by Thomas Vaughn
Molly X glared into the crowd and wondered if it had ever been about the revolution. Years ago, the room would have been full of hardcores, anarchists, ax heads, perverts, junkies and other malcontents. But now things were different, and it gnawed at her.
She had been around long enough to know what a costume looked like. There was money out there: Silicon Valley types slumming it up at the Oasis with vintage tee-shirts purchased on eBay. There was no pain in their eyes, just bland stupidity. They showed up to snap a photo on their phone so they could upload the freaky bitch to their social media feeds, impressing their friends and perhaps offending that Baptist aunt they had left behind in Kentucky or wherever.
Her people were isolated in the crowd. They looked lonely and pissed-off. There were so few of them. She could feel her heart breaking.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” she whispered to her lead guitarist, Wax Man. He was putting the finishing touches on his eight-inch Mohawk.
“You need some more coke?”
“No. I mean I’m not sure I can do this anymore. What I need to do is get the hell out of here.”
He looked over her shoulder. “I see what you mean. Definitely an ecstasy crowd, a bunch of Burning Man rejects. Look, Babe, I know it’s tough, but we gotta pay the bills. If we don’t generate some buzz for the new album, the label will cut us. Don’t get depressed. Get mad. You show them who you are. You’re Molly X.”
She nodded, and he returned to the mirror to finish his hair. “And just who the hell is Molly X?” she muttered to herself.
She hadn’t been part of the LA scene originally. Actually she hadn’t been part of any scene. She had moved from Brooklyn to New York in order to model, only the business had eaten her soul in one long, psychic buffet.
Some Madison Avenue sleaze merchant with perfect hair and a shark’s smile had adopted her as his arm-candy for the club scene. That was when she met Wax Man. Two weeks later, she borrowed the shark’s BMW for their first show. There she was, with most of her hair shaved off and band-aids taped over her nipples standing on the hood of the car smashing it to pieces with a sledgehammer while belting out a clunky version of “Fuck the Rich.”
The guys running the show didn’t know whether to call the cops or pee in their pants. The photo had circulated in every underground magazine, even making it into the straight press as fodder for the insipid morning TV shows. That was how Molly X and the Schizoids were born.
Originally the revolution had been about challenging the sick materialism that strangled people in the grip of mechanical reproduction. The flower children had blown it, filling everyone’s minds with the possibilities of love but then migrating to the corporate wheelhouse of death. Now they were the ones running the gut-wringing machine.
Her music tried to shake people from the plastic coma that killed them just as surely as getting hit by a bus on 5th Avenue. Just because you had a pulse and wandered around shitting and fucking didn’t mean you were alive. At least that’s what she thought at first.
The Dead Kennedys had tried to bring a social conscience to the nihilism that blossomed after the hippies cut their hair and got 401Ks. Meanwhile Exene Cervenka and John Doe wailed in some Southwest dustbin and, if you listened close enough, you could almost find sanctuary from the painful repetition of everyday life in the resonant space between their voices. But the revolution never had a chance and Molly X, once at the vanguard, was just another aging exile of another failed attempt to divert humanity from imploding in its own mediocrity.
“You’ve got five minutes,” said the stage tech.
“Hey, asshole,” she retorted. “I’ll go on when I’m goddamned ready. Got it?” You could still hear the Brooklyn in her voice.
Never in her career had she started a show on time. That’s because you wanted the audience pissed. Everyone had their precious schedules to keep. It was sad how anything that took them out of their routine made them anxious. They were like trained mice who couldn’t figure out why the food lever didn’t work.
Someone in the crowd yelled some obscenities. The challenge was not directed at any particular person; it was offered up to whatever disinterested god might be looking down on them from his lofty perch. Usually something like this raised her spirits, but not tonight. Had it really been about the revolution, or was she just another sick spectacle: a caged freak in the sideshow of humanity?
She thought about GG Allin defecating on stage, still reeling from the trauma of his religious zealot father who would hold a gun to his head and make him dig his own grave in the basement of their house as punishment for minor infractions.
