Title: Burn Me Up by Tom Piazza
Date Read: 02 February 2008
Available Online?: YES (as one of the stories posted by Harper Perennial on their website Fifty-Two Stories, which promises a new (or classic) short story from their collection, posted every week throughout 2009)
Briefly: The story follows Billy Sundown, an aging rocker in the twilight years of his career, as he takes a backstage break during a gig at the Alamo Show Bar, Memphis. Dodging a tirade of verbal abuse and foul language for not setting up the equipment the way he likes it, the club manager informs Billy that his onstage antics have offended a number of customers, in particular a city councilor who had been soaked by a wet napkin thrown by the old rock star, for talking during his performance. However, Billy soon makes it clear that the councilor in the audience wasn’t just targeted for being rude. He was someone from Billy’s childhood past; someone with whom he thought he still had an axe to grind with.
Afterthoughts: I got around to reading this short not long after first talking about it, and I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed it. One look at Tom Piazza’s published works tells you why the story has such a predominant musical theme. This is a writer who has a serious passion for music (particularly jazz), and although this short story was written earlier in his writing career, Piazza’s love of music, and the ‘characters’ who create it, is clearly evident. The chief protagonist, old rocker Billy Sundown, is a great character and Piazza has painted him well; so well in fact that he could be any number of real-life aged rock stars (not that I’m mentioning any names )).
The story’s real triumph though stems from Piazza’s treatment of the unresolved childhood issues that exist between Billy and the recipient of that sodden napkin, Archie Lucas. Both feel issues are unresolved but for different reasons, and the way in which Piazza weaves this into the story, using both character’s different perspectives, is superb.
Notable Quote: “Suddenly someone appeared in front of him, a skinny kid he had seen in school, one of the older kids, with red hair and a big nose and what looked like a perpetual sneer. White trash, basically, Archie remembered thinking, the kind whose parents lived in the low-income projects along Poplar Avenue. The kid wore a red-and-white striped T-shirt and pants that were a couple of inches too short. He had just appeared, like a vision in the desert. Archie was startled.”
*Story read as part of my 100 Shots of Short reading challenge.