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|A Horrible Tale
Copyright 1982 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved.
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, January 1983
| The whole band, and all our instruments and P.A.
and everything, were in the van when the tire blew and we nose-jobbed the oncoming semi.
None of us felt a thing.
After an undetermined length of time, we regained consciousness in a dimly-lit red room about the size of a cheap motel lobby. As I looked around me, I could see the other four members of the band, sitting with me on what looked to be an old bus-station bench. Seated on his own stool across the room was a big, tough looking guy with an "Overland" patch on his workshirt, who must have been driving the truck we hit. He looked to be kind of put out with us, because he was up and moving kind of mean, when in walks the Devil.
No foolin'. Well, I guess I knew something bad was up because of our situation and everything, but still it put a pretty big "wump" in my gut to sec Old Nick face to face. And he was a nasty-looking dude! Horns and a pointed tail, just like the pictures, with little wisps of smoke coming from his nostrils, and a six-foot, razor-sharp trident. (Oh, why did we have to hold out for that extra hundred bucks at the church social?)
The Devil leaned his trident against the wall, then looked at a clipboard he had in his other claw-like hand. He made a funny finger motion towards the truck driver and said "You! Through that door!" The trucker kind of marionette-walked -through the door, which I now saw was marked with a sign reading "Another Chance." The Devil glared at the rest of us huddled on our bench, and explained. "It wasn't his fault, and since I've got the five of you all in one batch, the rules say I've got to send him back. But I've got plenty of fun planned for you guys! Come along!"
Try as we might, there was no resisting, and our bodies obediently followed.
We walked along single file behind the Devil like a bunch of milk cows through the same exit, which now magically had a new sign, "Bluegrass Pickers." The door opened on a long hallway that slanted downward as we walked. The cracking walls were painted the same color of green that you see in gas station restrooms, and from the cracks came smoke and the smell of sulfur. It was getting hotter as we moved, too.
Finally, we reached the side door marked "DOBRO." Through the opening we could see an endless crowd of slide artists, each chained with his car to the next guy's instrument, while they all played "Pick Away." What a fiendish hell! The Devil made the same funny finger motion towards our Dobro player, who stick-walked through the door. It slammed shut, and the rest of us moved on.
Our next stop was marked "GUITAR." The Devil produced a cheap Korean-made 12 string with the strings about an inch above the fingerboard, and handed it to our guitar picker. The instrument was badly out of tune, and the knobs didn't work. Opening the door, the Devil shoved our guitarist into a room full of people jamming endlessly on "Wildwood Flower." We heard an agonized wail as we moved down the hallway.
From the din up ahead, I knew we were approaching Banjo Hell. Sure enough, we came up on a door inscribed "BANJO." Oh, the Devil was sadistically simple on this one! A whole roomful of banjo players, each with a wonderful 1927 Gibson Mastertone, and not a single tool in the place to take them apart with! Those poor gadget loving banjo players were in agony! They'd play a few licks, then stop and try to tighten or loosen the head or adjust the tailpiece or reset the neck, and they couldn't! (Frankly, the bass player and I were loving it!)
"Come along!" said the Devil, kind of miffed at our actually enjoying Hell a little bit. "BASS" was what the next door proclaimed. Our bass player meekly entered the room, where he was given a nice Czech solid-wood bass and told to play it.
"Wait a minute!" I exclaimed. "What's the punishment? Where are the little gremlins jabbing him with red-hot pitchforks? Where's the giant ogres with the cat-o-nine-tails? What's the deal, here?"
"Fool!" said the Devil. "Having to play the bass for all eternity should obviously be punishment enough!" The more I thought on it, the more I realized how right he was.
It has to be my turn next, and I was pretty nervous, let me tell you! Now, I play both fiddle and mandolin, and I was afraid I might be double-teamed for all eternity.
"Let's go!" said Old Nick, and we made our way further down the hall. After thirty yards or so, there was a door marked "MANDOLIN." The Devil opened it for me, and I peeked in. Everybody was tuning mandolins. "What's all this?" I asked.
"Well," replied the Devil, "This is sort of an experiment. Tuning is a fitting and terrible punishment for mandolin players, who never do it in real life, and I make a few bucks on the side from the Japanese. If this kind of subcontracting works out, I've got some deals in mind with General Motors."
The next door was marked, of course, "FIDDLE," and I wish I could properly describe the music. "Horrible" doesn't come close. All the right-handed fiddlers were made to play left-handed, and vice versa. And the bows were those cheap new-fangled fiberglass jobs, with monofilament instead of horsehair, that would make Paganini sound like he was mutilating a Siamese.
I squared my shoulders and prepared to enter. "Wait!" cried the Devil. "I have something ELSE planned for you!"
"What? How come?"
"Because not only do you play it, you write about this bluegrass stuff!"
So I was led to yet another room. In it, men and women were standing around with clipboards, talking and drinking coffee and jotting down a note or two. The only bad part that I could see was that they were up to their waists in horse manure! Just the Devil's way of commenting on what we write, I supposed.
I turned to the Devil. "Ha! This doesn't look so bad!"
"Get in!" he growled, handing me a clipboard, legal pad and a pencil. I was pouring myself a cup of coffee when I heard his parting words . . .
"All right, everybody! Coffee break's over!" He paused, grinning evilly.
"Everybody back on their heads!"
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