Frustrated by his dad's silence, Rich sneaks into his office and breaks into a locked cabinet that holds his dad's prized possession: an electric guitar signed by Jimi Hendrix. Before he knows it, Rich is transported to the side of a road in Upstate New York with a beautiful girl bending over him. It will take him a while to realize it's 1969, he's at Woodstock, and the girl's band of friends includes his fifteen-year-old dad and his uncle, who's still alive. In Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick, what Rich learns, who he meets, and what he does could change his life forever.
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Are You Experienced?
By Jordan Sonnenblick
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2013 Jordan Sonnenblick
All rights reserved.
I SHALL BE RELEASED
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2014
I guess if you're looking for the real beginning of this story, this is it. The day had started out looking pretty promising. I was psyched up, because my girlfriend, Courtney, had asked me to play my guitar and sing at a protest thing outside our little town's city hall. Well, she was actually my sort-of girlfriend. I wanted to commit, but she said I was too "emotionally inexperienced." Whatever that means. We were both sophomores at the same high school, and she had reminded me about the protest all day long — in the hallways, at lunch, even via text during classes. I mean, we weren't supposed to text in class, but Courtney was not exactly a master rule-follower.
Like there was any chance I would forget. I had spent the entire week figuring out a million different protest songs on my guitar, and singing them until I thought my parents would strangle me. Actually, on any given day lately, it seemed like there was a fifty-fifty chance my parents would strangle me whether I played the guitar or not.
The thing about my parents is this: they are ancient. Seriously, seriously ancient. As in, my mom was forty-one years old when she had me, and my dad was a whopping forty-five. Do you have any idea what that's like? It means that everywhere I've gone with them my entire life, well-meaning people have said things like, "Oh, you're such a cute little boy! Are these your grandparents?" And then my parents have gotten their feelings hurt, but of course they have to act all polite in public, so they just get in a terrible mood as soon as they're alone with me.
It also means other kids notice. The first time my dad tried to pitch baseballs to my team during Little League practice, he threw out his back and had to go to the emergency room. When my mom attempted to teach me to ice-skate in front of my whole class on a grade-school trip, she fell and dislocated her hip. It took three skate guards to get her off the ice and into the ambulance. I was amazed they didn't have to call in some kind of special rescue Zamboni. In case that wasn't humiliating enough, a couple of years ago, my parents had a little ornamental pond installed in our backyard, with a tower of rocks and a pump that shoots a constant stream of water down over them. You know what my friends call it?
Plus, I don't know if it's the massive age difference, the fact that I'm an only child, or something else, but my parents are incredibly strict and overprotective. I'm not allowed to do anything my friends get to do. R-rated movies, getting rides from older kids, staying out late on school nights? Forget it. The weird thing is, my dad was a total hippie when he was a teenager. His parents had no control over him whatsoever. He played drums in a rock band and supposedly had gigs all over the state. Once in a while he slips up and tells some story about how he hitchhiked hundreds of miles to go to a concert, or skipped school to go to a Vietnam War protest — but then he gives me some big, stern lecture about how times were different then, and my job is to stay in school and keep out of trouble.
Dad and Mom are both high-school teachers now — he teaches history and she does music — so it seems to me that they survived their crazy hippie teen years in one piece. And if it was good enough for them, why was I supposed to sit in my room alone every Friday and Saturday night playing video games? And not even the fun, Mature-rated ones where you get to blow people up and stuff? But there was no way on earth they were going to let me go to a protest. And especially not a protest with Courtney. Even though, like I said, they might have been rebels in their day, my parents are horrified by Courtney. I think she's incredibly hot, but she's hot in a Gothy way that apparently threatens the senior-citizen crowd. She wears lots of black eyeliner, dyes her hair lots of crazy colors, and is pretty pierced up. The first time my mom saw Courtney, she asked me, "Why would a girl need five piercings?" Meanwhile, I was thinking, Oh, you mean five piercings you can see?
Dad calls Courtney "Vampirella." I'm pretty sure that's not a compliment.
So I lied to my parents. I took my beautiful Martin acoustic guitar and left. I told them I was walking over to my drummer Tim's house to work out some songs, when really I was going to Courtney's, and then from there to City Hall. I wasn't even sure exactly what the protest was for. Courtney was kind of an activist, so she was always protesting against something: income inequality, or one of America's wars, or some huge corporation that was raping the environment. I could barely keep track of the news, partly because I spent every spare moment of my life practicing my guitar, or writing songs, or reading about music. Courtney got mad at me sometimes. In fact, she said she wasn't sure she could ever go out with me seriously until I became a "serious person" — whatever that is. She said I didn't care about anything, which wasn't true at all. I just felt powerless to change anything. I mean, give me a break. First of all, I had spent my whole life protesting against my parents' insane rules and regulations, but I still wasn't even allowed to chew gum in my house (don't even ask) — so I knew firsthand that protesting didn't always change the world. Besides, I also knew that my dad had spent his teen years marching on Washington, and the next four decades bitching about how useless it had all been.
