My Rock and Roll Journey to Fame by Fletcher Mulaney
“I do not want the peas and carrots! I want to bang on pots and pans!” My pudgy, three year old hands gripped a wooden spoon as I sat on the kitchen floor, colander comically upside down upon my head (picture a stock photo of a whimsical baby as you think of this).
“Fletcher, you are a little girl toddler baby, and banging on pots and pans is very annoying.” My mother knelt down to slide the cooking pot out of range of my frantic whacking.
“I need to rock and roll, Mommy! I don’t want to do anything else!” Clearly, one too many viewings of Harry Nilsson’s animated brain child The Point had incepted a bubbling desire express myself through my bond with rock music, which I could only do with one wooden spoon and one stainless steel stew pot.
“Rock and rolling is loud. And it is unrealistic, because we live in the suburbs, and your parents are a schoolteacher and another schoolteacher respectively, and our favorite musicians are Sheryl Crow and U2.”
I scowled in my pull-ups, feeling my first inkling of rebellion against society and normalcy and Mommy. In 20 years, I would prove her wrong. But not with drums. With a guitar instead. This was all just an insight into how it all began, like they do in most books.
Chapter One: Feeling Bad and Being It
When I was 14, I had the rare teen mindset of pompous self-righteousness and unrivaled insecurity. My school was small, nobody understood me. My three best friends, Jenny, Jessie, and Bob understood me, but for the sake of context, let’s say they didn’t, so you understand how alone I felt. I spent a lot of time alternately playing Animal Crossing and sighing. I loved my parents, because I had to, but they just didn’t get it. In the backseat of the car on my way to Aunt Kellen’s bi-annual potluck barbecue with my mom and dad, the radio would play; sometimes old music, Neil Young or KISS, sometimes new music, Queens of the Stone Age or Foo Fighters. I’d be lost in a dream of bright lights and guitars, the shrubby sidewalk scenery blending into an imagination station of cheering crowds and sweaty men making devil horns out of their knobby fingers on stage. Then my mom would turn the volume down.
“Fletcher, honey, did I remind you to take the baked beans out of the fridge and put them in the cooler? I know we have the potato salad, but I’d be bummed as heck if we missed the beans.”
“Mom! Radio! I don’t know about the beans!”
“I put you in charge of the beans, honey, Aunt Kellen says she would much rather have our slow-cooked beans than the ones out of cans and I’d hate to break her heart like that.” The last crash cymbal and throaty drawl of Smells Like Teen Spirit had ended, and I had missed the song. I clawed up toward the front of the car to grab the steering wheel and veer us off the road out of anger, but the seatbelts of our Ford Windstar held too strongly for me to get good reach. I guess the manufacturers presumed that the drivers of Ford Windstars would have children driven ornery over the oppressive habits of their parents and took steps to prevent this.
I would go home after the barbecue full of good food and malaise, flopping eternally on my bed until the springs gave way. They just don’t get it, I thought, slinging my dead weight over to my record player and putting on The Clash. The album’s waxy grooves were nearly worn out, which was a very hip thing to say and I felt very cool. My father had indifferently given me his record player after I whined incessantly about how my very expensive iPod wasn’t analog enough. It came along with three records; Peggy Lee’s greatest hits, E.S.P. by The BeeGees, and an unplayed copy of Prince’s Purple Rain still in the wrapper, untouched due to my father’s complete disinterest in having a wild side. But I loved it. I could relate to both darling Nikki and Prince. I tossed and caught a baseball, which I owned exclusively for nights of teenage introspection like this, glancing around at my Bowie, Pixies, and Motley Crue posters. I didn’t care much for Motley Crue, but they had a pull-out poster in Revolver Magazine, and I kept it on principle. Any friend of rock and roll is a friend of mine.
One particular post-barbecue night, I heard my bedroom window slide open. It was Bob. Bob hated being called Bob, until he found out about Bob Dylan, after which point he reveled in it and began growing out his fluffy brown hair and wearing aviators inside. It’s important to remember that some Bobs deserve respect. He shut the window behind him.
“We’re going to have a crazy night tonight,” Bob said, arms outstretched in an are you ready to party sort of way.
“Are we going to have sex? Because I only associate you with Bob Dylan and ‘Ugliest Girl in the World’ makes me uneasy.”
“One, we’re 14, I don’t even know how to get into the vagina right. And two, hold onto your hat Fletcher, we’re going to see Green Day!” I alternatingly smiled and frowned for at least 20 seconds, delighting in the idea, but remembering that my parents don’t care much for loud music and breaking curfews and would never let me go.
“My parents don’t care much for loud music and breaking curfews and would never let me go.”
“Well, that’s not a very fly way to think.” Bob joined me in flopping around on my bed in solidarity.
“To Dan and Judy Mulaney, ‘Green Day’ sounds like the name for a community picnic, the kind of picnic there definitely aren’t any political protests at.”
“Never say never, and we’re so going. American Idiot just came out and they don’t seem to have entirely lost their edge yet. Also, my brother’s car is idling outside.”
“Your older, 19 year old brother, Mike! He’s a hottie.”
