A Facebook friend sort of suggested this, so I figured, why not? "Guitar God" is my next novel. I just finished the fourth draft. Hopefully, the final draft will be done by the end of the year so I can move onto the next book. And I can't wait. It's been a long but rewarding road that began a little over four years ago. A big part of the reason why the book has taken so long is because it's so long. The first draft was 235,000 words. I've pared it down to 195,000. The word count is still very high, but I don't think it would be a tough book to slog through. It takes place over a 15 year period, but the story is pretty strongly plot driven with what I think is reasonably strong character development.
I like to describe the book as a Jewish, suburban, rock and roll fantasy with a 1970s soundtrack. It's urban fantasy—in the suburbs. It's "War for the Oaks" meets "Portnoy's Complaint." It's about the faerie folk living among us, and we never notice. It's about those magikal places from where we grew up.
So, here's a little sample. This chapter is important in the book, but I don't think I'm giving anything away. This is one of my favorite chapters for reasons that will become obvious to people who read it. By the way, some of what's portrayed is based on real events. I wasn't there, but I heard various legendary stories.
Taking Hits of Buggy Bitz
Tom sat cross-legged next to the firepit at The Shire, waiting for Eric and Kit to show up. He glanced upward, over the treetops, at the pale blue sky. It would be a clear, cool night or at least relatively cool; summer was finally starting to give way to fall, thankfully, and this was a rare Saturday night where none of the three had a gig. A miraculous occurance, actually, considering that they each played in different bands. Tom thought it sucked that they weren’t in a band together, but that’s just how things worked out. Eric had been playing drums with MD20-20 since the previous winter. Last Fall, Tom joined Kickers, and Kit took over keys for Player Piano. Not long after that, goddammit, the keyboardist for Kickers left, but Kit didn’t want to leave Player Piano high and dry—the honorable fucking asshole—so Tom didn’t get to be able to play in a band with one of his two best friends. And the keyboardist they hired wasn’t fit to carry Kit’s stool, goddammit!
Tom reached into the front pocket of his jean jacket and fished out the ounce he’d bought from Jim Peters that afternoon. He unrolled the baggie and took a deep sniff of the sweet smelling dope. Jim always had the most kick ass lumbo, and this stuff was exceptional, not gold, but almost orange. The two bong hits he’d taken in Jim’s basement when he sampled the stuff threw him for a major loop. He still had a silly grin on his face as he holed up in his bedroom and cleaned the whole ounce while listening to Close to the Edge, picking out the buds and using the fold-out portion of the album cover to clean the shake, being very careful to not lose any seeds. One stray seed could get him grounded for a month.
Tom thought about taking a hit from the small U.S. Bong he’d brought with him, but instead rerolled the baggie, licking the top edge to reseal it. Tom’s mind wandered, picturing a fuzzy future of life after graduation.
Sure, the three of them smoked a lot of dope, and they dropped acid every so often, but they weren’t like the dust-smoking freaks who’d be lucky to get into Montgomery College, AKA, Harvard on the Pike. He, Eric and Kit were going to a real college, no doubt about it, but what would they study? They all talked about studying music, maybe even places like Berklee or Julliard. But was that practical? Kit was a total kick ass keyboardist. He could whip out a Rick Wakeman solo in nothing flat, but maybe he should become an engineer. He could fix anything, build anything. And Eric, shit, the guy lived in a world of numbers; he only visited the physical world. Shit, the guy should become like some kind of physicist and crack all the mysteries of the universe.
Tom admired their special talents, though deep down he couldn’t help but be envious. He loved to read, and he loved to write. Maybe he could major in English, but where the hell would that lead? It didn’t strike him as much more practical than studying music. Did he want to get a bachelor’s degree in English and roll the dice on whatever kind of job a liberal arts degree might get him? Or did he want to study music and play another kind of craps game where maybe he might make a living playing music or maybe he would have to teach music lessons and get a job in a record store while bouncing from struggling band to struggling band? Tom knew he’d be lucky to get into a Berklee or Juliard. Maybe he had the chops, and his SATs were pretty decent, but three years of barely passing math totally dragged down his GPA.
