Stu, John and Mike Jr await our arrival at the Watts’ so we can all go bike riding. Spring in Miami is when all the poinsettia trees are in bloom. California poinsettias are programmed to bloom for the Christmas season. They are scrawny house plants barely more than a foot tall. In Miami the poinsettias are thirty foot trees that spread out at the top to over-arch the streets. Not that we are on a garden tour, but spring is in the air. I love Miami. It is a city but the feeling is welcoming. Sure, there are lots of senior citizens. Still it has the relaxed mañana attitude that makes it sweet being a teenager. Coach Earl was a perfect example of this point of view. He works us like dogs, but we know he like us. We were his young pups, anxious to please. Just showing up at his door for a soda makes him smile. Coaching isn’t just a job for him. I’m in a sunny mood.
“Did you ask Scott to come today,” I ask Stu and John.
They look at each other and shrug.
“What’s up with Scott?” I ask.
“Lydia. She plays him like a yo yo, reeling him in and then tossing him back.” Stu complains.
“That’s a fairly sophisticated opinion,” I observes.
“He’s so moody,” John complains.
“Well, that’s not new.”
“But I never know when he’s friendly or ready to bite my head off.”
“Sounds like you really are all brothers now. You’re happy there, John?”
“Yeah. Except for swimming. Why can’t I hang with Dave and Jazz?”
“Well, that’s up to the Watts’ and Michael’s dad. They’re your guardians.”
“You mean like they guard me.”
“In your case, yeah. You’re mom and step-dad didn’t do that.” He looks very uncomfortable when I bring that up. “But guardian means substitute parent. You hate swimming?”
“Well, I just got promoted to the A team, so now I swim with Stu and Mike. I hated it at first. It’s so hard. I didn’t know how to do well.”
“Give it some more time. Swimming with your friends now, it should be more fun. Do you like to compete?”
“That’s cool, but now that I have A times, I don’t always win.”
John really is better. He is talking like a regular teenager. Maybe not smoking pot makes him less closed off. I remember to speak with his guardians. I’m still his big brother, after all.
Coach Earl comments on John. “He’s a real competitor. He hates to lose. Don’t you go coaching him. Diaz will destroy you, after what you did to Scott last year.”
“How’s Scott doing?”
“Good. He’s got State this week. You should come cheer him on in the 500.”
“He’s defending his State Title in the 500?”
“It’s what he does best, Tim.”
“We’re friends again, Coach.”
“You always were.” Coach Earl has that glint in his eye.
We decide to go to the Grove after Coach Earl’s. Clyde is running the store, with Phillip in the back working on the books. Small business is not for those who need their weekends off.
Clyde has introduced a totally urban line of fashion to the garish gay vibe Felix established. The clientele is more diverse. The store seems crowded. I worried they need to expand by taking over the annex.
“Still got all the kids next door?”
“Sunday’s usually slow until after Church. The homies need to let loose after all that preachin.’”
Clyde is sizing up the younger boys. “These boys wanna do some modellin’ for cash?”
“I ain’t walkin’ around in funky underwear,” John protests.
“That’s more Tim’s style,” Clyde rejoins. “We’re all about street now, covering up with layers. I’d use my homies but that don’t sell to the white trash that shops here.”
We all laugh.
“Just find some outfits you wanna try on and get dressed in the back.”
The boys can’t wait to play dress up. Swimmers are so gay.
We gonext door to check out the youth club in the annex.
The kids are playing records. They seem to have discovered salsa, much to my pleasure. The ethnic mix is an accurate reflection of all Miami, a third white, black and latino. The white kids run over to greet us, as they are the old timers here, at 13 and 14. Everyone seems comfortable, but I can see Clyde’s point, as each ethnicity has their own fashion sense.
The kids want stories about our ’tour.’ We have just started telling them about the walk-in church at Daytona Beach when Clyde leads the boys in, decked out in his ‘urban’ wear. The Annex kids respond instantly to white boys in street-wear. The girls get right in the faces, feeling and adjusting the fabrics. John, especially, looks embarrassed. Not that I was looking but the bulk of the clothes hides any obvious pubescent arousal. It seems to be one of the strong points in the designs. Clyde has fitted the boys in over-sized outfits. They hang loosely and make the models look younger than they are. It reminds me that at their age I was growing out of clothes quickly. Mom always bought 2 sizes up. The too small, tight-fitting disco clothes are being supplanted by the street-tough look of the city. It is a smart move to use white bread models to sell the urban look to white kids. I let the Out-Crowd boys revel in the girl attention and walk back to the store.
