“So, you’re looking to give your music a charge?” says the devil, her squinty eyes sparkle with excitement.
“That’s why I’m here, lady. Look, I am going to die young and I want to make music that’s never been heard before – something different,” replies Walden Robert Cassato. He took this trip to the Dockery plantation, like the bluesmen before him, to make a deal with the devil. What he didn’t know was that the devil was a pretty woman. At least this one was.
“You guys come to me as if I can perform magic.”
“Isn’t that what you do?”
“I’m not a beautician and I don’t do miracles,” she says gesturing at his balding head and pointing to his paunch stomach.
He feels self-conscious, especially because she’s so beautiful. Her green eyes look like gems against her long black hair. Not only is the devil a woman, he thinks, but she wears leather too.
“You know what’s on the table?” she asks, curving her full red lips as she speaks.
“My soul,” he answers flatly.
“Yes, your soul which in your case is somewhat forthcoming since you’re on the express train.”
Rolling his eyes, he says, “Okay – what do I need to do?”
“Sign this,” she says, pulling out a long scroll, with his name inked on the parchment.
He reads through it. In return for his eternal soul, he’ll be bestowed with outstanding musical and performing ability. He reads the disclaimers at the bottom.
“What’s this about having to wear a toupee and change my name to Bobby Darin?” he says frowning.
“Look kid, your short, your bald, your ugly, you have a funny name and you have a big Italian nose. Need I say more?”
“I just want to sing like no one has before.”
“I understand, but like I said, I don’t do miracles. I’m kind of like a job counselor, too. Believe me, it’s not want I want to do, but I’ve got to protect my investment.”
He pauses, biting his lip.
“Look, it worked for Tony Bennett.”
“And he changed his name too. Part of the contract.”
“I can’t believe that Bennett is bald too,” he says.
“Do you think that a balding man with a nose like a parrot could make it in the entertainment world?”
“Besides, I thought you only did blues singers.”
“I’ve done them all, honey. You name it.”
“What about Sinatra?”
“The skinny boy from Hoboken with the big voice? Who do you think put the wind in his lungs?”
“Sinatra doesn’t wear a toupee.”
“Take another look, kid. His hair’s been thinning since his early days with Dorsey.”
“What was his name before?”
“We made an exception in his case. You don’t know what it’s like dealing with that Dolly, his mother. What’s done is done and I’ll never let that happen again.”
He looks down at the contract.
“What’s it going to be?” she asks, taking the contract back.
“It’s just that. . .”
She starts rolling up the contract.
He grabs it from her.
“Okay, okay. I’ll do it.”
Reaching out to slash his finger with a razor, she obtains his fingerprint in blood on the contract. It’s done.
Performing at the Copacabana, many years later, Bobby Darin is singing his career blazing smash hit “Beyond the Sea” to an enthralled audience. Despite his swaying and dancing, his toupee grips tight on his head. He’s thin as a rail, like his idol Sinatra. The pretty devil didn’t take away his paunch – that was his doing. As he sings, his nose doesn’t look so big either. He sings with elegance and grace, his arms gesturing outward as if launching each verse. His fingers snap in time to the music.
Backstage in the dressing room after the show, Darin looks at himself in the mirror.
He takes the toupee off.
I’m still the same schlemiel that I was before when I take this damned toupee off. I’ve conquered the industry, just like the devil said I would. I’ve done it all: ballads, rock-n-roll, and Carnegie Hall. She’s held her part of the bargain.
In the mirror, his nose seems to grow larger. Looking down at his belly, it seems to protrude slightly. From the continuous nights of performing, and even working on movie sets, his eyes look weary.
I look like a bald, schlumpy old man.
He puts the toupee back on and slowly he transforms before his own eyes, returning back to his handsomer self.
Standing at the crossroads outside the Dockery Plantation, Darin waits for the pretty devil to materialize.
“So, did you come back to thank me,” she says, suddenly appearing behind him. He turns around to face her. He smells her perfume. It’s musky, sensuous.
“A kiss will do,” she says, flashing her green eyes at him. “Even with your toupee off, you have a little charm left from all of your success.”
He suddenly feels shy.
“Well, I’ll tell you why I’ve come back,” he says trying to pull himself from the sway of her beauty.
“I’ve come back to tell you that I don’t want any of this any longer.”
He looks at her. She is silent.
“I mean, you held your part of the bargain, this is true, but after all of these years now, I don’t want any of this. Here I am singing these ridiculous songs to people drinking cocktails.”
Her face is saying “Look, I’m the devil, do you think I give a shit?”
“There’s a war in Vietnam, people are starving here in our own country. I don’t want to be a phony anymore. I want to sing peace songs. And I don’t want to wear this toupee,” he says shaking the ragged tuft in his hands.
“So sing peace songs – be my guest. What do you want from me?” Her face wrinkles in disgust.
He tries to ignore it. “Can I sing peace songs without my toupee? I want to be real.”
“You can,” she says slyly, “but they will likely be flat and boring. Even your peace-mongers don’t want to look at an ugly protest singer. I can tell you that Dylan’s hair is the real thing. He doesn’t need my help; he’s already got enough of the devil in him.”
“So I’ll be a failure without it?” he asks, like a little boy asking his mother for permission to leave the dinner table.
She doesn’t answer.
“What about my soul? I gave my soul to you.”
“Yes, but according to the contract, there’s a minor stipulation about wearing a toupee.”
“But I don’t want to wear it anymore,” he says like a whining baby.
“A deal’s a deal. I kept my part; even you agreed.”
“Well, I’m not going to wear it. How can I be free when I hide behind a toupee?” He stomps his foot down.
“Honey, don’t lecture me on freedom, please,” she says lighting a cigarette.
Darin returns to California, showing his bald head to the world.
He sells everything he owns, gives his money away to charity and moves into a small house by the ocean.
At his next show, he gets up in front of the audience and begins playing peace songs on his acoustic guitar. No band. He is stationary when he performs. He looks austere and determined to save the world.
Mike Fiorito is a writer, musician and performer. He has two collections of short stories “Gnostic Hounds” and “Inspiring Jest”; both available at Amazon.com. His collection of short stories, Call Me Guido is forthcoming from Ovunque Siamo Press. He is married with two wonderful boys and lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.