Wonderkid: A Novel by Wesley Stace
A Novel about the music industry published by Overlook Hardcover (02/27/2014)
Jack and Blake are brothers and the first part of the story begins with them in England, describing how they got into music and their aspirations as a rock and roll band. They find themselves thrust into “Your child’s first rock band.” (Page 88), making Everyone Music that is marketed to entertain kids and adults alike. It is described as “Punk for kids. Punk fur kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents. Top of the pops for tots.” Page 69). The band is made complete with the twins on rhythm section and Greg, but the twins quit before the band makes a run on America and Greg quits as eloquently as possible just as soon as they get to America. These deserters are replaced with Becca Fonseca, nicknamed mum, on bass and Curtis, the non-controversial dreads and diversity drummer. The band is truly now for Everyone but they’d all gone a bit American and the shenanigans truly begin. After controversy Becca is replaced with Camille as the new bass player, “‘Black, very beautiful, quite serious, slightly eccentric, possibly gay, definitely vegetarian, and Christian.'” (Page 197). Camille and Curtis make up the responsible part of the band, and that says something of the other half. Blake has adopted Sweet, our narrator, during the England to America journey, and fame hits the band hard, the charts are risen through, and toes step out of line. They are a kids band after all. It all falls to pieces multiple times, but the band pulls through until the big bust and the big breakup. Mitchell the manager quits and Andy the Damager, their rep from the record company, is none too pleased with the whole affair. Blake goes to jail, goes solo, goes sane and insane. Then the big finale…
Rock and Roll, Fame, Wonderkid, Fake Band, Kindie, Musicians, Band Tour, Everyone Music, Rock for Kids, Glory Days
“‘I want to be a musician when I grow up, Mum.’ ‘Well, son, you can’t do both.'” (Page 160).
Wonderkids could be the novelized version of This Is Spinal Tap. It all happened. It never happened. The truth is spit out all over the pages and Wesley Stace continuously impresses with stories that are too detailed not to have happened, but too entertaining to be true. In the beginning, as a rookie rock and roll fan, amateur musician, and reader, I was suckered into believing Wonderkids was a biography. Blowing through the final pages and looking up some of the facts to corroborate some of the more unbelievable details, I lean toward the other side: this is fiction. This is fiction so well documented that it has to have some truth.
The author, Wesley Stace, is himself a musician and I would like to imagine that some of the capers in the story and the personalities in the characters are built from his own personal memory bank and imagination.
Wonderkids was such a winding story, with so many characters and moments that I had to take some notes to help me organize my own thoughts and get a feel for the timeline of the band. The reader gets a good chunk into the book before the narrator is revealed in his own right as Ed Sweet. Before this sweet introduction, the reader is given first-hand details on two of the main characters. Did I mention that there are quite a few main characters? Characters with full personalities and whims that are such an entertainment for the reader.
I was fascinated by Blake as a person (one of the main characters). He was given many simple descriptions, yet remained a complex character given to his own moodiness. He was, in essence, a real person with real faults and character flaws. He had his good days and bad days, good decisions and bad decisions. Blake grew from rock aspirations to nonsensical story teller/songwriter to moody musician. His character was dynamic and molded by his experiences and decisions during his time as a Wonderkidder. He adopted Sweet, who was 10 years his junior. He loved to hang out with the kids of his audience after his shows. Blake is like the pied piper, children flock on and around him and are entranced. He entertains them and invites them to him. He says, “My patience for other peoples kids is infinite.” (Page 114). He is patient with the kids, but also extremely loyal to his own ‘family.’ He takes the fall for his adopted son and brother without resentment or bitterness. Blake is very much the parent, albeit at times misguided, whilst still lacking discipline for Sweet and himself. Blake puts himself under fire for Sweet without a second thought, as parents do for their children.
Our lovely narrator Sweet is the undirected teen who can’t help but get into trouble. Sweet’s Hamartia, if his fault could even be called that, is more than just sugary treats. He is misguided because of his role models’ poor examples in life and lack of parental discipline (also known as consequences), therefore his actions loom larger and larger until real life consequences kick in that affect the entire ‘family’ – the whole band. Sweet, however, is blessed with the motivation and maturity unbeknownst to most teenagers, and is “more than happy to be a handy marketing opportunity [selling the band’s merchandise].” (Page 107). He later becomes what he has studied in these younger years of his: a band manager.
I never much contemplated kids rock or kindie (indie music for kids). Is this a real genre of music? What is rock for kids like? Is it those Kidz Bop songs where kids sing rock songs in horrific A Capella versions? Is it a karaoke-esque version of something great, dumbed down for lesser ears? Censored lyrics? According to Wonderkid, none of these is true. Rock for kids is simply rock… for kids. The venues might be different and the audience might include children, but it is true rock. According to the great Wikipedia, kindie rock ” is a style of children’s music that “melds the sensibility of the singer-songwriter with themes aimed at kids under 10.” Children’s music veterans, Greg & Steve and Bobby Susser introduced various forms of kindie rock to the school supply industry in the mid 70s, and continue to do so, within their repertoire.” So it does exist… I felt, as I was reading this novel, that I was reading the history of kindie, that Wonderkids was the pioneer of rock for kids, rock for Everyone aka Everyone Music.
This novel is somewhat exclusive in its content and writing style, it is written for an audience that enjoys the haze of being on the border of something great or for someone who was there and knows and can point and laugh with the characters saying, “I know them!” or “I know that song, that reference.” But I don’t know them and I was not always sure what Wesley Stace was referring to in his reference-studded novel. Just like Ready, Player, One I still very much enjoyed the book and how well it was put together even if I didn’t get all or even most of the references. I understand the whole, but couldn’t get some of the pieces. For example, “He didn’t like the aggression in the air, the kids who’d stolen his baton, their scruffy seven-inch singles, their Xeroxed fanzines, their lapels full of safety pins and badges for bands whose art direction never deviated from the ransom note font.” (Pages 10-11). It takes a moment to sink in and the whole book is full of these moments, these heavy-weighted sentences and thoughts that it would take a course of study to get through the 300+ page book with serious clarity. Perhaps Stace’s audience is more intelligent or more up on the times than I am and perhaps you will be too, but I could still enjoy the fast-paced rhythm of his writing style and the fascinating story he was weaving throughout.
This novel makes me wonder if the life of a musician rising to fame and falling into nonexistence again is just like Stace describes. Movies might exaggerate, but do books? Is life this glamorous? According to Blake touring is… “Sometimes it’s a bit like getting married every day, eating the finest foods, drinking bubbly, being showered with gifts; eventually, you just want a day off.” (Page 278).
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys movies like Almost Famous and This is Spinal Tap or pop-reference studded books (with specific theme of kid rock or the music industry).
This novel was published by Overlook Hardcover 02/27/2014 and is available on Amazon here.
TLDR Star Rating: 4.00
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