Johnny Dodge failed to save St. Nuke, who was honored with a Viking funeral. But Johnny was the only one who survived Punk City as an undefeated warrior.
The Death of St. Nuke
Yeah, the whole of Punk City went to Cape May Point to send him off. The odds are, no more than two of the whole throng actually loved him. WHAT DO YOU THINK? This part isn’t a secret. His own subjects, or one of them, killed St. Nuke. Who?
FROM THE DIARIES OF BOZ BAKER, REGARDING ST. NUKE THE KING OF PUNK CITY:
Jesus. Who and what is this man? In a trice he is gone. He outdistances the guards and mounts immediately up a circular staircase to his seat at the center of the spider, high above the throngs of clicking punk writers. He has his own stage atop the masses, and it encompasses enough room before his keyboard to enable him to remove that blue coat and his weapons and hang them on a hook, stripping him to the waist.
Jesus, again. Look at that upper torso. I’ve been in veterans hospitals galore, and I have never in my life seen so many scars, so startling, so obviously alive in their continuing pain. But he is not showing off. It’s hot in here. And he is ‘bereadying’ himself for the work. His platform – I’m loath to say ‘throne’ because its base is iron grate and his workspace features as humble a keyboard as anyone else – has a railing over which he leans to scrutinize all that is occurring below. His eyes, invisible inside that ravaged blue face, take all of us in. Then the unthinkable happens. He notices ME.
“We have a visitor,” he announces. The voice is a kind of squawk, hoarse and powered by effort rather than native volume. Like the rest of him, even his voicebox is damaged. Lord, how is this man even alive?
He’s looking at me. He points. That long scarred white white arm, strong but channelled with wounds whose flesh never filled back in.
“MISTER Boz Baker. The voice of the Boomers. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
It’s a whisper and a bark. How does he do that? I want to run away. To be noticed by this man is to die, of that I’m convinced.
I begin my answer. I have words in mind. I’m in a royal court. I’m no fool. I know what to say and how to say it. But no words escape my mouth.
“Speak up, MISTER Baker.”
There is no more typing. I stare at the vats of blue liquid, at the knot of heavily armed Epissiles grouped underneath the platform of the king, which is what he is, let’s face it. And I try to speak up.
“I have come to pay tribute to the punks of Punk City,” I say. “The newest, the only new voices in American literature.”
Jonathan Pus edges away from me. Not a good sign.
St. Nuke contemplates me from his high-tech perch. For a year that lasted probably fifteen seconds.
“Detain him,” he said at last. “Arrest him. He’s Jack Kerouac with an education. Nothing to interest us. And we certainly don’t need him writing” – and it’s impossible to convey the amount of hateful revulsion his gasping shout packed into this word – “about us.”
Without being aware of the instincts at work, I knelt on the concrete floor. Terror, submission, acceptance of what would come. [END OF EXCERPT]
Why did they kill him? And why couldn’t Johnny Dodge, the greatest warrior of not only Punk City but the whole of Philadelphia, save him? What do the political blogs like to say, “Open Thread”?
Earn your way to more punk fiction. (Yes, I’m stalling, but I have an exceptionally good reason.) Make me proud. Document your arguments with quotes and facts. And don’t waste our time with a lot of conspiracy theories about Tod Mercado — what’s the operative cliche? Last In, First Out. LIFO. That’s called ‘accounting’ where I come from.
Hell. Has anybody heard of any scars on Johnny Dodge? Was there anybody else who survived the entire seven years? (Answer: No.) He certainly seems to be the Wyatt Earp of Punk City, unscathed through years of unrelenting combat. It doesn’t compute. Sure, we’ve heard about Nuke’s suffering in the Blade. And Gypsy is more eloquent than anyone about suffering. But does this sound like suffering? (Hadn’t you discovered that “Snake Man” was Johnny Dodge”? The more fool you.)
Against the mounting mountain of suspicion, we have only two works to post, one complete and one fragment: Here’s the ‘High Punk’ autobiographical statement of a punk who was never even wounded in the wars of South Street.
Across the river they live in cars.
2 That’s where Sam Dealey grew up, and that’s what he did.
3 What kind of a way is that to live?
4 Sam Dealey got up in the morning, black grease under his fingernails. There was a crankshaft in his future, a case of beer in his past. Saturday nights, they went to Greaves Tavern and heard that southern rock and roll. Plenty of cars in the parking lot, revving, oil smoke, the deafening emptiness of beer cans rocking on asphalt.
