The fictional rock band, Miami’s False Gods, opens for Lynyrd Skynyrd at their Miami Hydroplane Course show, April 1975. They look for a real Southern rocker to lend credence to their support of the greatest Southern Rock band of the century. Their manager invites Tom Petty, late of Mudcrutch, to play his battle song, ‘Born a Rebel.” to warm up the crowd to ‘fly high free bird yeah.’
Jack and I arrive at Michael’s music studio just as Robby is lighting up with Dave and Jazz. Stu and Mike Jr are oblivious, but John knows what’s up. Still he follows Stu to the drum kit and guitar amps. I give him credit for choosing his own path. I know he’d like to return to the hazy daze of a stoned brain. He’s tuning up my old Mustang when I sit beside him, not saying a word.
“What?” John complains.
“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.”
“Them good ol’ boys will love watchin’ Yankees gettin’ their asses kicked.”
“I heard this song by a band called Mudcrutch. They’re from North Florida.” I take the Mustang and run a couple of chords. Then I stand up and sing, 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 give the guitar to John. He plays it back to me note for note, except he jumps into the air singing
‘hey, hey, hey.’
Jack comes over and asks if it’s a new song.
“Naw, I heard it on the radio. Some band in Gainesville. They put out a 45 from their demo. Think we can use it at Skynyrd?”
“We still need to prove our Southern roots?”
“I love being Southern.”
“In two years from Alaska to Cracker.”
I call Jay. He promises to talk with a friend at the University of Florida about Mudcrutch.
Iggy says he’ll get a big Rebel flag we can fly.
Jack’s jumping around, going, “Yee Haw,” sounding like a mule, not a cowboy.
John and I work on songs, ignoring them.
“Fuckin’ fake hillbillies,” he snarks.
“Now you know what it’s like for a week on the road,” I tell him.
We smile at each other. My heart sings knowing he’s happy.
The Out-Crowd leaves. After order-in pizza, we run through the songs in our set. It’s a good hour of non-stop rhythm and blues. Then we try putting certain songs together. In between songs, Jack and I make up dialogue, supposedly to entertain the crowd. Sometimes it’s so lame, the rest of the band just moans in despair. Better that they keep tuning, shifting and playing riffs while we talk. The jokes are better when no one’s listening. We need a sound-man to keep the vibe going. We’ll make do at the concert with whoever they have on the board. Some songs are so good, it makes me tingle. Others make me worry no one will like them. It’s an uneven practice.
At the end, I try to give a pep talk that masks my own doubts. It doesn’t help overcome our insecurities.
Robby stands 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 their shoulders.”
He’s right. We’re too serious about being the next big thing. We just want to have fun. Even practice is fun.
At Nutrition in school, Hippie asks when Jack and I are planning to have dinner with his two moms. Thursday is the night of the Baptist Youth Group. I tell Jack we’ll have a great time rolling around with other kids, cautioning him not to speak in tongues or else the youth group will pursue him relentlessly, for speaking God’s Word.
“I’ll be a false god,” he quips.
“Don’t you dare,” I order him.
“We’ll be there on Thursday. We need to go to the Hydroplane Arena to do a sound check in the afternoon. We can go afterwards.”
I call Jay and ask him to set up a time on Thursday afternoon for the sound check. We’ve played outdoors, but these acoustics are going to be weird, right on the water, playing to a crowd 100 feet away.
“I spoke with 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 wants to 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 sounds 15.
“Of course. You can be a good ol’ boy, right?”
“Shucks, I don’t needs ta try.”
“See what I mean,” as I punch Jack.
“What?” he isn’t listening to the call.
“Jay’s coming to our show.”
“Great,” he yells.
Now Jay is 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 sounds confused.
“Now we can fire you if you don’t do what we tell you,” Jack shouts into the phone.
“Get your ass over here. I’m lonely.”
We’re now all laughing.
“Clear case of sexual harassment.”
“Whatever,” we both yell.
After practice, I remember what Coach Earl said. I decide to call Scott.
“What’s up?” he answers.
“Not much. How about you?”
“Com’n, Scott. I know you got State Finals this week. I’m calling to wish you luck.”
“I wish you were there to pump me up, like last year.” He’s obliviously clueless to what he’s saying.
“Coach banned me for being a quitter and a bad influence,” I note.
