Neo Folk Rock Trio
“You wouldn't be undressing me with your
eyes?” asks Melissa, five minutes into our date. Curve of lip revealing
hint of a smile.
“I'm not going to dignify that with an
answer,” I reply with a grin. I hope she's being flirtatious.
We are seated at the terrace of Annabella's
Asylum, a popular café on Main Street near Venice Beach where oval stained
glass graces the façade. The walls inside display pink tinted photographs of
mountains and coastlines. There is a thick scent of peppermint incense. Razor
riffs from “Purple Haze” blast from tall outdoor speakers.
Melissa has long blond hair flowing past her
shoulders and bright blue eyes. I was already seated when she showed
up in tight jeans, black leather boots with laces, and a low-cut tie-dyed T
shirt. I smiled, stood up and signaled her to my table. As she approached,
I noticed a small black rubber flashlight hanging from a thick denim
Melissa contacted me on a dating app
called cool professional singles, of which I have been a member
longer than I care to admit. I hesitated when Melissa suggested
meeting for a drink. Her profile featured a photo of her in gym
shorts jogging on a sand dune. She described herself as a “physically fit
free-spirited woman with a passion for music.” Apart from that, she
didn't reveal much.
Internet dating has been a wild ride. A
lot of nut jobs but I'm hanging in. Pushing 40 with no long-term
relationships under my belt. They usually fizzle within a couple of
months. When it comes to enjoying the company of the opposite sex, I only
need two nights a week. But when the right one comes along, someone with a
strong independent streak, I think I could be better about that.
“So how are you finding cool
singles? A lot
of unusual people out there. Wouldn't ya say?” I ask
raising my eyebrows.
“How do you mean?” she says perplexed. “Most
of the men I've met have been very friendly.”
It's a warm winter afternoon. Young couples
accompanied by perfectly groomed golden retrievers push sleeping babies on
strollers with blue and white striped cushions up Main Street taking in the fresh
and salty breeze blowing in from the blue Pacific. The merchants at
the Farmers’ market on the corner with their organic jams and breads and
cheeses draw swarms of locals.
“Well, on second thought, tell me about your
job. What do you do for a living?” I ask in a friendly
tone of voice.
“I'd rather not say.” She
sips herbal tea from a tall paper cup with a thick brown cardboard sleeve. Her
fingernails have a glossy red polish and are trimmed or bitten very
short. “It's not important. What I really do is sing,” she
says. My goal is to sing professionally.”
“What kind of singer?” I reply, off-put
evasiveness. “Pop diva like Lady Gaga? Or actual
opera? Would you like to perform the lead in Carmen or La bohème?” I ask trying to
“No, sir. Nothing like that. I do
Neo folk rock,” she says. “Classic folk rock with modern
arrangements, modifications and a woman singing.”
I am tempted to reply “Neo Folk
Seriously? Good luck with that!” Instead I opt for “sounds
interesting, I would love to hear you sing some time.”
“Would you really? Looks like you're talking
about music but thinking about something else.” That hint of a smile again.
“If you are seriously interested, you are in
luck,” she says. I am seriously interested or genuinely curious.
“I'm singing tonight in a couple of hours at a
small club in Hollywood. I am getting ready to head out there
soon. Can you take me?” She starts bopping her head to
the background music. “I love this song,” she says as “People
Are Strange” by the Doors blares around us.
“I have to get my guitar from my
apartment. It's not far. I won't be long.”
“I don't know. Tomorrow is Monday
morning. I have to get up early for work. What time would we get
“Not too late, I promise. It'll be
It occurs to me she never asked about
me. Not even one question about where I live or work or grew
up. But I don't mind. Would rather keep to myself that my alcoholic
dad spent six months in county jail for domestic violence when I was in middle
school and mom had a restraining order against him for most of my adolescence.
And my sister and I never speak.
“Sure. Why not?” I
say wondering what I'm getting myself into.
“Hey, all you open mic fanatics, are you ready
for reggae, rappers, and rockers?” A voice over the loudspeaker
hollers out. Candles in green glass jars are set out on round mahogany
tables of the dark square room that is deluged with the scent of cigarette
smoke and alcohol. At the end of the room is a small wooden stage with a
red velvet curtain toward the back. The club can probably seat about 100 people
or so. Black and white posters of Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, and Amy Winehouse
in glass frames adorn the walls.
