Petty Dreams

Rock Me All Night Long

I’m not sure how you feel about Tom Petty, but when I was in high school I lay on my floor and listened to my “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” LP from crackling beginning to scratchy needle end and back again, imagining him seeing me in the third row, leaving his wife and inviting me backstage, somehow in that order.

His voice strained, it cracked when it went high, and the nurturer in my burgeoning heart was dragged forth. His electric guitar chords were pulled to their limit. I imagined myself holding him, absorbing his ache. It didn’t matter that I was 16 and he was 36. I would be all the woman he needed.

I would be a girl too. I imagined a periwinkle dress I’d wear that would flash like flint through the crowd while he played “American Girl.” I would be the young thing looking out over Highway 441, yearning for more out of life. He would recognize that he could be that more. Our vulnerabilities and longings would meld in one another’s arms. I wouldn’t be in my mother’s house anymore. I wouldn’t be hyperventilating at school, getting high to get through the days when I cut class. I’d be a glowing, unblemished, coveted version of me.

I was working the ticket kiosk at an art house that played “Amadeus” to sold-out crowds every night. I saved my $3.45 an hour for many months, and when his visit to Irvine, Texas, was announced, I bought an insanely priced scalped ticket that put me, amazingly, in the third row. With the rest of my cash I bought a dress, cotton and fitted and pale pink (a second-best to periwinkle). I was an archetype, and I felt it. I went to the concert alone, found my seat and lost my breath when he walked on stage.

About halfway through, when he was singing “Breakdown,” he looked at me. I know he did. The lights were bright on our faces, so close up. He stared right at me. I was a supernova.

How exalted we can become with the right music. In the following piece, Tom Wilkerson renders music with words. His piece, “Guild,” is a response to the following prompt: Write a piece that thrusts the reader into a different time and a place.

‘Guild’ By Tom Wilkerson

His parents gave Robin the Guild Starfire electric guitar when he graduated Schenectady High School in 1967. It was deep, bloody red and made a sound like new razor blades flying through your ears. He played it every day. “House of the Rising Sun” and, later, “Jack Flash” through a distortion box, jagged and raucous. He loved his Guild and kept it until he ran out of money just as the last century ground into this one.

But before that, in Zizzi’s basement — with Zizzi on bass, Zeliff on congas and singer Peggy Lebeau, whose every note was the blues — he and the Guild were up front with Peggy and whether it was the Eagles or Jackson Browne or the Stones, Robin and the Guild were solid. They tore holes through the smoke and rattled the egg cartons Zizzi glued to his basement’s cold concrete walls.

A floor lamp made the hot spot where Zeliff slapped his congas silly but always on the money. Zizzi sat quiet in the dark, smoking. Peggy and Robin’s spot was a high intensity desk light. The only other illumination, if you could call it that, came from glowing red dots on the amp that said “I am turned on, motherfucker.”

Robin remembered hitchhiking to Woodstock with Granville and taking acid. They tripped for two days. He thought about Jimi Hendrix playing his white Strat and looking into the stage lights as though God was there telling him what to do. He thought about Pete Townsend and that maniac taking his guitar by its head and slamming it onto the stage like an ax murderer. Bits of wood exploded, flew all over and the pickups picked up every howl, every groan of crushed rib and broken neck and they screamed through the amps “Murder! Murder!! Don’t help me because this is good for both of us. Kick it to me, Pete.” The Marshall’s red lights glowed.

Robin closed his eyes and cradled the Guild. He wrapped his fingers around the smooth neck and his right hand hammered the strings. Peggy, coked to the gills, grabbed the mic stand and bent it down beside her. Curled black hair fell across her face, and she smiled that Peggy smile.
“Rock steady,” she growled. “Rock me all night long.”

Writing Challenge

Write a 400-word personal essay or work of nonfiction on an electric moment. Have at the center of your piece something red.

*No piece of “Guild” can be reprinted without permission of the author.

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