You’ve heard the story.
Or maybe you haven’t. The one about Rod Stewart?
Well, back in the late seventies, Hot Legs let
his good time run a bit off course one night. He found himself
stretched across a long metal table in some emergency room. Doctors
worked frantically to pump nine pints of semen from his stomach
before the whole frothy mess leaked into the rest of his body
and brought the intricate workings of his organs to a grinding
halt. He paid everyone involved to keep hush hush. Someone must
have breached that contract, though, because here I am bringing
Crazy, I know, but that’s the story I was told.
And surely you’ve heard about listening to Nine
Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral while staring at your
reflection in a mirror.
No? Well, don’t do it!
Basically, there was this girl in Massachusetts—must
have been sometime during the mid-nineties—who decided to crank
the album while studying her face in the mirror of her parents’ candlelit
bathroom. She concentrated hard, letting the features of her
face blur into muted angles while tiny flames dragged distorted
shadows over the walls. Sometime around “Closer”, a snake emerged
from her right ear. It flicked its tongue against the sticky
air and coiled around her neck like a noose. Maggots fell from
her nose and collected in the deep ceramic sink. The girl reached
for her throat, clawing at the pregnant veins throbbing underneath
What she’d heard was true. She was seeing herself
as she would look in Hell.
The album played on. Trent’s voice snarled over
the grinding, sawing music. The girl’s mind snapped like a fishing
line. A fist went through the mirror. She seized a long shard,
staggered up the hall, and spilled her sister’s guts all over
a tasteful flowered bedspread.
The police found her outside behind some bushes.
Her wrists were slashed to the bone, her blood black and syrupy
under the soft glow of a magnificent new moon.
Or so they say.
And then there’s the story of Creeping Bonanza.
Just after midnight on February 3, 1959, right
outside of a town in Iowa called Clear Lake, a small aircraft
fell from the sky at an alarming speed. The plane smashed into
the frozen earth of an abandoned field and skidded across the
ice-slicked ground until it lost momentum and settled a few feet
short of an old wire fence.
The pilot died instantly; his limp body hung askew
against the cold, tight embrace of his seatbelt.
The other three passengers, torn and tattered and
shattered into different stages of disassembly, crawled from
the wreckage and moved toward the snarled, rusty fence.
Once there, Ritchie Valens rolled onto his back
and brought a shaking hand to his face. Blood seeped through
his fingers in soft pulses.
The Big Bopper arrived and managed to get to his
knees, his left arm moving around lifelessly like a piece of
Buddy Holly was the last to get there. He inched
along the crunching ice, dragging his guitar behind him, until
he met the others at the fence. A piece of his skull had been
carved away upon impact, and his glistening brain began to frost
over from the caress of a frigid Midwestern breeze.
They looked at each other with the collective knowledge
that it would be their final performance. Valens pulled a harmonica
from his coat pocket. The Bopper cleared the blood from his throat
and began gurgling scales. They drew upon the dwindling energy
pulsing through them, between them.
And they played. Holly’s guitar sounded sickly.
He strummed the strings with his busted hand, each note an off-tune
requiem. Valens blew into his harmonica through chipped teeth
and frozen lips. The Bopper’s voice was alien, frightening.
They finished their song and surrendered to fate.
Their still-warm bodies melted the ice and snow. The water, along
with blood and splinters of bone and bacterial fizzes and flecks
of skin, pooled together where the ground sank into a shallow
dip between them.
They were discovered later that morning. Their
bodies were removed, the wreckage cleared away.
The first crop was chanced upon three years later
by two brothers in the exact spot where the musicians’ runoff
had settled. They knelt in front of the plant and studied its
outlandish appearance. The flowers were yellow and pointed. Small
blue buds clung to thin stems like rock candy on strings. The
whole sprawling mess was a strange and menacing blight on the
otherwise vanilla farmland that stretched out in every direction.
One of the boys cut a piece of the plant with his
pocket knife. They brought it back to the barn, packed a few
of the blue buds into a corncob pipe lifted from their father’s
top dresser drawer, and took turns pulling long drags of thick,
Bright flashes needled their eyes. An odd rushing
sound filled their heads; it resembled the din of a thousand
people hemorrhaging excitement and applause. The boys felt good,
great, and began fidgeting with the buttons and zippers on their
Their mother returned home some time later to be
greeted by the scratchy sounds of a Ricky Nelson record playing
at an unacceptable volume. She burst into the house and found
her sons in the living room.
The older boy was naked from the waist down. He
was playing guitar on one of her brooms. Lipstick and rouge were
smeared across his face in colorful, uneven ribbons.
The younger boy was stretched-out on the sofa.
He used two wooden spoons to play drums on a throw pillow. He
saw his mother, put a hand out, and shouted over the music, “No
Their mother dropped her armload of groceries.