“Can’t you just come?”
My heart skips a beat. I really want 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 are kicking in. I have 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 a’goin’.”
“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 haul our equipment out on the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne, where the hydroplane course is located. The bleachers are at the edge of the water, looking out at the concrete judging stand 100 feet offshore. Jay arranges for the promoters to have a skiff to haul us to the concrete stand so we can do a sound check. We set up and play a few different songs. It takes us a while to get the amp levels high enough. The Rebel song from Mudcrutch is a good sound check, with the ‘hey, hey, hey’ chorus. There is no backdrop where we can drape the Rebel Stars and Bars flag. I tell Iggy that his job is to wave the flag when we play ‘Rebel.’
“We got to let that redneck from Gainesville sing with us?” Jack complains.
“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 counter.
Never put down where someone’s from.
After the sound check, I call Jay about acoustic problems. After conferring with Mike Sr., he gets back on the line.
“We have to get an amp for the Gainesville guy anyway, so we’ll swap out all the amps with more powerful ones,” Jay decides.
“Marshall Stacks, Marshall Stacks,” Jack yells. I gulp. Jace slugs me in the heart. It skips a beat
Thursday night is dinner with the moms. I warn Jack that Marge is blunt and opinionated. She takes time to mellow to you. Hippie is his happy self that we want to come to his house.
“Why was Gregory’s picture in the paper? “Marge holds up the shot of him escaping barefoot from the Waldorf. “What he do to be photographed?”
“He was just trying to catch up with us walking to Central Park,” Jack explains.
I know the simple explanation is not what she wants.
“After the Church performances on Easter, all the photographers started following us. They 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 of the Viscaya show on last New Year’s.”
“Well, ain’t you special? How come Gregory ain’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 continues her complaints.
“That’s what we make for a show. Usually half goes into the trust accounts, as well.” I think how different it is for Hippie who gives all his earnings to his moms. They need 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 love that car. We drove it all the way from Miami.”
“They got to fly while y’all drove?”
“You got to fly, too.” Hippie protests.
“Yeah, second class, while they all sat up front.”
“Did you have a good time on the trip,” Jack asks, relying on good manners 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 yer 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 asks.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Jack enthuses.
“Bless you, child.”
The Moms’ fried chicken, mashed potato and gravy, with greens on the side, make me remember great Sunday dinners in North Carolina.
At Baptist Youth Group, Hippie’s ‘pledge’ girlfriend, Anna, takes us under her wing. The kids are enthralled to hear about our tour. The youth leader has us recount the days in Daytona and Charlotte with censored descriptions of the Roadhouse shows. We promise to bring Iggy next time as he is the redneck hero of our disputes. Girls are easy prey for the Iggy dog collar.
When the youth leader leads us in prayer, we’re quickly on the floor, moaning and rolling. No encouragement gets us to speak in tongues, although many of the girls do so. I feel sad when I look up to where Casper had watched us the last time. The girls all see my tears and are quick to comfort me. Religion is such a blankie.
Hippie drops us off at Jack’s, thanking us for coming.
“There’s hope for you boys yet,” he compliments us. We both agree that we feel great after the night’s out of character activities. Kids are kids, everywhere.
LYNYRD SKYNYRD WEEKEND
Friday afternoon, and school is out for the weekend – our weekend. We are all loose and past worrying how well our songs will do.
Jack describes our mood, “We be buzzin’ like flies on a pile of dog shit.”
Checking in with Jay, he tells us Tom from Gainesville is 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’m so glad we don’t have to practice. Time for fun.
Tom is sitting with Jimmy Olson, obviously plugging his musical ambitions with the press. Jay sits with them, too.
“Jimmy, my man,” I greet him.
“Tim, meet Tom. He says he’s playing with you guys tomorrow.”
He’s a skinny guy, with a loopy, buck-toothed grin, and long, straight blond hair. He looks 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 corrects me.
“So, yer all devil worshippers?”
“Naw. Just Robby. He chilled it a bit after I beat him down.”
Robby glowers at me.
“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 wantin’ the fans to do the same.”
“That don’t sound like much fun.”
“It’s hell tryin’ to make it when everyone thinks they deserve to be idolized.”
“Yeah. How’d ya hear ‘bout us.”