Then there was Darby Crash laying wasted on the floor, bellowing blasphemous truths into the microphone while the audience scrawled obscenities on his face in permanent magic marker. It made her think about her own problems. How many times had she ended up in the psych ward? Was it five? Six? Was she really a prophet, or was she just another product to be consumed by the unending appetites of the consumerist gut that snaked through society without end? Had she simply offered her show on the altar of the materialist machinery she hated?
The patterns were always the same. After getting out of the hospital with a pocket full of meds, she would find a quiet place to hide. She would tell herself it was over. It was time to write poetry and eat vegan food. Then the darkness would come and a depression would set in that was so mind-numbing she could barely talk.
Right when she was on the verge of putting the lights out for good, there would be a manic, three-day writing binge without sleep. The lyrics would pour out of her like poisonous slag, and she would call Wax Man. Another tour would get booked. Everything after that was a blur.
At some point she would wake up naked in a broken-down motel room with the light fixtures pulled from the ceiling, hanging by their electrical cords. There was no one around and no money. She would stagger raving into the street, and they would come for her. Every time she went into the hospital she left a little piece of herself behind.
That’s when she realized how much she hated them: all of the people that had paid to see the show. As she stared at them, she no longer perceived faces or bodies, but one singular organism. It was a vicious jellyfish with stinging tendrils. With a huff, she turned around and dropped her robe.
“Are we going to do this or what?”
Wax Man and the rest of the band had long ago learned to read her. They knew when the wave was cresting. Their shows were never long, but they didn’t have to be. Usually, they were just twenty to thirty minutes of mayhem. Tonight, the hair was blonde and she was wearing a leather bra and thong, modest by her usual standards. The scars from self-mutilation were visible on her flat stomach.
The fact that she had maintained her shape through the years had nothing to do with vanity or exercise. She simply avoided any practice that might prolong her existence, and that included eating. The only place where it showed was in a worn-out face that had stared too long into the void and seen too many hard miles.
They didn’t wait to be introduced but marched unceremoniously onstage. Molly X grabbed the microphone: “Where are we anyway? Is this Los Angeles?” The crowd cheered in the affirmative. “Like it matters,” she retorted, pacing back and forth like a caged tiger.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she continued.
“I wanna fuck you, Molly!” yelled some drunk and a few people laughed.
“You’re thinking you’re gonna eat me.”
“I’ll eat you, Molly! I’ll go down on you!”
“You think you’re gonna penetrate me with your stinging tentacles, inject my body with your toxins.” Here she ran her hands up her legs, over her scarred stomach and squeezed her breasts in mock seduction. “Yeah. Your gonna sting me and paralyze me so you can dissolve me in your acids. You think you’re gonna burn me until there is nothing left, dissolve me in the sewers of your minds. Well I have news for you. You can’t kill what you can’t catch.”
Sensing her energy pulse Wax Man raked the strings and the Schizoids came to life, thrashing to a high-speed version of “Mindblast.” Molly X strutted the stage, occasionally bending toward the crowd and flaunting her breasts. She was no rock-and-roll siren. She was part night hag and part Aphrodite. Her voice was low and you could hear her windpipe constricting as she grated through the lyrics.
A few people in the crowd mouthed the words, but most of them simply watched in morbid fascination. Immediately, camera flashes lit the venue as the customers scrambled to record this atavistic curiosity newly resurrected from their collective psychosis.
The Oasis had packed in about three hundred people that night, each of them straining to discern the difference between Molly X’s voice and the feedback streaming over the sound system. The building had maintained a bit of the old charm, but encroaching gentrification had marked it for death. Grit was no longer chic.
Still, Molly X held her hand in the air like a commanding general signaling her troops to attack, as if she were still leading the wave and not stranded on some distant beach as the tide receded. She soldiered through “Merchants of Death,” “Cum Junkie” and “Razor’s Touch.” As she sang something inside of her began to give.
Whether it was the onset of age or her body rebelling against the life-long assault she had waged against it, she could not say. Performing had never weakened her before. She probed herself for some type of energy reserve but could find nothing. Looking out at the crowd, all she could see were blank, expressionless pig-eyes looking greedy, horny or bored. The universe just inverted on itself over and over again, and no amount of aggressive energy would break the cycle. It made her want to scream, so she did.
