“When the Music’s Over” by James Esposito, Jr.
The sixties are dying, and now, so am I.
It's not so bad, you know. Not like I always thought it'd be. No white light yet, just lots of colors. Or maybe it should be colours, since I'm in England. I wonder if I'll ever see California again. Or even Hendrix onstage tomorrow night.
I came alone to the Isle of Wight Festival, but made about thirty friends in five minutes. Everyone's cool here, except the pigs, who've been walking around outside the arena's corrugated metal walls with their attack dogs, giving us the evil eye.
I had a ticket to get inside the arena. I don't care what the anarchists say, three pounds wasn't too much—especially after the plane, train and ferry it took to get here—for a chance to hear the greats. Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Chicago (man, they were spectacular last night). Sometimes the bad vibes would seep in, like when that one guy snuck onstage and made Joni Mitchell cry by grabbing the mic and calling the promoters a bunch of capitalist swine.
But most of us came here to share the music with each other, and with the earth and sky. One last time. Things are changing, here and back in the States. Eight months in, the seventies already taste funny. Bitter and sharp, like bleach.
Anyway, I was sitting there on the grass about an hour ago, grooving to this wild new band—Emerson, Lake, & Somebody—when this chick—sorry, this bird, 'cause she's British or Welsh or something—whispered in my ear that the best hash was outside the arena, up on Desolation Row. I'd been looking at that hill all week, all those tents put up by people who wouldn't pay. Sometimes in between sets we could hear them banging on the metal walls.
Anyway, again, anyway.
She had—still has—hair like red snakes crawling down her back—in perfect curls, not messy rats' nests like most of us. She was—is—wearing bell-bottom jeans and a bikini top that looks like alligator skin but feels like silk. Her name was—is—Philippa.
Right now, that red-snake hair is curling over my body as she stares at me, her chin on her hands, which are folded on top of my naked chest. Can't remember what happened to my shirt, or my pants. All I know is I'm on my back on the cold, damp ground, and I've never seen so many stars in so many colors (sorry, colours). Not sure if they're all really there or if it's just the drugs.
Because she wasn't lying about the good hash on Desolation Row. What she did lie—or just sorta not tell me—about, was that she and her three friends would get me so stoned I'd become the main entrée in their cannibalistic feast. That's the last time I light up after drinking three-quarters of a bottle of Ripple.
Come to think of it, that's probably the last time I do anything.
Their voices sound muffled, as if I've got cotton in my ears.
"I'll take the neck," Philippa says, "since I found him."
"A thigh for me," says the deep voice of one of the men. "What about you, Dwight? Your first time."
"Heh." Hands slide fast against denim, as if covered in sweat. "I dunno, maybe a wing?" He gives a nervous chuckle, which continues long after the other girl starts talking.
"I'll follow my nose," she whispers, "as always."
In the distance, I hear the manic-depressive emcee Rikki Farr announce The Doors. Great. Why did these freaks pick now to kill me? I would've welcomed death during Tiny Tim's set.
The band starts with "Back Door Man." It reminds me of a girl I met in Santa Cruz, who would do anything—anything, man—for a hit of peyote. She had no favorite color, she told me once, looking at my paintings. Every color was the best.
Philippa smiles, and suddenly I understand why she had to wait until after dark to take me. I look past her, up at Nigel and Dwight and the girl with the fuzzy yellow sunflower hat that comes down over her ears. Fangs, all of them, reflecting the distant red stage lights.
The beast in me—the sheep, not the wolf—wants to scream and flee and beg for mercy. I try to lift my head, but Hat Girl has her foot on my hair.
With one fingertip, Philippa tilts my chin so I look into her eyes. "Do you want to soar, James?" Her lips part, wet and scarlet. "Do you want to feel alive?"
My mouth opens, but my throat's too dry to make noise. I think about the way my tongue moves in "Yes" and the way it moves in "No." I wonder, if I tongued, "No," if they would turn me loose. I wonder if I could stand to watch them take someone else.
The music flows over me, making my head dip and sway and tilt like it's a tree branch and my body is the trunk, heavy and rooted so deep I can't even twitch a finger.
Nigel and Dwight and Hat Girl sink to their knees. Dwight tucks his curtain of long blond curls behind his ears, his hands shaking.
"I found him," Philippa says. "I start."
She slides up my body and presses her face to my neck. I close my eyes and let the music shroud my mind.
Good, good pain, shooting down into my spine and ricocheting between my vertebrae, sparking like a thousand firecrackers. My back arches, and a high-pitched wail shoots out of my throat.