“Yer single was on the radio her. 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 just a cracker from Alaska,” Jack pokes fun at me.”
Tom guffaws, “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 brag.
“Yeah, last weekend we played a frat. The football team chased us up a tree. We bombed them with mangoes,” Jack brags about his first time climbing a tree.
“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 enthuse.
Tom snorts. “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’s 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 explains.
I pause 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 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 pack up our gear in Hippie’s car. Jay drives Jimmy and Tom separately. I like Tom. Jack and I pile in with them, so we can get to know him better. My good ol’ boy cred meter is on the rise.
“So what fight song are y’all 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 meet Stu and Scott in the Ransom parking lot. I tell Scott we’re going to play a song to cheer him on. He expects me to have some elaborate strategy to get him to drop his time by the 5 seconds he needs 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. The others will remember last year and 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.”
“No worry. Our band will chase away all your doubts. Believe me, you will win again.”
“I believe, you Tim. Yer my lucky charm.”
He hugs me and leaves to get ready.
Stu finds us the perfect spot outside the pool fence, with power close enough for our amps. Nobody bothers us as we set up. Right at 6 pm, the PA in the pool comes on. After a prayer, they start playing a recording of the national anthem. Tom looks at me. We both join in on guitar, just not Jimmy Hendrix style. After ‘home of the brave,’ we break into ‘Dixie.’
The crowd loves it. soon everyone is singing along. Most of the people are from upstate. The officials look concerned but figure the school authorized us to play. We sit down to wait for Scott’s event, the 500 free final, which starts the State Championships.
They announce the swimmers. Scott is in lane 8, the outside lane, just like last year. When he stands up on the block as his name was read, I turn on the mic.
“This song is for the greatest mom in the world, Mrs. Watt,” I announce. We break into ‘Proud Mary.’
Scott looks stunned. He expects the song to be for him. He gulps and the tears start flowing. I momentarily worry that we may screw him up. But he goes down for the start and takes off like a flash, sprinting the first lap. This year all the others keep up with him, remembering that his strategy won the race the previous year. Just as I had told him, he settles into his regular pace after the first lap. All the other swimmers keep up the torrid pace pushing each other and jockeying for position. They forget about Scott who falls back. We turn up our amps, so he can hear us in the water. With 100 yards to go, the fast pace begins to pick off the early leaders, who never swim this fast. Scott moves up on the pack, which look like they’re beginning to flail. With the last 25 yards to go, we turn 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 rolls up the last two competitors and wins by a length. The crowd explodes. Tom does the leads to ‘I was Born a Rebel.’ We all follow him, our first public performance of his song.
Stu is jumping up and down with his mom, who was smiling like an idiot at us inside the fence. I catch Coach Diaz shaking his head at me. I try to make it seem like we’re just a cheer squad for Scott. He knows better. Oh, well. That train left the station long ago. We start packing up our equipment. All the fans who seem to know who we are mob us. Even Tom has fans from Gainesville there. We tell them all to come to the show the next night. Scott comes running up, hugging and generally molesting me. He finally embarrasses 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 looks at me and bursts out crying again. I turn him around into the arms of Mrs. Watt. Some things never change.
We finally get the equipment loaded into Hippie’s car. It’s time for pizza and beer at Sorrento’s. Tom seems a bit dazed when Robby lights up a joint at our table in the back of the restaurant.
“Y’all gonna get stoned right here in public?” he asks.
“Don’t worry. It’s cool,” Robby passes him the lit doobie.
Checking to make sure no one is looking, he takes a furtive hit. We all watch for his reaction. No one has shown him how to smoke a Robby Special.
“How’s our Miami weed?” Robby asks him
“Ta be perfectly honest, it ain’t shit,” Tom is honest.
We all burst out laughing.
“What?” Tom complains.
“Here. Let me show you,” Robby moves over and holds the joint so the Robby Special hole is blocked. Tom takes a massive hit, exploding almost the instant the smoke-filled his lungs. We’re in hysterics.
“Still ain’t shit,” Robby asks, showing him the hole he has blocked.
“You little fucker,” Tom grabs and shakes Robby. We’re still laughing when two pitchers of beer arrive.
“Tryin’ to git me stoned and drunk?” Tom complains.
Jack stands up and sings 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 enthuses.
