published in Volume 4, Issue 1 on September 4th, 1997
I packaged a totally credible plastic rock star--- much better than any sort of Monkees fabrication. My plastic rocker was much more plastic than anybody's.
The crowd screamed in syncopated adoration as Tobashi Tamaal finished his drum solo with a flourish of cymbal crashes. Total time: 17:20. The scenery was designed like a non-entomologist's interpretation of a hive, with ten-foot-tall khaki-colored army ants guarding the stage and the amps stacked in honeycombs. High above hung a latex and plywood lobster-scorpion-yellow jacket hybrid with multi-faceted eyes the size of punch bowls. Its wings were six feet across and lined with spikes, like enormous hairy ears. Pacing backstage, Johnny tugged uncomfortably at his mask. It was Jocelyn who had convinced Johnny to shed his old band, the Cleft Palates, to accept her line-up of studio musicians. The others--- Tommy Mollo on guitar, Joey Komodo on bass, "Sweet" Lester Jams on synths --- stood a few arm's lengths away in their gold glitter jumpsuits, smoking. Komodo and Sweet had faint blood stains in the crooks of their left elbows. Their rubber insect masks, hand-sculpted at great expense, lay on the gritty stage floor. What a pack of hacks! Johnny thought. Pretentious, too. Especially Komodo posing with his Alembic bass. Johnny predicted that they were all soon to fall into obscurity. If Johnny left the band, Mollo alone would probably release a solo disk, but that would go straight from factory to cut-out bin. Not even Jocelyn could rescue their careers. Johnny was surprised how little he felt for his band-mates after three years together. At Mollo's cue, Johnny Jewel strutted onto the stage in his insect mask and costume, complete with claws, spines and segmented abdomen. Just before the spotlight blinded him, he saw the bottle blondes in the front row, their hair sweat-pasted onto their foreheads. He felt guilty pleasure. As always, Johnny took choreographed steps, pausing on cue to wiggle his hips. Just so. The girls screamed and Jocelyn smiled. Johnny blew them a kiss, as he sighed at the stupidity of it all. Mollo came onstage walking on his hands. When he stood up, a roadie tossed him a guitar from fifteen feet away. While Sweet Lester tickled the keys, Johnny sang "Windswept Lady," a Top Ten from two years before. Mollo winked at the crowd and then played a sobbing guitar line on his Fender Strat. Yes, Johnny thought, Clapton could make a guitar weep, Hendrix could make it salute, but only Mollo could make it whine.
During the next few gigs, Johnny felt increasingly frustrated, tired and bored. His singing and guitar playing suffered. He lacked soul. He felt lethargic even when he played the rowdiest cuts off the last album--- a record of which he was honestly proud. Unlike the previous three disks, he had written most of the songs himself, including "Whenever You're Near," now at Number 12. He loved the the fan mail in bags, the chauffeurs in tuxedos, and the knowledge that he could throw a TV out his hotel window. But he still felt guilty. Was his music that good? His heroes, the soul-blasters and blues-belters of the fifties and sixties, mostly slept on stained sheets in segregated motels with flickering neon and crawling roaches. Why did he deserve better? Fame was fleeting, and he didn't know where his music was going. In the three months since the last album had debuted, he'd only written one song. And that was only good enough for a B-side or a giveaway for the fan club. Sigh. It kept coming back to comparisons to the Beatles. The Fab Four averaged an album full of hits and classics two or three times a year for over half a decade. He protested that chart success didn't mean anything to him, but it did, for comparison purposes. From 1964 to 1970, the Beatles owned the Number One spot for 59 weeks with 20 different songs. 59 weeks! So far Johnny had amassed only two Number Ones. For five weeks total. He wanted to compete with the Liverpudlian legacy, but couldn't.