“Whatcha think about calling the Annex ‘Out & About.’” Clyde confirms my observation that the store will push the kids out to expand the retail sales.
“Cool. Perfect to go with Out & Proud. What about the kids and their youth center?”
“Money talks and the kids walk,” he shows insensitivity to why they grew in the first place.
Jack is eyeing him suspiciously, so I ask, “How’s your relationship with Phillip?”
“Fine. ‘Course I’m always available for you,” he winks.
I draw Jack into a sexy kiss to dispel his persistence. Somebody takes a flash picture which makes us laugh.
“I get the message,” Clyde reacts.
“Luv ya, Clyde,” we both say. Nice to be on the same page.
I notice that Mike Jr is paying for several jerseys and jeans.
“Hey, Mike, if you like that stuff, Clyde will give you a discount for putting on a show today.”
Clyde goes over and gives Mike back his money. “You made us lots more than the cost of these duds.”
Mike goes next door to pass the word. Stu and John show up shortly and chose their selections. No more tees and ragged jeans for these boys.
We arrive at Michael’s at the same time Robby s lighting up with Dave and Jazz. Stu and Mike Jr were 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, but 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 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 watching Yankees get 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 turned 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 as he sings ‘hey, hey, hey.’
Jack comes over and asks 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 go and call Jay. He says he’ll talk to a friend at the University of Florida about Mudcrutch.
Iggy says he’s got a big Rebel flag we can fly.
Jack was jumping around, going, “Yee Haw.” He sounds like a mule, not a cowboy.
John and I go back to working on songs, ignoring them.
“Fucking 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. It makes my heart sing to know he’s happy.
The Out-Crowd leaves. After ordered-in pizza, we run through the songs we planned for our set. It is 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 they’re tuning and shifting and playing riffs while we talk. We did better at the jokes when no one is listening. We need a sound-man to keep the vibe going. We’d have to 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 to paper over 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 and ripping up. 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 they’ll back him up while he cries on their shoulders.”
He’s right. We were too serious about being the next big thing. We just want to have fun.
Even practice is fun. Before leaving, Robby smokes us out. Jack gets extremely antsy to be home in my bed. He is raring to go, my own personal sex addict. I attempt to return to our New Romantic phase. Under the influence of pot, Jack demands domination. He’s well satisfied but so sore that Robby laughs at us when we walked into English class ten minutes late.
“Not inspired enough by Shakespeare to make class on time,” Mr. Clark jokes.
It’s my chance to change our Spring production.
“Truthfully, I hate ‘The Tempest.’ It’s boring and the plot is too circular with all those spoiled Italians.”
“Hey, hang on,” Michael protests. “It’s not an Italian who wrote it.”
“I agree with Tim,” Grant adds. “What role fits my ethnicity?”
“Well, what do you suggest we do instead?” Mr. Clark gives me the opening I want.
“Let’s create our own romantic comedy from the Shakespearean Sonnets.”
“You want to adapt Shakespeare to musical theater?”
“Putting it to music? That’s a great idea.”
“So you can be the star, I presume?”
“Jack will be more than willing.”
Jack smiles at me, still in a fog from the night’s devastation of his body. Then he realize I might be sarcastic. He gives me a quick frown. Everyone else laughs.
“You have the musical book ready to go?”
“Not until after our concert this weekend. We’re all too busy right now.”
“Of course, your musical career shouldn’t suffer because you’re still in high school.”
Everyone not in the band laughs at us.
“Okay, here’s what I’ve sketched out,” I extemporize from the tip of my tongue. “Will is a young court favorite, playing mandolin for the young princesses, Mary and Elizabeth. They are desperate rivals for King Henry’s throne, one Catholic, the other Protestant. Mary is stunningly beautiful, while Elizabeth is a conniving shrew. Henry has no male heirs and must decide which princess will become Queen. It’s part ‘Macbeth’ and part ‘Taming of the Shrew.’ Will’s role is to make each princess look good in Henry’s eyes. The truth is Will is gay and has Henry under his spell, explaining why he killed off so many wives. I haven’t completely thought out the ending, but Mary loses her head and Elizabeth’s reign is the Elizabethan Era.”
