By R. Patrick Murtha
I've been thinking a lot lately about some of the songs that
I grew up on and the memories I associate with them. Hearing them frequently
used to hawk the wares of mega-corporations, automobiles, sanitary napkins,
dish soap and all the rest simply reminds me that nothing is sacred in this
society. We are nothing but consumers to be sold products to; we are nothing
but the bottom line of the annual reports of corporations that must and do use
our generations' music now, not as a means of reminding us of our roots, of our
tumultuous times, of the Vietnam War, of the fight for Civil right; no,
instead, the music is used in the hope of associating our emotions with their
products and to fool us into thinking that the corporations' goals are our
goals. One piece of music I hope I NEVER hear in relation to selling products
is Creedence Clearwater's "Bad Moon Risin'" because if I do, I'll immediately
get choked up and come to the verge of tears. Here is why.
In the late Spring of 1969, when that song was playing on
every AM station in America (we hadn't even *heard* of FM in those days), all
of us at Mascoutah High School were preparing for graduation just like millions
of kids around the country. My friends and I were outcasts from the rest of the
class. Being from the Air Force base down the road was bad enough in the eyes
of the local natives, mostly farmers. Add to that the high emotions that were
associated with the Vietnam War, the onset of the Draft, the Civil rights
marches that were so much a part of the nightly news and the fact that a small
minority of us openly rebelled against the killing and the prejudice. There was
no doubt in anyone's minds that we were the "Them" that the politicians warned
against. We wore black arm bands and boldly stood up and walked out of class on
the national Day of Protest against the War. We hopped into busses that took us
to St. Louis and marched in the Freedom For All parades, protesting the
exclusion of African Americans in the mainstream of our society. It was in this
atmosphere of exclusion and protest that my friends and I were denied access to
our prom night in early June of that summer. Not that any of the local girls
would go with us anyway. Compared with kids from NYC or San Francisco, our
looks and behavior was very tame indeed. However, it doesn't take much to be
labeled "radical" in a small farming community in the middle of Illinois; once
officially labeled as "Mid-America" by some agency or another. We laughed about
the loss of privilege and decided to go harrass the rest of our classmates as
they arrived in the school parking lot prior to the dance. We got an Airman
friend to buy the four of us a case of Miller High Life beer, piled into Dad's
'66 Impala and drank our way to the high school, 20 miles away from the base.
Listening to the pop station in St. Louis as we drove along, taking all the
back roads, it was just getting dark as we pulled into Mascoutah Township.
"Hey Jimmy!" I yelled out my window at one of the jocks and
well-blessed of the community as he and his cheerleading girlfriend Norma
walked towards the school. "You sure do look PURDY!!" and we laughed loudly,
clinking beer bottles as he stiffened and turned to the car, insulted by our
"You FREAKS! Why don't you come over HERE and say that!" he
challenged, as his football player buddies rallied around the class hero and
most likely to succeed (in farming).
Norma, looking absolutely beautiful in her gown, befitting
her nomination of Prom Queen, revealed her true self by yelling, "Go kick their
ASSES Jimmy!" screaming like a banshee. As he and his buddies started running
to our car, we yelled and hooted and shouted back at them as I stepped on the
pedal and peeled out of the parking lot. Just then, one of Mascoutah's finest
came around the far corner so I backed off and we very calmly drove the speed
limit past the cop as he eyed us critically, but continued to drive on. We
immediately whooped and hollered as we drove through town, talking loudly and
having a good old time, intent on going out to the country roads, drinking lots
of beer and laughing about our "straight" classmates going to the prom. Then,
the song came on the radio as darkness fell and we cruised the deserted,
moonlit roads Mascoutah.
I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to
take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.
Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite
prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is
taken for an eye.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your
There's a bad moon on the rise.
We were singing loud and raunchy, laughing, drinking beer
and getting rowdy. Little did I know how the words of that wonderful John
Fogerty song would forever be linked in my memory of that night.
Around midnight, we were pretty drunk and driving along at
30 miles an hour on one of the endless roads outside town. We decided to go
back to the school and harrass the Prom People again and as we approached town
we came upon a four way stop. I was about to just slow down and cruise on
through but Tim (younger brother of Tom, also in the back seat), said loudly,
"Whooa! Hold it PAT! That guy's not stopping!" and I slammed on the breaks just
as a totally black 68 Chevelle I'd never seen came blowing through the
intersection! I didn't see any brake lights come on for even a second. As it
passed in front of headlights, the driver slowly turned toward us and we all
froze in our seats. We could see that there was a passenger, but he was hidden
in shadow. I simply remember long hair flying wildly as they cruised through at
60 miles an hour, both windows down on this particularly hot night. But THE
God, I STILL see that evil face in my worst nightmares. His
eyes reflected back a deep red; probably the result of the headlights bouncing
off his retina, but the effect was pure demonic. He held a wide smile, looking
our way as he passed in front of us, flipping us the bird as if to say
"CHICKEN!" almost hoping we'd come through the stop sign....head thrown back
and laughing loudly...I STILL hear his cackle as I write this sending
gooseflesh all over my arms and neck.
"My GOD! Did you SEE that??!!!" we all breathed after they
passed us by. "Oh man, that's giving me the CREEPS! Who the hell WAS that
anyway?" my friend Russ asked and we all agreed we didn't recognize the car or
the guys. On the radio, the lyrics were repeating, several hours after the
first time we'd heard it:
"Don't go round tonight,
It's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.."
