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Authors: Josh Farrar

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BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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X sat next to my mom in the vocal booth, a tiny room within a room that my dad and Jake had built for recording vocals and guitars. It looked like an actual room, only for a family of pixies. It was a pretty cozy spot, although my mom didn’t look too cozy right then. Between tending to X, who was staying quiet at least for the time being, and recording probably her umpteenth take of whatever song they were singing, she looked like she couldn’t wait to get out.

“Hon, I thought that last take was fine,” she said through the microphone.

“It was, it was, babe,” said my dad. “But we want better than ‘fine,’ right? We want … magic.”

“Okay, okay.” She smiled, but it looked like an effort. It was four fifteen p.m. I was trying to figure out how long this session had been going. They had been hard at it when Jake drove X and me to school that morning. Had they
started
in the morning, or was this an all-nighter about to hit its twenty-fourth hour? Still, Mom looked pretty. Even tired and zonked out, she looked fashion-modelly. I couldn’t understand how she could look that good, even on zero sleep. I also couldn’t understand how she could put up with my dad. He was seriously obsessing.

“All right, here we go,” he said. “Take sixteen. Ready, and rolling …”

Shaky Jake twisted his fingers nervously through his orange beard.

My mom started singing again. Watching her, I remembered how hard she had tried to convince me that moving to Providence would be good for me, too. “It’ll be a new start, Annabelle,” she’d said. “You’ll find a new band, and it’ll be just as good as Egg Mountain. Better.” I wasn’t so sure about that, but at least my mom knew how good Egg Mountain was in the first place. Unlike my dad, she came to every gig that didn’t conflict with Benny and Joon’s schedule, and she supported me all the way.

She finished singing, and to my ears she sounded great. She didn’t have a big voice—she couldn’t hit loads of high notes like some singers on the radio—but it was calm and cool, with a little tease in it. I thought the take was great.

“Nice,” my dad said, although I could tell that wasn’t what he meant at all. “Very nice … but let’s try it one more time.”

“Aww, hon. Come on …” Mom looked like she was about to cry.

Jake caught my eye and nodded toward the door. X picked up on it, too, and slipped out of the booth to join us. We crept out as quickly and quietly as we had come in.

“Belle!” X cried out. “Rescue me! This is
sooo
boring.”

“Okay, buddy, in a sec.” X had never wanted to hang out this much in Brooklyn, but he was so starved for company in Providence that he was constantly hanging on me. It was half cute, half crazy-making.

“Sorry, guys,” Jake said. “It was about to get a little tense in there.”

“It already
was
a little tense in there,” I said.

“Good point.”

It wasn’t the first time I had witnessed that scene this week. How could my dad, a guy who barely kept himself in clean socks, who would wear the same grimy T-shirt three days in a row, be such a perfectionist when it came to recording? How could he get on my mom’s case about these tiny details, especially when just about every take she sang sounded perfect?

“Your dad always gets more … particular toward the end of a record,” Jake said.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Benny and Joon. Or at least, I used to. They were the reason I wanted to start playing music. And I had picked the bass—an instrument my parents usually did without—with the hopes of joining the group someday. I feel cheesy saying that now. Who wants to play music with their parents? But until I joined Egg Mountain, I had always dreamed that I would one day be
in
Benny and Joon, and that we could tour and record together. As a family.

That was a long time ago, though. Now being in Benny and Joon was the last thing on my mind. Benny and Joon had been responsible for everything wrong in my life. Because of that band, I was in a new city, with no friends, with parents who barely noticed my existence. Now I wanted my
own
band.

That’s right. I wanted to rebel against my parents by doing
exactly
what they do. Weird, but true.

“Chocolate chip pancakes, anyone?” said Jake, pulling out a mixing bowl.

“Yes!” cried X, oblivious to the fact that this would be the third time Shaky Jake’s pancakes had been on the menu that week. What normal family eats pancakes for dinner?

Rock stars’ families eat pancakes for dinner.

JONNY

I was already late for Mr. V’s class on Friday, but I put up the sign anyway. So far, the Band Formation Plan wasn’t working. I had gotten the lay of the land. I had observed. But I hadn’t caught even a whiff of another actual musician. I kept hearing about Raising Cain and some supposed riot-girl group called Mad Unicorn. But nobody else seemed to be interested in putting together a
new
band. I had to step it up.

