Saturday, March 20, 2010

I Met Santa at the Crossroads

Kirby and Greg-A-Death warmed up backstage at a bar in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Surrounded by guitars, amps and monitors, each underage boy nursed a stolen bottle of beer. Kirby, the bassist, harp man and sound tech, was fooling around with his soundboard. Greg-A-Death began to make ungodly noise emanate from an acoustic guitar. It was an old song he had been messing with for years, never quite getting it. Spastic he struggled to keep his fingers on the neck and his mouth unconsciously pressed into a small round O. The club owner walked by and the boys instinctively hid their beers.

"Y'all are on after this fool finishes 'American Pie'," he said. "You better be good, 'cause I canceled karaoke for you bozos."

They had sung in the church choir as boys. As they got older, the love for gospel music turned into a worship of the blues. Playing old swap meet records satisfied their passion for a time, then economics and environment soon bred a taste for fortune and fame. They abandoned their studies at school, dropped their other dreams and pursued authentic blues from then on. Getting in with the wrong crowd, they began careers as petty thieves. They even went so low as to break into neighborhood homes at Christmas, steal presents and trade them in for pawn shop guitars, amps and monitors. They had practically squandered their souls away in this pursuit, but tonight would be the tollbooth on the road to salvation. The audience would pour forth their adulation and redeem the boys with their undying love. Big things did await them, just not the ones they thought.

Greg-A-Death felt out of sorts. Part of him just wanted to run out of the club and go see his old friends at tonight's football game. Kirby had been his driving force all these years, and he would do anything for him. He just wished he could reveal his secret to his friend, but feared rejection and abandonment. Greg-A-Death sighed and took a pull off his Coors Light. He repositioned his guitar and began to sing in earnest, "Voodoo Woman, oh give me back my name...oh, Voodoo Woman, give me...oh darn, I can't get this chord, man!"

Kirby gave pause and said, "Why don't you just quit and get a job in a factory?"

Just then, orange smoke and flashing lights filled the dank room. Over by the backdoor, a specter, ashen of face, wearing a dusty suit and fedora, carrying an old, beat-up guitar emerged straight out of the brick wall. Kirby did a double take. His knees buckled.

"Gnah-gnah-ghna, It's the ghost of Knotty Sack Nelson," he said, "the Foster Parent of the Delta Blues."

Greg-A-Death clutched his friend's arm. "Kirby, he's the one that sold his soul to Satan, right? He's been dead over 60 years. Oh wait...I was singing 'Voodoo Woman.' That's his, dude. That's his song...uh oh, man. If that factory you were talking about makes fudge then I think I'm qualified. Uh, Mr. Nelson, sir, I have all your old 78s. I keep them polished smooth and shiny." Now losing himself to the moment, "When I put them on, I close my eyes and pretend I'm a 14-year-old girl, gyrating my hips on a high school track in front of the student body, with..."

"Scat, cat! Yo tails in the gravy!" Knotty Sack Nelson screamed. Then under his ghost breath, he mumbled, "Ho, ho, ho."

Greg-A-Death glanced at his friend. Thankfully, Kirby was too frightened to acknowledge Greg-A-Death's slip of tongue. What did the ghost want, he thought.

The phantasm began a rising moan, "Wooo-maaan, You-ooo!" He ended with a coughing fit.

"God bless you," Greg-A-Death said, batting his eye lashes and blushing.

"If only he would," Knotty Sack said. "Ya know, I sees you when yo sleepin', and uh, I sees you when yo awake, and I defin'ly done hear your noisome caterwaling. Now you been molestin' dat guitar dere, and I done heard it all da way out in da banished lands of Limbo. Boy, what is you trying to play?"

"Well, Kn-Knotty," Kirby stammered, "my mitten-handed friend is supposed to be playing that lick off your first album, 'Voodoo Woman,' oh w-wise spirit of the Netherlands."

"That's netherworld, jerko," Greg-A-Death said. "H'dya play that chord, Knotty? It sounds like there's three people on that cut."

The ghost unzipped his pants, took up his guitar again and demonstrated. Turning his back to the boys, he held his guitar close as if he were dancing with a beautiful woman. He began to vigorously hump the soundhole producing a percussive and chaotic blues-chord cacophony. Somehow it was gorgeous and menacing at the same time. The ghost shrieked in pain, sending cold shivers down their spines.

"So that's why they call you Knotty Sack, Knotty Sack," Kirby said. "Hey, it's o.k. if you don't want to tell us, but how did you die?"

Knotty turned back around and cleared his throat. The boys watched as his zipper rose upon its own volition.

"Fuhst time ever played da electric guitar," Knotty said. "I got cocky and played Voodoo Woman. Got to dat dere cho'd and mah zippa got stuck on da G-string. A frayed pickup wi-yah fried mah ugglies into scrapple. Now, my ugglies meant mo to me dan life itself. Coroner in Limbo said cardial infarction brought on by electrocution, but I t'ink I was jus' plain lonesome for my ugglies."

Greg-A-Death unconsciously grabbed his balls.

Knotty Sack continued: "Peoples in da club, thought I was jus' in some kinda ecstasy. Guess, de thought I'd found mah G-spot, so to say, heh, heh. Nobody done unplugged me. Next t'ing I knows, I was floatin' over mah body, wid a one-way ticket to da Limbo lands."

"G-spot!" Kirby said, "Hey, they didn't discover the G-spot until the '60s. I saw it on NOVA."

