Rock and Roll Fantasy

I’m three rows from the stage, surrounded by fifty thousand screaming fans, when the guitar-playing lead singer says the words I’ve daydreamed for the last thirty years: Who wants to come up here and play guitar with us?

Both my hands shoot into the air; my left waves madly while my right points down to my calm face, a rehearsed presentation of stable confidence. No hysterics from me; the band knows I’m a practiced professional they can count on to deliver the kind of hell-raising fan performance that sets the crowd on fire — nail the chords but drizzle on some of my own riffs, strut around the stage with a cockiness that belies my average looks, allowing all the other schlubs in the arena to live vicariously through my fortune. The singer finds me, asks if I know the song. I nod. I do not know the song. He double-checks that I know the song. I give a thumbs-up. But inside I know the truth, which is that I do not know how to play the song.

Two security guards lift me over the barricade and onto the stage, where a roadie straps a cherry-red electric guitar over my shoulders, puts a pick in my fingers. The crowd’s going nuts, channeling lifetimes’ worth of deskbound daydreams into me. The singer/guitarist and the bass player flank me, center-stage, and get me ready for what should be a simple three-chord chorus. But the issue is that I have no idea how to play the song. This is the first time I’ve held a guitar, and the string part — the neck? the long piece of wood with the lines and dots — feels foreign in my hands. Who knew the strings kind of hurt? One, two, a one, two three — I close my eyes and shred, hoping the adrenaline will fuse some neurons in my brain and give me the knowledge to play this song, like those men you see on the news who fall out windows and wake up speaking Chinese. But there’s no more room for miracles tonight. My guitar squeals rancid, a sharp, ear-burning whine that pisses off the bass player, who shoots me a look like I betrayed him. I lock eyes with the singer, gesture to the bassist. “He’s screwing this up,” I shout over the noisy drums. “He’s in the wrong tuning.” The singer looks confused. “He’s not in drop-D,” I say, using a term I do not understand, a term I remember hearing my guitar-playing friend in high school say. The singer rolls his eyes at the bassist; I’ve found my leverage, activated an ongoing feud for my gain. “This guy can’t play the song,” I say close enough for the mic to pick it up. I point more clearly to the co-founder of the band and say directly to the fans, “His bass is out of tune, and it’s throwing me off.” The crowd boos. The bass player spits in my face. I shake my head, strut across the stage to huddle up with the singer and drummer, propose we kick the bass player out of the band, adding that I’ve seen evidence he’s been stealing cash out of the other guys’ bunks. They agree, and I tell the crowd that the leech is out, and they love it. Two security guys haul the flailing bassist off stage while the drummer keeps the momentum going with a steady beat.

Slate clean, the singer counts us in again — one, two, a one, two three — and I pinch one of these confusing strings and horrible feedback screeches out. The drummer shoots me a look and I glare back at him, shaking my head. I pull the singer aside, tell him the drummer is dragging, badly off-tempo. I insist I have a Ph.D. in music theory and that guy behind the kit is an amateur. I also say that it’s interesting what a big game that guy talks about sixteen years of sobriety considering I saw him shooting up skag laying under a urinal this morning. The singer agrees to kick him out of the band and the drummer throws punches as security hauls him away to the noise of cheering fans.

It’s just me and the singer now, a pure distillation of the core creative force behind the band. He asks one more time to confirm I can now play the song without the rhythm section messing me up, and I assure him that is the case. One, two, a one, two, three — He sings the first word and I hold up my hands to stop him. “This song is in G,” I say, having no idea what that would sound like. “You’re singing in C-minor.” He insists the song is in E-flat major and he’s singing it correctly. I roll my eyes, turn to the packed stadium, and gesture to the singer like he’s a buffoon. I take the mic and say, “This guy wants us to do a dance-pop album — keyboards, goofy outfits. Unlike this clown, I’m a purist for real rock and roll like you all. Boo at him! Boo!” The singer’s furious, charging at me reaching for my neck, but security stops him. “We ought to kick this traitor out of the band, yeah?” The crowd roars louder than ever and I give the signal to our manager, standing in the wings, that the singer no longer has any official affiliation with my band.

