Prose: On Fire

To keep on going with the ideas can come from anywhere theme, I thought I’d put up a short today and touch on a little bit of back story. I go through stages where I outline or craft definite genre pieces, but at times I slide back into things that aren’t quite one thing or the other. They may be essays, they may be thoughts on an emotion or a painting or photograph. They could start out as nonfiction and slide into fictional or vice versa. Sometimes a phrase will jump start a vignette – “lime vanilla ice” from Dandelion Wine is a big one for me. I have journals filled with these odd ramblings spawned from lectures, daily thoughts, frustrations, conversations, movies, and music. I sometimes wonder if I make it a life habit to interpret songs differently than most of the human population, but that’s part of the beauty of art – the same piece can take your mind so many different places.

This started out as a ramble and ended up as something a little bit more structured, though I like that it’s fairly noncomformist if you compare it to something more genre-specific. This piece started in a journal, ended up as a free read for a while, and migrated into Lost in the Shadows, a collection which features a lot of other genre nonspecific pieces, in the hope that those stories will make you think and feel and let your mind wander off the beaten path. Seriously, I don’t know how many times I have to say this – it’s okay to have your own interpretation of art. Go for it. Let yourself wonder what this dude is actually going through and what really happens to him. I have my version, but see where your ideas take you.

Originally, this idea came about when I was spending a lot of days alone in a room sewing on different projects some ten years ago maybe, and it sat in a notebook for the longest time (one of those paper things that we used to use in the Bronze Age and some of us still carry them everywhere). You can only focus on your hands for so long before the mind wanders a little bit, and admittedly I have a thing about listening to music and letting it kick my brain into some new head space. Believe me, you probably don’t even want to know the places certain songs send me, or at the very least it would probably give a few surprises (and mild heart attacks). That specific time period featured a lot of my Bowie collection.

I want to say Reality had just come out, or maybe I had gone back to listening to it. Whichever, I’ve also always loved the Berlin trilogy, and I feel like it’s a shame that Lodger gets a little forgotten when compared to Low and ‘Heroes’ – or maybe it just brings back memories of actually buying the album when I was in Berlin in college one summer, wide-eyed in the hostel soaking up every note at night after living requiems and folk songs and street music during the day. Whether it was luck or chance, my brain linked together the songs DJ and Bring Me the Disco King, shoved them into a weird alternate universe, and this character was born. For whatever reason the latter seemed like a natural progression of the former, and I wanted to write a place where that made sense, if only for a few heartbeats. I wanted to tap into the necessity that music is in my life, but also go to a place that was slightly unfamiliar, slightly alien to me and see if I could make it work.


On Fire

The good times were gone. He’d laughed it off when he first suspected that he’d lost his gift. He’d always kept his performance face on, even while asleep. He’d grinned before snarling when his girl went to dance at other clubs, when all his fans had shadows of indifference cast upon their faces instead of hypnotic neon glow. He could only laugh so long. Soon, the only thing left for him to do was to sit at home and spin until that one, horrible night when even he noticed that he wasn’t as fast as he used to be.  From the very start he’d been hot, hotter than hot. Somehow, he’d lost his edge. The fire and heat that had been his signature style had disappeared, fading with wisps of smoke and break down.

The morning he woke crumpled in the bathroom, huddled among week-old discarded towels, piles of shattered mirror, and vinyl, was the hour his sinking suspicions finally bottomed out. He was crawling into the sun for the first time in years to see what he really was. His crown was gone, his clothes worthless conglomerations of thread that hung limp on his skeletal frame. The smooth lines and come-hither expression on his face had manipulated themselves until his reflection was reduced to a manic, starved predator that lusted after one last handful of glory.

His overall apathy was strange and unsettling. Probably just the blood loss, he thought and took a deep breath. There was no gut reaction. Even when he wandered back to the destruction that were his tables, he couldn’t dredge up the least little bit of emotion. He didn’t care that all his equipment was trashed or that his entire life was rendered into piles of wire and smoking dreams.

Skin that had been nursed to a facsimile of a healthy glow by the club lights was slashed and torn, the jagged cuts sawed from all the old classics he had once been able to play at a mere thought. He was as good as the geniuses that had composed those tunes; everyone knew it, everyone said so.  On his best nights he was better.  A D.J.’s gift was to exert control over the artist and to transform a static track into anything he wanted. He vaguely remembered cutting himself with the LPs to try to seep his veins with the magic of the greats. In the comeuppance of the daytime he didn’t feel empowered, only broken and anemic.

“Well, what now?” he croaked, and jumped at the grit in his voice, his real voice. He hadn’t heard it in so long, not since he’d had his tongue seeped with smooth lines and pretty words that helped him seduce people to the music. The ragged drawl he didn’t particularly like had a point. What now after the fits, the jokes, and the epiphany?

If someone had mentioned it years ago when he’d owned the world on puppet strings, he would have passed it off with a casual wave and a drink. It had always been with him though, always worried him during inconvenient moments. That paranoia filled in the split second between dozing and deep sleep with warped visions that weren’t quite dreams. All the ‘what if’s’ had terrified him in the brief downtime between switching records to the point of nearly locking his hands every night. What if he fumbled or was too slow? What if the needle broke? What if the crowd didn’t like his next choice or liked it so much they ignored him completely? Ironically, he hadn’t been worried at all the night he’d finally lost the magic touch.

He ignored the shattered miniature reflections as he dressed in the skin of the man who was no one. He had been cooped up for days, driven into seclusion when no one recognized him at his usual haunts or on the street. Now, though, it was time.

