The rock and roll star, Croesus Skye (birth name Albert), earned his nickname for his string of gold records. His music speaks to almost everyone.
Critics take the perspective that if his music is popular, how good can it be? What could millions of fans know that the critics don’t? What are his bonafides? Even Mozart had formal training. Where is this guy from? Are idiot savants a real thing?
Fans are not mystified by his world-wide popularity. Throngs meet him at airports and concerts. But Croesus employs no security guards to run interference. He is loved.
Skye’s music is personal, uplifting, hopeful and healing. He’s called a rock & roll god. He also single-handedly resurrected the use of vinyl records. More vinyl units of his music have sold, than other sales combined.
But rumors abound. People can’t believe anyone would break the standard rocker M.O. Anyone so rich and famous must have secret vices. Any human being needs to vent. Why wouldn’t Albert?
His reputation as a binge drinker has no basis. He’s never destroyed a hotel room. Rumors of illegal drugs collapse under serious scrutiny. Paparazzi can’t catch him with groupies.
Albert lives simply. He travels with a few trusted individuals, a back-up band, and lead man. Always touring, he calls no place home. Except the band’s bus.
He is the most popular singer in the world, and in history. But in Millville, the small-town Albert grew up in, he is no hero. They were the only people he’d ever known, until he left.
He hadn’t returned, until now. He wanted to reconnect. Barely admitting it to himself, Albert was lonely.
The bus strained up a two-lane highway toward Millville.
Mitch, his promoter, staggered up the aisle and plopped onto the seat next to the singer. He checked his agenda.
“Hey, Al.” Skye nodded. “Looking at the schedule. We’re due in Memphis in a few hours. We were on the interstate when I dozed off. Where are we? What’s this detour you penciled in?”
“My hometown. On the way. Never been back.”
“But we have a schedule. You need to tell me...”
“Of course, Mitch. Won’t happen again. We’ll pop in, maybe play a few songs and book.”
“You mean, like a concert? I haven’t… I didn’t do any…”
“Don’t worry. It’s not on you. A spontaneous event. Just sayin’ hello. Town’s so small, don’t even know if there’s a place to sit.”
Mitch rolled his eyes. “Gotta keep me in the loop, man.”
The bus pulled to a stop in the three block business district of Millville.
Albert told everyone to chill.
“I’ll be back.”
Except for the dust, the town hadn’t changed. There were a few newer cars, but not many. Awakening from a dream he could find himself standing there, a decade ago.
Squinting into the sun, walking alone, he stepped into the town’s lone tavern. It hadn’t aired out in decades.
Albert peered into the gloom. His lanky figure cast a long shadow. Wiping the counter with a damp towel, Billy, the bartender, nodded.
A familiar voice said, “My god! I don’t believe it. The deity himself, descended from Mt. Olympus...” Albert’s brother, Randy, shaded his eyes. “Billy, dim the lights. How’d it get so bright in here?”
Albert nodded. “Hey bro… Figured you’d be here.”
“Didn’t know you were coming. Throne is in the shop. There’s a spare in the back, if you need it. Kinda cramped, though. Where’s the entourage?”
“On a break.”
Randy shook his head and laughed. “Man… if it ain’t little Albert… Haven’t changed a bit. I remember you, like yesterday… waddling around in a diaper, with a load on. Before you got the magic touch… Do a card trick for us…” Randy looked to make sure everyone knew his brother. “Ladies and gents, the man you’ve heard of, but never seen… Croesus Skye!”
Someone clapped a few times.
Albert said, “How’re things? Sorry I’m so out of touch.”
“Yeah, I know. My message machine is full… You wanting to pay that loan off?”
Albert looked puzzled. He reached for his wallet.
Randy waved him off. “Aw, forget it.” He addressed the room. “Wants to repay the twenty he borrowed for the bus to Nashville.” He pretended to calculate. “Let’s see, with interest… Never mind. I’m talking about debts you can never work off.”
Puzzled, Albert shrugged and replaced his wallet.
“Pull up a chair. Have a beer, on me.” Randy signaled to Billy. “What brings you to our little metropolis? You lost?”
Albert laughed. “Grew up here, Rand. Not lost. Maybe you heard, been busy the last few years.”
The waitress put fresh bottles of beer on the table. “Nice to see you, Al.”
He looked up to see his high school sweetheart smiling at him, “Lynn?” She nodded. “How are you? Wow! You look great!”
“I’m good. You back?”
Albert laughed, “Yeah, I’ve been away…” Everyone laughed. “Don’t know for how long. Just telling Rand, despite the naysayers, people like my music.”
“I like it.”
Randy broke in. “So, you playin’ ‘round here? Or what?”
“En route to Memphis. Thought to say hello. If people want me to play…”
Someone at the bar said, “Ain’t that what radios are for?”
Everyone laughed. Even Albert.
Lynn said, “Well, I’ve missed you. Love to hear you sing again. Shouldn’t have left the way you did.”
“It was time, Lynn… I asked you to join me.”
“Yeah… It wasn’t the time for me.” She looked at Randy. “Ready for a fresh one?”
He smiled and nodded.
Albert touched Lynn’s shoulder. “Are you saying you waited…?”
She stepped back with a laugh. “Hell, no! No one waited, Al. But you and me, sure had fun.”
Albert held his gaze. “Always did.”
Walking to the bar, she looked back with dancing eyes.
