STEPHEN KING’S LATEST NOVEL, Revival, is not just his usual eerily compelling masterpiece. It’s also a beautifully observed reflection of the culture of rock'n'roll and its impact on young Americans. The lead character is music-mad, guitar-playing Jamie Morton, with much to learn about life and, as it is to prove, its B-side. But that’s enough of our yakkin'. Here’s Part 2 of MOJO’s exclusive extract... [Read Part 1]
I slipped the strap over my head and settled the pad on my shoulder. The Yammie hung way low – Norman Irving was a lot taller than I was – but I was too nervous to even think of adjusting it. I played an E chord and jumped at how loud it was in the closed Band Room. That made him grin, and the grin – which revealed teeth that were going to give him a lot of problems in the future if he didn’t start taking care of them – made me feel better.
‘Door’s shut, freshie. Turn it up and jam out.’
The volume was set at 5. I turned it up to 7, and the resulting WHANGGG was satisfyingly loud.
‘I can’t sing worth a crap,’ I said.
‘You don’t have to sing. I sing. You just have to play rhythm.’
‘Green River’ has a basic rock-and-roll beat – not quite like ‘Cherry, Cherry,’ but close. I hit E again, listening to the first phrase of the song in my head and deciding it was right. Norman began to sing. His voice was almost buried by the sound of the guitar, but I could hear enough to tell he had good pipes. ‘Take me back down where cool water flows, yeah . . .’
I switched to A, and he stopped.
‘Stays E, doesn’t it?’ I said. ‘Sorry, sorry.’
The first three lines were all in E, but when I switched to A again, where most basic rock goes, it was still wrong.
‘Where?’ I asked Norman.
He just looked at me, hands in his back pockets. I listened in my head, then began again. When I got to the fourth line, I went to C, and that was right. I had to start over once more, but after that it was a cinch. All we needed was drums, a bass . . . and some lead guitar, of course. John Fogerty of Creedence hammered that lead in a way I never could in my wildest dreams.
‘Gimme the ax,’ Norman said.
I handed it over, disappointed to let it go. ‘Thanks for letting me play it,’ I said, and headed for the door.
‘Wait a minute, Morton.’ It wasn’t much of a change, but at least I had been promoted from freshie. ‘Audition’s not over.’
From the storage cabinet he took a smaller case, opened it, and produced a scratched-up Kay semi-hollowbody – a 900G, if you’re keeping score.
‘Plug into the big amp, but turn it down to four. That Kay feeds back like a motherfucker.’
I did as instructed. The Kay fit my body better than the Yammie; I wouldn’t have to hunch over to play it. There was a pick threaded into the strings and I took it out.
‘One . . . two . . . one-two-three-and . . .’
I was nervous while I was working out the simple rhythm progression of ‘Green River,’ but if I’d known how well Norman could play, I don’t think I could have played at all; I would simply have fled the room. He hit the Fogerty lead just right, playing the same licks as on that old Fantasy single. As it was, I was swept along.
‘Louder!’ he shouted at me. ‘Jack it and fuck the feedback!’
I turned the big amp up to 8 and kicked it back in. With both guitars playing and the amp feeding back like a police whistle, Norm’s voice was lost in the sound. It didn’t matter. I stuck the groove and let his lead carry me. It was like surfing a glassy wave that rolled on without breaking for two and a half minutes.
It ended and silence crashed back in. My ears were ringing. Norm stared up at the ceiling, considering, then nodded. ‘Not great, but not terrible. With a little practice, you might be better than Snuffy.’
‘Who’s Snuffy?’ I asked. My ears were ringing.
‘A guy who’s moving to Assachusetts,’ he said. ‘Let’s try “Needles and Pins.” You know, the Searchers?’
‘No, this one’s D, but not straight D. You gotta diddle it.’ He demonstrated how I was supposed to hammer high E with my pinky, and I picked it up right away. It didn’t sound exactly like the record, but it was in the ballpark. When we finished I was dripping with sweat.
‘Okay,’ he said, unslinging the guitar. ‘Let’s go out to the SA. I need a butt.’
The smoking area was behind the vocational tech building. It was where the burns and hippies hung out, along with girls who wore tight skirts, dangly earrings, and too much makeup. Two guys were squatting at the far end of the metal shop. I’d seen them around, as I had Norman, but didn’t know them. One had sandy blond hair and a lot of acne. The other had a kinky pad of red hair that stuck out in nine different directions. They looked like losers, but I didn’t care. Norman Irving also looked like a loser, but he was the best guitar player I’d ever heard who wasn’t on a record.
