John Rocco




(New York, USA)



Voyage to the Land of the Dead






          That’s how long it was.  8 minutes and 1 second long.  That’s how long the greatest rock song in the world was.  8:01.   The greatest song in the world.   It was always voted #1 every year on rock stations at the end of the year.  #1 on the all-time countdown.  Carol Miller gets the led out.    There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold….   It was on the fourth album, Led Zeppelin IV, the album with no name, the Hermit, the Four Signs, ZoSo.  Black magic and the Blues: the band sold their souls for rock and roll at the cosmic crossroads where the Blues fucks a Crumb She-Devil to produce the nasty baby Heavy Metal.  It was the fourth song on the fourth album, the last song on the first side of the album, right after “The Battle of Evermore.”

          ZoSo.  8:01.

          There were four members of Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant, John “Bonzo” Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page.  Voice, drums, bass/keyboards, guitar.


          What was “Stairway to Heaven” about anyway?     Who is the May Queen?  Who is the Piper and where are we to join him?  What does it mean when “all is one and one is all”?   Can you buy a stairway to heaven?  Is the woman in the song being ridiculed for her efforts to purchase immortality?  Is Yeats in it with his no country for old men, Byzantium, sick with desire?  He had a monkey gland installed to get more erections.  Sometimes words have two meanings.

          To be a rock and not to roll. 

          Jimmy Page bought Alcester Crowley’s house.   The Prince of Darkness played a double guitar.   Bonzo died in Page’s Old Mill House after 40 shots of vodka.  They were going to go over as well as a lead zeppelin, Keith Moon said.  Kieth Moon used to dress as a Gestapo officer and march up and down in front of Steve McQueen’s house.   The Great Escape.

          John “Bonzo” Bonham was born on May 31st, 1942 in the small town of Redditch, Worcestershire, England. He began hitting cans and pots at the age of 5.  He never had formal drum lessons but studied the master drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.  At 15 he joined his first band.

          The Hammer of the Gods.

          He drove the Bull on the crowded Long Island Expressway toward Manhattan and the end of Queens where Franco lived.  The song was just starting, just starting with the slow opening when the stores are all closed.  The rain was gone and the sun was going down, going down on Manhattan, the daily glowing fellatio of the skyscrapers as the day ends filling the heavens.  And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

          He couldn’t put it into words but the real reason he played Zeppelin endlessly was the fact that when he was a kid spending summers in Dublin he had several friends near his grandmother’s house on the Navan Road including poor John Murray next door whose father was dead and whose surviving mother beat him daily.  He had a big nose and when he cried it dripped heavy snot.  He cried a lot.  Down the block were the Connolys: three boys and a girl.  The girl was named Imelda and she was the first person he ever heard who cursed the English.  She turned over a toy car in her hand and read “Made in England” and dropped it in disgust.  But it was her older brother Gary who was the hero of the block.  He was older.  He drank, smoked, rode a motor bike, grew his hair long, had a job, had money, went with girls.  In fact, he was the first person to explain sex to Al.  He showed him a Playboy centerfold and described the female anatomy to him.  Al remembered being shocked at how simple it all was, how well planned.  And it explained so much, it explained the world: it was the invisible force out there that made all the adults act weird and different.  It explained many scenes in movies he did not understand.   It explained the change of seasons and the humping of dogs in the street.  It explained why the cats screamed at night.  It explained the stars in space.  It explained everything.

          Houses of the Holy.

          Gary Connolly was also a big Led Zeppelin fan and Al remembered him showing him album covers and pictures of Plant and Page and Bonham and John Paul Jones in rock magazines.  Plant was married to a beautiful Indian woman with long black as night hair.  Gary told him the legend of how the band sold their souls to the Devil for instant fame and fortune that could not last.

          He was heading west toward Manhattan and it was after five and there was always traffic.  There was always traffic, always cars and trucks and motorcycles and vans and cops and people smoking out their windows.   He wanted a cigarette.

          Franco lived in Macbeth Maspeth near the giant sprawling packed cemeteries where Houdini was buried, where Houdini could not accomplish his final escape.  The Great Escape.  It was the same for all of Al’s childhood friends: they all longed for the day they would leave Queens for Manhattan, when they could scrape enough money together.  And they all did and Al did—he lived once on 44th St. between 5th and 6th Ave on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen—but they all came back to park their cars and see their girlfriends and eat their mother’s cooking and they all moved back, Manhattan the girl they loved and fucked and lost and got over.  Aeneas is Queens, Dido is Manhattan.

          Kerouac wrote about the  great city of the cemeteries surrounding the blazing highways shooting cars in and out of New York.   He wrote most of On the Road in Ozone Park, his mother making his bed and making meatloaf, glazed ham, turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pot roast.   Dracula (1931) on the late show.

