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"You Know They Got a Hell of a Band"
Author Stephen King
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror, fantasy short story
Published in Shock Rock (1st release),
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Publication type Anthology
Publisher Pocket Books
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1992

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 and Dreamscapes, concerning a young couple on a road trip in Oregon when they accidentally wander into a small town inhabited by late musicians.

The name of the town, Rock and Roll Heaven, comes from the chorus of a Righteous Brothers song.

Plot summary

Clark and Mary Rivingham are a young couple traveling through the wooded areas of Oregon. Clark's job as a computer programmer will soon transfer him to another state, so the two opt to travel through the woods of the state. The two plan to visit Tokokee Falls, and Clark insists on taking a road through the deep forest. Mary protests, but Clark is adamant. The two drive off, and eventually become lost on a stretch of bad road.

Mary notices that the telephone poles have vanished along the roads; the car's tape player also malfunctions, ruining and melting the tape in a cassette. Mary begs Clark to turn around, but he notices a large sign in the distance. The two near, and read the lettering: "Welcome to Rock and Roll Heaven." The previously unmarked road instantly becomes clean and well-marked. Mary still asks Clark to turn, but Clark insists on taking the "good" road. They discover that "Rock and Roll Heaven" is a small town, with a 1950's-era atmosphere.

Rock and Roll Heaven is described as looking identical to a Norman Rockwell painting. Mary feels worried about the "perfect" town, citing the short stories of Ray Bradbury and Hansel and Gretel. Clark is irritated at Mary's fear, and the two argue. Clark eventually wears Mary down, and the two venture into the town. He pulls up to a diner and enters; Mary follows, afraid to be alone. Inside, the diner's friendly proprietor greets and jokes with them. A weary-looking young waitress leads the two to the counter. Mary and Clark sit down, and Clark notices that the proprietor, cleaning the authentic jukebox, bears a strong resemblance to Janis Joplin. Mary observes this and has a panic attack, as she feels that somehow, the waitress is Joplin.

Mary recovers as the waitress brings the two pieces of cherry pie. Mary notices that the young woman has left a napkin on the counter; when she picks it up, she discovers a message: "Get out while you still can." Mary gives the napkin to Clark, who is distracted when the short-order cook appears-Ricky Nelson. Mary struggles to remain calm as she orders Clark to exit without attracting suspicion. As he leaves, two more musicians enter: Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. After Clark escapes, the two musicians talk with Mary. She is surprised at how composed she remains-until she notices a drop of blood forming in Holly's glasses. As Mary stares, Nelson thumps Joplin on her backside, and hundreds of maggots pour from her mouth onto the floor. Mary realizes that the four have been toying with her, and dashes for the exit. Joplin screams, and the dead musicians begin to follow.

Clark and Mary drive frantically through the town, pursued by Nelson, who is joined by other late music legends including Ronnie Van Zant and Duane Allman. Nelson leaps onto the hood of the car, and Clark throws him from the vehicle; the singer gets up as though nothing had happened. The two flee, completely driving over Nelson in the process, but again, he is unharmed. 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 escape Rock and Roll Heaven, and think they are safe-only to discover a large psychedelic bus blocking the road. Their car crashes, and when they attempt to escape, a police car arrives. Mary wonders who will be driving the car, guessing that it might be Jimi Hendrix, but the man is actually Otis Redding. The mayor of the town also appears: Elvis Presley.

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 young couple. She tells them that her name is Sissy, and reveals that Frankie Lymon has cut off one of her fingers 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.

A long-dead radio disc jockey, Alan Freed, takes the stage and begins to announce a series of legendary acts: Freddie Mercury, Florence Ballard, Mary Wells, Patsy Cline, Jim Croce, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Moon, Marvin Gaye and Cass Elliott, among others. Mary voices her "worst fear" when she asks Sissy her age-she is twenty-three, and has been that way for seven years. Mary realizes that these are the people who get "lost in the woods" as Freed continues to scream the names of acts. 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."

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The story was adapted as one of the episodes of the 2006 Turner Network Television series Nightmares & Dreamscapes.




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