"We get 'scriptions to Cosmo' in Limbo, smarty pants," Knotty Sack said.

"Ohhh," Kirby cooed apologetically.

"It was no accident, though," Knotty Sack said. "My fate was sealed on da night I sol' my soul to Santa."

"You mean Satan?" Greg-A-Death asked. "Don't you, Knotty? Just like you sang on that cut off your last album, 'I Met Satan at the Crossroads.' Cream covered that one back in '68, but it's yours, Knotty, it's yours that ROCKS! It's a rousing number. I think it could really give a crowd some spirit, yes I do. Drenched in pain, listening to that track, one's heart is blanched between every vinyl crackle, hiss and pop."

"Whoa there, Casey Kasem!" Kirby said. "You writin' liner notes over there, man?"

Knotty sat down on a chair that wasn't there and sighed deeply, filling the backstage with more orange smoke.

"Lemme tell you red-bellied sap suckahs sump'n," Knotty said. "Might hurt my repatations, but I guess an old bow-legged fool dat ust'a hump his guitar can't ruin too many people's t'oughts and specklations, huh?"

They didn't understand a word, but nodded reverently.

"Satan?" Knotty asked. "Never met 'em. Dat's justa typo on da reckahd. I wrote it down wrong. Dyslexic, y'know. Tom Cruise is dyslexic. Did you boys, know dat?"

"Hey," Greg-A-Death said, "they didn't discover Tom Cruise until the '80s."

"Yeah, well we also get NOVA in Limbo," Knotty said, "Tom Cruise was on dis special hosted by da Alan Alda. You know Cruise races dem cars with da Paul Newman's, too? Anyway, I sings it 'Santa,' jus' nobody done heard me creckly. You know, I DID done wanted to meet the Satan. Old Scratch. Beelzebub. Clarence Williams, III...awww, I gotcha, did'n I?"

"Mod Squad?" Kirby asked, starting to get annoyed.

"Nick At Night," Knotty Sack said. "Anyway, dat's right. Satan. I was pretty hungry for fame and fortune in doze days. I heard word dat dis certain bad dude in da boondocks could up'm conjure da devil hisself. I found 'em and gave 'em ten dollah and a note splainin' what I wanted to do. Dun wrote it down wrong again, I 'magine. Voodoo man must not a unnerstood. He send me a note few days later tellin' me what ta do. I 'member it like it was yestaday..."

Orange smoke engulfed Knotty and rising up from nowhere emerged an old microphone with "Victor Talking Machine Co." written on it.

"Oh wow, dude!" Kirby said, "I think he's going to sing."

Feeling privileged and enraptured, Greg-A-Death closed his eyes and envisioned himself in pigtails and short skirt, performing original, authentic blues cheers with high school cheerleaders. He grabbed Kirby, and the boys clung to one another as they watched a scene from yesteryear replay before their eyes.

The brick wall melted away revealing a grainy image like an old movie. They saw a young Knotty Sack Nelson standing at a crossroads in the Delta. Lo and behold, they saw a second man - fat and not so jolly - stroll into the picture. He was carrying a red satchel. Knotty Sack Nelson took up his guitar for the last time and began to sing.

I Met Santa at the Crossroads
by Knotty Sack Nelson

"I met Santa at da crossroads,
sat on his big, bouncy lap.
I met Santa at da crossroads,
sat on his big, bouncy lap.
I tol' em what I wanted for Christmas,
den saw some horns poke out his cap.

"Santa showed me a document.
I recoiled, but listened intent.
His list said dat I wadn't nice.
He read off some naughty t'ings I'd done done with mice.
I signed off my soul,
and he checked my name twice.

"I'm livin' in Limbo with dirty dead elves.
Won't bore ya with no dead elf tales to tell.
Elves...well, dey mostly touch demselves,
but dey play slide blues like dey straight outta Hell."

Just then, two gruesome elves with tiny guitars popped up over the boys. The apparitions grabbed a couple of bottles off an amp spilling beer all over the boys' heads. The elves ran the bottles up their guitar necks, contorting their hideous faces harder and harder with each successively higher note until they just exploded - egg nog flying everywhere. Knotty continued to sing:

"On Johnson, On Patton, On Hooker and B.B.
On Muddy, Furry Lewis, Blind Lemon and Leadbelly.
They'll meet me in Limbo at da dead bluesmans' ball,
and we'll jam away, jam away, jam away all.

"I met Santa at da crossroads.
Mark my word and take my gist.
If ya trade ya soul for cookie,
you'll be on Santa's shit list."

In a puff of smoke, Kirby and Greg-A-Death were alone. Once again, the room merely looked cluttered and dingy, no longer fantastic.

The club owner came back in. "All right, you're on. Get your shit in gear."

That night, the audience saw something they had never seen before and will likely never forget. Kirby and Greg-A-Death wowed them as they played a two-hour Knotty Sack Nelson tribute, concluding with a stirring, 18-minute electric version of 'Voodoo Woman.' Both boys had been careful to ground themselves prior to playing, even so, out of sheer over-exuberance, Kirby still had to carry Greg-A-Death to a hospital that night.

Greg-A-Death's ugglies were in shambles. They had to operate.

Somewhere in Limbo, Knotty Sack Nelson flipped through an issue of Oprah Magazine, pausing on an article about sexual identity issues and chuckled. Greg-A-Death was one step closer to making his high school cheerleading squad, and Knotty was one step closer to heaven.

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