kept reaching for his Megadeth CD as he drove northbound on the Garden State
Parkway, but each time he quickly thought better of it.
One more violation
of the Gillers Moral Superiority Act and Tax Omnibus Executive Order of 2017,
and Darwin faced a punishment cruel enough to keep him from taking any chances.
If he dared listen to any music whatsoever, tiny electronic devices embedded
beneath the pavement, known as “rhythm detectors,” would send out a signal to
Federal Vice Police dispatchers. In a matter of moments, a convoy of red Ford
Crown Victorias would be in hot pursuit of Darwin “Shock” Slaughter, disc
jockey at New Jersey’s WRAT-FM, formerly a hard-rock station.
Listening to his
fellow WRAT DJ, Goatman Greg, trying to deliver an international news report
was about as enjoyable as a root canal. Yet Darwin found himself in the strange
position of being jealous of Goat, a fellow rocker reduced to mumbling in a
crabby monotone about unprecedented floods in Eastern Europe and guerrilla
warfare in the Sudan. As the least senior DJ at the “Rat,” Darwin had no shot
at reading glamorous
stuff, like the
For the past six
weeks, he had been reduced to reading obituaries on the air.
Darwin punched the
volume knob in frustration, leaving him with just the drone of the old Honda
Accord’s out-of-tune engine, and his distant sound of his father’s voice,
chiding him over and over. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,”
white-haired Dustin Slaughter warned his politically apathetic son on the eve
of Election Day 2016. Sorry, Dad, but I’m
, he muttered to himself. How was he supposed to know that
talk-show host Marvin Gillers’ DOWN WITH ART 2016 presidential campaign was
serious? How was he supposed to know that Americans would elect a president so
intent on restoring “Christian family values” that he was willing to enact a
ban on music
For weeks after
the enactment of the Moral Superiority Act, Darwin dragged himself down the
Garden State Parkway to the radio station to recite the obituaries to coastal
New Jersey, stubbornly keeping the faith that one day soon, the music would
return. It had
But it wasn’t.
Popular music had grown so derivative and wretched by 2017 that most of the
white, working-class voters in middle America who voted for Gillers didn’t miss
it. The public support for the executive order astounded Darwin and his
colleagues at the Rat—but it shouldn’t have.
After all, the
formation of the twenty-million-strong Federal Vice Police, and the instant
jobs for the construction workers and engineers who installed the rhythm
detectors in record time, had almost completely eliminated unemployment. The
few dissenters to the Act, mainly along the coasts, were belittled and branded “liberals.”
A Married with Children
rerun was about to
start as Darwin sat on his sofa that night, wolfing down cold Spaghetti-O’s
directly from the can. Just as the suave crooning of Frank Sinatra was about to
come through the TV speakers, a shrill female voice filled the room instead.
When people found their telephone bells were setting off the rhythm detectors,
resulting in millions of unwarranted bust-ins by the Federal Vice Police, the
FCC ordered the immediate switchover of the nation’s 1.3 billion landline and
cellular phones from ring to voice notification. A contest was held to find the
one voice that would notify people nationwide that someone was calling them. In
a cruel twist of irony, the winner turned out to be one-time pop-music
sensation Avril Lavigne.
bored, Shock,” moaned his girlfriend, Scarlet. “You need to come here.”
staring blankly at the TV. Instead of the dulcet tones of Sinatra, there was
nothing but buzzy feedback as the lyrics to the classic theme song appeared in
bold green letters at the bottom of the screen.
, Darwin thought, angrily
hitting the power button on the remote.
“I’ll see you in
ten, babe,” said Darwin, grabbing his car keys.
As he closed the
door of the Honda and headed for Scarlet’s apartment, Darwin couldn’t help but
feel a nauseous sensation percolating in the pit of his stomach, as if he’d
downed too many shots too fast. Still, when Scarlet answered the door, Darwin’s
body tensed up excitedly. In a trashy gray low-cut tank top, a sharply spiked
black leather necklace, and tight faded jeans cuffed at her bare ankles,
Scarlet was red hot. Her platinum blond hair was wild, but attractively so. The
fringes around her brown eyes were bathed in sky-blue eye shadow.
was cold, all business. She motioned for Darwin to come in and he obediently
“What are you
waiting for?” Scarlet asked coldly.