He said, “I have to go… See if I can get this done. And Lynn, hope to see you later…”
She nodded. He left.
Randy looked around. “That’s my brother, folks. Never try to pin him down.”
Albert stepped into the street and saw his hometown. Little had changed. Bigger trees. Buildings looked smaller. Horse stables still stood next to the mechanic shop his father owned. The clock tower had read 3:15 for a hundred years.
He thought, ‘The town is like a drunken horse doing a soft-shoe, with each hoof in a different century.’
“Hmmm, Might be a song in that…” Standing half in the street, he spent a few minutes humming and writing in his little notebook.
He remembered playing in the mill ruins every summer. They swam under Knuckle Falls where the water rolls over enormous rocks looking like a clenched fist.
How could he have left? How could he stay?
Albert walked to an unassuming store front. The lettering on the window read, ‘Millville City Offices & Public Library.’
He entered the small office and looked about. A sound drew his attention upward. Leland Storm, Mayor and Head Librarian, stood atop a library ladder, shelving books.
“What are you doing here, traitor?”
Albert laughed. “Came to acknowledge my roots, Leland.”
“You severed those, when you left. You don’t belong here. Git.”
“Come on Leland. You’re not still mad after ten years… Anyone, but you, ever read those dusty books?”
“This isn’t your town, Al. You could’ve made this your home. I mentored you and you took it. Your dad was a mechanic. I made you an artist.”
“Thanks for that. I made it my own. I didn’t steal it.”
Albert watched Leland climb down the ladder. The old man’s gnarled hands brought Knuckle Falls to mind. ‘How does a librarian get so hard?’
The old man stared at Albert eye to eye.
“But why come back? To seduce the last few kids into the city? Nothing but a rhinestone Pied Piper luring them off to prostitution.”
“Or doctors and lawyers.”
“As I said.”
“I write about my life, Leland. People respond. Ever heard my music?”
Leland scoffed. “You profit off our history and give nothing back. Stole our culture.”
“It’s mine too.”
“Should’ve stayed to nurture it.”
“I share it with the world.”
“Teaching the world to sing, now?”
“You know? Maybe your hallowed values are as empty as your streets. The town is dying, Leland. Why? I didn’t kill it.”
Leland turned the sign in the door to ‘Closed.’
“You want a shiny new Walmart? I could varnish the town into a museum piece. Or a movie set. Want tourists clogging your empty streets? Or an amusement park? Come to Croesus World! Tear out the mill for a giant water slide.”
“Could fill the hills with condos. But it wouldn’t be Millville anymore.”
Both liked the silence.
Leland said, “Finished? It’s late. You’re expected in Memphis.”
“Right. I hoped you’d provide us with space for an impromptu concert. You know. Favorite son returns… We wouldn’t play long…”
“As I said, boy, you need to go. No place to play here.”
The finality of Leland’s words sunk in.
“Okay… See you when I see you.”
Leland didn’t respond. Albert turned and left. He walked toward the bus.
As he passed the tavern, Lynn walked out. They almost collided and did an embarrassed dance.
Albert said, “Hey, I’m glad to see you.”
“Yeah, great! Where you playing?”
“That’s just it. I’m not. Leland nixed it.”
“What? That’s stupid.”
“Right. But Lynn, here’s the deal.” She waited. “Seeing you again, I hoped we could reconnect, somehow.”
Lynn looked askance.
“I’m sorry. You’re…”
“Okay, so, Lynn. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to hookup.” She listened. “We had such magic… And today, when I saw you… the chemistry...”
“So I hoped… you’d drive me to Memphis. If you need to come back here, I’ll fly you. Buy you a new car. Whatever. I’ll ensure you travel in style, whatever you decide. Or you can choose to stay. Can you give us a try?”
“We can talk on the road. You and me. Reconnect, as I said. And see where it leads.”
Thinking, Lynn stared at the ground.
Albert continued. “I’ll be honest, Lynn. You’re the best thing this town ever had. I was a fool to leave you behind.” She began to speak but he stopped her. “But also, you deserve more than this town can give… What do you think?”
Lynn sighed and looked around. “Wow!”
“I know. It’s a lot…”
“So… No commitment. No guarantees…”
“Well, I won’t pressure you. I’ll treat you… well, the best… and see what happens.” The world seemed to pause. “…and if you don’t… if it doesn’t feel right, I’ll get you back here, safe and sound… No hard feelings…”
Lynn took a deep breath and then grinned at him.
“Let’s go. There’s nothing here for us.”
“Cool! Get your car and whatever you need for… you know. I’ll grab my stuff from that bus. Pick me up there.”
She threw herself into his arms and they kissed for the first time in ten years. She backed away, shyly.
“Cool. I’ll get my truck and meet you in ten… fifteen?”
He nodded. Lynn ran off and Albert walked to the bus. He climbed aboard and grabbed his guitar.
Mitch stepped up to him. “So, what’s the deal? We playin’? Drivin’?”
“No. Not playing here. Goin’ straight to Memphis. Go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”
“What? You’re not with us?”
“I’m going. Meet you there. Leaving right now. Probably beat you.”
Mitch shook his head in amazement. Albert grabbed his guitar and exited the bus.
Lynn idled to a stop. Albert got in and slammed the door.
They leaned in for a kiss.
“Alright! Let’s hit it!”
She gunned the engine and drove toward Memphis.