Star Struck (a touring musician UFO story)

Nothing on earth could have prepared us for what happened following a Christmas party we played on the night of December 16, 1978. Back then, and even now, most of what I’d be telling you about would be the gig itself, because everyone always wanted to know: What’s it like standing up there on stage playing rock-n-roll music? But it was after the gig was over when three of us in the band found ourselves in the midst of an otherworldly encounter that transposed our chronic anonymity into a star-filled unveiling.

But first, because there were so many inquiries into our lowly existence as rock-n-roll musicians, I will make a brief reference to the elusive routines of our working Top-40 band. We, along with a slew of other undistinguished musicians, made our money by covering the songs of FAMOUS musicians. We cranked out our gallant renditions from small stages inside clubs and hotel lounges across America, where music fans came to hear live performances of their favorite hit songs.

People from our audiences often said to us, “You make it look so easy.” It wasn’t easy. It never just happened, unless you practiced: practice alone, practice together, practice alone againwe called this woodsheddingand then take a couple of nights to crash-and-burn a new song onstage, facing humiliation before it finally sinks into the groove of, “Oh yeah, it’s pretty easy.” Eventually that song becomes a part of the band, and we, its immortal conduit. A side note here: One onstage train wreck is equal to three hours of rehearsal. Still, for us, making money playing other people’s music was a whole lot better than selling shoes. Even with the late night equipment tear-downs, truck loading, and pot-laced road trips that spawned the strange and irreverent things that went on inside this odd kind of familial musical mix, we were thrilled to be Top-40 musicians. It was our stepping stone to the dream.

We had driven up I-70 from Dayton, Ohio in the one-ton white Ford band truck, loaded with our equipment. The Christmas party was a one-nighter on the outskirts of Columbus, a raucous affair held inside a gymnasium-sized old barn decorated like a holiday block party, with strings of colored lights hanging between lampposts, snowmen and support beams. Sawdust everywhere.

Our band was called Blue Max. We were a Steely-Dan-kicking, lean-mean top-40 machine: guitar, bass, drums, and me, the chick keyboard player—an anomaly in 1978. Larry was our sound man. We needed him for more reasons than just mixing our vocals. Mostly we needed his crazy comedic shit to keep us all sane. We toured all over the Midwest, East Coast and Southeastern states. It wasn’t a glamorous life—Rolling Stone magazine wouldn’t have needed to know our activities from gig to gig—but we constantly reminded ourselves we didn’t slide shoehorns between stinking feet and stiff shoe leather.

We arrived at the gig and unloaded our gear onto the stage, doing our usual head-butting. We had this new silver backdrop that was now part of our standard set-up routine, another piece of equipment that had to be set-up, hooked-up, or hung-up. Our blue-and-gold 5-foot cloth replica of the German WWI flying medal lay inside the folds of the metallic curtain as we unwrapped it. Our Blue Max logo looked impressive hanging over the silver drape, especially when we centered it right above Terry’s drums. But tonight we had an obstacle: a moose head. Our backdrop had to be collared under the neck of the barn’s mascot, who peered out over the crowd from smack-dab in the middle of the backstage wall. We decked him out with boughs of holly, adjusted his silver bib, while the Blue Max was relegated to the no-fly zone behind my keyboards.

We wailed that night, and the crowd went ballistic for rock-n-roll. For our encore, we featured Gary on Alvin Lee’s monstrous 12-minute Woodstock rendition of, “I’m Goin’ Home.” It packs more punch than a runaway locomotive. Gary arched back so far during the guitar solos he looked like he was crouching under a lowering limbo stick. No one wanted us to stop. Whenever people felt that good listening to the band, the music always soared, rebellious and untethered. As loud as we were, it didn’t matter that we couldn’t hear each other; we’d been together long enough to know each other’s rhythms and patterns. Sometimes, something just happens in a moment of a song, or a solo—or on those rare occasions, through the course of an entire night—that can’t be explained. It’s kind of like a needle slipping into the groove on a record. There’s nothing you can do to get out of it, unless you willfully knock yourself across the vinyl. The music just turns underneath you. That’s how easy it had been that night.

Those who followed our band hoped-upon-hope to catch our rising star, while we fantasized about a life of fame that would one day be. They would come to watch, listen, drink and dance, as we the musicians (front-lit by stage lights, back-silhouetted by a silver, metallic 90-percent-reflective backdrop) stood upon beer-soaked stages, inspiring crowds for grueling four-and-a-half-hour-balls-to-the-wall nightshifts. We never lost sight of the dream, and we thrived on the sheer amplitude by which the magic of our music condensed into one glorious stampede. “We were the shits, man,” as Steve, our bass player, would say.

Tysa-Larry-UFO-story-sm
Wind-socked by the buzz in our ears, we tried to think of new ways to enhance equipment teardown, starting with a joint outside. A celebration smoke. Like so many other times, we reminisced about the night’s music and the crazy shit that happens to us on the road. We were packed up and out on the highway by three in the morning. Saturday had relinquished its claim on the night, while Sunday took over the wee mysterious early-morning hours. Larry was behind the wheel of the truck. Gary and I rode with him. I sat in the middle.

It happened somewhere between Springfield and Dayton, sometime between 3:30 and 4:00am. I-70 was virtually devoid of traffic. We saw oncoming headlights of another vehicle maybe once every five minutes. The whir of the tires had silenced us to non-verbal communication, though we were all awake. We knew that about each other. Gary and I knew we didn’t have to keep up the conversation to help Larry stay conscious behind the wheel, and Larry knew we were okay enough that he didn’t need to play court jester to keep us on a smooth track. Gary and I had broken the cardinal rule of touring musicians: Don’t get involved with anyone in the band.

