Rock Star: Man and Boy
When he was 14
The boy was disappointed with the news. He had been waiting for weeks, no, months. His hopes were high, and as his Dad had instructed him to, he had remained confident.
Deep down, he knew that his dreams were not going to come true in one hit, he was aware that he would have to work hard and make sacrifices. But, he was sure that all of those nights sat alone, just a tatty old desk lamp and Radio One for company, he had done something good. His heroes must have been smiling on him. Surely his adulation deserved a repayment from the benevolent spectres residing in otherworldly recording studios.
His Dad woke him up. “Hey La, it’s here son,” with that he gingerly passed the boy an envelope. The boy paused, looked up at his father, then ripped into it the way an overexcited child would excavate a chocolate bar.
The boy put on a brave face. But any way you look at it, rejection; no matter how polite is still rejection. “Don’t give in son, keep at it! Go again La.”
“I will Dad.”
He pulled himself from his bed and into his robe. He fumbled with the tie belt and folded it into a knot. He mooched over to the desk in the corner of his room. He shifted some papers and found his notepad, he switched on his light, then his radio and said, “Knock us up a brew Dad, I’ve got some songs to write.”
When he was 18
Nurses flipped from one room to the next. The fluorescent lighting was migraine inducing. Worried looking men sauntered in smoking rooms and circled vending machines the way hyenas’ would a wounded gazelle. The boy couldn’t get himself together. This had happened so fast. Well, nine months seems like a long time. You get the news, you have a panic attack, and then you calm down. You accept the wonder, and the adventure and everything begins to make sense with the world. Responsibility is still a very long way down the road, but it’s in the post. That letter is going to hit the mat and when it does, boom! Everything changes. ‘How did this happen so fast?” He thought. He couldn’t stop thinking it.
And there she was. All gasps and sweat. Calmed by drugs and a revolving door of midwives, each one more convincingly supportive than the last. They had been there nearly 14 hours. He was tired but strangely wired. They didn’t give him any drugs. And as much as he joked and gave them theatrical winks, it didn’t look like they were ever going to. She was serene, all of the agonies had seemed to evaporate. Labour had stopped, and the doctors were considering their options. Surgery was probably imminent, the boy was terrified, this was too much adulthood coming down the pipe.
“Alright La?” A voice, loud, chirpy and echoing bellowed from behind. It was Puz, the lead guitarist in his band the Bass Kings. A scally five piece from the back end of St. Helens. They were young rock n rollers who’d caught on to the Mancunian baggy sound of 1990. For over a year they had been giving old standards from the great American songbook a trippy dance make-over. Then the boy and Puz got their heads together and began writing songs. Within six months they were the talk of Merseyside, it was like the Beatles all over again, with phat beats, psychedelia and a bit of ecstasy thrown in for good measures. “So? Is it a boy or a girl?” Puz asked.
“I dunno, she ‘ant had it yet.”
“Fuck me, man, you’ve been here for about three days,”
“I don’t think so. It’s only been a day La.”
“Time flies doesn’t it?”
“I’m a bit worried mate. It don’t look good. They reckon they’re gonna have to operate. It’s fuckin’ scary. I feel like a proper spare part here man, to be honest.”
Puz looked his friend over, “Come ‘ed La. Let’s go to the canteen. I think you need a break.”
The boy took one last look in the room, and a concerned midwife was taking readings and talking with a reassured calm and an altogether uncanny familiarity to the girl. The boy followed Puz down to the canteen, their trainers squeaking as they navigated the super wide, super clean, horrifically lit corridors of the Liverpool maternity hospital.
They pulled up chairs and sat at the table, Puz walked over to a vending machine, he fed it some coins and pulled two cans of pop from its metal jaw. Simultaneously the lads cracked the cans, and they both gave a little bubbly fizz. They gulped down the sugary fuel, and both belched at forty decibels apiece. “You’ve not forgotten have you?” said Puz
“Forgotten what?” the boy replied.
‘It’s the gig tonight. Y’know THE gig? The one where Lucas Rane is coming. Don’t say you forgot.”
“Are you fuckin’ kidding me? Mate at the minute I’d forget me balls if they weren’t in a bag.”
“No way! No fuckin’ way have you forgot!”
“La, I’m fucking sorry, my missus is having a baby, I’m having a baby. What do you expect me to do?”
“I expect you to do your duty. And not let your fuckin’ mates down that’s what I expect. This has been planned for months, and it’s not like we can just get someone else. You’re the front man for fuck’s sake!” Puz was panicking, phlegm and frothy mucus was flicking from his lips as he spoke, his pupils looked like saucers made from coal. He was on edge and, that only ever meant one thing. The boy was going to have to be careful; this boat did not need rocking.
“Mate, can we do it another time?”
“You’re fucking jokin’ aren’t ya? This is Lucas Rane, the fucking owner of Cream Records. How many times do you think he stops by here?”
