In our interview with Peter Orullian, author of The Unremembered, we asked a question that is quickly becoming a Ranting Dragon tradition:
If you have to battle Sam Sykes, what is your choice of arena and weapon, and how will the fight go down?
We expected a short answer, just like the answers we’ve seen in other interviews. The answer we received, though, exceeded all our expectations: Peter Orullian wrote a short story in which he makes Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo, sing!
Read on for Orullian’s epic musical battle. Obviously, Sykes can’t let a challenge like this go unanswered, so look for his reaction later tonight. Because no battle can go without a winner, you can pick your winner in the poll over at our forums.
Battling Sykes? Oh, that’s easy. See, you asked me my choice of arena and when I hear “arena,” I think anthemic rock. So, Sam and I will do music battle onstage someplace awesomely large, like Strahov Stadium in Prague, or if Sam’s afraid of international flight, we’ll play the Meadlowlands in Jersey. It’ll go down something like this:
Sam Sykes steps on stage and crosses to a rack of instruments. After careful consideration, he hoists a B.C. Rich Warlock. “Cool,” he says, “I saw one of these on VH1.” Mostly he likes it because it’s all pointy and could maybe serve as a weapon if his musicianship faileth. Then, in a moment of inspiration, he stoops and picks up a Makita power drill. He’s just recalled another VH1 classic, this one by Van Halen called “Poundcake,” which appeals to his unique brand of romance—poundcake, not the drill (we hope). He congratulates himself on this, since he enjoys holding power tools for reasons his therapist has yet to discover; it’s a cunning move, he figures, since most musicians would be thinking about how to use the drill to make music—Sam, however, fancies it more a modern day vorpal blade.
Sykes bounces—as modern day rock bands are wont to do—to a Marshall stack, stage right, and plugs in. There he pulls his ballcap slightly askew so that he looks the least bit “gangsta.” The move might have worked, as looks go, save that he’s also pulled on some black spandex in the greenroom, thinking he might win some votes by prominently displaying his package in some tight synthetic pants; this was inspiration from the metal detector scene in This Is Spinal Tap. See, Sam is nothing if not prepared for our little battle. While he waits for me take the stage, he starts to tweet Mark Newton and Brent Weeks and Peter Brett and a host of others, needling them about their hair products or author photos or whatever else occurs to him—this is how he limbers up his fingers to play.
Then I come on stage and stoop to pick up a wireless Sure Beta 58 mic. I’m going to tackle the kid from the Southwest with my voice. I hear a “guffaw” from Sykes at my selection, or maybe that was his response to a tweet-back from Weeks advising him that “Freebird” is a classic rock song and not a liberal use of the middle finger to salute the audience.
With a mutual look, Sykes and I step to the front of the stage. A hush falls over the crowd as they anticipate what will follow.
“Age before beauty,” Sykes says, inviting me to go first.
“Nah, ladies first,” I retort.
A wicked grin lights Sykes face. “This is gonna be fun.”
He then frets his ax and rips the beginning of “Dueling Banjos,” wearing a smile remarkably like that of banjo-kid from Deliverance. His first notes are self-assured and not bad; he even adds some tremolo at the end for good measure.
As the last echoes of the opening foray die, I raise the mic and sing a section of “Kid Ego” by Extreme. Seems a salient bit of lyric at this point.
Sykes laughs. He then launches into a solo cribbed from “Bitch School” by Spinal Tap. It’s not entirely clear if Sykes knows the Tap are a faux band as he lays into the lead with reckless abandon, making me think that maybe, when this whole music battle is done, just maybe we should join up and tour Japan.
Perspiration has begun to bead on Sykes forehead. “It’s real work, isn’t it?” I say. I’m pretty sure the gesture that followed was his version of “Freebird.”
It’s here that I decide to slip in a little subliminal therapy for my author-friend, and I tear into “Violence Fetish” by Disturbed. I’m going to go ahead and assume it was lost on Sykes, as he took the break as an opportunity to write a blog post about fantasy tropes.