Her face twisted. The older boy walked up to her and said something,
but she didn’t hear him. The rope that kept her tethered to reality
had snapped when her youngest son, the apple of her eye, rose
from the sofa to reveal a long, curved zucchini sticking out
of his ass.
The poor woman would never be the same again.
Rumors of the plant and its origins surged through
the town. A group of teenagers combed the field, but by then
all traces of the plant had been removed. For years people visited
the field each spring, hoping to find some blooms. They never
The story became embedded in folklore. Occasionally,
a townsperson would visit or relocate to another part of the
country, bringing with them the tale of a plant named after the
single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza B35 that ushered three irreplaceable
talents to their untimely demise.
So the story goes.
Lonnie drummed on the steering wheel as the first
thunderous notes of Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” raged through
the Ford’s crackling speakers.
Will watched him from the passenger seat and swallowed
the last swig of his Pepsi. He shook his head and smiled. A small
CD wallet sat on his lap, and he began to flip through it.
“The Loaf, baby!” Lonnie cried. “Ever see that
fucker perform live? He’s up there for like five minutes and
he’s already dripping sweat. No shit.” He reached between his
legs and retrieved a Sierra Mist. “They used to have some guy
follow him around onstage with a mop.”
Will turned to him, fingering the pages of the
wallet. “I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”
Lonnie finished his soda and tossed the bottle
out the window.
“Man, I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Will said. “This
is hick country. They pull us over for tossing bottles out onto
the road and next thing you know we’re in some musty police station
back room getting ass-raped by Sheriff Bubba and his friends.”
Lonnie laughed hard and threw his head back. “Where
do you come up with this shit?”
“Hey, joke of you want,” Will said. “But you’d
be surprised what goes on out here when no one’s around.”
IA-27 stretched out before them, a long grey coil
that looked wavy from the heat. They were eleven-hundred miles
into their trip, a long way from Massachusetts, heading toward
some town in Iowa in search of a crazy mythic plant.
Will ejected Bat Out Of Hell and replaced
it with The Best of Ritchie Valens. “La Bamba” came on,
and a discomfort stole over them, killing their excitement.
Lonnie glanced over. His face was pallid. “Maybe
we outta take that out. I don’t know, it’s too morbid or something.”
Will agreed. He ejected the disc and placed it
back into the wallet.
Lonnie and Will had been introduced to the story
of Creeping Bonanza at a party. They were sitting together on
one end of a sectional sofa when a scruffy boy sat across from
them with a beer in each hand and a cigarette smoldering between
The boy looked out of place; his haircut was fifteen
years out of style, and his muscled arms threatened to rip through
his faded flannel shirt. He explained that he was in town visiting
relatives while his parents sorted through a divorce back in
He moved closer and began rattling-on about a tractor
he was rebuilding. Lonnie and Will dismissed him as a simple,
backward farm boy. They were about to excuse themselves from
his company when David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs came on the
stereo. The boy lit another cigarette, sat back, and launched
into an enlightening and entertaining commentary on what he felt
were the album’s more complex pieces. He explained how Bowie
had successfully married glam rock with George Orwell.
Lonnie and Will were transfixed. The dexterity
with which the boy dissected each song engaged their love of
music and rescued them from an otherwise humdrum evening.
They spent the next three hours with the boy as
he critiqued everything that came on the stereo. The three of
them lamented the deficiencies of the current music scene, the
extinction of real rock stars, and how the Internet had killed
so many delicious untruths that once provided fodder for wonderful,
“Dude, I remember all those urban myths,” Will
said. “Remember the one about Mama Cass choking to death on a
Lonnie and the boy laughed and nodded between swigs
“I went on believing that shit forever,” Will continued.
He lit a cigarette and shook his head. “It was stupid. But it
was cool, you know? It got people talking about music at least.”
“Hear that,” the boy agreed.
“But then the Internet came around and completely
discredited everything,” Lonnie said. “Mama Cass, the one about
Marilyn Manson being that kid from The Wonder Years—Paul
Piper, or whatever it was. All of it, gone.” He stubbed his cigarette
directly on the coffee table, adding to the collection of butts
and burns. “Fucking Wikipedia.”
The boy sat up, reached into his back pocket, and
retrieved a joint. He held it out for Lonnie and Will to see.
It was large, expertly rolled, and looked like the black sheep
cousin of the cigarettes they’d been smoking. “Any interest?” he
Lonnie’s eyes widened. “Does a bear shit in the
The boy flicked his lighter and produced a shimmering
blue flame. He touched it to the end of the joint and puffed
until a glowing red cherry appeared. Smoke obscured the features
of his hardened country face as he held in his hit and passed
the spliff to Lonnie.
