The Aliens Have Landed, and They’re Wearing Gold Lamé: Monday, August 18, 1969

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Update: Hard to believe I wrote this piece of (I guess you could call it) flash fiction in 2009. Considering we’ve managed to blast forward another five years, I thought I’d mark the 45 years since that odd pow wow in upstate New York and give the post another ride at the top of the heap.

trash4Sometime during the night, nine tenths of the Free City evacuated Bethel to reveal the hardest of the hardcore and a hillside already congealing into a monumental patio of detritus. Those beat and dirty revelers still able to walk shuffled down from the hilltop to get closer to the stage and to pick the garbage for discarded food, water, and drug. They minced barefoot in the mud, instincts guiding them around puddles of vomit and dung having nothing to do with Mr. Yasgur’s Holsteins. Thin smoke from hundreds of dying campfires, manufactured the night before from anything handy, fogged the dawn and told the story of a disorderly retreat. The hangers-on gave silent thanks for this smoke: it masked the fug of livestock and milk gone sour. Huddling at the foot of the massive rock-and-roll altar, the forty thousand remaining greeted Monday morning with the forelorn aspect of a surrendering Wermacht at Stalingrad, the once great and still mighty longhaired army now dwarfed by the empty debris field surrounding them. Those who’d held their positions near the stage at all costs for the duration slept fetal, deaf, exhausted, and hallucinating in the sucking mud. The empty cots in the Freakout Tent testified to the finality. Someone said, “I want it to stop. The party’s over.” Friends huddled in each other’s arms, girlfriends forgave the dirt in their boyfriend’s beards, and the sentimental or sober cried, red eyes burning redder, mourning a moment not quite dead. Then, as the sun began to burn just above the distant tree tops, the towers once again detonated with sound and the stunned and woozy freaky people gaped at the stage, both terrified and bemused by the spacemen who had beaten our own to the punch by rocketing here from their far-off planet. Their gold spacesuits and boots captured the sunlight and spilled it back over the rock-and-roll zombies. Perhaps having received transmissions originating fifteen years in the past, the spacemen attempted a communication with the 69ers in the only way they knew how: by setting the syllables “sha na na” to a rhythm and blues beat and cavorting about the stage in a pantomime of culture already receding into memory. Little did anyone know the spacemen changed the course of history by inspiring a wave of nostalgia for something that never happened, but the kids managed a smirk when the cutesy space rockers sang at them to “Get a Job.” Eleven songs and gone, the eleventh a reprise of their call for the kids to get a job, the spacemen became a source of debate in the intermission preceding Hendrix’s show closer. “Man, did that really happen?”

The next day, the heavy equipment operators showed up, dug a huge hole, and bulldozed tons of shoes, bottles, papers, clothes, tents, and plastic sheets into the ground. When the hole was filled with all that junk, they poured gasoline over it and set it on fire. The fire burned and blanketed Bethel in smoke for days. Somebody filed suit for illegal burning, but the evidence had been destroyed.

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Evocations: Ian Curtis

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Ian Curtis would have been 58 years old today.

This draft is part of a sidebar project on which I’m collaborating with artist Jeff Edmunds. The project is a collection of illustrated biofictional shorts we’re calling “Evocations” because they seek to evoke the spirit of their subjects. For those not among the cognoscenti, you can learn more about Ian Curtis here.

Ian Curtis

When the rope does its work there is a moment of regret, but only a moment. Chemistry decides and chemistry don’t lie. No use fighting it, so accept. Doctors fumble, mix trial-and-error cocktails from substances ending in “ine” and “ide” and “ate,” but don’t account for insomnia, strobe lights, overwork, nicotine, and too many Boddies and Old Bush. Stress, too: a chemical factory running all three shifts at maximum output. And please don’t discount the product of an inclination torn in equal measure among duty bound civil servant, sanguine dreamer, awkward daddy, digital rocker, dopey homebody, stroppy philanderer, obstreperous poet, and unrepentant Man City supporter. Never was a man just one thing, but sometimes reconciling the many gets dangerous in the presence of unstable compounds percolating grand mal as if in beaker over Bunsen. No way to live, that. Big sickness. And so the rope. Not to wallow in the mush of a veteran guinea pig, but, let’s face it, one letter separates man–well, this man–from mal. In this kind of life, every moment pulses with thonged dread: Suffer the need to please so many, diffuse in the effort, then disappoint everybody. After the fact, people will throw around adjectives like brilliant, manic, troubled, passionate, alienated, morose, and, no kidding, jocular! A more accurate syntax would have relied on nouns: neurotransmitter, hippocampus, Gamma-aminobutyric acid, glia, ligand-gated ion channels, and uber-Manc. But, there’s nowt you can do: There will always be demmicks more than happy to theorize a mathematics for dividing joy into molecules rising on the smoke from Macclesfield crematory. All those geniuses willfully ignore the seed of hope planted in “Love will tear us apart … again.” Chemistry prevented the reconciliation that line implies, but in the end I worked a rope trick to tame it. Now, though unreconciled, I am fixed. I am eternal. Liberated to transmit pure electricity. Waiting for you. Waiting for you.