Folk Tale
Jeff Lovell
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Michigan City Blue

Chapter One

Dr. Carson Coughlin found himself in a contemplative mood as he pulled into the parking lot of the recording studio where he’d worked since his retirement from his career in music. He liked what he did now: quiet, peaceful, and not stressful. It was, he considered, all that a guy could ask for in retirement. He’d invested his money with good counsel and made a bit of money to augment his investments and IRAs.
Yeah. Excitement, thrills—he was past all that. Long road trips, buses, planes—done. Loading, lifting, hoisting heavy amplifiers and sound systems—also finished. Set-ups, tune-ups, restringing guitars in the middle of sets, rehearsals, late-night gigs—okay, he’d loved a lot of it, but he could relax now--
“Coughlin?” snarled a voice. Carson, somewhat startled, found himself facing a large overweight man, who had chosen to begin this conversation with a hostile, aggressive attitude.
Carson, startled, tried not to look intimidated. Calling upon acting skills which had always served him well, he managed, “Well, I can’t deny it,” he said. “Who might you—”
The thug interrupted. “I’ve got a warning for you,” said the man. He was dressed a blue surgical suit from a hospital. No name tag from any health group, though. Nothing identifying him.
“Before you grant me this warning,” said Carson. “I’ll ask you one more time. For the sake of good comradeship, who the Hell are you?”

