Andrea has read at Story Shop 2014, the daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today. You can find the short story she read on Wed 20th August 2014 below.
Andrea Mullaney is a writer, journalist and university lecturer. Her story The Ghost Marriage was the Europe/Canada region winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2012. Andrea is working on a historical novel set in Shanghai between the Opium Wars and hopes to have it finished sometime in the next decade …
The Short Story she read on the day
a short story by Andrea Mullaney
You know what’s so great about managing a zombie rock star? You don’t gotta talk to the guy.
Believe me, I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve worked with them all – the ones on the way up, the ones on the way down, the ones who still think they’re gonna make it. I’ve been a babysitter, a procurer of drugs and girls, I’ve kept them out of jail and out of the press, I’ve lied to their wives, to their record companies, to their fans. Hell, sometimes I’ve even helped them write their songs.
But when it comes down to it, what the job is, what it really is, is talking to them. The talent. Talking them into things like they’re little kids fighting against their bedtime. Not that I ever had the time to do that for my kids, even before the divorce. Well, that’s what happens when you’re backstage every night, coaxing a coked-up adult into going out and playing his big hit, because that’s what they paid to come and hear, not the new one that noodles around for five minutes in search of a chorus. Or you’re talking him out of trashing the hotel room because the management didn’t put him in the Presidential Suite, or running interference between him and his girlfriends.
Talking, talking, talking. I’ve spent years talking – and listening, of course. Hours on end listening to some mystic hooey their dealer just laid on them that they think is really deep, or whining about the critics who didn’t understand their concept album, or about the pressures of fame. I mean, gimme a break. What do these guys know about pressure? They got me to take care of all that for them.
Hey, sorry. Sorry. I don’t wanna bore you with all that stuff about the bad old days. You want to know about Undead Eddie Underwood, don’t you? I’m just saying, that’s what’s so great about this gig. No talking, except to interviewers like you. No arguments, no tantrums. You just throw a piece of meat at him, push him towards the stage and, ya know, “Braaaaaains.” I’m happy, the crowd’s happy, he’s happy – well, I guess he’s happy.
I didn’t know him before, you gotta understand. Before my time. Yeah, Eddie was pretty much washed up when he passed, old and fat and gone to MOR radio. And he was never really major league, even in his prime – a few Number Ones, but not a legend. It’s weird that he became the one. Since they started coming back, there have been a few others. Bigger stars with a better back catalogue, or guys who died in their prime, the 27 Club guys who were still credible before they overdosed or whatever. Or the metal acts, where all their songs are about death and decay anyway, you’d think that would go down better coming from a zombie than love songs.
I’ll admit it, Eddie’s only got a couple of real crowd-pleasers, a lot of ‘em are snoozers. But the other undead acts have gone nowhere – Eddie’s the one they all wanna see. We’re selling out most every night.
Maybe it’s because he was the first – right back before we knew it was only, like, one in fifty who could make a comeback. Remember that, all the panic? Oh my gawd, the world’s going to end, it’s the last days, wah wah wah. Kinda funny now, right? I was working with a big star at the time – no names, no pack drill, but one of those right-on, Protect The Earth, Prius Hybrid guys. Everything had to be vegan. You ever tried getting vegan car seat covers? Ugh, what a nightmare. And if he spotted any of the crew eating a burger backstage he’d make me fire them, no payoff. A real prince.
Anyway, once the news got out, once we started seeing them walking around, this guy, Mr Give Peace A Chance, he turns into this rabid military nut. He’s all, “Get me an AK, get me a tank, get me the hell outta here.” He holed up somewhere, hired a militia to protect him, then once everything was under control he puts out this piece of crap charity record. You probably heard it, They’re Just Like Us or something like that. No, He’s Just Like Me, that was it. Went platinum, got him a Grammy. Freaking harp solo in the middle, wah wah wah save the poor wittle zombies, what a crock of … and they say Eddie’s creatively dead!
And I was like, man, I’m done here. Life’s too short, you know? I heard a lot of people did that afterwards, threw in their jobs, walked out on their marriages. Made a change, whatever. Once you’ve seen the dead walking around, it’s kinda hard to go back to your daily grind. You look at them and you realise we’re all only flesh and brains. And when it comes down to it, money, possessions – all that – it’s just stuff that weighs you down when you’re running away.
You know, I’m not what you’d call a philosophical kind of guy, but it makes you think about what you wanna get out of life. I guess my wife was the same. My ex-wife.
So anyways, I was looking for something new. And I don’t want to blow my own bugle here, because I guess if I hadn’t come up with it someone else would have, but I’ve always been good at getting in ahead of the trend. The grunge thing, I was onto that before it got out of Seattle. The big record company suits thought no one wanted to see guys in plaid shirts with feedback coming off their guitars, but I knew people were ready for it, even though they didn’t even know they were. That’s the secret to this business. Give the people what they want before they know they want it. And find a way to make it pay.