“Mate, she’s going into the operating theatre,”
The boy didn’t get to finish his sentence, Puz flew into a rage. He threw the table up into the air; he flung his chair across the canteen as though it were a deformed discus, he screamed, “Fuck you!” and stormed from the canteen. The boy sat silent. Puz was like this; someone knocked his last mouthful of burger from his hand once. Totally by accident and Puz went postal. The lad is ok now, but for a while, it was touch and go. They thought he’d be eating through a tube for his whole life. It’s amazing, science these days. The boy thought about his mate, and what had just happened, he thought about Lucas Rane. He thought about the void in his life, a dark, menacing, all-consuming blackness that would be there if he didn’t have the Kings. His ambition, his sweat, his tenaciousness, and their talent had brought them here; to the precipice of fame, the edge of forever. As he watched Puz slam doors and kick bins on his way out, he watched four years of pain and rejection wash itself down a hole, like dirty bath water. There would be another chance. Probably.
Outside the hospital, there was a scuffle. Some bloke, with some kid, had hit some other bloke’s car and all hell was breaking loose. Ambulances were pulling up along with family hatchbacks, where nervous, breathy looking men and women would cautiously navigate the footpath to powder coated white automatic doors. None of them noticed Puz. He spat curse words to himself and reached into his jacket and pulled out a packet of fags. He sparked one up and took a long deep pull. The rush of nicotine relaxed him. The bodies running all over the place and the ruck between the two blokes gave him a moments pause. He threw the fag, stubbed it out with his toe and ran back into the hospital.
The boy was exactly where Puz had left him. Looking down, examining the cracks in the limestone floor. “I’m sorry La.” Puz said. He retrieved the seat he had tossed earlier and sat beside the boy. “It means a lot you know? I’m so sorry. But this is our shot. That Manchester scene has blown up. It’s like Mersey beat all over again. Anyone with a scally twang can get a deal. It could sort us out for life. And you want a good life don’t ya? For the baby like and her. You don’t want to be scrimpin’ and scrapin’, like we have been doin’ do you?”
The boy looked up, Puz was moved, genuinely moved. “I can’t leave her Puz. She’s having me kid.”
“I know La. I know.”
“Maybe it’s not our time, you know? Perhaps we’re not ready,”
“I just keep thinking back to all the rejection. I don’t know if we’re even any good.”
“You keep trying though don’t ya? You’ve never give up.”
“True. But sometimes I wonder who I think I am. I mean I’m just a scouser, can I change the world? It’s fucking laughable.”
“La, Edward Rushton was a Scouser, and he changed the world. John Lennon was a scouser, he’s still changin’ the world, and he’s been dead ten years. Paul McCartney was a Scouser, and so was Jerry Marsden. You and me, we can change the world. If you want to, we fuckin’ can! We just have to take our chances. Tonight we’ve got a chance.”
The two lads looked at each other. The boy could see it in Puz. He was serious. He wanted to change the world, one bar, one pub, one club, one theatre, one arena and one stadium at a time. “Come with us. Play the gig. Then come straight back here and tell her we’ve got a record deal. Tell her that she’ll have the house of her dreams in less than a year. Tell her that you’re gonna save the world let alone change it!”
The boy felt as though he had just been given permission to commit a crime, to sleep with another woman or to eat chocolate without gaining weight. Permissible sin. The gates had just been opened.
Clicking drumsticks gave a three count. Puz ripped into the opening chords of the crowd favourite, ‘E Street.’ The boy took it all in. He took a breath and started to sing. By the third number, there was a cloud of vapour rising from the throngs of ravers, sweat dripped from the ceiling, and the entire room was as one and love really was all they needed. That night the Bass Kings didn’t put a foot wrong. And everything came naturally; the whole set just felt right. They finished with a cover version of ‘A Day in the Life.’ A tricky number at the best of times, but rendered by the Bass Kings with such funk, rhythm, and groove that some younger less cultured members of that audience may well have thought it one of the King’s own; an observation that didn’t escape Lucas Rane.
“Well boys,” Rane said. “That was pure fucking magic.” Rane was in his early forties. Wayfarer sunglasses hid eyes that had seen plenty and showed it. His thinning red hair was discreetly covered by a Kangol spitfire cap, which he wore backward. His clothes, expensive, trendy, stunk of success. “You boys can play a crowd that is for damn sure. I loved it lads. So, where do you want to be in five years time?”
“Playing Knebworth mate, one hundred and twenty fuckin’ thousand people all paying to see us.” Puz said. The band broke up into a manic chorus of laughter. All except the boy, he glanced at Rane’s Rolex. It was twenty to eleven. He needed to be elsewhere. “I could see that happening lads.” Rane said. “I really could. I have an offer for you. Come on tour with me and the Nature’s. We’ve twenty-one dates left. You can open. If you show me that you can rock crowds across Europe like you did tonight, I’ll sign you. I’ll give you two albums.” The Natures were this decade’s answer to the Rolling Stones, hailing from Manchester their debut album ‘Ask yer Dad,’ had sat unbothered at the top of the album charts for twelve weeks. The record itself has spawned three number one singles, number one on both the pop, dance and indie charts. They were in the middle of their european tour were about to finish up and go off to break america. After thirty dates stateside their plan was to nip to Barbados to record that much-anticipated second album. “The deal is a grand per gig, and your ex’s paid. You show me that tonight wasn’t just a good night in front of a home crowd and I’ll back you all the way boys. What do you say?”
