This is the year I’m going to turn 40. As I make my way down the path the leads to middle age, it’s only natural that I take time to both take stock of where I’m at and think back to where I’ve been. As I started this year, I happened upon “One Hit Wonder” by Charlie Carillo – a book that takes a look at one man’s “the good old days”, where they led him, and where he should be. It asks questions about how we react to the events in our life and who we allow ourselves to become. Turns out, it was the perfect book to read as I start my 40th trip around the sun.
“One Hit Wonder” follows former pop star Mickey DeFalco. After falling in love as a teenager, the object of his affection – Lynn – ran away from home, leaving him heartbroken and alone. Channeling that pain, he wrote a song – “Sweet Days” – that catapulted him to superstardom. He dropped out of high school, moved to LA, and began to live his dream. The problem was this; he was young, foolish, and unable to pen a follow-up to his one smash hit.
He survived in LA for years, taking the slow and painful career escalator down from pop superstardom to VH1 “where are the now?” trivia question fodder. After hitting rock bottom, he does the only thing he can think of – he goes home to New York. His working class parents are surprised, but glad to have him back. They give him the unconditional love that only family can and also give him the time and space he needs to work through his issues.
Once home, Mickey discovers that Lynn is back in the neighborhood; caring for her dying mother. This unexpected news jolts him from his malaise and sets him on a collision course with the potential future that deserted him when Lynn boarded a bus 20 years earlier and rode out of his life.
Both Mickey and Lynn are struggling with the lives they have now. Mickey is trapped by the failures that have haunted him, and in some ways even more victimized by having tasted success once. He is a man lost in the past, searching for a way to move forward to the future. Lynn is also haunted – still carrying the emotional baggage she left New York with when she was a teenager. She is a woman who has been running from her past for so long, she doesn’t know how to stop. Together, they stumble through the awkward moments that can only be found with someone you share a history with, searching for the answer to all of the unresolved questions from their youth.
I really enjoyed this book – something in it resonated with me. Not the story of longing for loves lost, but something on a deeper level. I think it had to do with the idea that we all have to grow up at some point – like it or not. The twin events of Lynn’s sudden disappearance and the phenomenal success of “Sweet Days” serve to freeze Mickey in emotional amber. He spends twenty years stumbling through life as a broken-hearted teenager. Unable to come to grips with his loss, unable to develop as man, Mickey is destined to end up homeless on a beach in California – which is exactly what happens. Finding Lynn again gives him the opportunity to bring closure to the one event that both defined and derailed his life. Sounds easy, but it’s not until Mickey finally lets go of the past and listens to some profound advice, that he’s able to address his relationship with Lynn. The advice?
“Love her like a man, not a boy.”
In Mickey, I see someone who’s in a similar place to me. Are Mickey and I alike? Not really – but there is a commonality of experience that we share in spite of the disparity of circumstance. I don’t have the same unresolved heartbreak that he does – but I see a kindred spirit. He is someone who is trying to find his place in the world. Someone who sometimes looks back fondly at a childhood that was not as idyllic as it seemed then, but was still far less complicated than the world is now. He’s a boy still learning how to be a man.
As Mickey and Lynn’s lives circle each other and slide slowly towards resolution, readers are left asking themselves the same question that faces both of them. Are you the person you were meant to be, or merely the person that you turned out to be? It’s a simple, yet powerful question – one that we must all ask ourselves at some point. When looking back at hardship and pain, it is often said that those things that happen to us help to make us who we are today – but that’s only half the equation. We have control over how we react to situations in our life; over who the “who we are today” really is. Is that person who you want it to be? As one of Mickey’s friends says in the book:
“Life takes funny turns – try to turn with them. Otherwise, you hit walls.”
Whether you ended up with your first love from high school, or didn’t find your soul mate until later in life – you will find something in this story. At times profound and at other times prurient, the book pulls no punches in examining where Mickey is and where he needs to be. Whether happy or unfulfilled, successful or utter failure, young or only wishing to still be young – it is human nature for all of us to ask “who am I?” from time to time. In “One Hit Wonder” you get to take that journey and find the answer to that question with Mickey and Lynn. Does life always work out that way? No. Very rarely do things work out with no loose ends and no unanswered questions. But this is, after all, fiction – and I can forgive the author for neatly wrapping everything up with a nice bow. In fact, I appreciate it. We all have our real lives we can turn to in order to get a taste of reality. In “One Hit Wonder”, we have a story of self-discovery, second chances, and yes, a happy ending. An ending you would expect to find if this had been a love song, which – in very many ways – it was.
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