Piano Fighter by Michael Franklin

Some people feel the rain.
Others just get wet.
–Roger Miller, 1972

 

Similar To Rain
I stumbled to the car and slid behind the wheel. My entire face was numb, my mouth was 51VX4DKNHKLfull of bloody gauze, my shirt collar was covered in blood splatter, and my tongue was sore. I would have looked into the rearview mirror to carefully assess the full extent of frontal damage, but I could only see out of one eye. I was also afraid I’d break down crying and I didn’t want to do that in front of a dentist’s office. So I closed my good eye and muttered a muffled and medicated prayer:
“Lord, I humbly beseech Thee, stretch out Thy rod and afflict Leitchfield’s newest dental school graduate and board-certified oral surgeon (Dr. Patrick Bateman, D.M.D.) with lice and festering boils for he hath wounded my body and spirit most egregiously. He hath violated my every functioning orifice, Lord. I certainly appreciate your attempt to soften the blow by delivering unto mine eyes a beguiling big-bosomed young dental assistant named I HAVE NO IDEA BECAUSE I WAS HYPNOTIZED, but she got one of my eyelids tangled up in that vacuum thing that sucks up all the excess drool and now I’m half-blind. SMITE THEM BOTH, LORD, FOR THEY HATH OFFENDED THY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. If it be Your will, of course. Amen and Amen.”

I reached into my mouth, pulled out a piece of silver filling, and threw it into the floorboard. Fixing my one-eyed death gaze upon the door to Dr. Bateman’s Little Shop Of Horrors, I threw my middle finger into the air repeatedly with great force and screamed, “Screw you, Bateman! You’ll be lucky if I don’t retain counsel!”

I started the car (a temperamental 1986 Chevy Cavalier with a magnetic tape eating disorder and an overly enthusiastic check engine light) reached into a drink holder, and took out a pair of needle-nose pliers. “Here’s how it’s done, dickhead! Watch and learn!” I inserted the pliers into my state-of-the-art Delco tape player, grabbed the cassette currently embedded in its omnivorous guts, twisted right and left, and pulled as hard as I could. Ten interminable minutes and three godawful songs later, my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s Richard Marx tape popped out. “Oh, HELL no”, I thought. “Unless it’s Saint Peter asking me what I was listening to right before I shot myself, I can’t think of a single question where ‘Richard Marx’ would be the correct answer. Not in this lifetime.” I threw Richard Marx into the back seat and flailed around for my copy of Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer. I needed something to get the taste out of my ears.

And then I remembered. It was Wednesday, which meant I’d spent all my liquid assets on cassette tapes the day before (International Music Tuesday, my weekly religious pilgrimage to Sam Goody) and hid them from my parents because I was 27 years old, knew better, and didn’t want to fucking hear it. I opened the glove compartment and took out the nearest cassette: Warren Zevon’s Mutineer. On the cover, Zevon—unshaven and wearing all-black couture plucked from the 1995 Johnny Cash Somber Tone Collection—was surrounded by a large and presumably deep body of water. He seemed bemused and bewildered, like he couldn’t believe that jury-rigged anchor he hastily fashioned from a pot roast and a Waring blender actually held the body down. Indeed, ‘twas the countenance of a man fulfilled.

I flipped Mutineer over and glanced at the song titles: “Something Bad Happened To A Clown”, “Similar To Rain”, “The Indifference Of Heaven”, “Poisonous Lookalike”, and a provocative little number entitled “Piano Fighter”. “Well, serendipity damn”, I thought. “As luck would have it, I’m a piano player on my way to band practice and I feel like beating the shit out of somebody. This is perfect.” I inserted side B, fast-forwarded to “Piano Fighter”, hoped my cutting edge Delco tape player found Richard Marx’s fudgeloaf Repeat Offender to be a more satisfying meal than I did, and pushed play. Let me hear what you got, Warren:

Mom and Papa bought a Chickering

Every day I’d sit and play that thing


I practiced hard, it was more than a whim


I played with grim determination, Jim


Someone called Piano Fighter


I’m a holy roller, I’m a real lowrider


Hold me tight, honey, hold me tighter


Then let me go, Piano Fighter


I worked in sessions and I played in bands


A thousand casuals and one-night stands


Here on Thursday, gone on Friday


Heading down the Dixie Highway


Someone called Piano Fighter


I’m a holy roller, I’m a real lowrider


Hold me tight, honey, hold me tighter


Then let me go, Piano Fighter

As the music played, my initial reaction was to criticize Zevon’s use of a keyboard patch that sounded suspiciously like a broken alarm clock dropped underwater.
Then I pushed the radio button and caught the tail end of Great White’s rendition of “Once Bitten Twice Shy”.
I never said I was smart.