5 The band sounded like electrified bourbon and smoke. Was that Sally Boyle dancing alone by the cash register?
6 Yes, she lives in a trailer now, her husband drove the Century to Florida and died in jail. She drinks too much, and the boys all say the roof leaks over her bed and you can hear her son rustling under the covers a few feet away. Maybe she misses the century, its velour seats, the radio and driving through the pines wrapped in the comfort of guinea-teed muscle.
7 Now she’s just a typist dancing all alone by the cash register, and Dealey hungers for the drip drip drip over her moist body in the trailer.
8 He could drink all the beer in the world tonight and he feels young like high school and high hopes, so let’s all pile in the car after last call and speed out to Malaga for two more hours at the place where the B-girls dance badly on the counter.
9 But did you hear about Mack Riley and his new 1100 Cow? About Mack Riley and the semi? Both his legs above the knee. On Sunday morning you can feel that above the knee feeling. Steel is colder, more permanent on a morning after beer. Your teeth are getting bad, your name is Sam Dealey, and what happened in the trailer wasn’t love was it?
10 This is South Jersey, though, and we live in cars. It’s motors we love, and we may be stupid to you, but under the hood we deal in the niceties, machine work to the last thousandth of an inch, and who knows what we know about Holley metering pins? Talk about hearing, there’’ not one of us can’’ do the ninety miler per hour diagnosis—it’s sucking for air, too lean by a hair.
11 Who could leave all this, and what for anyway? But Dealey was a restless soul, the Tavern gets small on a Saturday night, and when you drive in the pines you think maybe there’s something bigger you could do, bigger than your old man and bigger than you.
12 When you were a kid, your room was smaller than the back seat of a Fleetwood, it was television and the pros, you had hands like nobody, and A.J. Foyt couldn’t drive a bike like you. There was no time for the pines. The old man carried a lunch box, he wore a funny hat, he was a fool.
13 Dealey bragged that his father could lick the doctor’s son’s old man, and they squared off as if it was a matter of honor. The doctor’s son didn’t know about fighting to the death against a chain link fence under the smell of burning leaves. Maybe he’d been too many places, Florida and skiing in Colorado, too many toys shining under the tree.
14 Dealey had scraped his knuckles on the Dodge alternator, felt the vivid mistake of twelve volts coursing through his body, and the world is a real live place where they fire your old man for getting drunk on his shift.
15 And maybe some blood on the chain links doesn’t do a damned thing to erase the distance between you and a doctor’s son, but he’ll remember this, and you, and not to laugh.
What is that feeling in the pines?
2 Some sense of the denseness of ten billion trillion dead interwoven needles, and more falling all the time. Nothing they talk about in the Social Studies books, all those trees looking bent but important under the moon.
3 V-8s are a small world, loud, fine, and in their way important, but there are gaps you can’t measure with the calipers, can’t tighten up with a wrench, can’t close with more gas.
4 Above the knees. What would you do if it happened to you?
5 Dealey was afraid to go to the hospital. What can you say to half a buddy? You’ve got no scars to compare. There’s no wheelchair ramp at the Tavern, and the southern rockers don’t sing about just sitting there for forty years.
6 But listen, it could happen to any of them, that’s what you learned from the night of a summer morning under the trans. Let the jack slip once, and you and me we’d be the same, useless bloody meat and a check every month from Uncle Sam.
7 When Sally’s Mike lit out for the south, it was pretty much of a joke. Everyone knew he’d knocked her up. Her old man, he had a heart condition and a ten gauge, and it was darned near a dead heat. They went to Wildwood with their wedding rings and sixty-eight dollars and change. And the old man went home and died in front of the Three Stooges.
8 So when they got back from riding the rides and the rest of the boardwalk kicks, Mike took the second chance he thought he had and left her alone for good.
9 There had to be more, he probably thought, than a wife and a life in a trailer park. And Dealey thought he was probably right, only you’d better be sure there’s nothing following you.
Then, almost unaccountably, there was Gobb’s.
2 Children ran away to die here.
3 They came by bus or by thumb and they came through this door, which was always open.
4 The door was always open and always thirsty for new blood.
5 On a November day in 1978, you walked through the door and sauntered up to the bar.
6 You were seventeen years old, underweight, and your hair stood up in spikes all over your head.
7 You were ready for a new world, your memories jammed into one corner of your largely unused mind, and you felt the merciless present crowding in to further separate you from your past.
8 On this night, you were to have an unremembered dream in which your friends from home pleaded for you to return. As you stood in an unlandscaped foreground, they appeared to you, joined hands and took flight with you over the terrain of your youth.
