Episode 14: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Episode 14: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Neil Yong felt sad and vulnerable
It was impressive in the same way very severe winds and giant waves were impressive.

It was a bona fide shame for Neil Yong to come so close to Sugar Mountain to a) get a quote on fixing Bob Dy-Liang’s Gibson J50 guitar so that it may one day again harness the power of folk and b) to see the magical Guitar building Shī Fu at the top of Sugar Mountain and receive wisdom on the state of folk in the land and work out what was the whole point of anything?

They were so close, at the very foot of Sugar Mountain.

And it was only thanks to Ronnie Van Zhantuo and his hard-eyed band of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzo bandits being all blazé with the most powerful weapon ever built: A dà guīmó shāshāng xìng de jítā – Guitar of Mass Destruction. A Gibson Firebird.

And Freebird had made them all so sad and vulnerable.

And they weren’t even the target of this ridiculously savage guitar solo which made the stones clatter. It was the darkly hooded warrior monks of folk, the keepers of the secrets of Sugar Mountain: Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi. And they were nowhere to be seen.

Still Ronnie van Zhantuo’s solo continued – his eyes were closed and his fingers were bleeding all over the fingerboard, and he looked fully in the moment. Neil Yong’s sweat continued to drip and the heavens continued to thunder.

Neil Yong had now seen the Firebird in action though, so that was something. It was impressive in the same way very severe winds and giant waves were impressive. Maybe more so.

Joni Michao was sobbing to the point where it kind of looked as though she was laughing. “All the hurt you thought was gone has now returned,” Neil Yong sighed.  “And every thing she’s laughing at is all you learned.”

“Come on,” Joni Michao said in between sobs. “Do something, Neil Yong! You, of all the folk mystics, you should have some sort of contingency plan in case your brain is slowly being deepfried in southern rock? Because this is kinda screwed up, let me tell you!”

Neil Yong considered her words. He had no contingency plan. Surely he had been in more precarious situations, but he just couldn’t quite pin them. These things usually just worked themselves out. But without his Old Black Gibson Les Paul guitar, he wasn’t quite sure what he could do.

He was weapon-less.

“I’m not sure what you want me to do,” Neil Yong shrugged. “I’m not MacGuyver.” But deep down, like most guys, part of him believed he was Macguyver and he was working on a plan – a counter attack of folk. But how would he get to their guitars?

Van Zhantuo’s guitar solo was making Neil Yong’s teeth hurt and he wondered whether they would all fall out. He’d heard of crazier things happening during a heavy session of mongol rock.

Red fireballs of rock hurtled, screaming, through the air with reckless abandon. They left a trail of devastating minor chords in their wake.

How many times must the fireballs fly before they’re forever banned? Bob Dy-Liang wondered. “We sit here stranded though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it,” he said. At that moment, Bob Dy-Liang glanced up just in time to see a stray fireball of red southern rock. It thudded into the ground with and a roar by his feet and he was thrown backwards against a rock.

His head reeled, his mind sluggish. How did it feel? How did it feel? To be without a home? Like a complete unknown.

The wind had been knocked out of him, yet it was as though he now saw things with transcendent clarity. He finally saw through it all, and momentarily experienced complete awareness.

The sun was not yellow, but chicken.

He realized this may have been the most complete and beautiful thought he’d ever thought.

Bob Dy-Liang finally caught the wind, and realized his head really had started to ache. Like, a lot. He let out a whimper, then checked himself. He looked around to make sure no one had heard. “Death to all those who whimper and cry,” he nodded. It seemed like a very worthy thought to think.

Bob Dy-Liang stared up at Tian, the heavens. Confucius, the non-folk mystic, thought that Heaven would not let anyone be killed unless their work was done. Was their work done? Was Confucius right? Could Confucius even play guitar? If he did, was he better than Confucius? Probably.

This was, humiliatingly, to be their last moment on earth. They would all be killed and buried out here on the side of this mountain and what was life all about anyway? They would have tombstones here and no one would know their names. It was a very specific sort of Tombstone-esque blues that afflicted him just then.