And indeed, there was the full, red moon rising just above
the cornstalks, throwing an eerie glow on the world...highlights and deep
shadows gave an unearthly affect to our drive as we shook our heads in
disbelief at our close call and that evil grin the driver gave us as he flipped
us off. I still shiver just thinking about it. Not unlike the grin on the
creature adoring my story page at
We arrived back at the parking lot just as many of our
classmates were coming out and the lights in the gym were coming on, indicating
the end of the dance. We found some friends and shared a beer or two to some of
our less fortunate mates who'd had to wear tux's for the first time and
actually had to act civilized as they danced the waltz. "Hey Pat, did you hear
that Jimmy and Norma were voted Prom King and Queen?" one of the guys asked,
just as those two came into view, surrounded by their admiring crowd of ass
"Oh big surprise!" I laughed, noticing that Jimmy had seen
my car and was gathering a group of friends together and pointing at us. "Uh
oh, time to go guys!" I warned and started the car just as a group of jocks
began running over to where I was parked.
"Stop! You Freaks! Stop the damn car!" they were yelling as
I floored it and easily headed for the back exit of the parking lot. We were
yelling back at them, once we saw we were going to get away easily and again
headed out to the back roads, laughing and kidding each other, rather drunk now
and quite happy with the way the night was going. We'd totally forgotten about
the near collision earlier and the two weird guys we'd never seen before.
After awhile, we decided to cruise some of the popular
parking places out in the sticks and see if we couldn't interrupt some of our
friends chances of losing their virginity that night. What fun, eh? After all,
WE weren't getting laid...why should they? For about the next hour or so, we
were pretty successful, finding and harassing several groups of cars and
couples as we'd turn on our high beams and yell and laugh, distracting the
lovers as they had their fun. Then, as we were all about to call it a
successful night and head back to base, we were on a little traveled road when,
up ahead, we caught sight of the back end of a Chevelle, THE Chevelle, parked
on a small, dirt, irrigation-access road. "Hey, check it out. Is that the same
car?" Russ spoke up and I slowed down from 60 to about 30. Just then, "Bad Moon
a Risin'" came back on and we all nervously sang along as we pulled past the
Chevelle and peered down the dark road. Because of the full moon, we could see
another vehicle, a pick up truck, about 50 feet further into the road, lights
off, parked along the left side corn row.
"Hey, that's Jimmy's pickup." Tom said from the back seat.
"And check that out...look at those lights, what is that, flashlights?" he
asked quickly as we all peered into the darkness. Indeed, lights were moving
around just beyond the front of Jimmy's pickup truck. Then, we drove on so that
our view was blocked by the next field of corn. "I guess he must know those two
weird guys...maybe some out of town friends come to party with him and Norma
"Yeah, and we're outta hear...if those are friends of his, I
don't want him seeing US and sicing them on us because of us yelling at 'em
earlier." I said quickly, accelerating away faster than I should have, but
honest in my fear of discovery by Jimmy and his friends. We continued singing
the song and the next and the next as we drove towards home and I dropped off
all the guys. I parked the car, took one last look up at the huge moon staring
down at me as I sneaked into my basement bedroom through the back yard access.
The room spun wildly for an hour before I finally fell into a restless sleep,
dreaming of that evil face of the driver and the attitude he showed as he
nearly T-boned us in the intersection. Huh
friends of Jimmy's...that
doesn't sound right...was my last waking thought.
The next morning, my Mom called down from the top of the
stairs, a sound of fear and uncertainty in her usually steady voice, "Pat! Pat!
Wake up and come up here now...Russ is on the phone and he says he's GOT to
talk to you now!"
"Ok Mom, I'll be right up!" I called back, bouncing out of
bed with a headache, wondering what was so important. I stumbled upstairs and
picked up the phone as it lay on the counter, Mom hovering around my back with
one ear cocked my way.
"Ahhh, what's going on Russ? What are you doing up so
early?" I mumbled, kind of shaky on my feet.
"Pat! Have you heard?" Russ nearly yelled in the receiver.
"Oh come on, stop playing games Russ....heard what?" I shook
my head, trying to wake up without my mom realizing I was hung over. God, I
hope she couldn't smell the beer.
"I just heard on the radio...Jesus, I can't believe
it....they were murdered last night Pat! Murdered and butchered and Norma, she
was....oh, god , it's horrible!" Russ was rambling on and on making no sense.
"Slow down Russ! Norma, you mean from the prom? Jimmy's
Norma? What are you talking about?!" I demanded, my Mom now standing next to
me, all sense of normalcy quickly dropped.
"I just heard on the radio Pat. Jimmy and Norma were found
this morning...out in the country where we saw them last night! Jesus, Pat,
those guys KILLED them both! Jimmy was tied up, and forced to watch as she was
raped and tortured and then killed and then they slit his throat and..oh, Jesus
Pat! It was those TWO GUYS!! Those two we saw in the Chevelle! We gotta call
the cops!" he was nearly crying now as I stood in total shock.
We had witnessed a torturous rape and murder last
those lights just beyond Jimmy's truck! God, as the news came out
and the details were learned, it was one of the most heinous acts of outright
brutality ever committed in Central Illinois. The murderers were never caught,
despite our descriptions and to this day the crime remains unsolved. Is there
any question why I turn the radio now anytime I hear "Bad Moon Risin?"