The legend of the Pink Dinos begins on a sun-drenched afternoon in spring. It begins, oddly enough, with standardized tests and cringing mothers and a host of spontaneously combusting middle school girls.
To be precise, the legend is born just after 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2002, when five scrawny seventh-grade boys take the stage inside Booker T's lunchroom. The band members' names - soon to be emblazoned in the pages of school history - are Brett, Sean, Gio, Ricky and Cameron. They have guitars. They have attitude. Most of them do not yet have girlfriends, but they are working on it.
- Well he's a chick magnet if ya know what I mean.
- The way the girlies just go to him.
- Well ya should've seen the guy, yeah.
- He's got style and it's plain to see.
- Smooth shoes and cool tattoos, hey.
- Hair pomped as tight as can be.
Ricky Reed and Gio Molina, the band's two lead vocalists, are doing their utmost with the lyrics to Chick Magnet, a song by a group called MxPx. But they can't quite keep time with the beat, and they appear to be singing not just out of tune, but out of synch with each other.
Doesn't matter in the slightest. Out in the audience, the band's performance is triggering ecstasy. The students up front - virtually all of them female - are bouncing up and down, and waving their arms, and asking the band to please marry them.
Ricky and Gio flash shy smiles and just keep singing.
- He knows just what to do when it comes to the girls.
- He writes them poetry and he picks them flowers.
- He knows just what to say when it comes to the ladies
- Knows how to make a girl smile, how to drive a girl crazy!
For three days now, every student at Booker T has been suffering through the annual ordeal of state-required tests known as the FCATs. (If you don't know what the acronym stands for, don't ask; the answer is so dull that to merely read it would suck away a tiny but irreplaceable portion of your immortal soul.) Now, on this Wednesday afternoon, the test taking is finally over, and in the spirit of the moment, the school administration has agreed to sponsor a concert of celebration - a concert of liberation, really - featuring none other than the Pink Dinos.
This is the band's first public performance. For a long time, Ricky and Gio and their cohorts were like so many other young, testosterone-laden males, wandering through their days and nights in lonely obscurity. They were nice boys, no question, all of them fairly presentable; a few rudimentary social skills, a certain puppy charm, but nothing flashy.
Then the Pink Dinos launched their practices down in Booker T's band room. Brett and a couple of the other guys - Sean Simpson and Cameron Jones - were already part of the school band, and Mr. Dickson, the band's director, gave them permission to rehearse during lunch period as long as they kept things from getting out of hand.
The Pink Dinos began to work up cover versions of some of their favorite songs by groups like Blink-182, Green Day and Five Iron Frenzy. Brett, the lead guitarist, practiced the chord changes he'd downloaded on his computer; Ricky and Gio were brought in to handle the vocals; Sean took over at bass; Cameron played drums and came up with the band's name, which he borrowed from a logo on a skateboarding Web site.
From the onset, the Pink Dinos did not bill themselves as a rock band. If anyone asked, they said they were "a punk and ska band." They liked ska, they said, because it was upbeat and happy. And while they admired the energy of punk music, they weren't quite ready to embrace the rage. When they began working on Dammit, a Blink-182 song, they automatically changed the title - without a word from any adult - to Darn It.
In many ways, they were just like any other up-and-coming group on the verge of their big break. They had mini-tiffs and subtle tensions. They shared french fries and Willie Wonka chewy rolls. Whenever possible, they messed with each other's minds.
"What do you call people who hang out with musicians?" Brett asked Cameron one day.
"No," said Cameron, who already knew the answer.
A big grin from Brett. "Drummers."
"Come on," said Cameron, raising his fists in feigned fury. "Bring it!"
By the time they were given permission to play at the FCAT concert, the Pink Dinos were coming together as a band. They had the requisite banter. They could reasonably fake their way through six or seven songs. Word of their progress quickly spread. Soon a line of girls began to hang out in the band room at lunchtime, sighing heavily and gazing on with doe eyes.
Other boys, sensing critical mass, clamored to join the group. Brett and the others didn't really need anybody else, but in the interest of spreading the love, they officially designated a couple of their closest friends as "backup guitarists." One of these backup players, a wispy blond-haired kid named Carlo Ottanelli, was also appointed the group's official manager, a title he earned one day when the lads accidentally blew a fuse in the band room and needed someone to collect some spare change to buy Mr. Dickson a new one.
Some of the Pink Dinos' most devoted followers, not surprisingly, have been their parents. For the past few days, knowing that their sons would be performing in front of the whole school, several of the mothers have been negotiating for clearance to attend.
"You're not coming," Sean was saying to his mom just this morning. "Tell me you're not coming."
"I'll be really quiet," she promised. "I won't talk to you at all."
Now the boys are on stage, blinking together under the lights as they tear through a 15-minute set that includes not just Chick Magnet but also Island in the Sun and Dammit - well, Darn It - and a little number called Undone, which Ricky dedicates to Mrs. Borchers, the band's favorite teacher. In honor of the moment, Ricky and Gio have dyed the tops of their hair pink. Their hair, it turns out, is far better coordinated than their singing. Still, it provides just enough of an edge. Against all odds, the Pink Dinos are coming across as slightly rebellious.
Sean's mom and other Pink Dino moms are gathered in the back, fighting the urge to let their mouths drop open. They love their boys, adore them, admire them for having the guts to get up there and play. But to their adult ears, the Pink Dinos sound . . . well, like seventh graders stumbling through their first gig.
And yet a sizable portion of the audience is going certifiably wild. Girls are emitting high-pitched cries and climbing onto their chairs and dancing and tossing their hair back and forth. Some are waving signs and banners.
Pink Dinos Rule!
Cameron Is Dreamy!
Kiss Me, Baby!
You Guys Are So Hot!
I want to have your baby, Ricky!
Ricky's mother, Karla Reed, is not ready to be a grandmother just yet, thank you. But as the hysteria builds around her, she realizes that she and the other moms are witnessing a fundamental shift in the landscape of their sons' young lives. Mrs. Reed pulls out her cell phone and calls her husband at his office. When he answers, she holds up the phone.
Rich Reed can't hear Ricky singing. He can't hear Brett's guitar. He can't hear Sean's bass. What Mr. Reed can make out, through the din, is wave after wave of who knows how many females screaming for his little boy.