There was a small cave next to where Bob Dy-Liang lay. In it was one of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo’s luózi pack-mules. It had evidently wandered in to take shelter from the rain of notes from the brutal music of a hard land. Bob Dy-Liang glimpsed the scratched Martin D-28, peeking out from a piebald buffalo-hide saddle-bag.

Mìngyùn! It was his destiny!

They had been stripped of their weapons and here was a perfectly good beaten up old D-28 that had done more than its fair share of healing and damage over the centuries. The weapon of the immortal Hank Williwangs.

He saw Joni in distress and called back to her. “Joni! I wish I could write you a melody so plain that could hold you dear lady from going insane that could ease you and cool you and cease the pain.”


The little Martin D-28 rattled and hummed and poured forth a stream of folk


He heaved the old guitar from the bag and cradled it. With his final moments of life, he decided to strum a G. Then a D. Then an Am7. It was just happening, this melody was sorting itself out nicely. When he’d finished playing the three chords, he just played them again, and again. “It’s getting too dark for me to see, I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”

It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t nothing.

The little Martin D-28 rattled and hummed and poured forth a stream of folk. The stream cascaded through the ether and trilled its way to where Van Zhantuo stood. Then the objective truth of Bob Dy-Liang’s music hit home!

It slammed into Van Zhantuo’s chest with a meat-packing thud. He was lifted off his feet and fell to the earth.

It slammed into Van Zhantuo’s chest with a meat-packing thud.

And then all was still.

  • Will Neil Yong come up with a plan, even if just to save face?
  • Was the sun being chicken the one completely pure thought Bob Dy-Liang ever thought?
  • Where were the Gentle True Spirits?
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Episode 13: The First Battle of Sugar Mountain. Part 2

Episode 13: The First Battle of Sugar Mountain. Part 2.

A static glow of red energy emanated from the Gibson Firebird


Suddenly the song conjured a series of sorrowful images in the hearts of each folk mystic listener. These included:

  • Riding with a heavy heart along the Sìchuān Péndì flatlands with no destination on a Dzungarian wild horse, with an Imperial road stretching out infinitely before them;
  • Of golden eagles flapping a slow-mo take off, and flying off alone into a sky of grey;
  • Of tearful goodbyes with a pretty face from a nameless provincial tavern;
  • Of faded memories of a family left behind long ago with naught but a sack of dried legumes;
  • Of empty fields of Ye Cao wild grass and mountains and a harsh world of pain that neither cared nor understood for those lonely walkers of the earth. One by one, the listeners knew they were all alone; they all rode, and they rode free, but at what cost? Maybe no one really knew them at all, maybe they didn’t belong on this earth and maybe no one would miss them when they died.

Joni Michao was sobbing. Try as they might, the mystics could not help but be moved.

The music had begun to tug at their heartstrings. It made Neil Yong lonesome for the open road yet regretful of every life choice he had ever made. “Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive,” he sniffed. “Bury me out on the prairie, where the buffalo roam.”

It was strong enough music to defeat the hardiest folk novice, and it affected them all. But surely this was no real match for the giants of folk mysticism that stood before them now? But then everything began to change. Ironically it was as van Zhantuo was singing, “Lord I can’t change, Lord help me I can’t change, won’t you flyyyyy freeeee-bird.”

And the solo began.

A static glow of red energy emanated from the Gibson Firebird and van Zhantuo’s fingers found their way high on the fingerboard and began to play around the fourteenth fret with such speed! With the swiftness of Yùtù, the jade moon rabbit of interminable velocity! And with the power of Lei Kun, the blue-skinned, bird headed thunder deity!

The flagstones began to rattle and shake, and the mountainside rumbled as though there were a great earthquake.

Bob Dy-Liang’s teeth began to chatter, eyes fixed on Van Zhantuo. “Yonder stands your mongol with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun.” He gazed up at the three monks and expected them to move, but they did not. “Look out now. The saints aren’t coming through.” Bob Dy-Liang stared into Joni Michao’s blue irises and muttered, “It’s all over now baby blue.”

Great boulders were shaken loose from their resting places on the mountain slopes and begun to shift and roll.

The guitar solo shook every particle of the air of Sugar Mountain that day.

