Roude's Awakenings

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Review Chain
The tale of a pilgrimage to the bedside of rock music's most spectacular talent.

Submitted: September 26, 2016

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Submitted: September 26, 2016

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Lazz Roude remains a captive audience, laying comatose in a hospital room in Palm Bend, Florida.  His assistant plays guitar and sings to him, as she does every day.  Her brow is bent as she finishes her song and eases her black-nailed fingers from the frets.

 

“I don’t got it,” she says, the lamentation in her voice almost melodic.  “No miracle today.  I keep at it, though.  I can’t give up.  Someday I’ll figure it out and bring him back.”  Most of the world has forgotten about him, if they ever knew him to begin with.  There are occasional visits from fans on a pilgrimage.  They have thinned out as the years have gone on.  None have the dedication of Mattie Niss, the woman sitting at Roude’s bedside with a guitar in her lap.  She is an attractive woman in her mid-30’s, but she bears a deep-set case of the weariness that inhabits people who spend too much time in hospitals.  Lazz has never looked better.  Except perhaps for that year when his band, Sabayshis Sisster, was sporting teased hair and lipstick.  Though sixty years old today, he easily could pass for 40.  The years of bed rest have apparently done him a little bit of good.

 

Lazz Roude has been in this state for five years and counting.  Mattie lives most of her waking life in room 313 of the hospice wing at Bethany Medical Center and health clinic.  As she begins to tell me her tale, she rifles through an enormous, well-worn duffel bag bearing the name of a cigarette company.  She hangs her head in frustration.

 

“I wanted to show you something.  Something that will help you see what he’s capable of,” she says.  “Do you have a problem going for a ride with me?  He’s not going anywhere.”

 

Mattie plugs in a worn mp3 player and slips headphones over Lazz’s ears.  As we walk out of the room she explains that he will be listening to his own music while we are away.  She leads me to the car- an old station wagon with fake wood paneling.  It is in pristine condition.  She tells me how much Lazz loved the car, how it’ll be perfect to move him when they run out of money.  As we drive to retrieve the object, she talks about the decade she has spent as the assistant to rock music’s most unreal talent.  The singer who could raise the dead.

 

---

 

Mattie Niss was born Madeleine Jackson in Toledo, Ohio.  From an early age, she had to fend for herself more than most kids.  Her mother, Selda Jackson, was in and out of her life.  Selda struggled with staying sober and employed.  She had a habit of following bands that had a greater ability to get trashed than to make good music.  Mattie’s maternal grandparents raised her for the most part.

 

“Mom tried,” she says.  “Tried and failed.”

 

Mattie realized she was smarter than her mother in the third grade, while studying state capitals.

 

“The capital of Ohio is ‘O.’  That’s what she said.  The capital of Iowa is ‘I,’ the capital of Michigan is ‘M.’  She kept shrugging at me, like she was saying, ‘why are you not getting this?’  I asked her what the capital of West Virginia was.  She stormed out of the room.”

 

Selda and Mattie found common ground with music.  Selda was a natural born 80’s rocker.  Big hair, denim everything, earrings that could be used to begin construction of a Ferris Wheel.  Toledo was a petri dish where rock music spores grew in the hopes they could infect Detroit.  Selda was one of the devoted who haunted the clubs and encouraged the talentless.  The soundtrack stayed the same even after Mattie came along.

 

“I know people who grew up listening to their parents’ music.  Jazz or old Country or whatever.  I’ve met people younger than me who know all the British Invasion stuff because their grandparents made their parents listen to it, and then their parents handed it down to them.  I’m just one of the lucky few who was raised on Hair Metal.”

 

To those who missed it, the 1980’s was marked by, among other vanities, a genre of pop rock that was known as much for its image as its sound.  It was the heyday of music videos, where flash had to equal substance, if not exceed it altogether.  Rock bands portrayed themselves as tough, womanizing, hard partiers.  They often had enormous teased hair, make-up, colorful bandanas, leggings, and fingerless gloves to accentuate their tough guy image.  Mattie was indoctrinated in the sub-culture from toddlerhood.  The hollow lyrics and redundant guitar riffs were part of her formative years, slipped into her mind before the plates of her skull could fuse together.  The bands stood in for fairy tale characters whenever her mother bothered to tuck her in.  Mattie knew them all the way ancient Greek boys knew the heroes of the Trojan War.  The Stoned Rangers.  Hack.  Soshal Dizeez.  The Rumornations.  Selliva. Heil Mary.And above all others, if a minor act to everyone else, Sabayshis Sisster.