“You’ll find out,” said the man. “Believe me you won’t enjoy it.”
Carson, recovered from the initial shock, now began to get a bit angry. He pulled out his cell phone. “Look, I’m not a big fan of riddles,” said Carson. “I’m not going to live under a threat. Either tell me who you are and what you want, or I get the cops involved right now.”
“I’m getting very mad,” sneered the thug, “I’ll be watching you. Stay away from her. You can bet I’m serious.” With that, he turned and strode off, rounded the corner and was gone.
Carson didn’t pursue, but stood watching him go, bewildered with a threat of violence from a man he didn’t know. To the best of his knowledge, he’d never laid eyes on the man. The nasty encounter, though, had rattled him.
Not only that, the punk had told him, “Stay away from her.” This interview had, then, something to do with a woman.
But thatbegged a question. “Who the hell is he talking about?” Carson said out loud.
After a few moments, he made a concerted effort to shrug away the peculiar encounter and went into the recording studio where he had a small office.
At the age of seventy, Carson had been divorced for several years. He did go on infrequent dates, but the thug made it clear that he objected to Carson on general terms.
He met the owner of the studio, some thirty years Carson’s junior, who greeted him as he walked into the lobby. “Hey Greg,” he said.
A few minutes of standard conversation ensued, leading his boss to ask, “Carson, did you get anywhere on that jingle for the Chicken Nuggets place?”
“Yeah, almost there,” Carson said. “I’ll finish up this morning.”
“Right,” said Greg as he turned to go.
“Greg,” said Carson. “Something strange happened to me this morning on the way in.”
His boss turned back, and his customary grin faded as Carson related the nasty encounter with a man he’d never met, or to the best of his knowledge, ever even laid eyes on.
“Jeez,” said Greg. “You don’t know what he wanted? No idea who he was?”
“No, not even a clue,” said Carson. “I suppose he was probably a nut, huh?”
“You want me to call the cops? Maybe it’d be good to report it.”
Carson considered, and then shook his head. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said. “He took off and I didn’t see a car—”
He realized is voice trailed off. Greg didn’t look satisfied, but said, “Okay, if it happens again, we’ll bring in the gendarmerie. Looks like the violence kind of rattled you, huh?”
“Yes, it did,” Carson agreed and entered his office.
A few moments later he sat in his office/studio, trying to get down to work.
He leaned back in his chair and took a soothing draught of his coffee. He glanced around at the awards, the guitars and amps, pictures, and assorted keepsakes of his stellar career. Lots of them were autographed to him, like To Carson; for Carson; My buddy Carson and several other autographs from people he knew or had worked with.
Even in his early seventies, he still cursed his parents for his alliterative name, which he’d always hated. At least people remembered it, he smiled. Kind of like Roy Rogers, or The Range Rider, Whip Wilson, Lash LaRue, or Johnny Mack Brown—
Nah. Forget Johnny Mack. Still, it remained a cool cowboy name.
He plugged in an old Fender Stratocaster he kept in the office and flipped on the Crate amplifier next to his desk. He played some idle chords, while he resumed thinking about his life again. Carson thought he had enough money, a pretty nice house, he had a job he enjoyed, good health—
—But he had no one to share it with. That, he decided, was the irony in the thug’s warning. His wife, whom he'd nicknamed Jezebel, at the time of their split-up, had dumped him and married a guy—Ahab, he smiled-- with whom she’d been running around for some time. He hadn’t remarried, somewhat to his disappointment. The right girl just hadn’t showed up.
Not only that, his ex-wife got their two kids in the divorce. They were grown, now, with kids of their own, but he saw then on somewhat infrequent occasions, like holidays, Christmas, Baptisms, and so on.
What about women?
He tried to think who the thug could have been talking about. He had a rather limited portfolio of companions, unlike a lot of rock musicians. But the thug’s threat had stirred up his memories.
Looking back, he felt pretty sure he fell in love for the first time when he reached his middle teens. He couldn’t remember for sure, but he’d probably reached the age of fourteen, maybe fifteen or sixteen. He’d been staying for a weekend with some family friends in Michigan City, a beach city at the south end of Lake Michigan in Indiana. He went with some friends and saw a girl—he had no idea about her name—dancing to the music of a local band in a neighboring town called LaPorte which was home to a cheap teenage dance club. Once he saw the girl, he’d never forgotten her.
He chuckled as he thought about the dance hall, which, for some reason, had been named “Thee Image". The place wasn’t much: loud, dark, with garish red lighting, and quite a few of the teenaged citizens of the Northern Indiana town came on Friday Night during the school year to dance and have fun at the place.
Carson leaned back in his office chair and contemplated, for perhaps the 6 millionth time, the first and, to be frank, only real love of his life, even if he hadn’t so much as learned her name or even spoken to her. He saw her dancing several times in Thee Image and always contrived to weasel his way to a place in the dance hall where he could watch her. That was it: He’d just stand there like an idiot and watch her dance.
Carson, more than fifty years later, could still see her dancing to the music of the house band, a group called The Rivieras. He recalled watching her dance with a girlfriend, wearing an outfit that flattered a lovely figure: navy blue shorts, a white blouse, and white sneakers, singing the lyrics of the songs to herself while she whirled with exceptional grace around the dance floor.
He remembered standing with a bunch of his friends, mesmerized by her poise, her smile, her athletic shape and her sense of rhythm as she danced in graceful time to the deafening, almost violent music. He also remembered how much he wanted to walk over and meet her, talk to her and dance with her. He coulddance too, unlike a lot of teenage boys. He’d been forced by his parents in the seventh and eighth grade to go to dance classes at his junior high school. Somewhat to his surprise, he’d wound up enjoying the classes.
It was like this…
Well, see—
He didn’t know how…
Okay, to tell the truth, he just couldn’t work the nerve up to ask her.
“Cripes,” he said out loud, staring at the memorabilia in his office. “How different would my life be today if I hadtalked to her?” He knew the cliché proverbs about ‘spilt milk’, ‘A stitch in time’, and some Biblical invectives about courage. He shrugged at his own lack of bravery in his mid-teens.
On the other hand, it had provided a serious life lesson. It taught him it was wrong to fail to do something just because he was afraid of looking silly, or stupid. A verse from the Biblical book of Isaiah had become his life motto: Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, do not be terrified, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
He acknowledged to himself that his life would have been different. Better? Worse? Anyhow, it wouldn’t be what it was today.
He shrugged as he remembered the music of the house band, The Rivieras. At that time, surfing hymns were a large part of the literature the rock bands played, even though most of the Midwest kids had never “shot the Curl,” or ridden the treacherous and potentially deadly surfing shrine off the coast of California called “The Wedge”, much lesscaught a wave off Oahu’s North Shore in the immense surf of Waimea Bay. For a few moments, he rehearsed in his mind a surfing hymn called Ride the Wild Surfby Jan and Dean: “In Hawaii there’s a place known as Waimea Bay…” He tried to remember the last time he’d played that song for an audience, or even heard it on an oldies station.
He chuckled, remembering a second honeymoon that he and his now-estranged wife had taken in Hawaii. They rented a car in Honolulu and driven to the North Shore of Oahu to watch the surfers challenge the mighty waves of Waimea. Once they arrived, they learned that the famous surf came in the winter. Since they’d flown to Hawaii in July, Waimea Bay was as flat as a cement patio.
His thoughts returned to the dance hall and the pretty good house band called the Rivieras. The group would soon lose their lead singer, who doubled as the band’s lead guitarist. He remembered that the guy could sing and play the guitar pretty well; nonetheless, he soon left the group and joined the Marines. The band reorganized and saw significant improvement once he left and had scored a couple of big national hits.
Carson chuckled to himself. Music had become a big part of his life since the first night that he’d seen the beautiful girl. The indelible memory of watching her dance had inspired him for years.
Ironic, he thought. She never knew, nor could she have known, that she had an influence on my life.
At that very time—his early teens—he had found the inspiration he needed. It came from that girl he saw her dancing in a teen night club. Not only had he never met her, let alone spoken to her, but the thought of seeing her dance again had fired his imagination and his creative personality.
I guess that’s the way life is, he noted, slipping back into a philosophical mood. He pivoted his swivel chair around to gaze out the window of his office. People mentor us or give us direction all the time, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.
He thought about Lord Byron and his poem “She Walks in Beauty”, which Byron had published in 1815 in his book Hebrew Melodies. Carson had loved the poem and assigned himself to memorize it:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