The class is listening breathlessly. They erupt with applause when I finish.
“You have a name for this musical?” Mr. Clark looks stunned.
“Who wants to switch to this soap opera instead of ‘The Tempest?” he asks.
The vote is unanimous, once it’s agreed that the girls can play the female roles this time. Robby is upset until I say he should play Henry, the Eighth. Grant will be Falstaff, back from the Dead, Mary will be Mary, and Jack would be Will. Hippie asks if he could be Cromwell, the Inquisitioner. Michael agrees to do the set design, moving the Globe Theatre replica from his house. All I have to do was rewrite Shakespeare’s lines and set them to music – a piece of cake.
We spend the rest of class reading the Sonnets aloud. Jack is in drama heaven with us reading together. Shakespeare is so obviously gay. Then someone reads the line, “Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse the bounteous largess given thee to give?”
“Say, what?” Grant explodes.
“What I say?”
“No. The language is Olde English meaning stingy, mean, cheap. This was centuries before there were slaves.”
“Well, it don’t mean we can use what sounds like the N word.”
“I agree, but the line did say he was beauteous.”
“Shit, you call me a pretty nigga and I’m in your face.”
“Language, Mr. Grant.”
“That’s New English, my language.”
We all laugh, to Mr. Clark’s despair.
At Nutrition, 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 would pursue him relentlessly, for speaking God’s Word.
“I’d be a false god,” he quips.
“Don’t you dare,” I order him.
“We’ll be there on Thursday. We need go to the Hydroplane Arena and 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 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 to my friend in Gainesville. He knows the singer from 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 can 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 hasn’t been listening to the call.
“Jay’s coming to our show.”
“Great,” he yells.
Now Jay giggles.
“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 all are giggling.
“Clear case of sexual harassment.”
“Whatever,” we both yell.
After practice, I remember what Coach Earl said. I decide to call Scott.
“Not much. How about you?”
“Com’n, Scott. I know you got State Finals this week. I want to wish you luck.”
“I wish you were there to pump me up, like last year.” He is still so obliviously clueless to what he says.
“Coach has banned me for being a quitter and a bad influence.”
“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. 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 the max effect. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”
Later I tell Jack we’re going to do an outdoor appearance at Ransom for Scott’s swim meet.
“Still carrying the flame?”
“Always, ‘cept he’s not gay. He’s another hopeless cause.”
“Like I was for Isaac.”
“So, you admit it?”
“Yeah. What a pitiful nerd I was.”
“Was?” I grab him and smacked a big wet kiss on his lips. He giggles as we get to it.
After school on Thursday, we haul our equipment out the causeway to Key Biscayne, where the hydroplane course is located. Seating for the fans in bleachers is at the edge of the water, looking out at the concrete judge’s stand about 50 feet offshore. Jay had arranged for the promoters to have a skiff ready to haul us to the concrete stand where we will play. 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’s 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 have 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 call ‘em roughnecks. They’re all from Texas.” I counter.
Never put down where someone’s from.
After the sound check, I called Jay about the acoustic problems. After conferring with Mike Sr. he comes back on the line.
“We have to get an amp for the Gainesville guy, so we’ll swap out all the amps for more powerful ones,” Jay decides.
“Marshall Stacks, Marshall Stacks,” Jack yells.
Thoughts of how happy Jace would have been flash through my heart. It skips a beat.
That 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 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 explains.
I know the simple explanation is not what she wants.
“After the Church performance on Easter, all these 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 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 set up trust accounts for all of us. We got paid $30,000 for shooting the movie. If it is a success, we may get even more.”
“He just gives us a hundred bucks every once in a while,” Madge complains.
“That’s what we make for a show. Usually half goes into the trust accounts from those shows, 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 ’cause they get cheated out of their earnings.”
“Mom, Mr. Antonio ain’t gonna cheat me.”
“Well, all I know is they’s 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, in order to change the tone of the conversation.
“I’s taken aback when the Baptist Church is 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’s 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, remind me of 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 lets us take over as we recount the days in Charlotte with censored descriptions of the Roadhouse shows. We promise to bring Iggy next time. He’s the redneck hero of our disputes. The girls will be 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 can get 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 it felt great after the night’s out of character activities. Kids are kids, everywhere.