Rain
I stumbled to the car and slid behind the wheel. My entire face was numb, my mouth was pianofull of loose teeth, my shirt collar was covered in blood splatter, and my tongue was sore. I would have looked into the rearview mirror to carefully assess the full extent of frontal damage, but I could only see out of one eye. I was also afraid I’d break down crying and I didn’t want to do that in front of a biker bar. So I closed my good eye and muttered a muffled and malevolent prayer:
“Lord, I humbly beseech Thee, stretch out Thy rod and afflict this Thouforsaken red-state shithole with steroid cockroaches and Health Department food establishment closures for it hath causeth me to trip over my own palsied feet and fall face first upon its splintered and piss-flavored dancefloor. Bring pestilence and issues of blood upon this unholy congregation of redneck drunks and rubberneck drummers for they hath sinfully reveled and rejoiced in the sharp and serrated pain of Thy most meek and mauled disciple. I certainly appreciate your attempt to soften the blow by delivering unto mine eyes a beguiling big-bosomed young waitress named HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THOSE, but she chipped one of my teeth with a beer mug when she bent over to help me up. SMITE THEM ALL, LORD, FOR THEY HATH OFFENDED THY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. If it be Your will, of course. Amen and amen.”

I reached into my mouth, pulled out a piece of silver filling, and threw it into the floorboard. Fixing my one-eyed death gaze upon the door to REDACTED Bar & Grill, I threw my middle finger into the air repeatedly with great force and screamed, “Screw you, cacophonous whores and blasphemers! No longer shall I cast pearls before swine!”

I started the car (a menstrual red 1998 Pontiac Sunfire with luxurious reclining back seats and a fully-functioning mood-enhancing CD player), ejected my crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend’s Toni Braxton CD, and threw it out the window. “HELL no”, I thought. “Unless the question is ‘What’s that CD your crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend slides between her ass cheeks like a Discover card and then purrs “transaction approved”?’, then the answer will never be ‘Toni Braxton’. Not in this lifetime.” I didn’t want to unbreak my heart; I wanted to stab our lead guitar player in the neck with a wine spout and pour myself a big ol’ glass of type O negative.

I reached under the driver’s seat, pulled out a black faux leather CD wallet, unzipped it like a horny teenager, and flipped through page after fabric lined page, increasingly desperate for:
Motorhead’s Bastards, because it was Motorhead and it was called ‘Bastards’; or
Iggy Pop’s Avenue B, which included the unexpectedly pensive and oh-so-apropo-etic “Nazi Girlfriend” (“I want to fuck her on the floor/Among my books of ancient lore/So I will make a full report/I got a Nazi girlfriend”); or
Miles Davis’ Pangaea, which could best be described as “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble Satanic goat funk”; or
Neil Young’s Arc, which consisted of nothing but uncontrollable feedback, earth-shattering drum explosions, and Neil running around screaming at people; or
Immortal’s Damned In Black, because see Motorhead above; or
the collected works of DMX, Canis lupus familiaris poet laureate; or
anything by Spade Cooley.
Unfortunately, all I had was Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”/”Animal Crackers” maxi-single, Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge, and Now That’s What I Call Music! 2, all of which belonged to my crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and none of which were particularly conducive to the preservation of my mental health.

And then I remembered. It was Wednesday, which meant I’d spent all my liquid assets on CDs the day before (International Music Tuesday, my weekly religious pilgrimage to Tower Records) and hid them from my crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend because she would inevitably (s)wipe her card machine ass with The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s The Dirty Boogie and I WAS NOT IN THE MOOD. I WANTED TO LISTEN TO IT, NOT SPRAY IT WITH LYSOL.

I opened the glove compartment and took out the nearest CD: Warren Zevon’s Mutineer. I’d just begun the laborious and painstakingly methodical task of replacing my old cassette tapes with brand new shiny CDs that—according to the trustworthy folks who sold CDS—would last a lifetime, so I figured Mutineer would be as good a place to start as any. Besides, I found it in the used CD bin for $3.99. I was shocked and saddened to find it languishing amongst the likes of Dishwalla and O-Town, but greatly relieved to know I wasn’t the only one emotionally and intellectually unprepared for “Piano Fighter”. America really stepped up to the plate, too, because there were about 35 copies of Mutineer in there. The American people—infallible, as always—had apparently decided the long illustrious critically-acclaimed ground-breaking Presidential Medal Of Freedom award-winning careers of Lou Bega and Darryl Worley would earn a more lucrative return on their investment, so the dark and quirky Mutineer would hence and therefore spend its final days resting uncomfortably between Will Smith’s Big Willie Style and Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full Of Kryptonite. USA!! USA!!