Fully charged up, we go back to Michael’s and teach Tom all our songs. He’s a natural, picking up chords easily and throwing in his own licks. It becomes a big jam session. Mike Sr. wanders in. We make him play bass on Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ I notice Boy Reporter Jimmy Olson scribbling away in his notebook.
“Writin’ ‘bout us?” I drawl.
“Check out the Herald in the morning,” he promises.
“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 is so much more fun than the serious rehearsing we did leading up to the Skynyrd concert. We get our happy vibe back. Tom fits in and gets us out of our heads about how serious we have to be to play to a stadium of drunk rock fans. Jack and I go to bed feeling like it’s Christmas, with the anticipation of kids awaiting Santa, without the worry about whether we’ve been naughty or nice. That night we’re definitely not nice. We awake to Robby swinging in our window, waving a copy of the Miami Herald.
“We got a big write-up in the Arts section,” he crows, 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 is all hyper, jumping onto the bed and bouncing up and down. Jack moans and rolls out of the bed, naked as a jay bird. Robby takes a long look, notices me noticing him and shrugs. He winks and I laugh. Ever since Tom showed up, he’s much less up-tight. Having Tom, another Southern boy, around has broken the spell of my anger. Bygones.
We get dressed and bring the paper to the kitchen where Susan makes us pancakes and eggs. Dad reads the article. Ever since he accepts that being a rock musician is an actual job that pays, he’s 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. We showed up and distracted all those crackers from up state.”
“Mr. Castle,” Robby is 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 defend myself.
“Any idea how much it cost to take your ‘tour’ to New York?” Dad goes right for 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 Daytona Beach church,” Robby argues.
“It looks like the money issue is already dividing you boys. If you want to keep the band together, everyone needs to understand how the finances work.”
“Yeah,” Robby agrees, 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’m none too happy having Dad and Robby ganging up on me. I’m glad when we leave to go to Michael’s. We all ride 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 altar’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. 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 is on fire. When we get to Michael’s the whole Out-Crowd gang is there, complaining they are left out of our show. Jay explains there isn’t room enough for any hangers-on. The stage is too small. We already have 5 musicians, 3 back-up singers, plus Tom and Jay (and probably Jimmy Olson), and the three U of M security team. I feel the boys’ pain.
“What’s the ‘boat people?’“ I ask.
“Anyone can take their boat out to the hydroplane course and anchor between the stage and the stands,” Michael explains. “Know anyone with a boat?”
Mike Jr. pipes up, “’Sus and his brothers have a boat. I bet they’ll wanna go.”
He comes back with a big grin, “They’ll be here at six.”
There’s a boat ramp at Michael’s, which borders a canal. From there is access to the Bay.
I worry about John.
“Call your mom and make sure it’s okay,” I tell Stu and John.
They give me a look which makes me feel like the older brother I am. Iggy wants to be on stage, and then there is Jenna, plus we all want Max there. That makes over ten people, which Mike Jr. said is too much for ‘Sus’s boat.
I call 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. We have no room for our 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 at 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 are in stitches listening to me suck up to the preppy.
“Was that the Alaska Cracker version of a good ol’ boy accent?” Tom gasps.
“Fuck you boys. He’s got an 18 foot Whaler. He’s comin’ tonight.”
“Do we all havta suck up to ‘im,” Robby laughs.
“Ya can suck yerselves, boys.”
“That idea requires a joint,” as Robby pulls out a special from behind his ear. Tom shakes his head and expertly negotiates the Robby hole.
Jay has arranged another sound check with the added amps. A limo picks up the five of us musicians and drives out the Rickenbacker Causeway. A boat takes us to the stage. Spec’s Music has gone all out with true Marshall Stacks for each guitarist, including Tom. Wireless mics are a new thing. We have to be hooked up with bulky transmitters strapped to our lower backs. Since our show attire is the normal low-cut frayed jeans and unbuttoned long sleeve shirts, the wireless equipment makes us look like robots. It is worth it to be able to move around the stage without a trailing cord. Our guitars are still tied to the amps. It takes some time to be hooked up and get used to the new sound system. The stacked amps put out an incredibly loud sound. We are given individual monitors so we could hear ourselves over the amped sound. I hate the monitors as they only work when I stand right in front of them. I figure I’m not going to listen to myself. If I screw up, who cares? We finally are hooked up and able to run through a couple of songs. All the wattage is overwhelming. This is not the sound we play at small clubs and parties. We play Dixie. The sound guy is pumping his fist and singing along. It’s a good sign for that night.