I pulled out some thumbtacks and put my sign in the most conspicuous spot I could find on the activities board.

F
OR THOSE ABOUT TO
rock
, I
SALUTE YOU
.

I’
M
A
NNABELLE
C
ABRERA
,

AND
I’
M FORMING A
rock band
.

I
PLAY BASS AND SING
.

W
HAT DO
you
PLAY
?!?

L
ET

S JAM AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS
.

P.S. I’
M USUALLY WEARING A
B
EATLES HOODIE
.

It was kind of embarrassing standing up on a table and getting that prickly-hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling that meant people were staring at me. But I needed something to happen.

Mr. V leaned against his desk holding a big blue mixing bowl. His eyes were twinkling even more than usual. Something was up.

“Okay, this will be a bit more interesting, I hope, than reading assessments and grammar exercises,” he said. “Today we will become writers. We will learn to craft a work of art.”

The idiots in the back groaned.

“Here’s a work of art,” a boy named McNamara said, making a fart noise with his mouth.

But Mr. V had my attention. Ever since meeting Ronaldo, an amazing writer, I had been trying to write. Songs, of course. I carried a pocket-sized notebook around with me like Ronaldo did. I jotted down lyric ideas, but they usually didn’t amount to much more than titles. I had lots of song
ideas
, but I didn’t have any actual
songs
.

V stood up and displayed his mixing bowl, tilting it so the class could see. There were dozens of little slips of paper inside with words scrawled on them.

“Writing is a simple but elusive art,” he said. “To write is to describe. Describe accurately and respectfully. And perhaps passionately.”

Kissy sounds from the back.

“Not that kind of passion, Mr. McNamara, although good writers can expect to attract ample attention from the opposite sex, if that’s what you meant to express. May I continue? Thank you so very much.”

McNamara slumped in his seat, embarrassed.

“Inside this bowl there are many assignments for a budding writer. Some of the topics are concrete and very simple, like the description of an object. Other assignments are more … complicated. You will see what I mean by this. Every Monday until Christmas break, each of you will reach into this bowl and pick a topic. And every Friday you will hand in some writing about this topic.”


Every
Friday?” asked McNamara.

“Yes, although you will be pleased to know that your writing may be of any length. If it takes you five words to describe your subject, and you choose the perfect five words, you will receive a good grade. If you write five silly words, or five ridiculous paragraphs, one might surmise that you are not trying your hardest. And students who do not try their hardest sometimes do not receive excellent grades.”

Of course, as Mr. V passed out assignments, all the dorks in the back row announced their topic to the class as loudly as possible.

“What do you think your life will be like in ten years!”

“If you could have two famous people over for the day, who would it be and what would you do with them!” Snickers all around.

“Should we continue to fund the NASA space program!”

My heart started to race as Mr. V came closer with his mixing bowl. Maybe I’d get a song out of this! I closed my eyes and fished around in the bowl for a couple seconds.

“Don’t be afraid, Ms. Cabrera. Just pick one.”

I grabbed a slip of paper, opened my eyes, and saw this:

“Write about a time when you were very homesick.”

I looked up at Mr. V, who was raising his eyebrows, eyes doing that gleaming thing. Was this a trick? Could he have planted this on me? No way. There were still dozens of slips of paper in there.

How was I going to get a song out of this assignment? Missing Brooklyn, missing Egg Mountain, missing my
abuela
—that was pretty much all I thought about at this point. I would need a book the size of
David Copperfield
to get it all down.

In the hall, Curly Burly passed by me so closely that we almost touched. He had switched his Mastodon T-shirt for one that said “If You Don’t Fear God …” on the front. I made sure not to
make eye contact
, but I looked back when I felt it was safe and saw that the shirt read “Then Fear the METAL” on the back. Why are so many metal fans religious? I looked up at the ceiling and thanked my own higher power that Curly Burly hadn’t noticed me. A few feet farther I noticed that same small blond kid sitting in front of his locker. He wasn’t crying or anything, but his hair was all mussed and he wore a totally blank expression. He had obviously just given up his money again.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said back.