Friday afternoon, and school is out for the weekend – our weekend. We’re 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 says 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 says 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 didn’t have to practice. Time for fun.
Tom is sitting with Jimmy Olson, obviously plugging his musical ambitions with the press. Jay is sitting with them, too.
“Jimmy, my man,” I greet him.
“Tim, meet Tom. He says he was playing with you guys tomorrow.” He is 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, y’all’s devil worshippers?”
“Naw. Just Robby. He calmed down a bit after I beat him down.”
Robby glowers at me.
“So yer name False Gods ain’t ‘bout religion, y’all 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 love 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 pokes 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 brag.
“Yeah, last weekend we played a frat. The football team chased us up a tree. We bombed them with mangoes,” Jack pipes up.
“I should git me a hard hat fer tomorrow?”
“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. “Y’all’s 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 explains.
I paused the love fest. “We’ve got this high school thing we gots ta do. If’n ya want ta skip it, I won’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 pack up our gear in Hippie’s station wagon. Jay drives with Jimmy and Tom. I like Tom. Jack and I pile in with them, so we get to know him better. My good ol’ boy cred meter is 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 mom, whom we all call Mom. It’ll get him out of his head, so he can be a superman in the water.”
“Now it really feels 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 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 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 hugs me and leaves to get ready.
Stu had found 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 and 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 has authorized us to play. We sit down to wait for Scott’s event, the 500 free final, which starts the State Championships.
They begin announcing the swimmers. Scott is in lane 8, the outside lane, just like last year. When he stands up on the block when his name is read, I turn on the mic.
“This song is for the greatest mom in the world, Mrs. Watt,” I announce. We all broke into ‘Proud Mary.’
Scott looks stunned. He expected the song to be for him. He gulps. The tears start flowing. I have a momentary doubt that we may have screwed 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, aware that this 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 has fallen 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 had never swam this fast before. Scott moves up on the pack, which looks like they are beginning to flail. With the last 25 yards to go, we turn the amps to maximum.
‘People are willing to give
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 is smiling like an idiot at us outside the fence. I catch Coach Diaz shaking his head at me. I 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 start packing up our equipment but are delayed by all the fans who seem to know who we are. Even Tom has fans from Gainesville there. We tell them to come to the show the next night. Scott comes running up, hugging and generally molesting me. He finally has 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 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, as no one showed him how to smoke a Robby special.
“How’s our Miami weed?” Robby ask him, with a straight face.
“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 fills his lungs. We’re in hysterics.
“Still ain’t shit,” Robby asks, showing him the hole he had 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 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 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 and we make him play bass on Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ I notice that Boy Reporter Jimmy Olson was 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 had been doing 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 fans. Jack and I go to bed feeling it’s Christmas Eve, with the anticipation of kids awaiting Santa, without the worry about whether we’ve been naughty or nice. That night we are 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 good look, notices me noticing him and shrugs. He winks and I laugh. Ever since Tom showed up, Rob is much less up tight. Having another Southern boy around has broken the spell of my anger for what he tried with Jack. Bygones.
We get dressed and bring the paper to the kitchen. 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 stopped worrying that I’m 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 is actually having a conversation with Dad, “you’re a businessman. Do you think our band can be a well-paying enterprise?”
“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 into 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 argues.
“It looks like the money issue is already dividing you boys. If you wanna 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 to have Dad and Robby ganging up on me. I’m glad when we leave to go to Michael’s. We all rode our bikes, Jack and I holding hands, and Robby reading the Herald story aloud .
“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 High School 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. He 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 run by the Catholics and Baptists in subtle recognition of their underground name, Teen Jesus. The shelters are called Jace’s Place, in recognition of their dead guitarist. 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 who 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 got to Michael’s the whole Out-Crowd gang is there, complaining they are left out of our show. Jay explains there isn’t room 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 which there is access to the Bay.
I worry about John.
“Call your mom and make sure it’s okay,” I told Stu and John.
They give me the 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. says 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?”
“Of course. 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 There’s 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 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 and 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, then expertly negotiates the Robby hole.
Jay arranged another sound check with the added amps. A limo picks up the five of us musicians and drives out the Key Biscayne 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’s 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’re given individual monitors so we can 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 anyway? 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, and the sound guy is pumping his fist and singing along. It’s a good sign for tonight.