I am now aware that Melissa will be one of
many performers. We drove up Highland Avenue, bordering the grassy divider
with towering palm trees. Traffic flowed smoothly in the last hour of
daylight. Melissa played with the radio the whole way, flipping
between oldies and classic vinyl. I parked near the Capitol Records building
and endured angry looks from a barefoot couple with a blue tarp camping on the
sidewalk until we made it inside Café Shining Star.
The first performer is tall, thin and black.
He calls himself “Jamaica” and is rapping with a thick accent matching his name
to a back track of drums, bass and occasional horns. He is cursing
“immigration and deportation” and how messed up it is that countries have
borders. He sports a white clergy-like silk robe with gold trim. He
gets a loud round of applause from the small crowd, one table in particular.
“What would you like to
drink?” asks the tall young waitress in a black T shirt with a
glittery silver star and black shorts accentuating her long legs. Melissa
orders a whisky sour and a burger. Coke and nachos for me. I try to make
conversation, but it's noisy.
The next act is “Ninja Blue.” The
lead singer is a leather-clad woman with bright blue hair screaming about the
end of the world. She is accompanied by two musicians on bass and
drums. They are dressed entirely in black: knee high boots,
tights, a cape. The bottom half of their faces is covered with fabric and
blue-tinted sunglasses cover their eyes. Enthusiastic shouts come
from the next table, where three girls who must have flashed fake IDs to enter
the club are standing and cheering. One has a tattoo with a skull on her
forearm. The other two have half shaven heads.
Several acts follow. It's starting
to get late. “How much longer till you go on?” I ask Melissa. The
crowd is starting to thin out. I imagine being woken by the alarm tomorrow
“Shouldn't be much longer,” she
says. “I think I'm going to be—Hey Rob, over
here!” Melissa stands up and waves her arms wildly to someone at the
door. He approaches and they give each other a warm hug.
Rob is about 35, tall, muscular, short-cropped
brown hair with glossy green eyes that carefully look me over. He's
got a blue denim jacket and tan combat boots. He could use a
“Jerry, I'd like you to meet
Rob. We go way back.”
“Hey Jerry, great to meet you.” He
reaches out and squeezes my hand with a painfully powerful handshake. Then he
sits down at our table with his back to the stage.
“Talk to me, Jerry. What do you do?” he
“I sell accounting software to
CPAs.” I shout over the music with exaggerated mouth movement so he
can read my lips. “Nothing as exciting as being a musician and
performing. How about you?”
“Social worker. Between jobs at the
moment.” His head oscillates like a fan as he speaks. He turns around to
look up at the stage, then the entrance, then Melissa, then back at me.
“It's tough because I'm restless. No
patience. It's hard for me to listen for one hour while people talk about
their problems. Not that I don't want to help.” His eyes wander. “I
do. I just can't sit still that long.”
“Sounds like a challenging job,” I
holler. “Have you thought of doing anything else?”
“Negative,” he replies. “How do you
Melissa?” he cries out.
“Guess you can say we met by chance.”
“Come on Jerry. We're all friends. How did you
“Hey, all you old school rock aficionados,”
says the overpowering voice of the MC, rescuing me from Rob's interrogation if
only for the time being. “We know you love to rock. Are you ready for some
Neo Folk Rock? Well then, give it up for Melissa!”
The scattered dwindled audience applauds
politely. Rob stands up. “I need to see the guys who do the sound and
spotlight. They never get it right. They have the guitar drowning out the
voice. Or the other way around. We should talk later Jerr,” he says
with an intense stare.
Black guitar strapped over her chest, Melissa
marches up a few stairs on the side of the wooden stage. A yellow
spotlight casts a shadow of her guitar and upper body on the curtain behind
her. She ignores the wooden stool and stands in front of the
microphone. She adjusts the boom so it is next to her guitar.
strumming of Melissa's steel strings fills the room. Her voice is gritty
and low and has an echo effect. I nod as I recognize the tune. She is singing
Bob Dylan's “Blowing In The Wind.” When she gets to the chorus, I find
myself quietly singing along. “The answer my friend……” The audience
is polite and respectful. She looks at ease. I'm smiling through the
second verse and chorus and it's all good—but wait—suddenly there are lyrics I
“Tell me how high the world's temperature must
rise, till there's only fire in the skies….”
Whoa. Hold on. Is she is really changing
Dylan's lyrics? My mouth opens. I stop singing along. Can
you do that?
She finishes the tune with the new
lyrics. Polite applause. Perplexed looks.
“Thank you very much. Let's see if you
recognize this one.”
She launches into an altered rap version of
John Lennon's “Give Peace A Chance.”
