Or, The Impassionate Dreams of a Famous Rap-Star and the Woman who Beats Him for Rapping Whilst Eating Sandwiches  
The Rise and Fall of the Swizzlers

"do you believe in unicorns," she asked me
No I said
but in my heart
I heard a whispering
in my dreams, he is pink and muscular
his horn twisting from his forehead
he is magnificent

       Pete stared at his notebook, barely able to hide his excitement, half-gnawed pencil  in his sweaty hand. His first book, The Unicorn Diaries, was definitely going to be the best thing he’d ever written. He wondered if it would be good enough to read to Francis, when he was finished. Francis was Pete's favorite imaginary unicorn. Francis was not pink or even purple, but was a deep, majestic orange. His horn was about two feet long and could harness the power of the Daisy Forest Glen to defeat any Horde Minister who were invading on the Lords’ land. Pete was very proud of Francis.

      He carefully closed his notebook and placed it at the very bottom of his knapsack. He knew that if anyone else read his book, carefully printed on the wide-ruled notebook paper, they would be intensely jealous to learn of his special relationship as Ambassador to the Lordship of the Unicorns, and probably they would drop a dead bug in his lunch sack. He had seen it happen before. “Why don’t you play with your gay unicorn friends,” his school mates would laugh and jeer once they knew. But Pete would roll his eyes. They didn’t know. He only had ONE unicorn friend, and it happened to be his best friend. And he also knew that he was best qualified to be Ambassador, seeing that he had earned the Unicorn Fealty Badge and that he was the lead guitarist for The Swizzlers.
     The Swizzlers!!! Pete quickly glanced at his watch and looked at the time. Oh no, 12:15 already!! Mr. Jeff was going to be so mad!!!  He threw his knapsack over his shoulders and dashed for Music Tutoring, hoping he wouldn’t be too late.
     But there was Mr. Jeff, arms crossed, tapping his foot, his ponytail bouncing along. He looked stern and unforgiving. “Pete,” he began, looking perturbed.
     “Mr. Jeff!” cried Pete. He'd prepared an excuse on his way from the lunchroom. “I'm really really sorry I'm late but I was just thinking about The Swizzlers's first album!” He had been. He'd filled 12 pages of his notebook about the concept album he'd envisioned, tentatively entitled “Deep Sea Creatures” – two LPs featuring songs inspired by a dream he'd had where he'd ridden a Manta Ray down to the bottom of the sea and become best friends with a squid named S.L. Inky. It was probably the coolest dream he'd ever had – well, second coolest, right after the one where Francis had given him a ride through the Misty Meadow.
     “The Swizzlers won't be able to make a first album without a lot of practice, Pete,” Mr. Jeff said with a frown. He turned around and sat down on the top of his desk and crossed his arms. Pete noticed for the first time that Mr. Jeff was starting to lose his hairline. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. “Have you been practicing?” Mr. Jeff finally asked.
     Pete hadn't been, but he couldn't say that. “Well, kind of,” he admitted.
     “Let's jam a little now,” said Mr. Jeff confidently. “Come on, Pete!” He smiled and looked almost three years younger. “Let's rock this out, guy!”

     “Louie Louie”! Maybe the most classic rock riff in existence, certainly the coolest. Pete picked up the classroom guitar and frowned as he tuned the strings by ear the way Mr. Jeff had taught him. He contorted his fingers, getting ready for the first chord. Play three times... and then move the fingers again. He fumbled on the next chord, and then did okay on the third and fourth. And then repeat. He started over, gaining assurance. He closed his eyes and imagined The Swizzlers's first rock show. The crowd roaring, screaming, spotlight on him as he began plucking out the first notes of Louie Louie before slowly easing into the first track from “Deep Sea Creatures”, tentatively titled “We are the Octo-Posse.”
     He messed up the next chord and grimaced. Mr. Jeff crossed his arms again and looked frustrated.
     “Pete,” he said. “If you aren't practicing, you're wasting MY time and you're wasting The Swizzlers's time. Do you think that Toby and Jordie aren't giving this their all?”

