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Synopsis of our classic rock DramaSystem game, Part 3 of 3. (Here's Part 1, Part 2, and the podcast where we talked about it.)

Southern Rock Opera : Act Three

And I’m scared shitless / of what’s coming next / these angels I see in the trees


Episode 7: Back to Memphis
The four band members (plus one) survive the crash without a scratch, but every other soul on that plane is dead: Rankin, Rabbit, the road crew, the replacement bassist. Their tour has come to a tragic, bloody end—but if Whiskey Holler thought they were famous before the crash, well, that was nothing. Using Dr. Baba as a diversion, the Band That Couldn’t Die escapes the media circus and drives the back roads, alone and incognito, south to Tennessee.

Back on Beale Street, Cole and Rae have the talk they’ve been avoiding for so long, about what’s gone between them and what’s coming next. Shannon’s not quite ready to return to the Holler, but she calls her mother from Memphis. It doesn’t go well. Rufus goes looking for spiritual guidance and finally finds it, at a fried chicken stand across from Graceland, where a familiar figure with a rich baritone voice offers helpful tips on Taking Care of Business. And in the shadows of a barroom, finally facing the end, Rae meets California and agrees to walk with her into the woods.

Episode 8: Rock and Roll Suicide
Rae and California walk through secret thickets. We learn Cali’s origin story and some of Saturday’s too. Cali takes Rae to the Hanging Tree where the crooked slave catcher who became Billy Saturday first met his mortal end. Rae calls him up and tries to bargain with him: her soul right now if he lets the others free. He offers to let one of the others free but never all of them. No deal. Saturday reminds California who owns who and drags her down into the dark earth.

After much frantic searching and a man to man with Manny’s ghost, Rufus finds Rae in the woods. The two end up at a motel together and gingerly, awkwardly agree to come together for whatever time she has left.

Cole and Shannon head back to the Holler for the first time since all this began. Cole asks Shannon to marry him, then goes to face her mother. Shannon’s visited by her father’s ghost. We learn the sad story of Everett and Loretta Moon and how Saturday fooled and cheated them both. Loretta’s tough on Cole but the two reach an understanding of sorts. She gives him the old 78 Everett used to summon Saturday in the first place: scratched on it are the words INCREASE LOVE. Which might be good advice for living, or it might be Saturday’s true name.

Episode 9: War
The band’s written a rock opera to bind old Increase Love: a Southern rock opera, if you will. Cole haggles with the jackals from the record company, signing away a fortune to make this one concert happen. Cole, Shannon (very pregnant now), and Rufus track down a gaggle of old-time musicians to perform it with them just outside the Holler (special cameo here by Blind Joe Biscuit, who gives Cole some shit about all the Confederate flags). Seems many of them have had dealings with the Trouble Man, under one name or another. Some are eager to fight him; some throw their lot in with him.

Rae’s home in bed dying. Not eventually, but now. (Shannon and Cole: “How’s Rae doing?” “She’s saying nice things.” “Oh, shit.”) Not even Dr. Baba can put a happy face on it. Rufus goes looking for heavy-duty spiritual assistance, but finds the one Unitarian in Appalachia. Shannon has it out with her mother and somehow the two make peace. But not before Saturday claims another innocent: Shannon’s little brother.

And one by one, everyone says their goodbyes to Rae, and finally, she dies.

(TPC, baby: Total Players Crying. Not a dry eye in the house.)

Episode 10: Sympathy for the Devil
More than 100,000 fans make their way to a tiny, rural county in Western Tennessee to the rock festival they’re calling the Dixie Woodstock. There Whiskey Holler and a dozen special guests perform their Southern Rock Opera. It’s the band’s masterpiece, a synthesis of occult harmonics and correspondences, Rufus’ prog rock nerdery and Cole’s cocky swagger and Shannon’s down home heart and Rae’s smoky cool.

Saturday strikes back, with the crowd and the weather and his coat pockets full of ghosts. A tornado hits, and wreaks havoc on the Holler, but the band plays on. Rae’s ghost, now under Saturday’s thumb, does her best to turn each song into a bitter condemnation of the band. But they pour their heart into it, and the music tells their story, and the connections between each member of the band form the lines of the pentagram with which they bind and bottle old Increase Love.

And the sun rises in the morning, and Shannon’s baby is born, and Cole and Shannon set out to make a home for her, and Rufus heads off to make his own music, and all the bottled ghosts are free to go wherever it is they go. Except for California, who puts on Saturday’s white cowboy hat and takes over his job. “Somebody’s gotta do it.”

Somewhere in the 1990s, on the day that Kurt Cobain dies, Rachel Cole and her band play one hell of a show. And a spooky, dark-eyed woman approaches the stage.

"I ain’t saying I beat the Devil, but I drank his beer for nothing. And then I stole his song."

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July 2014

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