A teenage drummer finds out what life is really like on tour with a rock band in this funny and bittersweet YA novel. For anyone who loved Almost Famous or This Is Spinal Tap.
After being dropped from one band, sixteen-year-old drummer Zach gets a chance to go on tour with a much better band. It feels like sweet redemption, but this is one rocky road trip—filled with jealousy, rivalries, and on-stage meltdowns.
Mark Parsons has written a fast-paced, feel-good novel about a boy finding his place in the world, in a band, and in the music. Zach is a character teens will stand up and cheer for as he lands the perfect gig, and the perfect girl.
“A must-read for young garage-band types.” —Booklist
“Readers and especially musicians should enjoy debut novelist Parsons’s look at a band on the run.” —Publishers Weekly
“A road-trip adventure in romance and friendship that is ultimately all about the music.” —Kirkus Reviews
An Excerpt fromRoad Rash
“Start the Show”
Okay, so I was running late. Again.
I hauled the last of my cases to the ancient freight elevator, slapped the button, and collapsed against the wall. And . . . nothing. No light, no hum of machinery, no opening doors, and no hope of not having to hump all my gear up three flights of stairs. That would be my kick drum, my snare, two rack toms and a floor tom, my cymbals, and all that heavy hardware.
Why does this crap only happen when you’re late?
As I stood there, soaking in the wonderfulness of it all, the stairwell door next to the elevator flew open. Out swaggered Toby with two girls, and even though the place had a strict policy of not serving minors, it was clear they’d been drinking. Toby was so intent on laughing at what the girls were saying that I swear he was going to walk right by me. Just as I was about to say Hey, how about a little help here? he finally saw me and slowed. It wasn’t a full stop, mind you, but it was better than nothing. For a lead singer.
“Hey, Zach. Elevator’s out, mate.” And he kept on walking, an arm around each girl. He turned to the hot little blonde on his right and said something into her ear as his hand slipped inside the back of her jeans. She giggled.
“Thanks a lot, mate . . . ,” I said to his back.
At least Kyle didn’t just stand there when I finally arrived upstairs, soaked in sweat. He grabbed my cases and started hauling them to the stage as he went off on me. “Dude! Where’ve you been? We’re supposed to go on any minute.”
“Elevator’s dead,” I said over my shoulder as I headed back for the next load.
“Whoa. Whatcha need?”
“I can get the rest of it. Can you unpack what’s here?”
Now that’s a friend. By the time I returned with the rest of my drums, I’d made a quick mental list of the gear I really needed for the first set, because I’d rather play with the bare-ass minimum than be the reason we were late getting started. Again.
Kyle had my stuff onstage and roughly positioned where it should go, near his bass amp. “Thanks, man,” I said.
“No problem.” He checked the time on his phone, then looked at the pile of equipment that, in theory, was a drumset. “Five minutes. Should I tell the manager we’ll be late?”
“No way. I’m good. Maybe go round up the other guys?”
He nodded and headed off while I started bolting stuff together like a mad elf at 11:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
By the time the other guys were onstage, I had my kick, snare, hi-hat, and throne set up, and my sticks in my hands. The other half of my drumset could wait, and I hadn’t even bothered hooking up my headset microphone--we could live without my backing vocals for the first set. Kyle and Justin had their axes strapped on and plugged in, and Toby said, “Check, test, one, two . . .” into his mic for like the hundredth time already. He looked over his shoulder at me and gave his best rock-star sneer. Which looks pretty dorky on anyone but a real rock star. “You ready?”
I glanced at the set list. “Holiday” was up first. Great. That was gonna suck without my toms. I almost changed it by calling an audible, but that’d be admitting that I really didn’t have my shit together. “Let’s do it,” I said.
Justin started playing the opening riff on his guitar, loud and fuzzy. I kicked the snot out of it with what I had, trying to make up in attitude what I was missing in equipment.
Once I started playing, everything got a whole lot better. Nothing beats drumming for getting your aggressions out. . . .
