So I’ve got a work I tried to sell, but in the end I don’t think it would actually happen since it does reference a popular hit from way back when. Honestly, I love this song, and listening to it last Halloween made me really think things over. And since newer bands naming themselves after popular older songs is always in vogue, this came out of it. This is one of those bits of writing that formed simply by putting one word right after another until I was confident I had enough just to keep going with it until a decent end.
Just as a warning, there is some mild bad language and general references to the excesses of life. Drugs are bad. Stay in school.
Happy Halloween, folks!
So here we are:
Sons of the Purple People Eater (Or The Great Erick Shelby’s Last Hit Record)
by Patrick Anderson
The drums, it’s the drums that are the key to a good band. These drums just aren’t working out. They’re the core of the band, and this core is playing at half the speed he is supposed to.
“Stop!” I yell into my microphone. “Just stop.” I point at Pete and crook my finger.
His bright, expectant eyes look back with deer-like wonder. I keep gesturing until he finally stands up from his stool and walks over to the door to the booth. My hand kills the mic.
“We’re recording!” I shout damn near loud enough the rest of the band could hear it through the soundproofing. “You can’t play it like in rehearsal?”
The small, skinny boy jumps and grabs his elbows defensively like I might hit him. I feel like hitting him. “There’s too much money sunk into this for you to fuck around. Do you hear me?”
He nods meekly before beginning to turn towards the door.
“I’m not done with you,” I snap. “Play it right.”
“’T’s our band,” he snivels in a near whisper.
“The fuck you think it is,” I jump up, pointing again. I hit “Play” on the board, isolating his drum track. “What does this sound like?”
He hunches into himself even tighter like he was about to curl up into a ball on the floor and have a good cry.
“Well?” I ask, feeling the rest of the band watching from the other side of the glass.
John comes over. He knocks. The new Strat that Wallace bought him hangs loosely around his neck. He gestures around himself. “Are we going to get back to this?” He yells.
Will, the bassist, put his instrument down and start towards the outside door.
I release the mic, “Okay, fine. Let’s take a break.” I was quickly losing control of these lads. I am sure George Martin had his days with his own favorite boys, but these boys are not the Beatles. They’re barely even Green Day, for fuck’s sake.
“Well, get out of here. Take five,” I kick Pete to get him out of the booth. He scurries out of the room. I have turned even more awkward little punks into living gods: Pete shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Pulling my glasses off, I rub the bridge of my nose, and reach into the drawer for the Scotch. The Great Erick Shelby doesn’t have to put up with this shit. (Even if my accountant and my habit for blow say otherwise.)
I take a sip long enough to drain the glass before stashing the bottle back in the drawer. I lock it. The last thing I need is the band to discover the nearly full bottle.
I need a line, I think while I scout for the band. Good sense gets the better of me, and I put the headphones back on to begin resurrecting the track with editing.
There’s honking, I realize, somewhere in the mix. I start isolating tracks. Where the hell is it coming from? It’s on the drum part. It’s on the guitar part. It’s in the vocals. It’s all over the damn bass….
I drop the cursor at different points in the track. It’s everywhere! What the fuck?
I shake my head. I must be getting old, or I’ve fallen off my rocker.
“What the hell?” I whisper silently.
Starting the track again, I put all the parts together. The line slides across the screen as it plays. I look for where the horns appear. The exclamations are not even in the same points, I realize as I squint, looking at the bumps in the wave. They look like spiked peaks.
Are the boys putting one on me?
I take the headphones off, and leave the booth. Ears straining, I listen for anything while I walk around guitars and cables. Are they fucking with me?
These little punks could be putting one over on me. I look for anything–miniature sound effects peddles, buttons, anything–
“You okay?” Wallace Phillips, their manager, asks over the monitor speaker. I turn back and see him in the booth.
I hold a finger to my lips before starting my search again. I could hear it. I could hear that damned horn again. I strained. The notes are shot out like gunshots….
It must have been pretty damn loud for it make it through the sound proofing.
“Are you off your rocker?” Wallace asks again. I could hear the concern in his voice. He must have thought I was doing real drugs again. “Mate!” he called from the door to the booth. “Get your arse back here.”
“Go listen to the track,” I wave him off. He acts like he was doing me a favor. I was doing him the damn favor by recording The Sons of the Purple People Eaters at a discount. What horseshit!
“What?” He asks with a furrowed brow. After a minute, he turns around and goes back into the booth. He sits down in my chair with the headphones on and looks at me pointedly. I must have been keeping him away from counting his precious money.
I watch him listen from the doorway. He frowns for the whole three and half minutes.
“Pete having trouble keeping up with the drums?” He asks.
“What? You don’t hear the horns?” I ask in disbelief.
“What goddamn horns?”
“What do you mean: ‘what goddamn horns?’ The ones buried all over the mix.” I snatch the thick headphone wire from the console and press play.
I listen for the first toot, watching for it on the spectrogram. My eyes run across the wide screen. The peaks where the horns should be are gone. We reach where the first toot should be–It was gone. The horns were gone from the whole mix!
My mouth becomes dry as it hangs open from the shock. I’m leaning over Wallace. “It was there, I swear.”
I grab the mouse and start deleting tracks. “They need to play it over again.”
“I thought you were clean,” Wallace said with cool anger. My double of Scotch was still on my breath. He stands up brusquely. “I’m giving you another shot, and this is how you repay me?”
“Get them in here, and we’ll do it again.”
I’ve got to keep it together. Last time this happened with Wallace, I was out the door with this girlfriend in tow with a promise of all the free shit she could smoke, snort, lick or inject.
