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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Famous People

A Novel

Justin Kuritzkes

Henry Holt and Co.


I been famous since I was twelve. Made a vid of me singing the national anthem that got like, ten million views in its first week because I was doing some crazy shit with my voice. I used to be able to hit high notes—like the kind that girls can—before my voice dropped. Now my voice is still tight—I’m not gonna be falsely modest or whatever—but it used to be like, ACTUALLY dope. You know what I mean?

The thing about being famous for so long is that like, you never really hang with any normal people anymore, because it’s just weird for everybody. But at the same time, you’re more connected to normal people than even most normal people are, because you’re one of the very few people on Earth who actually looks at them. Most normal people just look at my life—or they look at the lives of other people like me—and they just spend all their time thinking about how dope it would be, like, how absolutely next-level it would be to be me, and so they’re never really looking at themselves. But then they all show up at my concert—they’re all gathered there, like thousands of them—and it’s like they’re all just lined up for me to examine them. Sometimes it’s like five nights a week that I’m just staring into this massive crowd of normal people—and I’m like: Guys … I get you. I see what you’re all about.

Here’s my daily grind:

I get up, I go to the studio, I turn out some tracks, I go to the gym, I go take my singing lessons, I go take my guitar lessons—I can play all the chords, but I want to get GOOD—I take meetings. I listen to shit.

So much time is spent just listening to shit.

Sometimes I’m on the road. That’s all right. It’s never as fun as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes it’s mind-blowingly dope, but then other times you just want to be like: Okay, fuck Tennessee. But you can’t just say fuck Tennessee because then Tennessee is gonna be like: Fuck this kid. This kid is a stuck-up little bitch who doesn’t care about our time. And I do care about people’s time. It means so much to me that people buy tickets to my shows—they wait in lines for hours, for days even, just to hear the songs they’ve already heard a million times on the radio. Once I’ve committed to something, I NEVER, I repeat: NEVER back out, because in a way, it’s like … that’s the least I can do, you know? People are dying all over the world. People are getting blown up every day. The environment is fucking breaking down. Shit is tough out there. People’s lives are tough. And like, what? I’m gonna miss a whole fucking concert because I don’t feel like it? Nah.

A while back, I had this realization. I just started thinking, like: I could do more. I could still be grateful for my success and all, and like, I could still wake up every day and try to kill it, but I could do so much more. And that’s when I decided to write this book.

The publishers had been reaching out to me for a while. It’s no secret that any book with my name on it is gonna move a lot of units. That’s not me being arrogant or whatever, that’s just a fact. They had been on me to work with a ghostwriter and churn out a memoir, and a little while back, I finally said to myself: You know what? It’s time. I’m ready to tell my story. I’m ready to put into words what I’ve learned about life. No ghostwriters, though—this shit’s gonna be straight from the source.

And I don’t mean to say that I have anything to teach anybody—really I don’t. If anything, this book is about the people who taught me, the people who made me who I am.

I guess it’s more like this: I’ve led a very singular life—I’ve had a very particular kind of experience on this Earth—and I think people might be interested to hear what the world looks like through my eyes, to step into my mind.

Why I really decided to write this book now is like, the world seems to be spinning out of control, you know? People are so mad at each other. People are taking life so seriously. People are losing hope. And I think, honestly, it’s because people are so rooted in their own particular spot in the universe.

But something happens to you when you’re touring all around the world all the time. Something happens to you when you visit some country you’ve never heard of and you see your face on the side of a bus being used to sell some soda that you didn’t even know existed, and you call up your people and you’re like: Yo, did we agree to this? And they tell you: Yes, it was part of an overall deal with East Asia.

Something happens: You realize how fucking tiny you are.

Honestly, that’s what amazes me the most with a lot of the people I meet: They think they’re so big. They think, ultimately, that the universe revolves around them. And I’m beginning to think that it’s only when you live a life like mine—it’s only when you’re in a position where you don’t even really own yourself, when you can’t even really say that you’re a citizen of any particular country—that you realize that we’re all just tiny pieces of cosmic dust floating through the void until we disappear forever and we’re never heard from again.

I’m not saying that all famous people understand this. Definitely some of the worst, like, most horrible people I’ve ever met are famous people. But most of those people are only kind of famous, or even pretty famous, because for them, like, they’re still a part of the normal people world—they’ve still got a normal people mentality—but they just feel like they’re at the top of that world, you know? They feel like they’re the KINGS and QUEENS of the normal people world. And those people are the fucking worst. But the truly famous people, the like, insanely famous people—the kinds of people who have their faces on buses in countries they’ve never heard of—most of those people are pretty chill. I’ve honestly never met a single one of those people who I didn’t immediately get along with. And I think it’s because we all have something in common. We all speak the same language. We all understand that in a hundred years, even if our records are still available to stream online, even if our merchandise is still lining the shelves, even if our autobiographies are still bestsellers, we’re all gonna be gone, you know? And when you’re gone, you’re GONE. It doesn’t matter what it says on your Wikipedia page, or if you even have a Wikipedia page in the first place. Life’s funny like that. LOL.

* * *

But let’s backtrack a bit. I want you to get the full picture. I want you to know where I’m coming from—I want you to feel like you have a firm foundation for understanding the person who’s writing these words—so let’s go to the beginning.

