Johnny Strikes up the Band
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Johnny Strikes up the Band

 Libby Cudmore
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 Libby Cudmore
Johnny Strikes up the Band
by Libby Cudmore  FollowFollow
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Libby does not like hipster bios that try to be cloying and cute in the absence of actual prowess or publications. Her work includes regular...read more contributions to Hardboiled, Pop Matters and Shaking Like a Mountain, as well as Inertia, Battered Suitcase, the Southern Women's Review, Shaking Like a Mountain, Celebrities in Disgrace, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, Eastern Standard Crime, PowederBurnFlash, the Flash Fiction Offensive and upcoming issues of Xenith, Thrilling Detective, Big Pulp and the anthology Quantum Genre on the Planet of the Arts (the latter two with Matthew Quinn Martin)
Issue 25 · fiction
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Johnny Strikes up the Band
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For MQM

“You have to be Ringo?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” my now-ex-girlfriend replied, as though it should have been obvious. “They already have a John, a Paul and a George.”

“You don’t even play the drums,” I reminded her. “You’re going to end up being Pete Best.”

There was a reason my friend Cammy called her Indie Barbie and I suddenly knew why. Here she was, breaking my heart to join a Beatles tribute band and she showed no signs of recognition in my joke. She had the black-rimmed glasses and the argyle sweater vest and the ballet flats, but nothing even remotely intelligent registered on that stupid, heart-shaped face. I wondered how I could have ever been in love with this person. How did I share with her my Smiths tapes, my battered copy of The Collected Lyrics of Tom Waits, my Blondie records? As far as I knew, she didn’t even like the Beatles. “Eight Days a Week” had never shown up on a mix CD she’d made me, and she never once brought over an Abbey Road tee-shirt to sleep in. This, more than the shock of the breakup and her implied infidelity, was what really sucked.

“John said he’d teach me,” she chirped. “We’re playing at Leroy’s Lounge on the 27th,” she said. “Will you be there?”

* *

I had two choices. Spend the rest of the evening alone and face-down on the floor listening through my Zevon collection or call Cammy over to join me in laying face down on the floor listening through my Zevon collection. I got off the couch long enough to dig the phone out from under the bed and call Cammy. Being alone was ideal, but Cammy had Transverse City on vinyl and it was impossible to mope effectively without “Splendid Isolation.”

I was halfway through side one of my Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School cassette and a six pack of Coors Lite with Lime when Cammy let herself in. She had on that polka dot dress I really liked and her Doc Martens. I sat up and cracked open another beer. “Want one?”

“Johnny, you make me sad,” she said. “I expect someone with such good taste in music to have better taste in beer.”

“They were left over from last week’s shindig,” I said. “And I didn’t feel like going out to the store. There’s other stuff in the fridge, help yourself.”

“My plan exactly.” She disappeared for a minute and returned holding a bottled White Russian. “Let me guess,” she said, cracking open the cap. “These were Indie Barbie’s.”

“No, those were Steve’s girlfriend’s. Nellie drank all her Twizted Tees.”

She took a swig, considered the taste and shrugged. She sat on the couch and propped her feet up on the foot locker between my beer can and this morning’s empty coffee cup. She was the only person I allowed to put her muddy feet on my furniture.

* *

“The Beatles represent everything that’s wrong with music,” I said, staring up at the ceiling. I was high on that post-orgasmic bliss, where everything was suddenly clear and I could finally make sense of the world. Cammy was kind enough to fuck me to the A-side of Transverse City, and she fucked me in a way that didn’t make it seem like a pity fuck. We’d been through this before; she was the fuckee, having just dumped a boyfriend who she found out was shooting up again. I held her hand at the free clinic and we celebrated the negative results of her HIV test with a long fuck from “Werewolves of London” to “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”

“Yeah?” she said, reaching across me for her half-finished White Russian. “How’s that?”

“Because of what they represent. The fandom. The screaming adoration for mediocrity. The Who were a much better band, but they didn’t get a cartoon. You can’t buy a plush Pete Townsend. And the tragedy of John Lennon? Bullshit. People die of gunshot wounds every day. Marvin Gaye’s own father shot him and people don’t gather around to sing “Sexual Healing” in Central Park. John Lennon’s become the “Remember the Alamo” of pop music, and it’s fucking stupid. “Imagine” might be the most cloying, most saccrine, most idiotic song this side of “Mmm-Bop.” No, thanks, I don’t want to imagine that there’s no Heaven and I don’t want to imagine there’s no Hell, because God willing there’s a hell, and God willing, John Lennon is roasting in it.”