“That sucks. And I say that in the most supportive way possible.” I heard a honk outside, undoubtedly Mike and his gay hotness agitated at my apprehension.
“What do you say? Just come out the window, and after the concert, go back in through the window. It ain’t rocket science. It’s rock and ROLL science.” His joke wasn’t funny, and I was too focused on what I should wear. I rifled through drawers and took out all the black clothing I had, throwing t-shirts around in a whirlwind of startled fashion consciousness. I settled on an Andrew W.K. t-shirt and frantically tied a choker around my neck. “We’ve already gotten you a ticket, you just have to show up and rock. But like, please rock faster, because my brother is a deadbeat and has trouble paying for gas.” Another honk from outside. I grabbed eyeliner and smeared it around my eyes like The Crow on his most desperate days. ‘Spanish Bombs’ played softly as I looked at myself in the mirror, looking particularly hardcore, feeling nebulously politically charged.
“Let’s do this kooky thing.”
Mike’s Mazda hatchback rattled down the road, his friend Todd in the front seat and Bob and I in the back. I made eyes at Mike in the rearview mirror. He grimaced.
“Fletcher’s never been to a concert before,” Bob remarked, ruining my chances with Mike forever. Todd leaned over his seat, winking his own lined eyes at me.
“Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, Kiddo,” he said, brandishing a joint in front of me. “You smoke?”
“Yeah, in theory,” I tucked my hair behind my ears nervously a million times until my ears burned with both physical abrasion and embarrassment. The idea of smoking weed reminded me of Jimi Hendrix, who was one of my heroes, but things didn’t turn out too well for him. I looked over at Bob.
“Do you smoke weed, Bob?” He half-laughed.
“Yeah, every day, like, all the time.”
“Shut up, nerd,” Mike interjected, laying on the horn about some traffic-related traffic. “No you don’t. You only smoke weed when I get it for you.” Bob bowed his head silently, as he had gotten served.
“I’ll do it,” I said, grabbing the joint. “Just like smoking a cigarette, right?” I had never smoked a cigarette.
“Inhale, hold it, and let the magic dragon take you away, man.” Todd sounded like a character in Mallrats, which was a very cool thing to me. I hit it, dirt-grass air flew into my lungs, and I coughed one million times until I thought I was dead. The car’s passengers cheered. I was one of the cool kids now, untouchable due to my participation in physically absorbing illegal substances.
The Mazda bumbled along, and the lights of the city outskirts flew by like flower girls in a wedding throwing handfuls of stars instead of petals. I squinted. Have lights always been so crazy? I thought to myself. Do we need them at all? Would we have albino eyes and translucent skin like those cave geckos if we had no light?
“Geckos,” I leaned over to Bob and whispered into his ear. He nodded knowingly.
We came up on the massive parking lot around the outdoor arena, guys in dork-vests directing cars to empty spaces. We seemed to be late, already missing the sobbing wails of sexy sadboys My Chemical Romance. My eyes widened as we pulled in. “This is my first green day. I smoked the marijuana cigarette, and I’m going to see Green Day.” I reached into my pocket to text this to Jenny with my Nokia brick cell phone, but became immediately lost my train of thought and played Snake instead.
The arena was a madhouse, full of mad men seeking a mad party. Ticket scalpers, security bros, dudes selling t-shirts and bottled water for like 20 dollars. We flashed our tickets and were given our classic hot pink underage kid wristbands. I smiled with glee, and wondered if my parents had noticed that the pile of unread textbooks and snack sized bags of Cheetos under my blankets weren’t me.
The rock and roll boys and I ran down onto the field to aggressively nudge our way into the crowd, elbowing teens and parents and teens with their parents on the way into the audience. We got a fleeting glimpse at My Chemical Romance and their gothness as they finished a presumably spectacular set, as noted by the show-goers screaming and crying as we pushed through. I had missed “Helena”, and that was the song I knew, so I shrugged begrudgingly and made myself okay with it.
The crowd was a pulsating colony, thousands of drones awaiting their queen bee of punk rock. I thought of bees, I thought of honeycomb, and I thought of how deeply into the ocean of bodies Bob was pulling me by the hand. Sweaty biceps and long hair smacked into my face as we weaseled through the maze of chicks and dudes, to get as close to the stage as humanly possible. Is this what Ellis Island felt like? I wondered.
“Hit it,” Todd handed me another joint. He had lit up! Outside, plain as day! I looked around, and nobody cared. Seems no parents had made a point to slog this deeply into the gross human fleshpot. Mike smoked, Todd smoked, Bob smoked, and I smoked, because smoking was my thing now. I thought of buying a lava lamp.
Just like that, the lights went down, and the crowd, in its infectious vibrations of anticipation, shrieked and pushed closer together. The band came out onto the stage, thin and aging and very serious about their jobs. You could have sworn Jesus had descended from heaven the way these people were flailing around, and I began to, too.