By the time 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 has arrived with his Whaler. I introduce him to the Out-Crowd kids. He proceeds to inform them that he is Captain. He has a list of do’s and don’t’s to follow. They totally tune him out. Robby grabs him and proceeds to get him high for the first time in his life. He soon is a blithering idiot. He totally fits in. Max run around, trying to score a second-hand high. Weed is in the air. I keep Jack under tight control, figuring he can wait until we were going on stage, to be at the peak of his testosterone high. ‘Sus and his brothers arrive in the smallest boat I can imagine. They even bring their 10 year little brother who they called Chewbaca or something. Stu, John and Mike Jr. pile in with them. There is only a couple of inches between the gunwale and the water. I tell Iggy to keep Dickie’s boat next to them as they motored 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’re loading 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 enter 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 stands 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 quotes our song.
Their manager walks in and promptly grabs the joints.
“Looks like yer mama’s here, boys.”
“I ain’t havin’ no 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 the lineups. We tell them we use double drummers like they do. I describe 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 in.
“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 was 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 have arrived early. The prime center-stage water spots are filled already. We look in vain for the Out-Crowd, until I see Iggy waving the Confederate flag. He has Dickie, moronically under Iggy control, drive 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 is loving it, unless your boat is 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 jetted out to the stage. Everything is set up. We pick up our instruments and begin playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ yelling at 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’s higher than ever running around the stadium with Iggy (with the Stars & Bars), Tom and Ronnie. They’re at the chain link fence beside the stands conversing with a crowd that is trying to break in. Tom has his mic-headset on.
I yell into my mic, “Hey, Tom. What’s next?”
“ Dixie,” he shout back.
“Then you better sing it,” I tell him as I start 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 sings on cue.
Right from the start half the crowd is singing along. I can see the stands shaking and boat people jumping so much it is pushing the boats back and forth. The crowd outside the fence surges forward. People are able to jump 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 play a few bars of Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man,’ over and over. People start listening and recognizing the hated song. I switch 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.’
As we play, the Iggy group jumps from boat to boat. Their new best friends struggle to follow and soon many boats have fellow gate-crashers suddenly sitting with them.
“Hey, share that beer,” I yell at a bickering boat that is 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 cut their line attached to the Whaler, as Max jumps into ‘Sus’s boat to be with and protect John. All of Dickie’s random motion pulls them close to shore and a line of Miami PD police dogs and their handlers.
“Okay. Okay,” Jack yell. “Where’s our special guest?”
Tom bursts onto stage raising his guitar high. The crowd is itching for a cause to riot and ‘Born a Rebel’ is what they need.
“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 hits 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 brings that 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 his 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 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 move toward the shore creating a meager 5 foot gap between the shore and the boats. It appears to be a stand-off and things settle down. We finished ‘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 will be mocking the cops, but since we were 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 kept 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’s too much for them. One dog handler lets his shepherd loose from the leash, and yells, “Sic ‘em” to the dog, indicating Robby. Max is standing with his paws on the gunwale, letting out a menacing growl and sharp bark. The shepherd is confused, whining at his handler and looking nervously at Max. The cop reiterates his command and the shepherd makes a leap for the boat over the five foot gap. Max snatches the dog in midair, snapping his neck and tossing him into the water. All the other dogs are whining and cringing.
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 this day. Max’s afternoon delight is slowly fading with no immediate means to keep it rolling along. He is able to delay his second-hand high, but his patience is wearing thin. Even his demanding single bark elicits no response. The situation is becoming 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 had to go for sound check at the stadium.”
Max doesn’t like the sense of what John was saying, “Woof, woof,” he encourages John. Then he lies 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 know what he wants.
John, Stu and Mike Jr. rush up, 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, is sitting 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 too quickly exploding 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 soon, Max is frustrated again. Iggy makes sure he gets his smoke. Max sits by Iggy, content to stay by his benefactor.
Soon both boats are motoring across the Bay. Max has never been on a boat before. Soon he had his sea legs and is standing in the bow, breathing in the clean, fresh sea breeze. Iggy gets up, waving a stick with a cloth on the end. They enter the 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 was a confusing scene in the cove. Tim and Robby are with their friends on a concrete stage about 50 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 looked at the boat that had been closely following his boat. John looked 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 to 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 is playing so loud 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 undersands 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 meant to attack. He barks to stop the attack, but the dog leaps at him anyway. 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.’