     Toby was the bassist of The Swizzlers. He was really thin and asthmatic. He typically wore a black t-shirt that implied he was crazy, or that he was fond of crazy things. Jordie was a fat curly-haired boy who'd, as a joke the month before, improvised on the bongos one morning before music class and had thus been 'elected' by Mr. Jeff to be the class drummer.
     The three had not ever actually met or had a band practice together. Sure, they'd seen each other in the halls, but Pete, Toby, and Jordie were barely acquaintances. Mr. Jeff had formed the band as some sort of class project – Pete was not entirely sure why.
     The real reason, actually, was that Mr. Jeff really liked the song “Louie Louie”, liked it to the point where he wanted – to some extent – to recreate The Kingsmen, as he'd been born the same year that The Kingsmen had formed and his mother used to bounce him on her hip, one cigarette tucked in the corner of her mouth, as they listened to the song on the radio. Two years later, she'd died of tuberculosis. Some psychiatrists would say he was still trying to please his mother nearly 40 years later, others would say that it was his way of connecting to the only time in life when he'd been happy. But the real reason was that he'd always had a fantasy of playing “Louie Louie” in front of his classmates at the school talent show when he was seventeen, but had lost the chance when his drummer contracted infectious mononucleosis a week before and they had to sit the show out. He'd never forgotten the disappointment, and so he'd finally decided that if he wasn't going to do it, he'd find someone whom he could play vicariously through.

     Mr. Jeff peered closely at Pete, who was still staring blankly at the floor. “Pete?” he said. “I asked you a question. Don't you think the other Swizzlers are giving this their all?”
     “Yes,” sighed Pete, shuffling his feet. “I think they're giving it their all.”
    “Of course they are,” Mr. Jeff said, leaning back, looking cool. He looked almost like he was on a motorcycle instead of a big wooden desk with a picture of a vase of tulips on it. “'Cause Swizzlers never say die, right?”
     “Yeah,” muttered Pete.
     “RIGHT?” repeated Mr. Jeff.
     Pete thought about riding Francis in on his first show and how cool it would be to play “Louie Louie” on the back of an orange unicorn. “Yeah!” he shouted enthusiastically. “Swizzlers never say die!!!”
     “That's right!” yelled Mr. Jeff. “Now play it again, Pete-oh!” And Pete picked up the guitar and started playing again, better this time. Mr. Jeff sang along:

     Louie Louie

     A-aahohhh baby

     Eehgghaa gooo.

     And both of them shouted along, “YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!”

     the sea is beauty

     octopus: eight tentacles

     four more than i have

     Pete decided the third track on “Deep Sea Creatures” would be an acoustic song, the lyrics consisting of several haikus. He did not want Jordie or Toby playing on this track because he'd left notes in their lockers asking if they liked haikus and both had returned the notes with the box checked “No”. This meant that they were not as cool as he hoped they were. He could not share the radical secret of Francis with his band mates yet. He'd put away The Unicorn Diaries for now, hiding it in the special place under his mattress in his room, but he knew for sure that one day he'd go back and finish the book. One day, when The Swizzlers were famous, the entire world would know of his secret world of Unicorns and High Faeries, who did not live in harmony and yet had not warred in over eight thousand septanias.

     Toby and Jordie looked funny, but Pete was okay with that. He wondered if Peter Gabriel had ever realized how silly Phil Collins looked, back when they played together with Genesis. Probably, Pete thought. But Phil Collins was a really good drummer, and also, Peter Gabriel got all of the girls because no one wanted Phil. I hope that one day Jordie's okay as a drummer, he thought to himself.
     He'd spent the night before making a really cool website for The Swizzlers. Their first show together was tomorrow, and he wanted to leave fliers for all the music label reps who would come see their gig. They were going to play “Louie Louie” at the school talent show. The website just had a centered JPEG that said “THE SWIZZLERS” in a pretty font, and then underneath that in plain text:


     He knew that would get the Swizzlers's fans all excited about the gig as well as spread new word of mouth. He had spent two hours drawing a picture of a fish on a piece of notebook paper he ripped out, and he wanted to use his dad's scanner so he could put that at the bottom of the page, but his dad was busy working on the computer, so he couldn't. Pete was disappointed.
     Still, he took 20 index cards and, on each one, carefully printed:

     That night, he barely slept.

Ten minutes before The Swizzlers began playing at the talent show, Pete's heart was in his throat. The truth was, he'd just met Toby and Jordie a week before and they'd practiced the song twice together. Pete felt a big lump in his throat when he realized that the band was finally coming together at last. “The Herbs,” as they'd been instructed to call Mr. Jeff (because, as he told them with a big smile, his last name was Herbertson), was going to sing at their first show. Mr. Jeff said that he planned to move from his role as manager to being the band's lead singer until Pete's voice stopped cracking.

     Pete tuned and retuned his guitar nervously. They hadn't figured out a way to get the entire drum kit out to the stage, so Mr. Jeff had hauled in the bongo drums and brought a pair of drumsticks for Jordie. “This will work for now,” he said dismissively. “'Louie Louie' doesn't rely too much on drums.”