When we get back to Michael’s, the Jacettes are there, looking especially sharp. We go over the backup vocals on Tom’s ‘Born a Rebel.’ Tom likes to repeat the ‘hey, hey, hey’ line and has the girls echoing him. The excitement is building. I tell Iggy he is in charge of the boat people plus waving the Confederate battle flag. Dickie arrives with his Whaler. I introduce him to the Out-Crowd kids. He proceeds to inform them that he is Captain of the boat. He has a list of do’s and don’ts to follow. They totally tune him out. Robby grabs him and proceeds to get him high for the first time in his life. He’s soon a blithering idiot. He totally fits in. Max runs around, scoring a second-hand high. Weed is in the air. I keep Jack under tight control, figuring he can wait until we are going on stage to be at the peak of his testosterone-fired high. ‘Sus and his brothers arrive in the smallest boat I can imagine. They even bring their 10 year little brother whom they call Chewbaca or something. Stu, John and Mike Jr. pile in with them. There are only a couple of inches between the gunwale and the water. I tell Iggy to keep Dickie’s boat next to them as they motor out to the Hydroplane course. There are seven in the swim team boat and seven in the Whaler (Dickie, Iggy, Dave, Jazz, Debbie, Grant & Clyde plus Max). They take off just as we load into the two limos. They really look like Asian Boat People in their overloaded fishing craft.
We arrive at the staging area which is a whirlwind of activity. We go into the band tent, face to face with Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Man, you boys are young.” All their members have 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 proclaims. Several joints are soon going around.
“This weed is primo,” Ronnie says.
“That’s why y’all come to Miami.” Jack observes.
Their manager walks in and promptly confiscates the joints.
“Looks like yer mama’s here, boys.”
“I ain’t havin’ some stupid time on stage,” the manager states.
Robby, Ronnie, and Tom silently go out the back of the tent to continue their new friendship. The remaining musicians stand around yakking about their lineups. We tell them we use double drummers like they do. I explain how we play Neil Young to get the crowds riled up, then bring them back with ‘Sweet Home Alabama.”
“You play our song,” one of them asks.
“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 pipe up.
“She-it. Y’all wanna jam on stage?”
“Let’s jist see how it all goes?” I respond.
“We do ‘Free Bird’ as a duet,” Jack confesses 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 has that weed. Where’d he go?”
“Robby always has weed. He and Tom took Ronnie out back.”
There is a mass evacuation out the back once the manager leaves. Jack and I go out the front of the tent to check out the crowd. The stands are filling up. The boat people arrive early. The prime center-stage water spots are filled already. I look in vain for the Out-Crowd, until I see Iggy waving the Confederate flag. Dickie, moronically under Iggy control, motors through the bobbing boats until they arrive at the stage. They’re towing the ‘Sus boat. Iggy jumps on stage but is tossed back by security. He keeps waving the flag and screaming at security. The crowd loves it, unless you’re in a boat dislodged by Iggy. Then Robby appears with Tom and Ronnie, hauling Iggy and the flag onstage. Security watches as the four of them run off stage. The crowd is really cheering now.
“It’s time to go on” I yell at everyone.
We all jet out to the stage. Everything is set up. We pick up our instruments and began playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ yelling for everyone to stand up. People start yelling back and booing. Then we play ‘God the Save the Queen,” which makes the crowd even crazier. I look around for Robby who isn’t on his drum set, no surprise there. He is higher than ever running around the stadium with Iggy (waving the Stars & Bars), Tom and Ronnie. They are at the chain link fence beside the stands conversing with the crowd that is trying to get in. Tom has his mic-headset on.
I yell into my mic, “Hey, Tom. What’s next?”
“Dixie,” he shouts back.
“Then you better sing,” I tell him as I start playing the Southern Anthem, with Jack picking the notes as if he is on a banjo.
“Well, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,” Tom sings on cue.
Right from the start half the crowd sings along. I see the stands shaking. Boat people jump so much it is pushing the boats back and forth. The crowd outside the fence surges forward. People are able to jump over the fence, overwhelming security.