This is kind of weird for me to say, but it’s actually kind of hard for me to remember anything that happened in my life before I was famous. I guess it’s hard for most people to remember the stuff that was happening to them before they were twelve, but for me it’s especially hard because the video blowing up and all of that shit happening marks a very clear line in my life. The life that I’m living now is still in some ways the same life that was birthed the day I uploaded that thing, and so the life before that feels like … another time. A different movie.

I was born in St. James Hospital in St. James, Minnesota. My mom was a dental assistant. My dad was a sound engineer at the local radio station: KLRX. I say “was” with my mom because she’s not a dental assistant anymore—I gave her a BUNCH of money so she’s good—and I say “was” with my dad because he’s dead.

Actually, I don’t really want to get into this right now, but my dad killed himself. He fucked himself up. Shotgun to the face. Most of you probably already knew that. And that was AFTER I was famous, so I remember that day. I mean, I wasn’t there—we had been estranged for a minute—but I remember finding out about it. I didn’t even get a phone call from the police or anything. I was on an airplane when it happened, and so when I got off at the gate, immediately this paparazzi motherfucker came up to me and he was like: Yo, how do you feel about your dad? And I was like: Listen, I’ve told you people everything I have to say about my dad already. Stop asking me about him. And he was like: But how do you feel about what happened today? And I was like: What are you talking about? And he—I mean, there were a bunch of other paparazzi people there too, you know, and all of them just went like, suddenly silent. Like, all of them just kind of looked at each other and they were like: This is fucked up. Like, even the paparazzi guys were like: This isn’t how he should find out. But I could tell that something was up—I mean, I’d never seen a paparazzi act like this before—and so I was like: What the fuck are you talking about? And the paparazzi guy was like, really nervous to say it—like, he felt really bad—but none of the other paparazzi people were gonna do it for him—he knew that it was his duty at this point—and so he just stammered out: He … he killed himself. Your dad’s dead. And the way he said it, like, I just knew it was true. I just saw the whole thing in my mind. And the paparazzi people were all, like, watching me come to realize it, and their cameras were rolling on me, and nobody was saying anything, and then I just fucking booked it. My security guards were pushing people out of the way, going full linebacker mode. And I’ve watched the videos of me doing this a couple of times. There’s a few different videos online that have been uploaded because, you know, there were a few different paparazzi guys there. And some of them are sort of close up on my face hearing the news and some of them are wider, giving a view of the whole thing, and there’s this one video that’s got almost as many views as that first video of me singing the national anthem, and that’s the one I watch sometimes.

But I grew up in just a regular town. I was just like, a regular kid. I started singing in church. We were part of this small church, this like, really tiny local church, and we had this choir director, and he wasn’t black, but he had us only singing black songs. He would always say: Black church is what all church should aspire to be. And so he had us singing like, traditional black music, you know, and we really went for it. None of us were black, but we were really committed. I would do all the solos because I had like, this next-level voice, and I remember the choir director taking me aside one day and saying: Boy, you got the SPIRIT in you! And I guess that’s when I first realized that I had something special. I mean, I’ve never talked to God—some people have. Some people in the choir said they did—but when I’m singing, it’s like sometimes I can feel him, you know?

So I sang in the church choir, and my parents would come and watch me, and they were really proud—the whole town was—and that was pretty tight, to be honest. My mom would come to our Friday Night Praises after a long week of working with the dentist, and my singing would just put the color back into her face. And my dad—he immediately understood the potential of what I had. He was like, immediately saying that I couldn’t just save it for the church. He had a context for understanding that, you know, because he worked at the radio. Whenever a big pop star would come through town to play a concert in Minneapolis, they would go on the morning show to promote it, and my dad would get to like, meet all these people and their managers and whatever, and so he was like: My son could be one of these people. My son could be killing it one day if he plays his cards right.

And so he started talking like he was my manager. Before any of this shit even happened, you know, before anyone knew who I was, my dad was like: We’re gonna build this thing together. And I was cool with that. I mean, I was twelve, you know, so he was just like, my daddy to me—I would’ve been cool with anything he wanted—but I think even at that age, I realized that we might make good business partners. We both had that fire in us, you know? We both just wanted to crush it.

And there was definitely a time before I was born, or like, early in my childhood, when my dad wanted to crush it himself. No question about it. He was in a band before he started working at the radio, and he’d still play in some bands every once in a while, and for a second it looked like his grunge band was gonna have a moment, but by the time that was happening, the grunge thing was already kinda done, and so my dad’s band just got left behind, and he transferred all his hopes of killing it onto me. And I was fine with that, honestly. I mean, I liked that he was so invested.

He started having me make these recordings: just like, little CDs of me singing whatever was number one on the radio that week. He’d get the instrumental tracks from the station—’cause sometimes they’d play the instrumentals from a song while they were doing an advertisement or an intro or something—and he’d bring me to the station after hours, and we’d mix a version where I was singing it instead of whoever the artist was, and then when a big-time artist or a big-time manager came into town, he’d try to pass off the CDs to them at the radio station and be like: Yo man, you gotta listen to my boy. You gotta listen to my son.

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Kuritzkes