Alone on stage, I grip the mic, tell the lighting techs to give me just one spotlight. Sniffing in tears, I tell the crowd how I was like them once, before I joined and then successfully completed my mutiny of my favorite band. And I’ve been waiting my entire life to come up here on stage, take full control of the group, and announce that we will be selling the publishing rights to our entire catalog of classic songs to Oakmont Capital Partners, a private equity firm that will license our timeless hits for use in pill commercials and foreign militaries’ recruitment videos. The crowd cheers louder and tears well in my eyes. They see themselves in me up here, their avatar for this rock and roll fantasy they, too, have wished for. I thank my fans for making my dream come true, and then I tell them I want to give back to them. I ask who in the crowd wants to come up here and play guitar? Who wants to play bass, drums? Who wants to sing? The crowd’s fused into one electric hive now, pulsing with excitement as four regular people climb on stage and I hand my guitar over, then count the musicians in with a one, two, three, a one — wait, shoot. I messed that count up, but it’s okay because they’ve started ripping. They can play, and the fans all the way out to the nosebleeds lose their minds cheering. Do they sound as good as our former lineup? Absolutely not. It’s hollow and noisy, lacking soul. But I’m grinning wildly over here in the wings, savoring the rock and roll romance of this night, basking in that mythical glory knowing that I don’t have to pay those four suckers up there a dime because they’re living out a fantasy while I, the only official member of the group, collect every penny.

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To continue providing our community with award-winning local news coverage, we are excited to launch the Roswell Gazette Members Circle. Roswell residents can join the Members Circle for a small monthly donation, and in recognition of their generous support, members will be rewarded with perks, including an exclusive Gazette mug, a subscription to a members-only email newsletter, and early access to the news via an innovative windowing strategy I’ve pioneered.

Starting now, there are two distinct classes of news readers in Roswell. Paid participants in the Members Circle have access to breaking news reporting in real time on our website and in the weekly print edition they will receive on publication date. Roswell residents who choose not to subscribe to the Members Circle are still able to read our free, advertiser-supported coverage of school board meetings and community events, but only after the one-week Members Circle exclusivity window has passed.

Members are forbidden from sharing any news with non-members before the window is up. Non-members will be reprimanded if caught discussing upcoming arts & crafts festivals or school redistricting plans before seven days have passed. If suspected of stealing news from Members during the first week, non-members will be put on trial before a judge and jury made up of Members. If found guilty of mentioning an event that happened in our town within a week of its occurrence, the non-member will be disciplined by The Protectors, a gang of twelve men I hired to patrol Roswell and identify news thieves. Big and mean and cloaked in leather hoods, the Protectors will stalk the streets of our parks and farmers market, growling and slapping bats into their palms to make sure Members are discussing the news only with other paid Members before the seven-day window expires, at which point all residents are encouraged to discuss the Gazette’s wedding announcements and human interest stories about unique members of this community we all love to call home.

I’ve given the Protectors permission to enter private neighborhoods and walk all the way up to residents’ doors in order to listen to their conversations and, when necessary, install recording devices so we at Gazette HQ can ensure everyone in town is discussing the upcoming library book sale or new hours at the recycling center during the appropriate windows. If a non-member is caught explicitly violating the rules, I will waive his or her right to a trial and command the Protector to enter the home and physically punish the news thief, violently teaching him or her a lesson about the value of journalism until the clock strikes 7 days after the local event, at which point the gruesome torture will end and the non-member will be free to speak or think about the city council proposal to add a turn lane to Rucker Road at no charge.

The Protectors are not cheap. But I think you’ll quickly realize it’s worth every penny of $498 a month to keep these men out of your home and away from your son’s baseball tournament. The freedom to discuss bond referendums and Eagle Scout projects in real time without the threat of sadistic physical abuse is a great perk I’m thrilled to offer my friends and neighbors. So, we invite you to join us. We cannot do this without your support.

As a thank you to our Members, the names of our paid supporters will be published weekly in the print edition of the newspaper. And if you choose to not sign up today, your name will appear on a different list that is shared only with The Protectors.

Courtney Carlyle Dances At Last

Courtney Carlyle was only happy when she was alone in her room. Behind her closed door, she’d put in her headphones, close her eyes, and dance. She moved her body without fear or worry, far away from the skinny girls at school who told Courtney she was no good at dancing, who told her to stop, who made her quit the classes she’d enjoyed as a girl. Courtney knew she wasn’t a skilled dancer, but alone in her room she didn’t have to be. She floated on joy and solitude, lost in the pop music, eyes squeezed close.

But this night she opened them and locked eyes with a man in the house next door, a young man she’d never seen before. An undeniably hot man in his mid-twenties who’d just moved in and had seen her flailing.

She froze, mortified.

He smiled at her. He applauded. He gave her a thumbs up.

