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Return of the Living Dan [Part I]:

Heels of Metal

       Through a pagan-ritual I was restored to nearly full human form, and while body was operable and willing, it was clear by my decomposition that I was not alive…but I wasn’t exactly dead either. The members of French Mouth were distraught after watching me spontaneously combust a few months ago back, but only because they needed to find another new drummer. Ultimately, they decided that raising me from the dead was an easier task than finding a replacement. I was flattered by this notion after it was explained to me, but not entirely pleased. The truth was I had already resigned myself to an eternity in hell, and just as I was about to start my everlasting suffering, these fools decided to bring me back.

Standing outside a non-descript bar in North Hollywood, beneath a cloudy night sky, it took a moment for me to realize what had just happened. One moment I’m hell, swimming in fire and brimstone, and the next I’m standing in the middle of Lankershim Blvd on a cold Spring evening. Across the street a few heads bobbled with excitement, followed by ecstatic waving. 

“Holy shit, it worked,” one of them hollered. The words echoed in the empty street.

The group of three rushed toward me and it was only then did I begin to realize what was going on.

“Is he still on fire?” someone asked as they came closer.

As the group came into view, I realized it was my brothers in French Mouth.

“Nah, he’s just smoking,” Dee confirmed as he eyed me up and down. “Smells like a bonfire!”

“I think I’m supposed to be dead,” I finally said. The sound of my own voice made me jump in surprise.

“You are dead,” James told me as he started to wave away the smoke with his hands. He quickly gave up.

“We brought you back,” Dee explained. He put his hand on my shoulder but immediately removed it. “Damn, he’s scalding hot! Don’t let this guy near anybody, ya?”

“We need you, Dan,” Brandon implored.

“But I don’t think that’s how it works,” I told them.

Brandon hushed me with a wave of his giant hand, then he pointed over his shoulder back at the non-descript bar. “They need you,” Brandon said.

With an outstretched hand, he gestured toward a flock of scantily clad women filing through the side door of the building. Beneath the pink neon lights of the bar’s logo, the women glowed angelically, emitting an aura matched only by the smoke coming from my clothing. Silently they entered the bar, their feet barely touching the ground as they moved. A few happened to notice the commotion in the street and were glancing our way with intrigued faces.

“What’s going on here?” I asked the band, my mouth remaining open as I finished speaking.

“Heels of metal!” Dee chimed.

It’s not everyday you’re resurrected to play a Burlesque show in Hollywood with your ol’ mates; needless to say, I was already enjoying being undead. To be sure, I was still sore about how my spontaneous combustion, and the inaction thereafter, ultimately played out, but I was soothed by the warm welcome from our fellow performers. My entire body still smoked when I walked inside with French Mouth, though nobody seemed to mind. A smoke machine was active someplace onstage, and the thick smoke mixed with my emissions rather nicely. It was early, so the bar was filled with mostly regulars. The rest were either performers, readying themselves onstage with stretches and last-minute rehearsals, or extended members of the show like us. Dee and the rest of the gang escorted me through the bar, reminding me every so often not to touch anything.

“Hope this dude doesn’t burn the place down,” James quipped

It was only later I realized or considered what he had said, because it was very possible. In that moment, however, I was too busy staring at the performers onstage. Just like the regulars at the bar, I stood wide-eyed in amazement at the way they moved their bodies, flexing in various positions I had never seen a human bend before. Muscles flexed and softened across the length of their bodies as they moved gracefully past one another. The women commanded the attention of the room, and they were only warming up.

A quiet commotion filled the bar as the hour rolled on, and more patrons filled the room. With each new face, the members in French Mouth did their best to shield my smoking body away from the growing crowd.

“Just stay out of sight until we have to play,” Dee continued to tell me. “Or else the Fire Marshall is gonna throw your ass out.”

Hidden near the bathrooms with nothing but my thoughts, a cold nervousness overtook me as I realized the extent of what was about to happen. This wasn’t some house show or DIY spot in someone’s basement. This was a performance, a finely tuned machine run by an elusive creator known as Dani Vand, and the performers, who had since gone backstage, were legitimate artists and athletes. French Mouth had been summoned to support this glorious troupe, a responsibility we very much relished, but in my undead state I suddenly felt subpar. 

What if my skills deteriorated since I’m dead? 

I wiped the sweat that collected on my ashen forehead and rushed past the French Mouth group. “I need some air,” I shouted as I ran past.

“Just don’t touch anyone!” Brandon hollered at me.

Outside I found the loneliest corner and shut my eyes in heavy consideration of the entire event, and that’s when I felt the presence of who I believe to be the mysterious Dani Vand, the creator of Heels of Metal. 