But music was something else. When I was playing an electric guitar plugged into a huge amplifier, the sound waves didn't have to stop a war, or save a whale, or teach an Eskimo to recycle — they didn't have to do anything but move the air around me. That was enough. The music pushed everything else away.
Plus, girls extremely loved it when I played guitar for them. Extremely.
Yeah. Anyway. I got to Courtney's house around eight. She answered the door and I forgot to breathe for a few seconds. She was wearing all black, as usual, but she was wearing a lot of layers of tight, sparkly, shiny black with rips and slits in it, so there was skin flashing everywhere. I had a feeling her parents weren't around, because she grabbed the front of my jacket, yanked me into the house, and said, "Thanks so much for doing this, Rich! You're the best!" Then she put her free hand on the back of my neck and kissed me so hard I felt her nose ring mash into my face.
I'm telling you, it's the guitars.
Eventually, we walked the few blocks down to the protest scene. She was in a hyper mood, and kept up a constant stream of commentary about whatever cause this protest was about. Unfortunately, I was feeling equally hyper about my performance, and I was also hormonally distracted, so I didn't do much listening. I heard little snippets, like, "Why should these poor people be in such pain when ..." and "This has already been legal in California for years ..." I tuned it all out, because my thoughts just kept flashing between three completely different channels:
1. Mom and Dad Better Not Call Tim's House
2. Did I Remember to Bring My Guitar Picks? My Tuner? My Capo? Will I Panic and Forget the Songs? Will I Break a String?
3. Should We Just Go Back to Courtney's House and Make Out Some More?
Downtown, Courtney took my free hand and pulled me into a big tent that had been set up in the plaza in front of City Hall. There were police all around the outside of the tent, but inside there were just lots and lots of grungy-looking people who looked like they had been sleeping in there for days without taking breaks for hygiene. There was kind of a funky odor in there, too — a weird mix of body odor and something that was almost-but-not-quite cigarette smoke — but I was still too stoked up from Courtney's kiss and the excitement of skipping out on my parents to mind. Courtney never really seemed fully alive at school, but in this tent she was sparking like a jumper cable, practically skipping all over to introduce me to a whole network of older teenagers and even adults. She knew everybody, and everybody knew her. Courtney was a big shot here.
Our little "Tour de Tent" ended at a raised platform that held a stool and a microphone. Above it hung a banner proclaiming THE SUFFERING ENDS NOW! I still had no clue what the cause was supposed to be, but ending the suffering now sounded like an idea I could get behind. Courtney tapped the shoulder of a huge, hairy old hippie guy with a beard you could have hidden a treehouse in, and he nodded when he saw my guitar case. "Hey, man," he said to me, "it's great to see the young people supporting the cause. These people have been down here all day working to get our message out. Are you ready to rally their spirits?"
"Uh, sure," I said.
"Then let's stick it to the man!"
Whatever that means, I thought.
He led me to the stage, leaned way down so that his mouth was only a foot or so higher than the mic, and boomed out, "YOUR ENTERTAINMENT IS HERE!" When the screeching burst of feedback triggered by his enthusiasm subsided, he continued: "So, uh, let's have a warm, herbal welcome for my good friend" — he paused and looked at Courtney, who mouthed my name — "RICH!"
I jumped up onto the platform while half the people clapped politely and the other half winced at the second piercing wail of feedback. I took my guitar out of its case, checked my tuning as fast as I could, took a deep breath of the smoky, musty air, and started playing the best protest song I knew: Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." I thought my voice sounded pretty good, and I was nailing the guitar part. I mean, I knew 1960s music the way a lot of guys my age knew sports statistics. I studied it. I sweated it. I lived it. I could play Bob Dylan songs as easily as the jocks at my school could throw a lateral pass (whatever that was). In a strange way, I had always felt that I should have been a teenager in the '60s, when guitarists were at the center of rock music, and rock music was at the center of the world.
Unfortunately, when I looked up, the crowd wasn't exactly going nuts. Some people were into what I was doing, and others were at least kind of checking me out, but a lot of people, especially toward the back of the tent, were chatting with the people around them. Then I noticed that there was even one old, sick lady in a wheelchair pulled up near the corner of the platform off to my right. She had an IV tube in one arm and an oxygen mask over her mouth. I thought, What kind of protest is this, exactly? That lady should be in a hospital, not under a smoke-filled tent.
I finished that song, and most people clapped, but it wasn't like the crowd went wild or anything. I was sort of embarrassed. Courtney was there. I had to do better. I racked my brain for a protest song that might get the people more involved, and realized it would have been a great idea if I had paid attention when Courtney was telling me about the event. Now if I asked her what kind of protest this was, she would think I was the biggest idiot ever.
There was only one thing to do: keep playing. I busted out with another big song: a civil rights anthem called "We Shall Overcome." I wasn't expecting the whole tent to break into a gigantic sing-along or anything, but the response was still exceptionally dead. Dead? That gave me a genius idea. When the song ended, I beckoned Courtney over, and asked her to go to the sick lady to see whether she had any requests. I almost said "last requests," but caught myself.
