Born to Rock
Leo Caraway is about the most straight-laced guy you could ever find. Honor student, headed for Harvard, president of his school's Young Republicans club ... until he is accused of cheating on a test and blackmarked unfairly, and learns that his biological father is not the man who raised him, but about the most wild and famous singer punk rock has ever had.
Now Leo is working as a roadie on a summer tour with Purge, learning the punk scene from the inside out, and trying to get to know his father. Unfortunately, the punk scene isn't exactly Ozzie and Harriett, and Leo has got quite a learning curve ahead of him, as he tries to avoid the sex and drugs the punk scene is riddled with.
Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of unpleasant surprises waiting for Leo, and some rather unpleasant experiences, to boot. But if he can weather the storm, he just may make some worthwhile friends!
From the Book:
The omens were bad from the outset. My tray table wouldn't come down. They ran out of Coke so I had to have diet. And somewhere over the Grand Canyon , an indicator light came on, signifying either catastrophic engine failure or a faulty indicator light.
We landed in Las Vegas , and sat there for about three hours. That's how long it took them to decide that, whatever the problem was, they couldn't fix it.
There were no more planes available, so they stuck us on a bus. Five and a half mortal hours later, we pulled into LAX. If anybody had come to meet me, they sure weren't there now. The L.A. show had already started.
Concussed was an all-day outdoor festival that kicked off around noon and went on until midnight or later. As the headliners, Purge didn't appear until last, so the band wouldn't even head over to the venue until later in the evening. But the roadies had to be there early, getting the equipment in place for when Lethal Injection was done, and it was time to set up for the main event.
It was already after nine. I was late for my first day of work. I unloaded my baggage from the bus's cargo bay and somehow managed to cram it all into a taxi. According to Bernie's faxes, the venue was an old, out of use racetrack in the San Fernando Valley .
The taxi driver was ecstatic. I found out why. It was a hundred-and-fifteen-dollar fare. I wanted to argue with the guy, but even outside the gates, the roar of raw punk was so loud that he wouldn't have heard a word I said. I paid up.
The cab drove away, leaving me grunting under two big suitcases and a backpack. The place would have qualified as the middle of nowhere, except for the presence of forty thousand head-banging fans, whipped up to fever pitch. The stage looked like it was in the next county. But the noise was up close and personal – two giant walls of speakers, blasting enough decibelage to move the San Andreas Fault .
My eyes fell on a huge guy wearing an EVENT STAFF jacket. He wasn't a punk. He looked more like a Hell's Angel. I pushed my way over and showed him my CREW badge. He glanced at it and waved me forward in the general direction of the eighty acres of surging, screaming humanity.
A hand clamped onto my shoulder. “ Leo! ” I only heard the voice because it was bellowing in my ear. A semi-familiar face – Cam Somebody. One of Purge's roadies, part of the team that had put me in the garbage, but a very welcome sight right now. “What happened, man? You stood us up!”
“There was a problem with the plane! I was stuck in Vegas –” I broke it off. What was the point of trying to explain it? “Where is everybody? Where am I supposed to go?”
He pointed at the distant spotlit stage and grinned. “These people are going to love you, man! Some of them have been camped out since last night to get a place up close!”
He could have helped me. He could have taken at least one suitcase on the thousand-mile journey to the front. But he didn't offer, and I sure wasn't going to ask. It's hard enough to win the respect of your coworkers as the new kid. But when they've already picked you up and heaved you into a New York City alley, you're not starting with much cred.
So I hefted my stuff and waded into the mob. If Woodstock had been about sixties peace and love, Concussed was about 21 st Century do-it-to-him-before-he-does-it-to-you. I paid dearly for every inch of progress I made. Some of it was unintentional. A guy with tons of luggage makes a pretty big speed bump in the middle of all that slam-dancing. Yet I was grateful for the luggage. It took the majority of the blows that came my way.
Closer to the stage, the crush tightened up, and my progress stalled. People were packed in belly to belly, bouncing vertically, because there was no horizontal. The net effect of hundreds of tons of bodies leaping up and down in perfect unison was more like a force of nature than anything man-made.
I was stuck. Literally. There was no going forward, no going sideways, and no going back. If this had been Pompeii – a volcano preserving us in lava for all time – archeologists would have driven themselves insane trying to figure what some tourist was doing there with luggage in the middle of a huge public event.
Then, with a spectacular crash that included the demolition of several guitars, Lethal Injection ended their performance. The crowd went berserk, and I was almost sandwiched to death between my suitcases.
To thank us for our warm reception, the band ripped off all their clothes and stood before us, stark naked except for long ski socks covering their privates. Bellowing insults and obscenities, they performed an impromptu conga line before stomping into the wings.
I knew I'd never have a better chance than this. I held my bags in front of me like a plow blade and began bulling my way forward. The fans shoved back and cursed me out, but at least I was making headway. I veered diagonally toward the side of the stage and arrived, more or less intact, just in time to see Cam roll up in a golf cart. He had driven just outside the fence along a cinder track that ringed the festival grounds.
I was livid. “How come you made me fight my way through that crazy crowd?”
He leered. “Hazing, buttwipe. You're the new guy. Get used to it.”
There was no point in sulking. It was time for Leo Caraway to report for duty before he got any later. Purge was on next.
Backstage was almost as crowded as out front. Besides Purge, there were eight other bands, their managers, and their crews. They were all done for the day. The openers, the Stem Cells, had finished their set around one-thirty. But they had returned to watch history in the making. Concussed 's full contingent of staff, talent, and crew was there, along with reporters, photographers, and an assortment of VIPs. This next set represented the resurrection of Purge after sixteen-years. It was very big stuff.