A gentle hand clutched my shoulder and a soft voice whispered, “Thanks for playing my show.”

Her words were like electricity, jolting life back into my arms, legs, toes, and fingertips. The energy was so powerful I stood frozen like a statue for some time before I realized someone had touched me without burning themselves. By the time I turned around to meet the voice, she was already gone.

When the show started a few minutes later, a fun-sized hostess took center stage to regale us with a sweet prelude of the night’s event. Clad in all white dress with a mane of thick brown hair that poured over her shoulders, she stood proudly as she spoke, holding her chin high and her shoulders wide. Then, with a flashing of lights, the show began, and for the next two hours a troupe of finely-tuned athletic machines, donning some of the sexiest outfits I’d seen since I was alive, took the stage one-by-one. Though I accepted my everlasting punishment in hell, I now wanted to be alive more than anything...

The crowd that evening had the pleasure of witnessing dancers, contortionists, hoop-artists, spark-spitting, blade-wielding badass women who postured themselves in some very vulnerable positions, both figuratively and literally. With sensuality at the center of their artistry, the audience was immediately disarmed, letting down the facade they put on in their daily lives. There were cheers, hollers, claps, and uninterrupted attention as each performance unfolded, and beneath it all a collective respect for the epic feats that we watched in unison. Even in my undead state I was entranced with each performer, seeing their limbs twisting and writhing, their bodies gyrating and pulsing – casting spells on the audience as the boom of alternative-rock echoed in the background.

So enthralled by the show, I nearly forgot I was playing afterward. Fortunately, the ever-present plumes of smoke emitting from my clothing reminded me of my limited shelf-life. When the Heels of Metal show concluded with rapturous applause, that was French Mouth’s cue to take stage.  The once raucous crowd was now single entity: a curious, timid beast that clamored for more stimulation. The woman of Heels of Metal had stripped away the audience’s armor, stealing away their hearts and minds. Now it was our job to send them home packing with a few more stories to tell.

As Dee signaled the band to start, two tiny dancers (one blonde and the other brunette) sidled alongside the stage. They flashed Dee several grins and nods of approval before I realized that they were there to dance alongside us as while we performed. A challenging act for anybody, given the frenetic pace that is French Mouth, but with dead-man Dan behind the kit, I planned to push the groove for the ladies when I could. 

Chaos loomed large when the music started, and by chaos, I mean our front man Dee. From the first note to the final crescendo, Dee hopped across tables tops, danced along the bar, and nearly toppled over a chair or two. The final remaining eyes in the bar, including some of the lovely performers, watched in awe (or complete confusion) as French Mouth put on one of their more inspired sets. Bathing in the wake of the Heels of Metal performances, we harnessed what creativity they left behind onstage, and made it our own. Countless hours practicing, honing skill, and then finally executing it live! French Mouth owed a fantastic set to all the Thursday night party animals and the entire Heels of Metal troupe, and that’s exactly what we gave them.

The night ended just as soon as it had started. Somehow, I was back in the middle of the street where I had originally been brought back to life. The French Mouth boys surrounded me, talking of the incredible night with bright smiles.

Confused, I asked: “Don’t I have to grab my gear?”

The trio laughed in unison. 

“No, you don’t have to grab your gear,” James told me calmly.

“The gear stays here,” Brandon added.

“And you go back,” Dee clarified.

Dee’s final words hung in the air for a moment before I felt the heat in my feet. It rose quickly up my legs and then my thighs before I recognized the familiar feeling of spontaneous combustion. I would have griped if I had the time, but in an instant my face reddened, and smoke flushed from every orifice. 

“Goddammit!” I cried.

“Stand back, boys!” Dee instructed his crew. “He’s burning up.”

The heat rose so quickly from within, my skin began to melt like a wax candle. I refrained from screaming as best I could, but only because I didn’t want to make a scene, I foolishly thought. My cries came forth more like the muffled whimpers of a child. I didn’t mind going back to hell, but I already missed my friends dearly, especially after the epic performance. As my feet melted into my legs, and then into my waist, I spotted someone exiting the bar. Wearing all black, she was difficult to spot in the foggy evening, but I felt her before I saw her once again. It was the one and only Dani Vand, and she was staring directly back at me as the skin on my face fell down the sides of my jawline. With my last remaining effort, I threw up a single skeletal hand to wave, but it was too late. My skeletal frame caved on itself and plopped into the primordial soup that was once Dan.

French Mouth stared down silently at the puddle of viscera, their eyes blinking rapidly in somber unity.

Then Dee called out loudly with a hand cupping his mouth, “Brandon’s gonna resurrect you again next week – we got another gig!”

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