Darwin failed to
respond, the nauseous sensation intensifying despite his better wishes.
herself with one hand and tacitly pushed Darwin toward her dilapidated
convertible sofa with the other. Wasting no time, she unlaced his Vans sneakers,
slid off his jeans, and lifted off his Iron Maiden T-shirt, leaving a pair of
black socks as his only barrier from her thin, warm body. She forced his right
hand off her small, knob-like breasts and onto her corduroys; he fumbled
awkwardly with his right hand to unbutton them as their lips locked in an
almost violent kiss. Before Darwin could completely gain his bearings, he felt
her body thrusting against his, up and down in imperfect, syncopated rhythm.
In the absence of the
heavy metal that always used to play when they made love, his ears filled with
a ringing sensation that gradually grew from benign to bothersome. They were
completely out of sync. All at once, all Darwin could think of were the day’s
obituaries that he’d read on the air. 91-year-old Alice Fletcher of Lakewood,
who’d left behind twenty-three grandchildren. 52-year-old Henry Slovinsky of Toms
River, who’d smoked in bed and paid the price. 26-year-old Darwin Slaughter, whose
soul was dying in a world without music.
A sense of panic set in. Nothing was happening
. Darwin realized
he hadn’t had a decent conversation with Scarlet in weeks. Their entire
chemistry revolved around music, going to hardcore and metal shows. When that
was taken away from them, their relationship was done for. But it just kept
going, like a train rolling slowly toward a deep cliff, with no brakeman to
Just as Darwin finally willed himself into a
modest state of ecstasy, Scarlet stopped cold. She stared at him with wide
open, threatening eyes. The ringing in Darwin’s ears grew unbearably dissonant.
The silence in the room seemed as loud as an airplane taking off.
“What’s wrong with
you?” Scarlet’s disappointed voice suddenly rose from the quiet.
“This is driving
me insane,” Darwin said weakly, reaching for his jeans. “I need music.”
“I’ve got headphones. Play something.”
something?” Darwin was surprised by
the anger in his voice. “Don’t you know what they do to third-time offenders? They’re
going to put me in solitary, tie me to a fucking chair and play Barry Manilow
songs every minute of the day for twenty
! And you’re telling me to fucking play
“I don’t think we
should see each other anymore,” Scarlet growled.
Darwin opened his
mouth to say something, but no sound came out.
“Bye, Shock,” she
said, tossing him his clothing one piece at a time. “Better luck next time.”
sleep. Every time he started to fade out, massive symphony orchestras started
playing in his head. Every time he woke up, he wasn’t in a concert hall, but in
his apartment watching the lyrics to sitcom theme songs flash on the TV.
passed. Four o’clock. It was hopeless. He had
to hear music, somewhere, anywhere
or he was going to lose it. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. “Paradise City” by
Guns ‘n’ Roses. “Oops, I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, for fuck’s sake. “Old
MacDonald Had a Farm.” The theme music to Family Feud
dressed, threw his leather jacket and sneakers on, and grabbed his car keys,
slamming the door behind him. His Honda Accord would take him someplace to save
him from the hideous silence
He turned the key
and the twenty-year-old heap cranked and cranked, but wouldn’t start. “Fucking lemon
!” Darwin screamed into the dead
He kept cranking
the engine, the starter motor turning progressively slower, the warning lights
flickering mournfully on the dashboard. After four tries, the engine sluggishly
came to life. Darwin floored the gas pedal in triumph, and the car roared
raucously into the night.
The rhythm detectors were programmed not to
detect car engines
, Darwin realized with delight.
He listened to the
sweet sound of the idling motor for a few moments, then gave the gas pedal
another shove. The sound was so coarse, so industrial, so wonderful
A wide-eyed Darwin
gunned the engine, let it go, gunned it harder. Bedroom lights illuminated up
and down the block. Darwin grinned as
the orange RPM
needle danced across the instrument panel. It was like a junkie’s first hit of
Darwin revved it
to the red line. He was so busy laughing that he didn’t notice the oil light
glowing crimson on the panel. In seconds, the engine choked to a halt, the
front end of the Accord lost in an oily torrent of smoke.
call!” the cell phone screamed
hours later. Darwin opened his eyes languidly and groaned, confused as to why
it was so bright outside, and what he was doing sleeping in his car. It was
“Yeah,” Darwin groaned, but there was no one on the
other end. He threw the phone across the passenger compartment.
Darwin tried the ignition, and when he got nothing
but a pitiful scraping of metal against metal, remembered why he was in the
He picked the phone off the floor and called for a
cab. Half an hour later, a yellow Toyota Camry pulled alongside his broken-down
Accord. “Carnegie Hall,” he told the driver.
