Jeff Keith, Lead Singer of Tesla, Considers Youth

by Steve Almond

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

There was that night in El Paso where the singer for Cinderella started bleeding from his vocal chords. Every time the dude opened his mouth, he made this, like, yakking noise. And there were all these red stains on the tile. It was some serious shit. It made you think about life, your body, how quick things could break down on the road. I was lucky. We were all so fucking lucky. We knew that. It wasn’t like some riddle. Would you rather drive a septic truck around, or rock ten thousand paying customers? Shit.

But still, there were some nights when I thought about Oklahoma, being back in Idabel, even that one fucked up year in Broken Bow, and it wasn’t any one thing, because those were some sorry ass towns, flat and mean and hot as all hell in summer. You could walk along for miles and all you’d see is strip malls and the road throwing up heat, the graveyard with the names of all the young dudes who went to war and got killed. Those summers were like one long dead end.

So I don’t understand, I can’t tell you, why I still think about them, sweating through my raggedy-assed jeans, walking around looking for that one Indian kid Kevin to sell us his shitty weed, listening to the Doors and CCR and Steve fucking Miller, and wanting, for whole hours at a time, to be dead, or not seeing the difference anyway – until that one note finally arrived on the down-stroke and the singer’s voice reached up to nail it, and we did, too, all of us, singing, staring at each other, our dirty fucking hair and our pimples, and an actual breeze came rolling in for the first time in a month, and with it the smell of rain, and I was like, Holy shit, dudes, this is cool. We’re alive.

Steve Almond is the author of ten books, most recently the story collection God Bless America.