This Monkey's Gone To Heaven

[This is pure fiction. I never saw any bands when I was in high school that got famous later, though I did see Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam in the parking lot of Tower Records in Missoula, MT. I recognized him, but I didn’t know from where — I thought he was just a friend of a friend or something. Apparently this was actually true, as we shot the shit for about ten minutes about our mutual acquaintances. A few months later, I was in Seattle watching Pearl Jam on MTV’s Unplugged, and I realized my error.

Yeah, I know, not the most exciting story. I did end up meeting Chris Novoselic a few years ago at a digital music conference. He looked like your dad’s accountant.]

Round And Round was a roller rink that served double duty on weekends as a venue. When we got there, there was already a small crowd of kids hanging out — mostly weirdos like us from the towns surrounding Haddonfield, a few older punks that had been around the scene forever, some random stoners, one or two thug types, and a few straight-looking kids who probably didn’t have anything better to do. A couple of the older ones were brown-bagging forties, and I saw one kid passing around a little flask to his buddies. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the night air.

I saw Alicia talking to a couple of them. She was wearing a suede jacket with a sheepskin collar and a pair of John Lennon glasses like the ones Val wore. When she saw Steve and Val and I walking up, she shrieked — drawing curious gazes from some of the crowd — and ran towards us. She wrapped me in a bear hug.

“What’s up, muhfuckas?” she said, grinning. “Oh my God,” she said to Val, “you look so fucking hot. Seriously.”

“Thanks,” Val said, “you too.”

“So, hey, the first band’s about to start,” she said. “We should go in, okay?”

As we walked in, she waved at the people she had been talking to before — a really tall skinny guy dressed all in black, and a short dude with dyed-red shaggy hair who sported a striped sweater that reminded me of something my mom would have made me wear when I was five. With the vast difference in their height, they looked like a comedy duo. “Good luck!” she said. They waved back.

“They’re in the second band,” she said. “I think he said they’re called Nirvana.”

“I hope it’s not fucking hippie music,” Steve said. “I couldn’t deal with that tonight.”

“I don’t think so,” Alicia said. She looked back at the little guy in the sweater. “He didn’t smell like a hippie to me.” She smiled wickedly.

I looked back at the dude. He was just sitting there, a beer in his hand, staring at nothing. He had really bright blue eyes.

* * *

If this were a made-up story, I’d tell you that I knew I was seeing something special when the Dread Police finished their thankfully short set (punk reggae, just as Val had described it) and the little guy in the sweater took the stage. I’d tell you that I knew I was seeing rock history in the making.

But I can’t tell you that. They were intense, I’ll say that…but there were a lot of intense bands back then. It was almost a prerequisite for underground rock and roll. They weren’t bad. Their songs were catchy. I think they probably opened with “Negative Creep” — that sounds right. After the first couple of songs, Alicia leaned over to me and whispered in my ear: “Pixies, much?”

I smiled. Totally. They even ended their set with a loud cover of “Monkey Gone To Heaven”, and we all danced our asses off.

They were…pretty good. But they weren’t the best band I’ve ever seen, or even the best band I ever saw at Round And Round — that would have been the Butthole Surfers, that summer before school started.

Afterwards, Kurt Cobain came walking by with his guitar and amp. “You guys kicked ass,” Alicia said.

He smiled sweetly at her, nodded, and just kept walking. And he was gone.

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