It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. - Seneca

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Excerpt from "SWEET MAN IS GONE," by Peggy Ehrhart


An excerpt from Peggy Ehrhart’s Sweet Man Is Gone:

Maxx is in the studio rehearsing with her band . . .

“Let’s go through the set list for Saturday,” I say. Every Day I’ve Got the Blues. Jimmy, you start it.”

He looks up from his guitar and flashes me the lopsided grin, catches Dom’s eye, and counts off.

A few bell-like notes ring from his amp. Dom comes in on the snare, and Michael’s bass starts its steady dance. Jimmy’s left hand inches its way up the neck of his guitar, while the fingers of his right hand pluck bits of sound from the strings, a sweet bit here, a nasty bit there.

I step up to the mike and take a deep breath. “Every day,” I sing, “every day I’ve got the blues.” I close my eyes and toss my head back. The spotlight mounted on the ceiling makes the inside of my eyelids glow red. Jimmy’s fills are like echoes of my voice.

It’s almost like a duet. The sound of the band surges around me. I can almost feel it—Dom, Michael, Neil with a carefully placed chord here and there, Jimmy with his melting blues lines.

In my mind, I’m sixteen again and I’m standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom in
Ardendale, New Jersey.

I’ve got the radio on, and I’m singing along with Madonna, feeling my voice grab every note just right. Across the hall my honor-roll sister is putting the finishing touches on one of her prize-winning science projects. She always had the science, and the grades, and the boyfriends, but singing was the first thing I had that was really mine. The blues came later, though—much later.

I sing another verse, the part about how nobody loves me and nobody seems to care. When I get to the end of the verse, Neil takes over. He hunches over the keys till all I can see is hair and fingers. He’s reaching for the high notes at the very end of the keyboard, punching out a quick jangle, like something you’d hear on an out-of-tune piano in a honky-tonk joint.

Jimmy’s solo starts where his last one left off, way up the fretboard. Notes hop from sweet to nasty and back again, so fast his right hand is a blur. I glance over at him. I can’t help it. He’s bent over the guitar with his eyes closed and a secret smile playing around his mouth. A piece of hair straggles over his forehead. He looks up, nods at Dom, and Dom finishes it off with a flurry of cymbals.

We run through the rest of the tunes for the Hot Spot gig and spend a little time on some new stuff. Just when my throat is about to give out, the lights blink to tell us we’ve got five more minutes.

“Mind if I sing one?” Jimmy says.

“Not at all.” I nod gratefully and head for one of the folding chairs scattered along the edges of the room.

“Ever heard this?” Jimmy reaches for the mike stand and drags it closer to where he’s standing. He catches Dom’s eye. “One. Two. One, two, three—” He steps up to the mike and starts to sing. “I wonder who’s gonna be your sweet man when I’m gone…”

Like a lot of white-guy guitar players, he doesn’t have much of a voice to speak of. But he looks so vulnerable leaning into the mike, with those big dark eyes, like he means every word. I know I’m staring, but I can’t help myself. I’d go for him in a minute, except—I grit my teeth—I’ve been down that road before and it sucks.

“I love that tune,” I say to Jimmy. “Sounds like you’ve been listening to Muddy Waters.”

“You got it,” he says with a grin.

“‘Who’s Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I’m Gone?’”

He’s busy winding one of his cables into a neat round, but he looks up and, for a second, his usual vibe, pleasant but businesslike, turns into something else. Don’t tell me he’s got a thing for tall blonde singers who’d be skinny if they didn’t wear a push-up bra, and he’s been fighting it off as desperately as I’ve been fighting off my attraction to guitar players.

“Would you miss me if I was gone?” he says, looking at me so intently that I feel a little shiver.

“Yeah,” I say, when the shiver passes. “I would. I really would.”

He smiles. “I’d miss you, too,” he says.

Tomorrow . . . an excerpt from the sequel to Sweet Man Is Gone, Got No Friend Anyhow.

Comments welcome. And one lucky commenter will win a copy of Sweet Man Is Gone at the end of the week.

Get your copy of Sweet Man is Gone today!

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Sweet Man Is Gone is now available on Kindle. Just visit and follow the links. And watch for the audio version from Books in Motion, coming soon. Same book, different title: Blue Murder.


Katie O'Sullivan said...

Wow! Love it and want more!
(Now I finally understand where teh title comes from, lol)
Great job!

librarypat said...

You certainly give a true feel to your story. The music industry is it's own little world and you obviously have traveled in it.

librarypat AT comcast DOT net

Maggi Andersen said...

Enjoyed the excerpt!


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