9 There is an infertile sameness to these scenes. There’s the school, there’s the backyard, there’s the reservoir where you floated trial balloons that sank like rocks, there’s the parking lot where you puked up too much Southern Comfort for the very first time, there’s the main street of your hopeless dead-eyed town, there’s the junkyard where Mike’s old Caddy keeps the rain off the backseat stain of Mandy’s and your lost virginity, there’s the bar where your dad had his stroke, there’s the ditch where the hit-and-run nailed Rick, and this is the sink your mother cried into when you told her you were leaving.
10 “Come back, Sammy,” the chorus cries. “Come home and die with us, not with strangers in some city that when it kills you means nothing personal.”
11 But nothing personal is the point. In the dream you fly away, all by yourself, headed for the bright lights of Philadelphia, where the flat finality of things is not all neatly arranged on the surface, but buried deep under layer upon layer of colors and curiosities.
What did you want?
2 You stretched out your hand with a grimy ten, but you used it to buy a row of empty glasses.
3 What was different in the dark depths of the mirror behind the bottles? Perhaps some altered angle of refraction that might reveal your hidden powers, disclose the umbilicus that links you to the inner fire.
4 But here, in this instant in time, at Gobb’s, at the beginning, you can’t quite grasp the meaning of the night.
5 You are distracted, deceived, dulled by mere events.
6 In the back of your head sentences form, each word a revelation.
7 Lips fail you, you are failing in mysterious and probably fatal everydayness. You know the history of your own shirt, and it inspires no wonder.
8 There must be a vocabulary, a grammar of penetration, and yet you are compelled to crawl inside the gray ruts that always return you to the same gray room, where even your nightmares won’t let you in.
9 You do not think to travel, though you suspect the existence of vehicles. The smear of shine that sinks so deep into the bar at Gobb’s is a slide, down which you might escape into the heights of vision.
10 You have forgotten the crystal joy of altitude. You shudder at pieces of the pattern.
11 Do you want to see it whole? You do, you do not, you do. And you add another empty cannon to the outside of your bunker.
12 You could choose any place, any moment, for your departure. You could start from here, you could set out on your journey, determined to remember.
13 Do you want to find the ticket agent? You have a ticket in your pocket, you want to go, you do not want to go, you are afraid.
14 You know who you are. Do you know who you are? You know who you are.
15 You are the boy who sits at the bar. You are the boy who lives in the gray room over the ECCE Theater. You are the boy who set fire to a cat in the third grade. It ran beyond your expectations. Its screams carried you for an instant into the pure terror of power, and you put your hands to your ears.
16 You are the boy who was afraid of the dark, the boy who wet the bed, the boy who had bad dreams, the boy who fell in love with weapons of escape.
17 You are the boy who had dreadful dreams, who woke up in clouds of panic that never quite cleared away.
18 You are the boy who dreamed of dying, who left the bed through the ceiling into the inside of the sky.
19 You are the boy who was transformed, the dead hero with wings of light, reborn to battle every night.
20 You are the boy who sits at the bar, probing the fractures, afraid of healing.
21 Do you know who you are? You know who you are. Do you know what you want? You know what you want.
22 You are the boy who wants to remember. Something has been forgotten. You are the boy who wants to forget.
Do you know what you want to remember? Do you know what you want to forget?
2 You know what you want to forget. You want to forget the boy who you are. You are the boy who never lighted the lantern for fear of the darkness.
3 Here is the lantern. Do you want to light it?
4 You want to light the lantern, you do not want to light the lantern. In the light of the lantern you might remember, but what you want is to forget.
5 Do you want to forget? Do you?
6 Here is the lantern. Light it.
Here is the lantern.
2 You are the boy who lighted the lantern.
3 You are the boy who lives in its light. You are the boy who will die in its light, who will die from its light.
4 Lantern light and lantern fire. It burns and spreads and glows like flame, consuming illumination.
Candlelight. Huddled interiors at night, the meek forays of little people’s little words, darting into dark and back, needing escape and fearing the blanks on the map.
Torchlight. Pine knots and smoke and painful flying embers. Sometimes the bearer catches fire and falls, rolling into blackened ruin.
2 All you see is flicker, red shadows, shapes of your deepest fears, roaming round you outside the cone of orange protection.
3 Friends erupt and fall, friends fall and disappear into the field of answers outside the light.
Electric light. Light enough at last and light too much.
2 A human chain of links electrified, pulsed into a stream of bits, harsh river of naked white exposure without shadows to hide in.
3 In too much light there is suspicion, fear that the truth is ugly beyond belief. Are we just this? Pallid pretenders unmasked in our creeping, crawling scavenger hunt?
