Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.
His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.
Meanwhile at the Vatican, a multi-millionaire media tycoon and former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own – and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.
Idolism is a quirky, tongue-in-cheek novel for the religious skeptic, shedding light on the differences and similarities between religion and stardom.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Justin Bieber, John Lennon, and Jesus. In that order.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The Gospel According to Ginger – 1
I knocked on the door, and without waiting for a reply I entered the caravan-turned-dressing room. Julian was alone. He didn’t turn around to look at me. He didn’t have to. Our eyes met in the mirror he was sitting in front of, staring at himself, concentrating on the biggest performance of his life that was only 40 minutes away.
“You all right?” I asked.
He nodded, still staring at himself in the mirror.
I looked at him as he was sitting there in his white T-shirt, white trousers, and white shoes, all of which stood in stark contrast to his mop of dark hair and his steel blue eyes. All he needed was a pair of wings—to borrow a cliché here—but I suppose that would have been a bit too much even for Julian, even for what he was about to do. To be honest, I thought that even his all-white outfit was rather pushing it. It was trying too hard to drive home a point. I would have preferred him to wear his school uniform like the old Julian, the Julian the world had come to know and love, but that Julian had died more than a month ago. Today this Julian, the newborn Julian, was going to celebrate his resurrection in front of the eyes of the whole world, a world that for the most part still thought he was dead. It was his moment, the moment he had been yearning for ever since that evening in Rome when he had met the Pope. He knew exactly how he wanted it to be, and there was no way anybody could have talked him out of his white outfit.
“Have you heard anything from Michael?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not since this morning.”
Julian nodded and continued looking himself in the eyes.
Without knocking, the door opened and Tummy came strutting in, so full of self-confidence that he could barely walk. For a brief moment while the door was open, we could hear Ricky Gervais talk to the crowd, announcing the next act. The caravan we were in stood on the lawn behind the 40-metre-wide stage in Hyde Park where a quarter of a million people had spent the last seven or eight hours watching performances of more than a dozen of the biggest bands and solo artists in the world. They all had come together on this day to speak out against hatred, fear mongering, corruption and moral bankruptcy, and to celebrate love and understanding, compassion and human values. It was the Rock for Reason 2013 concert, and in addition to the crowd in Hyde Park it was being watched by millions of people on TV all over the world. Maybe even billions, if everything went according to plan.
“Oi, Jules!” Tummy said and slammed his hand down on Julian’s shoulder, sending shockwaves through his slender body. “You all right, mate?”
“Yes, Tummy,” Julian said. “I’m all right.”
“How’s is going out there?” I asked.
“Oh it’s going brilliantly!” Tummy rejoiced. “I just spent half an hour in the wings watching Mumford & Sons. They’re pretty good, but they got nothing on us, I’m telling you. Nothing! Oh, oh, and look!”
He showed us his bare left arm where someone had scrawled their name with a Sharpie.
“I can’t read that,” I said.
Tummy beamed. “That, my dear, says Katy Perry. I just ran into her backstage. She’s so hot!”
“Right. So you’re going to present your big surprise to Momoko with the autograph of another woman on your arm? I think you haven’t thought that through.”
“Oh shit!” Tummy panicked. “I need water and soap, like, right now!”
The door opened again, and this time it was Mrs Monk and Peter Tholen. They were holding hands.
“My darling,” Mrs Monk said and kissed Julian on the cheek. “Are you all right?”
Julian smiled at her in the mirror. “Yes, mum. I’m all right.” Then he turned around and looked at all of us. “Why is everybody asking me that?”
“We’re just worried, darling,” Mrs Monk said. “That’s all.”
“Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy. All the battles have been fought, and the war has been won.”
He was playing his role as spiritual leader so well.
The door opened once more, and teetering in came Momoko. Before she could open her mouth, Julian declared, “I’m all right!”
She gave him a funny look. “Of course you all right. Why would you not?”
“Never mind. I was just saying.”
“Is so exciting, isn’t it?” Momoko said and looked around. “Everybody here.”
“Almost everybody,” Julian corrected her. “Has anyone heard from Michael?”
When nobody answered, I said, “Stop worrying about Michael. He’s gonna be fine. Everything is gonna be fine.”
Julian nodded, but I could see he was not convinced.
“Anyway!” Momoko clapped her hands twice. “Is time to go. Remember, Ricky announce Julian, then Julian give salmon, then I announce rest of band, then play. Yes?”
“It’s sermon,” Tummy whispered in her ear, “not salmon.”
“Is what I said,” Momoko protested in her famous Japanese accent. “Salmon.”
“It’s not a sermon,” Julian said. “It’s just a speech.”
“How go saying? Potato, tomato, yes?” Momoko said and opened the door. “Let’s go.”
Everyone wished everyone else good luck as we left the caravan and made our way to the backstage area. It was time to part ways with Julian. For his first public appearance after his death he wasn’t simply going to walk onto the stage like a normal human being. The organizers of the concert had devised something special for him. They knew that his appearance at this concert would be viewed by many as a literal resurrection, and they were going to milk that concept to the very last drop.
“Good luck. Go get’em,” I said and gave Julian a quick kiss on the cheek. His ears lit up in a bright red colour as he smiled a shy and awkward smile and looked at the floor. He was about to address a live crowd of a quarter of a million people and millions more on TV, but the one thing that fazed him was an innocent kiss on the cheek. It was good to see that he was still human after all.
A stagehand came and led him away to his starting position below the stage as I climbed up the stairs to the wings where Tummy and Momoko were waiting for me.
“So where’s Richard?” I asked and looked around.