“You all right?”

He just shrugged, looking down. I guess he didn’t make eye contact with
anybody
anymore.

“Does that guy take your money every day?” I asked. I noticed he had a hilarious pair of sneakers on, with bright yellow and black stripes on them. It looked like he had two fat bumblebees for shoes. They didn’t exactly match his mood.

“Yeah. It’s not always him, though,” he said. “There’s three or four of them.”

“Why don’t you tell somebody? Like a teacher.”

He sighed. “I know you’re trying to be nice. But you’re not helping. If I tell anyone, then they’ll
really
get me. Just leave me alone, okay?”

“Okay, okay.” So I moved on.

I know I claimed not to care about making friends, but I was doing a more spectacular job of it than I’d ever imagined possible. Even the lowest kids on the totem pole wanted nothing to do with me. They’d have to make a new table at the caff, one even more loserish than Loner Land. I’d be the only one sitting there, and during lunch all the other kids could throw pies at me or something.

I’m not sure if the same higher power that let me pass by Curly Burly without being seen could hear the self-pity session I was conducting in my head, but my luck was about to change. My
life
was about to change. I was about to meet Jonny.

I heard music—actual, nonrecorded, live-in-the-flesh music coming out of an empty classroom. The door was closed but not locked. I turned the knob to the right as slowly and carefully as I could so that I didn’t just barge in on whoever was in there. As I pushed the door open about two inches, I saw a boy sitting on a desk playing an acoustic guitar. At first, I couldn’t hear him above the hallway noise, but his lips were moving, so he had to be singing. Luckily, the boy had his back turned to me, so I was able to stick my whole head inside the room. Now I could hear him.

I totally knew the melody, but I couldn’t figure out what the song was at first. My brain was in that frustrating place between knowing the tune and being able to actually name it. I scrunched my face in concentration, trying to figure it out.

Of course. It was “Crimson and Clover,” one of my favorite songs ever! Tommy James and The Shondells sang it in the sixties, but my favorite version was by Joan Jett, my number two rock ’n’ roll idol of all time ( just behind Satomi). Joan sang it so softly and sweetly, but with the craziest metal-sounding guitars booming like thunder underneath. I remembered my dad once singing “Crimson and Clover” at an all-ages show in a Williamsburg record store. My mom had joined in on the words “what a beautiful feeling,” and I could remember the way she had looked at him while they harmonized, as if he were some kind of god. It was over the top, almost gross—people don’t want to see that kind of smoochie-boochie stuff at a rock show—but that’s just how they are together. My mom is totally into my dad and my dad is totally into whatever song he’s singing.

I kept watching. This kid wouldn’t have been out of place in Loner Land, and I couldn’t exactly imagine gazing dreamily into his eyes. He was big, but not in an athletic way. He had on a giant black parka, but I could still tell he was pretty hefty. He could stand to lose a few pounds. On top of that, he had big square-rimmed glasses that he pushed back to the top of his nose every five seconds because they kept sliding down.

The song sounded good, though, and I was impressed that this geeky kid got away with it. In my old school, for anybody but the most popular kids to display artistic talent, even in this semipublic setting, would have been like throwing a bloody leg to a pool of great whites. This kid, obviously not popular, an outcast for sure based on appearance alone, was taking a pretty large risk. Could he possibly just not care what anybody thought?

I could see that he had some real potential as a musician. He wasn’t doing anything flashy on the guitar, but he had a good sense of rhythm, and a voice all his own: a little reedy, but gritty and solid. He wasn’t going to win
American Idol
anytime soon, but there was a rocker budding inside him. When he was finished, I gave the door a little knock.

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said. “Great song.”

“Umm, thanks,” he said. He stood up and gave me a major nerd stare, like he was having some trouble getting me into focus. Confused, he sat back down again. I walked toward him and sat on a nearby desk.

“Where’d you learn it?”

“My dad taught it to me.”

“Really? My dad plays that song, too.”

No response. He just pushed up his glasses.

“Well, I play bass, and I want to start a band, and—”

“And … you’re new here, aren’t you?”

BOOK: Rules to Rock By
11.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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