,”
“Hey, Max,” Iggy greeted him. “I know what you want. Jump on board. Let’s see if this preppy snob smokes weed.”
Max followed him to the back of the clean boat. A boy dressed in white, smelling too much like soap, was sitting by the motor. The boys argued for a while before the newcomer gave in. Out came a spliff of Iggy’s Jamaican Ganja.
“Woof, woof,” Max celebrated. Ganja was his favorite.
The new boy was a light-weight, the smoke exploding from his coughing mouth. Max barely got a whiff. Iggy came to the rescue, exhaling steadily into Max’s face. Max nuzzled Iggy, his true friend. Again the boy couldn’t hold in his smoke which burst from him too quickly, and Max again was frustrated. Iggy made sure he got his smoke. Max sat by Iggy, content to stay by his benefactor.
Soon both boats were motoring across the Bay. Max had never been on a boat before. But soon he had his sea legs and was standing in the bow, breathing in the clean, fresh sea breeze. Iggy got up and was waving a stick with a cloth on the end. They entered the cove where there were many boats, all tied up together. The people started cheering when they saw the waving cloth. Smelling various grades of weed, Max answered their cheers with hearty barks. They started yelling his name. They were his people.
It was a confusing scene in the cove. Tim and Robby were with their friends on a concrete stage about 100 feet from shore. Everyone wanted to get close to them. Iggy came over and said he was leaving.
“Stay, Max. Protect John,” Iggy instructed him. Max looked at the boat that had been closely following his boat. John looked happy with his new friends. Max remembered when he lived with John and Jace. Max missed Jace. Max liked living with Tim; it was closer to Robby’s house, where there was always weed. He knew it was his job to protect John. He remembered a similar time when he was to protect Jace, sensing that somehow he had failed. He never saw Jace again. Max was determined to not let that happen twice. He edged closer to the other boat, ready to jump, if trouble arose. The soap-smelling boy was acting confused and agitated. Trouble was brewing. When the boy gunned the engine, Max jumped into the other boat, ready to guard John. The boys were excitedly watching the action on the shore, while the band was playing so loud it hurt Max’s ears. Suddenly Robby jumped into the boat. Max barked, hoping Robby planned to blow smoke in his face. But Robby was too busy yelling at the line of dogs on shore. Max understood their nervousness. Standing on a seat with his paws on the edge of the boat, he growled at the other dogs. They nervously whined at his show of dominance. One of the handlers yelled “Sic ‘em,” to his dog. Max knew that meant to attack. He barked to stop the attack, but the dog leaped at him. Max instinctually caught the dog by its neck, snapped it, and threw the dog into the bay. As he turned to check on John, he felt a sharp sting and was knocked off his feet. John was right there, holding his head in his lap. He felt happy that John was safe. He was so sleepy, falling asleep in John’s arms made him know he was ‘a good dog.’ R. I. P.
Robby was making a fool of himself to the police. Nothing new there. I was about to end the ‘Monkey Song,’ when I saw a policeman let his dog loose with an order to attack Robby. Max barked and threw the dog into the bay. I watched as the cop drew his service revolver and shot Max.
“No. Maxxxxx,” I screamed into the mic. The shot rang out in the stadium. I dropped my guitar, creating a thunderous feedback, and ran through the boats to where Robby and the boys were holding Max.
Pandemonium broke out after the shot. All the people in the stands started running to the exits. I couldn’t believe a cop would shoot into the crowd because his dog was injured. The boat people were gunning their engines. The melee of boats caused people to fall into the water.
“Stop,” I screamed into my mic, but no one was listening.
‘Sus kept his head and refused to join the boat people melee. I was able to make it to his boat before it was stranded in the no-man zone between the stage and the shore. Tears were streaming down my face as I held Max and John.
“Max, Max, Max,” I screamed into the open mic.
John just shook his head.
“He’s gone,” I screamed over and over. It echoed through the nearly empty stadium. Finally someone pulled the plug on my mic. John and I were hugging Max’s lifeless head lying across our laps. ‘Sus slowly motored the boat to the stage. Jack rushed to pull us up onto the concrete structure. Michael was screaming at Robby, blaming him for the shooting. When Jenna rushed up to him, they embraced and Michael forgot about Robby. Hippie and the girls were huddled together. I looked around, still in shock. Stu and Mike Jr. unwrapped John from Max and led him away.