Another silence filled the great arena as the crowd waited in the aftermath of my song for Sykes to publish his post. Once that was done, however, he finally picked up the power drill. He gave me another of his wicked grins, one which said, “This is all but over now, beeawwtch.” And with that, Sykes managed to play a rather poignant version of Lil Wayne’s “Drop the World.” I could see my fellow writer mouthing the words as he drilled the hell out of his Warlock. By the time he was done, he stood in a pile of sawdust, no lie. I had to applaud the effort. Powertool, rap tune, instrument destruction, and a saliency to the words, as they relate to what I assume Sykes holds as a worldview, ya know: “I mo pick the world up, and I mo drop it your f****** head!”
In the sweet scent of shredded maple wood, there rose a solitary golf clap from the rear of the stadium. Another guy coughed. I think it was stunned silence we were experiencing at the sheer artistry. That, or fear. I suspect Sam would prefer the latter. In either case, he bowed and made a grandiose gesture for me to give it my best shot to top his final performance.
“You know,” I say, before doing my final bit, “it’s a shame you didn’t chose to channel your guitar legend namesake, John Sykes. He of Whitesnake and Blue Murder fame. You could have been a god here today. And you know, snakes, murder, kind of a picture of you, no?” But again my author friend heard none of it, as he was tittering over a webcomic at Oglaf.com [Editor’s note: NSFW], which he’d pulled up on his smartphone.
I hunch my shoulders and lift the mic. There seems an obvious song choice here. One which may yet reach my troubled friend, and likewise prove an audience-pleaser. I do want to win this music duel, after all. So, I begin: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? . . .”
The crowd roars! It momentarily breaks Syke’s concentration on his social networking, but, trooper that he is, he pushes through it and fires off another round of tweets. Later, I imagine, I’ll find a string of epithets posted to my Facebook wall. But for now, the song soars high and powerful above the cries of the audience. The tech crew makes a show of flashing Syke’s standing stage right on the superspan screen as I sing, “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?” To his credit, Sykes pantomimes clapping a castanet with one hand, as the other manically works his phone to fire back something at Ari Marnell.
I finish the tune and wait for the crowd to quiet again. It’s obvious I’ve won this musical duel, but Sykes doesn’t seem to see it that way, as he begins to take bows. I wonder to myself if he heard the lyric, “Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.” But no, if anything, I’m guessing what he heard was, “Doesn’t really matter to me.” Kid’s got thick skin.
“You want to do an encore?” I ask. “Maybe we do a duet, sort of bury the hatchet.” I immediately regret giving Sykes such an idea; he’s likely to take it literally, plus he’s closer to the drill.
In response—and since all that remains of his Walock is some sawdust stuck to his George Michael T-shirt (another ironical effort)—Sykes starts in on some air guitar. In this medium, he’s a much better musician; his stylings very nearly approaching Kvothe’s—Pat Rothfuss would be proud. But since I don’t know “Tinker Tanner” and such, I dig down to find one last statement on this whole affair in general, and my dweedling air-accompanist in particular. The result: Operation Mindcrime. ‘Cause you know, if there’s anything that describes what Sykes is guilty of, it’s crimes against the mind, don’t you think? And at the end of it, if there’s a revolution coming (underground or otherwise), Sykes will be involved somehow.
And, if I’m honest, so will I.
“You’ve got nothing more to lose. So take this number, and welcome . . .”
Okay, that was fun to write. I’ll be waiting for a Sykes response, which will likely be a whole lot more hysterical . . . and painful. But here’s the deal—at the risk of lapsing a bit maudlin—I wouldn’t have bothered to put any real time into such a bit of fancy if I didn’t have a lot of respect for Sykes. In my view, he’s one of our most honest and insightful commentators on the genre. Plus, he’s hilarious. He did me a solid when I needed to chat, and for that I owe him. And you owe it to yourself to check out his work.
So yeah, in a music battle, no contest. But if and when Sykes moves the arena elsewhere, I suspect things may take a different turn. And Sykes, if you do, what say we collect these epic battles into a chapbook and publish them?