MC had a pretty decent music department. Maybe he could get an associate degree, and then he could get into a good music school. Maybe.
But what then? What if he got into Berklee and was able to venture forth into the music industry with rock solid chops and credentials to beat the band? Tom already figured out that the music industry was one giant shit sandwich, and every day you take one more bite. He was getting pretty damn tired of the high school band bullshit music his band had to play to keep getting gigs. At whatever level he might play at, it’d be the same shit.
Tom snatched his acoustic guitar from its case and strummed aimlessly. He picked a few notes then realized he was playing “Wish You Were Here.” He pressed a hand against his chest feeling the chill of metal against his flesh. After all this time, he still wore the metal ring, one of the four he, Kit, Eric and Isaac had fashioned so many years ago.
They had come close to melting down their rings, so they could refashion three rings to represent their Fellowship of the Rings, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to do that. Was Isaac their Golem, one who someday would play a role, for good or for evil? He laughed at the utter silliness of the thought, but still, they couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow Isaac would end up being a part of their lives again.
Tom caught Isaac’s gig the previous night and was totally blown away. The dude could flat out play, and man, could he sing! Tom didn’t even know Isaac could play guitar, let alone have the balls to front a band. Shit, he’d always been so shy, in a shellshocked kind of way, like a kid who keeps getting the crap beaten out of him. When the four of them had formed their Fellowship of the Rings, it seemed like Isaac had come home. Then he and Eric had their falling out. Tom was never really sure what the hell happened between the two, but that was that.
Tom knew Isaac had his Jewish friends. He also knew something terrible happened, and Isaac was no longer friends with any of those people, though he couldn’t understand how he could’ve been friends with them in the first place. Tom thought maybe Isaac might’ve returned to The Shire after all that shit went down, but instead, he just seemed to disappear like he almost didn’t want to exist anymore.
Tom played the rest of the song then rested his head on top of the guitar’s body, glancing upward toward the treetops, watching bats fluttering against a darkening sky. He put the guitar back in its case and hastily gathered some leaves, twigs and pine needles then carefully arranged them in the hearth, along with a few logs he stacked in a sloppy pyramid. He’d been slacking and was in serious danger of violating Hobbit Rule Number One: First person at The Shire gets the hearth ready. If the first person doesn’t get the fire going before the others arrive, he has to pay for the beer.
Tom lit the fire and had just finished stacking up some back-up logs when he heard a rustling in the woods and the loud cracking of twigs. A moment later, Kit and Eric appeared in the clearing, each holding a six pack of Molson Golden. Tom turned toward them, feeling a guilty expression cross his face. Kit grinned broadly at him. Tom knew he was busted. They’d come tantalizingly close to catching him in violation of Hobbit Rule Number One.
“Goddammit, Eric,” Kit said. “If you could’ve gotten out of work just five fucking minutes earlier, Tom would’ve had to pay for all the beer.”
“Well, good thing we didn’t buy that third sixer,” Eric said, plopping down next to the fire pit. He grabbed a Kiss lunchbox that sat alongside the firepit and popped open the lid. Gene Simmons, his forked tongue hanging down almost to his knees started menacingly at Tom. The lunchbox was rusted, dented and faded. Kit lifted a churchkey from the lunchbox, part of their Shire survival kit. The lunchbox also contained rolling papers, a small pipe and several tiny round screens. Kit popped the caps off three beers and passed them around.
Tom patted the front pocket of his jean jacket. “Went to see Jim today. Got some good stuff.” He started to reach into his pocket, but Eric waved him off.
“I got something even better.” Eric stretched his legs and dug into his pants pocket. After a bit of struggling and squirming, he held a small glass ampule containing an odd yellowish liquid.
“What the hell is that?” Tom asked.
Kit chuckled, like he was in on a secret joke.
“Morphine,” Eric said, smiling sheepishly.
“Morphine?” Tom was incredulous. “Where the fuck did you get that?”
Eric’s fist closed around the ampule. “That Brit from Subhuman—you’ve heard me talk about him. Cool dude. Wears his hair kinda funny, almost like a crew cut. Graham Jones. I was in the locker room, and he walks by and just smiles and tosses it to me. ‘Oye,’ he says. ‘Happy birthday. Cheers.’ Then he just walks away. Gotta figure he ripped it off. Probably stole a few. Just spreading it around, I guess.”