          Dr. Sax on the sidelines.

          The city was emerging, the skyline was growing, the sun was about to be impaled.  It was the first time ever seeing it every time you saw it.  Gatsby raced passed them all.

          He played “Stairway to Heaven” again to see if he could get to Franco’s exit—Maurice Ave.—before Page’s guitar solo.

          James Patrick Page was born in 1944 in Heston, a borough of London.  The war was on.

          He was an only child and spent a lonely childhood until he found a Spanish guitar someone had left in the house.  The skiffle craze was on and the Blues was not far behind.  He took the guitar with him everywhere.  He took it to school every day and they took it from him every day and gave it back to him at 4 O’clock.  He studied the Blues masters and bought Aleister Crowley’s house.

          Al remembered being happy to learn that Page’s mom was Irish and that he lived in a “borough” of London.  The London version of Queens.

          Queens was named after the Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, who married  King Charles II of England.  She was accused of being a part of the Popish plot and she brought tea drinking to England.

          Louis Armstrong smoked tea every day of his life and lived in Queens forever.

          The traffic opened up and Al was able to give the Bull some gas.  The song went on, remained the same, but the guitar solo was minutes off.  He was going to get to the exit before it started.  Then there were red brake lights.

          Red brake lights; he wasn’t going to make it.  The guitar solo was about to start.  The decent is never easy.  Orpheus played his way there without a problem but he couldn’t help looking back at her tits.  And at the disco orgy, the deaf drunk sluts ripped him apart.  Hercules had to steal the three-headed devil dog.  He studied the Eleusinian Mysteries and crushed skulls into paper plates with his fists.  Odysseus tried to hug his dead mom three times but couldn’t, his arms passing right through her.  He rapped to Agamemnon about how the time for trusting wives was over and told Achilles he shouldn’t worry because he was Lord of all the Dead.  Achilles told him to go fuck himself.

          Red brake lights.

          Aeneas gave it all up to go.  He entered the land of shadows.





How I Miss Her Ass

“Bros before Hoes!” the God’s thunder

blasting his heartbroken brain.

He wasn’t allowed to die killing his enemies

or stay with her, Queen Super Ass.

He has a permanent hangover hard-on

remembering in pain how they did it everywhere:

 the royal coach, the movie theater

his car, her great royal bed.

She had such an incredible ass

he would stare at it for days

and she would get fed up with

him and grab a piece of cheek saying:

“Cellulite!” but you know what it

really is: Angel Pillow, God’s Porn Prop.

The Gods make him leave her


 sneaking away from it in the middle of the night

not calling, no more texting, no more love.

She kills herself of course and when he meets

her in the world beyond beyond

in the land past hope and fear

 she steps out of the dark wood and glares at him.

He tries to talk to her, to say the final word

but she turns and goes back into the woods

still pissed, to meet her old boyfriend

taking her ass with her

leaving him alone in a world filled with

all the alive boring dead.



          Aeneas tried to hug his father three times but his arms just went through him.  Mommy Venus saved him from raging Diomedes and the falling city and the road of trails.   The sword decides all and the first walls of Rome are built by the warring brothers, brothers no longer, brother blood mixed with the cement.

          Page’s solo in “Stairway to Heaven” began and the red brake lights vanished and he shot the Bull toward Franco’s exit, changing lanes, indicating direction, moving right, always moving right.

          Big Nose Dante always moved to the left as he walked down through Hell, all the bright stars hidden in the darkest night of the soul.  Charon, Minos, Cerberus, Plutus screaming, “Pape Satàn, pape Satàn, aleppe!” The centaurs guarded the banks of the River of Blood and shot arrows at those forever drowning in the boiling forever bloodbath.   Alexander the Great had boiling blood up to his eyeballs.  The Wood of Suicides decays and falls, decays and falls but never dies.  Big Nose riding on the back of Geryon to Circle 8, Ulysses there burning in the flames of the deceivers for the trick of the Horse that broke the city.

          Aeneas, the seed of Rome, fucked and fell in love with Dido but he had to leave her for his mission, his destiny, his dick in Italian dirt.  Aeneas is Queens, Dido is Manhattan.

          A black Mustang pulled up next to him in the red brake light traffic and two young women sat in the front seat smoking and blasting music and talking, excited even in the slow moving traffic.  They were beautiful as they smoked.  Al watched them smoke: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, just sent my heart and cock in the mail.  Lips and eyes and hair and smoke.

          Al was directly descended from a famous breaker of horses.

          He had to have a cigarette.  He almost shouted over to their car for them to throw him one but the traffic broke up and he was at the exit and off.

          >Maurice Avenue is the entrance to the Underworld.