 

“Mom loved Sabayshis.  She snapped the tape on five cassettes that I can remember.  I loved them too.  They are remembered for a couple of tunes, but they really were one of the most musical bands to come out of that era.  Besides Rapunzul, I can’t think of any band that had the same kind of musical integrity.  Their songs Lazz wrote were more complicated.”

 

I never thought of “Party Hearty” as a particularly complicated song.  Mattie breaks down chord progressions on her windshield as she drives through the desolate retail purgatory that is Central Florida.  To hear it from her, Lazz Roude is a modern-day Mozart.  I have always loved the moment when the thin veneer covering something is peeled back to reveal its depth.  I especially love when that depth is just a reflection of the passion felt by the person doing the peeling.  I’m sure this is a little of both.  Mattie seems like the kind of person who can find the spark of genius in anything.  I make a mental note to ask her to break down 1982’s “Rappin’ the Rap” by MC Al Gee later.

 

“Lazz came along at the wrong time.  If he was born ten years earlier, he would have been prog.  A decade later he might have been grunge.  The 80’s was a marketing driven phase of music.  Not that there wasn’t and isn’t that element anyway.  Always was.  Always will be.  But that decade wasn’t about the artists, it was about the representatives.  Videos changed the landscape.  Image was the end-all, be-all.  Lazz got his music made, but he was extruded through a machine that wanted you to look and sound like every other band.  Conformity doesn’t work for a creative soul.”  Not that Lazz lacked an impulse toward conformity.  His drive to be a musician was initially a desire to be one of the British rock gods he so idolized.  His early efforts are Zeppelish to say the least, though his talent did shine through.  His voice was what caught attention above everything else.  Roude’s range was impressive.  His androgynous tone was unique.  Some listeners found it intriguing.  Others were creeped out by it.  The voice made Lazz, and it broke him.

 

---

 

Sabayshis Sisster began life as Steele Weal, a nod to their Detroit roots and the increasing inability of the Hard Rock community to spell correctly.  The band’s record label encouraged the eventual name change as well as a shift to tight red pants.  The band plugged along, releasing albums regularly starting in ’78 and touring constantly.  They headlined small venues and opened on a few major bills.  Mattie’s mother claimed to have seen them on twenty-seven occasions; it sounds as though Selda may have hallucinated at least three of those, perhaps mistaking a busy muffler shop for the concert of the century.  Mattie was conceived backstage following a show in Cleveland in 1982.  For years, Selda was certain that the child was Roude’s.  After a prolonged quarrel, a blood test exonerated Lazz and implicated Fish Hampton, the band’s fifth bass player who appeared on two tours and three tracks of their fourth album 1st Degree Bern.  Mattie was raised with the impression that Lazz was her father.  It wasn’t until her mother’s fatal overdose that the twelve-year-old daughter was informed by her parents that the front man was not her Daddy. 

 

“That was more devastating than losing Mom.  I always knew things would end badly for my mother.  I tried to tell her.  Grandma had prepped me for her death from as long as I could remember.  But Lazz was my father.  Not just any father, but a magical one.  An artist travelling the world, and some day he would come and get me and take me with him.  That fairy tale kept me warm on a lot of cold nights.  I didn’t say anything to my grandparents.  But I refused to accept it at first.”

 

As time passed, and Mattie grew up, her faith in the fairy tale ebbed away.  Beyond the jadedness that overtakes legions of American teenagers, she had more evidence that Lazz was not her father.  She bore an increasing resemblance to the strikingly attractive, if musically incompetent, Fish Hampton.  She tracked him down one day.  He was working as a web design instructor in a Total Tech Institute in a Columbus strip mall.

 

“I didn’t tell him who I was.  I just said that I was a big fan of the band.  He laughed his ass off.  He was brought into the band for his looks, and Lazz fired him because he sucked and he was siphoning groupies away from the rest of the band.  He got chubby, but Fish is still really good looking.  I kept seeing this little glint in his eye like he recognized me.  Maybe he gets a lot of that.  The guy might have dozens of kids out there.  Who knows?”

