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Title: Cutting Edge
Author: Ingela Bohm
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Ingela Bohm
After ten years of hard work, rock band Pax are enjoying a stable career, but not everyone rejoices in their success. Just weeks into their first holiday in years, a family files a complaint against them for causing their son’s death. Their lawyer assures them the lawsuit will go away quietly – after all, a rock band can’t be blamed for some poor kid’s fate on the streets.
Or can they? This is the eighties, at the height of the moral panic surrounding heavy metal, and no accusation is too ridiculous. When Jamie takes on a guitar pupil who pushes the boundaries of artistic freedom, he starts to question his own responsibility for what he puts out. At the same time, Michael meets a former bully who insinuates that Michael wasn’t as innocent a victim as he thinks.
While Michael fights his personal battle against demons from his past, he also prepares to give evidence on the part of the band in a court of law. The question isn’t just whether Pax will survive this latest blow – it’s whether Michael will.
Unicorns in the office
Heavy metal is a culture based on presumed cishet men ogling presumed cishet men who perform onstage. The macho context of a concert hall allows these male performers to dress in provocative ways and flaunt their sexuality at other men, without anyone batting an eye. In this specific situation, they can safely break the rules of straightness.
To illustrate, Judas Priest first made their name by enacting an extreme form of masculinity, with leather and spikes and biker gear that excited admiration in their fans. The fact that this style was lifted straight from the gay scene through singer Rob Halford is kind of amusing, since heavy metal can also be, you know, a bit homophobic.
An even better example is the eighties LA bands, who used ultra-feminine attributes to show off their masculinity: permed hair, makeup, spandex, frilly blouses and jewelry. According to Alice Cooper, these clothes were cheap in second hand shops and made the wearer stand out in a competitive musical world. Still, the gender-bending aspect of it is an interesting phenomenon, considering that whole cishet thing.
Of course, the androgyny of stage performers is nothing new. In Elizabethan England, boys played female roles in the theatre, causing the Puritans much worry because of the lewd thoughts such ambiguity could excite in the audience.
And maybe they had a point. I personally have a soft spot for androgyny. When I first started writing about my rock band Pax, the main characters’ femininity (for want of a better word) was the main attraction for me. I’ve based Michael and Jamie on a few different musicians who have this ethereal, soft quality, coupled with a strong ‘masculine’ charisma that makes for a delightful paradox.
If this sounds fetishizing, it probably is. The whole business of performing on a stage plays off fantasies in the first place. Actors and musicians exaggerate traits to become larger than life. In a similar way, characters in fiction can encapsulate an impossible dream. A book can provide a Prince Charming canvas to project our ideals and our fears on. On our inner stage, they become the rock stars. In the safety of our minds, we can ogle their extreme masculinity or androgyny or whatever we like. Just like Judas Priest, they can use ‘gay’ attributes to enact an ostensibly straight fantasy. And just like in heavy metal, the acceptance of homoeroticism can coexist with homophobia.
Because it doesn’t matter if I love androgyny on the stage if I don’t accept it in the office. Adulation of rock stars or book boyfriends can theoretically make us more accepting of real life diversity, but it can also make us so protective of our fantasy that we don’t want it to exist in the real world, lest it lose that magic we get off on.
To uphold the specialness of fantasy, we compartmentalize and make up rules that you can sing and dance in a sequin corset, but you can’t go grocery shopping in it. We want to save the carnivalesque for that special occasion, because if there’s no dull everyday world, celebrations lose their festiveness. To quote Norwegian cartoonist Lise Myhre of Nemi fame, if unicorns actually existed, we would be able to buy unicorn fillets at the supermarket, and (the equivalent of) Kim Kardashian would own one. Not very thrilling, is it?
But that’s just the thing. The real life people we like to idolize may not be that thrilling. A rock star who gets an ugly rash from all that leather doesn’t do anything for our fantasy. A man who wears lipstick to work raises eyebrows, no matter that we love when David Bowie does it. It’s one thing to fantasize about a person, and quite another to discuss the latest memo with them.