I ignore the no smoking sign and shake out a cigarette to calm my trembling hands something to do. My eyes dart to my locked drawer.
Wallace sees my eyes. He flashes a switchblade, shoving it into the lock before giving it a twist. He hefts my fifty dollar bottle of Scotch – my last fifty dollars’ bottle of Scotch. He holds it in front of my face, “Now, Erick, let’s get this straight. No more bullocks. Record it right. Make us a fuck load of money….” (Like there was even a load of money in the business anymore.)
The bottle whizzes past my head, smashing against the metal door. Glass and whiskey cover the floor.
“… And we’re square.” The asshole finishes his tirade as he admires the mess he made. He kicks a large shard out of his way before stomping out of the room; leaving me to reflect on my sins like I’m a naughty boy caught stroking it while I hide out in the school toilet during class.
“That English fuck,” I mutter as I start picking glass up and putting it into the trash. “Fucking twat.”
I keep on cursing him. I was the one screwed when Stephany tried heroin for the first time and overdosed. He did not know she was under aged. I did not know she was under aged. She did not even seem to know she was under aged for the kind of things she was into. Only the cops and her mother seemed to know she was under aged when I showed up with her at the hospital.
“I did him a favor by taking the rap,” I protest to no one while my cigarette hung out of my mouth. Ash dropped and sizzled from the evaporating alcohol on the floor. I give up on the smallest pieces, letting them stick to the floor so the janitor could deal with it.
“Hey, we had some thoughts about the song.” Will Mulberry says from the door. His band mates were getting things together. Suddenly, I finally realized what was happening: The Great Erick Shelby has had to put up with, coddle, stoke, and mold one little punk after another into Gods; and he was finally going to be brought down by Pete Beauregard and The Sons of a Shitty Novelty Song!
I was not about to let that happen.
Will’s eyes follow me intently as I stand. He looks like a lawyer who has finally found an edge over the prosecutor. I stand up straighter, and he looks up with the same look. “Well?” I ask with a sickly sweet grin. I am the producer, the judge in this little drama. “Let’s hear it.”
“Leave the drums like Pete’s playing them,” he says.
“Can’t,” I lie. “There was a problem with the mix and we have to do it again.”
Will frowns, and I hear a toot. My eyes widen madly. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Will asks. I hear a quick honk.
I look out into the studio again before turning back to glare at Will Mulberry. He backs away from the glint in my eye and the manic grin. I hiss, “You’re doing it, aren’t you?”
I make a quick grab for his hands. They think they’re so smart. I grasp his wrists firmly and pull him close. They feel furrier than they should, more like a dog than a person. My hands start to perspire.
He looks me in the eyes. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
The tooting starts getting louder as John and Pete start staring at me as well. I can’t turn around to look at them, Will’s eyes hold me tighter than grip. Somehow, I can feel their shared, intense concentration on me.
“You’ve been a dick since we’ve started,” Will says.
Finally, my palm slides away from his arm. I don’t know if I should apologize, or start running. I’m losing it.
“Yeah, we’ve had enough of that,” Pete said. His demeanor is changing as he draws my attention from his brother.
When spell is broken, I start to scramble back, pressing myself against the wall. Hy heart is pounding in my chest. I’m having a heart attack. I must be having a heart attack. I must be going insane.
John draws my eyes and smiles. Row after row of pointed yellow teeth glare back at me. His eyes slide together like binoculars coming into focus. One big eye looks back at me. It blinks, drawing wrinkled purpled skin together just below a horn that flares out. The three of them were all packing their own trumpets. The toots puff out from anger.
“Cousin John,” Will says coolly. “I think he’ll cooperate now. You won’t have to eat him. Will he?”
He asks me his question. I nod back frantically. It had to all be hallucination. It was just too many drugs. I sit back down at the console, and my heart slows down.
“Let’s take it from the top,” I’m still drenched in sweat.
“Are you okay?” Pete asks.
My head snaps up. They all look like normal boys again. Swallowing hard, one hand gripping the other to keep the other from shaking. “Fine, just thirsty.”
I stand up like nothing just happened. Had anything just happened? It is probably just the stress, flashbacks, or my withdrawal talking.
“Tune up,” I nod towards the drum kit as I get a handle on things. “We’ll try it your way. Maybe we need some horns in the mix.
“Get a whole ska vibe to it, right?” I give the boys my best Hollywood smile and placatingly wave my hands in the air.
Pete smiles as he heads back to the band. There’s a good boy.
I crunch over the broken glass, and grab the door handle. No matter how much I project calm, I still can’t steady my hand. It shakes even worse when I see Wallace standing near the water cooler down the hall. I have not felt this afraid with or without drugs in years. I shove my hands into my coat pocket. The feeling of fur lingers on fingertips.
Forcing myself, I keep walking. He’s talking to one of the exec’s. “How are things going with the boys,” he says all smiles with a hand on my back.
“Things are going great. We’re all getting along fine,” . My hand slaps against this back, causing him to pitch forward slightly and drop the cone cup he was holding. Water covers the front of his pants. His smile fades for the moment while my palm throbs with pain. I reached for a cup of my own and fill it. It still hurts, but it is finally steady.
“I’ve got to be getting back,” I say as I turn to leave Wallace to deal with own wetting problem. Sneezing, I hear that horn sound again, and wonder just how Wallace might taste. . .
The Sons of the Purple People Eater (Or The Last Hit Record of the Great Erick Shelby) by Patrick Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
“Purple People Eater” is, of course, by the late, great Sheb Wooley. Listen to the song. Buy the song. Play the song as if it is “The Bird is the Word” by the Trashmen.