I sat up and drained my beer. “Warren Zevon, now there’s a tragedy. Famous for one song. A genius, a true fucking genius and everyone just knows him as the guy who wrote the one about the mother fuckin’ werewolves. The guy recorded two albums while dying of lung cancer. If that’s not pure badassery, I don’t know what is.” I sighed. “I almost wish John Lennon had lived, just to grow old and fat and do GAP commercials like Bob Dylan. To sell out. To cash in. To become another old, sad hippie. But no, instead he stays forever young and is instead fucking my girlfriend. He turned her into Ringo and now they’re fucking like a bad fanfiction.”

“You should shoot this one too,” Cammy suggested. “If he wants to be John Lennon, let him take a bullet in the back.”

The choice lay before me. Be another sad loser fuck or be something else. A martyr for the cause. A revolutionary. Someone who stood up against hipster nostalgia and the worship of hypocritical dead hippies. You want a revolution, John, you got it.

I made a gun with my fingers and shot across the room. “I don’t have a gun.”

Cammy grins and lays her head against my chest. “I do.”

* *

Cammy dropped out of college when the school refused to suspend the student who tried to choke and rape her, and the last thing she did before she stuck out her thumb was buy a revolver and a box of bullets. She was surprised she never had to use it on the road; she hitchhiked from Oklahoma City to Binghamton, NY without incident. The gun had never been fired. Tonight was going to change all that.

Leroy’s had a ten dollar cover charge and a two drink minimum. The opening act was a thin girl with straight hair and an acoustic guitar, perched on a stool and warbling what she thought were very deep and poetic lyrics. I’d read more profound words on the back of my cereal box. Cammy bought us both beers and we sat in silent agony, regarding the unplugged jukebox with the same forlorn look an ugly man gives a beautiful woman.

Eleanor Rigby went on at ten. It was even worse than I imagined, not content to just be a Beatles cover band, but instead decided to eschew Beatlemania for a punk aesthetic. Nellie’s grey Ringo suit was shredded and held together with safety pins, zippers, and, for a reason I couldn’t figure out, a stuffed squirrel at the end of the noose she formed from her tie. She wasn’t wearing a shirt under the jacket, just her black padded bra and a mess of chains around her neck. I stroked the revolver in my jacket pocket with my thumb, smiling. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner would be proud.

They played screaming covers of all the early standards, “Please Please Me,” “Help!” “All My Lovin’.” It was all I could do not to puke. Her drumming was atrocious, but that only secured her in her role as Ringo and was barely noticeable over John’s vicious screaming, “I Wanna Hold You Hand.”

When the set ended with Sgt. Pepper and everyone else went up to the bar to reload, we got up and found our way past the bathrooms to the back alley where the bands loaded in and scored drugs. The pavement was dark and slick; it must have rained while we were inside. My heart was pounding, but my head was clear. This was my mission. John Lennon was never meant to live.

John Lennon was alone. He sat out on the fire escape, smoking a cigarette and dangling a can of PBR. He didn’t look much like John Lennon anymore, just like another dumb hipster fuck with a stupid haircut and round glasses.
I looked at him. He looked at me. I thumbed the gun in my pocket. I could kill him now and no one would hear the shot over the jukebox. He looked like he was expecting it, like it was all part of the act.

If I killed him now, this dumb fuck would really be John Lennon. He’d be immortalized, they’d rename the club after him, a thousand screaming hipster girls would flock to his funeral and cry and pretend they knew him really well. Nellie would be his professional widow. Guys would line up around the block to bone her and she’d let them.

He stood up to go back inside. I grabbed his jacket and pulled out the gun. I shoved him into the brick wall and wailed him across the face with the butt of the revolver. “That’s for stealing my girlfriend, you cockwad,” I spat.

“Get fucked,” he snarled. In a bad British accent, he added, “You stupid cunt.”

Cammy burst out laughing. She draped herself across the fire escape, howling. “You’re such a fucking loser!” she said between hysterics. “You stupid cunt,” she quoted, drawing out the accent. “You stupid cunt!”

John Lennon threw his beer can at her and missed. She didn’t stop laughing. I joined her until he muttered one more “Fuck you” and started back inside.

“Just give peace a chance, John!” she called after him.

He flipped her off over his shoulder and slammed the door behind him. When I caught my breath I asked, “Now what do we do with our Saturday night?”

“Turn those speakers up full blast,” she said, taking my hand. “Play it all night long.”

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