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Authors: Josh Farrar

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BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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“Huh?”

“The Bungles’ bass player.”

“Hey,” I said awkwardly, with a half wave. So our name really
had
stuck. But I was just the
bass player.

Inside, there were even more of them, at least a dozen total. I knew our band’s performance had made a mark at Federal Hill—it was the talk of the school for the entire week—but this was a much bigger deal than I’d ever imagined. Some of these kids weren’t even from our school, but they still wanted to try out for The Bungles,
the
hot new band on the scene.

I was mad when I’d found out Christine had posted the flyers last Friday without consulting Jonny and me—Crackers had been taking more of a leadership role since the big performance—but I had to admit it had worked. The open mic had been the ultimate exposure for us, like the middle school version of a Super Bowl commercial. And Crackers had taken full advantage: the flyers were everywhere, not just around school, but all over the neighborhood, outside Italian restaurants and bakeries, cafés, and even clubs. The Bungles were the trend of the moment, like a new phone or video game that every kid in Federal Hill suddenly wanted to have, and now anybody who could put their hands on a pair of sticks wanted in on the action.

That’s when my phone started vibrating in my pocket. It was our landline.

“What is it, X?” I asked.

“I’m bored!” he said. “Can I come and hang out with you?”

“No, X, I need to be alone with my band today. Watch TV, or play a game on the computer. I’ll be back in two hours.”

“That’s what I’ve
been
doing. My eyes are gonna melt off my face.”

“So let ’em melt,” I said. “I’ll be home before you know it. Byeeee.”
Click.

I walked toward the drum room, trying to relax. One deep breath, then another. With all these kids here to try out, we’d surely be able to find somebody who could do the job, be our drummer, and help us get ready for the battle of the bands, which Crackers and Jonny now talked about constantly. So why did I feel so nervous? I was on the verge of really pulling this off, bringing together a real band. But now that I was in the Church of Rock, in the center of a storm of attention surrounding
my
band, I suddenly wasn’t sure I could do it. It wasn’t happening any faster than things had happened for Egg Mountain, but Egg Mountain had real songs, with great hooks and interesting lyrics. We had “Belle’s Metal Riff.” And Egg Mountain had Ronaldo, a cool, in-control leader. The Bungles didn’t have a leader. We had a guitarist who was out one week, in the next; a keyboardist who had started acting like a royal diva after one good performance; and me. The bass player.

Crackers and Jonny must have arrived early because they were already set up, and Crackers was showing Jonny a boingy little synth vamp she must have made up recently. She bobbed her head in rhythm, and Jonny played a melody on top. They didn’t even see me until I waved my hands in front of them with a big callout of “Guuuuyyyys, hellllloooo!” Jonny gave me a nod, and Christine waved. I picked up my bass and joined in, jamming for a couple minutes.

Crackers had already made up a schedule for the tryouts that included all the kids, even the ones lounging around on the street. The greasy Simpsons kid, the twirler, came in first, spinning his sticks around in his hand the way he’d been doing outside. He was pretty tricky with them, sending the right one about three feet above his head like a baton, then gracefully catching it just in time to give the snare drum a mighty pop. Then he’d twirl both sticks until they were bouncing blurs darting around in the air. It was beautiful. But could he play? So far, he looked more like a magician or a juggler than a rocker, and the last thing we needed was a trickster-poser who couldn’t actually hold the rhythm together.

I asked the twirler to play a beat, any beat, and he did: a straight-up hard-rock stomp in the AC/DC vein. He scanned the room, from Jonny to Crackers to me, giving us a wide smile and looking utterly relaxed.
Check me out,
he seemed to say, greasy hair pressed down under his cable-knit cap,
I’m your new drummer.
Jonny punched a stomp box with his foot and added a crunchy riff to the twirler’s pounding beat. Not bad. I joined in, anchoring the bottom end, and Crackers laid a wah-wahing synth lead on top. Not bad at all. But a minute into it, Crackers stepped up to the mic and interrupted.

“Okay, cool. Can you play anything else?”

A blank stare from the twirler. “Um, like what? What do you want me to play?” He launched his sticks into the stratosphere again, but they hit the ceiling and clattered down behind him, making a racket.

“Like, can you play a shuffle beat?”

“I don’t know. I guess. Sure.” He reached behind me to pick up the sticks.

Christine chimed out the chords to the swinging, loose “A Place in the Sun,” and Jonny and I joined her. The twirler listened for a few seconds, but not long enough, because he had no clue just how different this beat needed to be. It had to be smooth and graceful, like a gold-medal skater tracing circles in the ice. Instead, he played it like a construction dude with a jackhammer, pummeling away, sticking to the same hard-rock groove he had used before. He seemed pleased with himself, spinning his sticks in the air again and even, once, cockily winking at me. But he was the only one in the room who thought so highly of himself. I was ready to turn twirly boy loose, but Crackers beat me to it.

“Okay, thanks a lot,” she said, staring dreamily just above his head. “We’ll let you know what we decide.”

The twirler gave her a
Really?
look, seemingly surprised that we weren’t going to bum-rush him for a group hug. But Crackers, even in the midst of her typically out-of-it dreaminess, had been very direct. The kid got the message, packing up his sticks and leaving us to get ready for the next person on the list.

“Wow, you really took charge of that one,” Jonny said, laughing.

“The kid only knew one beat,” Crackers said. “Imagine him on ‘Hey Jude.’ He’d massacre it.”

“Wouldn’t want to ruin a Crackers showpiece,” I said under my breath.

