TOM PETTY IN HELL

Torments await the Florida boy who turned rock music into a highly profitable entertainment formula. Please comment nicely!

"Welcome home, baby!" George Harrison was waiting for me in the flames. He gave me a great big hug while I hid my terror.

"Where's Chuck Berry?" I asked suspiciously. The heat in hell was a real shock after cool and dry California. I was sweating already, especially wearing a white dress shirt and a black tie.

"Oh, Chuck's got something special planned for you, Miss Florida," the quiet Beatle told me, rubbing black soot into my face. For a Liverpool boy he seemed very cozy in the scorching heat!

"What do you mean?" I asked, in the same whiny nasal voice I used in life. Yet in hell nobody seemed to find it cool.

"Well, the rumor is that Chuck's got a little shack out back, where he takes the boys he likes after a hard day of picking cotton!"

"I can't pick cotton," I whined, trying to wipe the black soot off my face. "I'm a white man! I write songs about the Confederate South! I love our gallant history and our proud rebel heritage!"

"Your meaning, sir, is entirely clear," said a rich, cultured voice. It was Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. "You are an exploiter and a parasite, Tom Petty, and now you must burn in hell like the rest of us. We will allow you to stand with us in the cleansing flames for all eternity. But please don't sing."

"But I never stole from the black folks! My music never had a trace of soul! It was market tested to appeal only to white people who never heard of rock's jungle roots. I erased all trace of the slave ships and the auction block. Even when I was singing about hating the blue bellies, the only emotions I really tapped into were the emptiness of suburban life and my own unconquerable self-loathing!"

"Sings the roof off lovely, doesn't he sir," snarked John Lennon. Unlike George Harrison, John was a mean Beatle, the kind who slapped women around and refused to sing on stage with creepy little posers like me. I'm glad they shot his ass.

"Oh my, my. Oh hell yeah," said Chuck Berry. The black man who invented rock and roll long ago emerged from the flames in a spotless white linen suit, with a big black bullwhip in his hand. "This Florida cracker certainly looks a mess."

"If you want to give him a good flogging, sir, don't mind us." George Harrison was leering while he tore the shirt off my back. "We'll hold him down for you. We know he must be a terrible disappointment to you, being a fellow American and all."

"Land of the free, home of the brave," chimed in Brian Jones. I didn't get why he was one of the good guys. He was just as blonde as I was. And his hair was perfect!

"Play me some blues, boy," ordered Chuck Berry. Instantly the blonde boy from the Rolling Stones whipped out a slide guitar and began a mean version of "Dust My Broom" by Elmore James. It was like rock, but it wasn't the kind of music I could ever play. Just hearing it I began to feel very sick.

"Didn't I see you down in Charlottesville last week?" Chuck Berry got right in my face, so close I could see the high cheekbones he got from his Cherokee grandmother. "Thought I saw a bunch of cats like you, waving rebel flags and singing about the past."

"I had nothing to do with that!" I screeched. "That was young guys, half my age. I died of a heart attack all alone in a mansion!"

"They ran over a helpless woman," John Lennon snitched. "All I ever did was knock my girlfriends around a bit, just with my fists. Like this, you know." The top Beatle punched me right in the face!

"Don't do me like that!" I screamed, like Scarlett O'Hara surrounded by ungrateful black freedmen. John Lennon had just punched me in the face, but Chuck Berry was clearly the one in charge, so I tried groveling to him. I'm good at groveling. "Don't do it to me, do it to George! Do it to John! Tear his face off!"

"These are my boys," Chuck Berry purred, running his long black fingers through my greasy blonde hair. "But you are just a bitch, my dear. Not a rebel, not a soldier, just a lynching, Ku-Kluxing cracker hiding behind a rock and roll guitar. I've had to live with your kind all my life. And even longer." His black face was so close he could have kissed me. Instead he spit right in my face.

"It wasn't me," I sniveled, sobbing and begging as Chuck Berry stepped back and loosened up his long black whip. "It wasn't me, brother, it was them! I swear I never wanted my music to mean anything. I just wanted to get rich quick without taking any risks. Like when I sang that stupid duet with Stevie Nicks!"

"Roll over Beethoven!" Chuck Berry cried. His whip cracked and I screamed in pain, blood pouring from a long gash in my back.

"Try to take it like a man, son," advised General Robert E. Lee. "That's one down, and only sixty million to go."