 

Having established that Lazz was not her biological father didn’t sour Mattie on Sabayshis.  Her devotion sublimated into a spiritual connection to the man and his music.  The Guru Roude.  When her grandparents died, Mattie felt unmoored.  Music was her touchstone.  Soon after the turn of the millennium, she set off to find her spiritual father.  It didn’t take long.  Although Lazz was suspicious of technology, his devoted fans maintained websites detailing his every move.  He had a week-long engagement at a club called the Casbah in San Jose.  Mattie made the drive in just under two days, listening to the full body of Sabayshis Sisster along the way.

 

“I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there.  I was fresh out of high school.  Just buried my grandmother.  I wanted to just run away.  Lazz was the only thing I could think of running to.  I told my boyfriend to have a nice life, and I got in the car and I went.  I’d never been out of Toledo’s orbit.  I loved being on the road.  Except for Nebraska.  I had this image of the Casbah being an amazing place- a nightclub where the gods of rock stooped to the Earth to kiss the foreheads of the devoted.  Place was a dump.  Lazz wasn’t even on the main stage.  That was downstairs in this cavernous hall covered with generations of hippie and hipster bumper stickers.  Lazz was upstairs in the lounge.”

 

Mattie found her god playing acoustic guitar, drunk and alone.  I’ve been to the Casbah.  It has since been demolished, and the spot where the tragically-lit lounge used to be is roughly home plate in San Jose’s expansive minor league baseball park.  The basement holds about a thousand people around a stage the size of a toaster oven.  The upstairs lounge accommodates about three dozen people.  Most of them are just drinking, catching a game on television or eating falafel or kabobs.  The walls feature amateurish murals of oases in the Sahara.  Once while waiting for a date to arrive, I found myself counting the camels.  The sound coming from the “jazz” trio was as terrible as it was loud and I needed to fix my mind on something besides thoughts of murder.  57 camels decorated the lounge in various stages of striding.  One sported three humps.

 

On the night that Mattie had her epiphany, Lazz Roude was getting into a verbal scuffle with an equally drunk patron.  She watched him shout for twenty minutes before he played a note.  It wasn’t the introduction she had preminisced.  Still south of fifty at the time, the singer looked years older- a life spent shaken and stirred, chopped up with a razor, rolled up and smoked.  He could still play.  And sing.

 

“It was incredible,” she says.  “You couldn’t imagine this drunk walking ten feet, let alone playing a twelve-string.  When he finally started playing, it was beautiful.  Lazz has more than his share of flaws.  Singing and playing aren’t on that pile.”

 

Indeed, it was typically Lazz’s perfectionism and musicianship that drove band members away.  In sixteen years of touring and recording, Steele Weal/Sabayshis Sisster went through six drummers, nine rhythm guitarists, four keyboard players, and a whopping twenty bass players.  Lazz seldom found a musician whose abilities matched his own.  He typically re-recorded tracks after the band left the studio.  Sweaty or Knot, Hear I Cum allegedly features Lazz playing every instrument on every song.  After Fish Hampton got the boot, Roude settled into a groove of finding musicians who vaguely resembled their predecessor and who were decidedly less attractive than he.  In some of the music videos, actors with wigs held instruments behind the front man, obscured by angles, hidden in smoke and bad lighting. 

 

---

Mattie Niss (Lazz suggested the name) rents a room in a three-bedroom condominium located someplace called Misty Glades.  She keeps a heavy padlock on her bedroom door.  I ask her if she doesn’t feel safe in her own home.

 

“Is this your first trip to Florida?” she asks.  Touché.

 

There isn’t much behind the cartoonishly large padlock.  I think the majority Mattie’s possessions have sentimental value.  It looks like a teenager’s bedroom.  Chaotic and tender.  Photos and posters are everywhere.  I ask her how long she has lived there.