She felt safe. Like somehow they already knew each other. She smiled back at him, then shook her shoulders, moved her hips. He gave her an okay sign with his hand.

She laughed and blushed, then waved goodbye and closed her blinds. She fell back onto her bed, allowing herself to run wild with this silly schoolgirl fantasy.


At school, Courtney’s crush grew. She couldn’t stop thinking about her neighbor, and the dream life she invented — dancing with him on a beach, touching feet under a blanket — made the miserable school day bearable. She knew it was meaningless and unreal, surely inappropriate, but she let herself have it.

That night, she danced, and he arrived in the window again. He mirrored her moves. Together, for nearly an hour, she taught him one move after another without saying a word.

She fell asleep telling herself this wasn’t love, this couldn’t be love. But that word was the only one in her head.


When the final bell rang at school, Courtney gathered her books from her locker and walked past the gym. She looked in the open door and saw him, standing in the center of the basketball court. Her heart raced. Had he come to pick her up?

He pressed a button on a boombox and pop music played and he danced, eyes closed and serious, performing every move she’d taught him the night before.

Courtney stepped into the gym and saw the sign: FRANKIE FOSTER’S LOS ANGELES DANCE CLINIC. Three hundred girls packed the bleachers, ogling Frankie, gasping and blushing and cheering for him as he did Courtney’s moves, dressed in an all-leather outfit, a rock-and-roll black jacket covered in severe metal studs and sharp medallions.

For once, Courtney didn’t feel meek in front of the other girls. She approached the bleachers and took a seat in the center of the front row. She smiled at Frankie, and then she whispered to Trudy Thompson, the meanest girl in school, “I taught him this routine.” Trudy rolled her eyes and told Courtney to stop lying, but Courtney knew her moment had finally come.

Frankie finished dancing, and the crowd went wild. He asked if anyone had any questions for him. Girls asked about his life in Los Angeles, his experiences dancing for Jennifer Lopez and Dua Lipa, and his cool jacket, covered in all those pointy accessories.

Courtney waited for her turn, and finally Frankie called on her. “Hey,” she said, casually. “Would you be able to, maybe, tell everyone here where you learned those cool moves? Who taught them to you?” She winked at him. “Maybe a cool girl you saw through a window?”

He raised an eyebrow. “I’m a professional choreographer,” he said. “I created this routine myself. That’s my job and I take it seriously. I’d never steal anyone’s moves.”

“But,” Courtney said, struggling to breathe. “You, um, didn’t you watch…” She felt dizzy, like she’d been punched.

“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Frankie said, and the other girls laughed. “Maybe you should go see the nurse, get your head checked out about these schizophrenic visions of girls in windows.”

The other girls howled, and Courtney ran out of the gym.


That night, Courtney sobbed in her room until she heard a tapping noise. She looked up and saw Frankie in the window. “Sorry,” he mouthed. He found a sheet of paper, wrote on it, and held it up: HAVE TO MAINTAIN REPUTATION AS CREATOR OF MOVES. WHOLE CAREER RUINED IF I CREDIT YOU. UNDERSTAND? ARE WE OKAY?

Courtney thought it over for a minute, knowing she should stand up for herself and tell him his actions were unacceptable. She looked back at him and nodded. “We’re okay,” she mouthed. He smiled. She said, “Want to dance?” and he nodded.

Courtney put her headphones in and for hours she led Frankie Foster in another lesson, inventing a new routine for him. She lost herself again, letting go from the stress of the day, and she showed him a new move: right hand to left shoulder, pulled fast across the body back to the right side. Over and over they did the move together until it was slick and natural and easy.


After school the next day, Courtney arrived early to the dance clinic and she sat in the back, a hat pulled low on her head. The bleachers filled and the girls bounced with electric energy when Frankie arrived, wearing his signature jacket pocked with all those sharp metal details.

He pressed play on the boombox, counted himself in, and launched into Courtney’s routine: reaching his right hand to his left shoulder, where he gripped one of those metal studs, and then he whipped it hard across his neck in rhythm to the beat, slashing open his neck.

The girls shrieked as Frankie’s throat gushed red blood, and his dead body dropped limp onto the floor.

Pandemonium broke out while the boombox kept playing, and in the center of all that mayhem, Courtney Carlyle rose from the bleachers, threw her hat to the side, and stood at center-court, dancing for the first time in front of all those girls, giving each move her all as she stood over Frankie’s body, feeling pure and alive and free.