Twitching at the back of the tour bus, Johnny watched the B-B-Q huts and wildlife art galleries roll by. Today he turned 27. He was already older than Otis Redding had ever been. Mollo presented him with a Gibson Double 12, with a sunburst-colored SG-style body and two humbucking pick-ups for each neck. Johnny smiled for the first time in weeks. "This is a real remarkable find. You should keep it for yourself." Shaking his head, Mollo said, "Happy birthday." "Thanks." As Johnny fingered the guitar's horns, the smile drained away. Mollo said, "What's wrong? Cheer up! You guys are taking yourselves far too seriously." "Us?" Johnny asked. "You and Jocelyn," Mollo said. "A band is like a trampoline. It needs tension, pulling it in different directions, to keep it tight. You give us the soul and Jocelyn helps us market it. 'Cos without album sales, we don't have a contract, and without that, we don't have the blues, or anything." "And what do you do?" Johnny asked. "I provide the fun. Self-importance will kill you. Makes bands break up." "You think I'm pretentious?" Johnny asked. Mollo shrugged. "You don't know what's at stake here!" Johnny shouted. "The heart of rock and roll is up for grabs! Rock can be the voice of teenagers too shy to talk in complete sentences. Rock screams out: You offer us a world, but we don't want it! Your phony etiquette, your fashions, your square way of thinking! They're all irrelevant to me! Rock shouts out, I have things inside me, but you'll never hear, because all you see if the length of my hair and the color of my skin and the pattern on my shirt! Rock and roll proclaims, We're building a future that's better than your past. Rock can say all that, and more. But Jocelyn doesn't believe that. Jocelyn thinks rock is merely funny hats and flashing lights. Don't you see?" "I see a man taking himself and his music far too seriously," Mollo said. "You just want to have fun," Johnny said. "How can I have fun? I'm twenty seven today. Do you know what that means?" Mollo shook his head. Johnny said: "Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. What do they all have in common?" "They're all dead?" Mollo said. "Yeah, that's right," Johnny said. "And they all died at age 27. All the greats, they all made their marks when they were still young." "But Johnny!" Mollo said. "You've made your mark. You've put out a string of solid albums. You've got an armload of hit singles. What more do you want?" "I guess I've done OK," Johnny said. "But I haven't done what I really wanted. I want to do something extraordinary in the history of music. Every call needs a response. Every voice, an echo. My music hasn't said what it wants, because I don't hear the echo yet. And I'm running out of time."
Later that day, Jocelyn sat next to Johnny on the tour bus. "Can you at least pretend to have fun onstage?" she said. "The audience doesn't want a sourpuss." Johnny said, "If I want to be sour on my birthday, why won't people just let me?" "I've got some birthday news to cheer you up," Jocelyn said. "I got you guest slots on TV." "Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah," Johnny said sarcastically. "What shows?" "The Carol Burnett Show and Happy Days," she said. "Imagine: Johnny Jewel meets the Fonz! And the Captain and Tennille are planning a variety show---" "The Captain and Tennille!" Johnny said in shock. "Toni Tennille's just another emotionally vacuous female lead singer. You didn't tell them I'd wear the insect suit?" "Well..." "What else---?" he asked. "I don't have Madison Square yet, but we're negotiating." Jocelyn glared at him. "Johnny! I'm tired of working harder on your career than you are! You're the most ungrateful person I've ever met. When I was singing in clubs, I would have killed for a tenth of the support you get from me. What do you want from me?" "From you?" Johnny threw his hands in the air. "You can't give me..." "You mean that Pinocchio stuff? What is this being 'real' junk, anyway?" "Well, for starters, pretending to be an insect when I'm not is just silly and maddening!" "Would it help if you actually were an insect?" she said, tossing out a random idea. "Yeah, right," Johnny said. "Yeah, right." He didn't see the gears starting to whirl in Jocelyn's head.
I'm an instant rock star; just add water and stir.
When Jocelyn and Dr. Gaudio conferred alone later, Jocelyn said, "You're a good actor. You want a guest slot on TV?" "He swallowed the whole thing," Dr. Gaudio said. "Every bit of that developmental biologist's wet dream..." "He definitely wouldn't go for it if he knew we were really using mechanical prostheses," Jocelyn said. "He's got to think he's really being changed. Otherwise, we can just kiss Madison Square and next year's tour goodbye." Dr. Gaudio said, "OK. I'll finalize the cricket blueprints with our engineer and the surgeon. We can probably start the surgery in two weeks. Is that soon enough to keep Johnny happy?" Jocelyn smiled at him. "And me."