‘How is he?’ the sandy blond asked. This turned out to be Kenny Laughlin.
‘Better than Snuffy,’ Norman said.
The one with the crazy red hair grinned. ‘That ain’t sayin shit.’
‘Yeah, but we need someone, or we can’t play the Grange on Saturday night.’ He produced a pack of Kools and tipped it my way. ‘Smoke?’
‘I don’t,’ I said. And then, feeling absurd but not able to help myself, ‘Sorry.’
Norman ignored that and lit up with a Zippo that had a snake and DON’T TREAD ON ME engraved on the side. ‘This is Kenny Laughlin. Plays bass. The redhead is Paul Bouchard. Drums. This shrimp is Connie Morton’s brother.’
‘Jamie,’ I said. I desperately wanted these guys to like me – to let me in – but I didn’t want to start whatever relationship we might have as nothing more than Mr Football’s kid brother. ‘I’m Jamie.’ I held out my hand.
Their shakes were as limp as Norman’s had been. I’ve gigged with hundreds of players since the day Norman Irving auditioned me in the GFHS Band Room, and almost every guy I ever worked with had the same dead-fish shake. It’s as if rockers feel they have to save all their strength for work.
‘So what do you say?’ Norman asked. ‘Wanna be in a band?’
Did I? If he’d told me I had to eat my own shoelaces as an initiation rite, I would have pulled them from the eyelets immediately and started chewing.
‘Sure, but I can’t play in any places where they serve booze. I’m only fourteen.’
They looked at each other, surprised, then laughed.
‘We’ll worry about playing the Holly and the Deuce-Four once we get a rep,’ Norman said, jetting smoke from his nostrils. ‘For now we’re just playing teen dances. Like the one at the Eureka Grange. That’s where you’re from, right? Harlow?’
‘How-Low,’ Kenny Laughlin said, snickering. ‘That’s what we call it. As in How-Low can you shitkickers go?’
‘Listen, you want to play, right?’ Norm said. He lifted his leg so he could bogart his cigarette on one of his battered old Beatle boots. ‘Your brother says you’re playing his Gibson, which doesn’t have a pickup, but you can use the Kay.’
‘The Music Department won’t care?’
‘The Music Department won’t know. Come to the Grange on Thursday afternoon. I’ll bring the Kay. Just don’t break the stupid feedbacky fucker. We’ll set up and rehearse. Bring a notebook so you can write down the chords.’
The bell rang. Kids butted their smokes and started drifting back toward the school. As one of the girls passed, she kissed Norman on the cheek and patted him on the butt of his sagging jeans. He seemed not to notice her, which struck me as incredibly sophisticated. My respect for him went up another notch.
None of my fellow bandmates showed any signs of heeding the bell, so I started off on my own. Then another thought crossed my mind, and I turned back.
‘What’s the name of the band?’
Norm said, ‘We used to call ourselves the Gunslingers, but people thought that was a little too, you know, militaristic. So now we’re Chrome Roses. Kenny thought it up while we were stoned and watching a gardening show at my dad’s place. Cool, huh?’
In the quarter century that followed, I played with the J-Tones, Robin and the Jays, and the Hey-Jays (all led by a snazzy guitarist named Jay Pederson). I played with the Heaters, the Stiffs, the Undertakers, Last Call, and the Andersonville Rockers. During the flowering of punk I played with Patsy Cline’s Lipstick, the Test Tube Babies, Afterbirth, and The World is Full of Bricks. I even played with a rockabilly group called Duzz Duzz Call the Fuzz. But there was never a better name for a band, in my opinion, than Chrome Roses.
….What I remember best about that first gig at Eureka Grange No. 7 was the stench of my own sweat as the four of us trooped onto the bandstand. When it comes to sweat, nobody can beat an adolescent of fourteen. I had showered for twenty minutes before my maiden show – until the hot water ran out – but when I bent to pick up my borrowed guitar, I reeked of fear. The Kay seemed to weigh at least two hundred pounds when I slung it over my shoulder. I had good reason to be scared. Even taking the inherent simplicity of rock and roll into account, the task Norm Irving set me – learning thirty songs between Thursday afternoon and Saturday night – was impossible, and I told him so.
He shrugged and offered me the most useful advice I ever got as a musician: When in doubt, lay out. ‘Besides,’ he said, baring his decaying teeth in a fiendish grin, ‘I’m gonna be turned up so loud they won’t hear what you’re doing, anyway.’
Extracted with permission of Stephen King and Hodder & Stoughton from REVIVAL © Stephen King, published by Hodder & Stoughton on 11 November 2014. Not for further distribution without written permission of the publisher.