Rating: 4 stars out of 5
In 1974 Gerry Faun gets the break of his life—an opportunity to meet gorgeous, openly bisexual, glam-rock idol Mark Devon. Mark’s world is new, exciting, and Gerry finally gets to explore the side of his sexuality that he’s kept hidden. But the press is everywhere, and when Gerry’s father gets wind of what’s going on behind his back, Gerry ends up on the street. Mark offers to let Gerry come along with the tour and Gerry jumps at the chance. The tour is a never-ending party—and the start of what seems to be a perfect relationship for him and Mark. Until Mark’s manager decides Gerry isn’t worth the trouble he’s stirring up.
In 1994 Gerry is finally coming out of some tough times—he has a job that pays the bills, a car that hasn’t quite broken down, and a small rental in Jersey City. After a decade of barely getting by, if life was as good as it was going to get, Gerry figures he’ll manage just fine. It would be easier if he wasn’t still haunted by the man the media won’t let him forget, the man who stole his heart and then broke it… the man that’s shown up pleading for a second chance
In Baby’s On Fire by A. F. Henley, the author charts the rocky, troubled path to love for a rock ‘n roll singer and the young man who fell in love with him. It’s a journey that swings back and forth between eras, the swinging drug-filled raucous years that were the 70’s and then forward to the 90’s, the present time frame for Gerry and Mark.
I have always admired Henley’s ability to capture the mood and character of each era she has chosen to write about, even if sometimes it is embodied only by a car (“Roadtrip“). In Baby’s On Fire, Henley tackles the 70’s, an era of contradictions and overindulgence. It was the end of the innocence and hope of the 60’s while still continued that decade’s trajectory of drug use and music that pushed known boundaries. There was soft rock, Hard Rock, Glam Rock which was also called Glitter Rock, personified by glam rocker Gary Glitter who sang Rock and Roll on his album “Glitter“, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (how I still love him) and so many others. It was the time of Studio 54 and the out of control New York club life that so many stars and singers got caught up in. Excess thy name is the 70’s! And its all here inside the page of this often heartbreaking story.
Appropriately enough, the story begins in October 1994 and we’re dumped into the present reality of Gerry Faun. He’s middle aged, and life hasn’t exactly been very kind to him. In fact, its been a very real struggle to make ends meet. He’s alone but finally has a job that will pay his bills and that he is good at. But all it takes is a song on the radio to turn back time….for Gerry and the reader.
Ever had a crush on a singer when you were a preteen or teenager? Remember those times of utter devotion and yes, a little obsession? Even if you don’t, all you have to do is look at (insert name of any boy band or Justin Bieber) and fans to get an idea. Its along those lines that this story takes hold, when Gerry Faun is taking his sister and friends to a concert by Maxx Starlight and his band. It’s June 1974, and everyone is giddy over the fact that they will be seeing Maxx in person and listening to him sing. Especially young Gerry who’s trying to be the cool older brother while being even more ridiculously excited than his younger sis. Gerry is aware that he is gay but keeping it a secret, a smart move when his conservative father is already calling the rock ‘n roll star slurs (“f…..t”) as the small group walks out the door into a night that will permanently change them all.
In a scene charged with energy and a drug/alcohol induced wildness, Gerry ends up backstage and meets his idol, Maxx Starlight aka Mark Devon and the dance between them begins as the narrative starts to switch back and forth between the turbulent excesses and confusion that is the life Mark and Gerry live in the 70’s to the discontent and emptiness of Gerry’s life in the 90’s. I thought Henley’s authentic, “spot on” descriptions of a popular rocker’s lifestyle works at every level. It’s too bright, too over the top, too much of everything from sex ‘n drugs “living on the edge” as well as the mindless adoration of hundreds of thousands of fans. And we get to see and feel its impact on the jaded Mark/Maxx and the innocent Gerry, whose Bambi like nature gives him the nickname “The Faun”.
A dramatic scene from Gerry’s youth brings on a change in decade and we move forward to the man he’s become…unhappy, alone and forever caught in the past, no matter how much he denies it. He’s stored his youth and his ability to love in with all his keepsakes in a box in the back of his closet, likewise his memories and emotions have been shunted to the back of his mind, not to be taken out and examined too carefully. What happens to break up this stalemate is the arrival of Mark, back after over 20 years absence with the intent of getting back together with Gerry.
The return of Mark brings the 90’s section of the story and Gerry to life. The 90’s narrative has been one of a certain grayness and enervation. With the return of Mark, it’s the anger, pain, and emotion that comes roaring back to life in Gerry that starts to be a match for all the action, decadence, overindulgence, and high emotion of the 70’s scenes and events. That anger, pain, and rage propels Gerry into action making the connection between the readers and the storyline snap firmly in place for the duration of the story.
I thought Henley’s characterizations worked extremely well, no matter what time frame they happened to be in at the moment. Young Gerry aka the Faun’s very youth and actions ooze innocence and new passion, and its that unformed outlook on life that get’s schooled in the most raw, blinding manner possible by the man he loves. Mark aka Maxx’s character works well as the over indulged rockstar losing himself to the persona he and the manager have created. The 70’s characterization of Mark works so believably because we see so much of him and his actions through the relationship dynamics with Gerry and the “support/hangers on” that surround them.
Unfortunately, when Mark disappears from Gerry’s story, his lack of presence for most of the 90’s section reduces our knowledge of the older Mark to the detriment of the novel. We are “told” what happened to him, and that manner of narrative distances the reader from Mark as well as reduces our connection to him and his reunion with Gerry. To make the love between Mark and Gerry sing with all the vibrancy and passion of their youth, the readers needs more of the grownup Mark and his journey towards adulthood and responsibility for himself and his actions. We get that with Gerry and for balance and to make this story feel whole, we needed it for Mark as well. Telling is never any substitute for “doing” or action and that is demonstrated in Baby’s On Fire.
That issue aside, I thought Baby’s On Fire by A.F. Henley a wonderful story and one I recommend. The emotional journey to love and a HEA for Gerry and Mark brought back to life an era I lived through, sent me running back to pull up Youtube vids of Ziggy Stardust, glitter, and a sexy rock god in all his glory as well as all the fallout and maturation needed to make it through to the 90’s for so many.
Love a rock’n’roll love story? Need a little more glitter and glam in your life to go along with the romance? Pick up Baby’s On Fire by AF Henley and make this lovely indulgence your own.
Cover art by Raphael works but yes, I wanted a little more glitter. Go here for images of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.
Expected publication: May 6th 2015 by Less Than Three Press
original titleBaby’s on Fire