25 The Really Big One
The Spud Palace was filling up with Childhood fans. Gray-hairs were greeting each other as they found their seats: people who hadn’t seen each other in years were trading email addresses and phone numbers, showing wallet photos of kids and grandkids. Guys eyeballed each other’s wives and daughters. Women took stock of each other. Well, at least I look better than her! Garbage, Jas, Ella and Josh came out to get their seats. Josh was shocked to see his stepmom sitting next to Roberta!
“Uh, hi, Sheila!” He said awkwardly. She stood and gave him a hug. He introduced Garbage and Jas, and lastly Ella, who held Josh’s arm tightly.
Sheila sat down again.
“So that’s Ella.”
Roberta looked at her quizzically.
“Her ID. was on the phone at home a few times. I thought she was a songwriter.” Sheila looked at Roberta. Sheila raised her eyebrow in a you think you know what’s going on, do you? look.
Ah-ha! Roberta pursed her lips. Ace, you have some explaining to do. Then she laughed at the irony of her thought.
The band came on at nine-fifteen to so-happy-to-see-you-again-after-all-this-time applause from the standing crowd. There were tears in many eyes as the Idahoans looked on their old heroes of a distant age for the first time in thirty years. Joey, Ace, and Harry launched right into the acapella intro of Snake River.
Snake River, take me home
Back where I know I belong
Snake River, down in that canyon so deep
Snake River take me home!
Joey stepped up and fired off a burning solo and the people went nuts, cheering like the Bengals had just scored a game –winning touchdown against the University of Idaho Vandals. Rifleman was next, then Sawtooth Mountains and I Can Read Your Mind Some of the Time.
The players were locked in, the sound onstage was perfect for once, and Childhood was on fire, riding a wave of intuitive communication. Charles, Greg, and Charlene, who had let her long auburn hair down, were whooping at the side of the stage. Even the twenty-somethings got into it, stomping and hollering with their folks. Joey was actually smiling and playing off Ace and the others, without losing a bit of his showboating rapport with the audience. When the lights came down to a single spot on Joey and Ace doing the haunting The Perfect Fool, the Spud Palace became like a huge church, people standing and swaying, linking arms with their neighbors, singing together on the chorus.
Nobody’s Perfect but that’s not true
‘cause I’m a perfect fool for you
Jesus! This is the best we’ve ever played, thought Ace. Joey grinned at him while tearing the heart out of a slow solo.
Ranger Rick smiled at the band up on the stage. Hey, they’re still really good, just like the old days! I almost wish I had some acid! He noticed a pretty Mexican-looking girl in the row just in front and to the left of him. Isn’t that girl I saw on the Interstate? She’s pretty fine!
Outside the fairground arena, Buddy glanced in the side-view mirror of his big Dodge pickup. They were all back there, a line of trucks full of beer-and Jacked-up ropers and riders, bronc busters and pissed-off rodeo fans. The word was out about the fight at the Big Potato. Well, tonight was gonna be a different story. These hippies were goin’ down.
We’re gonna kick us some serious rock’n’roll ass!
By the time Childhood got to Glory Was His Middle Name, the vibe inside the Spud Palace had reached delirium proportions. The people sang every line, choruses even louder. Joey threw up his arm to cut Harry and the band off as the entire assemblage shouted out, Glory! Glory! Glory Was His Middle Name! , then he pointed out into the crowd, Harry pounded the toms, and the place went the extra mile into full-on nuts. Everyone was beaming. Fumiko was crawling through the microphone stands, shooting from every angle, Tool was handing Harry new drum sticks as he broke them. He threw the broken ones into the waving sea of outstretched hands.
The crowd began leaving their seats and surging down to the stage. Shinebone and his boys made a wall of security, but the press of bodies was pushing them back. In the tumult of wild applause after Glory, Joey went to the mic and shouted, “Let our old friends come up!” Shinebone had no choice, and though he would have rather liked to start cracking some noggins with his seven-battery military flashlight, he shrugged and motioned to the football players to stop holding the crowd back. The people jammed up to the stage and reached up for Ace and Joey and Marco. Joey fired picks out and ran, leaning down, across the big stage, slapping fives all the way. Ace looked at the ecstatic faces. He recognized many. They’re old and gray, but still the same, really, just like we are. God, this is where this stuff is at! If it had only been like this for all those years!