 

“I don’t know if I can really say I ever lived here.  I’ve slept here four to six nights a week for about four years.  Lazz was in a place in Los Angeles for the first year or so.  I found this place online.  It suits a purpose.  There’s a pool.  We do what we gotta do, right?”  She begins to rifle through a trunk at the foot of her bed- the kind of footlocker that looks like an old family chest, but is actually made of thick cardboard.  “It’s in here somewhere.  Somewhere.  Got it.”  She extracts a photo album and cracks it to the first page, revealing a large photo.  “That’s Lazz, of course.  And that is Seamus.  He was the first.”  In the picture, Lazz Roude sits on the edge of a hospital bed next to a young boy.  Lazz is flashing the ‘sign of the devil’ hand gestures that 80’s rockers constantly made.  I picture a retirement home in Arizona where aged rock musicians wander the halls with their hands arthritically frozen in devil horns.

 

“Seamus Oliver.”

 

In the picture, Seamus is sickly thin, managing a big smile.  Three days before the photograph was taken, the twelve-year-old was in a coma.  For seven months he was lost to the world, having suffered a massive concussion at a pear orchard.  His parents were big fans of hair metal and played rock music in his hospital room.  Seamus’ father, Connor, downloaded Akoosdick Roude, a digital album put together by Mattie.  While the unplugged renditions of the hardest rocking Sabayshis Sisster tunes gently wafted through the hospital room, a miracle occurred.  Young Seamus Oliver began to regain consciousness.  The family contacted Lazz through his official website and the rocker flew out to meet his newest fan.

 

The awakening marked his biggest blip on the cultural radar since Lazz knocked out a flight attendant at 30,000 feet for bringing him the wrong dinner in 1991.  That story had legs for a day or two.  A few late night jokes spun off the airline incident.  There was a small amount of coverage of the boy raised from a coma.  Then that was that.  Lazz was brushed back into the shadows.

 

Until it happened again.  And again.  And again…

 

---

 

The acoustic album was Mattie’s idea.  As was the official website.  And the visit to Seamus’ bedside.  Mattie found a battered heap on a barstool in San Jose and convinced him that he needed an assistant.

 

“I had to convince him twice.  The first time he was drunk and flexible.  The next morning, he was hung-over and belligerent.  At first he thought I was a prostitute and he told me he could send me a check.  After I cleared that up, he kept asking who the hell I thought I was.  That question rung my bell for a while.  I told him that I could help.  I made up a bunch of stuff about how good I was at web design and that sort of thing.  He told me to take a hike.  I headed back to Columbus and studied web design with Fish Hampton for six months.  I have a knack for it.  Must be genetic.”

 

After creating the official websites of Lazz Roude and Sabayshis Sisster, Mattie returned to California to find her drunken idol and get his approval.

 

“The second time I was ready.  I had breakfast made, sports drinks at the ready.  I lit up a spliff and started calmly explaining how he could start promoting himself without a record company.  I pretty much introduced him to the internet ten years after the rest of the world encountered it.  I think the pot did most of the convincing.  Lazz was ready to get out of San Jose.”

 

Lazz found himself in San Jose following the tech crowd who were flush with cash in the late 90’s.  The same dotcom set was nostalgic for 80’s music.  While he was ignoring the reality of the information age, the money that was pouring into it kept him busy playing small venues.  He kept to the west coast, rocking increasingly suburban gigs from Seattle to San Diego with plenty of Vegas for good measure.  Most of his band was composed of engineers who were overjoyed to be onstage rather than incubicle.  But while Lazz was happy to have free backing musicians, his perfectionism and alcoholism led to frequent onstage dismissals.  At one infamous Bakersfield show, the drummer and rhythm guitarist were both told to take a hike and Roude finished the set by playing the bass drum himself while on guitar.

 

“Lazz has a gift.  Pure and simple,” Mattie says bundling up the album.  “Many gifts.  He just can’t get out of his own way.  Let’s get some food.”

 

We pull into a roadside Cuban place that obviously used to house a franchise that doled out soft-serve and bad burgers.  Over the most perfectly crafted medianoches in the universe, she asks me why I’m doing a piece on her comatose boss.

 

“It’s been months since anyone came to do a story on him.  The last one was prepping a story on the anniversary of the Pasadena show.  Most of the people before that were part of some “whatever happened to?” kinda production.  Lazz sandwiched between the little black kid with the silly catch-phrase and the guy waking up at dawn to make the donuts.”

