It all started very normally. It was a usual, quiet evening with the Rock Bottom Remainders setting up their equipment for another gig.
OK, actually, the Rock Bottom Remainders are not really so very normal. Their roster is made up of all famous literary and artistic people like Dave Barry the humor writer, Stephen King the horror novelist, Amy Tan the fictionalist, Mitch Albom an author, Matt Groening the creator of the Simpsons and Ray Blount Jr. another humor writer. Together they equal fully half of the literary output of the entire United States with King supplying the entire creative output of the state of Maine. And, yes, this is a real group. And they really do go around and perform together. Honest!!!
Other than that everything was normal about the band. Or at least as normal as it can be with all these famous people in it. Then it started getting very unnormal in a very unnormal sort of way.
There had been foreshadowings of it on the way to the show. Like when their giant touring RV, the one with the gold plated toilet, the orgy bedroom with a mirrored ceiling, a revolving bed, and a growing room for their constant supply of pot suddenly started swerving erratically despite their expert drivers heroic attempts to control it. Almost as though it had been possessed by an unseen, unembodied force. Almost…
Then there was the truck stop in Ohio where there eerily didn’t seem to be anyone around and they were chased back into the RV by a monstrously huge and viscous Saint Bernard…
Add to that that strange, seductive, almost irresistible and demonic voice calling them from inside the storm drain grate on the outskirts of Boise….
All these things would have seemed to have a supernatural and evil pattern to most minds, but the minds on this bus were consumed with the power of pot, a vital prerequisite to all rock bands wanting to be famous. All but one of the minds, that is…
The strangeness didn’t stop when they got to Portland. Not that strangeness is anything new to Portland; in fact it is basically a requirement to living there. But this was an even stranger sort of strangeness, if that is at all possible in Portland and actually the west coast as a whole.
Everything seemed to be going well when they first got to the concert venue. The stage props were all in place and functioning — the Wizard of Oz mechanical flying monkeys were whirling around like they should, the giant beached plastic white shark from Jaws was chomping on stage left and the hired midget Jawas from Star Wars were dueling each other in the background with fake laser swords. The fog machine and the disco lights were all checked and ready to go.
It was while setting up the instruments that it happened again. This time it was for keeps. Mitch Albom, the author of best-sellers Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven was just hooking up his electric bass when a hellish crackle sounded and a blue lightning bolt arced across the stage from the group’s psychedelic lighting. Mitch had only the time to shriek out a shrill “AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHH!!!!” before glowing like a 60’s neon light and convulsing on the stage. By the lime he’d stopped florescenting enough for anyone to feel his pulse he had gone to that Heaven he had written about and was meeting Morrie again.
Shrieks were shrieked out and gasps exhaled. Everyone was in shock at what had prevailed and gathered around the body. “What is this?” some asked. “How could this happen?” asked others. “Where can I get a stiff one?” questioned those who hadn’t said anything yet. All except one, that is…
Dave Barry, the ersatz leader of the group, bent over the traumatized body and wailed “What is going on? Are we being followed by a curse?” There was a pregnant pause, then he breathlessly stated “Or is someone behind this?” No one said anything, especially one person…
Silence fell like the the C chord at the end of White Room by Cream. All looked at each other with new, more suspicious eyes. If the answer were yes, then who could it be…
As the saying goes, the show must go on. Mr. Albom was stuffed in the ice machine for safe keeping until after the show and they went on setting up. The enthusiasm of before was now replaced by an anxious, worried atmosphere. And, as usual, except by one person that is….
The next stroke fell at 8 PM Pacific time — curiously the equivalent of midnight on the East Coast states, say in such places as Maine. The instruments and sound boards were all set up and they were ready for a short rehearsal before they opened the doors at 10 PM. Amy Tan took the front of the stage as the lead singer and they tore into a rendition of Wild Thing. The band sounded like a V-8 engine with four of the cylinders out of sync, which was good enough for a Portland crowd where 40% of their blood stream would be THC anyway and their reality 60% on an astral plane somewhere where purple peach trees and giant humming birds are common.
Suddenly the giant prop of the Trojan Rabbit replica from the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail started to tilt from stage left towards stage right. The aware participants yelled out to Amy to watch out, but it was too late. The wooden concoction listed to the one side crashing into an Amy Tan too terrified to even scream out in sheer and absolute horror. The Rabbit obliterated the petite Chinese woman.
Again a shocked silence fell.
Finally someone said “Damn, man! She was our main singer!”