It was a cold night. Snow was thick on the ground. Yet the roads had been cleared by muffler exhaust and the reeling rubber tires of holiday traffic. We played no music on the radio, as our ears required a much-needed rest. Our thoughts were internal, and seemed to be connected somehow, like the silent panoply of stars in the clear black winter sky.

Out there in the night, a star brightened above the southern horizon. What had once seemed like a pinpoint of an especially brilliant star now grew larger. Not a word was said. The three of us waited, staring at the light. Nothing unusual of course, maybe a tower off in the distance, a helicopter with its search light on, a plane maybe. We waited.

It moved closer, with such precision I could already feel an intention behind the expanding light in the sky. I finally broke the silence, and asked, “What IS that?”

Gary replied curiously, “I don’t know.”

We watched. It seemed to be coming our direction, but we couldn’t be sure.

Larry joked, “Hey, why don’t I flash the brights and see if it’ll come right to us.” Then he proceeded to stomp on the high-beam button a few times, flashing our brights at the glowing object. There was no one on the road at that point, just our loaded truck racing along at 70-miles-per-hour.

That was the last funny remark Larry made that night. The object distinctly changed course after he performed his mock summoning ritual. It moved steadily and slowly towards us. We stared in wide-eyed wonder, still asking ourselves the question.

“What IS that?” said Gary.

I continued our circular conversation, “I don’t know.”

Dumbfounded, Larry kept driving. He leaned against the steering wheel, trying to keep his eyes on the road as well as the approaching light. He was scared, I think. But gradually his awe overtook apprehension, until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He slowed down and pulled off to the side of the expressway. We just sat there with the truck idling, the three of us watching this thing move closer and closer toward us, unwavering. We couldn’t yet decipher whether we were imagining it—that maybe we had all gone off our rockersor that this whole thing was really happening right before our very eyes, and we weren’t making it up at all.

It just kept getting brighter, brilliantly white, almost blinding as we stared into it. Then suddenly the craft beamed long monoliths of light to the ground. We thought maybe we were seeing aircraft landing lights. But then, a split second later, the lights seemed to be vacuumed back up into the object.

Larry said, “What was that!?”

Gary and I didn’t answer him, because we had already opened the passenger door and were now scooting off the high vinyl seat. We landed in a pile of snow along the highway, in our stocking feet. We had taken off our shoes earlier to warm our frozen toes by the truck’s blasting floor furnace. But now we stood shoeless, unaware that our feet were slowly being numbed by the stinging prickles of snow.

Larry turned off the engine and the headlights, but he stayed in the truck. Outside, Gary and I were captivated by how black and still the night was. In contrast, the rock-n-roll buzz in our ears shouted inside our heads. Not a sound was coming from the approaching craft. We waited for the bright light to come nearer, hearing nothing out there except the muffled snow-covered terrain of Ohio farmlandscut fields of corn that made hollow whisking sounds whenever a momentary shift of a cold breeze lightly tapped broken cornstalks. Arbors of trees separated adjacent fields and stood like silent sentinels guarding against clamorous intrusions. The winter freeze had left only a memory of the warm breath of earth, whose occupants were supposed to be fast asleep right now.

Larry had slipped out of the driver’s seat, and now stood with us in silence. I felt the pull of something. I think we all did. This night we were bonded together by a linked experience, producing in each of us an opening to new possibilities of what lies beyond. We felt our connection to it, to them, in fact, whoever they were. I could feel their curiosity. And at once I felt at peace. I was lifted by an inexplicable exuberance. A multitude of goose bumps electrified my whole body. The icy winter night fired my internal passion.

We watched the vessel’s bright white light blend into a soft blue. And as it moved over us, everything around us seemed to grow even more still. The world hushed to a dead silence. Time stood frozen. The backs of our heads were resting between our shoulder blades, our eyes looking straight up, our mouths agape. We saw four red lights beaming in a trapezoidal pattern from underneath a smooth metallic surface. It was hard to sense the outline of the craft, but I could tell it was at least as large as a small commercial plane. Below it, I could make out a circle around the red lights, and what looked like a diamond-shaped frame around that. As I found out later, Gary saw it as a long oval-shaped design, with the red lights located inside a circular indentation. He committed to memory what was for him the most significant moment in his life.

The craft was not more than a hundred feet directly above us now. I held the hand of my soul as the hope of the possible made me giggle out loud, and I reached up towards the glimmering red lights and called out, “Hello!” It paused. We held our breath. And a timeless wink was transmitted from this unearthly vessel. Then it started to drift away in a completely new direction, veering off to the northwest. It moved away from us with the same preciseness as it had approached.

We watched for as long as we could as it moved further into the distance, until it blended into the fabric of stars. Then we became aware of our frozen feet. We reluctantly climbed back into the truck and closed the doors. Larry pulled back out onto the empty highway. A kinetic silenceaccompanied by the hum of the floor heater and the tires’ steady rumblefell over the truck cab as we drove the rest of the way down I-70 to Dayton. From that moment, there would be what came after, and what had been before, and perhaps much of what I remember about the before and after will fade from me, but nothing would ever be the samenot after, and maybe, not even before.

Written by Tysa Goodrich

For our dear friend, Larry

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2 Responses to “Star Struck (a touring musician UFO story)”

  1. My dearest Tysa:
    This story is extraordinary, so heartfelt and so intricate with detail.
    I am not surprised that you had this experience, that was awesome,and you took it all in. The best part was your giggles and that you greeted them. Love it!
    Much love to you All Ways
    Teresa Torres

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