Boogie. Man. Part III
Inspired by the lyrics of “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry
Robert broke out in a sweat. The man in red was still staring at him, smiling.
“Whenever you’re ready, Roberto baby,” he said.
“It’s … My band. My band isn’t here. I can’t sing without them,” Robert said, trying not to stammer.
“You don’t need them weighing you down, man. Tonight is about you. You and that funk.”
Robert looked at the stage door, as panic continued to wash over him. This wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t remember why he came here. He wanted to go.
“How about this, Big R?” The red man said. “Why don’t you and I catch the scene from behind stage first? You watch the band now, and see how you feel.”
“Okay, yeah. I can do that,” Robert said, nodding. He felt himself relax.
The man in red opened the door and Robert followed behind. The moment the door opened, the same strange, but wonderful sound hit Robert’s ears. Upon hearing the music, Robert’s nervousness changed to excitement. He was almost gleeful.
“Something to take the edge off,” the red man said. He handed Robert a shot glass filled with amber liquid. Without thinking about it, Robert drank. A warmth immediately followed. It spread from his face down to his toes.
Now that Robert was more relaxed, he looked around at the band playing on stage. He only saw their backs, but they were all wearing black.
“You fit right in my boy,” the red man said, gesturing to Robert’s black jacket.
“I guess I do,” Robert said, more to himself than to the red man.
He wished that he could look at the crowd, although he had no problem hearing them. Even with the band playing, Robert could hear evidence of people. He heard feet stomping, glasses clinking, screams, and talking. But he couldn’t tell if they were paying attention.
“They need a singer,” the red man said to Robert, completing his unspoken thought. “That’s why I found you.” Robert stood for a moment listening to the unfamiliar melody playing.
“I don’t know if I can sing to this,” Robert said. “I don’t know the words.”
“Do you think they know the words?” said the man in red. “I bet you’ll come up with something.”
“I need a cigarette,” Robert said, growing nervous again.
“Sorry, Bert, there’s enough fire in here already.”
“What?” said Robert.
“Here,” said the red man. He gave Robert a second glass with the same amber liquid. Robert hesitated and sniffed at the glass. “Two for the show,” the man in red whispered. As soon as Robert put the drink to his lips, another appeared. “Three to get ready,” the red man continued. Again, Robert drank. “And four to go.”
Once Robert had drained the fourth drink, the man in red flashed another toothy grin. “Ready?” He stepped forward and offered his hand. Robert completed the handshake. “Good luck,” the red man said and pushed Robert on stage.
Robert had no time to think. He stepped up to the microphone without looking behind him. It took Robert a moment to realize that the band had stopped playing. Somehow, Robert knew that they were waiting for his cue. “Play it!” a voice screamed from the crowd. He knew the voice. It was the man in red. Robert lifted his hand and let it down with a snap. The band started up again, and Robert began to sing.
How he sang!
It wasn’t like anything he had sung before, but it felt familiar. The words poured out of him with ease, and the beat took over his brain. Although Robert’s mind was clear, his vision had become hazy. Anytime he tried to glance out at the crowd, he only saw movement, never faces. But the energy was palpable. If they hadn’t been dancing before, they were dancing now. The outline of bodies swaying was all Robert needed to keep going. The band never stopped, and Robert never felt tired. It was the best show of his life. He wanted to keep singing forever.
“Robert!” A familiar voice called from backstage. But it wasn’t the man in red this time. Robert stopped mid-song and ran back to find his neighbor waiting for him.
“Sam? What are you doing here? How did you find this place?” Robert said.
“What are you talking about?” Sam said. “You’re the one who’s been gone.”
“I only left tonight,” said Robert. Robert glared at his neighbor. But before he said anything else, he took a closer look at Sam. His face was purple and black with bruises. And he was wearing a suit and tie. Sam saw Robert’s look of confusion.
“Can you believe it? Hit by a car,” Sam said, loosening his tie.
“Jesus, are you okay?” Robert said.
Sam laughed. “You know, before I got hit, they had been looking for you for months. They gave up after a year.” Robert opened his mouth, but nothing came out. “So when I saw you up there,” Sam continued, “I had to say hi.” Robert’s mouth remained agape.
“You still look good. Did you do it yourself?” Sam said.
“What are you talking about?” Robert said, getting frustrated. “I dressed myself if that’s what you mean. I got dressed, and I came here.”
Sam laughed again, harder this time. But his laughter was interrupted by a chant coming from the club. “Play that funk! Play that funk!” The stage door banged open, and the man in red appeared. He wore a new ensemble, complete with a red feather boa and patent leather red boots.
“Sammy! Stop distracting my star!” The man in red said.
“I’ll see you around, Robert,” said Sam. “I won’t be leaving anytime soon.” He waved and walked out.
“Break time’s over, rockin’ Robin. Back to it.” The red man said.
“I don’t understand,” said Robert. “I’ve only been here tonight.”
“Exactly,” the red man said. “No sense in stopping now.” He handed Robert a drink.
“One for the money?” Robert said, raising his glass in the air.
“Two for your soul,” said the red man.
Robert walked onstage to the sound of applause. “I don’t think I’ll be leaving soon, either,” he thought. The band started to play, and that was all that mattered.