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16 October 2014
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John McDonnell
John McDonnell

About me - I am a 54 year old retired civil servant. I have always been interested in writing, and only recently decided to have a go. I like to write short stories in both Ulster Scots and English. That's about it really, but the fact that there is now a BBC site to encourage new writers has really heartened me.

The Sounds in his Head by John McDonnell

When he was about six years old, he began to notice the sounds in his head. Music, that’s what it was, music which had been created in the Mississippi delta.

His mamma used to hum what her taciturn husband called “nigger music”, she also liked to wiggle her ample posterior in time to the beat in her head. He heard the music all the time, it consumed him all day long, and even in bed he couldn’t shake it off. He got a job learning to be an electrician, but something was pulling at him, getting stronger, he quit, and started to drive a truck, this was better, he was working on his own mainly and could listen to the music.

His guitar and piano skills were improving, and there was something raw and new about his voice, he was gaining a reputation at local fairs, the girls were smitten with him, and he was real lucky he didn’t get himself, or any of them into trouble!

He was dressing in a way that his peers thought was sissy, he had to defend his manhood on a few occasions, nobody thought that his wild clothes and singing would get him anywhere. His dad, moody at the best of times barely acknowledged his talent, but his mamma encouraged and even boasted to the neighbours that her boy would make it big one day.

He was very conscious of their poverty, they had had to do a moonlight flit on a couple of occasions. He was determined to change their situation one way or another. His love for his mamma was deep and unconditional, he felt she deserved better than she was receiving, his papa was a difficult individual, he was also of old southern culture, he had no time for black people, and felt they should know their place, life had hardened him, and he was just surviving day to day, the best way he could.

One morning after dropping off his delivery, the music in his head reached a crescendo, he pulled over in front of a Memphis recording studio. Nervously he approached the lady manning the desk, would it be possible he wondered, to make a little recording for his mamma’s birthday?

The receptionist, who was old enough to be his grandmother, had a funny feeling, there was something about the overly handsome young man, but she couldn’t figure out what made her think that. She explained the procedure, took his two bucks and left him too it. She was returning to her desk, when he started to sing, a slow melancholy song, full of hidden meaning. When he returned to thank her, clutching his freshly pressed acetate, he asked him his name, she invited him to return later that week, and talk to the boss, she thought the boss might be interested in recording him.

In the meantime, he got a gig on a well known country hoe-down, his stage antics were now the talk of the county, his voice had gotten more raw and powerful, the girls were mesmerised, a few close buddies had to body-guard him off the stage now, due to hostile boy-friends.

The recording studio boss was intrigued, session musicians were brought in, several tracks were laid down, copies were sent to the local radio stations, and air-play increased dramatically after the stations were bombarded with calls, mainly from hysterical females. Moral issues raised their heads, this was after all mid 1950’s America, TV stations refused to show-case him, but it was a losing battle, how could they keep him off the air?

The records began to sell in their millions, his name, once known only to Memphians, was now on every ones lips across the world, he had stepped on to a roller coaster, which would not stop for over 20 years, but right to the end, he remained essentially that little boy with sounds in his head.


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More from this writer:

Short Stories
The Sounds in his Head
Unchained Melody

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