Hat Girl brushes her fingers over my lips, stealing my scream. She pulls her hand close to her chest, cradling its contents, cupping her tiny fist like it'll fly away. She takes a quick peek inside—then, with a flourish, she opens her hands to the sky, releasing my scream, which has fallen silent. I watch it spiral up like a dove and wonder where it'll come down. I picture it alighting at sunrise on the windowsill of a mainland cottage, waking an old British lady in a pale pink bathrobe.
Another spike of pain, into my left wrist—Dwight, judging by the stuttered groan of satisfaction. Onstage, Robby Krieger thumps the bass intro to "Break On Through," and I start to giggle. None of those squares I worked with back in Bakersfield ever came close to breaking through, but now I have. I will.
Hat Girl snatches my laughter, brings it to her little bud-shaped mouth and gobbles it up. "Mind you don't move." She belches, then erupts in a laugh that sounds like the one she just swallowed.
Nigel runs a hand up my calf, lifting my knee, as if I'm a model to pose. He bites my hamstring. This time I'm ready for the pain, and don't scream or laugh. I wait for Hat Girl to grab my sigh.
Instead she leans close and kisses me. She tastes like nothing. I think I love her.
The song ends, the crowd roars, and all six fangs sink deeper. Hat Girl's mouth covers mine, swallowing and inhaling my moans. I close my eyes again and watch the red and orange pain-pixies dance over the backs of my eyelids.
The smells of sweat, pot, and campfires drift through my nose into my brain, which doles out the air in little parcels to the rest of my body, turning it to stone. Soft stone. Pumice is the softest stone, I remember from some decade-ago high-school science class. Diamond is the hardest. Philippa's hands are like diamonds. I can feel their shine on my skin.
Hat Girl pulls away, ending the kiss.
"No." I whisper. "Come back."
She lurches forward like a snapping turtle, sinking her fangs into my lower lip.
My scream blends into the crowd's cheers, then fades as the vampires start to stroke me all over, soothing me with hands that warm with every swallow.
Hat Girl turns my head to the side so I don't choke. (Weird, considering she's trying to kill me.) Then she lies next to me and drinks me like a fountain.
When the arena is silent again, a faint keyboard begins, and I recognize The Doors' new song, "When the Music's Over." Morrison lets out a shriek that echoes all the way up here in Desolation Row.
Strength leaks out with each drop of blood. I let it go. Life is overrated. This…this is heavy. This is astral. This is sacred.
I let my muscles go limp and sink into the earth that loves me, the earth that will soon take me into its motherly embrace. I wonder if I'll feel the worms eat me. I wonder if they'll taste my name and know I gave them life.
I turn my attention back to the dancing pain-pixies on the backs of my eyelids. They've changed from ruby and topaz to turquoise and emerald, and they're swaying now instead of hopping. As I stare, they spell out my fate, now in a circle and now in a snake. Whoa, a lizard.
The guitar thum-thums from a distance, carrying my heartbeat as it slows. Each breath is more of a hassle than the last. Morrison murmurs in my ear, leading me down, down, sinking into that big sleep.
Suddenly the pain pixies disappear, and for a moment, all is dark. Not black—more of a burnt sienna, a deep sepia.
Slowly the world lightens into a high desert landscape, dotted with Joshua trees. So I get to see California again after all.
Someone whispers behind me. I turn to see Jim Morrison standing in front of a large formation of smooth rocks. He wears a long white robe, and his beard is gone, making him look young and vulnerable. A wind I can't feel blows his dark curls over his shoulders.
Morrison holds out his hand. "We want the world, and we want it…now."
"Now?" I ask him.
"Nowwwwwwwww!" With a shriek that shreds my spine, he holds his arms to the sky and bursts into flames. As his robe falls from him in charred black tatters, it reveals his body covered in feathers of every color.
He turns to me, extending his left wing, which is outlined in shimmering violet. I grasp the hand at its tip, and he leads me into the cave.
"Turn out the lights," he sings, and the darkness falls, warm and complete. The music fades, but I hear no applause.
We walk in silence, our feet making no sound. A pinpoint of white light appears in the distance. I've finally found the peace I've been looking for all these years. It wasn't in any kind of drug, or sex, and it wasn't in San Francisco. Why did it wait until now to find me? It's too late, but at least I can savor it for one short—
Liquid flows into my mouth, hot and salty. I swallow, and the peace shatters like a fallen icicle, then melts and evaporates in the heat of blood.
I crave. Must drink. Devour. Eat the world. Screw the world. Everyone, everything. It's all mine.
