I see the younger version
of myself hanging out with all of my dead friends in
the front yard of my building, and I think I’ve
finally died. Then, I wonder how I died. Can’t
be the drugs. Been off ‘em for years. And I remember
getting home safely last night. No way I croaked in my
sleep. Rock stars just don’t do that.
My knees feel a bit
watery, so I sit on the steps and watch the
22-year-old me walking with my old band mates. Ronny,
who died in a car wreck in ’82. Jeff, who got too
drunk at a party and choked on his own puke in ’76.
Freddy, who . . . as far as I know is still alive. I
think he’s a used car salesman in Decatur. What the
hell’s he doing here?
And why’s King James here
in that stupid Sgt. Pepper get-up? He OD-ed in ’72.
And Jenny, the lead singer of “Peace ‘Copter,” didn’t
she get murdered in ’79? And there’s that moody acid
freak, Timmy Franks, prancing around behind her. Poor
bastard slipped in the tub and cracked his skull in
But here’s the thing: none
of them looks like they did when they died. They all
look like we did back in ’69. Hell, some of us still
have pimples on our faces.
It’s got to be a prank.
Even though I haven’t cut an album in five years, I’m
still touring annually. Rolling Stone just
named me the best old man in the biz. I have a few
good years ahead of me. My point being, I usually have
at least some fans or paparazzi camped out on my lawn.
Where are they today?
I catch a glimpse of
myself reflected in the window. Pitch black long hair.
I have to dye it, but it’s all still mine. Skinny,
craggy face from all the years of wear and tear, but
I’m still swimming in chicks. Both People and
Us magazines still think I’m sexy. I’m dressed
in a fedora and leather jacket, tight jeans and boots.
The feathered boa might be a bit much, but the fans
So, I’m really here. I’m
not dead. I should take this as good news.
And then, Young Me
approaches. “Guys! It’s really him! See? I told you
Good. These are just fans.
I can deal with this.
Jenny lifts a hairy
eyebrow. “You sure? He looks kind of . . . old.”
That little barb digs in
more than I’d care to admit. I’m about to retort when
Young Me says, “Come on. It’s to be expected. We
received the transmission years ago.”
I don’t quite know what to
make of that one, so I ask if they want autographs.
They exchange glances, and I wonder if they heard me.
I open my mouth to repeat myself when King James says,
“What’s an autograph?”
“Never mind that,” Timmy
says. “What I want to know is, how did Vietnam end? It
did end, right?”
Young Me slaps him on the
chest. “Knock it off. If you’d watched their TV
transmissions like I told you . . .“
“Hey, don’t hassle me,
man. I had other things going on.”
They argue back and forth,
and I get this cold, shuddering feeling in my belly.
“Who are you guys?”
Young Me grins like a kid.
“Sorry. We’re big fans of you, but we live so far
away, it took decades to get here.”
“That’s, um, some trip.”
“No,” Timmy says, “we’re
here for the trip. We saw, like, Woodstock, and
we figured you guys knew how to have fun.”
“Well, some of us do.” I
think back to my drunk and disorderly charge in
Alabama, back in ’77. The sheriff of that county had a
decidedly different idea of fun, and I still have the
scars to prove it.
Young Me takes over again.
“Look, we really like your music. We don’t have rock
‘n’ roll in our part of the galaxy. We’re just here
for the party.”
“Galaxy?” Didn’t Timmy
think he was a space cowboy back in ‘72?
“We know times have
changed, sir. Like I said, we’ve come a long way. But
we just want to hang out on this planet for a while.
You know, party.”
I sigh. “There is no
party, guys. It’s been over for years. The drugs
aren’t even good anymore. You should go home.”
King James shook his head.
“We’ve come too far.”
“But he’s old,” Jenny
said. “He might break if we breathe on him wrong.”
“He practically looks the
same!” Young Me says. “He’s almost sixty-five, and
he’s not frail at all! He still tours!”
I must really be crazy,
because I find myself thinking about letting these
loonies into my condo. I think it’s boredom that makes
up my mind for me. Too many people I meet on a
day-to-day basis are the same these days. So what if
these guys think they’re from outer space? This could
be fun, and it’s been a while since I’ve hung out with
fans. Besides, I want to know how they got their
costumes done so well.
“Come inside for a bit,” I
say. “We’ll talk about the old days, but then you have
Three years ago, I would
have had a fridge full of beer for them, or a bunch of
top-shelf liquor. Now, I give my visitors Sierra Mist.
At my age—-and in this business-—good vices are hard
to hold on to, especially if you have people who care
about you. My daughters made me quit drinking.
Probably for the best, but sobriety puts a crimp on
I flop down in an easy
chair and watch as my fans wander around my trophy
room. They marvel at the platinum and gold. They
finger the instruments. They gawk at my Grammy.
“Okay,” I say. “How did
you get the costumes right?”
Young Me beams. “They’re
holograms. We scanned them from the Woodstock
“Funny. But how’d you
really do it?”
Timmy holds up a finger,
both eyebrows raised. “Check it out, man.” He places
the finger behind his ear, and his body shimmers.
Timmy’s gone, replaced by a mass of yellow and green .
. . things. I can see arms that aren’t really arms,
not even tentacles, and there is a head with vague
features. Gray veins seem to pulse all over the body.