4 Light alone is beautiful and mocks whatever dares to share its stage. Or: We are but reflections of the horrors concealed within, the dirty folds inside the bright white mantle of creation.
5 Light of knowing, light of doubt, light of shame, it’s all the same, a bleaching, draining dryness of the mind.
Blue light. Light of movement, the sadness of falling night.
2 We are shifted, playing with time, and traveling inside the crystal facets of the beam.
3 Death and birth await us there, our own, grand and belittled, my blood-stained chain link fence here guards the plains of Troy, where Achaeans roar and whisper rumors of the Metalkort.
4 There, beyond the blue-lighted Coliseum I saw the one who set the tale in motion.
5 He was gleaming, sweaty, radiant, bleeding, blessing and cursing, perfect, shattered, and the armature spun inside his polar hands, feeding the world with sharp blue current.
6 I caught a spark and lost it, or so I thought, but saw that it had borne me all along, bit player in the streaming blue that swept through time to the barren beds of drought in which I’d picked my role.
7 Blue light. Not a shade away from white as I had thought, but whiter than the eye can see, the blue-white whole of divinity.
2 Why can’t we have the blue, forever and always?
3 Who took it? Who defiled it? Who screened it from our sight?
4 Raging, screaming, warring light. The rampage and the flood. Destructive creation, like forest fire and eye of hungry vulture.
5 Yes, I am the scavenger. The boy who lighted this cruel cruel light.
6 Forgive me if you can, if I can I will forgive you, but I am past forgetting, past hiding from harsh light.
2 I am the boy who came to Gobb’s and sat at the bar, the boy who played with fire.
3 If you dare explore the blue of night, the night will explore you too.
4 For the heights you steal, the price you pay is loss, and a pain to equal your pride.
5 I am the boy who took the blue oath of loyalty, to the blue king who carried a blood red light.
6 And I watched as they doused him, in envy and fear and hate.
7 I laid him in a shroud, a bright white mirror of our shame, and I rode beside him through the pines to a gray-blue sea, where a ship was waiting for his other journey.
8 Had I been given the choice, I’d have taken his place, but instead I lit the fire.
9 His woman wept, for what and who I never knew, except that the fire soared and singed us all, a cathedral of sorrowing flame, asking one question and demanding an answer.
10 What price for light is worth the light?
11 I am the boy who presumed. I am the boy who lit the light and presumed I could pay the price.
12 But the price is paid by everyone,
13 And the current flows,
14 And the lantern glows,
15 And the fire goes on and on,
16 And the mirror shows us why.
Across the river they live in cars, in a wasteland of dirty dark.
2 Here we live in a rainbow of loss, where we learn by seeing ourselves burn.
3 I beat myself into the doctor’s son, and I burned myself into Kain.
4 I am the boy who set fire to the king, and I’ll burn my way through to the end.
5 The price of light is pain,
6 And I pay, will pay,
7 Would pay again—
8 I am the boy with a spark of blue.
And here’s the tiny ‘Late Punk’ fragment of dubious origin usually cited to rehabilitate his suspect image:
These being the last verses of the greatwing Johnny Dodge, left behind in the solo archives of his rig:
1. FUNERAL OF THE KING
April is the bravest month, breathing
2 Torks into dead lungs, voxing
3 Mummery and mayhem, spurring
4 Dull mimes with paschal rowels.
5 Winter gave us birth, rending
6 Worms from the placent ice, imitating
7 Life, with blind crawlers.
8 Summer inflamed us, storming in on the Shuteye Train
9 With a promise of wings; we warred before the Metalkort,
10 And worked in silicon, the gray cells of Headhouse,
11 And quaffed the black, and glimmed blue for a season.
12 And when we were zeezers, lab rats of Old Zack,
13 St. Nuke took me to the Rodent Zeum
14 And promised me a rosebud. He said, Johnny,
15 Johnny, don’t mind the thorns. And off we went.
16 In the Wasteland, there I felt fear.
17 I burned, much of the time, on South Street, in winter.
What are the chips that fall, what pieces bawl
19 Out of this unplugged rig? St. Nuke,
20 You cannot do the livegrind, you left only
21 Your august confession, where Harry grins,
22 And the Dulmud gives no answer, the Raptor no belief,
23 The Testaments no healing laughter. Only
24 There is a solo sung by this red ka,
25 (Come hear the solo of this red ka)
26 And I will sing you something different from either
27 Your solo at daybreak calling us after
28 Or your solo at sunset foretelling disaster;
29 I will sing you hymns of the conquest of Eden.
Come with me
I know the way
Through these chrome and
That end in cul de sackcloth and ashes
Of the blueprints you plagiarized…