Rock and Roll

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           "This looks like the place," said Leon.

           "Looks like another dive," rumbled Luther, behind the wheel. "Even worse than the one we just played."

           "The Cafe H? That wasn't so bad."

           "Yeah, right."

           Muammar looked out the windshield at a modest mud and lime building with a crude sign nailed over a blanket shrouded doorway proclaiming the establishment as Abdullah's. For some reason that name meant something to him, but he didn't know why. Perhaps only because it was such a common name. He touched the bump on the side of his head, which throbbed painfully.

           "We've got to get some ice on that," said Leon. "'Cept that commodity seems to be in pretty short supply in these parts. Not to put down your country, Mohammed, but I have to admit that I am not quite used to such primitive conditions."

           "Should we drive around back to unload our stuff, or go in the front?" asked Luther.

           "Better go 'round back."

           "Some things never change."

           Luther put the truck in gear and they drove around, followed by the others in a car. They parked and everyone got out.

           "Doesn't look like much of a gig," said Leroy, eyeing Abdullah's with distaste. "Maybe we should cancel. Say we lost our equipment or something."

           "I predict," said Leon, raising a finger, "that our performance here tonight will make us world famous."

           "How's that going to happen?" Red asked.

           "We've got the Desert Elvis."

           "Oh yeah. How could I forget."

           Leon took Muammar by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. "Boy, have you ever sung professionally?"

           Muammar wasn't sure what that meant, but he was pretty sure that he hadn't. "No."

           "Have you ever sung for an audience?"

           "No."

           "Doesn't matter. Do you have soul, brother? Everybody's got some soul, even white folk, it's God's greatest gift. You just got to reach deep down inside you and pull it out, let it free, everything you've been feeling all your life."

           That made sense to Muammar. Everyone knew that the holy power of song was one of Allah's greatest gifts to man. "What do you want me to sing?"

           "Try this." Leon cleared his throat. "One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and go, cat, go, but don't you, step on my blue suede shoes, no don't you, step on my blue suede shoes," sang Leon.

           Muammar wondered if he had temporarily lost his senses, since none of those words meant a thing to him. "What does it mean?"

           "Doesn't matter. Can you sing it, just like I did?"

           "I don't know."

           "Go ahead, give it a try."

           Muammar cleared his throat. This wasn't like any music he was familiar with, such as the high-pitched wail of the muzzien calling the faithful to worship, but if this was what Allah intended for him to do to become a leader of men as he was sure somehow was his destiny, starting with this humble band, then he would do his best.

           Muammar burst into song, trying to copy Leon as closely as he could. He finished and waited.

           "My God," said Leroy, after a moment of silence. "I think I speak for all of us when I say that I've never heard anything more terrible. Is this how you plan to make us famous, Leon, by having the worst singer in the world? I've got to hand it to you, that takes balls. No brains, maybe, but a lot of balls."

           "I admit he needs some work," said Leon. "But everybody's got to start somewhere. He'll get better. He's just got his own style."

           "You been smoking something besides weed, Leon?" asked Lucious. "No offense, Mohammed, but you ain't no singer. If you have a talent, it lies elsewhere. But never, ever, try to sing again. Please."

           "I don't know," said Luther. "I've heard worse."

           The other High Yellows looked at Luther in disbelief. "Where?" asked Leroy. "Who, or what?"

           "Well, cats fighting. And Lucretia, my girlfriend in Chicago. When that woman was riled, no human being ever made a more unpleasant sound."

           "This is all irrelevant, anyway," said Leon. "I promised the club owner a singer, the one and only Desert Elvis. We've got to deliver."

           "Let's cancel, like Leroy said," said Lucious. "Don't look like there's nobody here anyway."

           "We can't cancel. We're on a goodwill tour for the State Department, remember? How would it look if we just canceled? We've got to see this through to the end, whatever the end might be. We can't let an opportunity like this slip through our fingers."

           "The hell we can't," said Red. "If this is an opportunity, then I'm a white man. You make it sound like we're slaves."

           "Aren't we? Even more than our ancestors were in dem good ol' cotton fields?"

           "Now what the hell are you talking about?"

           "The same thing I mentioned earlier," said Leon. "We're musicians. It's not that we want to play, but that we have to play. Does anyone dispute this?" The other High Yellows all looked down at their shoes. "All right, then. That means we're playing here tonight, backing up the Desert Elvis. Trust me, boys. Have I ever let you down before?"

           "All the time," said Leroy. "This is just another one of your half-baked schemes. Why we keep falling for them, I'll never know."

           "Pussy," said Luther. "This time he promised us all the pussy we could eat, sweet, innocent, young country girl pussy just ripe for the taking. So far Luther ain't seen none of that."

           "I promise that will change," Leon swore solemnly.

           The other High Yellows groaned. "Leon, you can't keep foolin' with us," said Leroy. "I say we pack it up and go home, the State Department be damned."

           "And miss this full house?"

           "What full house? There ain't---"

           Suddenly, from inside Abdullah's, came the sounds of hooting, shouting, foot stomping and clapping. "Want to check that out, Luther?" suggested Leon, smiling.

           Luther went to the rear entrance, poked his head inside, then came back. "The joint is jammed," reported Luther. "Wall to wall. Looks like there's a couple women, too."

           "Then what are we waiting for?" asked Leon. "They've come to see the Desert Elvis, and us too, of course. Let's set up."

           Muammar stood aside as the band members went to the vehicles and began removing equipment and taking it inside Abdullah's, a name which still unaccountably bothered him. He wondered if he should be helping in some way, but if he was the leader of these men or wanted to be it was probably right that they should do all the work.

           Leon came over and gave him a guitar, putting the strap over his head. Muammar took hold of the strange instrument, which almost seemed like a weapon of some kind. "There you go, Mohammed," said Leon, adjusting the strap. "Now, you don't have to play this thing or do anything except stand in front of us on stage, we'll be making all the music, but if you feel the urge to strum a couple chords, go right ahead. Just be confident and follow your instincts, that's what all the great ones do. Ready, Desert Elvis?"

           Muammar nodded, though what he was agreeing to he had no idea.

           "Then let's rock and roll," said Leon, taking Muammar by the arm and leading him inside.


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