Book: Kitty Meets the Band
Welcome back, listeners. For those of you just joining us, I'm Kitty Norville and this is The Midnight Hour. I just got a call from my scheduled guests this evening, the band Plague of Locusts, and I'm afraid they're caught in traffic and are going to be a little late, another ten minutes or so. So I'm going to take a few more calls while we're waiting for them to arrive. Our topic this evening: music and the supernatural.
"In the nineteenth century, rumor had it that the great violinist Paganini sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his amazing virtuoso abilities. Many artists are said to be inspired by the Muses. And music soothes the savage beast. What exactly is the mystical nature of music? Are all these tales mere metaphor, or is something supernatural controlling our musical impulses? I want to hear from you. Eddy from Baltimore, you're on the air."
"Hi, Kitty! Whoa, thanks for taking my call."
"No problem, Eddy. What do you have for me?"
"I want to sell my soul to the devil. If I had the chance, I'd do it in a heartbeat. To play guitar like Hendrix—oh man, I'd do just about anything!"
"How about practice?"
"It's not enough. I've been practicing for years. All that time and I can do 'Stairway to Heaven,' and that's it. What Hendrix had? That's not natural."
"Do you think Hendrix sold his soul to the devil?"
"Wouldn't surprise me. So, Kitty—have any idea how I'd go about doing that?"
"What, selling your soul to the devil? Are you sure that's such a good idea?"
"Why not? It's not like I'm using my soul for anything else."
Oh man, talk about missing the point. "I get enough accusations from the religious Right that I'm damning people's souls, I'm not sure I want to put any more fuel on that fire. But the answer is no, I have no idea how you'd go about selling your soul to the devil. Sorry. Next call, please. Rebecca, hello."
"Kitty, hi." The woman's voice was low, vaguely desperate.
"Hello. You have a question or a story?"
"A question, I think. Like, you know when you get a song stuck in your head, and it drives you crazy, and no matter how much you try to think of something else you can't stop it from playing in your head? Right now I have 'Muskrat Love' stuck. It's been stuck there for days. It's… it's driving me crazy." Her voice turned ominous. If she told me she was holding a butcher knife just then, I wouldn't have been surprised.
I tried to sound as sympathetic as possible. "The Captain and Tennille version of the song, I assume?"
She hesitated for a long moment. "You mean there's more than one?"
"Never mind. It's called an earworm," I said. "Scientists have been studying this phenomenon, believe it or not. When they aren't busy with a cure for cancer. Statistically, it seems to affect women more than men, and especially affects people who are slightly neurotic anyway." I had my suspicions about Rebecca.
"So it's not, like… demonic possession?"
"In the case of 'Muskrat Love,' I'm not entirely sure it isn't."
"How do I make it stop?"
"Have you tried listening to the song? Sometimes if you hear it all the way through, it goes away."
"I tried that. Five times in a row."
Well, if you asked me that was her problem right there. "How about a different song, completely different, like something by Ministry?"
"Will that pacify the demon horde?"
So we're possessed by a demon horde, now? "I'm not sure I'd guarantee that. Seriously, most people recommend listening to a different song, trying to get a different song stuck in your head. It's not a perfect solution, but with some songs, any alternative is better."
"What do you recommend?"
" 'I Think I Love You,' by the Partridge Family."
She hesitated a moment, then stammered, "Oh. Oh… God, no!"
Ah, success. "Did it work?" I asked brightly.
"Yes, but… are you sure this isn't worse than 'Muskrat Love'?"
"You tell me."
"I—I just don't know!"
"Right, while you think about it I'm going to move onto the next call. Hello, Ellen. What do you want to talk about?"
"Hi, Kitty. You know the Orpheus myth?"
I said, "Orpheus. The bard of Greek mythology who went into Hades, and his music was so powerful that he convinced the god of the underworld to release the soul of his dead wife. He was told that he could lead her to the surface, but if he looked back to make sure that she followed, he'd lose her forever. Of course, he looked back. It's a story about the power of music, but it's also a story about trust."
"Yeah," she said, and I caught a sadness in her voice, an uncertainty. "Kitty, you're always talking about myths and legends that have these roots in reality. That sometimes the stories are real, at least partly. Do you… do you think that's ever happened? That music—or anything—is so powerful it could bring back the dead?"