An abrupt burst of acceleration pushed Darwin back
in his seat before he could fasten his seat belt. Within minutes, they were on
the New Jersey Turnpike, weaving through the eastern spur at nearly a hundred
miles per hour.
“Uh, sir, maybe you should slow down?” Darwin
spluttered as the Camry twisted through the helix leading down to the Lincoln
Tunnel like a race car rocketing through time trials.
“I get so bored driving this cab without a radio,”
the driver grumbled, braking sharply and swerving to avoid ramming a slow-moving
truck. Darwin exhaled deeply. “Hey, is that a Jimi Hendrix shirt you’re
“I’m amazed I haven’t been arrested yet for wearing
it,” Darwin lamented.
“Jimi Hendrix is a guitar god. One of my biggest
regrets is that I was born too late to share a stage with him. That man could
play the guitar like nobody’s business.”
“I’d give anything to listen to ‘Crosstown Traffic’
right now. Or ‘Foxey Lady.’ Or anything.”
“Same here, man, same here. My life has been such a
mess since I can’t jam with my band anymore. Look at what I’ve been reduced to,
man. From winning Grammy Awards to driving a cab sixteen hours a day just to
Darwin’s nausea intensified as the taxi escaped the
Lincoln Tunnel and whizzed up Eighth Avenue, then turned right onto 57th
Street. He studied the stickers in the cab, his eyes falling on the driver’s
hack license. His jaw dropped when he saw the driver’s name: MATTHEWS, DAVE.
“Forty-five, buddy,” Dave Matthews said as the car
stopped at the northeast corner of 57th
Darwin handed Dave three twenties. He wasn’t going
to stiff a rock icon, even one whose music he thought was stoner-hipster
“Thanks, man!” Dave said excitedly. “If you’re
buying a lot of plywood, I can have a minivan dispatched for you. Just tell me
what time you think you’re going to get out of there.”
“I don’t think I need a—oh, shit
Darwin looked out the window. Orange and white
balloons hung from the entrance of Carnegie Hall, the elegant marquee
emblazoned with a new sign: HOME DEPOT – NOW OPEN!
“At least they turned Carnegie into something
useful,” Dave said. “Lincoln Center’s now the world’s largest Walgreens.”
Darwin handed Dave another twenty. “Yankee Stadium,
Dave,” he said, “and step on it.”
With Dave Matthews driving ninety up the Henry
Hudson Parkway, Darwin got to Yankee Stadium in plenty of time to plunk $106 on
a seat in the right-field upper deck.
Shortly after one o’clock, a recording of the legendary Eddie Layton playing
the Star-Spangled Banner on the Yankee Stadium organ would blast through the
Stadium’s speakers, with an amateur chorus of 53,000 singing along.
“May I have your attention please…ladies and
gentlemen,” the so-called “Voice of God,” ageless public address announcer Bob
Sheppard, beckoned to the crowd at two minutes after one. “Please rise…and
remove your caps…for the recitation…of our national anthem.”
The words lit up, one line at a time, on the Diamond
Vision screen, and as Darwin watched in horror, the crowd read the words
THE DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT
SO PROUDLY WE HAIL’D
THE TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING?
Darwin stared out at Monument Park beyond the
left-field wall. He envisioned Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle
turning in their respective graves.
Right around the middle of the anthem, an impeccably
dressed older man jumped onto the field, ran to the microphone behind home
plate that remained from a pre-game ceremony, and belted out a convincing tenor
roh-kets red glaaaaaare
!” he sang passionately over the crowd’s monotone. “The bombs BURST-ing in aaaaaaaair!
A squadron of Federal Vice Police, uniformed in
bright red military fatigues and red steel-toe Doc Martens, raced out of the
visiting team’s dugout. They surrounded the impromptu anthem singer, guns
“YOU WERE WARNED, JOHN AMIRANTE!” screamed one of the
soldiers, his voice carrying through the microphone. “WE HOPE YOU LIKE
The offender was dragged forcibly off the field. The
crowd murmured uneasily.
“Let us continue…with the recitation…” Bob Sheppard
implored the fans. And they did, soullessly reading the words on the Diamond
Vision as if there had been no interruption at all.
