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Tales From The Road: The Grim Reaper’s Got Rhythm!

(Authors Note: This is a true story. The names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent, because no one in this story was innocent)…
It’s fascinating what happens when you think you are about to die…
The first time it happened to me (What?…Look- I have a past so checkered you could lay it on a kitchen table and serve Christmas dinner on it) was in September of 1980. I was with a band called Anthem, the first all-original band I put together, the first time I produced music in a recording studio; four extremely crazy, angry guys playing really loud and really fast. We had just released our first album and were playing at the album release party.
The bass player, the singer, and I were 20 years old. The drummer, Mark, was 17 and still in high school. Three of us were fairly experienced in the Grand Art Of Partying (just say no, kids!) but the drummer couldn’t hold his own yet. Still, when sober, he played like The Who’s great drummer, Keith Moon. He was fantastic.

We had played our set, bashing out songs with names like “Rainbows In The Teargas”, “Break Out The Rubber Spiders”, and “Nailed To The Floor” to a large group of people packed into a barn owned by a local madman named “Murf The Turf”.

That was his name. I had known the man for three years, and that’s the only name he would answer to.
After we played, the party moved into the house. We started celebrating like rock stars and enjoying ourselves when I decided to seek a small bit of peace. I was in one of the bathrooms, smoking a…let’s call it a “herbal” cigarette, shall we?…and enjoying the relative quiet; over the dulled sounds of laughing, talking, occasional screaming and, strangely, the breaking of glass, I could hear the rain.. a storm had blown in and the rain was coming down hard.
Suddenly, my reverie was upset when our drummer, Mark, came rushing into the small room, slamming the door behind him.
“You gotta hide me, man!” he cried, grabbing my shirt, eyes wide in fear.
“What did you do?” I asked him, being able to smell imminent danger over the alcohol on his breath.
Murf was an ongoing chemistry experiment on legs. There was nothing he would not drink, smoke, eat, or snort. At all times, day or night, his mouth was open, his arms were out, his eyes half closed and bloodshot; he was a substance abuse zombie, a permanently stoned landshark able only to keep moving forward to the next sensory re-arrangement.

He also liked firearms.
And dynamite.

“Murf wants to KILL me! He has a GUN!” shrieked my drummer pitifully.
I looked around the small bathroom.
“Quick! Out the window!” I said as I grabbed him and started stuffing him through the relatively small opening in the wall that led to the roof of the porch.
I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t need to. The only two things Murf ever got mad about was people messing with his girlfriend or his party supplies, and when he got mad, he got armed. My guess was, the little idiot got caught with the girl; he wasn’t smart enough to figure out where Murf kept his stash. If I didn’t get him out of the house and away from the drug-riddled madman, he was a dead man.

I got him out of the house, down the roof, and we jumped, rain soaked, into his car. I was in the passenger seat of his 1970 Chevy Nova, a car so old and beaten up that the body was made of rust and dents and it came with holes in the floorboards as a special bonus. I was holding on for dear life as he floored the heap and peeled out of the driveway, sure that Murf would be following him in heated, angry pursuit.
“Slow down, you bastard! You’re gonna kill us both!” I shouted, just as he navigated a curve and lost control of the car.
Then, time slowed down…we were sliding down the side of a steep embankment with the passenger side of the car heading towards a huge, ancient oak tree.  I was immediately aware that I instinctively relaxed and was remarkably calm has we were careening towards my certain death. I became very conscious of the thoughts running through my head:
“Oh, man…this is it…I’m not going to make it out to California…I’m not going to write any more songs…I’m kind of hungry…If I survive this, I’m going to fire this cretin…we sounded FANTASTIC tonight, even though I flubbed that one chorus…MAN that tree is big…this is really going to hurt…that little blonde was cute…I am SO going to fire this stupid…Wow! I’m completely sober now! That’s too bad, if ever there was a time to be completely fried…I wish I had gotten that blonde’s phone number…Damn! I forgot to return Mom’s phone call…I need to pay that bill at the music store. I…wait a minute…I guess I won’t have to pay that bill now…Why are you thinking about bills at a time like this?…One thing I now know, it’s better to die on a full stomach…If we make it out of this death-trap, I’m not only going to fire him, I’m going to beat the crap out of him…Oh! Look at the squirrel scrambling down the tree…yeah, little buddy, no sense in BOTH of us getting offed…I really should’ve let him get shot…Well, here we go! I hope we hit this thing hard enough I don’t have to be wheeled around for the rest of my life…”, and by then, I was seconds from being wrapped around the vast and incredibly solid looking tree.
Then, the car stopped, less than an inch from the tree. Time returned to normal, and I heard the rain pounding on the roof of the car.
“Lemme outta this car, or I am going to climb out over you!” I growled as a noticed the thick, uneven yet perfect pattern of the bark of the tree right outside my car door window.
We stood next to the car in the pouring rain. I turned and looked at the tree; it didn’t seem as big as I thought it was. I looked at the car; it DID look as much of a death-trap as I thought it was. Then I turned to Mark, our drummer, who turned out to be as much of a pain in the ass as I knew he was.
“Mark?”
“Yeah?”
“You’re fired!”

I made my way up the embankment, crossed the road, and started walking. With a little luck, I thought, I can get back to the party and become a land-shark.

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