A run-down house hugs the side of a junkyard fence. A single lamp-lit window tools a hole through the middle of a Mississippi night. In the forty-watt light of the kitchen, an old man sits alone at a table, playing an ancient Harmony guitar, and singing to himself -a driving boogie, left foot pounding the linoleum floor like a hammer…
"I got the key to the highway
Billed out and bound to go
I'm gonna leave here running
Cause walkin's much too slow"
Outside the window, on the other side of a weather-beaten fence, a midnight mockingbird rests on the rusty frame of a 1964 Mustang and sings along with this resident composer of twelve-bar concertos concerning: women, drinking, gambling, and rambling.
An unknown blues man, lost in waves of cheap whiskey, washed up on this island of broken things - a castaway locked in the sweet release of addiction, standing on his own chain.
Luther Whiteside stops playing, grabs a fifth of Kentucky Deluxe from the table, and takes a swallow. He feels like he should be doing something else, but he has no idea what that "something else" might be. So he takes another drink, and sets the half-empty bottle on the floor beside his chair.
Years ago, he traveled all across Mississippi and into Louisiana playing juke joints and roadhouses. Now, he plays for tips outside the Coffeeville Greyhound station - too stoned to peel his back from the wall, singing his own secret sorrow into the concrete-broken lines caught between cracks in the sidewalk.
Lately, Luther stays at home, behind locked doors. He sits. He drinks. He plays guitar. He stares out the window - mind floating, disconnected in time and space. To keep from disappearing, he sings to himself…
"I got stones in my passway
and my road seems black as night
I have pains in my heart
They have taken my appetite…"
He is scared, afraid of the shit that goes on outside - in the real world. He used to have a television set. Sometimes, he watched the 6 o'clock news. Then the stories started to terrify him, so he heaved the T.V. over the fence into the junkyard. Not knowing makes him feel safer.
Thunder rolls in the distance. Luther, guitar case in hand, moves along the shoulder of a two-lane blacktop, headed for town. He hasn't had a drink in two days. He needs one bad.
Someone is coming up the road from behind. He turns and sees a red pickup. The driver seems to be slowing down. Maybe today, he'll get lucky and catch a ride into Coffeeville - a little unaccustomed mercy.
The truck comes alongside where he's standing. Someone rolls down the passenger-side window and fires one shot. Luther is hit. The truck speeds off.
The bullet passes through the underside of his right arm. Luckily, no major blood vessels are damaged. Feeling faint, he sits down in the wet grass. As he stares up through the rain, he is startled by the breathtaking splendor of a multi-fingered lightning bolt. Then he blacks out.
In the emergency room, he feels a strange euphoria. Even though he's weak, his mind is working better than ever. The shakes are gone.
The crazy incident has somehow lifted him out of his melancholy. The irrational act of a madman has changed the state of his life, from that of a lonely old man to an innocent victim - a Christ-like figure - a surrogate sacrifice for the people. Channel 2 wants to tape an interview for the 6 o'clock news.
Luther runs his left hand along his bandaged wound. He squeezes, just to feel the pain. Overwhelmed with how wonderful life is, Luther Whiteside weeps.