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What would Freddie Mercury do?

When the band itself doesn't show: A tale of music and longing and disappointment and redemption
The lawn was bathed in pearly light, as mighty as a spotlight on any stage.

Illustration by Avi Katz
The lawn was bathed in pearly light, as mighty as a spotlight on any stage. Illustration by Avi Katz

My son is 8, and he’s decided what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to be a rock n’roll star.

Just like Freddie Mercury.

As soon as the days get a little shorter and the mornings crisp around the edges, he breaks out his special jean jacket that used to belong to his uncle, back in the day.

He carries his backpack slung over his shoulder like it ain’t no thang.

When he sees me he says, “Wssup,” and gives me a high five.

He knows how to head-bang, and he’s growing his hair long and shaggy.

A few weeks ago, when I picked him up from school, he came running up to me, his cheeks flushed and his eyes shining.

“Mama, I have big HUGE news. HUGE!!!” the boy child said when I picked him up from school.

“What is it, dude.”

“I’m in a band!!!!!”

“That’s fkn awesome, man,” I high-fived him. “Who’s in it with you?”

“Yair is on drums. Gali is on the electric guitar. I’m on the regular guitar. And Elad is on the tambourine.”

“Wonderful!”

He was literally radiating joy and I was happy too — but it took me by surprise because it’s going so goddamn fast, these long days and short years and little dude is off to band practice. Sunrise sunset. “Hey Mom, don’t wait up,” and I’m happy for him — but my heart squeezes a little too when I look at him, little big.

“So what are you working on?” I asked.

He smiled with all his teeth and he looked even taller as he puffed out his chest, beaming like the sun at high noon:

“Mary had a little lamb!”

That made me happy.

A few days ago, while I was on a book tour, he called me up all chill, and he casually said, “Wssup, Mom, my band and I have our first gig on Tuesday. Will you be back?”

“Hell yeah! What are you going to play?”

“Jingle Bells!”

(Ladies and Gentlemen, for his first gig in the Land of Zion, my Jewish son will be playing Jingle Bells. Rock N’Roll!!!)

It was all he could talk about when I got home: “Mom, I think we need to work a little harder on our harmony,” and “Mom, I want to be there early so I can get in more rehearsal time,” and “Mom, I hope the crowd likes it.”

A few hours before the show, he was buzzing.

His sister, less so. She trudged through the dust while he skipped ahead, stopping only to look over his shoulder and tell us to “Move it already. Nu! Yalla! It’s already five, and I need to be there in 15 minutes to set up with the guys.”

To set up with the guys. He said that.

His sister rolled her eyes. “What’s the big deal. It’s just one song.”

“This is a huge deal,” he told her. “This is my first gig!”

He ran ahead to pick up his guitar, and his sister and uncle and I promised to meet him 10 minutes before the show.

“Don’t be late!” he shouted over his shoulder. “It’s really important you come so you can get good seats.”

He was gone in a flash of dust and wind and glitter.

It was soft night, with a wink of a moon, and everything smelled like dry leaves and lemon grass as we walked along to his show. There were still crickets out, and bats swooping through the fruit trees, dipping low where we could almost touch them. Early November is that baffling time of year, when it feels super late because it’s dark, but the clock says 5:25 p.m., and we haven’t gotten used to the time change and so it’s a little discombobulating.

We made it to the lawn, and the lawn was very dark.

It was a real deep darkness — not the kind of darkness where there’s a buzz, and you know the lights are about to come on, but a vast, yawning darkness, like all the light packed up and went home and locked the door with an iron padlock. It was a baleful, miserable, wrung-out darkness, the kind you feel when you’re a kid and you cry and you cry and you cry and no one comes.

I called his name. “Dude. Where are you.”

A shadow next to a big old pine tree on the south side of the lawn stirred.

“Here,” he said, his voice was flat. “Hi Mom. No one came.”

“Maybe they’re just late,” I said, while I felt his hurt land in the pit of my stomach.

“No. No one is coming.”

His voice was thin and tinny, and I knew he was holding back tears.

His sister and uncle and I sat down next to him, and I wanted to cry for his ache, for his disappointment, for the hope he carried and his big tall dream just laying there on the cold wet grass.

“How about a solo?” I asked. “It’ll be great!” But my voice voice rang hollow too, even as I tried to round out the edges, full and smooth and real.

“I don’t feel like it.”

His sister sighed and I could hear her roll her eyes. “It’s just one song. Whatever. What’s the big deal?”

Her brother scuffed his feet.

I leaned over and whispered to her, “Your brother is hurting right now — this was a big deal for him, and he’s disappointed and we need to just let him feel all these things and be kind.”

“Fine,” she whispered back.

The night was so dark, so big, so vast, and we were just four people in the middle of it, waiting for the band.

And the band never showed. They’re 8. Shit happens.

Rock N’Roll, go hard.

My son sighed, and stood up.

“I don’t think I want to be in a band with them anymore,” he said. “They don’t take it seriously enough for me.”

“That’s probably a wise move, dude,” I told him. “Want to go to the pub? Burgers and fries on me.”

He reached down and slung his guitar over his shoulder, all chill like his heart wasn’t breaking in half, and we tried to pretend we didn’t see it. His sister put her arm around his shoulder.

“Wait,” he said. “I’m going to do a solo. Because that’s what Freddie Mercury would do.”

He sat down on the lawn, unzipped the guitar case, and took out his guitar. His set up the camera to film, and I shined my little phone flashlight on him, and suddenly the lawn was bathed in pearly light, as mighty as a spotlight on any stage.

“Go introduce him,” I whispered to his sister, and she ran in front of him, and said in this big, full, grown-up voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, hello and welcome, tonight, on this date, at this time, for one night only…” We burst into applause.

Her brother walked out on the stage that appeared before him, holding his guitar and beaming, and he sat down on the cool wet grass, and slowly, gently, he picked out those first notes: “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way….” The light on him seemed to grow stronger, and he glowed and he glowed and he glowed. The music was soft and full and each note rounded and sweet, and his face was sweet too as he bent over his guitar, and made it play.

He did a second verse, too, even better than the first. We all applauded.

We were a small and mighty audience, but with my son on that stage of wet grass and moonlight, we had a concert.

“I’m sad it happened, and I’m happy it happened,” he said on the way to the pub for burgers and fries.

“Why are you sad and why are you happy?”

“I’m sad because I REALLY wanted to be in a band, and I’m happy because I played and it was a good learning experience about people and about myself.”

And it was. Because my son is 8, and he’s growing up in a blink and you’ll miss it kind of way, and he was in a band and he committed to it, and he showed up on time, and he took it seriously, and life will disappoint you sometimes even when you do your best. And life WILL kick your ass some days, but what you do with each thing, and what you make of it is what defines you, and under that little moon on that pitch black lawn, we were all there together, and my son was pure rock n’ roll.

Just like Freddie Mercury.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.
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