Deep in the gathering gloom, lights fade from every room of Laidback Manor as little Heidi and Heather nestle on their dear old uncle's knees.

"Tell us a rock and roll story, Uncle Ankh. Oh, do," they cry sweetly. Uncle rubs his balding head as if to page the memory genie.

"How about the story of Altamont?" he suggests.

"No, nooo, that's too scary," says wide-eyed Heather.

"The tale of the two Elvises?"

"Too depressing," vetoes Heidi, nose awrinkle. Uncle Ankh sighs deeply, uninspired, but Heidi fondly pats his chest. "I know, tell us another one about the British Invasion!"

"Ah. Well, let's see. There's the one about the Moody Blues. Once upon a time, their records were so popular that you could find at least one in every college dorm room in the country, just like India prints."

"Did they play the blues?"

"No, not really. In those days, British people knew even less about the blues than they do today. But at first, 'way back in 1965, they played songs like "It Ain't Necessarily So,' and at the time it seemed close enough -- that was before the days of Cream."

"How did they get to be so popular, then?"

"Well, they quit trying to play the blues, or even Gershwin, because they found out that if they sort of put rock and roll and classical music together, it sounded pretty neat. In fact, they were the first band to put a symphonic sound on a rock record."

"Even before Keith Emerson or Procol Harem?"

"Yes, even before ELO."

"Did they get orchestras to play with them?"

"No. In those days, rock bands couldn't even afford real synthesizers, so the Moody Blues used what was called a mellotron, a machine with lots of tape loops inside with pre-recorded sound on them.

"And then they made another discovery, and that was that lots of college kids were eating and smoking and drinking things that made them feel and act very magical and strange -- "

"Like Alice?"

"Like Alice, and so they started writing mystical words to all their songs, so the college kids could have something nifty to think about while they ate and smoke and drank and listened. A lot of their songs had two meanings, like 'Nights in White Satin' and 'Ride My See-Saw.'

"And after a while they got into astral projection in a big way -- that's where your mind sort of goes off somewhere but your body's still hanging around -- and lots of their records were written about that. Maybe they were just ahead of their time, but people got kind of sick of all that, and after a while the Moody Blues just astral-projected themselves into the Me Decade."

"Did they every come back?"

"Oh, yes, several times. In fact, they have a record out right now called 'Long Distance Voyager.'"

"Is it about astro rejection?"

"No. 'it's about -- well, it's about the Moody Blues, mostly, and how they keep coming back, even though their music is still sort of stuck in a time warp."

"Do all the dorm people still like them?"

"No, they mostly listen to stuff like the Bush Tetras or Charlie Daniels. But lots of older people still like to listen to the Moody Blues, because their music reminds them of the days of long ago, and because it blends in lots better at cocktail parties than India prints. It's pretty music, in a sentimental, boring sort of way. And now that they're rich, they can afford real orchestras."

"When we get old like you, will we like the Moody Blues?" asks little Heidi in a tiny voice.

"You might, if you're not too busy worrying about unemployment or nuclear holocaust, and if there's another acid renaissance."

"Oh, Uncle Ankh, please sing us a song from the new Moody Blues record!"

cries Heather, clapping her hands.

"Oh, yes, Uncle, please do!" echoes Heidi.

"Well, okay, but you'll have to use lots of imagination for all the string parts. This one's called '22,000 Days': 22,000 days, 22,000 days it's not a lot It's all you got 22,000 days 22,000 nights, 22,000 nights, it's all you know So start the show and --

Suddenly, Uncle Ankh is interrupted by a dull thud at his feet. Poor little Heidi has fallen off his knee and lies fast asleep on the carpet. Noticing that Heather's eyes are a bit glazed over as well, he puts her in one arm and lifts the sleeping Heidi off the floor with the other, and carries the nearly catatonic children to their beds.

As he bends to kiss Heather's dimpled cheek, she places a tiny arm on his shoulder. "Uncle Ankh, will the Moody Blues be able to live happily ever after on their royalty checks, even after 'Long Distance Voyager'?"

"Oh, don't you worry about the Moody Blues. After all, their music appeals to a whole generation, the biggest and shockliest generation of them all. And who knows, maybe they'll just keep coming back forever and ever."

"Sorta like the ghosts of counterculture past?"

"Good night, Heather."

ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM -- Moody Blues, "Long Distance Voyager," Threshold TRL-1-2901; THE SHOW -- Sunday and Monday at 7:30 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.