He’d heard that poem for the first time in a college British Literature class several years after the last time he’d seen the girl. Lord Byron had managed to use words to capture the emotions that filled Carson’s heart for most of his life. Beginning at. the age of fourteen, the feelings she had stirred in his soul would, at times, arise again within him.
He considered it fortunate that he could resort to his music. Carson began taking music lessons when he was seven years old. He started with accordion lessons and struggled for a few months because he just didn’t like the sound of the instrument. At that time found that he loved his mother’s Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw records from the 30s and 40s. He abandoned accordion and moved to clarinet for a few years, and played in the school bands.
American music, at least pop music, didn’t interest him as much as the British music. To be sure, he liked Dion and the Belmonts as well as the Four Seasons and those groups’ use of harmony and choreography; Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels with their hard-driving no-mercy rock and roll; as well as the exquisite vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys (Well, most of their songs. He cringed for a moment thinking about Wouldn’t It Be Nice. Yech!). But he loved the Beatles and Rolling Stones and the other groups of British Invasion: The Hollies, The Zombies, to name a few.
However, his taste in music began to change when he first heard Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’65, play their elegant Brazilian sambas. He couldn’t ignore those beautiful rhythms that continued to play in his soul. He’d done okay on the high school football team and competed well on the swim team. To his amusement, he found himself timing his strokes in the pool to the music that played in his head and added to his swimming rhythm.
But at last, he’d picked up one of his grampa’s old laptop six string guitars. He’d started lessons and moved along pretty well since he knew how to read music. Becoming a guitar virtuoso had been a matter of learning how to move his fingers and play chords and then mix the melody into the chords.
His first band had long since gone by, but then he’d played with several others, and paid for college and then graduate school with his music.
He got married and had wonderful children and grandchildren. Still, over the years and from time to time, the memory of a girl he’d never once spoken to would flash through his mind.

Chapter Two
When Carson was thirty-two, he had an opportunity to earn a doctor’s degree. It took him five years to the Ph. D., but then he received an appointment to the faculty of a small college in the Calumet region of Northern Illinois, not far from the Indiana border. He taught a few classes, which gave him an income, but also allowed him to perform with some local bands.
His major in college had been English, with a minor in theatre, and he’d done very well as an independent adman with his background in performance. He settled into a lucrative and satisfying career. In addition to writing and directing commercials he did voice over of text. His singing voice would have been satisfactory for most solos, but he preferred singing back-up. He took a nominal retirement at the age of sixty-five, but continued to work part time.
Besides continuing to direct the commercials, he’d even played on some of them, pulling out his old guitars and a Fender Twin Reverb amp. He’d altered the Fender amp a bit for his college bands, putting in twin Lansing 12 Inch speakers. Then, he combined that amplifier with a huge Standel amplifier equipped with a pair of 15-inch Jensen speakers. Using the amplifiers in tandem, he could play Chicago’s International Amphitheatre and be loud enough to part peoples’ hair in the fortieth row.
However, he’d sold the Standel in 1975, and the twin reverb a few years ago, and now he played through a Crate amplifier with about twice the power of his previous amplifiers.
He strummed some idle chords, and he grinned as he recalled his first bands. With those bands, he’d become the lead guitar because he could play a lot of chords. Most of the guitarists in those days struggled with standard chord progressions of c, f and g.
Carson taught his bands to use exotic chords—ninths, augmented and diminished, sixths and so on—which altered the sound of the rock songs and produced something more like jazz and South American samba rhythms to enhance the sound of standard rock songs.
Carson Coughlin sighed and turned back to his job with the advertising group. He strummed an ancient acoustic six string guitar, trying to get ahead on a commercial the group had hired him to write.
Carson reached back and flipped on the amp. He took his electric guitar off its tripod stand, plugged it in and turned the volume to low. He began improvising some melodies to use on the commercials.
The guitar, a remarkable Gibson Les Paul Standard model, had Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings, so thin he could barely feel them. As always, the beloved instrument came into his hand like a lover, to be caressed and doted upon. In college and for a few years afterward, he’d changed the strings at least once a month or maybe even with more frequency. Now, he changed them every six months or so.
Carson sat on a stool and toyed with an improvised melody. He tried out some lyrics in praise of a local restaurant, who’d hired his advertising group to put together a promotional campaign.
He gave an ironic laugh. Reduced from performing to singing about happy hot dogs and french fries in combination with sugar drinks the size of kids’ backyard swimming pools.
Yeah, but what about the health of the customers? He gritted his teeth and tried to be positive.
Greg Hoffman, Carson’s bossat the agency, knocked at his door and Carson waved him in with a grin.