Two Thursdays later, just before going to bed, Johnny carefully spread over his body an unscented white cream, which was nothing but a placebo. An hour later, while Johnny slept, Dr. Gaudio's team gassed him with an anesthetic and then applied the first layer of molded microporous plastic parts to Johnny's chest. Over the course of the first week of nightly applications, Johnny awoke to spreading calluses on his skin, which coalesced into an exoskeleton. His sides were lined with spiracles, the openings for tracheae, his insect breathing tubes. Dancing and singing "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", Johnny spent long hours beholding his new, ever-changing visage in the mirror. Embryonic labrum and labium, insect upper and lower jaws, dangled like thumb nails from his lips. Palpi, sense organs, hung like babies' pinkies from the edges of his mouth. Not very impressive compared to the hand-sculpted insect mask, but a start. Nonetheless, Johnny was proud of his metamorphosis and one day announced to the band that they were going onstage that night without masks, without costumes, without scenery. Only Johnny would have the rudimentary insect mouthparts on his face. Sweet Lester said, "Looks like you got oatmeal dripping from your lips!" Jocelyn was shocked and angry. One roadie objected, citing the union contract specs, but the others shushed him. Mollo, unsure himself, convinced the band to throw in their lot with Johnny. "What will the audience think?" Jocelyn asked. "Most of the press has centered around the theatrics. Will the fans be content with only music?" "If it's good enough," Johnny argued.
If an alien came down and asked me what rock 'n' roll is, I'd play them 'Hound Dog' or something by Chuck Berry.
Basically rock stardom comes down to the cut of your trousers.
The tour continued. "Whenever You're Near" held the No. 1 spot for four weeks, and Jocelyn had a live version of "Windswept Lady", recorded in the Twin Cities, rush-released as a single. Casey Kasem called to get trivia for his Top Forty radio show. Johnny was exhausted from the traveling, the molting, the lights, the performing, the parade of diamond dogs, and the midnight surgery sessions. But the tour was successful as long as they kept using the costumes and scenery. Johnny's labrum, labium and palpi were more developed now, so Jocelyn had Johnny's new face appear on the cover of several teen mags. Even Rolling Stone. Fans were amazed at how believable the "makeup" looked. As Johnny's fame spread, Jocelyn's joy increased in proportion. Nothing could stop them except Johnny. The surgery continued. Because crickets can hear through their front legs, tiny microphones were implanted in Johnny's elbows, with wires running to hidden earplugs. The power of cricket jumping legs was simulated by mechanically amplifying Johnny's own muscle strength.
On one special morning late that fall, Dr. Gaudio helped Johnny with his final juvenile molt. Jocelyn held some orange juice for him and smiled secretively. As Dr. Gaudio pulled away the last shard of old skin, Johnny's wings emerged, larger than ever, wrinkled and folded up. Dr. Gaudio said, "In an hour, the wings will straighten, harden and stiffen into a sounding board. Then you'll be able to sing." After an impatient hour, Johnny took a deep breath and looked back and forth at Jocelyn and Dr. Gaudio. The movement of his shoulderblades controlled his forewings, and he raised them to a forty-five degree angle to his body and brought them together near the hinge. "Here we go," he said. The comb-like file on one wing touched the thumbnail-like scraper on the other. As he rubbed the wings together, they made a sputtering, scratching sound, like a trash can lid kicked across pavement. Jocelyn winced. "Sorry," Johnny said. "Let me try again." His wings moved again, this time so quickly they became a blur. The scraping pulses ran together into a single chirp. He tried again, and it sounded more self-assured. Closing his eyes, Johnny held out one long clear note, his body, like that of his old Gibson semi-solid, giving the note depth and sustain. Out of a myriad of possible noises, his wings had picked one note astounding in its sweetness, complexity and profundity. Best of all, Johnny knew that he could summon this one note at command! As the sound evaporated into the air, Johnny smiled and Jocelyn and Dr. Gaudio shouted and hugged each other. "I've got a surprise for you!" Jocelyn said. "What is it?" Johnny asked. "A date at Madison Square!" Jocelyn giggled. "And you don't mind if I play my wings there?" Johnny asked. "It's the last show in the tour, so you could play a jug and a washboard, as long as it's after they buy their tickets!" "All right!" Johnny exclaimed. "I'm going to be a cricket in Madison Square!"
