Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An oldie but a goodie: Jukebox of the Gods

Blogger's note:

This post originally appeared on June 1, 2005. I was trying to explain to a friend the other day how Elvis' life and mine got intertwined many years ago when I tried to write a novel. She said I could still write it. That made me think about the book and why I never finished it. But this post explains better than I can verbally articulate (again) why that probably won't happen.

Take the "T" out of "Trust,"
And all you're left with is rust.
That's the first line of a country song my old friend Michael and I tried to write one time on a trip to Reno. We were sitting in a bar in Fitzgerald's drinking shots of tequila with a cheap beer back while listening to a country band. The band was asking for requests and I kept shouting, "Friends in Low Places." They tried to ignore me, but they eventually gave in and played a weak rendition of the song. They didn't seem too enthusiastic about it, though.

That's when we decided to write our own country song. Michael came up with that first line. "Hey," he said. "Did you know if you take the "T" out of trust, all you are left with is rust?'"

It may have been the tequila, but I thought it was pure "f-in" genius. So I finished the first verse:
Take the "T" out of Trust,
And all you're left with is rust.
Like this old pick-up truck,
Broken down, out of luck.

Take the you out of we,
And all I'm left with is me.
Sitting here all alone,
Staring hard at the phone.
At that point the muse left both Michael and I (I am pretty sure this did have something to do with the tequila) and we never finished the song.

I kind of view that song as a symbol of all of the unfinished things in my life. I've encountered many of those unfinished things I as we purge my house of clutter in preparation to sell it. For example, there's the wooden ship model of the Coast Guard training ship, the Eagle. I started building it in 1983. It will never see the wind beneath its sails.

Then there was the antique Camel back trunk I was going to restore (I bought it at an auction in was pretty much falling apart, rusty and ready for the dump). I spray painted it black and gold, tried replacing the rusted metal parts with copper and was in the process of relining the trunk with cedar. That unfinished process began in 1989. The trunk sold at a garage sale for $5.

Installing my own alarm system in 1992 seemed like a prudent thing to do. I drilled holes, ran wire and installed sensors. I crawled on my belly in the attic to mount the alarm horn and almost crawled over a dead roof rat that had been messing with me for weeks until I resorted to Decon. Even that didn't slow me down in completing that project. Finally I attached the last wire to the control box and plugged it in. The alarm immediately sounded and wouldn't shut off until I unplugged the control box. I walked away from the alarm and never plugged it in again. I eventually put a sticker on my door saying I had an alarm system. It seems to have worked just fine (unlike the alarm).

And there was the photo I found at a flea market back in 1976 that shows a Victorian couple riding on a camel next to the great Pyramids in Egypt. That inspired me to plan to have my photo taken riding a camel through the Valley of the Kings by the time I was 40. Then someone pointed out to me you can't rent camels in the Valley of the Kings. You can only rent camels near the Great Pyramids. Regardless, I've never been to Egypt.

When I was 16 years old, I got a job at the Boise Public Library shelving books. I liked to read and I figured that would be a cushy job and keep me from busing tables. Let me tell you that it basically sucked (though I do know the Dewey Decimal System pretty well to this day... the early 300 section used to be pretty racy). But as I wandered through the stacks randomly shoving books on shelves when the librarians weren't watching, I vowed that someday, some poor pimply teenager would be shelving a book that I wrote.

I started writing a novel in 1990. It's working title was Jukebox of the Gods. I was going to be the next Tom Robbins. I wrote about 150 pages. The plot was pretty simple. It involved the "many-worlds" interpretation of Quantum Physics (including Schrodinger's cat), Elvis (yes, Lights in the Wake...Elvis and Quantum Physics in the same sentence again), an exotic dancer, a conspiracy theory, twins and a jukebox.

Okay, the premise of the "many-worlds" interpretation of Quantum Physics is that "the universal state is a quantum superposition of an infinite number of states of identical non-communicating 'parallel universes.'" In other words, there are an infinite number of parallel universes or "multiverses" that make up "the" universe. None of them overlap, but collectively they contain an infinite number of potentiality. So, that means that in each parallel universe there exists a parallel one of everything, including me. When I turn right in this universe, there is another one of me turning left, one going straight, one stopping, one walking backwards and one hopping around on one leg (and likely one doing the Macarena). Get the point?

In my never completed novel, the main character (a mild-mannered, non-assertive and gentle man recently jilted by his girlfriend) goes to a local dive tavern to lubricate his broken heart. The tavern contains a jukebox with an eclectic collection of songs including the Rodeo Song, How Much for that Doggie in the Window, Freebird, lots of AC/DC and most importantly, Don't Be Cruel guessed it...Elvis. Our jilted friend pops a quarter in the jukebox, and punches in the number for Don't Be Cruel. At the exact same nanosecond, a carbon copy of our main character punches the exact same number for the exact same song in a parallel universe. This is a cosmic no-no. It is never supposed to happen. There is a hiccup in the quantum scheme of things and a tear is created in the seam between the two universes. The main character's twin is sucked into our world (remember that Elvis was a twin and his brother died at birth). But, although they look alike, they are mirror opposites in personality.

Now since it was an Elvis song that was the catalyst for this anomaly, there also erupts this frenzy of Elvis sightings in this world. But Elvis is appearing in all of his many parallel universe forms, including as a laser printer, a St. Bernard and an ATM machine. This triggers activation of secret organization similar to the Freemasons that have just been waiting for signs of the King's second coming.

In the meantime, the twins are struggling to figure out what happened and how they can get the bad twin back into his own world. They meet an exotic dancer at a local strip club who is working her way towards a degree in Quantum Physics. With her help, the twins can separate and in the process, absorb some of the best qualities of each other.

That's it in a nutshell. I like the plot, but it was just all that filling in the gaps that got exhausting. When I started the book, I was writing full time in my day job. There is nothing like writing all day and then coming home and sitting in front of the computer to pound out a novel. The 150 or so pages I managed to write are somewhere on a Mac disk. I now work on a PC. Some day I'm going to try an recover those pages.

Before you try and encourage me to "finish what I started," I want to go on record stating that there is a certain Zen-like peace that comes from unfinished projects and dreams. Because, what if I finished the novel? What then? The pressure would then be on to publish it. And if I didn't publish the novel, wouldn't that be more of a failure than not finishing it? Or if I did publish it and the critics raked it over the coals, I would be discouraged and not want to write again because I would have confirmed that I didn't have what it takes to be a writer. Or what if the critics did like it, but the public didn't. Then I still would have failed. And even if the book did sell, there would be all of this pressure to write another one and I'd wonder if it would ever be as good as the first.

Finishing things just doesn't seem worth the anxiety.

But I did write another verse for the country song:
Take the "W" out of "Will,"
And what you're left with is "ill."
That's what this song's making me,
So, I think I'll just let it be.

1 comment:

Helen Baggott said...

I quite liked the second verse. I could even hear a twangy country-style instrument twanging in the gaps. Breaks? Whatever.