Puz blurted “Yeah, fuck yeah! Count us in.”
“Can you give us a minute please Mr. Range?” The boy said.
“No bother son, call me Lucas okay?”
“Sure Lucas no problem mate,” the boy said pulling Puz off to one side. “What you fuckin’ doin’? I can’t go to europe yer twat. I’ve got a baby on the way.”
“La! Don’t be stupid; we won’t need to leave for weeks yet. Go and see the kid and we’ll let you know when we’re away. This is it mate. This is what we came here for! We are going to smash the fuck out of europe! Not literally, y’know like football hooligans, we’re just gonna show ‘em a good time, fuckin’ hell you know what I mean.”
“I didn’t think of it like that, okay, I’m in!”
“Lucas,” Puz said, “We’re in, when do you need us?”
“I’ll call my girl at the office get you lads on the same flight as me. We’ve a gig in Turin tomorrow night, it’s scheduled to kick off after the England, Germany game. I’m positive it’ll be a fucking belter!”
“Tomorrow night? What time’s your flight?” Puz asked
“6 AM, buddy. We need to be at Manchester airport at 4 AM. Don’t worry about anything boys, just pack up your gear and I’ll get you a bus. You can sleep on the plane, and I’ll have the Nature’s tour manager meet us on the other side.”
Puz looked at the boy. The boy had been drained of all colour. Puz gave Rane a nod and walked over to the boy. He put his arm around him. “La, I know what you’re thinkin’. But mate. It’s now or never. Do we seize the day? Or do we just disappear down the DSS hole of obscurity?”
“Puz, I can’t mate, I fuckin’ can’t. I can’t leave her and the kid. I just can’t do it. If he likes us that much, he’ll wait. Seriously he will, and I mean if he wants to sign us, there’s a million like him that will too. I can’t go.”
Puz sighed, a deflated but acknowledging sigh. He turned to Rane. “Lucas, our kid here has just had a young un, it’s gonna be tough getting out to Europe, I think.” Rane for the first time that evening lifted his glasses. His pale blue eyes were surrounded by soft wrinkles, with little fleshy bags hanging beneath with a deep aubergine tint. If anyone could cane it, it was Lucas, and those eyes gave the whole game away. They thinned as he spoke, “Look boys the offer I’ve made you, is something that I have never done before. After Turin, I’m back in London, and I have three more showcases to see. Who knows what’s waiting for Cream Records? Look, I may have jumped the gun, perhaps you’re not ready. Let’s call it off eh? Good luck though lads.” Puz almost collapsed, “No fucking way!” He screamed. “We’re going,” He turned and looked at the boy, “We’re fucking going!”
The wee figure wrapped in a tiny swaddle lay silently in his perspex bed. His eyes, brand new and shining like tiny crystals were fixed on his mother. He arrived at 11 pm, and after some skin on skin bonding and that all-important first feed she had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep. The baby came in at 7llbs 8ozs, and as yet he was unnamed. He lay calm, his eyes started to flicker, just taking in his surrounding, but never taking them off his mother for more than a second. It is amazing how loud such a tiny thing can be when they’re doing nothing but breathing. His breaths, in, then out broken by small hiccups filled the room. As did his smell, that sweet smell. If it were a perfume, it could only be called innocence. This little human, this boy, has his whole life ahead of him and for these brief moments of serenity, he just looked on in wonder at the one constant he would know his whole life, his mother.
He didn’t notice the figure sat in the chair on the other side of his mum. He didn’t notice the sweat on his brow, his unkempt look or the tears streaming down his face. The figure stood up and walked over to the perspex box, the baby’s first home. The figure peered in, and the baby looked up. The figure looked upon this mini miracle, and more tears streamed across his face. He reached down and put his finger into the tiny hand. The baby gripped on. The boy was astounded at how strong the grip was and how soft the skin was. It was heavenly. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. There was nothing on earth that could be so soft. The finest silks have nothing on the skin of a newborn baby.
“Hey, little fella. You alright?” The boy said, only just holding back the waterworks. “Your Dad’s gotta go away for a bit, it’s not long,” now he stammered, and shame gripped him by his throat, and he almost choked on his words, “I’ll be back. I promise, I’ll see you soon, and we’ll have good life. I mean it.” The boy leaned in and kissed his son, on the forehead. With his forefinger, he gently stroked his cheek and then left. He didn’t look at her; he couldn’t. If he had seen her, touched her, felt her, then he would have stayed. The taxi was waiting, Rane was waiting, Puz and the boys were waiting, Turin was waiting, but time moves faster than anyone will give it credit for.
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