When she gets to the second chorus, she
replaces it with “Make love and dance.” She's bobbing her head and clearly
pleased with her refinement.
At the next table, an older guy in a dark suit
and white dress shirt says to his date in a long evening dress “Is this a
joke?” I start to wonder the same thing.
“No. I know what's going on” I overhear the
woman say cheerfully. “She's rehearsing for a TV show. Or movie part. Gotta
I applaud loudly. “Yes!” I
shout. “All Right!”
“Thank you very much,” says
Melissa. “I'd smash my guitar now, but then I'd have to buy a new
one. Can't afford that until I get signed.” She flashes a huge grin
before walking off the stage.
“What did you think?” she asks me.
“Yeah” I say. “That was really
something. Did you change some of the original lyrics?”
“Of course. Otherwise, it wouldn't be
neo. There's always room for improvement. Where did Rob go?”
I look around the room. I don't see
him. I see more people leaving.
“How do you know him anyway?”
“We went to music school together back
east. Schoenberg Music Academy.”
“Really?” I scan the room again for Rob. No
luck. “Sorry. Looks like Restless Rob has left the building.”
We're stopped at Hollywood and Highland as the
siren of a police car wails past us. A short man in a Spiderman costume
stands in front of the red illuminated lights of the Hard Rock Café. He is
looking up at the late evening sky. I'm driving Melissa home. A few people
with nothing but time pace up and down the emptying boulevard.
“It's disappointing when it's not crowded like
this,” says Melissa. But that's not uncommon at open mic night. I
hope there were talent scouts. It's high time for me to get discovered
We start to move. Melissa toys with the
radio. Soon we are heading west on Sunset Boulevard, passing mansions decorated
with sculptures, fountains and Roman columns on the way to the 405.
“So how long you been doing open mic
nights? I ask.
“What else do you do to get discovered?”
“I post videos on YouTube. Every month or so, I
to the offices of record companies around town and drop off CDs and promotional
information about myself. No offers yet. But I know it'll happen. It
just takes time.”
“What about representation?” I ask. “Wouldn't
it be better if you had an agent or manager? Have you tried to get one?”
“Yes, sir. It's not that simple. Not
so easy.” She raises her voice. Her tone is suddenly hostile. “If you knew
anything about the music business, you would know that.”
I am tempted to make more suggestions but say
nothing for the remainder of the trip. I turn left on Pico after passing an
adult bookstore, an old-style diner with red booths and a counter, and a
I find a parking space right in front of her
place, a square stucco apartment building that says “Paradise of the Pacific”
in raised script lettering. A quiet street with pine trees. Similar
apartment buildings, two or three stories high with sliding glass doors and
balconies with metal bars, line the block.
“Do you want to come in?” says Melissa,
holding her guitar case.
“Sure,” I say, a bit surprised at the
invite. Her studio apartment is at the end of the hallway on the first
“You're nice” she says, after closing the
door. “I appreciate you taking me to the club and sitting through my set. Have
I check out the room. There is very
little furniture. A mattress on the floor. A small white clock radio. An
old oak table that hasn't been varnished in years. A couple of
old wooden chairs. And a red mountain bike in the corner with rusty
“Cool bohemian set up you got.” I say
“Do you have a television?”
“Negative,” she says.
“You sleep on the mattress on the
floor?” I ask.
“It's great. Very good for your back. You
want to try it out? By the way, you're welcome to
stay.” She doesn't have to ask twice.
She undresses and lies down. Her eyes are
shut. She doesn't say anything. Despite the intimacy, there is
distance. She is removed. Does she know who is with her? Could
it be anyone? In the darkness, it's quiet except for the loud metallic buzzing
of the old air conditioner which adds an extra layer to the harmonies of Simon
and Garfunkel seeping out of the radio.
I'm facing the ceiling. Melissa is asleep
on her side with her back to me. I'm fading out trying to make sense of
this. She has been trying for years to break into the music
business. Doing the same thing over and over without success. I recall an
Einstein quote, something about doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for
different results. What was it again? But for Melissa, what would the
alternative be? I try to picture her working in a bank or a doctor's office,
but sleep overcomes me.
I see “5:00 AM” in illuminated blue
numbers and smell burnt toast. Melissa is seated at her worn-out table.
Already dressed in jeans, pink T-shirt with no sleeves and black running
shoes. I notice a tattoo on her shoulder. A man with a beard and long
hair in green ink. The caption in red below reads “Saint Jude.”