Then crimson bolts of pure southern rock slammed home into the chests of all present. It was like being kicked in the chest by the Tiāntǐ xióng lù Celestial Stag.

Neil Yong felt his innards twist, and felt the music thud into his solar plexus with alarming force and alacrity. He spat blood.

Allen Collins’ face actually began to visually liquefy, and droop off his skull.

It was as though this guitar solo summoned the very powers of Shi-Tien Yen Wang, the ten lords of the underworld!

Would Ronnie van Zhantuo be the one to end the myth of Neil Yong? Neil Yong wondered. “It doesn’t matter if he’s the one, ‘cause we’ll know before we’re done.”

Neil Yong clenched his jaw and began to sweat. He looked up to where the monks had stood, but saw no one there. They had vanished! Neil Yong knew he had judged too soon, and knew that if they did not act fast, the Gibson Firebird would make short work of them.

  • What is the cause of Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi’s inertia?
  • Will Ronnie van Zhantuo finally win the day after talking about it for so long?
  • Should the song ‘Freebird’ be classified as a weapon?

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Episode 13: The First Battle of Sugar Mountain. Part 1

Episode 13: The First Battle of Sugar Mountain. Part 1.

Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi! They were authentic walking legends, neither seen nor heard from since the time of the Emperors of the Late Tang Dynasty!

Passing by the salt-encrusted docks of somewhere like, say, Chongquing, or any other of China’s ten major port cities, a traveler might have the fortuity of hearing an aged Yú fàn fishmonger mutter rumours that three of the most powerful folk mystics had found Nirvana through the magic of their melodies and vanished long ago. Others, say, a wispy-mustached village cobbler with skin as smooth, soft and crackled as a soapstone figurine resting atop a family sepulchre, might have whispered some musty tale to passers-by about how the mighty Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi had been defeated in battle against the eight immortals in the Song Dynasty, centuries ago. Other such village characters might have contended that they were abroad, studying under some Shi Fu of folk, taming the mighty rivers of folk music torrentially and perennially raging in their eternal hearts.

“Misters,” Ronnie van Zhantuo said, addressing all three monks Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi. He was not going to be shown up by three guys in hoods singing falsetto no matter how powerful their folk music. It wasn’t even about getting to the magical kingdom on top of Sugar Mountain. For him, it was just about straightening out some folk mystics who just done stepped outta line.

“You sing pretty musics,” van Zhantuo continued, nodding. “But you made me drop my Gibson Firebird.  Now that’s going to cost you. And I charge in the currency of pain.”

Van Zhantuo’s fist clasped around the now cooling neck of the vintage sunburst weapon-guitar of mythical note. The headstock was slightly scratched and Ronnie van Zhantuo had to take a moment to twist the distinctive banjo tuners on the E and D strings to tune it up. The Southern Mongol Chieftain then unraveled loops of cable from his belt and plugged into a set of Marshall amps set up behind the saddle of his horse. (They really were the best amps to create that crunchy, half-cocked southern rock sound that had obliterated entire villages from China to the steppes of Afghanistan.) “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Feedback crackled and fizzed.

Bob Dy-Liang watched with great interest and leaned over to Neil Yong. “Again, something is happening and you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mister Yong?” he said in one of his moments of transcendent clarity.

“I actually don’t,” Neil Yong retorted, wondering how the monks would handle this situation. They may have been keepers of Sugar Mountain, but had they ever been privy to the acoustic juggernaut that was southern mongol rock, spear-headed by a Gibson Firebird? It was a Dà guīmó shāshāng xìng de jítā – a Guitar of Mass Destruction. Part of Neil Yong kind of wanted to see it in action – was that such a crime? He was just curious, is all.

The three monks looked unphased.

Everyone awaited the inevitable brute forces of southern rock to begin their destruction of their collective ear canals. Then Ronnie van Zhantuo began slowly strumming a slow G chord. Everyone was taken aback with its gentleness. He noted their bafflement. “You think you folk mystics have a monopoly on smooth tunes? Pfft. This bird you cannot change…” He progressed to a slow D, a dark Em, dark like the Fengdu portal to the underworld, then a surprising F like an unsuspecting twist in the Yanghtze, followed by a sorrowful Am, a hopeful DSus4, a D, and another DSus4, soothing like the endless wave of a golden cat statue.

