Norman couldn’t recall if he’d ever lied. He didn’t think so. But then, as the Reverend always said in church, sinning is about temptation. And you can’t be tempted to sin if you don’t watch TV, or go to the movies, or listen to the radio, because they were all about sex, sex, sex. The Reverend rarely talked about other kinds of temptation – he never admonished any of his significantly obese parishioners to resist the urge to overeat, he never admonished his business-owning parishioners not to cheat on their taxes. No, it was sex that was the Reverend’s preoccupation.
So in a way, Norman didn’t really see the harm in the little white lie. His grandmother told them all the time to her friends, after all. “You look lovely in that dress,” she’d say to Miss June when she showed up in a bright peach sundress that made her look like, well, a giant peach.
“I’m going to Korey’s to study,” he said. And it was true, wasn’t it? He was studying his ears off listening to Barrett Springfield’s enormous record collection.
And Faith was so relieved that he had a friend that she didn’t question it. She’d met Korey’s aunt, who was responsible for him while his father was out of town, touring with various bands as a drummer, or playing recording sessions in Memphis or Nashville or Detroit. Aunt Marie was a devout Christian and a member in good standing of the Second Coming Ministry, and that was sufficient for Faith.
What she didn’t know, and Norman felt no need to tell her, was that Korey was a latchkey kid, living alone in his father’s house while he was away. His aunt was a good Christian, and was responsible for him…should Social Services ever ask. But she had given up on making surprise inspections on Saturday nights, only to find Korey doing the same thing every time – listening to music alone, or making music alone. So she was, in truth, just as relieved as Faith was for Norman that the boy finally had a friend.
“You live here…alone?” Norman asked, disbelievingly.
Korey shrugged, as if it was no big deal. “Mostly. Dad’s gone a lot. My aunt doesn’t want me underfoot, anyway, and she knows I’m fine here. Not exactly a party animal, you know.”
Norman laughed. “No, me neither.”
In a way he was lucky that Barrett Springfield’s collection was vinyl-only. Korey had been raised to believe that the CD was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and subscribed to this tenet as ardently as his father. What this meant for Norman was that his musical education could start at the beginning, since most contemporary music was no longer released on vinyl.
“We’ll begin with Genesis, so to speak,” Korey said, taking very seriously his responsibility for raising Norman’s musical knowledge properly. “Not the band, mind you.”
“Are they a Christian band? I’ve never heard of them.”
Korey snorted, then regretted it. The kid had been living under a rock all his life, so every question would be a “dumb question” to start.
“No, they’re not.” He reached for a Verve records collection of 1920s jazz. “Before you get to rock and roll, you have to know jazz…”
“No, you don’t want that,” Korey admonished Norman some weeks later as he reached for a record. “That’s disco. Disco sucks.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Norman said, surprising both of them. For a month now, he’d been a sponge, just soaking up everything indiscriminately. He had the greatest musical gift of all, a naïveté of taste so complete that he had no prejudice against any form of music until he’d heard it.
“Dude. You don’t like rap, you don’t like punk, you don’t like metal. But you love disco.”
Norman nodded. He did! There were so many genres that just…hurt his ears. He didn’t like being shouted at, he didn’t like the guitars that sounded like feedback or nails or chalkboard. He liked the Beatles, he liked the Stones, even though they scared him a little. (Korey had judiciously skipped over “Sympathy for the Devil.”)
What he’d really liked was R&B and soul and Motown and now, of course, he liked disco. He loved “I Will Survive” and “I Love the Nightlife” and “Born To Be Alive” and “Hot Stuff.” Korey had also skipped “Love to Love You, Baby,” if only because of how incredibly awkward it would be for two teenage boys to sit there together and listen to a woman have an orgasm.
He loved the beat, he loved the energy, the exuberance. And though he shied from punk, well, he loved New Wave! New Order and Depeche Mode and the Smiths…oh my God the Smiths. It was like Morrissey knew him!
Then Korey decided it was time for Norman to watch some music videos. They went into the living room, and Korey turned the big tube TV to MTV. “Oh, this is lucky,” he said. “Audioslave, Like a Stone, this is a good song.”
As Norman watched the video, his life changed.
It wasn’t just Chris Cornell’s amazing vocal range that hypnotized him. It was his eyes. A blue-green so clear and deep that you could see his soul through them. The face of an angel to go with the eyes. His bare arms, the flash of chest above his tank top. The way he lifted his eyebrows and closed his eyes like a sad shrug of his face, the way he nodded his head, the way he walked, held the microphone, his shaggy spiky hair, his golden perfect skin, and worst of all, oh shit worst of all, a flash of a smile shown for just a moment as he looked at a band mate.
He’d seen it at school. The ways girls squealed at sexy pop stars, as if transported to ecstasy by their very existence. But this was different, he wasn’t a duckling imprinting on the first adult duck he saw. Chris Cornell, he was amazing, he was awesome, he was…everything. Heartbreakingly gorgeous wasn’t a word he would think to use. Yet.
“Can we watch it again?”
Korey looked at his face. Holy crap, he thought. Norman Rockwell McCoy, Jr. is as gay as a goose.
“No, man, it’s over. It’ll be on again though.”
“In a couple hours, maybe?”
“Do you have this album?”
Norman nodded. He would buy it himself. It would be his first musical purchase. He had no allowance, no income, but he would find a way. There had to be a way, when you wanted something this bad.
“Do you have a guitar around here?”
Korey laughed. “Do I! My dad’s a fucking…sorry, freaking musician.”
“Can I see it?”
“Why, you wanna learn how to play the guitar now?”
“I already know how,” Norman said casually. “I just want to play that song.”
“Shit, are you kidding? You play the guitar and you’ve never told me all this time?”
He shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I’m not that good,” he said with the modesty drilled into him at home.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Korey said. “Come on, Barrett Springfield’s Musical Wonderland has another room for you to explore.”
Faith was lured upstairs by the unfamiliar sound. This wasn’t a song she knew, wasn’t a song that was in the repertoire that Mrs. Jackson had assigned. Was Norman writing songs already? This seemed too complex, and…dark.
Norman was working hard to master the acoustic version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” His obsession with Chris Cornell had two facets – the gay teenager’s desire to touch him, to possess him and be possessed by him, and the teenage musician’s desire to emulate his new idol in every way possible.
She opened the door, startling her grandson. “What song is that?”
“It’s nothing,” he said.
“Did you write that?”
“No,” he answered truthfully. He didn’t want to lie. But he couldn’t tell the truth, when that would ruin everything.
“What’s it called?”
“ ‘Black Hole Sun.’ By Soundgarden.”
She frowned. “What kind of music is it?”
He shrugged. “It’s just a song.”
She looked at him again. “What…did you wash your hair this morning?”
Norman flinched. His mid-length hair, usually parted neatly on the side, was spiked up, tousled and messy, as much like Chris’ hair as he could make it with no hair product other than some conditioner he’d left glopped in it.
She looked at him, hard. “What exactly are you doing at that boy’s house?”
“Just listening to music.” And playing music, but he left that out. There was a lot to leave out when he talked to his grandmother now.
“What kind of music?”
He looked her in the eye. An anger came over him, surely fueled by an adolescent hormonal surge but caused by much, much more than that. By a sense that he’d been betrayed, denied a whole world, all his life. That all this wondrous stuff would have been denied him the rest of his life, too, if his family had their way.
“All kinds,” he said defiantly. “Every kind of music in the world.”