 

I explain too her that I was here to settle a bet, so to speak.  I found myself in a debate on the nature and existence of miracles.  My friend and mentor, the esteemed Karl Jabbar, had recently found himself communicating with a guardian angel via a magic eight-ball.  I chalked his experience up to the idle yet genius mind of a hyper-super-morbidly obese man confined to his bed and his imagination.  As our conversation became an argument over divine intervention, Karl proposed Lazz Roude as an example of God intervening in human existence.  I maintained that the phenomena of people roused from a coma while listening to Lazz Roude songs (252 in all) had some rational explanation.  I don’t think science explains everything, but I do believe it can, given enough time, data and human effort.  I pointed out to Karl that the number of people who were exposed to acoustic Sabayshis Sisster songs while comatose numbered in the thousands.  The loved ones of every catatonic person on Earth probably gave it a shot.  Why would God only pull 252 out of thousands?

 

One of the fortunate 252 celebrated his second shot at life by getting plastered and plowing his car head on into that of a young couple.  All three died.  Eventually.

 

Karl consulted his eight-ball and told me ‘it is certain’ that God was operating through the rock star.  How could I argue with that?  My tarot cards were in the shop and my crystal ball needed a new motherboard.  Until Karl mentioned it, I was only dimly aware of the “Roude awakenings” as an internet story, an urban legend.  When I left my friend to his angel, his eight-ball, and his short stack of pot-pies, I began looking at the story and found the remarkable truth.  Whatever the mechanism, dozens of people had responded to Lazz’s music by rising from the grip of unyielding sleep.  More than chance.

 

As we eat, Mattie flips through the album.  She knows each story.  How they fell asleep, and who sat at their side waiting and praying.  Some of their emailed cries for help are printed and pasted amid their pictures and thank you cards.  Save my baby.  Bring my mom back.  You are our last hope.

 

“This one was my favorite.  Ninety-four years old.  Rosemary Goblecki.  Lazz wasn’t there.  Her great-grandson cranked “Downtowne XXX-presss” on the morning they were removing her feeding tube.  Turns out he was pissed off that his Dad was angling for his share of the inheritance.  He had heard about the awakenings on some paranormal activity website.  She woke up immediately and told him to ‘turn that crap off.’  She sent a nice card.  See?  Last I heard, she was still kickin’.  Imagine that?  A hundred and something and she’s up and about, and Lazz is still under.”

 

I ask if she ever hears from them.  The awakened.

 

“Sometimes.  Some of them.”  She flips toward the back of the album.  “This guy, Arthur, always writes.  Every six months.  He doesn’t visit anymore.  I understand that.  He started a family and he lives in Oregon.  But he always writes.  He never stops saying thank you.  A lot of them are just gone.  Moved on.  I guess I kinda understand that too.  I don’t think they should be groveling at his feet forever.  Lazz didn’t set out to help people.  It was just a thing that happened on its own.  Still- you think more people would remember him.”

 

So does Mattie ever feel like moving on?  Finding someone?  Starting a family?

 

“All the time.  But then what happens to him?  Most of the people who owe their lives to him couldn’t care less.  This thing isn’t over.  I took on this job because I believed in it.  I believed in him.  I’m not going to run away from it.  I wouldn’t mind finding someone.  Dating orderlies gets old.  Male nurses are weird.  Every one I’ve met, anyway.”

 

I ask if she and Lazz were ever romantically involved.  She laughs.

 

“I wouldn’t say that.  We sort of hooked up once.  It was awkward.  Really awkward.  We had too much to drink.  He couldn’t rise to the occasion.  That was probably a good thing.  I can’t explain how drawn I am to him.  I think when you’re with someone all the time a tension develops and you can express that sexually.  For us it was just a mistake.  We talked through it.  It brought us closer.  The talking, not the hooking up.  After that, he let me in.  Started sharing his thoughts.  His feelings.”

 

Mattie flips through the book.  I can see the recognition of each page cascade across her face.  She turns the album around so I can appreciate the picture.  A bleach-blonde girl, paler than Death’s horse flashes the sign of the Devil right along with Lazz.  The girl is wagging her tongue, clearly in ecstasy.

