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Last Stand in the Closing Country

By Christopher Cocca

Black Cat Bone was covering Clapton and Dylan and promised anyone a free beer for naming one of the Yardbirds. I named three on the spot – didn’t get three beers, though, and damned if I wasn’t thirsty. We drink Yuengling out here, out in the towns and fading country outposts that patch Pennsylvania together under aging highway ribs. Yuengling’s dark and good and constant and anywhere you go they just call it lager and everyone knows what you mean.

Out in the beer garden the band introduced “Watchtower” by telling us it was a Dylan song everyone thinks Hendrix wrote and I wondered if they were serious. The solos were tight, though, I had to give them that. Three lead guitars, a bass and a set of drums. Sweet Les Paul fuzz dripped off the youngest one, and he traded blues duties with a middle aged man playing clean Fender licks, woo-ee-oo, just like Buddy Holly, Buddy Holly young and sweaty, Buddy Holly the godfather of punk. Paternity test pending.

This was Black Cat’s last stand, one final gig for the Berks County faithful gathered at the Kutztown Fair. Across the midway local kids line danced to some new Nashville schlock and on the other end of the fairgrounds the rides went dark and I walked to the parking lot thinking about Southern rock and Johnny Cash and paradox. The sweet guitar fuzz, the slick syncopation, the trucker hats and shiny belt buckles worn by people who weren’t trying to be ironic. I imagined the spot on NPR, some whitebread cat in wire rims talking about all of this as sort of symbol, some kind of microcosm of rural Americana, these summer rituals, these country fairs and carnivals and gigs. I heard them laugh and I heard the canned sound bites, the clinking grill tools and bleating sheep. Symbols and sound bites and ten summers gone and no one out here listens to NPR anyway.

This place is in me, though, and it runs pretty deep. The family business is concessions and we’re out here all time. The land is disappearing, plowed under by suburbs and the higher costs of living in New Jersey and New York and America’s new colonists reap concrete and sprawl. The line dancers act like they don’t see it coming – they’ve got their steps down and it’s something to see. The blues singers, well the blues singers are just passing through, aren’t they? They’re a soundtrack, a soundtrack on its last cut giving back beat to the crises you bring in with you and you think you hear redemption when they solo. Tonight, though, tonight it’s just crisis. Tonight it’s bulldozers and by-passes and subdivisions, tonight it’s the change I know is coming. Knowing this will all end soon, that these parts will finally fall and these people with them, paved under one of a million concrete slabs connecting New York and Philly and Baltimore, too, like an old song everyone thinks someone else wrote, and I find myself wondering if I’m serious.


 

Christopher Cocca is a writer and graduate of Yale Divinity School. His recent work has been published or is forthcoming at elimae and Boston Literary Journal. He recently finished his first novel and is currently editing a collection of short fiction and literary non-fiction.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore