Vollack (The Red Staircase, 2017) offers a novel of youth, ambition, and the heavy-metal music scene of the 1980s.
“We were headbangers, and heavy metal was our theme music,” the author writes in the prologue to his raucous novel about what he calls the “soundtrack of the suburbs.” Junior high schooler Mark Magruder is an aspiring drummer in a Denver suburb who listens to the music of such acts as Judas Priest, Van Halen, and Ozzy Osbourne. Due to a misunderstanding, he and his classmate James Graves almost get into a fistfight over a girl; eventually, though, they find common ground, which leads them to form a heavy-metal band. Initially, Mark plays drums, but he’s later promoted to lead singer when another drummer and a bassist join the group; however, he notes that he “would probably have played friggin’ tambourine if it meant staying in the band.” Over the course of several years, Mark learns some important lessons about performing (“my first lesson of rock singing: Presence is everything”). Overall, this coming-of-age tale features a fair amount of drinking, band drama, and set-list discussion as well as relationship issues when Mark starts seeing a girl named Sara. Along the way, Vollack manages to successfully capture the aura of 1980s suburbia in general and its heavy-metal culture in particular as his characters go to see the band Iron Maiden in concert and have beer-keg parties; as he notes, “Headbangers need only the glorious grind of a power cord [sic] and the meaty thump of the kick-drum shaking their bones.” At times, the tone of Vollack’s prose verges on over-the-top machismo (“Singing for chicks. Hell yeah”), but this doesn’t stop it from taking readers on a nostalgia-filled trip into a bygone era, soundtrack in tow.
A fictional tale for metal heads that offers all the simple pleasures of a real-life rock-and-roll memoir.