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“The Scar Boys” by Len Vlahos

ScarBoys

My wife suggested I read this book. She told me it was a quick read and that it was right up my alley: a young adult novel about starting a punk rock band. She knows me well. I did like this book and as a musician I related to much of what was in there.

Anyone who has ever been in a band knows that there is always drama and that it is like being in Spinal Tap. You deal with attitudes, stupidity, conflict, and the absurd. In spite of that, there are moments when being in a band, playing on stage with a group of people, and connecting to the audience through music are nothing short of magical and transcendent. Over the years I have experienced the full range of musical highs and lows, and that is probably why I found this book so enjoyable.

The book is presented as if it was written as a college admissions essay, answering your generic prompt about a person that influenced you, a problem that you have overcome, etc. I found this an interesting approach. The chapters are short, which makes reading this like eating a bag of Doritos; you can just keep snacking on one handful of words after another. Also, all the chapters are named after songs and the song titles tie into the events within the chapter. Since I connect life events to songs on a personal level, I found this effective.

So for those of you who have never been in a band before and wonder what it feels like to be onstage playing, it can only be described as the best high you will ever feel in your life.

Playing in front of people was like a drug. The walls dropped away and I found myself surrounded by open air, floating above everything. The energy of the audience—even the tiny audience at that first gig—wrapped the entire band in a protective bubble. Only the music and the knowledge of each other existed. We were four individuals merged into one seamless being, each inside the other’s head, each inside the other’s soul. Music, I discovered that night, was a safe place to hide, a place where scars didn’t matter, where they didn’t exist.

(pp. 73 – 74)

When I first started playing music, it was about what I could get out of it: adrenaline rushes, women, free intoxicants, social acceptance. At some point, though, there was a shift and music became more of a spiritual experience, a way of connecting with others on a level that was transcendent. It is this feeling that has kept me playing music for so many years. Vlahos captures that musical epiphany quite well.

“All I’ve ever wanted,” Chey continued, ignoring us, “is to play music that would make people feel good. We did that tonight.” We were all quiet for a moment.

It’s funny. I’d never really thought of it that way before. I’d only ever thought about how playing music made me feel. But Chey was right. The real magic comes from the audience. Music, it turns out, is more about giving than receiving. Who knew?

(pp. 124 – 125)

There is only one criticism I have about this book, and that is the abundance of references to late 70’s television and pop culture. For me, I liked them because I could relate to them and they stirred a feeling of nostalgia. But at the end of the day, this is a young adult book and I doubt that many teenagers would know who Potsie, Horseshack, or Vinnie Barbarino were. I understand that you have to write about what you know and what you feel, but you also need to take into consideration your target audience.

Anyway, this is a very quick and easy read, and one which I personally enjoyed. And if you remember CBGB’s and WKRP, then you’ll probably enjoy this book too.

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