Johnny spent the entire day alone in his hotel room (which he called a burrow) experimenting with his wings. He moderated the number of pulses in a chirp. Rhythms were made by inserting rests between the chirps, and his wings could buzz, trill, twitter, drone or whistle. How odd, Johnny thought, that insect songs were millions of years old, yet like rock music they were the songs of the young. Crickets are only a year old when they sing their songs of love and passion, loneliness and ecstasy.
That night, in Richmond, Johnny felt ready to play the insect music onstage for the first time.
Dylan, Johnny reminded himself, had repeatedly rearranged his old songs for live performance. He would do the same. For the first time in his career, he felt like an innovator. That was why the Beatles were so great: they were constantly introducing new sound effects, new studio techniques, and new subject matter in their lyrics. George Harrison introduced the sitar to the pop world in "Norwegian Wood" and within a couple years most British acts echoed back with Indian music: not just the Beatles, but also the Stones, Donovan, and even those guitarzans, the Yardbirds. Maybe in a year every band will have an insect in it, Johnny thought. Heimagined Keith Richards with wings. But he had to be good tonight. Including Richmond, they had only two concerts before Madison Square. Concerts to learn to play the wings and find his voice. That night, during "I Can't Get You to Listen to Me," instead of playing power chords on his Gibson SG, Johnny Jewel played continuous warbly notes on his wings. On "Baby Doll," instead of providing counterpoint to Mollo's lead, Johnny clicked, peeped and chirped. The audience was unenthusiastic. The crowd did, however, applaud wildly during Tobashi's drum solo and hooted when Mollo stood on his hands. But when Johnny played his wings, they didn't cheer, they didn't boo. They were just silent. More silent even than stones, for sound echoes off stone. Johnny told himself: What did he care what the crowd thought of his music?
After the gig, he realized he still cared how the band felt. They unanimously agreed that the insect music had been a disaster. The songs hadn't been written for wings, or even strings. Sweet Lester pretended to come at Johnny's wings with garden shears. Johnny was crushed. On the tour bus to Atlanta, the last show before Madison Square, Jocelyn told Johnny, "It's obvious that you're looking for a new direction. I've got it here." She put in an eight track and out came Latino bongos and percussion, followed by a seductive bassline and layers of hi-hats and wah-wah guitar. Strings sugar-coated the arrangement. All of it to an unrelenting beat. "What is that?" Johnny said, horrified. "It's the concept for your next album," Jocelyn said. Johnny said, "But that's... that's... disco!" "I know it's only a rhythm track, but..." Jocelyn said and started to bounce up and down in her seat. "You want me to make a disco album?" "Look what disco has done for the Bee Gees and the Four Seasons!" Jocelyn said. "Neither group has had a hit in years, and suddenly disco's put them back on the map. Think of what it can do for you, who's already on top..." Johnny walked to the back of the bus.