The part of him that knew when to switch songs and when to hold back, the part that lived by the downbeat and the catchy hooks knew without a doubt that there was someplace he had to be. He exited his apartment, braced himself at the entrance to his building, and squinted into the oncoming night. His feet began to walk and he felt every step, every moment of contact against the crumbling street. Once he had danced on angels and demon wannabes before bedding them, but now he trudged down the road with his long coat flapping to the crooning melody of a melancholy piano.

Everyone around him faced forward. No one cared that he was there among them, in touching distance. There were no impulse kisses and no clinging arms. His chest vibrated in a soft, keening saxophone wail that tore from his throat. Those on the street spared him a brief, quizzical glance as the vibrato shook his frame and he swooned among the eighth notes.

“Wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he muttered, hands jammed deep into his pockets as he stumbled on. The soft slap of drums caught his ear. He knew that music, that dirge. It had been playing in his skull the night he was sacked, the night tastes and music had suddenly changed.

“You lied.” His growl was in perfect syncopation with the barely-there percussion. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, yet he was certain he’d get an answer.

 You lied to yourself, the sad rhythm whispered back, truthful and unforgiving. I told you it was time. You didn’t want to know.

“It doesn’t have to end!” he protested, eyes shut and feet still walking on discarded images that had faded through the years. The sides of buildings and the billboard advertisements loomed in, all waiting to see him off. All the little people he was now equal with walked on, unaware, pushing, shoving, and collectively holding their breath for no apparent reason.

 All things end or change. I gave you everything I had, soothed the keyboard intro, tugging him down the avenue. The notes gave way to the chorus and he turned down one more dirty boulevard, caught in the backlash of memories. The adoration, the power, the benefits, the poisons, the company…it had all come and gone so easily. Had he truly taken the time to appreciate it?  It had been all he’d wanted when he’d discovered he had the gift. It was all he would never have again. In order to keep it he would have to change, and he couldn’t.  He was bound to the music and would be put away in discount bins and tucked under beds along with disco when its final notes faded out.

It was true that he could suck in a breath here and there from those that remembered and saw him as a guilty pleasure, but who wanted that? Such a partial existence was nothing compared to the kingdom he’d once known. Would he get another chance, a second coming somewhere down the road or was it finally time to pay the royalty fees? Was all he had left just one dark street after another? In silent answer, the street lamps projected his shadow to remind him that he was something close to alive?

There was a slight pause, an inhalation before the lips of fate blew into the sax again. It was one second to reflect on all that had come and gone before moving on. His cheeks were damp and the world blurred.  At the corner there was a club that was small by his standards, yet it had the redeeming quality of not having a queue. No one sat outside the decrepit front or guarded the door, but the music in his head pulsed from its inner depths. It was a little livelier than what was in his mind, but the notes were sweet and familiar. He didn’t need the gentle shove of the downbeat to enter the main hall with his oozing lacerations, dead face, and his quiet submission.

There was no one spinning and for a moment he thought maybe he could…but it was unnecessary. The whole place gave off the tunes. There was no need for him. The space wasn’t packed, but those who danced were in rapture with faces turned up and eyes dilated. They rocked and swayed because they had to. They were like him; they had nothing left but the song. There were memories trapped in the fluttering lights, though no future. The coat slid from his arms to puddle on the sticky floor. Immediately, it became fodder for the trampling feet that moved and strutted in a last desperate bid for breath. A pretty young thing latched onto him and he found his rhythm in her eyes and in the heartbeat inside her dancing legs.

Their bodies melded into each other’s heat as they swayed and shimmied. As they gyrated across the floor, the music grew so loud that its pounding rhythm turned his organs to pulp. Sweat slicked into all his cuts and the sting was so much better than all the needles he’d known. The lights grew hot and blinding as the music he knew reached one final crescendo.

The woman’s swollen lips pealed back to show hungry teeth in a funky, bliss-filled scream. Her enormous eyes watched the lights that shot their twisting colors out with reverent devotion. She trembled in his large hands and he held on even as the smoke whispered from her skin and her clothes melted away. She did not erupt, but crackled to the music. The flames turned into neon hues to match the lights as they licked her naked flesh into oblivion to the beat. When it became impossible to hold the burning pyre, he let her drop and moved on to someone else that was still approachable. It would work until his hands were charred away.

Flames of all shades and tints soared to the ceiling, but their hiss couldn’t outdo the sweetly chaotic, if predictable, music. He turned, twirled, and rocked in place when it began to hurt too much to do more. He would go out a king, not a cast out and disappointed peasant.  He was a phoenix without rebirth. His wings spread only once before he would fly into the back of the world’s collective mind forever. The remnants of his suit grew brighter until they gleamed in the fire and erupting lights as he tilted back his head and laughed. It hurt like hell; he could feel blood in his throat as all the pent-up music he’d once played came rushing over his tongue. It forced its way between his teeth and trickled under the dancing shoes and wasted bodies on the floor. The sax screamed from under his skin amid the funky mix. A needle rose from the almighty turntable arm and jabbed into his back, pinning him against the dance floor, dooming him and playing him at its will. He shuddered and let the tempo run roughshod over him in one last, chaotic dance before he ignited.

Every part of him was consumed. All his vanity, his lust, his disappointment, even the parts of the man he had been before he was D.J. ruptured and played in the ultimate end to his career. There was no one left to watch, no one left to hear. He gasped as he hit the floor. One final, fading note escaped his decimated larynx. A tear rolled from a glazed eye as the flames died and the lights faded into whatever came next. All around him the dancers became dust. His only option was to take his rest and join them.

Static. The music faded out and turned off, the entire building grew still and began to rot. In the dark, it was hard to tell if anything had ensued or if there had been any real essence there in the first place.

The door shut. The club closed. Outside, new sounds began to captivate new ears as easily distracted minds began to forget.

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