One of the more softly spoken bandits, Bi-Ree Po-Ruw, whipped out a time-worn portable Hammond B3 Organ from a saddle bag. He began to play a backing track softer than the velvet of the eternal emperor’s sleeve cuffs.

If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me…” van Zhantuo sang.

Neil Yong couldn’t discern any notable change in the ether at first. In fact, if anything, he was a trifle disappointed. Here was this incredible anti-cavalry zhan-madao instrument that rested quite possibly in the hands of an imbecile who didn’t know how to use it properly. They were in luck! In the hands of a shia ker master swordsman who was stout of heart, that Gibson could kill them all. No doubt Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi would stand idly by, tolerating this un-powerful music before putting the entire Mongol company out of their misery with brain-hemorrhaging harmonies.

But the southern music continued, and gradually grew in power…

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Episode 12: Gentle True Spirits

Episode 12: Gentle True Spirits

The group stood gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirits


Ronnie van Zhantuo swept back his golden locks. “We seek the guitar building Shī Fu at Xuanpo, the fairy folk kingdom at the top of this mountain.”

Again quoth the monks: “You shall not pass.”

Ronnie van Zhantuo scoffed. “You are but harmless Chinese monks. I am a southern Mongol warrior. I carry a Gibson Firebird! I have business on this mountain. If you will not let me pass, so be it!” With that, he lifted his zhanmadao broad-bladed Gibson Firebird to swing a deadly and distorted Em at the first monk, when suddenly the mountain air was drenched with the most beautiful sound.

The warrior monks had started to sing.

In glorious three-part harmony.

Their vocal chemistry was mesmerizing. The harmonies weaved the magic of folk in the air with a perfection that some might say was other-worldly.

Allen Collins began to weep, for the world was not made for sounds as beautiful as this.

Neil Yong shook his head at such mystical vocal alchemy. He leaned against a tree to steady himself. “Though my feet aren’t on the ground, I been standin’ on the sound of some open-hearted people goin’ down.”

Neil Yong leaned against a tree to steady himself.

Bob Dy-Liang was all out of breath. “You cast your spell and I went under… I find it so difficult to leave.”

Joni Mitchao was beside herself and had to sit down. “Love is touching souls,” she said, more or less in complete awe, “And surely they just touched mine.”

Joni Mitchao was beside herself and had to sit down.

The zhanmadao Gibson Firebird grew hot in Ronnie van Zhantuo’s hand. With a gasp, the Mongol dropped it and it clattered against the flagstones.

“Ooh,” Neil Yong grimaced. “That’s expensive.”

“Who are you?” the leader of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo stammered to the monks with a sort of stunned humility.

The monks pulled back their hoods.

Each monk revealed long flowing hair, as free as the flower happy spirits of 1960s America; hair the tone of hazelnut trees; of warm Dr Pepper served on a chilly winter’s night. One of the men had a fat handlebar mustache as luscious as the fertile Hwang-Ho river valley.

The group stood gasping at glimpses of gentle pure spirits.

One monk spoke.

“We are brothers Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi. We are warrior monks of the order of San Fransizkuo. We are the keepers of the secrets of Sugar Mountain. You are helplessly hoping that you might be admitted here. You must leave.”

Ronnie van Zhantuo did not move, but moved his hands to his pocket where the crumpled piece of parchment lay bearing Neil Yong’s song ‘Powderfinger’. Southern rock might not be able to defeat these monks, but a well-aimed folk song may be a different matter…

Another monk spoke: “You run, wishing you could fly, only to trip at the sounds of goodbye. If you do not leave, you must defeat us in battle. Begin.”

  • What are the secrets of Sugar Mountain?
  • Is there a magical fairy folk music kingdom on the mountain top?
  • How does one trip at the sound of goodbye?
  • Was Ronnie van Zhantuo wise in facing off against Crosbeng, Stillzu and Nashoi?
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Episode 11: Standing Before Sugar Mountain

The folk-warrior monks of Sugar Mountain
"The fog itself seemed to be composed of folk harmonies"


Episode 11: Standing Before Sugar Mountain

For three days they walked towards the mountain which daily grew closer. Finally they arrived at its mighty foot.

