06 March 2024

MURDER, NEAT, or The Twenty-four Bar Blues


    Murder, Neat came out on February 13, and I'm thrilled to be included with so many of my talented friends, twenty-three of them, to be exact. All twenty-four stories involve a person in a bar, and I've been invited to tell you a little about mine. 

    I didn't start playing guitar at open mics until my mid-sixties, but before the pandemic shut things down, I played at five venues regularly, two of them monthly and the others either weekly or bi-weekly. Obviously, my playing improved considerably. So did my understanding of audience dynamics.

    One monthly venue was kid-friendly church with a large and appreciative audience. I saw several teens get their first taste, and some of them were already terrific. The other monthly venue was a Kinghts of Columbus, a small building with a bar, but only six stools and as many tables. It wasn't a large enough crowd to get rowdy, and the manager liked having the musicians play, so we didn't have to deal with hecklers.

    My favorite weekly gig is a pizza joint that serves only wine and beer and has regained its pre-Covid vibe. It features some killer musicians, including a sax player and a woman who plays both keyboards and cello. We even have a banjo player and a dulcimer player occasionally, and the place hosts Connecticut Blues Society jams.

    Both other weekly gigs were in bars, my least favorites, but the most conducive to a crime or mystery story. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and restraint, so there's more potential for someone to make a bad choice. Because the space tends to be louder, so is the music. If you go in to play acoustic folk or blues, people may not listen to you. Or, they may not be able to hear over the general voice (and TV sports?) level. Bar bands lean toward country or classic rock, like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, or Elvis. The instruments include solid-body guitars and maybe a bass and drums. By its very nature, the music is more aggressive, maybe because of the volume, or maybe the songs themselves. The Doors and AC/DC have a subtext that's different from, say, Peter, Paul, and Mary.

    That's where my story comes from. A local band covering rock songs in a bar with bargain beer on tap is a cauldron for bad impulses and worse choices. And if a pretty woman shows up dressed in a whole lot of not much, the good ol' boys will turn into bad ol' boys. If that pretty woman knows what she's doing, things can go to hell in a hurry. And there you are. Or there I was. Rob and Leigh announced the theme of the Murder, Neat collection--someone walks into a bar--and it could lead into either noir or a bad joke. I thought both at once, so we start with a woman snappin' her fingers and a-shufflin' her feet, dressed to thrill, and with jokes and puns about drinking or music.

    My opening line popped into my head almost immediately. That seldom happens, so I thought it was a good omen. Many of my story titles are also song titles, and when the opening scene materialized, I heard the Searches singing my title, too. The song even mentions guitars, so I just let the beat carry me on to the big finish.

    I hope you like it, from the orange slice on top to the cherry at the bottom. Do you remember that 12-string guitar riff that kicks it off?

    "When You Walk in the Room." 



  1. Sounds as if your music gigs provide lots of inspiration. What a nice way to combine two arts!

  2. Janice, when I was trying to sell the Woody Guthrie series, I saw him as a wannabe guitar slinger and compiled a list of possible songs that might become titles. That list is six pages long now, so it provides me with lots of ideas. I've used about 40 of them, so far. This one was especially fun because all the ideas came together more quickly than usual.

  3. "a cauldron for bad impulses and worse choices" - I love that! Great essay, and a great story in the anthology.

  4. Your article reminds me of the Blues Brothers versus Sultans of Swing. You don't play for money but green appreciation helps. I haven't received the book yet, Steve, but I look forward to it.

    Steve, we should mention you contributed early on to the Murder, Neat song. Thank you, thank you very much.

  5. Book arrived this afternoon and read yours second after Kristin's. Nice how we get to know the players within a matter of paragraphs. Nicely done, Steve.


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