“Hey. Leave them kids alone,” I yell into my mic. “That’s our drummer.”
Iggy raises the flag. Their group runs 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 observe, while I playing 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 tries to secure the gate. Fights break out until the Miami PD shows up with six German Shepherds on leashes. The crowd moves back. The stage manager yells, “Play.”
We start with ‘False Gods.’
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,
just wait twenty years or so,
know just what we mean.
….We are False Gods, False Gods..
… False Gods”
Songwriters: David Delgado, Tar Larner; Copyright: MIB
As we play, the Iggy group jumps from boat to boat. Their new best friends struggle to follow. Soon many boats have fellow concert-crashers suddenly sitting with them.
“Hey, share that beer,” I yell at a bickering boat that’s about to break into a fist fight. “Y’all gots in fer free. Share the love.”
I look over and see fear in Dickie’s eyes. Without Iggy there to direct him, he panics, gunning the Whaler as he tries to break free from all the surrounding boats. ‘Sus’s swim team boat cuts the line attached to the Whaler, as Max jumps into ‘Sus’s boat to be with and to protect John. All of Dickie’s random motion has pulled them closer to shore and a line of Miami PD police dogs and their handlers.
“Okay. Okay,” Jack yells. “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 announce him, to scattered applause. Iggy is 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 cause a sonic boom that brings the stadium to their feet. The gate-crashers surge forward. The chain link fence collapses, letting hundreds in at once. Pandemonium ensues. The police dogs are let loose on the gate-crashers. I see one boy go down as a German Shepherd sinks it’s teeth into the boy’s nuts. The crashers dash toward the hoped-for safety of the boat people. Dickie’s wild driving finally gets his Whaler free from the crowd. He heads directly back to Coral Gables, alone in his boat. We keep playing, repeating the chorus over and over. Iggy drapes the Confederate flag over Tom’s shoulders. The Miami Police round-up a small group of crashers. It is an insult to their sense of dignity that so many gate-crashers escape their control. They start searching the boat people for faces they recognize from the gate-crashing. After Dickie’s mad dash, the remaining boats drift toward the shore creating a measly 5 foot gap between the police and the boats. It appears to be a stand-off. Things settle down. We finish ‘Born a Rebel,’ to much applause and hooting. Tom takes a deep bow, pleased to get the recognition he deserves. Robby jumps up from behind his drums and yells, ‘Monkey Song,’ as our next offering. I have a twinge of instinctual fear that we are mocking the cops. Since we are safe on stage, I think, “What the hell. Why not?”
Robby grabs 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 takes off, going boat to boat, singing the chorus:
“Ha ha ha
He he he
Haw haw haw
Chee chee chee”
As we keep playing to his antics, he arrives at ‘Sus’s boat, 5 feet from the police line, jumping up and down, scratching his underarms and mocking the cops. It is too much for them. One dog handler lets his shepherd loose from the leash, yelling, “Sic ‘em” to the dog, at Robby. Max is standing next to Robby with his paws on the gunwale, He lets out a menacing growl and sharp bark. The shepherd looks confused, whining at his handler and looking nervously at Max. The cop reiterates his command. The shepherd makes a leap for the boat across the five foot gap. Max snatches the dog in midair, snapping his neck and tossing him into the water. All the other dogs whine and cringe.
Earlier – Lying in his corner of the music room at Michael’s, Max is intrigued by all the comings and goings that day. He is disgruntled by the lack of smoke to keep his mood up and high. When Robby shows up, Max trots up to him and gives his perfunctory bark. Robby is usually a ready partner in getting high, but not today. Max’s afternoon delight slowly fades with no immediate means to keep it rolling along. He is able to delay his second-hand high, but his patience wears thin. Even his demanding single bark elicits no response. The situation is dire.
John comes over and scratches his ears, always sensitive to his change of moods.
“What’s the matter, boy?” he asks. “No one paying you any attention?”
“Woof,” Max agrees.
“But I’m not smoking anymore ‘cause of swim team. I’ll go look for Iggy. Robby has to go for sound check at the stadium.”
Max doesn’t like the sense of what John is saying, “Woof, woof,” he encourages John. Then he lays in his corner, dispirited by everyone’s lack of concern over his needs.
