Stage (f)Right Part 1
What you are about to read is typically not me. I usually use most of my HubPages space to address topics of fact and faith. This piece is purely fictional. I generally try to keep my articles short. This, of necessity will be longer. I try to say everything in a single article. Once again, out of necessity, this will be a series.
Although fictional, the basic premise is built around reality. This is a story of a young rock musician who finds an unfulfilled life on the path he has chosen. It also addresses the real presence of the occult in the music industry. I hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think.
Ritchie Jean Baker was four years old when he saw his first rock-n-roll concert; an event that would shape, direct, and by divine providence, work out his destiny. The next twenty-seven years of his life would be the direct result of that one concert, that one man on stage that appeared bigger than life itself.
It was a hot summer night at the Clearfield County Fair in rural Central Pennsylvania. While most young children his age were interested in the farm animals, the amusement rides and the cotton candy, Ritchie Jean was there for one reason--to see what his older brother and sisters were so excited about. He had heard all the music on the home stereo and now he had a chance to see the music actually happen.
There was no doubt about it. The music held a certain sway over him. His older brother, Rob, helped to influence his musical tastes, but it was mostly the hypnotic effect of the drums and bass combining to form a mind-deadening throb in his soul that entranced him. Now he had the opportunity to not only hear the music, but to also see the music, and he was ready.
The grandstand was packed and the smell of cigarettes and sweat lingered in the air. The warm-up band had taken its place and the crowd was anticipating the main attraction, soon to take the stage. There was something strange in the air that night.
A sense of excitement turned the atmosphere into the most electric sensation Ritchie Jean had ever experienced. He was hooked before the band ever began to play.Although he didn't know it at the time, the course of his life had been set for the next several years and for him there would be no turning back.
Being young and impressionable, and not having many of life's experiences to draw on, he sat there completely captivated for the next two and one-half hours. There, so far away, but yet so close, he could see the drums, the bass, guitars, and keyboards as the band flew into their first number.
From the right side of the stage came running a little man, maybe five feet eight at best, but to Ritchie Jean he looked bigger than Goliath. How could a single man so small dictate to a crowd so large its every move? When he said clap, everyone clapped. When he jumped, everyone jumped. The crowd rocked and swayed on command. Ritchie Jean could barely hear the drums and bass because of the roar of the crowd and for a time he felt like he missed something, but actually he was given something.
Ritchie Jean Baker was learning fast that power was, for the most part, control. By controlling people he could successfully manipulate them to meet any needs or desires he might have. He was also learning about something else. The electricity in the air and the applause of men helped to ease the pain of an otherwise unhappy home life. In the rock world people cared, people were supportive, or at least it seemed that way. By careful design, it was meant to seem that way.
At Ritchie Jean's young age, all he knew of his father was that alcohol controlled his life and no one else mattered. His mother tried to make ends meet, but the pressure and tension filtered down to the kids in the form of insecurity and bitterness. In Ritchie Jean's little heart, he had already determined that he would be somebody someday. He'd be someone his father wasn't. He'd be someone able to control the situation like his mother couldn't. He'd be the little man bigger than Goliath.
In the days that followed, Ritchie Jean longed to hear the applause again, and hearing the applause actually became more important to him than hearing the drums and bass. He wanted to hear the applause for him. The smell of sweat became sweet and the lights, a way to create moods and affect emotions. Certain sounds blending with other sounds were as good as expressing thoughts, ideas, and philosophies in words. It would take years for Ritchie Jean to realize all the possibilities at his fingertips, but to hear the applause again would be worth the price he would need to pay--whatever that price would be.
As the concert turned to memories, it engulfed the thoughts of Ritchie Jean. Every waking moment was spent as he envisioned himself on stage, being the focal point of thousands of people. He could see himself running from one side of the stage to the other, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He could hear his band pounding behind him as the music met the applause at center stage. It wasn't long until those memories turned to dreams in the mind of a four year old Ritchie Jean Baker.
They were dreams that were beyond the reach of a four year old, but Ritchie Jean was patient and willing to wait for the right time. As the next few years passed, Ritchie Jean spent the time creating songs in his mind and planning how he would run his first band. At the age of eight, he was ready for the next step.
One of his neighbors happened to be a guitar teacher, and Ritchie Jean just happened to want to be a guitar student. The problem was money. How could he pay for his lessons?
Ritchie Jean's fingers were now three inches long from the middle of his knuckle to his fingertips, a length that would allow him the ability to begin to take guitar lessons, but without money to pay for them, it seemed hopeless. During the four years since the concert Ritchie Jean had prepared for this. He knew that if he were to succeed (even at his young age) he could not allow anything or anybody to stop him. There was a way around every problem and he would do whatever it took to solve the problems. Mr. Reed, the guitar teacher, had a lawn. Ritchie Jean had a mower. It seemed like a fair enough trade, and so it was. In exchange for his lessons, he would mow Mr. Reed's lawn once a week.