 

“Gina,” says Mattie.  “She was the only one who was a real fan.  She reminded me of mom.  Gina was found unconscious in a playground.  A year after Lazz woke her up they found her dead in the foyer of an abandoned Chinese restaurant.  She was a mess.  Beautiful girl, but so lost.  She tried to borrow money from us.  I think this was where Lazz started to turn the corner.  Started to resent his gift.”

 

It turns out that having miraculous powers gets old after a while.  Lazz grew weary of playing to the living dead at their bedside.  Hospital smells often made him nauseous.  It was frustrating when he failed to rouse them.  He was often depressed when those he did pull out fell into misery and mediocrity.  None of them cured cancer or started an orphanage.  Lazz wanted out.  The Pasadena show was his ticket.  He envisioned a show that would let him stop being the miracle worker and return to life as a mere rock star.

 

---

 

Lazzaruss Roude was born Josh Schwartz in the Detroit suburb of Henley, Michigan.  His father was an orthodontist, his mother a piano teacher who taught him as soon as he could reach the keys.  Lazz was born the day Elvis Presley’s first record was released: March 23, 1956.  Eight years later, the youngster was one of the many schoolboys disciplined for not coming their hair after a certain British quartet appeared on American television for the first time.  As a thirteen-year-old, he hitchhiked to upstate New York, and made it to Woodstock just in time to barely hear Jimi Hendrix.  The experience completed his emotional transition to guitar just as he was exposed to Led Zeppelin.

 

Roude’s high school band was called the Mydnyte Vykyngs.  Their sound was amateur Zeppelin.  All that remains from his formative performance years are pictures of the band- complete with Nordic helmets- playing shows in gymnasiums and back yards- and one song that evolved into “Belleey of the Beest.”  Probably fitting that the only salvageable tune from a pile of faux-Viking dreck was the one about the reluctant Jew called to do God’s work.  One day it would be a staple of live shows, remarkable for being the most expensive music video ever made until Michael Jackson came along with a bunch of zombies.  Lazz’s background in classical piano informed his musical sensibilities.  Even in his three-minute radio-friendly songs, one can find the elements of a concerto.  Yet, apart from keyboard accompaniments in the age of the synthesizer, Lazz focused on him guitar playing.  He was an excellent guitar player but an exceptionally gifted pianist.

 

Lazz Roude devoted his life to his music at the expense of friends and family.  He was often surrounded by sycophants and opportunists.  Musicians were the only ones able to get close to him, and they were always driven away by his extraordinary standards.  His love life was mostly confined to one night stands in random hotels or eight minute dalliances backstage.  A very public engagement to Gloria Zayne, the pop star most famous for “Shake Me, I’m Your Baby,” ended even more publicly when she dumped him for Tony Barzoum (the star of Who’s in the Kitchen?) on the eve of the American Video Awards.  Lazz brought Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee instead.  He infamously claimed the chimp was better in bed.

 

As I look through her carefully tended album with Mattie, I realize that Lazz never really smiles.  Not in the pictures.  Not in the interviews I watched online before making my way down to Palm Bend.  The closest thing he can muster is a sinister smirk or a maniacal grimace.  Neither look conveys anything resembling happiness.  I ask her if he ever smiled.  She has to think very hard.

 

“Yeah.  Early on when the comatose were waking up.  Usually when something good happened, he looked like a tennis player.  Intense.  Never joyful.  After a few of the awakenings, he would get this little smile.  A soft, satisfied, peaceful smile.  That was early on.  After a bit, he started to resent it.  It took over.”

 

So here is Lazz Roude in a nutshell.  He was an unhappy man of incomparable gifts that gave his life tremendous purpose.  And now he is vegetative and seemingly blissful.  They say God works in mysterious ways.  This seems a mystery to me.  Why endow an unappreciative man with a gift to bring life back to the lifeless?  And why put that very man into a coma where his gift is useless?

 

Perhaps it has nothing to do with God.

 

The Collicular Institute at Western Upper Michigan State University is conducting an ongoing research study to determine the nature of Lazz’s gift.  WUMSU’s working hypothesis is that Lazz has a unique pitch he uses while singing along to acoustic (sorry, akoosdick) music which activates neural pathways deep in the human brain.  The idea is that certain people can respond to his peculiar vocalizations under the right circumstances.  The researchers are now trying to determine which people and what circumstances.  The WUMSU team is in the midst of a project to image the brains of the awakened.  They are determined to establish the science behind the phenomenon.

