Episode 14: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
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.”
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.
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?