Tom shook his head slowly. He poked at the fire with a long stick. The logs snapped, crackled and popped, as if to say thank you. “So what the hell are we supposed to do with it?”
Eric shook his head.
“Gimme the gear,” Kit said, rising to his knees, reaching across the firepit. Eric handed him the ampule and a sealed cellophane package containing a syringe. Kit ripped open the package and pulled the orange plastic cover off one end of the syringe, revealing a long, thick no-nonsense needle. He drove the needle into the top of the ampule, turned the works upside-down, pulled hard on the plunger, then pulled the needle out of the ampule and pushed up on the plunger. A thin stream of liquid flew out from the tip of the needle, arcing into the air before splattering on the dirt beside him. Kit tapped the syringe with his index finger several time.
Kit flashed an evil grin. “Who wants to go first?”
“You go first,” Tom said.
“No, you go first,” Kit said.
Tom shook his head vigorously. He stared dubiously at the syringe. It looked angry. He did a quick mental inventory of all the drugs he’d done. Pot, hash, angel dust, acid, coke, speed, ludes. It was all okay, except angel dust. Shooting opiates? He knew he had to draw the line somewhere, and that was probably a good place.
“Eric,” Kit said, looking disappointed, “how ‘bout you? Why don’t you go first? The shit was given as a gift to you. You should go first.”
Eric shook his head. “Man, I don’t know about shooting junk into my veins.”
“You could skin-pop it,” Kit said.
“Don’t know if I’m into that either.”
Kit pulled his knees close to his chest and rested his chin against the top of his thighs, the syringe pointing at Eric, like he had just lost a round of spin the bottle, and it was his turn to do something he’d rather not do.
“How ‘bout we smoke it?” Tom said finally.
Kit’s expression brightened. “There’s an idea.” He glanced across the fire at Eric. Eric nodded. He then stuck out his hand toward Tom. “Gimme the stuff. I’ll load us up some bong hits.”
Tom handed Kit the baggie. Kit grabbed the bong and unscrewed the bowl, which he replaced with a large party bowl he’d taken from the Kiss lunch box. He opened the baggie and selected a nice fat bud, which he pulled apart on the top of the lunchbox, tossing seeds into the fire. The seeds exploded on contact with the flames. Once he’d packed the bowl, he injected a small amount of the morphine onto the dope. He took a long swig of beer, letting the pot absorb the morphine, then handed the bong to Eric.
“Think you should do the honors,” Kit said.
Without a word, Eric put his mouth to the bong, held his Bic to the bowl and started sucking, slow and steady. The bong gurgled happily. Eric finished the hit, coughing a bit, but holding it in. He handed the smoking bong to Tom. Tom’s heart beat rapidly. He took a hit, wondering what was going to happen. The smoke burned. Behind the sweetness of the lumbo, he detected something vaguely bitter.
Tom finished the hit, making sure not to take too much, then handed the bong to Kit, careful to not cough up the smoke. Holding his breath, he watched as Kit inhaled slowly, appearing more than a bit reticent. Usually Kit hit it hard and long—they didn’t call him Iron Lungs for nothing—but clearly, he was being careful.
They passed the bong around until the bowl was cashed.
Tom stared intently into the fire, his vision swirling. He leaned back until he rested on his elbows. He looked up at the black sky and glanced around at the treetops, which seemed to glow vaguely golden.
“Whoooah,” Tom said, his voice somewhere between a sigh and a whisper. “Man, I’m really high.” He glanced at Kit and Eric, his eyes slowly focusing on his friends. They both rested on their sides. Kit had knocked over his beer, which dribbled onto the dirt.
“Yeah, man,” Eric said, not moving. “Man, I’m really high.”
Kit stared into the fire, not saying a word.