     Pete sat and watched the talent show from backstage as one girl clumsily twirled a baton, one boy played a song on the piano (“Yesterday” by John Lennon; he played it like he was attempting to play whack-a-mole using the keys as the moles and his own oafish fingers as a mallet), and two girls acted out a skit they'd obviously gigglingly written the night before. It was apparently about seeing a spider in the bathroom, and there were hinted repeated references to their best girl friends as well as a sly knock at the school's principal. Pete barely paid attention; he knew that this was The Swizzlers's big chance for success; these guys were nowhere near coming close to his class act. “Only 15 and already a mega-star,” he whispered to himself, liking how the words tasted in his mouth.

     “And now,” said Principal Werner smoothly, causing Pete to jerk out of his daydream, “I would like to introduce... Mr. Jeff and the Twizzlers!” The auditorium politely applauded. Pete's heart was in his throat as he picked up his guitar and stepped out onto the middle of the stage.

     “Uh,” said Mr. Jeff into the microphone, and feedback shrieked from the amps into the audience. “Sorry about that. Uh, we're the Swizzlers, not the Twizzlers.” Pete felt an enormous burst of pride almost split his heart in two. Mr. Jeff was seriously awesome. Seriously.

     Jordie tapped out a beat, one two three four, and then the problem began. Pete thought they started playing ON four, but Toby thought it was four GO, and so they started off one beat and Pete had to stop playing so he could catch up. He felt really embarrassed and saw Mr. Jeff swear to himself, but they were playing pretty loudly and no one could hear. Pete was really in the groove, really feeling the song, and he hoped Mr. Jeff was too!

     Mr. Jeff started singing. “A fine girl, she wadder me. Me mmm mmm mmm cross the sea.” It was painfully apparent to Pete that Mr. Jeff did not really know the words to the song and was just humming the parts he'd forgotten. Then Pete, who had really gotten into the rhythm of the song and started trying to sort of dance a little, accidentally pulled the cord out of the guitar amp! He felt really bad and had to stop playing and bend over and pick it up and plug it back in, and also he hit the neck of the guitar on the stage when he bent over fast and it was a little out of tune after that.

     But despite these minor flaws, the song went pretty well. The auditorium mustered semi-enthusiastic applause for the band. Pete wished they'd gotten to play the song he'd written last Friday called “Anglerfish (I Have a Light.)” That was a love ballad that would have brought the house down as an encore. Mr. Jeff bowed and then motioned to the rest of The Swizzlers. Pete bowed, and Jordie raised his drumsticks and bowed. Show off, thought Pete. Toby took a hit off his asthma inhaler and then waved feebly to the audience. Pete swore he could hear someone that sounded like Toby's mom yell out “We love you Toby!” Watching his bassist's face turn beet red, he thought he might have heard correctly.


     The Swizzlers had a celebratory meeting at the McDonalds a mile away. Over hamburgers and french fries (Mr. Jeff had treated them all), they discussed the next phase in The Swizzlers's career.

     “I think that we should totally do a world tour!” shouted Jordie, slurping through his third hamburger. Pete thought it was a distasteful idea. He thought they should be writing and recording for the “Deep Sea Creatures” album, and he had said as much when they first arrived and ordered their food. But Mr. Jeff had been dismissive of the idea when he'd brought it up, saying “Let's just eat our hamburgers, okay, Pete? Can we do that right now?”

     “I still don't understand why we didn't win,” Toby muttered, picking at his fries. He'd cried for half an hour, even after Principal Werner had explained that acts involving teachers were not suitable for judging. “It wouldn't be fair to the other participants,” he'd explained to a tearful Toby and the remaining solemn Swizzlers. But it could have been worse. At least the baton twirler hadn't won.

     “I think,” Mr. Jeff said carefully, wiping his mouth with a little napkin, “that we did awesome. And I think that The Swizzlers need to have a break. We've had our first gig and we don't want to move too fast. Maybe we need to take some time off, practice on our own.”

     “But that isn't right!” Pete shouted. Some of the people in the McDonalds were looking over. “It isn't right,” he said more quietly. “I mean we have a website and a fan base, right? We need to make an album! We need to get critical approval!”

     “Sounds like someone's been reading too many internet websites,” Mr. Jeff said heartily. “No, trust me, this is the right step. I've been in several bands before.” He winked at the waitress at the counter, who chewed her gum lazily at him. “Several bands, my Swizzlers.”

     And though no one at the table could possibly know it, that was the last meeting of The Swizzlers, hot on the heels of their first and last concert. Pete remembered it always, especially when he quietly sang his favorite track off “Deep Sea Creatures” to himself (in the memory of Francis, who had died the summer before of Foot and Mouth disease) as he sat in 10th grade Biology class:



     Coral reef

     In the deep     

     Ocean blue

     I love you.

     Oh Francis,

     How I miss

     Your pretty horn

     Good night, my unicorn.”

       All text copyright Robert Chatham 2005