Starcrossed:An Almost Rockstar Story

an excerpt

Prologue



Fucking heat. Fucking Montreal. Fucking every city on this fucking tour and outdoor gigs especially. Ragnar Pape wiped the sweat from his forehead and listened to the crowd roar.

RD-0233 was listed mid-bill, the audience was good and worked up. It was hard to gauge how many of them had counted their loonies and decided to spring for kind of hefty tickets just because they wanted to hear Ragnar and his band play, but the crowd was clearly both receptive and familiar with their material.

Which would have been awesome three months ago when he wasn't burned out from touring and roasting to death.

Tim, who'd had the sense to go on stage in nothing but a ragged pair of shorts and his shoes, yelled something long and kind of rambling in French and then in English. Ragnar didn't understand French and wasn't paying attention to the English, but the audience seemed to enjoy it, because they howled in approval.

Tim shouted back. "Tear it down! Tear it down!"

Finally, the last song of the set. Even tired, hot, and completely burnt out, Ragnar loved this song. They usually ended with Tear It Down, and when they didn't, the crowd would usually scream the place down for it. It wasn't quite the last song, because White Hot was the encore, but no matter what the audience thought, or how much fun Tim was having, they couldn't just play and play because they had a schedule to keep and a douchebaggy deathcore band from Minneapolis waiting to go on.

Ragnar had instructed one of the roadies to have a bucket of mostly ice for him when he got offstage, and as soon as he was clear of anything obviously electrical, he dumped it over his head. Tim whistled, and said, "Ragnar, you are a sick pup."

"Yup."

The roadie even seemed impressed, and that wasn't easy. They saw everything under the sun and then some.

Lance, their guitarist, who wasn't speaking to him this week, stepped over a puddle and haughtily strode in the direction of their not-exactly-palatial dressing room.

"I think we've been on the road too long," Tim said.

"Yeah," Ragnar agreed. He liked Tim, unlike Lance, although they weren't usually at Defcon 3 the way they'd been this last week, but even Tim was getting under his skin.

"Hang out here for a little, go back to the hotel, get laid," Tim said, although he wasn't that much of a pussy hound.

"Yeah." Laid sounded good, and one advantage of a festival like this was there were plenty of girls around. RD-0233's fanbase was something like ninety percent male. That was also probably true of the festival as a whole, but it was a big audience. Ten percent was still hundreds, if not thousands, of women. Even if you removed the ones who didn't want to meet musicians, and the ones the musicians didn't want to meet, there were a lot of options.

There were exceptions, but half the guys Ragnar knew had started playing in bands so they could get girls. Heck, the couple of gay ones he'd met did it to get guys, despite how homophobic metal and hardcore fans could be. The music industry as a whole had gotten more tolerant since the days when his dad's old bandmate had paraded around with arm girls, but some things were slow to change. Ragnar didn't care who you fucked, and sure didn't think of himself as gay, but he was tight-lipped about some of the places he liked to stick his dick. Particularly when hot girls were in somewhat short supply and some sloe-eyed kid with eyeliner was more than willing to take care of what Ragnar needed.

Personally, Ragnar was convinced more guys would dabble on the dark side if they knew what it was like. It was kind of a stereotype, but there were more orgasms and less drama, since women always seemed a little like sexy aliens. Only real downside was the lack of boobs, and Ragnar had never gotten a sloppy blowjob from a guy.

Tim opened the door to their dressing area and held it for Ragnar. "You flying out tomorrow?"

He shook his head. "Staying around for a couple of days, then I'll go to my mom's."

Tim kept an apartment in Colorado, Lance was married, and Danny, the drummer, had some weird house share he crashed in when he wasn't on the road, but Ragnar had still been living at home when RD-0233 started to get a real following, and he'd never bothered with an actual home base of his own.

Especially since his mother was more than willing to have him at home. Of course, she was going to drive him crazy in less than a week.

"For six months?" Tim asked, who was looking at him a little funny. He'd met Ragnar's mother. More than once. Ragnar appreciated how fiercely she loved him and his sister, and his dad when he'd still been alive, but his mom kind of hated people in general. Musicians especially. And she could be a little difficult even with the people she was fond of.

"Nah," he said. "Got a side project with my dad's old band."