“Masters of war, down the highway,” Bob Dy-Liang said. “I feel a change comin’ on.”

Neil Yong nodded. “In the field of opportunity it’s plowin’ time again…”

At the base of Sugar Mountain, there were a series of cracked and mossy stone columns forming a sort of gate to the path that led up the mountain. A dry wind clew brown leaves across the path. The mountain loomed before them, the steep rocky slopes gleaming golden in the afternoon light.

(NB: Sugar Mountain was China’s most sacred mountain in the folk tradition. More sacred than sacred Mount Hua or Mount Emei Shan. Even the Taoists and Buddhists agreed that Sugar Mountain was laden with the mystical powers of folk music in a way that no mountain ever had been before.)

The fog itself seemed to be composed of folk harmonies.

Even the bandits seemed to feel the tangibly eerie vibes.

“What now?” Allen Collins asked his leader.

“Round and round… it won’t be long,” Neil Yong muttered, thinking of his Old Black Les Paul strapped to one of the Mongol’s saddlebags.

As the group stood before the gates, they spotted three hooded and robed figures blocking the mountain path halfway up the slope. They were partially obscured by the thick fog enveloping the mountain but it was clear they were watching them, hands invisible inside the folds of their burgundy garments.

From the misty mountain top, these figures slowly descended. They walked calmly, like ancient warrior monks, completely at peace, ãn ning with the world.

“There’s more to the picture than meets the eye… hey hey, my my…” Neil Yong muttered as he stared transfixed at these new arrivals.

Once the three monks reached the stone gates, they stood barring the path. Their hoods covered their faces.

“Who are these men,” Ronnie van Zhantuo said, “Who dare stand in the way of the most powerful Mongol southern rock outfit of all time?”

The hooded figures said nothing.

It was time for the Gibson Firebird. Ronnie van Zhantuo drew his zhanmadao broad-bladed Gibson Firebird electric guitar; its vintage sunburst colours a relic from the Song Dynasty. As an anti-cavalry guitar, it was said to be able to kill both horse and rider with one chord. With it, he approached the three hooded figures.

“You may not pass,” quoth one of the warrior monks.

  • Who were these authentic warrior monks?
  • Will Neil Yong’s song be of any assistance here?
  • Which is China’s most sacred folk mountain?
  • Why didn’t the other mountains quite make the cut?
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Brief Mystic Interlude

Serving as an interval to the Grand-Yong-Narrative, word just in: A small pocket of folk mystic warriors have been found in modern day China. This is rare footage of a Chinese mystic who (possibly) studied under Grand Master Neil Yong.

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Episode 10: The Secret Song

Episode 10: The Secret Song

"Neil Yong laboured on the song for an hour".

Neil Yong groaned and sat up. It was dawn. Bon Dy-Liang and Joni Michao were already awake.

“Woke up this morning with love in mind,” Neil Yong stretched his neck. “It was rainin’ outside, but my love still shined… What am I doin’ here?”

Bob Dy-Liang sported a hefty bruise on his left cheek for trying to hum a folk song in an attempt to harness the power of folk to escape. He noted Neil Yong’s concerned look. “It’s alright Yong, (I’m only bleeding).”

“To get out of this, we’re going to need to folk rock harder than we’ve ever folk rocked before,” Neil Yong whispered to the others.

Bob Dy-Liang nodded. “Can’t wait. Time out of mind.”

“I’m going to try and get my soul free,” Joni Michao said. “I’m going to try to camp out on the land. We are stardust! We are golden! And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden!”

“Not so loud,” Neil Yong said.

Joni Michao tried to get her soul free, but it didn’t work. Stripped of their weapons, Neil Yong had no choice but to work on a song for Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo. Would the power of folk even work with this song? Would the beacon of folk shine through the gritty progressions of southern rock?

