There once was a little boy who wanted to rock. But as rock musicians know full well, mastering power chords and shredding like guitar heroes is really hard. So the boy's dad wrote a children's book to help his son, but the book turned into a much bigger music project than expected.
It seems David Weiser's son Arlen was born with rock and roll in his soul.
“He would be, you know, in diapers as a toddler and we would have a playlist that was mostly Bowie and Queen,” Weiser recalled. But when AC/DC came on, “he would drop his toys, march over to the speakers, and stare at them rapt! And when the song ended, he would cry and scream for more.”
But when Arlen was a little older – and big enough to hold an electric guitar – Weiser said his son would melt down as he tried to emulate his musical idols, including AC/DC's Angus Young.
“It was hard,” Arlen admitted while sitting on his dad's lap. “It didn't sound right.”
And that broke his Weiser's heart.
“It was so difficult to see him crying and stomping up and down,” he said.
So Weiser, a pianist who also loves music, started making up tall tales about real music stars who got angry at their instruments. He'd tell his son when blues legend Freddy King got frustrated, he threw his guitar to the moon. Mark Bolan of T. Rex would eat his Gibson Flying V. And the Pretenders' Chrissy Hynde chucked her harmonica into the oven and cooked it.
These goofy stories made Arlen feel better, and they inspired Weiser, who lives in Haverill with his family, to start writing an equally playful, rhyming children's book called, “The Boy Who Wanted To Rock.”
There once was a boy who wanted to rock
Sadly, this boy was in for a shock.
Things didn't go exactly the way
He thought they would when he first sat down to play
The instruments all made a horrible noise!
This was quite different from playing with toys.
Exasperated, the fictional boy storms out the door. But then he encounters a cast of helpful creatures. A friendly dog teaches him about the basics of rhythm on drums. An octopus shows him the eight notes on a piano with his eight tentacles (The keys in the book are tiny fish because Arlen called a piano a "minnow" when he was little).
Two cool cats explain the strings and frets on guitar and bass. But Arlen's favorite characters are the seemingly menacing goblins and trolls who invite the boy to join their band. They give him tips on how to become a monster of rock.
“We'll teach you to strut and to do it with swagger,” they say, “just like we taught Angus, Prince and Mick Jagger."
Weiser has seen a lot of strutting first hand. He's worked with scores of professional musicians as a sound designer and keyboard programmer in orchestra pits for Broadway shows including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” and “School of Rock.” Weiser has also toured with The Who, Roger Waters, Brian Wilson and his musical hero David Bowie.
He jokes that his children's book has really been an elaborate cover for him to keep acting like a kid. But over the years he's observed how rockers and producers are always searching for ways to channel their inner-child.
“When people go to teach kids music, we always try to stifle them and make them like us,” Weiser said, “even though when we're punched in working as musicians we're trying to be like them. And so this book is an attempt to sort of let kids know that the things that make you a kid are the things that will make you an effective rocker.”
Weiser said he never planned to publish a children's book. But when he shared the story with colleagues he's worked with on musicals including “Jesus Christ Superstar,” they loved the idea and wanted to help. So Weiser took out loans, enlisted illustrator Derek Lavoie, and with a lot of help from his friends self-published the hardcover through Bookbaby.com.
Then came the idea for an audiobook. But Weiser didn't want to narrate it himself. So he took a chance and asked British theater star Ria Jones ("Evita," "Cats," "Les Miserables") whose name has graced the marquees of theaters Weiser has worked at, “dragging around cables and plugging in keyboards,” he said.
Jones enthusiastically agreed and told Weiser she'd take the script to the beach in Wales for two weeks so she could get the words into her bones. “I wept when I first heard her do it,” he recalled.
And what would a book about the unbridled joy of rock be without some actual rock songs?
Justin Matthew Sargent from the shows “Rock of Ages” and “Spider-Man: Turn Of The Dark” helped craft original music and performed (from a distance) with an all-star band of Broadway all-stars.
Weiser and his collaborators set out to make songs that aren't your typical children's music. The lyrics extoll the highs and acknowledge the lows of learning how to play instruments. While the artists offered to pitch in pro bono, Weiser insisted on paying them during the pandemic that's decimated their industry.
“Even if the little tiny bit of work that I provided was like putting an Alka-Seltzer in the ocean at least it was something,” he said. “Everybody got paid up front.”
Also, two dollars for every book sold through Book Baby will go to the non-profit Actors Fund that helps working entertainment artists.
“And we're not talking about Brad Pitt,” Weiser said, “We're talking about stagehands and lighting crew and ushers and the people who work in the trenches of the arts and culture industry.”
While practicing is surely part of “The Boy Who Wanted To Rock's” message, Weiser said it's definitely not about scales, lessons and perfection.
“The book ends with mohawks and monsters and guitars and stomping and clapping and shouting,” Weiser said “These [are] things that kids can relate to. So that even just by reading the book, the kids are getting something that gives back a little bit when learning music at first does not give back very much.”
Now Arlen is starting to get a lot back from his guitar. His dad plugged in a kid-sized, red, three-stringed electric that's tuned to power chords and handed Arlen a pick. The boy picked up his favorite instrument and worked his way through parts from Deep Purple's “Smoke on the Water” and “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.
And while the six-year-old has big dreams of being in a rock band with AC/DC's Angus Young, his dad said Arlen also want to be a scientist and race car driver – and that's cool too.
This segment aired on June 18, 2021.