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Recently I played lead guitar in a rock band, and the rhythm guitarist was -- not that I wish to drop names -- Stephen King. This actually happened. It was the idea of a woman named Kathi Goldmark, who formed a band consisting mostly of writers to raise money for literacy by putting on a concert at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, Calif.

So she called a bunch of writers who were sincerely interested in literacy and making an unbelievable amount of noise. Among the others who agreed to be in the band were Tad Bartimus, Roy Blount Jr., Michael Dorris, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Barbara Kingsolver, Ridley Pearson and Amy Tan.

I think we all said yes for the same reason. If you're a writer, you sit all day alone in a quiet room trying to craft sentences on a word processor, which makes weenie little clickety-click sounds. After years and years of crafting and clicking, you are naturally attracted to the idea of arming yourself with an amplified instrument powerful enough to be used for building demolition, then getting up on a stage with other authors and screaming out songs such as "Land of 1,000 Dances," the lyrics to which express the following literary theme:

"Na, na na na na, na na na na,

"Na na na, na na na, na na na na"

So we all met in Anaheim, and for three days we rehearsed in a secret location under the strict supervision of our musical director, the legendary rock musician Al Kooper. This was a major thrill for me, because Kooper had been my idol when I was at Haverford College in the late 1960s. Back then I played guitar in a band called the Federal Duck, and we tried very hard to sound like a band Al Kooper was in called the Blues Project. Eventually the Federal Duck actually made a record album, which was so bad that many stereo systems chose to explode rather than play it.

Anyway, I could not quite believe that, 25 years later, I was really and truly in a band with Al Kooper, and that he was actually asking for my opinion on musical issues. "Do you think," he would ask, "that you could play in the same key as the rest of us?"

So, OK, skillwise I'm not Eric Clapton. But I was louder than Eric Clapton, as well as many nuclear tests. I had an amplifier large enough to serve as public housing. It had a little foot switch, and when I pressed it, I was able to generate sound waves that will affect the global climate for years to come.

We practiced six long hours the first day, and at the end, Al Kooper called us together for an inspirational talk.

"When we started this morning, we stunk," he said. "But by this afternoon, we stunk much better. Maybe eventually we can be just a faint odor."

In the evenings we engaged in literary activities such as going to see the movie "Alien 3." I was concerned about this, because when I watch horror movies I tend to whimper and clutch the person sitting next to me, who in this particular case was Stephen King. But as it turned out, the alien didn't scare me at all. The only scary part was when Sigourney Weaver got injected with a hypodermic needle, which on the movie screen was approximately 27 feet long. This caused me to whimper and clutch Stephen King, but I was pleased to note that he was whimpering and clutching his wife, Tabitha.

But the real thrill came when our band finished practicing and actually played. The performance was in a big dance hall called the Cowboy Boogie, where hundreds of booksellers and publishing-industry people had drunk themselves into a highly literary mood. The show went great. The audience whooped and screamed and threw underwear. Granted, some of it was extra-large men's jockey briefs, but underwear is underwear. We belted out our songs, singing, with deep concern for literacy in our voices, such lyrics as:

"You got to do the mammer jammer,

"If you want my love."

Also a group of rock critics got up with us and sang a version of "Louie Louie" so dirty that the U.S. Constitution should, in my opinion, be modified specifically to prohibit it.

Also -- so far this is the highlight of my life -- I got to play a lead-guitar solo while dancing the Butt Dance with Al Kooper. To get an idea how my solo sounded, press the following paragraph up against your ear:


Ha ha! Isn't that great? Your ear is bleeding.

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