I get up, toss on some clothes and sit with
her. She tears open the shiny wrapping of a strawberry pop tart and takes
a bite. I'm startled when the clock radio on the floor suddenly goes
off. Oldies station, of course.
“I didn't think you'd invite me to spend the
night. I notice you didn't ask much about me.”
“You mean the twenty questions about work and
school and family. Does anyone really care about any of that stuff? I know
I don't. Thanks again for taking me to the show. You should come next
week. Different songs. Right now, I've got to head out to my crap day
“Can I call you?”
“Yes, sir. I'm around.”
She gets up and walks over to the
bicycle. She reaches down toward the thin carpet and picks up a helmet,
purple with vents. She places it on her head and buckles the strap beneath
her chin before rolling the bicycle to the front door.
“You're biking to work in the dark?”
“I've got reflectors. It'll be
daylight soon. I save a ton of money on gas and parking. You can stay and
finish breakfast. Make sure to close the door all the way shut when you
go,” she says, before doing the same.
It's not yet daybreak as I walk to my
car. A thin layer of fog blankets the street. I wonder where Melissa is
really going. I get inside my car and turn on the ignition and wait for
the condensation on my windshield to clear up. I notice someone standing in the
street in front of my headlights. He is waving his arms, signaling me.
No other movement on the street. What
hell. I turn off
the engine and get out.
“Sorry, Jerr. I hope I didn't scare
you. I need to tell you something.” It's Restless Rob, dressed as he was
We are the only ones on the street at
this hour. I can barely make out the branches of the trees in the fog. There is
mist under the lamp of the hanging street light. No movement on the street
except for a garbage truck in the distance.
“Tell me. How did Melissa say she knows
“Schoenberg Music Academy.”
He chuckles. “Wow. And you believed
“Why are you laughing?” I
“Because it's not true. More like the
Cheney Military Academy.”
“What do you mean?”
“We're veterans, Melissa and I. Three
tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“Are you kidding? No way. She never
mentioned anything about military service.”
“That's because she's blocked it all out and
replaced it with music school.”
He shakes his head. He pauses. I
wonder if he has been walking all night.
“I'm listening.” I say.
“We were in a jeep. We were supposed to
take some pictures of a compound in Basra and get the hell out of there. Melissa
was the photographer; she was a very good one. We were heading back when
we heard the shots. I was driving.” He pauses. His head starts moving
slowly side to side as he continues.
“Two other members of our group were shot in
the face. Melissa and I were the only survivors. They said we were lucky to have
made it out alive. Not the first time she was involved in a mission gone
wrong. She didn't speak for days. When she did, it was clear her
memory was shot.”
We're standing in the middle of the
street. A black and white security vehicle slows down looks us over and then
“Will she get her memory back?”
“Not likely, they say. But I think she
will. She and I were getting pretty close. At this point, I like to check
on her, make sure she's doing ok.”
“Are you saying you don't want me seeing her?”
“Who me? Rob says with an edge. Hell
no! You seem like a decent guy. I've moved on. I just wanted you to
know what you're getting into.”
“I appreciate you telling me this.” A few
seconds of silence. I turn toward the “Paradise of the Pacific” and see a
black antique lantern on the facade, the only light coming from the
“Can I ask you something Rob? Are you saying
“We're all crazy, Jerry,” he fires back
looking right at me. “Matter of degree. If you're hanging out with
Melissa and thinking you're immune, you might want to take a hard look in the
He walks off to the end of the block and turns
I get back in my car and restart the engine.
Not sure where I'll go. Very tempted to take day the day off and maybe drive up
the coast. Or find a good Irish pub. Should probably head home, change,
and stagger into the office and face the reality of Monday morning.
I drive slowly in the fog. I stop carefully at the stop sign at the
end of the street. Up ahead, the mist is lifting and there is a hint of
daylight. Does Restless Rob
have a point? I turn on the radio. More
classic rock. Mick Jagger is belting out “I can't get no
satisfaction.” I listen for a few seconds then switch on the news.
taken several writing workshops at UCLA extension and Gotham Writers Workshop.
His work has been
featured in bewilderstories.com and hobopancakes.com.
KJ Hannah Greenberg captures the world
in words and images. Her latest photography portfolio is 20/20: KJ Hannah
Greenberg Eye on Israel. Her most recent poetry
Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound
CONTENT, 2017). Her most recent fiction collection is the omnibus, Concatenation (Bards & Sages Publishing,
seventh short story collection was published by Bards and Sages Publishing.
The publisher writes:
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our seventh short story collection by KJ Hannah Greenberg. Greenberg’s flair for
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