Tom’s gaze returned to the treetops, the gold winking and blinking at him. He was very, very high, but not just high; he felt like mind and body were melded together into something greater than the sum of the parts, one with the fire in front of him, one with the black sky and the few stars that were visible, one with the mighty trees that guarded this special place. And he knew why people shot this stuff. And he knew it would be best if he never, ever, ever injected this stuff into his veins. But smoking it was probably okay, at least this one time. It felt way beyond okay.
Kit abruptly sprung upright. His hand thrust outward. Tom’s vision slowly focused. Kit held a large, black beetle, about the size of his thumbnail. He picked up the syringe, poked it into the beetle, pushed hard on the plunger then released the beetle. The beetle stumbled around, unsteady on its feet. Tom sat up and watched the beetle as it moved in tight little circles. It lifted up on its back legs then fell over onto its back, its tiny legs doing the dog paddle.
Tom sat up. He glanced at Eric. Eric lay back, staring up toward the sky. He glanced at Kit. Kit watched the beetle intently, giggling. Tom reached over and put the beetle on its feet. The beetle scrabbled in tiny, concentric circles and again raised up on its back legs. It wobbled and again fell onto its back.
“Man, that beetle is really fuckin’ high,” Tom said.
“Sure as fuck is,” Kit said. “Man….” His voiced trailed off. His eyes darted back and forth, like he was calculating some massive algebra problem. “Yeah, he’s really, really high.”
“Course he is,” Tom said. “You just gave him morphine, like enough to make you or me pretty damn high, and that’s just some beetle. How much you give him?”
Kit held his thumb and forefinger about a half inch apart.
“Well, fuck,” Tom said. “Think of it this way.” He held his thumb and index finger a half inch apart. “You gave that tiny, little beetle that much. What would be the equivalent amount for a human?”
Kit thought about it for a moment then spread his arms to full extension, like some fisherman bragging about catching one thiiiiiis big. “Dunno. Maybe this much?”
“Probably that much. Easily that much.”
“Whoah! Then Mister Beetle is really, really fuckin’ high.”
“Really, man. Like, fer sure.”
Kit grabbed the beetle, holding it gently between his thumb and forefinger, the expression on his face painfully intent. “Okay, so let’s say Mister Beetle is, like, a thousand times more high than I am right now. Okay?” Kit scratched his head. “Okay, Mister Beetle is a thousand times higher than I am right now.”
Tom giggled. “Yeah, that’s what you said.”
Kit shushed him loudly. “Hey, man, I’m trying to concentrate. Okay, so if Mister Beetle were to get me high, would I get that high?”
“That’s fuckin’ ridiculous.”
Kit ignored him and faced the beetle. “Listen to me, Mister Beetle. I know you’re holding. It’s polite to share, right? Remember, we learned that in kindergarten.”
Kit reached into Tom’s stash and pinched out some shake, which he packed into the bowl. Then he crushed the beetle with his fingers and stuffed the gooey remains into the bowl.
“Sorry, Mister Beetle. Thanks for sharing with us.” Kit flicked the Bic and lit the bowl. He sucked hard, the contents of the bowl crackling loudly.
Kit finished the hit and handed the bong to Tom. Tom shook his head. Kit coughed harshly, but gave Tom a stern look. Tom finally took a hit, the smoke burning his throat. Kit hacked out the rest of his hit. Tom cut short his hit and handed the bong to Eric.
“Whaaa?” Eric sat up and took the bong from Tom. An odd, acrid stench hung in the air. Eric took the hit, promptly coughing out most of it.
“Fuck!” he said. “What the fuck was that?”
Kit giggled. “Buggy bitz!”
Eric looked down at the bowl. “Buggy bitz? What the fuck?”
“Yeah, man, buggy bitz,” Kit said. “It’s a metaphysical high.”
And it’s working, Tom thought, as his vision swirled. He reached over and took the bong from Eric, just before Eric was about to throw the bong at Kit. Tom took a shallow hit and passed the bong to Kit. They passed the bong around and around until the bowl was cashed.
“Whoooah!” Tom said. “I’m really high.” He lay on his back. He could see the Big Dipper. He could see the North Star. He could see bits of gold dancing on the tips of the treetops, like Tinkerbell partying with a whole bunch of her sisters. Here in The Shire. Here in this special place that somehow managed to be spared the wrath of the bulldozers—Killdozers, like that made-for-TV movie. A wave of anger washed over him—that’s not supposed to happen. Motherfucking Killdozers. They don’t understand!