It amazed me sometimes, the stark emotion that people could expose with just their voices. The human voice is the most expressive musical instrument of all.
I closed my eyes to gather myself for the question I had to ask. If she didn't want to talk about it, she wouldn't have called in. "Who did you lose, Ellen?"
"My husband," she said, and her voice didn't even crack. She was just muted. Lost. "Eight months ago. It was cancer. We'd only been married three years. I know I can't bring him back, but… I'm a musician. I play the flute professionally, I'm in an orchestra and everything. Not as good as Orpheus must have been… but I wonder. Music was strong enough to bring us together the first time. Maybe it could bring him back. If I had the chance, if I thought I could, I'd try."
I rubbed my face and pinched my nose to stop tears. This happened every now and then. I didn't know what to say. Nothing I could say would be the right thing.
"Maybe not all the stories start out as true. A lot of them start out as wishes, I think. The Orpheus myth, it takes something powerful that people can do—make music—and turns it into something powerful we wish we could do. Like bring back our loved ones. Ellen, I know this sounds trite, but I'm betting there's a part of him, part of his spirit that comes through every time you play."
"I—I think so, too. But sometimes it isn't enough. Kitty—if it had been me, I wouldn't have looked back."
With incredibly bad timing, the studio door opened and let in a swarm of noise from the outside. The producer in the sound booth waved manically and ran out to try to stop them.
I rolled with the punches. "Ellen, thank you for calling and sharing your story. I know I'm not alone in extending my thoughts and sympathies to you. We're going to break now for station ID." I signed Ellen off, then turned to the door.
There they were, crowding into the studio, lugging their instruments. I recognized the lead singer from the band's publicity photo: a skinny punk, twenty-two years old, wearing cut-off jeans, a ragged, oversize T-shirt, and combat boots.
I jumped out of my seat to intercept him. "Rudy? Hi."
Our introduction would determine how the rest of the evening went. Was he a stuck-up, self-absorbed musician type who barely deigned to speak to lesser mortals, or was he a regular guy who just happened to sing in a band?
He smiled at me. "You're Kitty? Hi!" He had a warm expression and easy-going manner at odds with his punked-out persona. He seemed more surfer dude than anti-social rebel. I relaxed; this was going to go well. "Let me introduce everyone. There's Bucky on drums, Len's our guitarist. And Tim there's on bass."
Tim stood out from the rest of the band. The other guys looked like they were in a band: Len had lightning bolts shaved into his crew cut, Bucky had tattoos crawling up both arms. Tim, however, was wearing a cardigan, like he'd been zapped through time from a '50s doo-wop group.
I considered for a moment, then said, "So, he's the one who's possessed by a demon?"
"Yup!" Rudy said proudly. "I don't know how it happened, but there it is."
Tim glanced at us as he was plugging his bass into an amp. His expression didn't change. He looked like a regular guy.
I contained my skepticism. "Rudy, do you mind if we have a few words on the air while the others set up? Then I'd love to hear you play."
"That's what we're here for!"
I brought him to the mikes. Right on schedule, the producer signaled that we were about ready to get back to the show. He counted down on his fingers, four, three, two—
"Welcome back, faithful listeners. This is The Midnight Hour and I'm Kitty Norville. I have as my guests this evening the L.A. band Plague of Locusts. They've just released their third album, and their single, 'Under a Dull Knife,' is climbing the charts. Next month they embark on their first national concert tour. We'll hear some music later on, but right now the band's lead singer, Rudy Jones, is here to chat with us. Welcome to the show, Rudy. Thanks for joining us."
"Are you kidding? This is so cool! We're big fans."
"Wow, that's sweet. Thanks." Here was someone who knew the way to a girl's heart. I beamed at him. "My first question for you: the band's name, Plague of Locusts, references an event in the Bible, in the book of Exodus. I was wondering why you chose the name, and what you might be implying with it."
"We just thought it sounded cool," Rudy said, totally deadpan.
I stared hopefully. "Nothing about raining destruction down on the world, or getting into wrath-of-God kind of stuff?"
He shook his head. "Well, I suppose a plague of locusts is like a swarm. We're like a swarm, you know?" He considered thoughtfully. "We want our music to swarm in and overwhelm people."