The firecrackers turn to fireworks—giant roman candles soaring and exploding in my head, my throat, my eyes. I claw at the arm held to my mouth, my fountain of life and eternal youth. Onstage, Ray Manzarek's keyboards loop and roll in "Light My Fire."
"Stop!" Philippa tries to jerk her arm away. "You're hurting me!"
I can't let go. A bone snaps—not one of mine.
More blood, with a new taste, and I release Philippa's arm. I hear her voice retreat, full of sobs. Snarling, I drink from Nigel, as he grasps and twists the hair at the back of my head to hold me still. His own pale brown hair flops against his cheeks.
"Hurry!" he growls. "He won't survive without all of us."
"Bloody hell." Dwight's whisper trembles as he kneels beside me and pushes up his sleeve. I turn my head to him for my next dose of life.
Two swallows of this cleaner, shallower-tasting blood, and strength surges into my limbs. I shove Dwight off me to reveal Hat Girl standing at my feet, staring with wide, jade-green eyes. It's the first time I can make out their color.
I sit up and look around. Everything is lighter, clearer, like the world was dipped in pale blue paint. The music—now it's "The End"—seems like it just got louder.
And the smell. Prey all around, pulses throbbing, begging to be licked, pierced, sucked, broken.
I stagger to my feet, lured by my nostrils toward the next tent, a hundred yards away.
"No!" Dwight tackles me, slamming my aching body into the ground. I struggle against him, but he's too strong. He slides behind me and locks an arm around my neck.
Nigel crawls on top of me, knees pinning my bare thighs. He reaches into his back pocket.
Something sharp touches my chest—a polished wooden stake. I struggle harder, my heels scraping the dirt and grass.
Dwight tightens his grip, choking me. "Nigel, you said it'd be peaceful!"
"It always was before!" The stake trembles in his hand, scratching my skin. "Maybe it's 'cause he's American?"
"Bollocks." Philippa coughs. "I've made Yank vamps before. He's unstable, this one." She sighs as she adjusts her arm with a dull snap. "And he seemed so nice and real, like us. Best stake him and get it over with."
I yank in a sharp breath. My throat burns with thirst, worse than the meanest cottonmouth. But if I don't stop thinking about the walking, pulsing veins all around me on this hill, they'll send me back to the other side, this time without a flaming feathered Jim Morrison to guide my steps.
I didn't let them kill me just so I could die.
I force my muscles to relax. "No," I whisper as steadily as my breath will allow. "Please. I'll be good."
Philippa sniffles. "You've got no good in you now."
"He will." Hat Girl's soft voice comes from behind my head. "He still hasn't drunk from me, remember?"
"Dora, he's already returned," Nigel says. "It's over."
"Not 'til he drinks his first human." Dora kneels beside me and rolls up her sleeve. My fangs lengthen in a sensation not unlike an instant boner. "I can still perfect him."
Nigel finally takes his gaze off me to look up at her. "Like you perfected me?" he says with a slight curl to his lip.
"Precisely." She caresses his chin, fingers examining each curve like he's a sculpture. "I made you part of me. And together, we'll make him part of us. Our little family." Her fangs slash her own wrist, and her voice turns hard. "Now move aside."
Nigel shifts his upper body, but keeps my legs pinned. Dwight still has his arm around my neck, squeezing my windpipe to the breaking point.
Dora presses her wrist to my mouth. I drink slowly, careful not to hurt my savior.
It makes me feel no different, but I change my demeanor in an instant, letting my eyes and muscles go soft. When I'm done, I gaze up at her with gratitude (which is real) and obedience (which is not).
"Cor…" Dwight eases his hold on my neck. "It worked. She gentled 'im."
"Maybe." Nigel frowns, narrowing his dark eyes. "We'll watch him every second."
Dora rolls down her sleeve. "First he needs to drink." She gestures to the hill around us. "Plenty of disposables."
I take the warm, soft hand she offers and let her lead me down to the next tent, where a solitary man is passed out in a sleeping bag. The other three follow us, Philippa rubbing her arm and grumbling about keeping the stake handy.
On the stage, which seems closer than ever, Jim Morrison tells us that this is the end. But for me it's just the beginning.
The sixties are dead, and now, the world is mine.
Copyright © November 2008 Jeri Smith-Ready
Visit Jim’s page on WVMPradio.com.
The Doors' performance of "When the Music's Over" at the Isle of Wight Festival, August 29, 1970 (from the movie Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival 1970):
A partial set list of the songs performed at the Isle of Wight Festival, August 28-30, 1970 (note: these are just the songs performed, not necessarily the IoW recordings themselves):