The audience cheered, devouring her pain like the blood of a newborn infant sacrifice.
About twenty minutes into the set, she had to lean against the microphone stand to keep from falling. Someone in the crowd yelled, “We love you, Molly!”
She chuckled contemptuously and said, “Bullshit.” Then Wax Man started to strum the opening chords to “Final Days” and Molly X felt the energy growing again.
These assholes had come here to watch her die. They got off on the spectacle of her self-annihilation. She looked around the stage for something to destroy. One of her trademarks was smashing some object as a lesson in anti-materialism. But sometimes she just needed to break things. It could be something large, like a car, or something small like a TV. She couldn’t see anything. Who’s the genius who sent me out here with nothing to smash? she thought. Then, against her better judgment, she began to sing:
We’re in our final days
You made me a slave
Reached inside my heart
To tear my soul apart
The energy in the pit of her stomach turned into rage. In between lines she panted, and the audience could count every one of her rib bones. She clenched her teeth like a rabid dog and had to concentrate on not swallowing her own tongue.
That was when it came to her. She ran her hands across the razor scars, and all of the pain came into focus in one burning moment of clarity. For that instant she knew this was the gravitational center of the universe as a dark energy flooded her body. There was only one thing left to do, only one thing left to destroy.
She clasped the microphone with both hands and closed her eyes. Her hips no longer gyrated and her head stopped thrashing from side to side. She focused on the terrible knowledge that had found its way inside her body. It felt like some cosmic intruder, but she knew it had been there all along. It was time to give them what they wanted. As she came to the final lyrics of the song, her voice began to throb:
You don’t know who I am
But I will tell you soon
Look what you’ve done to me
I can’t be had for free
For the first time in her life, she focused on the song rather than the stage antics. She drew energy from that bottomless well of sadness and sang with all of the pain that God had ever given her.
Rather than close the song she continued singing the final lines:
Look what you’ve done to me
I can’t be had for free
Wax Man nodded to the Schizoids and they continued the riff. They were used to ad-libbing for long periods of time while she smashed something, but this was the first time she had ever changed a song. She felt the power growing in her chest. The words were no longer coming from her lungs or vocal chords, but from that empty void. She was nothing but a relay device.
The audience was not aware that she was going infrasonic. It began as a vague feeling of uneasiness. The sound waves were layered inside of her voice like baby spiders in a mother’s womb. Some of the people held onto tables as the room seemed to tilt to one side. Others pitched onto the ground and began puking. Their guts jangled and they screamed. The Schizoids stopped playing one at a time.
Wax Man fell to his knees and placed his hands over eardrums long ruined by decades of abuse. Still Molly X sang. It was the first time she had ever sung a capella. The absence of the growling guitars somehow made her voice even more terrible by its inescapable singularity:
Look what you’ve done to me
I can’t be had for free
The people in the crowd knew only one thing and that was fear. They forgot where they were and began looking for any way to escape the infrasonic signal emanating from the speakers, but were too disoriented to know where the exit was. In fact, the concept of exits — that buildings could have insides and outsides — did not register on their scrambled brains. Instead, they ran headlong into one another, tearing at their clothes and hair. They wanted the sound to stop, but it wouldn’t.
All friendships and family ties dissolved as they pummeled one another with their fists and slashed each other with broken glass. One man sat bashing himself in the face with his phone over and over again. Soon the floor was wet with blood, and they slipped underfoot to be trampled. The scene inside the Oasis had become an extension of the bloody nightmare inside of Molly X’s heart.
As the song recycled itself, the sound waves destroyed minds and erased memories. In his futile attempt to escape, one of the sound technicians triggered some pyrotechnics that had been stored in a closet. Those passing by on the street felt a vague sense of anxiety, though they could not identify the cause. They saw the smoke coming from the Oasis and the occasional person staggering away from the building with their hands over their ears, watching them collapse in the street.
The fire spread quickly and soon reached up to touch the soles of heaven. That night, as Molly X wrapped up her last number, the conflagration transmuted her flesh into the ashes from which she had risen.
Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Vaughn