"Devouring them until nothing remains?"
"Now, your bass player, Tim Kane. Rumors say that he's possessed by a demon. You want to tell me how that happened?"
"It was the weirdest thing. We were in Bucky's mom's garage—that's where we got our start, you know. A real honest-to-God garage band. So there we were, practicing, only we weren't really practicing because we were fighting. We did a lot of that at first. Bucky wanted to know why we wouldn't play any of his songs, Len thought he should stand in front, we argued about who's more old school, Sid Vicious or Joe Strummer. So we're in the middle of all this, and then Tim, he goes into this, like, seizure or something. His eyes roll back into his head and everything. He was totally foaming at the mouth! Then he starts talking, and his voice. It's different. Totally deep. Kind of echoey, you know? And he says, 'Stop fighting.' I mean, what are you going to do in a situation like that? We stopped fighting. Then he tells us—only it's not Tim anymore, it's like this demonic muse or something. He tells us that if we want to be a great band, if we really want to follow our dream, we have to do what he says."
Fascinated, I asked, "This wasn't a 'sell your soul to the devil at the crossroads' kind of thing? This demon muse is giving you all this advice for free?"
"Yeah, totally! Isn't that cool?"
"Totally." I agreed. "Then what happened?"
"The demon tells us his name is Morgantix, and he's from another dimension, and he always wanted to play in a band. So he picked us, and I guess he picked Tim because he's, you know, so quiet. I mean, Tim started out as a really good bass player. But since Morgantix came along, the whole band just kind of jelled. It's been great. And I figure as long as Morgantix is having a good time, he'll keep helping us."
"Wow," I said. "That's almost heartwarming." I glanced at Tim, who was standing by himself in the performance space, bass slung over his shoulder, fingering the strings. He was terribly unassuming. I wouldn't have looked twice at him on the street. He didn't smell like he was possessed by a demon. Not that I had any idea what someone possessed by a demon would smell like. Of course, anyone who dressed like a '50s preppy was possessed by something unnatural.
Then again, he was in a band.
Tim caught my gaze and quirked a sly grin at me. Not quite demonic, but still…
I said, "Do you suppose we might have a few words with Morgantix? I'd love to hear his side of the story."
Rudy looked over at Tim. "How about it?"
Slowly, Tim shook his head. In a deep, gravelly voice he said, "Morgantix play, not talk."
"How about Tim?" I said to the man himself. "Can we get a few words about what it's like being possessed by a musically inclined demon?"
Tim just glared.
"It's kind of unpredictable," Rudy said. "He's there one minute, gone the next. We never really know who's in control when we talk to Tim."
I had to admit, I was a bit awestruck. The possibilities were intriguing. Tim certainly did have this manner about him. But was it just a typical, standoffish, artistic temperament, or really something supernatural?
"I have to confess to a bit of skepticism, Rudy. Where's your proof? Except for the voice thing, do you have any hard evidence proving the existence of Morgantix?" Really, though, who would make up a name like Morgantix? Score one in their favor.
"Believe me, Kitty, we wouldn't have gotten this far with the band without a lot of help from another plane of existence."
I had to take Rudy's word for that. I moved on. "I'm going to open the line for calls now. Do you have a question for Rudy? You know the number. Paula from Austin, you're on the air."
Paula let out a squee! of ear-shattering proportions. "Omigod, hi! Rudy, I'm such a big fan, you have no idea—"
The next ten minutes pretty much went exactly like that. Plague of Locusts seemed to have a bevy of screaming teenage fans across the country, and they all called in to gush. Rudy seemed impressed and chatted with them all.
I had fifteen minutes left to the show when I cut off the calls. "Rudy? How about you and the boys play something for us?"
His eyes lit up. "Yeah! Cool!" He was way too cheerful to be a real punk. He called over to the band, seated with their instruments. "Hey guys, what should we play?"
Bucky said, "We could play, you know, that one. The one with the bum bum bum part."
Len nodded quickly. "Yeah—the new version."
"I don't know," Rudy said, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "We haven't ever played that one live. How about the one with the cool bit in the middle?"
"We could do that one," Bucky said. "But what about the other one?"
"That one's okay too," Rudy said.
I had no clue what they were talking about. I stared, rapt.