After a further pause someone else said “And she was the sexiest one of us all!”
Shortly thereafter “And one of our only two women!”
And, “She was my ride home tonight!”
Lastly, “Where can I get a hard drink?”
Then a total silence fell at the realization of all these.
As the reality of the abysmalness of it all began to sink in, distrusting eyes all around surveyed each other, casting doubts on all present. And, one last time, all that is, except one. For some reason, one person’s eyes just glinted with a strangely satisfied gleam in them…
There was no running away now. The hall would start to fill with people soon. The show must go on, or so it is supposed to be. The passion for doing the music had died in them, but they had agreed to perform and knew that they must. They scooped what was left of Amy Tan and put it in next to Mitch.
The excited patrons started to fill the seats. The group did their best to smile and wave at them not wanting to show their fear and uncertainty. For the most part they pretended to be enormously involved with their instruments and the sounds squeaking from them as they tuned them emitted something like a boa constrictor in labor pains. Media escort Kathi Goldmark volunteered to take over Amy’s role.
After the last attendee took his seat the house lights went down. Kathi and the band launched into a hellascious version of Louie, Louie (hellascious in oh, so many different, not necessarily good ways). The crowd, fortunately for the band, was already tanked and got immediately into the spirit of it and sang along (slurred along would be a better description as no one, including the FBI, has ever been able to figure out exactly what the lyrics to Louie, Louie really are and the crowd’s drunkenness wasn’t making it any clearer).
Soon, thanks to the engaging excitement of the audience, the Remainders forgot about the chilling events of the past few hours and set back into their music with a forgotten lust. Smiles actually came back to their faces as they spewed out the lyrics and notes to dozens of old tunes that they and the audience had teethed on. All excepting one, again, that is……
But behind his smile Dave Barry’s mind whirled feverishly. These were no accidents. Someone was intentionally causing these ‘incidents’. His highly trained intellect raced hard to assemble scattered clues to ascertain who it could possibly be. The possessed motor vehicle, the mad dog, the calling from the sewer grate. These were all linked somehow…….somehow…….
Then there were the ‘accidents’ themselves. Were these really just coincidences? They were fiendishly creative- an electrocution and a crushing by a giant rabbit. Who could have a mind to have concocted these? All the while a pair of glistening eyes observed him craftily from the other side of the stage (is this getting redundant yet?)…..
Then, in the middle of the riff to La Bamba, the terrible hand of death passed over again. Just as he was about to hit an A chord, the Burning Man effigy from stage right suddenly started burning long before its cue and fell hitting Roy Blount Jr., knocking him to the floor. The cheers and applause of the fans suddenly turned to horrified shrieks and screams. The other band members stopped playing immediately, grabbed fire extinguishers and rushed over to his smoldering body.
Dave Barry bent over and checked his pulse. “He’s dead!” he uttered breathlessly, his statement issuing out over the microphone. The entire stage went silent, dead as the body that lay upon it. Meanwhile the crowd freaked out, streaming towards the exits, shrieking madly. Chaos erupted. Death wasn’t supposed to be a part of the show (unless it was an Alice Cooper concert); now it was the center of attention.
Dave Barry’s eyes went wild. “Who did this? Who is doing this?” he demanded. From behind the gathered musicians, one man’s eyes pierced the atmosphere. His voice rang out- “Who do you think?” That dark voice was Stephen King’s. His eyes shown madly like they were tiger’s eyes in the dark.
“You!!!!!” yelled Barry and the others in shock. “Who would have ever have guessed!?” they all said almost simultaneously.
“No! Not me…” countered King. “…him!” he yelled as he swung his guitar and bashed Matt Groening to the ground. “He is the one who is behind all this bloodshed!” as he continued to beat the clumped figure.
“Here is the one you want!
“Yes, it is me!” squeaked the agony laden voice of Matt Groening, declared from where he stooped on the floor. “I confess! Stop! I confess! I wanted to be the main center of attention!”
“Of course!” stated Dave Barry, suddenly becoming clear on the situation. “Who else would have had such a sense of lampooning! Who else would have had such a sense of the satirical; such absurdism? Only the creator of the Simpsons and Futurama could have dreamed up all of this!”
He then proceeded to bitch slap him himself.
Soon Matt Groening joined his other former co-musicians in the ice machine.
The rest of the evening went pretty smoothly after that except for a few misplayed notes and three broken guitar strings.
Also there was that bad choice in playing Bad by Michael Jackson…