          He parked the Bull and walked to Franco’s building.  There was only one way to get into Franco’s building and that was with the golden key.  But you had to know where the golden key was hidden, where it was buried.  Al knew.  He passed Franco’s building and walked two blocks to the liquor store. He bought a big bottle of Jameson, sine metu, established since 1780, the Bow Street Distillery, Dublin 7, Ireland, $31.99.   The golden key.  It always opened Franco’s door.

          And Franco was always home.

          Francis Giuseppe O’Hara Costello was one of Al’s closest and oldest friends, one of the few who survived Catholic high school with him.  The rest perished in the flames of time.  Franco wrote comic books, violent graphic novels featuring a character that seemed to jump from their collective Catholic school upbringing: Tarza Argenta, She-Male Private Eye.  It was a whole series featuring the intrepid dick on many different cases and many different adventures.  The latest series Franco was writing was called Zombie Porn and it featured Tarza at the end of the world fighting off the world-wide zombie porn mind control of a shadow world zombie master.  It was selling like hotcakes.

          Franco was always home working.  He left to pick up his girlfriend from yoga or to hit the bar but most of the time he was at home, writing and drawing violent comic books.  He smoked pot and drew dialogue bubbles.  He had lent Al thousands of dollars and bought him hundreds of dinners and drinks over the years.  He had many groupies he hid from his long-time girlfriend Veronica.  They were rabid comic book groupies, the best and worst kind.  He tried to push some Al’s way but Al avoided them in a strange faithfulness to Franco’s girlfriend Veronica.  He had always liked Veronica.  The first time he met her he told her about St. Veronica and how the famous cape move of the matadors was named after her wiping the suffering face of Christ on his way to the cross.

          Al pressed the buzzer for 3C.  It took several minutes for him to be buzzed in.  He walked past the elevator and walked up the three flights.  It took several minutes for Franco to open the door.  Pot smoke and Franco stood before him.  He was wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt with Eddie as a samurai.  Samurai Eddie.  Maiden Japan.

          “What’s up?” Franco said slapping hands and grabbing the bottle.

          “Loot!  Come on in, bro!”

          Al entered the land of shadows.

          Franco was working.  Franco was always working on three computer screens spinning colors and characters and dialog bubbles out of nothing and numbers and Franco’s imagination.

          Al was always envious of how fast and how much Franco wrote.  He was a writing machine.  His characters were alive and they talked.

          Franco’s place was a large one-bedroom packed with stuff: books, DVDs, VHS tapes, comic books, books, piles of paper, porn magazines, and magic markers everywhere.  Chris Marker just died.  La Jetée.  Time travel in pictures.   It wasn’t a dirty place—Franco had a Russian cleaning lady—it was just packed with stuff.  The computer screens were flashing wild images of terrified people in a submarine fighting off the attack of what looked to Al like a colossal zombie sperm whale.

          The whiteness of the whale.

          Al sat on the black leather couch facing the huge 58” plasma TV that was forever on.  The Mets channel was on showing highlights from ’73.  Ya Gotta Believe.  Above and behind the TV was a framed original poster of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  Franco sat down next to him and put two glasses down on the packed coffee table in front of them.  He cracked the bottle open and poured them big drinks.

          “Good to see you bro,” Franco said with his glass to his mouth.  “I got something fucking awesome for you to check out.”

          They drank.  On the coffee table was a big bag of pot and Franco’s bong made from a Heineken bottle.  Franco packed the bowl and handed the bong and a Bic lighter to Al.   He picked up a remote from the table and pointed it at the stereo: the Doors, live, “LA Woman.”  Jim tearing it up.

          Al smoked and coughed and smoked again.  Franco talked over the music:

          “That was some goddamned storm this morning.  Get caught in it?  I got something you are not going to believe.  Really.  It’s crazy.  You’re gonna love it!”

          Franco then told him the story about his mystic friend who traveled the world visiting holy men at the tops of mountains.  He just got back and came to Franco’s last night with a gift.

          “I did it last night and it blew me away.  You gotta try it.  It doesn’t last long but it packs a mighty Thor wallop.”

          “I don’t know.  I have to work tomorrow.”

          “Al, the whole thing is over in 10 minutes.  I won’t do it.  I’ll just watch you.  Really, it’s something you just gotta do.  Trust me.  Yeah?”

          Franco picked up a wad of tin foil off the table and carefully opened it.  Inside was dark black powder.

          “Kill that bowl and we’ll pack it right in there.”


          The whiteness of the whale.