Of course, boundaries can be pushed, and what’s considered acceptable changes over time. But this also means that the thrill of the forbidden dwindles. If my dream came true and everyone started dressing in plaid and black lace, I would probably get sick of it in a week. So the question is: do we want the fantasy to stay on the stage, or would we welcome it in the real world? Because sometimes it’s a person who’s only accepted within a fantasy. We view their life as carnivalesque in itself, and best kept out of view until we want the idealized panto.
I’m not saying stop the fantasies – half my life is one long day dream, after all – but it can be good to remind yourself of the double standards among those who love Judas Priest but don’t want any ‘gay stuff’ offstage. That there’s a real person behind the performer, with thoughts and wishes and everyday problems. And perhaps some of that forbidden, magical glow has to go, so that they can have a shot at coming into the office as themselves: a unicorn of flesh and blood.
When Jamie finally came out from the bathroom, Michael still hadn’t hung up. “But we’ve done nothing wrong!” he could be heard shouting from below. “Evan, this is just ridiculous.”
Stomach knotting, Jamie tiptoed down the stairs.
“Christ, that too?” Michael groaned. “Seriously? I mean, what do we even say to that? Alright, alright… We will, Jesus… Don’t go all dad on us, we’re thirty years old, for God’s sake.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Fuck.” Michael collapsed on the chair beside the telephone table. “Hang on, Evan.” He put the receiver against his chest and looked up at Jamie. “Bottom line is, we’re fucked. No, sorry, we’re screwed. Is that a nicer word than ‘fucked’? Or should I say that we’re ‘in a bit of a pickle’?”
Jamie kneeled in front of him and took the hand that wasn’t holding the receiver. “Michael, calm down. Tell me. Has something happened?”
“You could say that.” Michael laughed without mirth. “We’re… we’re…” He looked up at the ceiling, like a sinner begging for absolution. “We’re being sued.”
Jamie just stared at him. There was a muffled outburst from the phone, and Michael raised the receiver to his ear. “That’s what you said, wasn’t it?”
More shouting from Evan.
Michael’s jaw set. “I have to tell him what you said.” He turned to Jamie again. “You won’t believe this. It’s our music. They think we’re…” He shook his head and laughed again, and this time, it was a sound of pure disbelief. “Devil worshippers!”
Jamie sat back. “Devil…?”
“Don’t ask me.”
“But we’re not even… what?”
“Apparently, it’s our fault that this girl torched her school. Or something. No, it was…” Michael stopped to listen to Evan’s hollering. “That was the tabloids, right. The court case is in Virginia. No, West Virginia.”
“Court case,” Jamie repeated dully. He wasn’t sure what the word even meant, he was so shocked.
“They’re accusing us of… well, I don’t really… Fuck the reason, we’re being called to court. In front of a judge and everything!”
“But… devil worship? I mean, where do they–”
“We’re ‘seducing America’s youth’,” Michael said, making quotation marks in the air. “Apparently, Prey encourages vandalism.”
“And murder. Let’s not forget murder. We’re inveigling young working class people to rise against authority and… and… promoting anarchy, and…”
“But it must be a joke.”
Holding his gaze, Michael shook his head. “It’s not, Jamie. You want to talk to him yourself?”
“Yes, I do, dammit.” Jamie grabbed the receiver. “Evan?”
At once, Jamie’s heart sank. In that one word, he heard the full weight of what they were up against. Their usually upbeat manager sounded dejected, beaten.
“Okay, listen,” he said. “This is the situation: they think you’re encouraging Satanism and homosexuality in the young. General depravity. That kind of thing.”
Jamie couldn’t help a weary laugh. “‘That kind of thing’? What does being gay have to do with Satanism?”
“I don’t know, I’m not a priest. It doesn’t matter. Thing is, they’re calling it negligence. Law mumbo-jumbo which means you should have known better.”
“You can be punished because you should have known better?” Jamie asked, on the fence between laughter and anger. “Not a single human being should go free, then.”
“But for the actions of the tortfeasor, the harm would not have occurred,” Evan read aloud from something. “Meaning, but for these songs of yours, this kid wouldn’t be dead.”
Jamie gasped. “Dead?”
“Look, you have to come up to London so that Mister Harrison can explain.”
