by Martin Maenza
A touring band to back me up was put together, and we hit the road on a huge bus. We traveled across the country at first, playing as many venues as possible. We opened for a number of bigger bands like the Stones, the Who, CCR, whoever would have us. And you know all those stories you hear about rock stars, about the wild after-hour parties and out-of-control lifestyles — well, they’re pretty much true.
Women were constantly trying to get with me and the band, willing to do or show just about anything to spend time with us. I would just smile and nod, but not partake in any of that. I had Janet, and she was more than enough woman for me.
No, my vice wasn’t the groupies — it was alcohol.
There was a lot of time before and after the shows, especially during long stretches of highway. We’d drink to wind down after the show, and that led to drinking in the afternoons to gear up for the show. I would try to get in some writing along the way, to work on songs for the next album, but it seemed much more fun to pound a few down with the rest of the guys.
Janet continued to stand by me, but with a concerned look crossing her face more and more.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see that at the time. And if I did, it wasn’t registering.
I was a rock ‘n’ roll star, and I was living like one.
And like so many of the folks in the industry that I came to know so well, I was blindly heading for a breakdown, or my first one, anyway.
Within a few years, I was headlining my own shows, filling the stadiums with screaming fans. Reporters were constantly wanting to know every aspect of my life. It seemed like I was always on, giving the people what they wanted. That left little time for me, and little time for Janet.
Finally, after a show outside of Cleveland in the mid-’70s, I stepped off stage and received an envelope from one of the crew. I didn’t think to look at it right away, shoving it inside my jacket pocket. Instead, I did the usual backstage meet and greet, making the dreams of the fans come true and feeding my own ever-growing ego.
Only when I dropped to my dressing room to change and get a quick drink did I run across the envelope again. I sat down on the edge of the table, tore it open, and began to read it.
It was from Janet.
She was leaving me.
She said that, after all these years and all the working for the dream, she realized it wasn’t the dream that she loved, but me. Unfortunately, as she saw it, I loved the dream much more than her, and she couldn’t bear to be held second or third or fourth best any longer. She asked that I try to not follow her, not to chase after her. She didn’t want anything more from me — I could have it all. All she wanted was to start over again somewhere quiet and perhaps find someone who would center his world around her, like I used to do when we first met.
I hit the bottle seriously that night! The pain was deep, like a knife through my back and straight into my heart. I drank to kill the pain, to forget the loss!
My binge that night was so severe that I came to my senses a day or so later on the tour bus, no idea where the hell we were or how I got there. We even had to cancel the show that night because I was too out of it to perform.
It didn’t get any better over the next few weeks. The guys made sure I could perform, if nothing else than to keep the promoter from suing the record label and me for breaking contract. But when I wasn’t on stage, I was drowning myself in booze. Even tried some pills that one of the roadies offered.
And I tried to forget Janet by sleeping with a stream of nameless women.
It didn’t help the loss at all, though I tried to delude myself into thinking it did!
Finally, exhausted from a long, grueling tour, we returned to New York. And even though we were supposed to be returning to the studio in a few days to get to work on the tracks for my next album, it was good to be back at the Manhattan apartment.
When I opened the door, everything was pretty much as we’d left it. The only obvious clues that anyone had been there during the time on the road was the huge vacant spots in the closet and the empty dresser drawers. Janet had returned here one last time to get her things. There were a few empty places on the book shelves, and a few empty pages in the photo albums. The record collection had been picked through as well. She didn’t even bother to take any of the albums I recorded; she probably considered them painful reminders.
On the coffee table was her key to the apartment, cold to the touch.
A part of me had hoped she would be there waiting for me when I got home; that part of me was always the foolish optimist.
It took a while for me to get into that next album. Nothing was really working. Songs of love just weren’t ringing true. The studio was getting a bit annoyed with me, but I insisted that I could give them something to put out if they gave me a few more months. They reluctantly agreed.
I struggled to find the creative muse again, often drinking myself into a stupor. It was only when I was rummaging under my bed for something did I run across the Nightsword, which I kept in a special red velvet-lined box. The sight of the sword reminded me of something, a grand adventure, of a time when I was a hero, albeit for a brief moment. I remembered my passion for Janet and how I worked so hard to find her after she was taken from me.
I couldn’t do that again. She asked me not to.
But I could relive it through music, through song. I had found inspiration and went to work on those tunes that would make up Sing A Song Of Sorcery. As I said before, that album took a while to come together. In between I did some touring with other acts, as well as other appearances. We even took a few of those recordings to mix together as a live album — anything the studio could do to keep my name and face in the public eye.
Eventually, we put Sing A Song of Sorcery out, but it stalled partway up the charts. It seems only my true hard core fans were willing to give it a listen. Many of the radio stations didn’t touch it. Only the album rock stations would give it a chance, and that was mostly due to the occasional request calls or the late night drive D.J.s needing to take breaks while the long eight-to-twelve-minute tracks played out.
The studio was pissed with me at this point and weren’t interested in renewing my contract when it expired. My management team had to shop around quite a bit, going through many of the major labels quite a few times before someone was interested in signing me again. During that time, I was living off residuals.
I found I had few friends during that period. But I could always count on Jack Daniels and Jim Beam to see me through. They always seemed happy to see me.
By this point, the disco era was taking the world by storm. It seemed everyone was dabbling into that arena. Even former friends like the Stones and Rod Stewart, and, an even bigger surprise, heavier acts like Kiss. It was everywhere; it seemed unstoppable. I was lucky. I never had to fall into that pit.
Just as that stuff was on the rise, and I was supposed to start work on a new album, something intervened… or, more specifically, someone — King Zolto! Returning home one night from late hours in the studio, I heard a low hum coming from beneath my bed. The Nightsword was singing. As soon as I touched the hilt of the blade, a force washed over me like a thousand tidal waves. My senses reeled once more, as they had nearly a decade ago.