While I was waiting for Courtney to come back, I played a John Lennon song called "Give Peace a Chance." Even a freaking Beatle didn't get much of a reaction. Despite the coolness of the fall night, huge droplets of flop-sweat began forming on my forehead. If you can't get a liberal hippie protest crowd going with the Beatles, you might as well just hang it up.
Courtney came to the edge of the platform, leaned down, and whispered in my ear, "Her name is Emmy, and she wants you to play Rainy Woman Something Something? I don't know, it was hard to hear her. She can't really talk very well. But it was definitely about Rainy and a Woman. Oh, and she said something about Bob Dylan?"
Wow, I actually knew what song she meant. It wasn't a protest song, though. It was called "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," but the title doesn't have much to do with the lyrics. In terms of what the song is actually about, let me just say most people think it's called "Everybody Must Get Stoned." I knew how to play it, although I wasn't allowed to play it at home. My parents were gigantic Bob Dylan fans just like I was, but they were also crusading anti-drug and -alcohol fanatics. They almost never talked about it in front of me, but I had caught enough slips of conversation over the years to know the basics of the situation. My dad's father, who died when I was a baby, was apparently a raging alcoholic. In case that weren't bad enough, my dad had had an older brother named Michael who died at age eighteen of a heroin overdose. Michael's name was almost never spoken aloud, but I knew a few things about him. I knew I had inherited his lefthandedness, his guitar talent, and his jet-black hair. I also knew he had died in the fall sometime, because every year there was always one week when my dad would get even more strict, quiet, and morose than usual. Then one night, Dad would lock himself in his basement office for hours and listen to 1960s music until way, way into the middle of the night. His mood would gradually return to what passed for normal afterward, and we would sort of agree to forget to say anything about Dad's long-lost sibling for another year.
So, yeah. I knew the song, and had played through it a couple of times. There were two reasons why it seemed like an odd choice for me to play, though. First of all, it had a huge harmonica part, and I didn't have a harmonica. I thought really fast, and decided I could probably fake my way through by whistling it. Second of all, though, the song wasn't about protesting at all. It was about getting high. But I looked at Courtney, who was looking at me the way a girl looks at a boy when she thinks he's about to do something really nice for an old lady in an oxygen mask. Then I looked at the old lady, who looked at me like she was an old lady in an oxygen mask. I sighed. Well, I thought, it's not like anybody's really listening anyway.
Turns out I was wrong about that part.
I cleared my throat and said, "The next thing I'm going to play for you isn't what you would call a traditional protest song. It's a special request for a lovely lady over here named Emmy. Can we please give her a big hand?"
I gestured in Emmy's direction, but I didn't have to. She was a popular figure in that tent. If there had been any seats, I was pretty sure the very mention of Emmy's name would have gotten a standing ovation. As it was, she got some serious rocking applause. Then everybody turned to me. Now I actually had the undivided attention of the entire audience. In fact, the sudden burst of approval had been so loud that the police outside had even edged their way under the flaps all around. So had dozens of little boys in — oh, God — Cub Scout uniforms. What was that about?
I gulped. I hoped the cops were Bob Dylan fans. I strummed the first chord of the song, and started whistling the harmonica part, just as one more person pushed his way through the Scouts in the back of the tent: my father.CHAPTER 2
THE ROAD TO TRAVEL
FRIDAY, AUGUST 15, 1969
I stared at the girl. "Nineteen sixty-nine? Woodstock?"
She nodded. I felt faint. This wasn't possible. It really, really wasn't. Although it did explain the new-old cars. The clothes. The lack of cell phones. "Did you hit your head when you fell?" she asked.
I rubbed all around my skull, very gingerly. Nothing hurt. In fact, aside from my throbbing hip, I felt pretty good for a kid who'd just flown back through forty-five years of time and then gotten T-boned by a Cadillac. "No," I said. "Uh, why did you say I was all white like an angel?"
"Because you are!" she said. She reached for my hair again, and pulled a lock down in front of my right eye. It was white. Shiny, satiny white. "Michael, David," she called, "come here! And can you bring some clothes for the angel here to put on? It's all right, Michael, I don't think you killed him!" As her friends detached themselves from the side of their car, she said, "I'm Willow. Do you have a name? If you're on the run from the heat or something, you can just tell me a name to call you. Nobody's going to hassle you, man."
Excerpted from Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick. Copyright © 2013 Jordan Sonnenblick. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
I Shall Be Released,
The Road to Travel,
From the Prison,
Walking Down the Line,
Piece of My Heart,
I'm a Stranger Here,
I Live One Day at a Time,
Sea of Madness,
Bad Moon Rising,
Uncle Sam Blues,
Shakin' All Over,
Something's Coming On,
I Want to Take You Higher,
Message to Love,
I Don't Need No Doctor,
Voodoo Child (Slight Return),
Long Time Gone,
You Can Make It if You Try,
Epilogue: Spring 2015,