“Yes! Suddenly I am incomparably excited and feel very strongly about Green Day! Their music is fabulous!” I shouted, bouncing up and down. Billy Joe Armstrong shouted some kind of generic rock and roll greeting, and the band began to play the song American Idiot, from the album American Idiot, on the American Idiot tour. This was the place to be, man. I would have jumped around, had I not been completely smashed by the throngs of bodies surging forward toward the stage like a tidal wave of flesh, rendering my feet useless and kicking six inches above the ground. “Waaahh!” I shouted ecstatically, glimpsing up at the stage between moments of wrestling to breathe. The band sneered and jumped, seizing about in practiced twists and leaps in the dance of being real hardcore guys. The song ended, and I shared a beaming glance with Bob, who was also in the throes of hardcore bliss. Another song began, and away we went, bouncing and surging and shouting the words, or when I didn’t know the words, noises that sounded like the words. Who cares what they were saying anyway, I just wanted to be in emotional turmoil and move my mouth about it like everyone else. A few songs in, Mike grabbed my small, sweaty shoulder.
“You wanna crowd surf?”
“Yeah!” I shouted, and in an instant, he had grabbed me by the waist and flung me upward, the hot claustrophobic stench dissolving, replaced by cool air and pot smoke and hands on my ass. The mass of strangers moved me effortlessly like they were passing a tray of h’orderves around a party, and I pumped my fists as best I could as I was swept closer to the stage.
“Sometimes I give myself the creeps!” Billy Joe sang as I floated forward like a sacrificial offering. “Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me!” I bounced in slow motion from the enthusiastic hands of anonymous men and women, limbs flopping in acquiescence, and made eye contact with Billy as he shouted. “It all keeps adding up, I think I’m cracking up!” Sweat dripped from his black hair, short sleeves and tie telling everyone he was here to rock, but he was serious about it. “Am I just paranoid, or am I just stoned!” In that moment, the crowd earthquaking and the lights flashing and the sound booming, I knew that I had banged every pot and pan in the kitchen for this day. I decided to be a rock and roll star.
In my moment of reverie, somebody dropped my calves, and the rest of me tumbled down into the human ocean. I swayed along euphorically, in a state of freedom and resolve now that I had chosen my career path. My voice hoarse, I wheezed in my intent to scream, arms up in worship until the band left the stage. The crowd buzzed and bubbled and shouted encore in a militant chorus. A young man with a metalhead’s hair length, about Mike’s age, bumped up against me.
“Hey.” I nodded toward him.
“Who are you here with?” he yelled.
“My friends,” I shouted back, looking around, realizing I had no idea where they were.
“Do you want to touch my penis?”
“What? I can’t hear you!” The crowd was chanting emphatically.
“I said, do you want to touch my penis!” I grimaced quizzically.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with it!”
“What? You couldn’t go through with it?”
“No! I said, I’m fourteen, I wouldn’t know what to do with it!” He leaned in, still unable to hear me, when Bob grabbed my hand through the mass of randos and jerked me a few yards through the throngs.
“Hot tamales, man, I thought we lost you! I’m glad you didn’t die out there!” I thought of my parents getting up to wish their daughter a good day at school, and finding only a pile of books and snacks in her place. I fantasized about being on the front page of tabloids for a moment, before concluding that being alive was better.
Green Day was back now, the crowd less raucous back where we had been pushed to the outskirts of the war zone, and Billy sang that he hoped we had the time of our lives.
“I did have the time of my life!” I answered back to a person who could definitely not hear me. I hugged Bob, our slick, sweaty arms sliding off of each other like slimy hot dogs.
We found Mike and Todd smoking cigarettes near the exit gate, flicking them like hip cats who were admirably a few years older than me. We all dawdled back to the parking lot in the crowd like a herd of sheep returning to the slaughter of the mundanity of daily life. My eyes sparkled as we got in the car and drove down the road home. My sticky black hair strung across my forehead like cheap Halloween cobwebs and my makeup lay smeared across my face like an extra’s in a Marilyn Manson music video. I bounced in my seat, feeling high and higher, fully affirmed that I refused to be an American Idiot. Mike and Todd rambled on about their favorite concert moments, lyrics, lightwork. I kept my secret that I would one day be a rock star to myself.
When we pulled up in my driveway, my parents were standing in classic disappointed fashion on the porch of our white picket home, my father’s mustache twitching and my mother’s brow furrowed under her tortoiseshell glasses. It turned out my surreptitious departure had not been surreptitious at all.
“You’ve been a lot of things, young lady, but you’ve never been Cheetos.” My mom dangled one of the snack-sized bags from beneath my blanket at me. “You’re grounded for a month.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Mulaney,” Bob croaked from the backseat window. “We took good care of her, we’re with adults!”
“‘Sup,” Mike nodded to my parents, who cringed.
“It’s cool Bob, whatever,” I whispered to him. “I had the best night ever. And hey, give Todd my number for me.”
“Todd is Mike’s boyfriend.”
But I had my records, and Bob could still climb through the window. Jenny was afraid of heights, so I wouldn’t be seeing her for a while, but Jessie would do the window thing, and we would all meet up and whisper and talk about crushes and stolen scantron keys and the kind of very dire things teens need to talk about. More importantly, I began squirreling away the money I earned as a cashier at Jimbo’s Pizza on Saturday afternoons to save up for my first guitar.