But I’ll be honest with you, Undead Ed wasn’t my original idea. I had someone younger in mind, someone new. The world’s first zombie rock star. My idea was to find some young dead guy who’d been a nothing in his life, then build him up and push it like he was getting his second chance to make it, so people could identify with him. I still think that’s a good idea. I wanna see if we can get it on TV, have a contest to find undiscovered, undead talent. We could get their families on – you know, “this was always Bobby’s dream,” a few tears, that kinda thing. Call it The Z Factor, whaddya think?
I had started making enquiries to see if I could get hold of a suitable candidate. But then I heard about Eddie. He’d been spotted wandering around one of the national parks. No one knew how he got there.
Now at the time, I don’t know if you remember, but there were a lot of false sightings. The number of people who claimed they’d seen Elvis! There are some still believe the King’s out there, like he’s somehow managed to escape the army patrols and he’s roaming free sleeping in haystacks or whatever. I guess anything’s possible nowadays, but I doubt it. Once the government got their act together, they got it pretty locked down. You can’t get closer than five miles to one of those work camps in the desert, they don’t let nothing in or out of there. God knows what goes on in those places.
But back then, you just didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t. All bets were off. So at first, when they said Eddie Underwood was back, it could have been just another rumour. But something told me to go and check it out. And there he was, stumbling around in this makeshift metal pen they’d put him in, arms out, groaning, the whole bit. Same as the rest. Except it came to me that it wasn’t just regular groaning, it was kinda tuneful. Not in tune, obviously, but if you strained your ears, you could almost imagine that he was singing one of his old hits. And that’s when I knew he was the one.
It took a lot of working out, though. First I had to check the legal situation, see if there was anyone still out there with a claim to him. They’ve tried to clear up the records but there are a lot of people who disappeared in those first few weeks who were never traced. But I did some digging and I found all the graves – untouched – so I knew there was no management and no relatives who could come looking for a cut. He was a solo artist, you might say.
Then I had to get all the safety gear, the cattle prods and the cage and the security people. All my own dough and it didn’t come cheap. I had to have all that in place before the military would give me permission to take over his contract. And let me tell you, they drove a hard bargain. They take a percentage that would have made my eyes water in the old days. But hey, I’m still doing all right.
See, that’s the other great thing about working with a zombie: they don’t want much. Human meat if they can get it – I have an arrangement with a morgue, they give me the unclaimed bodies – or animal parts in a pinch. And that’s it: no Egyptian cotton sheets with a thread count of 250, no Evian at room temperature, no M&Ms with the blue ones removed. A bucket of eyeballs and a dry crate and he’s ready to rock.
Listen, I’m kidding around here, but seriously, I gotta tell ya, I feel good about what we’re doing. I mean, for him, it’s a nice gig. No one hurts him or dissects him. Better than the work camps, from what I hear. I wouldn’t wish those places on my worst enemy. Eddie’s looked after – be sure you put that in your interview. And he’s doing what he loved in life.
You know, all those rock stars, they never wanted to stop. They started out saying they wanted to die before they got old, that it was better to burn out than fade away, but it turned out they didn’t mean it. Once they’d had that rush of playing to the crowd every night, feeling that energy feeding back on them, they couldn’t give it up. They wanted to keep touring on and on, even when they couldn’t hit the notes anymore. And now Eddie can do that, he can keep on rockin’. Forever.
Maybe there’s a little part of him that knows, that can hear the music when he’s out there on his chain on stage. I like to think so. Maybe that’s even why he came back. Call me crazy, but there’s a look in his eyes sometimes like he’s trying to tell me something. Or like he wants to cry, because he’s so happy to be back. And I wanna say: I know, buddy. And you’re welcome.
It’s for the fans, too. They love the shows. They get to sing along to the old hits, they get to see him in the flesh – or what’s left of it. Sure, he’s not what he was, but maybe they ain’t either. It’s nostalgia for a simpler time. After everything that’s happened in the last few years, everything we’ve all been through, that’s gotta be a positive thing, right?
And me? Hey, this story shouldn’t be about me. I’m just the manager. But sure, it’s good for me too. I’m out on the road again, it’s what I know. It’s where I belong. Making money, doing deals, but without the hassle of those rock star egos. I call the shots now. I tell ya, it’s given me a whole new lease of life.
(c) Andrea Mullaney, 2014
Other places to find her stories
Andrea Mullaney’s stories have been published in Granta’s New Voices section, Gutter, Cargo Press’ anthology A Thousand Cranes, Ekto, Algebra, Luna Station Quarterly, Fractured West and elsewhere.