Pacing back and forth in his Atlanta hotel room, Johnny remembered a conversation he'd had with Sweet Lester. "You're trying too hard," Les had said. "You're no different than anyone. Just relax and enjoy the ride while it lasts." He wanted to yell Dylan quotations at him: "He not busy being born is busy dying!" Johnny wanted to shout: "I AM DIFFERENT!" His eyes filled with tears and drifted out the window to the street corner. Painted on a stop sign were the words: "Stop Disco! Disco sucks!" One show before Madison Square. The insect music had to be fierce, driving, and most of all, well integrated with the rock. Or else there would be no insect music at Madison Square and the next album would be disco. He tried to make his wings sing, but they only spat out awkward drones. Something was missing. Through the wall he could hear Mollo and the others playing KC and the Sunshine Band. He could see the future a little clearer now. Mollo's one solo album will be disco. Maybe I should go solo, drop the Johnny Jewel moniker and use my real name, he thought. No, that's not the answer. Jocelyn had told him: "How many albums do you really think a John Henry Miscisin could sell?" As he placed his Gibson SG down, it hit something hard. Garden shears. Sigh. Trying to make it to the bed, he stumbled on the weird hooks and pads which his feet had become. Sigh. Scrambling onto the bed, Johnny closed his eyes and turned the lights off. He needed to enter a musical trance, as he had when he jammed with the spirit of Otis Redding. Resting his elbows on his knees, he took a deep breath and went into a prayer-like state. But Johnny wasn't entering into the presence of the Lord. He was entering into the presence of the blues. It wasn't Jesus that appeared to him, but James Brown. Good God, y'all! Wilson Pickett! Aw, hep me! Eddie Floyd. Ow! Fontella Bass, Dusty Springfield, the Staple Singers. Hrrrrrah! Other faces drifted by: Jimmy Page, Eric Burdon, John Lennon, Little Richard. Ooooh! Now, just a few more years to be peeled back. The pastel colors in the painting on the hotel wall swirled into a vortex and mist poured out. A black man appeared, his hat tilted down over his bad left eye. He carried a guitar, but his face was so sorrowful Johnny thought he might hang himself with his guitar strap. He was unmistakably Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers. The man had recorded only twenty-nine songs in 1936 and 1937, but what songs! They were covered by Muddy Waters, Clapton, Zeppelin and the Stones. Robert sat on the bed next to Johnny, carefully moving the shears. A thousand questions came to Johnny's mind: Had Johnson really been poisoned with strychnine-laced whiskey by a jealous husband? He had only been 27. Johnny felt foolish even asking. Robert Johnson turned his back to Johnny and faced the wall. Setting his fingers to the fretboard, he made sure Johnny wasn't studying his fingering before he started to play. Johnny wanted to join in on Robert's playing. That would seem easy, as Robert didn't merely play the melody, but used his guitar to sketch out piano chords, a bass line, a rhythm track. Robert was a one-man band, dashing from instrument to instrument. But just as Johnny was about to step in, Robert suddenly dropped half a bar and threw in off-beat accents. Johnny felt tiny. Closing his eyes to listen, Johnny heard Robert's voice changing. Now he was a medicine dealer, now an unctuous balladeer, now a sharecropper leading a field holler. Now he was evil incarnate. When Johnny opened his eyes, he was not the only one with wings. Leathery, pearlized wings rose up from Robert's back. Not like Johnny's parchment-like wings, but wings nonetheless, bunched up like webbing between fingers. Like a bat. With his guitar, Johnny knocked off Robert's hat. Underneath were horns. When Johnny shrieked, Robert looked over his shoulder at Johnny and stopped playing guitar. The wings and horns vanished. Johnny's wings let out an amazing buzz, full of terror. Robert turned around again and played frightening, misshapen chords, and Johnny's wings vibrated in fear, making sounds like Hendrix-style feedback. Johnny didn't notice that his wings' clipped squawks perfectly complemented and echoed Robert's guitar playing. Robert howled like a whipped dog: "You can bury my body
Down by the highway side." Then Robert screeched incoherently and his face extended, his teeth jutting out like fangs. He fell off the bed, threw off his guitar and flung his head up. On his hands and knees, he was a mad dog barking at the moon. Then, reaching for the guitar with a paw, he suddenly turned back into a man and sang without missing a beat, "You can bury my body Down by the highway side.