Neil Yong laboured on the song for an hour. “Powderfinger”* he called it. It was about a band of attackers floating down a river and attacking a group of travelers but Neil Yong hoped Ronnie van Zhantuo wouldn’t see the parallels. “Now there’s your song,” Neil Yong said. He began to sing the first few bars when a bandit knocked him over the head with the butt of a guitar.

“Not so fast. Don’t try to channel the power of folk here. Just write down the lyrics and the chords and then talk us through it. None of that mó fǎ folk mumbo jumbo. Y’hear?”

Neil Yong wrote out the song on a scrap of parchment in Chinese calligraphy.

Ronnie van Zhantuo chuckled. “Well done! Now we have a Neil Yong weapon-song of our own! Haha! Now we keep you tied up and how about you lead us to whatever so special on Sugar Mountain!”

Downcast, Neil Yong, Bob Dy-Liang and Joni Michao remained in their bonds and were forced to walk the rest of the way to Sugar Mountain.

As they trudged, Bob Dy-Liang sang a ditty: “An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged; It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge; And it’s alright Yong, I can make it.”

The hike was almost too much.

“There must be some kinda way outta here, said the joker to the thief – there’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief,” Bob Dy-Liang said, shaking his head. “I really can’t.”

“Be cool, Master Dy-Liang. No reason to let it bring you down,” Neil Yong whispered. “We’ll folk our way out somehow.”

“Ah. ‘No reason to get excited’ huh? The thief he kindly spoke…. You know, there are many here among us who feel life is but a joke. But you and I, Neil Yong, we’ve been through that and this is not our fate! So let’s not talk falsely now! The hour is getting late.”

  • Will Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo be able to use the song?
  • Was that their fate?
  • Is life but a joke?
  • Who sang Once, Twice, Three times a lady?


* real world song written by Neil Young and given to Ronnie van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1975



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Episode 9: The Wrath of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo

Episode 9: The Wrath of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo

The bantering between Neil Yong and Ronnie Van Zhantuo had distracted them all for a time, but now they had had an opportunity to really suss out who they were dealing with.

As they walked, the folk mystics stared at the three lead guitars slung around the bandit’s shoulders and the giant swords at their sides.

Triple lead guitars.

Triple the power.

Triple the pain.

Thrice the terror.

These carnal men had shirked the awesome and mysterious power of folk in favour of the sweet and carnal brutality of southern rock. These bandits were more powerful that they’d imagined.

The Mongol men looked fierce and unkempt with long, unwashed hair.

One of the bandits clutched a gleaming Gibson Firebird electric guitar.

It was vintage sunburst, coloured in soft and warm shades of brown and hazel, like the childhood dreams of quitian Zhongqiu autumn festivals when the leaves were crisp as parchment. The Gibson Firebird. It was one of the most powerful weapons ever made.

"It was one of the most powerful weapons ever made..."

Neil Yong stared at it. It was beautiful, like the magical sword of Lǚ Dongbīn that could ward off evil; coloured like the mythical Feng Zhū Qiǎo phoenix, the celestial red bird of the emperor and guardian of the south.

"Coloured like the mythical Feng Zhū Qiǎo phoenix"

Neil Yong’s admiration of the instrument of terror was cut short.

“I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” Joni Michao said, feeling the weight of the fibrous net on her shoulders.

“River of pride…?” Neil Yong offered, somehow hoping it would be helpful.

“Could be. Any river.”

“Like the Yangtze?”

“No. Frozen. A frozen one. I wish I had a river so long, I could teach my feet to fly away.”

“Mm. Well, when we see you fly away without us, shadow on the things you know, feathers all around you, showing us the way to go, then we’ll know it’s over.”

Ronnie van Zhantuo ran a hand along the body of the Gibson Firebird and prodded the group with the guitar neck. “Your weapons aren’t so powerful from under that net are they? You are an endangered species, folk mystics! The age of folk is over!”

“Take my head and change my mind, how could you people act so unkind?” Neil Yong said.

Neil Yong knew that their time was short and that they would not suffer to be taught the Tao of Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo. He needed to act fast.

