August/September 2005

R ’n R Will Never D
Daniel R. Robichaud

Outside Donovan’s Bar, a topless punker pushed her tits flat against one of the few unblocked windows. Double barbells crossed through her right nipple, beneath the tattoo of a skull. Kind of a neo-primitive Jolly Roger thing. Her lips were cracked and the hoop in the lower left corner was clotted with the same rusty brown blood that matted the Kool-Aid blue, close-cropped hair on her head.

Seeing her from stage, Roger thought, I bet she had nose rings.

Too bad her nose was gone. He’d never know for sure.

Her glazed eyes panned over the humble crowd of stragglers clinging to life inside and then returned to the stage. Her purple and blue tongue squeaked across the dirty surface like a mostly dry squeegee.
Roger snickered at the irony: living dead hotties were still groupies for tune slingers.

Donovan’s Bar was a small joint on a forgotten side street far from the center of the city. It was smaller than Ralph’s, Vincent’s or The Lucky Dog – Worcester’s main indie music venues – and was relatively unremarkable. However, bands played there like it was a badge of honor.

Most of the windows and exits were blocked with the old furniture put into place when the undead rose, only a week and a half ago. Classic chicken and egg quandary: did the zombie rise trigger the end of the world, or did the end of the world summon forth the living dead?

Two windows remained uncovered, one near the front door, the other near the back. An acceptable risk. Those panes were too small to allow the dead access. By day, they lit in scarce amounts of daylight. Just enough to stave off complete cabin fever. Unfortunately, it also gave the patrons a good look at the hungering horde waiting outside.
One might think the dead would smash the windows or pound the barricades, but they didn’t. Because of the music.

When the bands played, the dead tried to get down instead of in. Funniest thing Roger had ever seen. They pressed close to the walls and did a little side-to-side shuffle. Whoever heard of zombies dancing?

But it was true. So long as the tunes kept coming, the dead didn’t try to come in. Stop the songs and guess what? The dead got pissed. When the dead got pissed, they pounded the poor walls of the place hard enough to make them shake. Keep the riffs screaming, and you were safe.

The dead were strangely selective. In yet another irony, prerecorded stuff didn’t work. The sound had to be live.

Derek, the bar’s resident soundman, had hypothesized that volume kept the dead back. That belief had gotten him mobbed by the living dead in the parking lot. Oh, Roger and the Druthers had played as loud as possible. It didn’t help, though. Not one fucking bit. Maybe he was wandering around with the rest.

Had to be a quality thing, Roger figured. If the sound was good, the dead backed off.

Guilford’s guys were on sleep shift. Boston’s Beatings were nursing hangovers.

Nobody danced but the dead. Earplugs were standard issue, now. The music was only played to keep the hungry bastards back, not for enjoyment.

Tully, the whiny bastard in the back corner booth, bitched about hearing the same twenty-seven songs, his mantra for the last three days.

Roger wanted to snap. What do you want? We’re up here four more hours before the next band’s shift. You’re stuck with what we give you.

Thus, Roger and The Druthers played songs they knew they could pull off without a hitch. No sense fucking around with tunes we’re not competent at.

As one song bled into another, Stu, the bald, broad shouldered bartender, announced, “Beer’s gone.”

Well shit.

Halfway through their eight hour set, and the taps had gone dry?

What sustenance did that leave?

The hard stuff had been the first victim of the apocalypse. When the End is Nigh, have a vodka shot. Hell, drain the bottle.

All the snacks were gone, too. Stu had chucked most of the salty goods early on. Salt, he said, makes you thirstier. He wanted to ration the liquid refreshments.

So, they had a couple of kilograms of meat, a metric ton of non-salted peanuts and a couple of cases of bottled water. Oh, goody. Not enough for the twenty plus people in this place (twelve musicians and a bunch of fans and sig-ohs).

Then again, if you holed up somewhere, then supplies drained. Only a matter of time before they hit the big nada. At least the end of the world had happened while they were in the one place they could stay safe.

Who’d-a-thunk that the best company you could ask for, when the dead walked, was a trio of bar bands?

“Yo, Rog,” bassist Deek said, “What about a little Seeg?”

“Sure,” Roger said. Roger knew Deek had been hit the hardest by the eight-hour shifts. Only twenty-six, Deek played a double bass with the authority of a King. The bassist was Great with a capital ‘G’ and had the sensitivities and sensibilities of a true artist.

Roger launched into Bob Segar’s “Night Moves”.

The fucker in the back booth groaned, “Oh, not that song.”

Roger felt rage blossom like a rose. That prick in the back booth had the nerve to—?!

“Ignore him, Rog,” Deek said, catching the front man’s attention, “what does that square know? He’d be dead without Seeg.” Deek was the one man Roger knew who could use the word ‘square’ in everyday conversation without sounding kitschy.

Some of the folks in the bar mumbled the words. Held hands.
Music spoke to the soul, Roger knew. When a person’s strength was tapped, sometimes music refueled. When a person’s hopes were snuffed, sometimes music rekindled.

When he was younger, he’d never realized the responsibility musicians bore. Maybe that was a better way to be, young and ignorant. Only doing what felt good because you wanted it. When he hit the big three-oh, he started to think about the bigger picture, and that affected his playing. When you got too cerebral, it was hard to connect.