“Look, Tim. That other opening band is leaving by boat. The concert is over,” Jack tried to get me to look away from Max.
I sighed and looked at him. “The show must go on,” I decided.
Van Zant was arguing with the stage manager, with Tom and Robby looking on. All the mics and amps were turned off.
“Get on your drum kits,” I yelled at Michael and Robby. Looking at Ronnie VanZant , I yelled, “We’ll do ‘Free Bird.’”
The boys kicked in the drum intro. Van Zant got the sound man to turn the power back on to the amps and mics. I started into the long guitar intro. Tom picked up his ax and joined me, as did Jack.
“Skynyrd, get out here,” I yelled, into the mic carrying it throughout the stadium. The guitars were deafening. There were only about a hundred fans still in the stands. They turned around and gave us a big cheer. The big sound coming from the stage brought many fans back from the parking lot. Robby did his bird whistles. I grabbed Mary and took her over to the stage mic, motioning Ron to join her.
“We do your song as a duet,” I told him. He smiled at Mary, and they joined hands. The other Skynyrd musicians came on stage and hooked into our amps. The crowd was yelling and stomping. The song was thundering as the long intro led up to the vocals. Ronnie sang the first line and nodded to Mary to do the second, alternating through the verses. Tom did the guitar licks, while I was picking the notes to the piano part.
“If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me
For I must be travelin’ on now
There’s too many places I got to see…”
The hoots and hollers, during the long guitar lead in, were stilled as the crowd saw Van Zant sing to Mary. At the end of the first verse, they all let out a sigh and the air rumbled with applause. The guitars answered and overcame the rumble with more leads and riffs than the first time through. When the vocals came in again, Van Zant took Mary in his arms as they sang together, staring into each other’s eyes.
“And this bird you cannot change
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
And the bird you cannot change
And this bird you cannot change
Lord knows, I can’t change
Lord help me, I can’t change
Lord I can’t change
Won’t you fly high free bird yeah”
VAN ZANT, RONNIE / COLLINS, ALLEN
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
They thrust away from each other but reunited. Walking off stage, arm in arm together.
By now at least half the crowd had returned to the stands. People were screaming, “No! No!” and “Come back…”
They returned, Mary bowed. The Jacettes ran out onto the stage. The rest of Skynyrd had come on stage and broke into ‘Sweet Home, Alabama.’
That was it for me. I lay with the In-Crowd kids surrounding Max, still strumming my SG. All those memories that he was a part of were flooding away from me. It was like losing Jace all over again. Jack came over and sat so I could lay my head in his lap.
“It’s bringing Jace up again, isn’t it,” he whispered in my ear.
I just nodded, gulping air when I tried to talk. Jay came over and told us there was a boat to take us back to the staging area. I was numb. Jack grabbed our guitars and we made our way backstage where the boat was waiting. Skynyrd continued their set as planned. The crowd got their money’s worth. I tried to remember the details of our performance. It was a blur until I saw the cop raise his gun and shoot Max. That memory was burned in stone. I was crying again. Jack held me tight, while Jay hovered above us, concerned but unsure how to respond.
Skynyrd played for another hour. They had to do three encores. Van Zant got Robby and Tom to come out for a final bow. We heard cries for False Gods, but we were through for the night. Robby and Tom led Van Zant and the rest of the band into the tent. Robby prompt pulled a joint out from behind his long hair and passed it around. Ron came over, confused by our departure from the stage.
“We’d of jammed with y’all instead of playin’ our set. That was the best part.”
Jay explained the importance of Max and the story of Jace’s death.
“Jesus, no wonder,” he exclaimed, reaching down and stroking Max’s cold body. “With all this drama, no wonder you play like seasoned rockers. How’d you manage to get everyone playing ‘Bird?’”
“Rock n Roll, man,” I sniffed.
“Keep on rockin’, boy.” He walked away.
I felt better, but I knew it would never be as much fun. Max was the heart and soul of our band. Jack went and got a couple of beers from the catering. I took a sip but the taste just reminded me of how bitter I felt. That cop killed our dog.
To punctuate that thought, three policemen walked into the tent. All the smokers instantly went out the back. The cops came over and confirmed that Max was dead. The bile in my stomach raced up to my throat and I vomited explosively. The cops jumped backed, while Jack held me until I was done. I glared at the cops.
“Are you Tim Castle and is this your dog?” the cop not in uniform asked.
I nodded twice.