Well, this is a good way to say goodbye.
The pickups roared up and double-parked all over the street and up on the grass of the little park across the street from the Spud Palace. There were three cop cars on duty, but the officers sipping their lattes’ just thought the pickups were late arrivals to the big concert. Then the cowboys started emerging from their vehicles carrying baseball bats and tire irons and snow chains. It dawned on the cops that this was a not a bunch of old hippies. They also realized that they were very seriously outmanned.
One called for backup. “We got maybe a hundred cowboys looking to start something down here at the Palace. No way we can stop ‘em, But we’ll try. Get the IHP and the Sheriffs down here right now!”
The three cops tried to block the main lobby entrance, and a few hotheads got into a pushing and shoving match with the officers there, but Buddy led the mass of riders and ropers to the side door of the building.
Gonna teach ‘em to mess with Texas!
Harry was really into it. He began to play a drum solo, but everyone knew what came next. He flammed and splashed and ripped around his toms, and then got very, very quiet, just tapping the minimum rhythm on his high hat. The crowd hushed with him, following every tense beat. Joey went over to the drums and played a long, growly low note, letting it feedback until the overtones took over and the low note became a high wail, which he bent up and down and sideways, producing squawks and moans and growls and chirps. He stepped on one pedal after another, adding delays and reverbs that created insane pulsating layers of rhythms in time with Harry’s high hat. They rode that vibe for a couple of long minutes, feeling the interplay rise and fall with Joey’s precise hammer-on picking up the neck. Then Harry reared back and let go with a machine-gun barrage of snare hits and the place erupted. Joey shouted, One, Two, Three, Four! And the band slammed into the riff of Here Comes the Big One.
The Spud Palace, built to reflect the dignified past and the glorious future of America, went absolutely bogats.
Ace was riding the energy just like everybody else. He grinned at Roberta and Josh and even Sheila, dancing away in the second row, engulfed in a tide of Idahoans, fist-pumping and hooting. Garbage was standing up on the back of his seat, whipping his vest around his head like a war flag. Joey leaped off the top of his amp and slid to his knees and played the signature lead, building, building, and building. Everyone was screaming along with his guitar.
Ace continued to scan the faces, savoring every moment. He was the first to notice the side door, over on stage right, being pushed open. Guys with white cowboy hats were pouring in, knocking people out of their way. Oh shit! “It’s the fuckin’ cowboys!” He shouted, pointing at them. But nobody noticed; everyone was having such a big time in the magic moment that they thought he was just whooping it up, too. Shinebone, who was over on the side of the stage, did see them and grabbed two of his big, black football players. The three of them jumped down off the stage and tried to block back the wedge of cowpokes pushing their way into the Palace. The rednecks were going for the band, elbowing and shoving fans out of the way. One of them reached up and grabbed Joey’s boot, but Greg came running over from the monitor board and jammed a mic stand down on the guy’s arm, causing the cowboy’s elbow to bend sideways in a most unnatural fashion. The drunken rodeoers were punching everyone in their way: gray-haired women, young chicks, and old, pony-tailed hippies. The mayhem had a ripple effect. Ace saw people reacting in panic, the crowd waving like wind-blown wheat. Within the span of thirty seconds, the magical music celebration turned into a big, ugly brawl with multiple injuries. The band was still playing the riff, trying to overpower the intrusion. The crowd started booing the cowboys, not that they noticed or cared; they were here to kick some old long-hair commie fag hippie ass. They reached the front of the stage and were trying to climb up. Garbage and Josh got Ella, Jas, Sheila, and Roberta out the far end of their row and headed to an exit door and then Garbage climbed up on stage. Vest gone, he was like a half-naked, tattooed animal, adeptly kicking faces and stomping on hands and necks of the attackers with his motorcycle boots. Josh was leading Ella and the rest of the girls out of the fray to stage left and the side exit on the other side of the hall. The men in the audience were trying to jam over the rows of seats to take part in the fight, but the cowboys were as mean and tough as a freshly opened bag full of angry west Texas rattlers. They were going to get the band. A couple of them were tossed by their compadres onto the stage.