Then Tim said, in his rough, demonic voice, "Play the fast one."
Rudy perked up, his eyes going wide. "Dude, yeah! The fast one!"
Bucky jumped to his drums, Len stood with his guitar, and Rudy raced to his microphone. Tim watched them, calmly as ever.
All this carried over the studio mikes. I almost hated to interrupt the entertaining exchange, but the musicians had already turned their attention to their instruments.
I leaned in to my mike. "Okay, listeners, it looks like Plague of Locusts is going to play us some music. I have no idea what the name of the piece is, but they're calling it 'the fast one.' I, for one, am intrigued."
Rudy called over, "Are you ready, Kitty?"
Ready as I'd ever be. "Go for it!"
Bucky the drummer banged out a count and the band plunged in, full speed ahead. They went straight from zero to manic in half a second. The fast one, yeah. Still, their playing was strangely compelling. Len hunched over his guitar, legs spread, head bobbing in time to the music; I thought the poor guy was going to get whiplash. Bucky did the same, his long hair flying, the entire drum set rattling. Rudy clutched his microphone stand in both hands, pressed the mike to his face, and screamed.
Tim kept up with the song, fingers dancing on the frets, bass chords rumbling. The man himself, though, remained still, intensely focused, the eye of this particular hurricane.
I couldn't say I understood any of the lyrics, and there wasn't a melody of any kind to speak of. The rhythm resembled that of a massive downpour on a tin roof. That only made Plague of Locusts the latest in a long line of anti-establishment, anti-musicality musicians. Call it what you will, the fans loved it. My phone lines lit up, listeners calling in to beg for more.
The band played two more songs, we took a few more phone calls from eager fans, and then came the end of the show. I was almost sorry we were out of time. This had been a hoot.
Rudy and the others apparently had a great time, too.
After the closing credits, Bucky and Len shook my hand enthusiastically. Rudy hugged me like we were long lost siblings. He promised we'd do this again sometime. I basked in a general feeling of success and well-being. It hardly mattered that Morgantix the demon hadn't agreed to speak to me through host body Tim. Though, I'd rather been looking forward to conducting the first live demon interview in radio.
Tim hung back as they left the studio, waiting until Rudy and the others were in the hallway, leaving the two of us alone. He had an air of calculating calm about him. I couldn't help it; he made me nervous. My heartbeat speeded up, and I eyed the exit.
"Can I tell you something?" he asked me in a regular tenor—an unassuming, undemonic voice. Morgantix has left the building…
He glanced at the floor a moment, suddenly looking sly, like he was about to tell a joke. "See, you're pretty cool, and I just have to tell somebody. Can you keep a secret?"
"Sure." Always say yes to that question. I learned the best stuff this way.
He said, "Okay, here it goes. I'm not really possessed by a demon named Morgantix."
Somehow, I was simultaneously surprised and not. "Are you possessed by any demon at all?"
"No," he said, shaking his head and smiling wryly.
It was almost disappointing.
"You could tell me anything and I'd have to believe you. I have absolutely no way of telling if you're possessed by a demon or not," I said.
"Fortunately, neither does anyone else."
"So why go around telling everyone you are? Is it some kind of publicity stunt?"
"Oh, it's not for the public. It's for them." He nodded out the hallway to his departing bandmates. "They're the most directionless, indecisive bunch of people I've ever met. I realized the only way the band was going to get anywhere was with some kind of leadership. But they don't listen to me—I'm the quiet one. On the other hand, a being from an alternate plane of existence? They'll listen to that. It's the only way I could get them to agree on anything."
Enthralled, I considered him. It was the kind of story that if I hadn't seen it in action, I'd never have believed it. You can't make this stuff up.
"Aren't you afraid I'll blow your secret?"
He smirked. "What's easier to believe: that I'm actually possessed by Morgantix the demon, or that I've spent the last three years fooling a trio of grown men into believing that I'm possessed by Morgantix the demon?"
"You know that's a toss up, don't you?"
He smiled a clean-cut, boyish smile and left the studio to follow the rest of the band.
Well, how about that? I chased down a story about the supernatural and found a completely mundane explanation. There's a switch from my usual prime-time drama sort of life. And it only reinforced what I'd known for some time now:
I love my job.