When my head finally cleared, I was back in Myrra again.
“What is it?” I demanded of Zolto. “Why have you brought me here again?”
“Myrra has need once more for her champion,” the old ruler said.
“The Warlocks again?” I asked.
“Nay! Something far more sinister, I fear. Word has come from the Eastern Lands that a tide of great evil is brewing in the Dread Domain. Tickeytarkopolis volunteered for a mission to investigate four seasons ago, but has not been heard from since!”
“Tark!” I exclaimed. “Tark is missing!”
“Aye,” the king said sadly. “I fear he might be dead…”
“Can you get me there fast?” I asked. “This isn’t the best time for me back home…”
“Nay, I cannot,” the king said, frowning even more. “I fear my magics have been exhausted in bringing you here. The nexus between dimensions remains fairly strong, but the fact that your weapon has its roots here was an added boost to breaching the divide.”
Now I was frowning. “Fine. I’ll go to the Dread Domain, and I’ll find Tark. And once I am through, do you promise to return me home?”
“Aye,” Zolto said.
I spelled out what I would need — supplies, companions, and the like. Then, reluctantly, I took off. Little did I know that quest would take its toll on me physically and emotionally. In the end, the threat was met and vanquished, but there were losses. After some healing, Zolto was able to return me home.
But it was nearly five years later!
No one knew what had happened to me. The label was furious with me, to say the least. Rumors had spread about my apparent demise, though there was nothing to prove it one way or the other. I was forced to concoct a rather huge lie to explain my absence; surely no one would believe the truth!
My career, my life, was in a total shambles. I had lost everything, and needed to start over again, from the ground up.
My latest album, Master of the Night, debuted in April of this year. It was a heavier guitar-based sound, likening back to some of my earlier records. After some initial curiosity on the charts, it stalled at number seventy-two. A tour was thrown together quickly to try and re-spark the sales.
The alien Invasion over the summer months turned a lot of folks off to going out and doing things; between the panic and the economic stresses, all of the industry suffered. And someone like me was hit even more harder than the bigger guns. The tour was a total bust.
My management team wanted me to get back into the studio, to work on a greatest hits compilation with a couple new tracks. They even negotiated with my older labels to get permission to release tracks that spanned my entire career. Seems hardly anyone cared that much, as long as they could make a few bucks off the old catalog. The plan was to do a three-disk box set, on the newer CD format.
All the old stuff, though, in revisiting it and remastering it, just reminded me of the past and of Janet. It depressed me, and when I was depressed, I drank. I was in the studio earlier tonight, in fact, when I lost it.
“This is crap!” I swore, hurling the headphones across the sound booth.
“What is it now, Jim?” the sound technician asked.
“I… I can’t do this anymore!” I said as I came out of the small room. “I need to get out, get some air!”
“Jim, we’re on a tight schedule, here,” Frank, the producer of the compilation, reminded me for the tenth time today. “We need to get this done so we can get the masters to production. There’s a set street date.”
“Hell with the street date!” I said. I reached for a small flask that I kept in my jacket pocket. I started to open it to take a drink, when Frank knocked it from my hands.
“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed as the liquor spilled to the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?” Frank countered. “We’ve got a project to finish, and you’re not helping any with your drinking!”
“Yeah?” I replied. “Well, fine, then! If you’re so smart, you finish the goddamn album yourself! I’m out of here!” And I stormed out of the studio and hit the road.
Not long after, I was tearing down the lonely highways, doing the best I could to run away from the problems. I was tired of it. Tired of working so hard, only to get knocked down time and time again.
I needed to clear my mind, clear my head.
I turned on the radio and flipped through the channels. I stopped on a classic by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. I always liked that song.
“…Something warm running in my eyes, but I found my baby somehow that night. I raised her head, and when she smiled, and said, ‘Hold me darling for a little while.’ I held her close. I kissed her our last kiss. I found the love that I knew I would miss. But now she’s gone, even though I hold her tight. I lost my love… my life, that night…”
“And that,” Jim Rook concluded with some sadness in his voice, “brings us up to the here ‘n’ now.” He frowned deeply as his own tale sank in, and was amazed at how well he was able to perfectly recall everything from his past so clearly. Even more amazing was how well he was able to tell the story, being as drunk as he was. In fact, he felt more or less sober while telling the tale, but now that he was done, intoxication was settling in again.
The wind whipped about the canyon, sending a cold chill up his spine. “What a waste, huh?”
The blond man shook his head. “It’s not too late, Jim Rook,” he said, pointing his long, tapered, and neatly manicured finger toward the burning wreckage of the car below. “Clearly, you have been saved for a greater purpose. Would you go the way of your automobile, or will you rise again like a proverbial phoenix, reborn with a new purpose?”
Jim was silent, deep in thought, and a bit unsure. He shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno…”
“It was fate that our paths would cross this night!” the blond insisted as he reached forward, placing his hand on Jim’s chin and rising it up. He looked into those deep blue eyes and said, “The choice is up to you. I can help you turn your life around. Will you accept my offer to help you get what your heart most desires?”
Jim Rook swallowed and looked down at the remains of his car on the rocky slope. The chilly autumn wind blew against the dying flames as they slowly burned out, leaving a charred mass of metal behind.
He then turned up again to the man who had plucked him from that terrible fate. “My life’s been a roller-coaster ride before,” Jim said. “And like Neil Young said, ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’…”
“Indeed,” the blond said, extending his hand. “So…?”
“So…” Jim Rook said with some returning resolve, “…I accept your offer to help.” He took the man’s hand in his own. It was cold to the touch.
“Good,” Neron said with a wide smile. “Very good!”
And with that, the two men floating in thin air vanished into the night sky.