You Know They Got a Hell of a Band
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|"You Know They Got a Hell of a Band"|
|Genre(s)||Horror, fantasy short story|
|Published in||Shock Rock (1st release),
Nightmares & Dreamscapes
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
"You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" is a short story by Stephen King. It was first published in the horror anthology Shock Rock and later included in King's collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes, concerning a young couple on a road trip in Oregon when they accidentally wander into a small town inhabited by dead musicians.
The title of the work, and the name of the town—Rock and Roll Heaven—both come from the chorus of "Rock and Roll Heaven", a song recorded by Climax in 1973 and by The Righteous Brothers (for a Top 10 hit) the following year.
Clark and Mary Willingham are a couple traveling through Oregon. They almost hit a truck but quickly recover. Clark is being transferred out of state, so they opt to take a more scenic route. The two plan to visit Toketee Falls, and Clark insists on taking a road through the deep forest. Mary protests, fearful of becoming lost in the remote wilderness, but Clark is adamant. Mary reluctantly gives in and takes a nap. While Mary has a nightmare, Clark becomes increasingly lost on a bad stretch of road, while being unwilling to admit to himself that he's lost. When Mary wakes and confronts him, he finally admits that he's given up hope of finding Toketee Falls and that, furthermore, he had the opportunity to turn around and rejected it. Exasperated, yet hesitant to push the issue, Mary agrees to keep going forward, in the hopes of reaching a point where they can safely turn around, since the road has become too narrow now.
They abruptly come upon a sign announcing, "Welcome to Rock and Roll Heaven, Ore." The road becomes wider and paved, giving them another chance to turn around. Again, Clark refuses, arguing that it would be easier and safer to do so inside the town itself. They discover Rock and Roll Heaven is a small town with a 1950s theme, described as looking identical to a Norman Rockwell painting. Mary feels worried about the too perfect town, citing the short stories of Ray Bradbury and Hansel and Gretel, as well as The Twilight Zone. Clark is irritated at Mary's fear, and the two argue. Clark eventually wears Mary down, and the two venture into the town. To Mary's horror, he insists on entering a local diner. Afraid of being left alone, she follows.
Inside the diner, they see several people and are convinced that the people are actual dead musicians, not impostors. After a waitress attempts to warn them off, Clark slips out, but Mary is confronted by two dead musicians. At first cordial and friendly, one begins to bleed from his eyes and another vomits hundreds of maggots, revealing that they've simply been playing with her. Clark and Mary flee and drive frantically through the town, chased by dead music legends. They run over one, who gets up, as if nothing had happened. As they drive, Mary notices other citizens of Rock and Roll Heaven, all of whom look exhausted and apathetic; she realizes that these are the "true" inhabitants, lured in and trapped in the town. Mary and Clark think they have escaped but are easily captured in the outskirts of town after hitting a psychedelic bus. A police car bearing the mayor (a deceased Elvis Presley) and the chief of police pulls up. The musicians later ominously reveal that they couldn't have escaped, as the road out is surrounded by swamp, quicksand, bears, and "other things".
As the sun begins to set over Rock and Roll Heaven, Mary and Clark join the ranks of the other imprisoned souls in the park, where the concert is prepared. Mary looks at the other exhausted townsfolk, and chooses to sit next to the waitress from the diner. The young woman has the glazed look of one who is stoned, and talks with the couple. She tells them that her name is Sissy, and reveals that one of her fingers was cut off by Frankie Lymon as punishment for assisting the pair. She also explains that while the concerts must end at midnight, "time is different" in Rock and Roll Heaven; the songs sometimes go on for years. The disc jockey Alan Freed takes the stage and begins to announce an endless series of legendary rock stars. Mary voices her worst fear when she asks Sissy her age; she is twenty-three, and has been that way for seven years. One is left to wonder if they actually were killed by the truck in the beginning. Mary realizes that these are the people who get "lost in the woods", as Freed continues to scream the names of musicians. He finally shouts: "Rock and roll will never die!", to which Mary thinks the last line of the story: "That's what I'm afraid of. That's exactly what I'm afraid of."
- Janis Joplin, owner of the diner
- Ricky Nelson, cook at the diner
- Roy Orbison
- Buddy Holly
- Jim Morrison
- Ronnie Van Zant
- Duane Allman
- Otis Redding, police officer
- Elvis Presley, mayor
- Frankie Lymon
- Jimi Hendrix, teleplay only
- Alan Freed, M.C. at the concert
- Freddie Mercury
- Florence Ballard
- Mary Wells
- Patsy Cline
- Jim Croce
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Keith Moon
- Marvin Gaye
- John Lennon
- Cass Elliot
- Kurt Cobain, teleplay only
- John Bonham
- Brian Jones
- George Harrison, teleplay only
- J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson
Stephen King describes the story as referencing the inherent creepiness of the high mortality rate among young rock musicians. He also compares and contrasts it with several others, including Children of the Corn and Rainy Season, ultimately rejecting the criticism that it is self-imitation. Instead, he posits that certain horror themes have become archetypes that transcend the superficial plots and instead are about what they cause you to feel.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Bryan Pope of DVD Verdict rated the episode D+ and said that "there's nothing remotely scary about deceased pop icons". In a negative review, Christopher Nosecki of DVD Talk called it "a one note punchline".
- King, Stephen (1993). Nightmares & Dreamscapes. New York, New York: Signet. ISBN 0-451-18023-2.
- Pope, Bryan (2006-11-14). "Nightmares And Dreamscapes". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
- Noseck, Christopher (2006-10-24). "Nightmares & Dreamscapes - From the Stories of Stephen King". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2013-11-27.