Richard was our substitute drummer. During the planning stages, when it became clear that Michael wouldn’t be able to make it to the concert, Tholen had used his connections and pulled a few strings to find a worthy replacement for Michael.
“Over there,” Tummy said and pointed to the wings on the opposite side of the stage. As he stretched out his arm, Momoko finally noticed Katy Perry’s autograph.
“What that?” she asked. “That Katy Perry?”
“Oh, um …” Tummy stammered. “Yeah. I met her earlier. She was so keen on giving me her autograph, and … but we couldn’t find any paper or anything, so she just grabbed me arm, and, well, you know. She basically assaulted me.”
“You such a naughty boy!” Momoko said, and then she started making out with him right in front of me.
“Jesus Christ, get a room, you two!”
I looked over at the other side of the stage, and when my eyes met Richard’s—or rather his sunglasses—he waved at me with his drumsticks, and I smiled and waved back.
My mobile vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked at the screen. It was a text from Michael. It read, ‘I failed.’
“Damn it!” I mumbled to myself.
“What’s wrong?” Tummy asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” I said and waved my hand dismissively, and when Tummy kept staring at me with probing eyes, I added, “Never mind. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you later.”
Julian’s warm-up act, a very fine young specimen by the name of Jake Bugg, finished his final song and left the stage in our direction. When he saw me eating him up with my eyes, he stopped and smiled at me.
“Hey,” he said. “You’re Ginger.”
“I know,” I said stupidly. “You’re Jake.”
After a few moments of awkward silence I said, “I like your music.”
“Why, thank you very much. I like your music, too. I didn’t know you guys were playing tonight. Because … you know.”
“Yeah, I know. We’re on next, but Julian will speak first.”
“Julian?” Jake looked puzzled. The organizers had done a great job keeping the secret under wraps. “I thought he was …”
Jake frowned at me visibly confused, but he didn’t pry any further.
“It’s a long story,” I said.
“Right.” Jake smiled. “Well, perhaps you can explain it to me later?”
“I’d love to.”
“All right then. It was very nice meeting you, Ginger”
“Very nice meeting you too,” I said with wobbly knees.
“See you later, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, feeling like my face was on fire.
After Jake had left, Tummy nudged me with his elbow, grinned his silly grin, and said, “I didn’t know you were into lesbians.”
“Oh shut up, Tummy!”
Finally, it was time for the surprise of the evening. From the opposite wings, Ricky Gervais entered the stage and waited until the crowd had settled down.
“Our next guest needs no introduction,” he said. “So he’s not getting one.”
Without another word he left the stage again. There were a few scattered cheers and jeers, but most of the 250,000 just stared at the stage in a state of confused anticipation. They had no idea what was about to hit them.
The stage lights went dark, and the centre of the stage filled with thick white smoke accompanied by the audio track of our eponymous song, White Smoke. That’s when the audience started getting all fidgety and noisy. They were sensing that something was afoot. As two spotlights lit up the centre of the plume of smoke, a hole in the floor opened, and the tall and slender figure of Julian Monk started slowly rising from down below. As the stage mechanism pushed him upwards, he kept raising his arms very slowly so that when his whole body was visible and the smoke was clearing away, he stood in the middle of the stage with his arms stretched out like Christ the Redeemer in a sea of light, and the two giant video screens that framed the stage on either side showed his face in close-up, ten times larger than life.
The audience went mental. We had long since grown used to screaming and shouting fans at concerts, but this was the most deafening noise I had ever heard. I turned to look at Tummy and Momoko. They were both covering their ears with their hands, just like I was.
It took several minutes until the noise had come down to a level where Julian could finally dare to open his mouth and say something.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “It’s just me.”
Another roar went through the crowd, silencing Julian for another two minutes. At this rate we’d be here all night. I took a quick look at my mobile. Twitter was ablaze, and both Julian Monk and #resurrection were already trending worldwide.
Eventually, the audience calmed down again, allowing Julian to continue.
“Seriously, though,” he said. “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.
“Six weeks ago, as you may or may not remember, I was in an accident; a very heavy accident that, sadly, left many people dead or injured including myself. When I came around, I found myself in a guest room at this humble place.”
He pointed at one of the video screens that were showing a picture of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There were some laughs from the crowd at the word ‘humble’.
“It turned out that several weeks before the accident, His Holiness Pope Pius XIII had deployed two of his men to watch over me wherever I went. These two men—my guardian angels as it were—were the first at the crash site. They were the first to call the emergency services, and they were the ones who rescued me and my manager, and brought us to the Vatican where I was blessed with the opportunity to personally meet His Holiness the Pope. We sat down together, and over dinner we had a very inspiring, very moving, and ultimately very uplifting discussion about the one topic that matters the most to both of us.
“You,” he said and looked at the front rows. Then he lifted his gaze and overlooked the vast sea of people that spread out in front of him. “All of you. All of mankind.”
Another unanimous cheer emerged from the crowd.
“I have come to you today to convey to you his message. I have come to you to open your eyes so that you may gauge the amount of love and compassion that the Holy Father in Rome bears for each and every one of you. We have aptly titled this short video The Last Supper. Please watch and listen carefully.”
And the world watched in awe. For most people it was the most extraordinary, eye-opening thing they would ever see.
Marcus Herzig was born in 1970 and studied Law, English, Educational Science, and Physics, albeit none of them with any tenacity or ambition. After dropping out of university he worked for bank, a utility company, and for Big Oil. He prefers sunsets over sunrises, white wine over red, beer over white wine, and pizza over pasta. His reaction to airplanes passing overhead resembles that of a seven-year-old seeing an ice cream van. Which, he insists, is a good thing.
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