Copyright ©2011 Bob Saar
June nights on the Mississippi are drenched in velvet. The Iowa air is so full of warm moisture that skin feels caressed by an exquisite silk gown from Siam. The stars float over the slick-dark waters. The air glows in the light of the vaporous moon, beams bouncing everywhere, back and forth in the suspended water that hushes the night sounds and softens shadows and dreams.
Bucky Minnow sat on the riverbank with a guitar and fishing pole. A bobber jigged on the gleaming river while he picked and strummed aimlessly, feeling his way around on the instrument in the privacy of the summer night. He was fishing, not so much for catfish as for dreams; not so much in the Father of Waters as in his own psyche; not so much to fill his belly as to feed his soul.
Bucky wanted new music for the Big Fish demo.
He thought about Lido Wan. He wondered why he tried so hard to hold onto her. He laughed quietly at himself. He knew he held on to Lido Wan the way the moon out there held on to the river—she just kept sliding on by. He had told her of the fat man, excited as a puppy with a new sock, and she met the news with the same chilly grimace that his father had shown. Why did they not share his joy? They were so resistant to the idea of Bucky and the band moving forward. It was his dream to speak to the world in this way. The money and the fame were not the drive; it was the chance to be heard from the soul, from the magic place.
Music was magic. There was no other choice for him. The words were no longer all that mattered to Bucky. He no longer paid attention to mere spoken words, now that he could hear the voice living in the heart of the music. He smiled and his eyes closed, and for a moment he was happy. No one could touch his bliss. No money, no adulation, no sex came near it. Nothing could touch the magic of the music.
Bucky truly lived on the stage. It was his life, his existence, his home. The people on the stage with him were family in his living room, and it was warm and friendly, and many came to his living room for the music. How could anyone be more content than that? No wife could take the place of the music waters, the warm waters and water music, the warm lifeblood of the music that washed over, around, and through him. When he stood on a cheap wooden platform with his comrades and his guitar, he was free to drift, free to sail the sea of the Now and Is.
"I'm so happy I am free," he hummed. A fish splashed in the ribboned moonlight.
Bucky saw the reality of the music. It was not simply notes that fit some arrangement pattern deemed proper by long-dead classical gurus. He saw the vibrations and the beating between the different notes. The words were tiny boats that floated delicately upon the waters of the notes. The music bore a language, no matter what was said.
Bucky arranged his songs like an interior decorator, not a guitar player. A song was a sunny room in his head, the instruments his furniture: A big bass sofa sat in the middle of the space, guitars scattered like chairs and footstools around it, and drumbeats accented the walls. A melody became a picture window, letting light flood the room. He moved the pieces around the room to accentuate the impact of each accessory.
Bucky washed away in the tide, down the current into the mainstream of life when he played his music, when he sang his true voice. No lover could dive so deep into his heart. And never could a mere woman replace this love.
Well, never mind that—he had songs to write. He already had chosen several for the tape: Little Dreamer, the one the fat man had heard over at the Moon and Stars; that was on the list. The Other Side of the World, about his lost brother, David Joe Junior; that one was good. He had so many songs, and they were all little children to him. It was difficult to choose which ones would go on this fabulous new journey and which would stay home, waiting for news from afar. They were all good little melodies for the fat man to sell.
That was it; that was the problem. Bucky hung his head. He was thinking only of himself. He was not thinking of the band. Who cared if Dogus never got beyond the river valley with his guitar screechings? Dogus would always survive. So what if Boomer and Gunner spent the rest of their lives thumping away at night and pumping away during the day, down at the DX station? They were handsome and would find women with money. So what if they were all merely foils for Bucky's dream of finding magic in a mundane world?
What Bucky needed was a song that fit everyone's needs, something that the boys could chop into, something the fat man could sell. Bucky decided he could live with that.
He sat quietly on the bank with his guitar and fishing pole and he watched as the moon sprayed across the big river. He smelled the river and fish and bugs in the night. Trucks whined down the highway on the Illinois side. He heard the upshifting song of teenagers drag-racing parental sedans on both sides of the big water. He heard nighthawks screaming softly overhead in the wet air, and far, far away, buried deep in the life that surrounded him, Bucky heard himself getting older.