Robby is making a fool of himself to the police. Nothing new there. I’m about to end the ‘Monkey Song,’ when I see a policeman let his dog loose under orders to attack Robby. Max barks and throws the dog into the bay. I watch as the cop draws his service revolver and shoots Max. The shot rings through out the stadium.
“No. Maxxxxx,” I scream into my mic. I dropped 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 are gunning their engines. The melee of boats causes people to fall into the water.
“Stop,” I scream into my mic, but no one is listening.
‘Sus kept his head and refuses to join the boat people melee. I’m able to make it to his boat before it’s stranded in the no-man zone between the stage and the shore. Tears are streaming down my face as 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 empty stadium. Finally someone pulls the plug on my mic. John and I are hugging Max’s lifeless head lying across our laps. ‘Sus slowly motors the boat to the stage. Jack rushes to pull us up onto the concrete structure. Michael is screaming at Robby, blaming him for the shooting. When Jenna rushes up to him, they embrace and Michael forgets about Robby. Hippie and the girls huddle together. I look around, still in shock. Stu and Mike Jr. unwrapped John from Max and lead him away.
“Look, Tim. The other opening band is leaving by boat. The concert is over,” Jack tries to get me to look away from Max.
I sigh and look at 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 off.
“Get on your drum kits,” I yell at Michael and Robby. Looking at Ronnie Van Zant , I yell, “We’ll do ‘Free Bird.’”
The boys kick in the drum intro. Van Zant gets the sound man to turn the power back on to the amps and mics. I start into the long guitar intro. Robby does his bird whistles. Tom picks up his ax and joins me, as does Jack.
“Skynyrd, get out here,” I yell, 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. 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 came on stage and hook into our amps. The crowd is yelling and stomping. The song is thundering as the long intro leads up to the vocals. Robby does more bird calls. Ronnie sings the first line and nods to Mary to do the second, alternating through the verses. Tom does the guitar licks, while I’m 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, re stilled as the crowd sees Van Zant singing to Mary. At the end of the first verse, the crowd lets out a sigh. The air rumbles with applause. The guitars answer and overcomes 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 reunited, walking off stage, arm in arm together.
By now at least half the crowd has returned to the stands. People were screaming, “No! No!” and “Come back…”
They return, Mary bows. The Jacettes run out onto the stage. The rest of Skynyrd has come on stage and breaks into ‘Sweet Home, Alabama.’
We kept playing with them, yelling “Florida,” in place of “Alabama.”
That’s 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 are flooding away from me. It’s like losing Jace all over again. Jack comes over and sits so I could lay my head in his lap.
“It’s bringing Jace up again, isn’t it,” he whispers in my ear.
I just nod, 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 was 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 saw the cop raises his gun and shoots Max. That memory is burned in stone. I’m crying again. Jack holds me tight, while Jay hovers above us, concerned but unsure how to respond.
Skynyrd play for another hour. They have to do three encores. Van Zant gets Robby and Tom to come out for a final bow. We hear cries for False Gods, but we’re through for the night. Robby and Tom lead Van Zant and the rest of the band into the tent. Pull a joint out from behind his long hair, he passes it around. Ronnie comes over, confused by our departure from the stage.
“We’d of jammed with y’all instead of playing 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.” He walks away.
I feel better, but I know it will never be as much fun. Max was the heart and soul of our band. Jack goes to get a couple of beers from the catering. I take a sip but the taste just reminds me of how bitter I feel. That cop killed our dog.
To punctuate that thought, three policemen walk into the tent. All the smokers instantly go out the back. The cops come over and confirm that Max is dead. The bile in my stomach races up to 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 nodded twice.
“You have to come with us. Is that your beer?
“I’m not drinking it.”
At this point, Jay rushes over and intervenes. The cops explain that I need to be questioned about the shooting.
“We already have enough evidence to hold him,” the uniformed cop points at the beer. “And obviously there is illegal drug activity going on here.”
“He’s not going anywhere without his parent or a legal authority going with him.”
“Who are you?” the cop asked.
“I’m the band’s manager. I work for Michael Antonio. He’s Tim’s lawyer.”
“We know who Michael Antonio is. He has interfered with our canine unit before.”