So my old evil spirit Can get a Greyhound bus and ride." As he finished the song, Robert collected his hat and brushed the carpet lint off his knees, in time with the music. Then, without saying goodbye, Robert stood up and walked back into the swirling pastel mists. "Wait! Can I come with you?" Johnny pleaded, falling on his knees. A bus door appeared in the mist. Before boarding Robert paused long enough to shake his head. No. Through the receding mist, Johnny saw the bus drive off, chased by dogs. Hellhounds. Johnny sat up all that night and, in a fever of activity, rewrote every song played at the previous concert, adding harmonies and segues and parts for the back-up singers. Most of all, he added parts he could play on his wings. He had found his voice.
"Why do you keep rewriting songs that are already pretty good?" Mollo asked. "I'm trying to go deeper, become more real with the music..." Johnny said. "The cricket thing sure seems like a roundabout route," Mollo noted. "It's just a tool," Johnny explained. "Don't you see how important this is to me? This world is filled with talented people. Jocelyn was one. But she gave in. It's so easy. You just say, Oh, I can't be creative today. I don't feel well. Or I'm too busy working. Or my family doesn't encourage me. Or there's no money in it. The cricket thing's just a way for me to keep struggling, keep growing, not to give in. If you give in, you die." "Musically, emotionally or physically?" Mollo asked. "What's the difference?" Johnny said. "Mollo, you've got to give me one more chance tonight. It means everything to me. I'll make you a deal. If the insect music doesn't work, I'll play the old way at Madison Square. But if it does work, I get to do the insect music there." Mollo convinced the others and Jocelyn that they should give Johnny's bug-eyed soul one last chance.
As the band played Johnny Jewel's insect music that night in Atlanta, the crowd, at first skeptical, slowly grew loud and receptive. Eventually the crowd cheered ecstatically whenever Johnny turned his wings to them. Johnny's wings breathed fresh energy into songs the band had played a hundred times live. Johnny was overjoyed. The music worked! He'd found a way to integrate his voice with the band. They could play insect music at Madison Square! Yet for some reason he still wasn't happy. He had reached the top of this mountain, only to view another, higher peak. Johnny had not realized that, even if he integrated the rock and insect styles, his music would still, by definition, not be pure. The insect music was mixed with soul, rock, and blues. Excellent ingredients, but yet he had to promote the joy of the insect music itself, not watered down and converted into pop. Now he was ready for the next step in being born.
At some time during each show, Johnny played a few songs by himself, alone on the stage except for an acoustic guitar, a stool and a spotlight. Tonight his solo time was during the close of the first set. He brought a guitar with him onstage, but he took a bite out of the head before tossing it into the audience. Then he turned his back to the crowd and spread his wings. Blood pulsing through them, they glistened iridescently in the spotlight and the fans cheered wildly. But Johnny didn't do it for them. Still facing away from them, Johnny rubbed his wings against each other, letting out a single perfectly sustained chirp. The only sound in the arena, it rose up through the air like a gentle curlicue of smoke. Johnny didn't sing a note; his wings vibrated so rapidly that they were invisible to the human eye. They snapped and zipped, buzzed and crackled, Johnny making up the melodies and rhythms as he went along. From then on, Johnny decided, he didn't care what anyone thought about his music. Not the twenty thousand faces, not the band, not Jocelyn. He didn't need their approval. He had finally reached the level he wanted. Goodbye to you all. He was oblivious to his fans, and Johnny's serenade for wings stretched on and on, matching the length of one of Tobashi's drum solos. At this point he knew that Mollo and the rest of the band would voice their disapproval, Jocelyn would point out the lack of audience response, and the rest of the show would be played without insect music. Despite his promise, Johnny couldn't go back to that old style. Ever. When he was satisfied with his solo, Johnny jumped up on his long cricket legs, leaping twenty feet through the air and landed with a smack on a framework holding a half dozen Fresnels. As the spotlight tracked him and the crowd hooted, Johnny climbed the framework until he reached the drop ceiling high above the audience. He chewed through that ceiling until, disappearing from the view of the fans, he made it onto the catwalk used to access the houselights. From the catwalk, Johnny Jewel escaped onto the roof and then fled from the screaming thousands into the cool night. "You better be back before we leave for New York!" Jocelyn shouted, unheard.