It will cause me pain
A fat chord dripped from the guitar, running away into the night like a disobedient child. It laughed back over its shoulder at him.
To ride in your back seat again
The bobber levitated on the dusky waters. Bucky strummed and stared up into the sky with closed eyes. He could see where he was going now. The stars burned holes through his eyelids and into his brain.
Because we once were real crazy
Bucky hunched in the shimmering moonlight and picked and strummed his way down blind alleys and lost dreams until he finally had gathered the melody and words he wanted. He was a gardener, pulling a weedy minor chord out here, planting tasty riffs along that border over there in the chorus. The words grew up like dandelions in the cracks between the chords as Bucky followed the melodic garden path down to the end.
Because we once were real crazy
No kidding. It was crazy to be so young and alive. Who could believe it?
We so young, don't know what kind of race
He wanted to remember this part of his life forever. He wanted to hold onto the freedom that came with the music and the road, even if it was short and only ran from Redwing over the bridge to Lomax. He wanted to hold onto these feelings, to the way he felt when unattainable dreamy young girls gawked up at him simply because he was on the stage.
Radio screaming out each time we go
He wanted to remember what it was like to be young forever in the warm night.
He could hear his life passing him like a jet up in the Milky Way, a sad wind calling to him to come, run away with me before it's too late.
The bobber dipped. Bucky laid the guitar gently in the grass and pulled a squirming bullhead from the dark river into the liquid air. He gently freed the hook and slid the slimy fish back into the water. Then he bowed his head and began to cry.
We rode around in my brother's car. God, I miss my brother. Where is he? I wish he were here with me. I want to remember him. I want him with me. I was not ready for him to go. I know he will never come back. I miss him so much.
Bucky sat alone on the bank and cried for David Joe Junior and for Lido Wan and for himself. Later, when the moon was sifting through the dense river cottonwoods on the islands downstream, he picked up the guitar again and played the song for the frogs and the night birds. Then he fished and cried and played his song again.
David Joe Junior had written to him from Vietnam the first week.
Hey, Little Brother,
He knew he was at the beginning of something and the end of something. Knowing that something was beginning excited him. The realization that the band was going to die soon dispirited him, and the thrill of the new beginning was nearly lost.
There is an unwritten rule in backwater rock and roll that once a band makes a recording, that band must soon disintegrate. What Bucky did not know was that this beginning was to be the start of a long journey, longer than he ever could have imagined.
And I never was quite sure
Bucky lay on his back on the riverbank and looked straight up at the stars. A jetliner sparkled high above him on its way from Minneapolis to Saint Louis. Orion hung low in the late spring sky, holding Gemini up with one hand and leading Taurus with the other. Bucky smiled. It was much the way of the Big Fish. He had the Swedish twins, Boomer and Gunner, on one hand, and the bullheaded Dogus on the other. The stars in Orion's belt looked like a long, straight arrow as Bucky stared up.
An arrow. Pointing. That way. The sky began to revolve slowly around the constellation.
This is the way.
Stars whirled faster above him, drawing him in.
This way. Follow me.
Suddenly he felt an overpowering urge to get into the Buick and drive west. The stars spun and he felt himself falling up into the sky and the voice urged him on and he must go, he must--
Bucky sat up with a woof. His eyes were blurred, and he blinked rapidly, trying to clear them. Panting, he pulled a cigarette from his jacket and lit it, inhaling deeply. He peered up sideways at Orion, but the feeling was gone and the spinning had subsided. Bucky hastily snatched up the guitar and hurried inside the old railway station to start a fire in the iron stove, looking over his shoulder at Orion as he went.
The pole rested on the bank, the unbaited hook waiting forever in the Father of Waters for Trout to come back with an answer. Everyone knows there are no trout in the Mississippi. There were none back then, anyway.
The next day Bucky began teaching Dogus and the Swedes the chords to David's Buick.