“Somebody ‘git that goddam Maori!” One of them yelled.
Garbage shouted back, “C’mon and see what I got, you little rodeo pussies!”
Ace tossed his guitar down and picked up a mic stand. He looked out into the mêlée at the front of the stage. His eyes suddenly focused on a Latina woman with a cowboy hat and football jersey who was raising her arm. In her clenched hand was a black .38 special. He had a flash of recognition. Sandy!
Ranger Rick yelled out, “She’s got a gun!”
“Joey!” Ace shouted. He threw himself across the stage and pushed Joey as hard as he could, sending him sprawling into the monitors.
Guide my sinner’s hand, Jesus! Sandy squeezed the trigger and .38 flashed. Jesus Lord!
The world suddenly seemed to lurch forward and then stop cold. And then it shook violently to the right. The stage was jerked sideways out from beneath Ace’s feet. He felt something punch him in his left shoulder. He spun around and fell on the stage. He looked up to see Joey’s stack of amps and speakers bouncing and tumbling like foam rubber dice. Ace rolled away from a huge falling speaker cab.
“Earthquake!” someone yelled
The building was cracking and groaning as it shook. It’s going to come down on us, thought Ace. Huge chunks of plaster and wooden beams were raining down from the ceiling. Columns along the walls were toppling into the seats. People were screaming and scrambling for the exits; their arms and hands above their heads to ward of the falling debris. The huge lighting rig above the stage came loose from its brackets and collapsed, crashing down on everything. Harry and Fumiko just managed to dive under the edge of the rum riser. The lights went out, but the shaking went on. There was an unbelievable deep rumbling, rising towards the surface from the bowels of the Earth. It was a sound few humans have ever heard.
Because right then the very mountains were moving, all the way from Yellowstone and the Tetons to the untrodden high ranges that stretch south beyond Ely, Nevada. Grand Teton peak was losing the top fourteen hundred feet of its jagged granite spire. The rock and ice was cascading down in a massive avalanche into the Jackson Hole valley floor. Forty miles away, Palisades Dam on the Snake River was crumbling and giving way, sending a wall of water three hundred feet high down the canyon, washing away thousands of ranches and little houses. It would devastate the city of Idaho Falls within an hour. Up in Yellowstone, Old Faithful Geyser shot a plume of scalding water thirteen hundred feet into the air, followed by a towering blast of magma and superheated gases, with a cloud reaching fifty thousand feet into the stratosphere that would soon engulf Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska in darkness, fire, and chaos. As far away as Seattle, the Space Needle swayed perilously, knocking diners off their chairs. In Salt Lake City, the towers of the Tabernacle cracked, and one steeple tottered and plunged in a torrent of concrete and steel into the streets below. In Utah, all along the Wasatch Front, enormous land and snow slides obliterated suburban neighborhoods. Throughout the northern Rockies and the Great Basin, mountains fell and dammed rivers and roads crumbled and slid into canyons.
The rumbling and shaking went on for an incredible six minutes and thirty-three seconds. As it subsided, rolling away like thunder to the south, inside what was left of the Salt Palace, there were cries and moans. Ace checked himself. He felt around with his right hand. Girders: must be the lighting rig. He couldn’t move his left arm. He had a dull throbbing pain in his left shoulder. Something hit me there. He tried to curl his fingers. Ok, I can move them.
There was a light somewhere. He heard Shinebone’s voice. “Joey!” he called.
“Yeah, I’m over here. My leg’s pinned down.”
The light got closer. Ace pulled himself up to sitting position. The roof hadn’t fallen; at least not right here, just the lights. As Shinebone picked through the wreckage and brought his flashlight closer, Ace could see more of the hall. There were a number of flashlights going, their beams like light-sabers in the plaster-dust filled air. Some of the ceiling beams and a lot of plaster decorative statuary of angels and soldiers had fallen down, but the walls were mostly still intact. People were slowly coming to their senses, starting to call out for help. There was a lot of crying.
Josh! Roberta! Ace struggled to get to his feet. He reached up and felt his left shoulder. It was wet. I must be bleeding. He heard someone.
“Ace! Baby! Are you Ok?”
He stumbled over something and fell forward. His left arm wouldn’t move. He couldn’t reach out to stop his fall.