We got through the song okay. And by the end of the first set--a dozen songs later--I was actually getting into the whole minimalism thing of playing with just the bare bones. Then Toby was his usual buzz-kill self as we came offstage for the break. “Hey, drummer boy,” he said. “You gonna put the rest of your stuff together? ’Cause I feel pretty stupid standing up there in front of a baby drumset.”
“Can’t have that, can we?” Man, it was always all about him. . . .
“Hi, Zach.” I turned around. It was Kimberly, Kyle’s brainy little sister, with her friend Ginger.
“Hey, Kimber. What’s up?”
“We thought we’d come down to check you guys out.” She smiled at me. “You sound really good tonight.”
“What’s wrong with your drumset? Did you lose some drums?”
“Uh, no.” I explained it in Kimber terms. “It’s a scientific experiment. You know--form follows function? Less is more?”
“I see . . .” She held up her hands like she was about to take notes on a clipboard and assumed a scientific voice. “So, Professor Ryan, was your hypothesis correct?”
“Strangely, it kinda was. Helped me focus.” I shook my head. “But on the downside, it sure pissed off the lead singer.”
She nodded knowingly, still in professor mode. “Ah. Unintended consequences.”
Ginger spoke up. “You guys are weird.”
Kimber laughed. “Okay, we’ll go.” She grinned at me. “Bye, Zach.”
As I was finishing getting the rest of my drumset together, Kyle came up to me. “Hey, a couple of the guys from Bad Habit are here. Including GT. I think Justin’s a little nervous.”
“I’ll bet.” Glenn Taylor had a rep as the best guitar player in town, and his band was definitely a couple of notches above us.
And when the second set started, I could definitely see it messing with our guitar player’s head. Justin was trying too hard--instead of just keeping it solid, he’d go for something way over his head, and half the time he’d crash and burn.
It finally got out of control during that old Social Distortion tune “Born to Lose.” When it came time for the solo, he started out okay, but he kept going. And going. And going. At one point he threw his guitar behind his neck and noodled away for like a minute straight. Now, that can look pretty cool if you can actually pull it off. With Justin it was a freakin’ train wreck.
After the song was over, I called him back to my kit.
“Whassup . . . ?” he asked. “You like that solo?”
“Uh, yeah. That was incredible.” In the literal sense. “I just wanted to tell you, GT and his buddies left during the last song.”
“Oh. Um . . . thanks.” He tried to look disappointed, but I could tell he was relieved.
“No worries.” I gave him a thumbs-up and a smile.
It was complete fiction, of course--they were still there, sitting at a table back in a dark corner with some girls. That’s one of the advantages of being the drummer. While the other guys are busy concentrating on their playing (or their performance, if you know what I mean), you’re in back, watching everything. It’s kind of like being the catcher on a baseball team--the pitcher gets all the glory, but you’re really the one calling the shots and keeping an eye on the big picture.
There’s this popular myth that drummers are the morons of the music world. (Q: Why do guitar players keep a pair of drumsticks on their dashboard? A: So they can park in the handicapped spots.) But to do it right, you’ve got to have two streams of consciousness going at the same time, where you’re monitoring your playing and keeping an eye on what’s going on around you.
On the one hand, you’re thinking, Okay, stay on the hi-hats . . . four-on-the-floor . . . make sure to hit those accents . . . good . . . now open the hats a little . . . yeah, build into the chorus . . . add eighth notes on the snare . . . crash! . . . over to the ride cymbal . . . more energy . . . go up to the bell . . . now ride the crash cymbal . . . not too loud yet--the chorus goes high and he can’t sing as strong in that range . . . now drive hard going into the guitar solo, but don’t get too excited and speed up. . . .
On the other hand, it’s like, Good, people are starting to move to the dance floor . . . play solid on the kick drum--make it easy for them to catch the beat . . . this crowd seems to like the danceable mid-tempo stuff better than the fast punk-pop stuff . . . that hot girl in the white shorts can really dance--pull it back one percent and put a little something extra on the backbeat for her--make it sexy, man . . . catch the bass player’s eye and nod so he’ll get the groove and make it even funkier . . . now the floor’s packed--signal the guys and keep the song going for an extra minute . . . sneak a peek at the list while you’re playing and pick another tune in the same style--right now!--so there won’t be enough downtime between songs for them to walk off the floor.
