To Be a Rock and Not to Roll: Part One

by Richard Freeland

Hendricks had a mane—an oily profusion of dark thistle descending from his skull. Long, unruly and garish. Werewolf hair. No joke.

And his beard … you know what? Hendricks had two manes: one came out of his head, and the other from his face. A coarse whisker mop descended dangerously from his jaw.

Hendricks of the double mane sat erect, skin Nordic and pale. His hands lay flat on an ebony desk. An ancient Metallica T-shirt straddled his torso, reeking of ribs from 1977 and Hot Pockets from yesterday—Dec. 30, 1999. Wooden shelves lined his office walls, each supporting clay statuettes and corresponding autographed posters. The Rolling Stones had a shrine, and so did The Doors, Guns N’ Roses and Avenged Sevenfold. A Gibson Les Paul electric guitar leaned menacingly against a stand in the corner opposite the door, dusty with apathy. Hendricks sat. Nineteen years of festering.

At 6:56 p.m. a balding Brute in leather burst into the room. The two exchanged customary expletives. The Brute distastefully dropped a paper on Hendricks’ desk and departed, slamming the door as he left. Hendricks glanced at what the Brute left behind and twitched his mouth.

The paper read,


DETAILS: Talentless freak played Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ at a local bar. He sounded like a whiny bitch.

You know what to do.”

Hendricks scanned his assignment several times and sighed, a rare sign of semi-weakness. His job at the Musical Admonition Department, a small government office, barely sufficed to sate his rage for the last 19 years. In the glory days he impaled fools who made mistakes playing “Freebird” with rusty shovels, and forced Black Sabbath impersonators to eat their instruments, savoring every moment. Hendricks had always complained music was dying, and no one proved him wrong. He crumpled up the assignment, ate it, chewing slowly to ensure complete digestion, and then vomited the remains into the well-sized abyss just behind his desk. He heard the anguished cries of the young girl from last week who attempted a pop cover of Baba O’ Riley. He listened bemusedly for a moment as her desperate cries rang up from below—something about water. He chuckled.

Hendricks sensed a subtle change in the room’s atmosphere. He glanced about the office wildly, manes whipping. Then he sighted the anomaly. A red light gleamed above the door, the kind found in World War I  submarines. For a moment he hypnotically gazed into the bloody florescence, then shuddered with delight and spread his jaws gapingly. His manes vibrated with excitement. Code Red.

“This is it,” he whispered.

Crimson brilliance coated Hendricks’ mane—a petrified river of blood. A polite knock pattered mockingly on the door, seducing his glance. Then the door erupted off its hinges and into the office, landing with a foreboding boom. The Brute stood in the empty entryway.

“Code Red!” he yelled. “It’s about f***ing time, am I right?”

Hendricks grinned wickedly.

Code Red meant a holiday for musical enforcement negotiators—a very special violation, worthy of a very special punishment. In the old days Hendricks received a Code Red call every month or so. These days, however, the kids didn’t know enough music to ruin any. Hendricks rose from his seat with vampiric poise and eagerly awaited the assignment he’d been waiting years for. It was a chance to feel alive again.

A shirtless man barreled into Hendricks’ office, tossed a stone tablet onto the ebony desk, and exited. Hendricks flipped the tablet over, eyes enlarging. The tablet read:

“And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

Hendricks howled. Nineteen years of tracking and torturing disgraces to music, and at last a Code Red for Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” the most overplayed classic rock song of all eternity. Hendricks leapt from his desk and strode out of the office. The Brute trailed, salivating at the promise of punishment. The Double Mane could already feel the leather seat of his hulking Harley motorcycle, the wind skipping across the suburban streets and kicking up whispers, protesting the slaughter to come—a blight on all nature.