“Your lawyer. According to him, your best bet is to plead the first amendment. Freedom of expression.”
Jamie stared into space. After an eternal moment, he repeated, “Freedom of expression.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Believe it. But look,” and now Evan started to sound like his normal self again, “I’ll take care of it. Mister Harrison is flying over from the States, and he’s positive that we can dismiss their claim. That it’s not, you know… viable. Or something.”
“Some legal word that means the people who’re suing us can go to hell?” Jamie smiled acidly.
“Pretty much. But the two of you need to come up here and meet him, okay? We need to talk strategy, and you have to be present to hear it all. You understand.”
“I think so.”
“We’ve scheduled a meeting a week from now. Mister Harrison couldn’t get away from his other duties before that. So next Thursday at ten o’clock, okay?”
“You don’t have a school talk that day, do you?”
In a daze, Jamie reached for the calendar on the telephone table. “Nope.”
“Alright, see you then.”
Evan hung up, and Jamie slumped against the leg of the telephone table. “Jesus. Was this what Ferdinand was talking about?”
“Okay, don’t panic.” Michael rubbed his forehead. “As long as we don’t panic, it’ll be okay.”
Jamie made a wry grimace. “Really.”
“He’s going to take care of it. Mister Harrison, I mean.”
But Jamie could hear the fear in Michael’s voice.
“And if they insist that we go to court,” he went on, “we show up, we tell them that they’re being ridiculous, and then we walk away. I mean, what’s their case? Death by music?”
“You’re not even going to talk to me about it?” Michael snapped.
“What’s the point? We’re at their mercy now.”
“So we’re just going to ignore it?”
Jamie shot him a sullen look. Then his gaze slipped to the black strands of hair that lay drying against Michael’s shoulders. A pang in his chest made him sit up straight. “That tape. The death metal thing.”
Michael hesitated. “Yeah…?”
“Don’t talk to anyone about it. The last thing we need is to be associated with a band like that.”
Michael fell quiet, half a breath down his throat. He searched Jamie’s face, and Jamie felt it redden. “‘A band like that’?” Michael repeated. “He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah?” Jamie sneered. “Just to be clear, we’re talking about the same guy here? The one with the eyeliner and pentagrams?” He was almost hyperventilating now.
Michael gripped his hands. “Look… Okay, okay. I’ll pretend it doesn’t exist. We’ll go to London and meet this lawyer, and we’ll appear in court if we have to – we’ll do everything they tell us, and it’ll be okay.”
“Yeah.” Jamie’s voice snagged on a dryness in his throat, and Michael pulled him close for a hug. Breathing into his shoulder, Jamie whispered, “This couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
Michael pulled away and sought his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“The school talks! We’re supposed to be role models, aren’t we?”
A stiffness came over Michael, and his gaze dropped to his lap. “They don’t know about this, though. I mean, we only knew about it five minutes ago, and we’re going to our first school tomorrow. The grapevine is an impressive thing, but it’s not that fast.”
Jamie leaned his head on Michael’s knee. “I hope so.”
Michael stroked his hair – cautiously, as if he didn’t know if he was allowed. “Don’t worry,” he said in a voice that sounded tinny. “It’ll all be just fine.”
The author is offering one lucky reader their choice of any of the four books in the Pax series.
About the Author
Ingela Bohm lives in an old cinema, tucked away in a northern Swedish forest where she can wander around all day long and dictate her books. She used to dream of being an actor until an actual actor asked, “Do you really need to do it?” That’s when she realized that the only thing she really needed to do was to write. She has since pretended to be a dietician, a teacher, a receptionist and a cook, but only to conceal her real identity.
Her first imaginary friend was called Grabolina and lived in her closet. Nowadays she has too many imaginary friends to count, but at least some of them are out of the closet. Her men may not be conventionally handsome, but they can charm your pants off, and that’s all that matters.
Ingela’s more useless talents include reading tarot cards, killing pot plants and drawing scandalous pictures that no one gets to see. She can’t walk in heels and she’s stopped trying, but she has cycled 12 000 miles in the UK and knows which campsites to avoid if you don’t like spiders. If you see her on the train you will wonder what age she is.
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I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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