“I will call Michael. We can meet at his office on Monday morning so you can conduct your investigation at that time. You’re not taking this boy anywhere. He’s been traumatized enough tonight.” Jay really knows how to stand up for me.
“Have it your way. But, I’m taking this beer, as evidence.”
“Maybe you should be speaking with spectators of the incident to confirm that your officer shot into a crowd, endangering a lot of people, instead of arresting this boy who was on stage at the time.”
“We’ll conduct our investigation in our way. This is my card. Call me about Monday’s interrogation.”
The officers leave in a huff. Two uniformed officers come and take away Max’s lifeless body, ‘for evidence.’
I’m on my two feet for the police exchange with Jay. Now, Jack is holding me up.
“What was that all about,” I ask Jay. “After siccing a dog on Robby and killing Max, they want to arrest me for one sip of beer?”
“They just want to find someone to blame in order to take the spotlight off their abuse of power.”
“Well, thanks, Jay. You saved me from them.”
“Let’s hope they get their heads on right before Monday. The Miami Police are probably boiling mad about losing crowd control tonight. They have a lot to answer for.”
“What’s the worst that can happen to me?”
“Don’t worry. They’ll calm down. Michael has their number for prior abuse with dog incidents in the Black community.”
“Let’s get you all out of here. I need pizza and beer, myself.”
In short order we’re at Sorrento’s. Everyone is excited about our performance and seems over the gloom about losing Max. Jack quiets everyone down by saying that I may be arrested on Monday.
“What the hell for, being a faggot?” Robby jokes.
“Yeah. And you’ll be the first witness to testify for the prosecution.”
Jay stops our repartee, “I spoke to Michael’s dad. He wants no one to talk about the investigation to anyone. The cops are looking for a scapegoat to cover up their abusive behavior tonight.”
That pretty much kills our buzz from the night’s show, no matter how great a show it had been, Max’s death is a shroud over our spirits. Now the police investigation is just the icing on a rotten cake.
“Rock n Roll sucks,” I think for the first time.
I turn to Jack, “Your house tonight?”
His smile perks me up. “We can practice prison sex,” he jokes.
I gulp then guffaw at the thought of going to prison for a sip of beer.
Prison sex turns out to be no sex. I’m too drained to satisfy anyone, even ever horny Jack. I wake up to find him setting out outfits for us to attend church.
“We need to present a wholesome attitude at tomorrow’s interrogation,” he explains.
I’m more interested in Isabelle’s breakfast than image burnishing. I’m still frazzled but look decent in Jack’s suit and tie.
Mr. Stone looks up from reading the paper as we enter the dining room.
“You boys certainly have the Herald’s attention. Maybe you can give me the actual story of what happened last night? What I’m reading is too bizarre to believe.”
“It’s worse, Daddy. Tim may go to jail after the police killed his dog.”
“The paper says the police had dogs attack concert goers who had broken in. A policeman had to shoot one to restore order.”
Oh, god. I am going to jail, I realize.
“No, Daddy. The police shot Tim’s dog who was fighting the police dogs. He was defending the band.”
“You mean, Max, as reported in the Herald.”
“Everyone knows Max, Daddy.”
“Well, I don’t, but that isn’t important.”
I suddenly realize how Dad is probably as upset about Max as I am. He’ll blame me regardless of the circumstances….who ya gonna call?
“I gotta call Mike Sr. May I be excused?” I ask.
“What about breakfast?” Jack whines.
Oh for god’s sakes. For once, I detest his self-absorption.. No, no…
“I’ll be right back.”
I get Jay on the phone, who quickly understands my concern about the law. He has to be filled-in about my gun-touting, police supporter dad.
“Let’s just concentrate on Monday’s interview,” he suggests.
“Please, Jay. I need to talk with Mike.”
“You’re the boss.”
“I thought Mike Sr. was the boss, but I’ll take it.”
“Go over and practice. Mike will join you.”
“Jay, you know I love you.”
“That will get you everywhere,” he laughs.
“Well?” Jack interrogates me.
“We have to go practice after breakfast.”
“No song and dance?” Daddy asks.
“Just, ‘aaaaaaaaaah, that’s all folks,’” as I bit down on a celery stalk.
I sit next to Jack, who finally looks worried .
“It’s okay. I need to speak with Mike Sr.,” I explain.
“I was hoping to get your side of the story,” Daddy looks me in the eye.