“What?” said Crackers. I’m pretty sure she hadn’t caught my obnoxious tone, but Jonny had. He rolled his eyes.

“Nothing. You’re right,” I said. “That kid would ruin any Beatles song he touched.” I hadn’t even meant to say it, it had just come out. “Oh, and sorry for calling you Crackers. Just a slip.”

“I don’t even mind it anymore,” she said.

“You mean, not since the whole school chanted it over and over again like you’re some kind of rock star?” Jonny winked at her. The traitor.

The twirler actually turned out to be one of the
more
musical kids to show up. He was a genius of modern drumming compared to some of the talentless tykes in his wake. These kids had obviously heard about us and wanted to be part of the new sensation, blah, blah, blah, but they had to be dreaming if they considered themselves musicians. The pink-jeans girl who’d been practicing her paradiddles on the pavement? Well, she might have been okay at playing her right-left-right-right patterns on a concrete drum pad, but behind the kit she just plain could not play in time. On top of that, she was so shy—she seemed positively awestruck by Crackers and couldn’t even look her in the eye, looking at Jonny or me whenever Crackers asked her a question—that she could barely speak above a murmur. Even the seventeen-year-old didn’t know the difference between a cowbell and a roto-tom, and he dropped his sticks every few seconds, losing his place in the song each time. There was only one more name on the list. It wasn’t looking pretty.

“Darius
who
?” Jonny asked.

“Darius Mould,” I said. “That’s what it says right here, in black and white.”

We had seen it all today, ten different flavors that spelled B-A-D, in the span of a grueling two and a half hours. At this point, bummed out and exhausted as we were—I hadn’t realized how tiring it would be to meet all these kids, listening to all these beginner musicians, having to send them all packing—we had nothing to lose. Why not see what this Darius kid was all about?

I had never laid eyes on such a full-on dork. He was the kind of absurd doofus you might see on a Saturday morning cartoon, usually played by a cute-kid actor for laughs. He was a big guy, with nerdy spectacles that had thick black frames and about a foot of prescription glass; an oxford shirt buttoned all the way up; worn-out corduroys with white socks pulled over each pant leg; hiking boots on his huge feet; a tight wool cap on his head; and the bushiest Albert Einstein eyebrows I had ever seen. He had an enormous schnoz, too—the nose erupted out of his face like a fifty-story skyscraper in a one-horse town. Darius the Hilarious kept touching it, too, dabbing at it every few seconds with a piece of balled-up tissue. I wondered if the thing was oozing out grease, and I shuddered as Darius put the nasty Kleenex back in his pocket and looked over at us. He flashed a nervous grin, then turned stone-cold serious just as quickly. What a freak! And yet, there was something familiar about this guy that I couldn’t place.

“I just need a second,” he said in his nasal, piccolo trumpet of a voice. “Just a moment, if you please. These drums badly need to be tuned. They’re just the tiniest bit pitchy, they need …” He spoke more and more quietly, more to himself than to us before finally trailing off.

“All righty, then,” I said, giving Jonny and Christine an
Is he serious?
look.

All the other kids hadn’t done much setting up. They’d simply taken their seat at the drum throne, made sure the snare drum was at the right height, then started flailing away. But this guy pulled out a drum key and started tuning each and every drum. It was a lengthy process that I had seen Jake do, usually before an important recording session. And it took Jake forever. Darius whizzed right through it, tapping the outer edges of the drums, listening to each tone, then making small adjustments to the lugs before moving on.

Quite simply, the dork was a god of drumming. We threw song after song at him, and he stroked out just the right beat for each and every one. He could handle any style: metal, punk, straight-up rock, funk, blues, even country. He could play thunderously loud or ice-skater gracefully. Whatever he did, he made us sound ten times better. The three of us started to really dig in and have fun, playing a medley of just about every song we knew, then just jamming, exchanging ideas and improvising, crossing into totally new territory. I even forgot I was supposed to be annoyed at Crackers. We exchanged glances throughout this twenty-five-minute workout, and we seemed to have the same questions on our minds: where had this guy come from, and what could we do to make sure he became
our
guy? Once we had played literally every song we knew, every riff we could dream up, we put down our instruments.

“That was … amazing,” Crackers said. “You are really fantastic.”

“Well, thank you very much. I always try my best when meeting new—”

“You are definitely
in
,” I said. “Right, Jonny?”

Jonny stayed quiet about the incredible Darius. What was his problem? Was
he
in or out? I couldn’t keep track.

Just then, my cell phone vibrated. I pulled it out and saw that it was our landline at home. I really didn’t want to deal with X right now. Couldn’t he take care of himself for five minutes? I ignored the call.

“Right,” Jonny finally said. “But, dude, you look familiar—”

“Well, I’m glad you like it,” Darius said. “You want to play some more? I love to play!” He went back to tuning his snare drum, listening to the vibrations of each tap he made like he was hearing the distant music of aliens. Typical music dork, more concerned about his drums being in tune than about the fact that he had just blown away the band he had auditioned for. Something was definitely off about this guy. His glasses were cheap-looking, like something you could buy for two dollars at a toy store. And his bushy eyebrows looked too big and cheesy to be real. But I didn’t care. He was the best drummer I’d ever played with, by far.

“I don’t know about this guy,” Jonny whispered.

“What?” Crackers asked.

“Maybe we should talk about this privately,” Jonny said.

Darius the Hilarious got the hint. “It was wonderful playing with you guys,” he said. “I’ll just hang out in the shop for a few.”

BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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ads

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