Still carrying my luggage, I ran around looking for King, and finally came face to face with him in the wings.
“I'm sorry!” I panted, out of breath from hauling my worldly possessions through an army of ravening beasts. “The plane broke down and we came from Vegas by bus! I got here as fast as I could –”
He looked at me with such utter ferocity that I was cut to pieces. Then he stalked away without so much as a single word. I'm not ashamed to admit that I almost lost it. What the hell was I doing three thousand miles away from home with this man?
Bernie came rushing up behind me. “Jeez, Leo, don't talk to him before he goes on! He'll rip your lungs out without ever knowing he did it!”
I stared at my biological father. He was now standing over by the lighting array, his murderous gaze raking an innocent sandbag with every bit as much rage as he'd just directed at me. It was the trademark King Maggot anger, as much a part of his wardrobe as his black leather jacket and the noose around his neck.
Feeling a little better, I explained to Bernie about my jinxed journey west.
“Don't sweat it, cuz,” he said soothingly. “This is earn-while-you-learn time for all of us. Just watch the guys set up onstage, see what plugs where. You'll get your feet wet soon enough.” He looked at me with a wry smile. “And I guess we should find a place for those suitcases.”
We stashed them on an equipment truck. “You'll pick up the tricks of traveling light,” he said kindly. “Did you know most bands use disposable underwear? They get onstage, sweat it up, and chuck it. No time for laundry on the road.”
“Thanks, Bernie.” I really meant it. Here he was, minutes away from his band's official comeback, taking the time to make me feel welcome. Bio-dad might have been scary and weird, but at least bio-cousin was a nice guy.
I found a spot in the wings and perched on a stack of amplifiers beside a music critic from the L.A. Times . The crowd was getting restless again. It was almost midnight , and everyone knew what was coming next.
When the stage lights finally went out, the clamor of anticipation drowned out the introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen –” Yeah, right. “Lockjaw recording artists – Purge !”
It was the last thing I heard clearly for about six days. The roar of approval from forty thousand throats came in perfect unison with a guitar chord so distorted, so loud that I felt it below the gum-line. The drumbeats were jackhammers, one in each ear. The vibration of the bass went right to my innards and out the other side of me.
I didn't like this kind of music. I didn't even think it was music. Yet I could tell that Lethal Injection had been a bunch of kids fooling around with instruments in someone's garage compared with the authority and power of Neb Nezzer, Zach Ratzenburger, and Max Plank.
It almost slipped my mind that there was another part of Purge.
And then the wrath of the gods was unleashed on that stage. The reaction of the audience to seeing King Maggot after sixteen long years was so explosive that I thought the former racetrack might tear itself loose from the crust of the earth and blast off into space.
I'd heard the CD; I'd studied the pictures, read the accounts of shows Purge had put on in their heyday. It was all nothing in the face of the spectacle that now assaulted my eyes and ears. I'd expected the noise and the seething onslaught of King's lyrics. But in a million years I couldn't have imagined it being so devastating. Not good, but – impressive .
You could say it was God-awful, but you couldn't say nothing much was happening here.
“ No life on Mars, or so they say,
But we'll destroy it anyway,
Make it clean for the USA ,
And how ‘bout Venus next … okay! ”
As King bawled their signature anthem, forty thousand throats screamed along with him:
“ Bomb Mars now! Nuke Mars now!
Just you wait and see,
Bomb Mars now! Nuke Mars now!
The new diplomacy … ”
I looked over at the music critic from the L.A. Times . She wasn't making notes. She was weeping. Her eyes never left the figure that rampaged across the stage.
Neither did mine. The thought that this was my father, that I shared an earlobe and DNA with this force of nature, made me dizzy. That plus the fact that it was well after midnight , east coast time, and I'd first arrived at JFK airport at five-thirty a.m. But that was a small detail, and three thousand miles a modest commute, to arrive at this point – the actualization of my quest for the mystery factor inside Leo Caraway. For there was no doubt that I was witnessing on that stage McMurphy in its purest form.
I'd never understood how my staid respectable mother could have been taken in by a punk rocker. Now it was as obvious as Isaac Newton and the apple: This guy had gravity . He was an irresistible force.
Unlike Lethal Injection, Purge didn't feel the need to curse out the audience all that much. King started off on a couple of political rants, but every time he opened his mouth, the brouhaha of agreement and adulation was so instantaneous and so loud that he couldn't be heard. It didn't really matter. His issues weren't exactly cutting edge. I heard him mention Grenada in there somewhere, which I think was some mini-war back in the eighties that lasted about fifteen seconds.
That aside, it didn't seem that Purge had lost any steam during their sixteen-year hiatus. Potbellies and receding Mohawks notwithstanding, they were still the angriest band in America , capable of raising the roof in a place that didn't even have one.
The grand finale was I Wanna Be Your Stalker , which, according to Melinda, had been the last song they'd recorded before the breakup.
Melinda. The thought of her brought a strange smile to my lips. God, she should see this! She'd probably be crying harder than the reporter, whose notebook was now blue-stained pulp.
Even I could tell that the band was building to a shattering crescendo. King Maggot took a running leap off the edge of the stage and launched himself spread-eagle into the frenzied crowd. Drummer Max Plank pulled off a cymbal and Frisbee-ed it into a lighting array, taking out a three-thousand-watt flood in a shower of sparks. Zach Ratzenburger ripped all the strings off his electric bass, producing a squeal of feedback that was close to unbearable.
And Neb Nezzer hurled himself straight up in the air in his signature scissor-kick, landing on the stage in a full split.
I watched him, bug-eyed, counting off the seconds.
He didn't get up.
Copyright 2006 by Gordon Korman, used by permission