"Fucking sell-out hippie crap!!!" Lance yelled from his perch on a ratty couch. "Gonna call you Jason Pape, Jr., play on a cruise ship!"

Ragnar didn't quite deck him. Quite. That was mostly due to Tim's intervention. Then Danny kind of inserted himself between the tangled mass of Tim and Ragnar and an obviously shocked Lance who hadn't realized he'd pushed Ragnar that far.

Lance was an asshole at the best of times, but he was also one of the greatest guitarists Ragnar had ever heard, including Scott Marolo, who was probably going to posthumously be in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in a year or two, and had been one of the people Ragnar learned guitar from.

Which was a sore point in the world of Lance. Ragnar was a solid musician. He'd practiced every damn day for years. Ragnar didn't have as much raw talent as Lance did, but that wasn't an issue for him, because almost every other musician he knew didn't either. He paid his dues, he worked his butt off, and he was more than competent for the highly professional level they played on. Being Jason Pape's son had opened a few doors for him, and for RD-0233. And Lance, whose parents had given him a really hard time about being a musician, and had taken his guitar away when his grades slipped, had a really hard time with that.

Sometimes, Ragnar could be kind of patient with that. Today was not one of those days. Danny hustled Lance off and Tim called him an Uber, and as far as he knew they still had a band.


Chapter One



Which was not what this was.

Ragnar sat in a beat-up folding chair in the rehearsal room of a fucking Christian Contemporary label in fucking Orlando and stared at his dad's old bandmates. The singer and front man, Andy Wyler, who was a big chunk of why the Hideous Marys were probably going to make it into the Hall of Fame, was sitting next to Gin Winters, the keyboardist, who was otherwise known as the band member no one could ever remember. He resembled a soccer dad. Andy didn't, but alcohol faintly wafted from him. He wasn't loaded, but he'd either had a drink before coming in or wasn't completely dried out from the night before. No guitarist, no drummer, and the band's new manager had been trying to talk Ragnar into lead rather than bass.

Ragnar had played lead before, but not since high school, and he was very aware he wasn't Lance. Or Scott Marolo. Why the fuck were they even here, since they were down a drummer and either a lead or bass guitarist, since Ragnar definitely couldn't play both at the same time? He said so. "No point in doing anything until we have a couple more guys in here."

Gin shrugged. "Whatever you guys prefer."

Gin might not care, but Andy sat up straight, stared right at Ragnar and said, "We need to get used to each other first. Gin and I haven't played together in almost twenty years."

It kind of surprised Ragnar that Andy actually cared so much, although it shouldn't have. He might seem diffident offstage even now that he wasn't, as far as Ragnar knew, strung out on heroin, but the vocalist had written most of the Hideous Marys's lyrics and had a strong presence while performing. Scott and his dad had definitely picked the guy for more than his pretty face.

Of course, that face had sold a whole lot of posters back in the middle nineties and still wasn't hard to look at, even though he'd gone pretty gray. If this nutty project got that far, he'd still decorate a poster. Still, since the whole thing was kind of goofy, Ragnar replied, "And you and I haven't played together in ever, but we have no drummer, I'm still not sure about playing lead, and since we're just about starting from scratch, we might as well have five in here."

"Drummer's probably not a problem," Andy replied, "but we don't know if we're looking for lead or bass guitar."

Ragnar figured Andy had someone on tap for drums, but they still had an issue. No point in beating around the bush. "I know you're a piss poor guitarist. Dad never understood it in someone who sings the way you do, but I know you can't handle lead, and point in your favor, you know you can't. This pains me, but could you manage bass, if we got you some refresher lessons? You play for yourself, don't you?"

Andy's lack of instrumental proficiency had actually driven Ragnar's dad completely up a tree, but he had some tact.

The guy shook his head, long grayish hair flying around, and said, "Not really. Not in years. And not for the Marys, even if I was in practice and we got a miracle worker in here. Your dad was one hell of a musician, and Scott wrote for him."

That was undeniably true. The Hideous Marys weren't nearly as hard as most of the stuff Ragnar had listened to in the last decade, but Scott Marolo and Jason Pape on Dark Vehicles, or even Abyss? Oh fuck, yes. Ragnar had grown up in a musical household, despite his mother's best efforts, so of course he played, but that kind of magic was what drove him to practice every fucking day, sometimes ‘til his fingers cracked and bled, and let him ignore the shit storm when she'd realized he was skipping college in favor of becoming a professional musician. So, he just sighed and said, "Yeah, he was, and yeah, Scott did, but I kind of hoped."