“Listen Ronnie van Zhantuo,” Neil Yong said. “There are few folk mystics left. But there is a rising wave of dark and unchill music over this land growing more and more powerful every day. It threatens to bring about the Diyu – the ten courts of Chinese hell on earth! If the dark music gets too loud and too powerful, you’ll be destroyed too. There is a world – one of these days – when you and I, Hawks and Doves, will unite to fight the common enemy. We need to see the Shī Fu. To not only fix our guitars but equip us with new acoustic weapons with scalloped bracing and aged blue spruce soundboards to aid us in the dark days ahead.”

Ronnie van Zhantuo scratched his chin. “Honestly, I didn’t expect to see you here Neil Yong. The last rebel! I will write a song after you. But I know you are a powerful folk mystic! And even though you have insulted us by stealing our prisoner, perhaps we may come to an arrangement to spare your lives. Your songs are famed as being the most powerful throughout China. You once directed some against us in Mongolia.  We felt them acutely. Al-Ling Collings here had a blood nose for a month. Here is the deal! What you must do is design us a weapon! A song! A song that can channel the elusive and enchanting powers of folk! One of your powerful songs will be ours! You may keep the village girl Joni Michao. We may find another to take down the Emperor. We’ll take your song! Otherwise, we will play a triple lead solo that will melt your faces!” He doubled over in guffaws of southern laughter.

Then they made camp, ate some beans and prawns and everyone went the folk to sleep.

  • Is Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo unstoppable?
  • Does the Yangtze ever freeze over?
  • What is the new dark force in music anyway?
  • Will the power of folk music disappear from China forever?


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Episode 8: In Conversation with Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo

They only knew the pedestrian, brute force of southern rock.











Episode 8: In Conversation with Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo

“We came to retrieve Joni Michao!” Ronnie van Zhantuo growled with guttural gusto. His twang of accent betrayed his rural roots. “But I see fate has given us greater purpose. They call us Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo! From the southern Mongol province of Alabijiama. We are leaders in the great bandit union of southern Mongol Dixie rock!”

They were southern Mongol rockers! Men who knew nothing of the secret powers of folk music. They only knew the pedestrian, brute force of southern rock.

“Oh Alabijiama…” Neil Yong muttered. Their folk-mystic journey to the Les Paul Guitar Grand Shī Fu on top of Sugar Mountain would have to wait. Would they ever learn the Tao of guitar building? Or fix Bob Dy-Liang’s Gibson J50?

It was a crime against the pure power of folk to capture a folk mystic. Lynyrdzuo Skynyrdzuo knew that. What with their uncouth manners and Dixie twang, they would soon realize their mistake.

Neil Yong shook his head, thinking about the heaviness of southern rock’s classic power chords. “You got the weight on your shoulders that’s breaking your back.” After that last line, he broke into a sad hum in a minor key.

“What do you want with us?” Joni Michao asked the long-haired leader.

But we don’t need you around anyhow, Neil Yong!

Ronnie Van Zhantuo scoffed. “Like I tell you. To get you back, Joni Michao, our rightful property. But now! Bob Dy-Liang is here! Neil Yong is here! We heard old Neil sing about our sweet home Alabijiama. We heard old Neil put her down. But we don’t need you around anyhow, Neil Yong!”

Neil Yong gulped. Would he meet his end at the hands of a vengeful southern-rocking philistine?

The Mongols tied up the folk mystics with a complete absence of decorum.

Once bound, the folk mystics were tied to the horses and led down the road to who knows where.

“Oh Alabijiama,” Neil Yong muttered, thinking of Sugar Mountain. Something drastic would need to happen to resume their former course to Sugar Mountain. Otherwise they might never see the Les Paul Grand Shī Fu. Neil Yong cried out in frustration. “The devil fools with our best laid plan! Swing low, Alabijiama.”

Ronnie van Zhantuo chuckled at his quarry and turned to his band and jerked his thumb at the folk mystics. “Lord… these guys… they get me off so much. They pick me up when I feelin’ blue…” He turned to Al-ling Collings, grinning. “Now how about you? …No?”

Al-Ling Collings was rubbing his stomach. “Feel weird. Bad xiā mǐ for lunch – bad prawns. You got some spare banliǎng? Spare change? Might have to make bee-line for nearest roadside apothecary for traditional Chinese medicine.”