 

“They never will,” Mattie tells me as we head back to Lazz’s bedside.  “It is a miracle.  Do you need proof?  Nobody has risen since he’s been gone.  Not one.  More than half of the people who woke up were listening to a recording.  Not one has woken up since he fell asleep.  It only works when he’s in our world.  Not trapped in his own.”

 

She’s right.  It is still common practice to play Akoosdick Roude for the comatose.  Yet, while 252 rose to the record or a live rendition, not one person has since Lazz himself landed in a coma.  That happened five years ago.  Pasadena.

 

---

 

The idea was simple.  Lazz would perform a live concert to an audience of the lifeless.  One thousand torpid souls would be wheeled into Pasadena’s expansive amphitheater for the last opportunity to get Akoosdick Roude in the flesh.  That was it.  Lazz was pulling the plug.

 

“It had taken on a life of its own,” Mattie says as she wipes his still face with a damp cloth.  “People made appeals for him to come to someone’s side.  These were exhausted families hoping for a miracle.  When it worked, it was amazing.  I can’t describe the happiness.  I guess it’s the way people describe a birth or something.  It always made me cry.  And I’m not a crier.”

 

And Lazz?

 

“He would sit back and put on his rock-star face.  Coolest guy in the room.  Which he was, of course.  But he had to exude that aloof confidence.  When it didn’t work- and that was the majority of the time- he tried to pull off that same face.  Only you could feel the irritation.  Those times could get ugly.  Desparate relatives would beg him to stay longer.  Play another song or play one again.  Lazz would stay for hours at first.  By the end he would crank out three or four songs and then bounce with a half-hearted apology.  It was real hard.  The awakenings felt so special.  Lazz was special and so were the people he saved.  When it didn’t click, no one felt special.  Failure is tough to sit with.”

 

Mattie was in charge of the itinerary.  The news of his healing talents helped him book tour dates.  No arenas, but better venues than the Casbah.  The shows remained acoustic (sorry, akoosdick) and solo for the most part.  In the cities that could allow better venues and extended engagements, Roude would plug in and be joined on stage by other musicians.  Those nights inspired Lazz to write enough new material for his first album in years.  Lazz was pulled back to his electric roots.  And there were other forces pushing him away from a life of a miracle-worker.

 

“You wouldn’t believe how many maniacs are out there.  The fringe is the majority.  I’d never heard of most of the religions.  Neo-Reticulans, Movementarians, Makebelievists, Dropa-tunists.  I have another album filled with pamphlets.  They all wanted a piece of him.  Good and bad.  Some wanted a savior.  Others needed an adversary.  Lazz was tired of it.  He didn’t want to be either.  He wanted to be a rock god, not a prophet.  The awakenings proved to him that his music was special.  Only he wanted that to be his ticket back in.  The resuscitation of his career.  He hated being typecast as a spiritual guru or whatever.”

 

I ask Mattie if Lazz thought his ability was supernatural.

 

“No.  He’d mull it over here and there.  Lazz wasn’t into the whole God-thing.  He grew up with some of that, but rock was his religion.  The gods are mortal, and the music is eternal.  There wasn’t much in his universe that was beyond an explanation.”

 

I ask if she thought it was.  She thinks for a moment.

 

“Yeah.  It is something else.  If you could see Pasadena, you might start believing in miracles.”

 

No one has seen Pasadena, besides the people who were there.  No one talks about Pasadena.  No one can.  The settlements that arose from the flurry of lawsuits included non-disclosure clauses that prohibit anyone from ever speaking about it.  The stories that came out were contradictory.  Mattie herself can’t say anything about the events of that night without inciting a whirlwind of litigation.  Rumors persist that there is a recording.  Mattie can confirm nothing.  She can deny nothing.  She feels comfortable letting me know that I’ve probably been exposed to 80% of the truth.

 

“But probably not all at once.”