Maybe it’s the strange
life I’ve led, or maybe decades of drugs, but this
doesn’t startle me as much as it should. Perhaps I
actually find comfort in knowing these cats really are
aliens. I nod my head. “Far out.”
Timmy switches back.
“What’s this?” Freddy
touches a turntable.
I explain what it is, and
then say, “It’s from the old days. No one uses them
anymore, really. We have this now.” I pull my iPod
from my pocket and tell them what it does.
Jenny grunts. “You guys
are so primitive. Why don’t you have music that plays
in your head?”
“Um.” Well, what can I
“Man,” Young Me says, “are
those books?” He points to a corner shelf where I keep
biographies about me and the band.
“Yep,” I say. After the
thing with the turntable, I think it best to keep my
Young Me flips through
some pages while Freddy peers over his shoulder.
“What’s all this white stuff? I get the words, but
what are they on?”
“Paper,” Young Me says.
“Didn’t you pay any attention in school?”
Once again, Jenny scoffs.
“What’s wrong? Didn’t kill enough trees?”
Contrary to the rumors, I
never slept with Jenny. I wanted to, Lord knows, but
we never got together. I always regretted this, but as
much as the alien looks like her, she isn’t
her. She’s pissing me off, so I defend our culture:
“We have e-readers now. Most of us read books
digitally.” I show her my Kindle.
She yawns. “A new novel
comes out, we jack it into our heads. It’s fast and
easy. How do you think we learned English?”
“Cool it, Jenny,” Young Me
“No wonder the Emperor
marked this place for death.”
A hush falls over my
visitors, and all I can hear is the beat of my own
heart. “Emperor? Death?”
Young Me grimaces. “Sorry.
You weren’t supposed to know that. Our version of your
president also saw the TV transmissions. News stories
about Vietnam. He thought you guys were too dangerous
for the rest of the galaxy, and when you made it to
your moon, that made up his mind to send warships
This makes no sense, and I
stammer for a moment. “That’s . . . that’s just
stupid! Vietnam was decades ago! We’re not like that
anymore! The technology I showed you means we’re
Young Me nods. “You guys
are a lot less violent, at least. And if given enough
time, maybe you can work through the garbage your
leaders feed you.”
“That’s why we rebelled,”
Timmy says. “Just like you and Vietnam.”
“Most of these guys are
related to me,” Young Me says, “and I’m the Emperor’s
son. I came up with the plan to steal a starship and
come here, mostly because I thought Father wouldn’t
blow up a planet with us on it.”
“Boy, were we
wrong,” Timmy says. “We received word that shortly
after we left, he launched warships anyway.”
My heart savages my
ribcage. I pray this is some kind of acid flashback.
“They’re on their way here?!”
“Yeah,” Young Me says.
“But don’t worry. You still have another year to go
before they arrive.”
“But . . . .” I gag on my
own words. It takes a moment to clear my throat. “You
guys don’t have rock ‘n’ roll. We could export it.
“Not to everyone. Father
thinks people like you are too subversive.”
“We like it, though,”
Jenny says. She smiles for the first time, and all of
a sudden, she’s my Jenny. I’m twenty-two again.
“I’m sorry we missed the
party,” King James says. “But we can still make our
I feel like I should tell
someone, but who? My agent? I met the President once,
but would he take a call from me? And would he listen
to my crazy ramblings? What about the press? They’d
crucify me. I’d be lucky if a tinfoil hat-wearing
podcaster broadcasting from his mom’s basement would
take me seriously.
I’ve been thinking about
writing new songs. Maybe I can get an album out before
the warships arrive. Get all the bile out of me. My
swan song. I know the end is coming, and I know I can
go out on top.
But we can save that for
tomorrow. Tonight, I want to remember what fun is
like. I send out for booze and coke and some weed to
help chill us out later. I search around my studio for
a stale pack of smokes, which I always kept around
when I’d first quit . . . just in case.
I don’t invite anyone
else, though. This is my party. My past.
I consider the iPod for a
moment, and then I toss it out the window. I turn up
the volume on one of my old records and dance with my
dead friends. Even though the rush of youth floods my
system, I feel like an outsider because there is Young
Me, singing along and using all of my old moves, the
ones my hamstrings can’t handle anymore.
My band mates surround me,
and the illusion is banished. We all do shots, and the
fear I feel for the end of the world dulls.
After decades of
fantasies, I finally bang Jenny. I don’t know how we
do it, since her body is an illusion, but we
manage. With the party still roaring in my living
room, I hold Jenny with one hand, a joint with the
other, and stare up through my skylight, to the stars
One year to go, and
there’s nothing I can do. Or is there? Maybe it’s just
because I’m feeling younger, but optimism creeps back
into the folds of my drug-addled, age-feebled brain.
When I was younger, a lot
of people thought I was a waste, that I offered
nothing to the world. But I do: rock ‘n’ roll. And
now, I’m critically acclaimed.
HA! If only my high school
music teacher, the one who told me I’d never amount to
anything, could see me now. I wonder what Officer
Carney, who arrested me at least a half-dozen times
before I dropped out of school, would think of my
unique position in this situation. Not even my own
mother thought much of me.
I can save the world.
Never underestimate the power of music. To top it all
off, I have the Emperor’s son on my side. How can I