But I was a suicidal piano player driving home from an agonizing six-hour trip through butt-rock biker-chick hell and I wanted to beat the shit out of somebody, so Mutineer it was. I flipped the jewel case over and glanced at the song titles: “Seminole Bingo”, “Jesus Was A Cross Maker”, “Rottweiler Blues”, “Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse”, “Mutineer”, and—there it was, track #7—my old nemesis, “Piano Fighter”. Hello Warren my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
I inserted Mutineer, skipped ahead to “Piano Fighter”, hoped Toni Braxton didn’t give my CD player a yeast infection, and pushed play. Let me hear it again, Warren:

Mom and Papa bought a Chickering


Every day I’d sit and play that thing


I practiced hard, it was more than a whim


I played with grim determination, Jim


Someone called Piano Fighter


I’m a holy roller, I’m a real lowrider


Hold me tight, honey, hold me tighter


Then let me go, Piano Fighter


I worked in sessions and I played in bands


A thousand casuals and one-night stands


Here on Thursday, gone on Friday


Heading down the Dixie Highway


Someone called Piano Fighter


I’m a holy roller, I’m a real lowrider


Hold me tight, honey, hold me tighter


Then let me go, Piano Fighter

As the music played, my initial reaction was to make sure Warren Zevon wasn’t sitting in the back seat of my car. If my crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend could do it (on at least two occasions), then so could he, I theorized. It wouldn’t be the first time I shit my pants. Besides, how else would he have known I was—at that very moment—driving down Dixie Highway? How else would he have known I worked sessions and played in bands, a thousand casuals and one-night stands, here on Thursday, gone on Friday? And since we were on the subject, how did he know my Mom and Dad bought me a piano and every day I’d sit and play that thing? How did he know I practiced hard and played with grim determination? And how in the world did he know I could play “Claire de lune”?

There was no other explanation. While I was musically, figuratively, and literally falling on my face in a Bob-Seger-to-the-bitter-end biker establishment, Warren Zevon—world-famous singer-songwriter nonpareil—climbed into the back seat of my car, looped a synthesizer, toy piano, accordion, drum machine, Flying V electric guitar, and Shure SM58 vocal mic into a single MIDI controller, plugged it into my cigarette lighter, and waited for me to slide my maimed and mutilated ass behind the wheel. Obviously.

Or.

OR.

The back seat was empty. Warren Zevon wasn’t sitting behind me like Michael Myers in Halloween. He wasn’t hiding in the bushes, watching my every move, and taking detailed notes for an ABC After School Special (Mapping The One-Eyed Pianist Genome – A Cautionary Tale). He wasn’t forwarding my mail to a mysterious P.O. box in Los Angeles, steaming it open with a tea kettle, scanning each NSA-redacted page with a tiny Wi-Fi Mission Impossible spy camera, resealing my every water bill and Shoe Carnival circular with Elmer’s glue, then sending it back to me.

Because Warren Zevon died on September 7, 2003, two days prior to my latest weekly religious pilgrimage to Tower Records. He wasn’t in the back seat of my car; he was everywhere. He was musically, figuratively, and literally in The Wind.

So for the first time in my life, I listened to “Piano Fighter”. I didn’t just hear it; I listened. I didn’t give a single solitary shit about that keyboard patch that sounded suspiciously like a broken alarm clock dropped underwater. In fact, I kind of liked it. It sounded like it had blood splatter on its collar and a crazy soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend waiting at home.

As I walked to my apartment, the rain started to fall. I smiled because it was cold as ice.

“Piano Fighter” written by Warren Zevon
© 1993 Zevon Music BMI

Purchase Warren Zevon’s Mutineer Here

moi

~ Michael Franklin

Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael used to be a professional musician and sound engineer, but now he’s a thin ice walker and a freelance writer.  He currently chairs the Buy-MichaelFranklin-A-1967-Corvette Charitable Foundation.  If you would like to give, please contact him with your tax-deductible donation TODAY.

Contact Michael:

Blog: http://pointlessendeavor.wordpress.com
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