Deek was lost in the moment, eyes closed, not feeling the strings he picked but the resonance those strings made with the universe. Shaughn was competent with his drum kit, and Ducky knew his keyboards, but Roger knew they weren’t serious about the music. Deek was—

“Holy shit!” Not that turd Tully. This came from the birthday princess, a fan of one of the bands, who wore a ‘birthday girl’ tiara crown. She pointed a chubby digit at the windows, shouting, “They’re leaving!”

People rushed to see. The song paused.

“Oh no,” birthday princess said, “They’re coming back!”

“Don’t stop the jams,” Boston’s Beatings’ voc/bassist shouted. Roger blanked on her name. She was a slender wraith of a girl, who managed unbelievable levels of energy when her band took the stage.
Deek leapt right back into Segar’s song. Roger fucked up his reentry, but caught up soon enough. They chugged through the chords, waiting for the crowd’s report.

“Not right,” the bassist said. Erin! Her name was Erin! “It’s not working.”

“Fuck,” Roger muttered. “From the top?”

Deek nodded. They hit the opening again, started going through the song. Roger called, “Anything?”

The birthday princess looked away from the window, obviously trying not to cry.

“What’s the matter?” Roger asked, “What’re we doing different?”
Deek whispered something like it was a revelation. With the earplugs, no luck hearing him.


“Passion,” Deek said, “We gotta do it with passion. Juice it up. We need something special.”

“How fast are they moving?” Roger asked the crowd.

“As fast as the dead,” Tully replied. He’d gotten his lazy, bitching ass off the booth seat, but when the dead started coming back he moped back to his vinyl throne.

Roger asked, “Slow like Night or fast like Return?”

Tully’s face screwed up in confusion. What a useless sack...

“Someone wake up Plett, he’s the zombie expert,” the birthday princess said. His sig-oh moved to do just that.

“They’re slow,” Erin said.

Roger glanced at Deek. “A little ‘Dazed…’?”

Deek smiled, “Let’s do it.”

When they started into “Dazed and Confused,” Roger marveled anew at how Led Zeppelin’s oeuvre spoke to musicians. Any rocker worth his salt didn’t merely cover Zep, they evoked Zep. Gave it a piece of their soul. Rock is about passion, and the best Rock repays the investment a hundredfold.

The Druthers captured a little of that life and fed it into the twenty minute opus. After three minutes, Boston’s Beatings joined in. After another seven, Guilford added their dark melodies. The three bands really sang.

“It’s working!” the birthday princess shouted, “Holly-lolly-luiagh!”

“Can we get to the cars?” Stu asked.

“Not yet,” the birthday princess said.

The bands made magic, and the air grew alive with electricity. The dead continued their slow withdrawal.

“Alright, we’re clear,” the birthday princess said, “how much time is left?”

“At least two minutes,” Roger said

“Should we all stick together?” someone asked.

“I guess,” Stu shrugged, “Then who’s got the biggest car?”

“We’ve got a van,” Ducky said.

“Expedition, baby,” Erin’s lips twisted into a gleeful sneer.

“You win,” Stu said, “Keys?”

“On the bar,” Erin said.

Stu grabbed the indicated keys and hustled for the door. “Close it behind me. Don’t open it unless I come back with a vehicle.”
“One minute and, maybe, twenty?” Roger said.

Stu vanished out the door. The birthday princess slammed it behind him.

Pure magic poured from the bar. Three bands in synch worked a mystic experience out of wood, wires, electronics and skin.

Forty seconds left, and, outside, an engine roared to life.

Twenty and change. Headlights shone through the two empty windows.

Ten and the van came to a stop, the horn blared.

Birthday princess was out the door first. The crowd followed her.
Musical magic lost its potency, when Guilford and Boston’s Beatings broke off to escape.

Then, the song ended, and the undead wailed angrily as they shambled forward.

Shaughn abandoned his drum kit and raced for the door. Ducky joined him.

Deek launched into Infectious Grooves’ funk intensive single, “Spread”, with all his heart. It was Deek’s special song. The first one he’d mastered, the piece that spoke from his soul absolutely. Amazing, when the song itself was a joke.

The dead’s steps slowed.

“Deek,” Roger said, “I don’t know this one.”

“Just go, Rog.”

“Come on, guys!” Erin called from the relative safety of the Expedition.

Roger ran for the door. Stopped.

There wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of room in the SUV.

He glanced back at the stage. At Deek, the only genius Roger had ever met.

“Good luck,” Roger said. He slammed the front door, threw the lock and hustled back on stage.

The Expedition roared away.

“You nuts?” Deek asked.

“I’m too precious to share my space with that many people,” Roger said, as he plugged back into the amp. “Fuck it, let’s jam.”

“Spread” segued into a lousy rendition of Ozzy’s “Zombie Stomp,” and the undead returned to half-heartedly pound against Donovan’s walls. So, quality was a factor after all.

“Everyone’s a fucking critic,” Roger said.

“We’re here all week,” Deek added, “Try the seafood.”

They laughed and played until their fingers went numb, until exhaustion pulled the instruments from their hands. The dead resumed their pounding. Only a matter of time before they got in.

A parody of one of Sgt. Pepper’s cuts sprang into Roger’s head, as sleep pulled him away. He muttered, “‘What would you do if I screamed out of key? Would you come and take bites out on me?’” and then slipped into sleep, carried on the cacophonous tattoo of bloodless fists battering wood and smashing glass and clawing, crooning, clamoring to get in touching distance of the last band to play Donovan’s Bar.


De(a)dication: For Jon, horror movie guru and music maestro.