Shortly he hears a motor coming from the canal at the edge of the backyard. Sometimes Robby deals pot with people traveling on sailboats, anchored in the Bay near Coconut Grove. Rushing down to the boat landing, he is confused to see four boys in a little boat pull up.
“Woof,” he asks hoping they knew what he wants.
John, Stu and Mike Jr. rush up and start talking loudly with the boys in the boat. Max sniffs, but it only smells of old oil and dead fish. He turns back toward the house, as the boys excitedly talk about their plans.
A second boat pulls up. It smells much cleaner, but unfortunately no wafting weed odor. Suddenly Iggy rushes up.
“Woof, woof, woof,”
“Hey, Max,” Iggy greets him. “I know what you want. Jump on board. Let’s see if this preppy snob smokes weed.”
Max follows him to the back of the clean boat. A boy dressed in white, smelling too much like soap, sits by the motor. The boys argue for a while before the newcomer gives in. Out comes a spliff of Iggy’s Jamaican Ganja.
“Woof, woof,” Max celebrates. Ganja is his favorite.
The new boy is a light-weight, the smoke explodes from his coughing mouth. Max barely gets a whiff. Iggy comes to the rescue, exhaling steadily into Max’s face. Max nuzzles Iggy, his true friend. Again the boy can’t hold in his smoke which bursts from him too quickly. Max is frustrated again. Iggy makes sure he gets his smoke. Max sits by Iggy, content to stay by his benefactor.
Soon both boats motor across the Bay. Max has never been on a boat before. Soon he has his sea legs and is standing in the bow, breathing in the clean, fresh sea breeze. Iggy gets up and waves a stick with a cloth on the end. They enter a cove where there are many boats, all tied up together. The people start cheering when they see the waving cloth. Smelling various grades of weed, Max answers their cheers with hearty barks. They start yelling his name. These are his people.
It is a confusing scene in the cove. Tim and Robby are with their friends on a concrete stage about 100 feet from shore. Everyone wants to get close to them. Iggy comes over and says he is leaving.
“Stay, Max. Protect John,” Iggy instructs him. Max looks at the boat closely following his boat. John looks happy with his new friends. Max remembers when he lived with John and Jace. Max misses Jace. Max likes living with Tim; it is closer to Robby’s house, where there is always weed. He knows it’s his job to protect John. He remembers a similar time when he was to protect Jace, sensing that somehow he failed. He never saw Jace again. Max is determined not let that happen twice. He edges closer to the other boat, ready to jump, if trouble arises. The soap-smelling boy is acting confused and agitated. Trouble is brewing. When the boy guns the engine, Max jumps into the other boat, ready to guard John. The boys are excitedly watching the action on the shore, while the band plays so loudly it hurts Max’s ears. Suddenly Robby jumps into the boat. Max barks, hoping Robby plans to blow smoke in his face. But Robby is too busy yelling at the line of dogs on shore. Max understands their nervousness. Standing on a seat with his paws on the edge of the boat, he growls at the other dogs. They nervously whine at his show of dominance. One of the handlers yells “Sic ‘em,” to his dog. Max knows that means to attack. He barks to stop him, but the dog leaps at him. Max instinctually catches the dog by its neck, snaps it, and throws the dog into the bay. As he turns to check on John, he feels a sharp sting and is knocked off his feet. John is right there, holding his head in his lap. He feels happy that John is safe. He is so sleepy. Falling asleep in John’s arms makes him know he is ‘a good dog.’ R. I. P.
Robby is making a fool of himself to the police. Nothing new there. I am about to end the ‘Monkey Song,’ when I see a policeman let his dog loose with an order to attack Robby. Max barks and throws the police dog into the bay. I watch as the cop draws his service revolver and shoots Max.
“No. Maxxxxx,” I scream into the mic. The shot rings out in the stadium. I drop my guitar, creating a thunderous feedback, and run through the boats to where Robby and the boys are holding Max.
Pandemonium breaks out after the shot. All the people in the stands start running to the exits. I can’t believe a cop would shoot into the crowd because his dog is injured. The boat people gun their engines. The melee of boats throw people into the water.
“Stop,” I scream into my mic, but no one is listening.
‘Sus keeps his head and refuses to join the boat people melee. I make it to his boat before it was stranded in the no-man zone between the stage and the shore. Tears streaming down my face. I hold Max and John.
“Max, Max, Max,” I scream into the open mic.