Handicapped, my ass.
By the end of the gig I was back to feeling pretty good about being in the Sock Monkeys. Justin wasn’t a bad guy, and he was a good enough guitar player . . . when he stuck with what he knew. And Kyle was more than just a solid bassist--he had become my best friend since I’d started school in Los Robles a year and a half ago. He was the one who’d asked me to join the group last summer, and hanging with him was the best part of being in the band. And I had to admit that Toby really was a pretty good singer, even if he did have a terminal case of LSD . . . Lead Singer’s Disease. And when everything was working right, there was nothing like being onstage, driving the band. Especially now that we’d gotten good enough to go beyond the free parties and actually get some paying gigs. This felt real--like we could seriously get somewhere.
After we’d finished playing, I was walking toward the restroom when someone said, “Hey, good job up there, man.”
I looked over. It was Glenn Taylor, sitting with two guys that looked semi-familiar and a couple of girls.
One of the guys stood up, a little wobbly. I recognized him as Bad Habit’s drummer, Nate. “Yeah,” he snickered, doing some behind-the-neck air-guitaring. “I especially liked that pathetic Jimi Hendrix impression. What a joke!”
Glenn shrugged. “Okay,” he said calmly, “but what did you think of Zach’s drumming?”
To be honest, I was surprised he knew my name. The guys in Bad Habit were a couple of years older than us--they were all out of high school, and Glenn was the oldest by a few years. Kyle and I were juniors, Toby was a senior, and Justin was only a sophomore.
“I was too busy laughing at the rest of those clowns to notice.” He snorted. “But I know this much--you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. . . .” He stumbled off, heading toward the door.
Glenn looked at the other guy at the table. “Could you give us a minute? No big.”
The guy said, “Sure, GT,” and he and the girls left.
Glenn nodded toward Nate’s empty chair. “Have a seat.”
“Don’t mind Nate,” he said. “He’s never been big on giving credit. And he’s hammered, as usual.” He paused. “Have you ever thought about expanding your horizons, musically speaking?”
“Uh . . . I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I’m scouting around for someone more, um . . . reliable. I like the way you play--good mix of attitude and skill. Any interest?”
“Wow. I mean, thanks! But . . .” I saw Kyle and the guys across the room, joking around. “I’m pretty committed to my band.” Man, that sounded lame.
“That’s a good thing to be.” He smiled and held out his hand. “Thanks anyway. And you really did sound solid tonight. Keep on it.” I shook his hand. He wasn’t a huge guy, but he had a grip like iron. “Well, take care,” he said.
I finished my original mission, then walked back toward the stage. As I started taking my stuff apart and packing it up, I felt weird. Like, what if I’d just blown a great chance? Bad Habit were big on the local scene. Big enough to go somewhere . . . and believe me, I’ve got nothing against that. I mean, I’ve been playing drums since I was ten--I freakin’ love music, and I’ve always dreamed of being able to do something with it.
But then I thought about the Sock Monkeys. We had sounded pretty good tonight--at least after Justin stopped showing off. And Glenn had probably just complimented me because he might need a temporary fill-in for his band sometime. I could hear my dad now. “Good networking skills,” he would have called Glenn’s pitch. “Never burn a bridge you might want to drive over someday.” He was full of stupid sayings like that, but this time he’d probably be right.
Kyle grabbed one of my cases as I was loading out and fell in beside me. The elevator was still broken, but down was better than up, especially with two of us. He was pretty quiet as we navigated the stairs. Then he finally spoke. “I saw you talking to GT and those guys. What did they want?”
I almost told him, but what was the point? “He wanted your sister’s phone number,” I joked. We were always kidding about setting Kimber up, but she was evidently pretty picky.
“Yeah, right . . .”
“Actually, we were just shooting some hoops. They thought we sounded good.”
He nodded slowly, like there was no way he was buying that one, either. “Uh-huh . . . sure.”