A Short Cut Home by Dave Wood from Sailor's Delight No.9 "Not the same, is it?" said Jim, idly crushing the beer can in his hands. His two companions, John & Bob, sitting slumped across an old settee glanced momentarily at each other & thought "Hello, he's off again." They were in Jim's flat drinking beer & listening to the blues & Jim, clearly, was about to launch again into what had of late become the mainstay of his conversation, particularly when he was feeling maudlin which generally meant halfway through his third can. Elmore James began the intro to "The Sky is Crying". "I mean, good God, can you remember the first time you heard this? Can you remember how it churned up your stomach? the tingling in your fingers & the way your hair stood on end all along your arms? How you couldn't believe it was really happening?" "The sky is crying....look at the tears rolling.... "And now look at us. We sit here going through the motions, telling each other how great it all is, but all the time there's something missing. Now & again you get close; something triggers off inside you & you can feel yourself coming almost within touching distance of what you once had, but then you blink & it's all gone. We sit here surrounded by thousands of records, & what we really want is to be kids with a couple of scuffed 45's again." "Speak for yourself" said Bob. "All I want is another beer." "When did it all happen?" continued Jim. "I can remember just after I moved into this place. THere'd be a dozen or more people in here of a Saturday night with that old clapped out record player going full blast. God it was fantastic. We used to sit & feel sorry for all those poor sods who liked the Beatles. And d'you remember how angry we all got when Fleetwood Mac brought out "I Believe My Time Ain't Long". Wouldn't you like to feel that committed again?" "Well, we can't & that's that", said John, "Nothing lasts forever. You're bound to get used to everything in the end; it's just nature." "How can you be so complacent? here is the centrepiece of your adolescent life crumbling away & you just sit there & shrug your shoulders. How can you bring yourself to give it up so easily?" "Well, what do you suggest we do? Give all our records away & start all over again?" "No of course not. For a start that wouldn't work. You'd still be the same person you are now. It's not hardware I'm talking about - I'm after the excitement, the feeling, the wonder we all felt in those days. I want to feel what it's like to hear it all for the first time." "Well, now your just talking nonsense", said Bob, who still wanted another beer. "Put on another record & shut up." "No, wait a minute", said Jim. "Read this." He threw across one of the classier newspapers, opened to an inside page which looked like a sheet covered in ants. "I can't read that" Bob protested. "There's no pictures." John was similarly unwilling to wade into the swamp of tiny print, so Jim decided he'd have to give them the gist of the article himself. "It's about this nutty American professor who claims to have isolated the area of the brain which responds to music." "Give the man a Nobel Prize", shouted Bob, clearly unimpressed. Jim continued undismayed. "He says that by treating it with electrodes or something he can wipe it clean like a blackboard, or like emptying a bucket." "That reminds me", said John, heading for the bathroom. "Why won't you two take me seriuosly?" wailed Jim. Bob spoke. "Well, you have to admit it's asking a lot. I mean, we all know that everything, even Elmore James, loses it's impact with time. It's just one of those things you'll have to learn to accept, but hear you are constantly going on about it & now you're waffling on about some American looney, & all we want is to listen to some music & sup some beer. Put on some Earl Hooker." "Well, you two might have to accept it, but I'm damned if I will" said Jim angrily. John returned from the bathroom in time to join Bob staring at his friend. "How do you mean?" they asked. "I'm going to see this man & have him wipe my music memories clean, & then I'm going to come back & lock the door & listen to all this stuff for the first time." After a few seconds of silence his two friends burst into involuntary laughter, certain that it was all a joke. When they saw the angry, determined look on Jim's face, however, they stopped laughing as suddenly as they had begun. "You're not serious?" said Bob. "Don't be such a bloody idiot, Jim. For God's sake put on a record, & get yourself a beer before we start to believe you." "You'd better believe me. I've already written to the guy offering to be a volunteer." "For Christ's sake you really are crazy, aren't you?. How do you know the thing works?. You said yourself the man was a nutter. It all sounds like a load of rubbish anyway. He'll probably end up boiling your brain." "I know it's a risk. I know it sounds crazy, but if I can get back half the innocence I once had it'll be worth it. Can't you understand that?". Nothing that either of his friends could say could alter Jim's determination & in time he heard from the American professor who eagerly accepted his offer of assistance, so long as he was prepared to sign a declaration that he underwent the surgery entirely at his own request & of his own free will, & that he waived any right to damages regardless of the outcome of the operation. Jim enthusiastically agreed. In return the professor provided him with a return air ticket & in spite of repeated appeals from John & Bob he duly flew out a couple of weeks later. Preofessor Arnold Schwarzenbeck proved to be as apparently nutty as had been feared. He greeted Jim a little too eagerly for comfort, obviously overjoyed to find someone crazy enough to want to undergo his treatment. There were clearly limits to what one could do in this field with rats & rabbits. In answer to Jim's questions, he was assured that his memory & mind would, in all other respects, remain unimpaired. The brain cells responsive to music would not be destroyed but merely "cleaned". He would still know who Elmore James, Robert Johnson & Muddy Waters were, but he would no longer remember what they sounded like. Yes, it would be true to say that for all practical purposes he would, on hearing any kind of music after the operation, be hearing it for the first time. With those assurances Jim agreed to go ahead. Professor Schwarzenbeck was disappointed when Jim insisted on being allowed to return home before he listened to any music, but he was adamant on the point and, volunteers for his scalpel being in short supply, he reluctantly agreed on condition that Jim furnish him with a detailed report of his post-operative musical experience. With everything agreed the operation was set for the following day. It was surprisingly simple. Only a local anaesthetic was used were the incision into the skull was made. The brain, of course, feels no pain, so the actual stimulating of the requisite portion of electrodes produced no unpleasant sensations. Jim was amazed at how easy it all seemed. He hardly knew what to expect. A blinding flash perhaps. Instead there was just a kind of humming warmth, & brief drowsiness. He found himself trying to recall the introduction to "The Sky Is Crying" but halfway through the operation he found he couldn't. He could still remember the words, but beyond that all was darkness. The professor applied a dressing and, amazingly, that was that. For two days he rested and, in accordance with his wishes he was provided with earplugs to prevent any accidental exposure to music. After that, with the professor pronouncing him fit & able to travel he set off for home & Elmore. It would happen on a Saturday night, of course. John & Bob were invited to witness the miracle, & extra beer was laid on for the occasion. It came. John & Bob greeted their friend, who was still wearing his ear-plugs. The door was closed. Jim sat between the speakers of the stereo, removed the ear-plugs &, at a signal, Bob started up the machine & placed "The Sky Is Crying" onto the turntable. Full volume. As the first piercing notes burst from the speakers John & Bob both stared at Jim. His eyes were wide. His muscles rigid. His fingers gripped the sides of his chair. "The Sky is crying...Look at the tears roll down the...." A tear formed in Jim's eye, & both John & Bob found themselves getting a little choked. It was one of those moments which Jim had talked about when, contemplating what their friend must be experiencing at that moment they almost touched it themselves. Suddenly, without a word Jim rose ashen-faced from his chair & moved to the record player. Abruptly he rejected the record & substituted a Robert Johnson album. Half-way through "Walking Blues" he rejected it again & replaced it with something by Little Walter. John & Bob watched in wonder, hardly even touching their beer. What an amazing experience this must be for Jim. Perhaps after all he wasn't as crazy as they had thought. Perhaps.... Jim turned towards them. There were tears running down each of his cheeks. He looked at each of his friends in turn, & eventually he spoke with a sob in his voice. "I don't like it", he said.