          Nothing.  A bitter taste and nothing.  Nothing happened.  A bowl full of nothing.  A bitter taste after the sweet hydro.  A handful of dust.  Nothing.  It was just another of Franco’s schemes, plans, flights of fancy, entertainments, distractions, lies.  The wine in Circe’s gorgeous cups was just wine, wine dark and neutral true.  They were safe because they had sailed past her island where men were chained beasts howling in the night.  The Russian stripper in Baltimore once asked him a question he often asked himself: “Do you always get lap dances like that?”  Nothing.  Nothing was happening.  Franco took the bong from him.  He would have to smoke more or maybe it just didn’t work.  He had heard the stories of its potency but it all sounded exaggerated.  There were videos on Youtube of people out of their minds smoking it but nothing was happening.  Nothing was happening.  Nothing.  He was going to tell Franco that he needed to smoke more or maybe have another shot.  He was going to talk to Franco but he didn’t because the Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein poster started to rippling like water and waves moved out of the poster like a violent storm was moving in and thick black lines covered the room and pinned Al to the coach.  Franco was gone.

          The Monster picked him up from the coach and held him over his head the same way he held the nurse before he threw her out the window.  But he didn’t throw Al out the window; he carried him to Paris.  The Monster’s first language was French.  He learned it from the French family he spied upon and read Paradise Lost.  Serve in Heaven or rule in Hell.  In the end he repented for his crimes and promised to set himself on fire to rid the world of Monsters.  But this was the Universal Monster and he was a dumb sad brute with an abnormal brain Fritz stole from the medical college.  This Monster cried all the time.

          The Monster cried and carried Al through Paris and on the Metro Al knew where they were going.  The junkies nodded off but broke into miraculous consciousness at their stop.  Guilty looking guys with drunk girls stood at the grave of Edith Piaf.  Oscar Wilde flew off into space.  Jim Morrison buried in French dirt.  The Monster carried him further, past the graves, into the center of the cemetery and the great dark wall of the AUX MORT monument, people being sucked into the dark hole of death.

          The Monster carried him over the threshold.

          The land of the dead is bright and sunny.  Butterflies and bats fly everywhere and shooting stars hit each other and explode all over the thick green grass.  The Monster carried him across the great lawn until they reached a roaring river.  And for the first time Al saw that they were not alone.

          Crowding the banks of the river was a mass of people for as far as the eye could see.

          A question ripped from Al’s throat: “Monster!  What is this place?  Who are all these people.”

          The Monster’s voice was Hollywood clear and monster deep:

          “Dead place!  I love dead!  Hate living!”

          “Why are we here?”

          “Boat man come.  Look!”
          A black dot moved at incredible speed across the river before it became a boat and then a man steering the sail-less boat that moved across the river and then Al could see his screaming skullface screaming:
          “Only the dead shall pass!  Only the dead shall pass!”

          “We pass, boat man.  We pass.”

          With the Monster’s words the screaming skullface receded within his dark cloak and they boarded the skiff of death.  Al watched the hordes on the bank screaming to cross and the water itself screamed with the dead under the waves, dead hands trying to catch the boat.  The screams of the dead grew until they filled Al’s head and heart and he fell to the bottom of the boat knocked out by it all.             A dark hole opened and he fell in.  There was no bottom.

          He awoke with blood on his hands and a big yellow moon in the sky.  The guitar solo started again.  The shadows of the dead crowded around him then covered him, hiding the moon.  The shadows covered him with the lost voices and phantom faces of endless life stories now over.  He was drowning in shadows, choking on souls, smothering under the weight of the dead world when big green fists and big black boots scattered the shades to your scattered bodies go.  Let the dead bury the dead.  Rough monster hands picked him up and turned him to the only shade that remained, flickering, shy, waiting politely but painfully after long silence.  He knew her right away.

          It was his mother.

          Odysseus meets his mother.  Aeneas meets his father.  Al meets his mother.

          “No, mother, mom, mommy, mom,” Al heard himself say.

          “My son, my dear son, you’ve come to see me to make me happy.  It always made me happy when you came to see me even though you were working and always busy with your books.  I remember telling you as a boy that the best thing in the world is to write a book and have your name on a book.  How your face lit up.”

          He had to touch her, hug her.  Even as he was doing it, as his arms were going through her, he knew it wouldn’t work.  He tried two more times to hug his mother but his arms just went right through her.  He could not touch her and as she faded away as the crying Monster picked him up she started to speak but all he heard was one faint falling word:


          “…write…” and then all went dark again and deeper this time before Al snapped alive awake alone on Franco’s couch with Franco’s dark laughter roaring in his ears.











Fiction bio



John Rocco wrote a novel called FUR (2005) that Ron Whitehead called “The Dangerous Genius Literary Masterpiece of the New Apocalypse.”  He has also published several books on rock criticism including The Doors Companion and The Nirvana Companion.   He lives in Queens, NYC.

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