Neil Yong had spied a leather purse of coins at Van Zhantuo’s belt and spoke up: “You got spare change. You got to feel strange, and now the moment is all that it meant!”

Neil Yong sort of lost track of what he was saying in that last comment, and was sure he didn’t quite hammer the point home like he’d intended to. So he decided to make another dig at Alabijiama and the sort of men the southern provinces were apt to produce. He would hurt him with his words. Get Van Zhantuo right where he was most sensitive.

“Southern man better keep your head! Don’t forget what your good book said. Southern change gonna come at last. Now your crosses are burning fast. Southern man!”

“Not listening to you, Neil Yong. Your dislike of my province is legendary. Perhaps we take you there one day.”

“I’ve been there,” Neil Yong said. “Once, in my travels, I came to Alibijiama and saw all this ruin – and I thought ‘what are you doing?’ Alabijiama!”

“Doing?” retorted Van Zhantuo, furrowing his brow. “Make some sense, Neil Yong. We all did what we could do.”

They rode on in silence. Ronnie van Zhantuo was lost in a summery reverie. A reverie about the carts they used to ride in along the Mongol roads on long journeys when they were children. When they would all sit in the back and make fun of Al-Ling Collings until he cracked it.

Lost in this reverie, Ronnie van Zhantuo whistled, muttering… “Big wheels keep on turnin’. Carryin’ me home to see my kin…”

Neil Yong thought he would continue to distract and antagonize the Mongols with thoughts of their homeland while he came up with a foolproof plan to bust out of there. It was not the best plan, but it was a plan. “Wheels?” Neil Yong scoffed. “Your Cadillakuo has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track, Van Zhantuo!”

“You tell him, Neil Yong,” Bob Dy-Liang chimed, without being fully committed to the plan. Secretly he was worried that they would just make Lynyrzuo Skynyrdzuo mad.

Ronnie Van Zhantuo was too lost in his recollections of his homeland that Neil Yong’s pseudo-metaphorical insults did not register. It had been a long time since they’d been home, having left on a pillaging tour that had stretched seven years longer than intended. He sighed. “Ah. I miss Alabijiamy once again and I think it’s a sin…”
“Miss it?” Neil Yong said, not missing a beat. “Miss Alabijiama? With banjos playing through the broken glass? Windows down in Alabijiama. Old folks tied in white ropes. Hear the banjo?”

Van Zhantuo’s ears pricked up. “Banjos? Singin’ songs about the southland!”

Fig 1.1 Traditional Chinese banjoman singing songs of the southland

“Don’t it take you down home?”

Ronnie van Zhantuo nodded, not buying into Neil Yong’s provocations. “It’s sweet. A sweet home. Alabijiama. Where the skies are so blue…”

“Alabijiama. Can I see you and shake your hand? I should come make friends down in Alabama. I’m from a new land.”

“Which land, Neil Yong? Where you from anyway? In Ba-ming-ham? They love the governor.”

“Boo, boo, boo!” yelled Al-Ling Collings from the side.

“Al-Ling Collings isn’t a fan.”

“Alibijama, you got the rest of the Ming Empire to help you along. What’s going wrong?” Neil Yong jeered.

Ronnie Van Zhantuo smiled to himself. He would spar with Neil Yong now, but ultimately he would have the last laugh. Neil Yong would provide him with the ultimate weapon whether he liked it or not. For now, he would be satisfied with exchanging jabs about Alibijama. “Enough, Neil Yong, we got it. The broken windows, the banjos, the white ropes, the ruin, the burning crosses. It’s a Mongol province, you know? Like, cut some slack. I don’t know what you expected Master Yong. As I say, I heard ol’ Neil put her down. But a southern man don’t need you around anyhow!”


Ultimately he would have the last laugh
  • Did a southern man need Neil Yong around?
  • What was the ultimate weapon Ronnie van Zhantuo was planning on creating?
  • What wasn’t Al-Ling Collings a fan of – Ba-ming-ham? Or the governor?
  • Were there even banjos in China
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