It's better to burn out than to fade away.
During the next two weeks Johnny recovered from dehydration and hypothermia at Emory Hospital. Jocelyn asked the band if they could play Madison Square with a stand-in for Johnny. "Nobody will see his face if he's wearing the mask," she said. Mollo forced her to cancel the show and refund the tickets. It was in the hospital that Johnny learned about Dr. Gaudio's deception. Surgeons carefully removed the wings, excised the implants and stripped off the layers of microporous plastic. When he thought of all the crickets in that quarry, singing with him all night long until they were killed by the cold, he cried. He cried for the music. When he was wheeled out of the hospital, he was angry at the fans, at the band, at Jocelyn and Dr. Gaudio, but angriest at himself for being fooled. He said goodbye to Mollo, the closest thing he had to a friend, and bought an unassuming cottage in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Meals were delivered by pizza truck. He grew a beard so he wouldn't be recognized. Somehow Jocelyn found out where he was and for a while had flowers sent to him every week. Was it an act of kindness? An apology? Or simply another sleazy ploy to get back on his good side? All through that long winter, and through the following spring and summer, Johnny watched television. He had never watched so much before. He watched Bruce Jenner win the decathlon, prior to appearing on Wheaties boxes across the nation. He watched the tall ships at the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July. He watched the election returns that told him a peanut farmer was the new president. He collected bicentennial quarters and Kennedy half dollars. He hardly went outside all year. Mollo came to visit on Johnny's 28th birthday, but Johnny didn't even answer the door. He was playing dead. Johnny Jewel's guitars sat in a box in a closet. He wrote nothing, sang nothing, played nothing. All he heard on the radio was disco, Elton John and David Bowie. No one played his songs anymore. It was unbearable. One day he opened his door to a new pizza delivery boy, who said, "Hey, man, has anyone ever told you that, without the beard, you'd look just like Johnny Jewel?" Feigning ignorance, Johnny said, "Who's that?" "Some whacked out rock star. He thought he was a cockroach or something. What a bozo." After the kid left, Johnny sat and cried until his pizza was cold, and wished he had died that cold night with the crickets. In the March of '77, with two hundred dollars in his back pocket, he tossed a box from the closet into the back of his VW Rabbit and headed out onto the New York Interstate. He had wanted to make an enormous mark on music history, but now he was considered a bozo, a whacked out rock star, or else completely forgotten. What did he have to live for? When the two hundred dollars was all gone, he decided, he'd swerve in front of a tractor trailer and slam on the brakes. A week of cheap motels, fast food and endless directionless driving later, he was in Oregon and out of cash. But he couldn't bring himself to commit suicide on the highway. Even at that, he decided, he was a failure. Stopping at a rest area, he climbed over a chain-link fence and wandered into the nearby woods. Maybe he could find a sharp stick. Hunting through the moist underbrush, he came upon a cricket. It chirped. Then it chirped again. Trying to recall the four types of cricket songs, Johnny realized that this song wasn't of any of those types. Odd trills and pauses were mixed into the chirps, with clicks and whirrs injected into the melodies as counterpoints. This was Johnny's music! Two cricket generations and two and a half thousand miles away from that cold night in Georgia! How could this be? Had the cricket heard his music on the radio? Impossible! The Madison Square solo had not been recorded. Then he remembered. He had once read (and forgotten) that adult crickets aren't all killed off during the winter in the south. Apparently some of the crickets had survived that night. Maybe some had escaped from the quarry and burrowed into the ground or fled to the nearby all-nite diner and warmed themselves by the truck engines. In the spring those survivors must have taught his music to their children, and this cricket before him was a grandchild of the crickets Johnny had serenaded. This was the echo of his voice he had waited years to hear. He stood in the woods, drowning out the cricket's music with great sobs of joy. All this time he thought his music had been forgotten, when in fact it was being sung by millions. He rushed back to the car, found an acoustic guitar and ran back into the forest. By the time he had his guitar tuned he had already composed half a dozen new songs.