Tom sat bolt upright. “We gotta form our own band. Our own fuckin’ band!”
Eric stirred then sat upright. “Whaaa?”
Kit sat upright. “What you talkin’ about?”
Tom cracked open a few beers and passed them around. He took a long swig. The cold beer felt good going down his parched throat. “I said, we gotta form our own band.”
“Just quit the bands we’re in?” Eric said.
“Yeah, just fuckin’ quit, then form our own band. Hell, we got drums, keys and guitar. All we need is a bass player.”
“Why the hell would we wanna do that?” Kit said.
Tom faced Kit. It looked like his eyes were having trouble focusing. “Look, we’ve always wanted to be in a band together, but it just never worked out. We’re seniors, so time’s running out. If we don’t do this now, we’ll never do it. So let’s form our own band, and let’s play the music we wanna play.”
“It’s a bitch starting a band,” Eric said.
“Yeah, man,” Kit said. “I mean, it’d be great and all, but we all got good things going in our own bands. Quit and start from scratch this late in the game? I dunno.”
“Tell me, Kit. Why do you play in a band?”
Kit grinned broadly. “To meet girls. Why else?”
“Wrong answer, Kit.”
“It’s the right answer to me.”
“Bullshit! We all play in bands because we love playing music. So why not play the music we really love, together, the three of us?”
Kit and Eric sat silently, considering.
“I mean, Kit, you’re a monster keyboardist, and what, you get stuck playing the keyboard part for ‘Freebird?’ You’ve told me you can literally play that in your sleep. And Eric, you’re a goddamn Carl Palmer clone. Does your band do any ELP songs? No.”
“We could play ELP?” Eric said, a crooked smile washing across his face.
“If we wanted to, sure, we could play ELP. We could play anything. Jeff Beck. Steely Dan. How ‘bout Sea Level? Maybe some Zep. Whatever we wanted.”
Kit rubbed his chin. “Maybe I am getting a little tired of the usual high school band bullshit. Play a few semi-cool songs and fill in the set with a bunch of bullshit these idiots wanna hear. I think we could find a bass player easily enough. But what about a second guitarist?”
Tom shook his head. “Two guitarists? That’s just your typical high school band bullshit. We don’t need a second guitarist. Fuck, there’d probably be some songs where there’s not even any guitar parts.” Tom glanced at Eric and Kit. They looked dubious. “Okay, I can think of one guitarist who I’d want in the band.”
“The only guitarist who belongs with us. Isaac.”
Kit gathered up some twigs and flung them at Tom.
“Whoah!” Eric said. “I think that bus left the station a long, long time ago.”
Tom pulled his medallion out from under his shirt. “Yeah, but he’s still a member of the Fellowship. He’s still one of us, officially that is.”
“Officially,” Eric repeated, “but, I don’t think he gives us a second thought.”
“Besides,” Kit said, “did you see his gig last night? He’s the hottest thing at Churchill. I don’t think he’d wanna give that up. Would you?”
Tom ignored the question. “I’ll ask him. If he says no, he says no, but I’m going to ask him. I think I’m duty-bound to ask him, duty-bound to us and duty-bound to him. And yeah, I caught his gig last night. He’s a fuckin’ guitar god, and man, can he fuckin’ sing or what? Christ, he can sing anything. Anything! With him in our band, we’d be able to play anything we wanted.”
Tom glanced at Kit and Eric. “It’s settled?” He knew the answer.
“Yeah,” Eric said. “I’m in, but we can’t leave our bands high and dry. We really oughtta give them at least some time to find replacements.”
Tom nodded, sadly. “Yeah, I ‘spose. But not too long. So, Kit, what about you? You in?”
Kit nodded. “Yeah, but I think we outta wait ‘til later to talk specifics.”
A beetle ran along the dirt between Tom’s feet and the firepit. Tom snatched the beetle and held it aloft. Kit chuckled and handed Tom the syringe. “Yeah, we can talk about this tomorrow.”