Rob bought him a beat up six-string at a second hand store and Ritchie Jean was set. The next part of his plan was in place and for the next two years he would study keys and notes, rhythms and harmonies, and a lot of just plain old basics. Hour upon hour was spent perfecting his lessons and at the end of two years he was ready for another guitar and another teacher. He had learned everything there was to learn from Mr. Reed.
Ritchie Jean had scraped and saved every possible penny he could come up with. Now he was ready to invest in a quality instrument. Rob and he took a Saturday afternoon to go to the different music stores in the area and by the end of the afternoon Ritchie Jean must have played more than twenty guitars. From those twenty, he could choose only one. He finally settled on a black Gibson with a white pick guard and double pick-ups. To touch it was life. To hold it was love, but to play it was power.
A new Ritchie Jean was emerging. A more confident, more colorful player was developing, at least on the outside, and, of course, this was all part of Ritchie Jean's plan. He knew he had to be confident. He knew he had to be colorful. He knew he had to communicate and identify with a specific group of people to build a strong following. This was his next step.
Although it may have appeared to the outsider that luck and timing had a lot to do with Ritchie Jean's development, nothing could have been further from the truth. From the time a four-year-old Ritchie Jean was infected with rock-n-roll until now, every step was planned and calculated for success. He knew it had to be in a business as competitive as rock-n-roll. He knew if he was to make it (and he would at any cost), the smallest details couldn't be left to chance.
Plans had to be formed. Goals had to be set and faithfully accomplished. He had to be of single purpose and keep focused no matter what. Not only was he learning to be the musician, he was learning to be the business man, and he was learning very well.
Now that he was in the fifth grade and had a couple of years of playing behind him, he was ready to test his skills on a live audience. The talent show at the end of the school year gave him the perfect chance. He chose for his number, "Every Little Thing", an old Beatles' tune that absolutely amazed his classmates.
Again, this was part of the plan. From that day forward, his friends, teachers, and enemieswould know he could handle himself on stage. That small circle of people would spread the word to other small circles and the fame of Ritchie Jean Baker was only beginning. He had established himself as the musician and it would remain that way all through his school years.
Junior High brought with it some new opportunities and new challenges. High school dances were the social focus of the "just arrived" adolescents and that meant that Ritchie Jean needed a band to supply the music. The only problem was that Ritchie Jean, now thirteen, had no peers capable of supplying quality music on a performing level. Again, Ritchie Jean wouldn't be denied. His superior talent allowed him to find a job as a rhythm guitarist with a group of older musicians. The exposure and the experience were good and Ritchie Jean would again be patient and wait for his chance to take over the lead guitar position.
Every Friday night he was playing somewhere in the area--all the while establishing himself as a semiprofessional musician as he grew and matured in the business. He was at the beginning of the dream, but he still had a long way to go.
His home life by this time was pretty much nonexistent. His mother had long ago given up on his father and Ritchie Jean just kind of gave up on both of them. For the last thirteen years he had not known any love--no words of encouragement, no hugs, no approval or acceptance. Oh, occasionally Rob would spend some time with him when it didn't interfere with his own social life, but generally speaking, Ritchie Jean was a rock, an island. He felt no pain. He never cried--except when he was alone.
The band became his family. They appreciated him for who he was. They admired and respected him. They encouraged. They approved. They accepted. After so many years of starving, he was finally being fed. Basic needs in his life were being met, or at least, substituted for and Ritchie Jean began to feel like someone. The applause he had waited for would ring out from teen-agers every Friday night and Ritchie Jean would realize each time that they accepted him, too, and as a starving person does, all he wanted to do was to eat more.
He thrived on Friday nights from week to week, but that didn't satisfy his hunger. When the last chord rang out and the lights would dim, Ritchie Jean knew where he stood. It wasn't he that mattered. It was his guitar. Separate him from his guitar and he was nothing--and he knew it. Still, the applause was like a drug sent to ease the pain. It did, and as with a drug, he was becoming addicted.
The applause was addictive. The more he heard, the more he needed to reach the same temporary high. The music itself was addictive. The loudness and the repetitiveness of it allowed Ritchie Jean to completely block out the pain of his reality while all the while his reality was becoming a fantasy world that only rock-n-roll could produce. Logic and reason were beginning to escape him as he gave in to the drug of decibels. Again, the more he heard, the more he needed, while his brain was being stamped with the rock-n-roll message.
Totally absorbed in it, he lived only for the stage and his guitar. He could push the pain to the back that way just as his father used alcohol to accomplish the same purpose. He could be anything he wanted to be, at least in his mind, by locking himself into a rock-n-roll fantasy. The only problem that Ritchie Jean hadn't prepared for was that the rock-n-roll high was only temporary and coming down was often hard and painful as he came face to face again with reality.
His life was empty and he had to face it each time the lights went out and the last chord faded, but as long as there was music, he didn't have to face it very long. Soon another shot of his drug and he'd be up again.