Lonnie inhaled long and hard. A quarter of the
joint transformed into a cylinder of ash. His face took on the
hue of a ripe tomato.
The three of them made quick work of the joint.
The boy took one last hit, snuffed the cherry with two wet fingers,
and placed the roach inside his cigarette pack.
“Primo,” Lonnie said. He lit a cigarette. “You
boys from Nebraska know how to party.”
“Iowa,” the boy said, scanning the beer bottles
on the table. He picked one up, shook it, and took a swig. “That
stuff’s nothing compared to what else they say is growing up
in my neck of the woods.”
“What do you mean?” Will asked, sinking into the
plush upholstery of the sectional.
The boy shared the story of Creeping Bonanza with
Lonnie and Will. He spoke of its origins and the bugged-out effect
it had on the human brain. The two brothers were cousins in his
version of the story, and the younger one had a corn cob up his
ass instead of a zucchini. Also different was that the mother
had committed suicide in front of them. Minor details had changed
over the years, had been sliced and diced and glued back together
en route to the present. A decades-long game of telephone. Even
the location of the field was unclear; supposedly, records had
been altered at some point. Only the description of the plant
remained the same, the yellow leaves and blue rock candy buds
left untouched by the hands of time.
The boy finished his story and got up. He gave
Lonnie and Will a lazy salute, turned, and walked away.
Lonnie and Will sat in their nest of microfiber
and watched the boy poke another cigarette between his lips and
disappear up the staircase. They turned and looked at each other
through their collective stoned funk.
They never did catch his name.
Later on, they went back to Will’s place and scoured
the Web for information on the boy’s mysterious, intoxicating
plant. Their searches yielded nothing. Not so much as a message
board post. It was as if the boy had concocted the story on the
“Look at us,” Will said. “Fooled by Tractor Jack.
Jesus, we must be high.” He fell onto the bed and drew
the covers over his head.
He was about to submit to the sandman’s call when
Lonnie’s voice breached the confines of his blanket cocoon.
“Hey, man, look at this!”
Will zombied over to the computer. Lonnie had landed
on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum website. On the
screen were photographs of a new exhibit honoring deceased music
legends. Portraits of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Joey Ramone
hung from the gallery walls. Lonnie scrolled down the page to
reveal photos of a smashed Jimi Hendrix guitar that had been
pieced back together and glued to a large plate of glass.
At the bottom of the page, right below the Hendrix
guitar, was a photo of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big
Bopper. The caption below the photo read: THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED.
BACKSTAGE AT THE SURF BALLROOM, FEBRUARY 3, 1959.
Lonnie and Will studied the details of the picture.
Buddy Holly sported his signature horn-rimmed glasses
and what appeared to be a faux leather jacket. It was a bright
canary yellow and fell loosely against his crisp white t-shirt.
Ritchie Valens’ thick black hair was combed into
a perfect wave of curls. He wore blue jeans and a white collared
shirt. Small blue pompoms tumbled down the length of the tie
looped around his neck.
And The Big Bopper stood in the middle. His face
beamed. A sly smile complemented wide, youthful eyes. He cradled
a bouquet of wild flowers. The colorful blooms spilled over his
large arms and fell against his legs. The bouquet was untamed,
defiant. Long leaves of baby’s breath crept up Holly’s jacket
and coiled around a zipper.
Lonnie shut off the computer monitor. Will sat
on the bed and rubbed his face as if pushing through the first
few moments after waking from a long, deep sleep.
They said nothing for a while. The sputtering ceiling
fan and Lonnie’s creaky revolutions in the office chair served
as a sparse soundtrack to their foggy, confused thoughts.
The whole thing was ridiculous, irrational, but
that picture had ignited a small ember of belief within them.
If it was out there, they could find it. It would be the score
of a lifetime. The possibilities…
“Dude, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m right
there with you,” Will said. He kept his eyes closed and ran a
sweaty hand through his hair. “But let’s be reasonable. It was
just some bullshit story he told to impress us. I mean, c’mon.”
Lonnie kept quiet. He used his finger to push around
a pen cap on the desk.
“You’re not really buying it, are you?” Will asked.
A long pause, and then Lonnie said, “No way, man.
Just spacing out, you know.” He walked over to the radio and
turned on the oldies station. The Lovin’ Spoonful were singing
about being in a daydream.
“Crazy hick,” Will said as he kicked off his shoes.
“Hear that,” Lonnie said. His words were dressed
in a spot-on Midwestern accent. He started laughing, and Will
joined in. He turned up the volume on the radio.
Crazy talk, that’s all.
Dead rock stars, fucked-up plants, suicides, vegetable
Five days later Lonnie and Will stuffed their backpacks
full of clothes and headed out on I-190 toward the Massachusetts
Turnpike and, eventually, Clear Lake, Iowa.