“Well, the easy answer is Robby, but I bear all the responsibility for our actions. We put on a show like never before. It’s what we do. We played before 5,000 people and we rocked.”
“The voice of youth is heard.”
I grab Jack. We pedaled to Michael’s. No one is up, so we let ourselves in. Michael is sleeping in his room – alone.
“Wake up, Italian Stallion,” we both rough-housed him into a sitting position.
“What’s up,” he mumbles.
“Meet us in the music room.”
“Why?” after thinking it through.
“Never mind. Join us when you can,” I dismiss him.
He plops under the covers. Jack jumps in as well, whispering in his ear. Michael’s eyes go wide open in shock, until Jack jumps out of his bed.
“What did you whisper?” I ask.
“That this may be our last chance to be together.”
“Why was he looking so shocked, then.”
“He has homophobia.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“Fear of homos.”
“He’s not afraid of me.”
“You don’t jump in his bed and whisper in his ear.”
We settle into the music room, sitting opposite each other, with the amps barely on.
“Let’s write a song,” Jack suggests.
“Jail house blues,
I got the jail house blues.
I need the news my pardon’s come through.
Jail house blues.
Jail house blues.”
“No,” Jack complained. “No time for blues. I need a funky love song.
“Sally in the alley,
Takin’ my time
Make her feel fine
Making me dally”
“You, dick. Stop pretending you like chicks,” he complains.”
“Back at the alley,
Sally looks sadly
Dusts off and smiles
Loves my wild wiles.”
Jack plays Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
‘all that glitters is gold,
And I’m buying my way into heaven.’ I sang
We smile at each other and laugh.
“Why can’t it always be this way?” Jack asks.
“Someday we’ll be boring together. We’ll be old.”
“Fuck, no. I don’t wanna live that long,” Jack, the romantic.
“This will never get old,” I reach out and kiss him.
Michael and Jenna walked in.
“Caught you,” Michael crows.
“Are we stealing your make-out place?” I answer back.
Michael just holds Jenna tighter. She smile. Just two couples together.
He sit at the drums and casually ran through several rolls and riffs.
“Trying to impress your girl,” Jack teases.
“Don’t havta,” Michael smiles.
Jack runs a long string of a leads, which Michael deftly follows.
“I’m dazed and confused…”
I started the verse, until I see the adoration in Jack’s eyes.
“You don’t need to impress me, either,” I quip, looking at Jenna.
We all smile.
“You guys recover fast,” Mike Sr. complains as he arrives, still in night-clothes and a robe.
“We’ll get coffee,” Michael suggests. I shoo Jack to go with them, so I’ll be alone with Mike Sr.
“I can’t say I didn’t know this would happen,” is all he says.
He wants an explanation. There was no excuse. John could’ve died. How would I feel about that?
His face holds no hint of amusement or encouragement.
“I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”
“Juvie, because you’re unsupervised and insufferable.”
I look down. I have nothing to say.
“Let’s concentrate on tomorrow. It will be inadvisable for me to show up at your interrogation. Jay will do it. Be honest and not sarcastic. Show no fear about their threats. You are innocent.”
“Except for a sip of beer.”
“You’re a juvenile. They can do whatever they want to you. I’ll go through channels to resolve all this. The bigger story should have nothing to do with you. Keep your mouth shut.”
“So, I tell them what happened to me, without going into detail of what I saw happening.”
“Good. If they ask you about what you saw, just say you don’t remember.”
“Okay. What about my dad. He loved Max and, I’m sure, will blame me for losing him.”
“I’m your lawyer, not your therapist. Talk to your mother. Get her to calm him down. You miss Max, too. Bond.”
“You’re always right.”
“You’re always plotting three moves ahead. Just stop manipulating everyone, especially me.”
I want to hug him but know better.
“Right.” As I realize I stopped myself from crying, I could at last look him in the eye. Grew me some.
I call home, praying Mom will answer. But prepared for the worst. Of course, Dad picks up.
What,” he sounds curtly.
“Tim. You get home this instant.”
“Yes, sir,” and I hang up.
I look across the room at Mike Sr. and shake my head. He nods back.
I whisper in Jack’s ear, “I have to go home alone. Please let me do this.”
He looks as shocked as Michael had been when he whispered into his ear. I kiss each eye shut, turn, and leave.