John just shakes his head.
“He’s gone,” I scream over and over. It echoes through the nearly empty stadium. Finally someone pulls the plug on my mic. John and I sit hugging Max’s lifeless head across our laps. ‘Sus slowly motors the boat to the stage. Jack rushes to pull us up onto the concrete structure. Michael screams at Robby, blaming him for the shooting. Jenna rushes up to him and they embrace. Michael forgets about Robby. Hippie and the girls huddle together. I look around, still in shock. Stu and Mike Jr. unwrap John from Max and lead him away.
“Look, Tim,” Jack tries distracting me from Max’s dead body. “That other opening band is leaving by boat. The concert is over.”
I sigh and grab him. “The show must go on,” I decide.
Van Zant is arguing with the stage manager, with Tom and Robby looking on. All the mics and amps are turned off.
“Get on your drum kits,” I yell at Michael and Robby. Looking at Ronnie VanZant , I yell, “We’ll do ‘Free Bird.’”
The boys kick in a drum intro. Van Zant has the sound man turn the power back on to the amps and mics. I start into the long guitar instrumental. Tom picks up his axe and joins me, as does Jack.
“Skynyrd, get out here,” I yell, into the mic carrying it throughout the stadium. The guitars are deafening. There are only about a hundred fans still in the stands. They turn around and give us a big cheer. The big sound coming from the stage brings many fans back from the parking lot. Robby does his bird whistles. I grab Mary and take her over to the stage mic, motioning Ron to join her.
“We do your song as a duet,” I tell him. He smiles at Mary. They join hands. The other Skynyrd musicians come on stage and hook into our amps. The crowd yells and stomps. The song is thundering as the long intro leads up to the vocals. Ronnie sings the first line, nodding to Mary to do the second. They alternate back and forth through the verses. Tom does the guitar licks, while I pick 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 you got to see…”
The hoots and hollers, during the long guitar lead-in, go quiet as the crowd sees Van Zant sing to Mary. At the end of the first verse, the crowd lets out a sigh. The air rumbles with applause. The guitars answer and overcame the rumble with more leads and riffs than the first time through. When the vocals come in again, Van Zant takes Mary in his arms as they sing 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, then reunite, walking off stage, arm in arm together.
Half the crowd has returned to the stands. People are screaming, “No! No!” and “Come back…”
They return. Mary bows. The Jacettes run out onto the stage. The rest of Skynyrd comes out and breaks into ‘Sweet Home, Alabama.’
That’s it for me. Laying with the In-Crowd kids hugging Max, I keep strumming my SG. All those memories that Max was a part of are flowing away from me. I’m losing Jace all over again. Jack comes over and sits so I can lay my head in his lap.
“It’s bringing Jace up again, isn’t it,” he whispers in my ear.
I’m not able to go on, just gulping air when I try to talk.
Jay comes over and tells us, “There’s a boat to take us back to the staging area.”
I’m numb. Jack grabs our guitars. We make our way backstage where the boat is waiting. Skynyrd continues their set as planned. The crowd gets their money’s worth. I try to remember the details of our performance. It’s a blur until I see the cop raise his gun and shoot Max. That memory is burned in stone. I’m crying again. Jack holds me, while Jay hovers above us, concerned but unsure how to respond.
Skynyrd plays for another hour. They do three encores. Van Zant gets Robby and Tom to come out for a final bow. Some people cry for False Gods. We are through for the night. Robby and Tom lead Van Zant and the rest of the band into the tent. Robby promptly pulls a joint out from behind his long hair and passes it around. Ron comes 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 explains the importance of Max and the story of Jace’s death.
“Jesus, no wonder,” he exclaims, 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 sniff.
“Keep on rockin’, boy,” as he walks away.
I feel better, but I know it will never be as much fun. Max is the heart and soul of our band. Jack gets a couple of beers from the catering. I take a sip. The taste just reminds me how bitter I feel. That cop killed my dog.
To punctuate that thought, three policemen walk into the tent. All the smokers instantly go out the back. The cops come over to confirm that Max is dead. The bile in my stomach races up my throat. I vomit explosively. The cops jump back, while Jack holds me until I’m done. I glare at the cops.
“Are you Tim Castle and is this your dog?” the cop not in uniform asks.
I nod twice.