Darwin ditched the Stadium before a pitch was
thrown, jumping on an empty No. 4 express train to Union Square. The red façade
of Irving Plaza, the concert hall where he and Scarlet had first met at that
fateful Machine Head concert, had turned electric blue. Irving Plaza had become
He got back on the train, continued down to Bowling
Whitehall Ferry Terminal
was packed. A digital clock above the Slip One boarding doors counted down the
minutes to the next Staten Island Ferry’s departure in giant red numbers. His
last chance to hear music was just eight minutes away.
Seven minutes…six minutes…five minutes.
A massive orange ferryboat
grew larger through the glass as it eased into the slip. Darwin fought his way
to the front of the crowd and anxiously waited for the giant glass doors to
“Excuse me, where
do you buy tickets for ferry?” a middle-aged man with an Italian accent asked
“There are no
tickets,” Darwin responded. “It’s free.”
“Thank you kindly.
I look forward so much to seeing Statue of Liberty.”
“I look forward so much to hearing the beautiful
The tourist eyed Darwin skeptically, as if he had
grown an extra head on his shoulders.
The boat was secured to the dock, and a large crowd
plodded up the ramps. The mob seemed never-ending. Three minutes, then two.
Darwin anxiously drummed his fingers against the glass.
At last, the captain of the ferry gave the signal to
load the boat. The glass doors silently crept open. Darwin charged down the
There it was: the Spirit of America
. Darwin raced to the
front of the massive Staten Island Ferry, leaning right against the metal gates
protecting him from the edge of the boat. He glanced up at the pilot house,
bracing himself for the joy of the big moment. As soon as the ferry began to
sail, its fog horn would fill New York Harbor with a sonorous trombone blast.
The ferry started
coasting away from the dock and into the bay. A seemingly endless minute passed
before the vessel
throttle. Darwin’s heart was beating so fast it almost hurt.
“All crew members to the main deck for the harbor
warning procedure,” the captain’s voice crackled over the public address.
? Darwin suddenly found himself
surrounded by the Spirit of America
entire crew of sixteen deckhands, each dressed identically in navy blue
uniforms. They cupped their hands in the shape of bullhorns and roared in
unison into the New York afternoon.
AAY! ALL YOUSE BOATS! GET OUTTA THE
Darwin started to shake. Around him, children
screamed. Tourists laughed.
“Those fuckers stole our music,” Darwin muttered to
himself. “Those fuckers stole our music,” he repeated incessantly as he climbed
over the metal gates, finding himself on the narrow perch separating man from
“Hey!” a squat deckhand bellowed at him. “Remain
behind the designated barriers for docking!”
Darwin turned around and faced the crowd of
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR GOVERNMENT HAS FAILED
YOU!” he screamed. Only a few people glanced up.
“Richie, we got a 12-9 on the main deck, Staten
Island end,” a big, bald deckhand said into his walkie-talkie.
“IN THE NAME
OF ‘CHRISTIAN FAMILY VALUES,’ YOUR GOVERNMENT HAS BANNED MUSIC, THE
INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE OF—”
“You were warned, Darwin Slaughter!” an announcement
boomed from a distant megaphone. “This is your third violation of the Moral
Superiority Act and Tax Omnibus Executive Order of 2017! Step back behind the
gate, and put your hands over your mouth!”
Darwin turned to face the passengers, refusing to
“DON’T FUCKING STAND FOR THIS!” he screamed, a few
members of the crowd staring at him blankly.
A squadron of Vice Police marched through the
doorway onto the deck, their red boots pounding the bare metal floor.
“Stand down, Slaughter!” the lead cop bellowed
through his megaphone, machine gun drawn. “There’s no way out!”
“You’ll be doing the Bandstand Boogie at Sing Sing,
boy!” another Vice Policeman chimed in.
gonna take it!
” Darwin sang angrily in a raspy voice. “Oh no, we ain’t gonna take it!
SING ALONG!” he screamed at the
crowd. Their faces were lined with confusion. They had never heard of “We’re
Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister.
“SHUT UP, SLAUGHTER, OR WE OPEN FIRE!” the lead
Darwin, left with no choice, rushed for the
starboard side of the boat and belly-flopped into the icy currents below.
In the wake of the Gillers Moral Superiority Act and
Tax Omnibus Executive Order of 2017, there was only one situation in which
music was permissible: it was still legal to sing “Danny Boy” at funerals.
Knowing the frigid April currents would kill him in a matter of minutes, the
crowd on the deck of the ferry joined in a chorus of the Irish folk song.
Darwin swam furiously after the Spirit of America
, pumping his arms and legs for dear life,
savoring every moment of the sweet, sweet music.