 

This is the rough outline of the story.  A thousand comatose people of all ages, races, creeds and what-have-you’s are wheeled or carried into the the outdoor pavilion in Pasadena.  The majority are in gurneys, although some are in wheelchairs.  All are hopeless cases.  Cameras are everywhere, prepared to broadcast the event, live on pay-per-view for the low, low price of $49.95.  The ultimate spectacle.  Magic meets rock & roll.  A revival, you might say.  A team of doctors, independent and contracted by the event producers, examines each patient to verify their bona-fide vegetative state.

 

The cameras weren’t rolling- allegedly- when Lazz came out to rehearse.  The sound system was- allegedly- not supposed to be on.  As Lazz casually launched into his set, the crowd began to stir.  Dozens of people snapped from their slumber to find themselves in a cavernous, poorly-lit space, surrounded by the lifeless.  Chaos ensued.  Doctors, nurses and loved ones tried to settle down the awakened.  The more that awoke, the more confusion filled the room.  Lazz played on, eyes shut, earbuds firmly in place, oblivious to the craziness he was generating.  He played on until an object crashed into his skull.  In one version of the story, a wheelchair was thrown at him.  In another, it was a heart monitor.  One rendition claims a stage light simply fell from high above the stage and landed on him.  Seems more likely than a wheelchair.  However, one of the awakened was Perry “The Pizza Oven” Williams, the defensive lineman who was one of the most promising football talents before he knocked himself into oblivion running face-first into a goalpost.  He could probably throw a wheelchair with someone still sitting in it.  Regardless of what delivered the blow, Lazz Roude lay unconscious on stage.  He has yet to awaken.

 

The last half of Mattie’s album is filled with sketches.  Many of the awakened choose anonymity.  Part of their class action agreement.  Some still sent letters of thanks.  Anonymously.

 

---

 

I take the guitar from Mattie.  She holds it forth, like it is my sword and she is my page.  I sit next to Lazz and form the chords I learned as a dutiful school boy.  They are the same as in the classic Kumbaya, though the melody is different.

 

“Do you want me to leave?” Mattie asks.

 

I tell her to stay.  I should have a witness.  I begin to strum, softly at first.  As I feel confidence in my playing build, I break into my best Lazz Roude impersonation:

 

Here I know not left from right-

All the world is out of sight-

I can’t tell the day from night-

THE BELLEEY OF THE BEEST!

 

Headed for the darkest door-

Throw my corpse upon the shore-

Lord, I just can’t take no more_

THE BELLEEY OF THE BEEST!

 

I stop.  Mattie and I stare intently at Lazz for ages.  He is as motionless as when I first saw him.

 

“You don’t got it either,” Mattie says.

 

She walks me outside with the album clutched to her chest.  When we reach the parking lot, she holds it out to me.

 

“Hold on to this.  Until you’ve finished your story.  You can send it back whenever.  Ship it.  Bring it back.  I trust you.”  I try to protest.  She insists I take the album.  “I’m sorry you didn’t get your miracle.  They are real, though.  I saw them.  Look through the book.  You can see miracles.  You can see Pasadena in their eyes.  You really can.  It’s in their eyes.”  She stares intently at me for a moment.

 

She turns quickly and heads back inside without a farewell.

 

Back in my motel room, with a tall glass of bourbon and bourbon on the rocks, I flip through the album.  I see a lot in the eyes of Roude’s Awakened.  I see a little bit of everything.  Fear and relief and confusion and joy.  I can imagine even more than the pictures and drawings have to offer.  These are people who were pulled from a world of nothing into a world of infinite possibilities.  I envy them.  I’m stuck in a gray clockwork existence.  I think I’d prefer nothing or enchantment over the natural mediocrity I find everywhere.  I look through their eyes.  I see plenty, but I don’t see a miracle.  I don’t see Pasadena.

 

The last page is like the first, a picture of Seamus Oliver- the young boy.  This picture is different though.  He is sitting in the same chair I sat in next to Lazz.  In the dim light of the motel lamp, I see a strange glint in his eyes.  Looking closely, I see that someone has poked holes through the picture.  Something reflective is behind the photograph.  I slide my fingers along the edge of the sheet, finding a seam.  As delicately as I can, I peel the last page open.  Out slides a disc.  A DVD.  I recognize Mattie’s scrawl in magic marker across its surface.

 

Pasadena.

 

 

THE END

 


© Copyright 2017 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.

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