Evan, their new manager, who had been sent by the label and had the most ridiculous psychobilly hair Ragnar had ever seen, jumped in. "I'm no Jason Pape, but I do play bass, if you want to run through a couple of songs with a drum machine."

"Might as well," Ragnar agreed. "Find out just how much of a train wreck this is." More likely a complete clusterfuck, but he was still at least sort of trying for tact.

"Sure," Andy said.

Evan was not terrible, surprisingly enough, and while Ragnar hated playing with a drum machine, which he'd done probably twice before, sometime before he'd graduated from high school, Andy was in decent voice. That was a pleasant surprise, considering he seemed to be a drinker. Gin sounded like he hadn't touched a keyboard in a decade.

The entire reason the Hideous Marys had been resurrected was that one of their deeper tracks, Loathesome Things, was charting after having been on a soundtrack. Some record exec in LA or New York or even Nashville was hot to have them make live appearances with it, so it was the first, completely horrific, song they ran through.

Mysterious Republic was almost as awful. Some hippie dippy Blind Melon meets Mumford and Sons thing Andy and Scott had written back in the day was next. It wasn't horrible, although Ragnar cringed at the thought of what Lance would say if the track went anywhere.

Then Andy, who still looked kind of edgy and was going to need a drink very badly after this if Ragnar was any judge of habits, said, "Let's try Abyss."

Ragnar started the intro, and Evan followed him in. This was one of the first songs he'd learned all the way through on the guitar, and while his Smoke on the Water had been considerably better at the time, he'd run through it a lot. Apparently so had Evan, and Gin was stronger on this track than he'd been on anything else. And Andy Wyler was magic. No other word for it. This project suddenly seemed a lot less crazy.

"Fans would lynch us for messing with it," Andy said, "but that wasn't bad."

"Not at all," agreed Evan.

Ragnar made a half-bow in their direction, because why not? It really had been pretty decent.

Andy spoke directly to him. "If you're willing, I think you should keep lead. We're not going to fill your father's shoes on bass, but you must know the material nearly as well as Gin and I do, and you're more than able to play lead."

Gin jumped in. "You may be more familiar with some of it than me, or you're a better sight reader. I only played on Wibberly a couple of times, and I think you could tell there."

Ragnar could also tell Gin had obviously been slacking since he'd quit the band, but he didn't say anything. And Ragnar was a damn decent sight reader. These days most professional rock musicians could read music, since this wasn't the sixties, or even the nineties, but he was better at it than most of the guys he knew. Some of it was talent, but a lot of it was practice and good teachers.

"Kind of," Andy said diplomatically, "but we've got some time to practice." He glanced at Evan.

"Couple of weeks," the manager said.

"Of course, and I bet you pulled teeth to get that," Ragnar said, because he knew about labels and not wanting to allow time to rehearse or write.

"Studio or live?" Andy asked.

"Probably studio first, which is why we came here, but we're going to want a couple of appearances around then. Fuel the buzz. Loathesome Things is still charting."

Ragnar tried not to roll his eyes. "I'm only doing this for my dad. Mostly. RD-0233 is between tours, and the exposure doesn't hurt, even if this isn't like what we do there."

"It's not," Evan said. "But you're doing fine with Gin and Andy, and I'm going to agree with Andy about lead."

Ragnar had no idea if Evan had any idea what Ragnar's own band sounded like but he nodded. "I'm okay with lead. I like bass, but I get enough of it with RD-0233 and it doesn't hurt to be versatile." Ragnar saw Evan and Andy kind of share a moment, which he chose to ignore. He might know what that could mean, but he wasn't into switching roles in bed. At all, thank you. He continued, "I thought we could maybe get someone who sounded a little more like Scott Marolo, but it's probably easier to just hire a decent bassist. Unless you want in." Ragnar cast an eye over at Evan, not that he figured the guy did, but he'd heard way worse.

Evan laughed. "I have a job. I get to say I jammed with the Hideous Marys though."

"Well, that would've been a lot cooler twenty years ago, but thanks for helping out," Andy said.