Tales of the Blue Dahlia

When I was in high school, I belonged to a garage band. The second of two that’d had me as a member, this one was called Blue Dahlia.

I’d come up with the name, an amalgamation of my favorite niche metal band at the time (Blue Murder) and the title of a James Ellroy true crime novel that I’d been too young to read but enjoyed immensely (The Black Dahlia).

We knew three songs. I played bass. Sort of.

One evening after school, I get a phone call. It was Rodney, our lead guitarist. He never called all that much, so when he did, there was usually something that needed to be said, a rehearsal to be scheduled, a thing to be done.

“Hey,” he says to me. “I came up with something on guitar and I want to play it for you.”

“Over the phone? Now?”

“Yeah,” he answered.

I said okay and listened to the click and pop and thunk that always accompanied a by-phone listening session. Always an exercise in wondering just what was happening when.

And then he started to play. I was rapt, had never heard him play so well. He’d always been a scratch guitarist, a riff here and there, all of it self-taught by listening and re-listening with a tape deck. But this was something so much better. He’d made something almost beautiful, melodic with elements that sounded (to my young ears) classical and like something to be played in the court of a king.

He finished, then he picked up the phone with more bumps and fumbles. “So what’dya think?”

“That was awesome, man, when’d you learn all that?”

He chuckled a bit and said, “I just made it up as I went.” Then he said goodbye, hung up the phone.

I was stunned. I felt like my rudimentary bass skills had dropped even further in quality just from the experience of hearing what Rodney’d invented out of thin air.

Weeks passed and rehearsals happened, but Rodney never played that bit of music ever again. I asked him to and he’d say we had to work on the band songs. All three of them.

Later in the summer, however, I heard something on the radio that sounded remarkably familiar. So familiar as to be note for note with what I’d heard over the phone back in the spring.

It was the rolling acoustic guitar intro to Tesla’s 1989 summer hit “Love Song.”

“Love is gonna find a way back to you … yeah … I know …”

I never confronted Rodney about it.

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