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Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 12:00 am

A View of the Fairgrounds (book excerpt)

Early in my Springfield-set novel Kennel Cough (Post-Traumatic Press, 1999), a fictional late-1980s rock band makes its first professional recording at a small studio located across the street from the Illinois State Fairgrounds in the dead of winter. In tribute to the opening weekend of the fair, below is an excerpt from that section of the book.

abe statue_1.jpg

The opening of the final song to be recorded in the marathon two-day session required Elliot to perform an unaccompanied bass solo, leading into a full-band funk groove. Although he had performed the solo with no problem numerous times in rehearsal the previous day, Elliot kept on losing his place in the studio. The pressure of the rolling tape, with the potential permanence of any mistake caught thereon, had petrified the bass player, who broke into a cold sweat around the tenth take. He finally headed outside to the parking lot for a smoke to clear his head.

"We're paying by the hour," groaned Jeb in frustration once Elliot was out of earshot. Everyone's patience was running a bit thin amidst the laborious, braincrushing repetitiveness of the session, but Jeb's most of all. His status as the only member of the band with a "real" job had put the guitarist in the unenviable position of footing the studio bill up front, with the hope of collecting money from his three bandmates later.

After several minutes of expensive waiting, the band's singer headed outside to make sure that Elliot hadn't thrown himself under some random eighteen wheeler speeding up Sangamon avenue. Frank found the bass player leaning against the hood of his 1979 Dodge, smoking and staring philosophically at the tranquil landscape of the deserted fairgrounds across the street.

"I'm almost ready, Frank. Honest."

The vocalist propped himself against the car next to his bandmate and watched the cold vapors of their breath mingling with intermittent billows of mentholated smoke.

"I'm getting inspired," said Elliot quietly. "See that giant statue of young Abe Lincoln over yonder?"

Frank glanced toward the imposing three-dimensional image of Honest Abe the Railsplitter surveying the vast, empty midway.

"From this angle, you can't make out his face," explained Elliot, lighting a fresh Merit from the smoldering butt of the previous." Taking proportion into account, I guess you'd agree that Abe and myself have approximately the same build."

Frank nodded.

"Well," Elliot continued in an almost ethereal tone, "sitting out here as I was, totally flustered from having choked so badly in there, I chanced to look up at that statue. And with only a minimum of imagination, just squinting the tiniest bit, I could convince myself that the giant ax he's got in his hands is actually a giant bass guitar...just follow me on this...and I told myself, look, it's twenty years in the future and it's summertime. People from all over the state are gathering for the fair...and all I need to have done is gotten this one little bass solo on tape...today...and that statue...presiding benevolently over all those happy people at the Illinois State Fair in the year 2008...it's me."

Elliot tossed his cigarette onto the snowy ground and crushed it with the sole of a bright orange Chuck Taylor high top.

"Let's nail this f**ker."

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