Wolf's rebellion is a small one. His parents are already liberals so they're watching the protests with interest and encouraging Wolf to get involved. They're big Peter, Paul, and Mary fans so Wolf finds himself, at thirteen and only just a man, picking up a guitar for the first time.
He hates it. More than he hates the piano he's been playing since he was five.
All his friends are playing guitar and growing their hair long and Wolf is this close to a full-on sulk. It's a bit heartbreaking because Wolf loves music, really loves it. All types and all sounds and he intuits that he is living in a great moment for music. But the guitar is not his instrument. And then he hears the Foggy Mountain Boys.
It's like a guitar in the fact that it has strings. The comparisons end there. It's a small rebellion, but it's not like he's Catholic and can turn against his religion.* No one rebels against Judaism. His parents sigh and shake their heads, but ultimately say nothing which kind of takes the sting out of his defiance.
No one else plays banjo in school and can't teach him, but Wolf picks it up quickly, growing fingernails first and then getting a set of fingerpicks. He learns Bluegrass song after Bluegrass song and then one day is listening to "Paint it Black" and begins improvising a banjo part. It's actually kind of amazing and he knows right then he wants to be in a band. He wants to make music.
He advertises on the school bulletin board, but gets no hits. No one wants a banjo. They want a drummer, a bassist... a flugelhorn? He ends up in a band, but playing his bane the piano--they call them keyboards, but it's just a piano that plugs into an amp--for a rock band that wouldn't know originality if it sold its collective soul to the devil at the crossroads. College is almost a blessing and he leaves the keyboard in his parents' basement.
He never stops playing banjo, and takes loving care of it, but never gets to play in a band again.
Until he meets the immovable object that is Stephen Colbert.
"I have become the secret keeper for a certain anchor acquaintance of ours. He has confided to me that he has some musical background that he has been careful to hide from his adoring fans," "Stephen" tells him as he interviews him on his show.
Wolf is confused only for a second, but there's only one person he can mean. "Did this person happen to divulge what kind of background?"
"He may have mentioned his proficiency on the guitar."
"And why is it we're having this cryptic conversation?"
"I have a plan."
Those words, out of someone like Stephen Colbert's mouth? Never a good thing.
Colbert's studio is deserted the Saturday he shows up at the man's request. There are amps and lights and Wolf clutches his banjo with a kind of nervous anticipation. Stephen emerges from backstage holding a couple microphone stands.
"Wolf! My lupine friend, come in," he greets. He expertly sets up the equipment and Wolf pulls his banjo from its case and begins tuning the strings.
"Who else are we expecting?"
"Uh, hello?" comes a familiar voice and Anderson Cooper is striding onto the sound stage carrying a guitar case that has seen better days. He's a little startled when he sees Wolf, but smiles and offers his hand. "I see you got sucked in to this insanity."
"I'm still not sure what's happening, I've just been rolling with it."
"Ah," Anderson says, nodding. "Yeah, when Stephen gets an idea in his head he sometimes forgets that normal people can't read his mind. We're starting a band. I haven't played since college, but Stephen seems to think that won't matter."
Wolf is surprised, to say the least.
"Um," Anderson looks at the stage. "Something tells me we're missing a few."
They hear Stephen backstage, warming up his voice with over the top scales. Like if Bill O'Reilly ever took up opera.
"We need a percussionist, at least," Wolf muses.
"Someone called for a percussionist?"
Craig Ferguson strolls in twirling his drumsticks with a cheeky grin on his face.
"This is going to look like a mental ward escapee band," Anderson comments.
"I think we just found our name," Craig says, sitting behind the drum set Stephen had set up.
"And your bassist," says Rachel Maddow as she strolls in. "Gentlemen," she greets. "Anderson, I never would have guessed." Anderson is blushing and rubbing at the back of his neck.
"Well, you know, I had no real visual talent so..."
"So, Gloria made you take up an instrument?" Stephen asks.
"I'm just glad she let me choose. She looked so disappointed when I didn't come home with bagpipes."
They suck. Plain and simple.
Craig plays too fast, Anderson too slow. Rachel has a hard time choosing who to follow and Wolf just can't. Find. A. Tune.
Stephen is the only one not discouraged, but that is only because he has been off in the corner humming and writing down lyrics.
They meet up every Saturday for a month before their sound approaches something that resembles music. When they finish their first song they're so surprised, so impressed with themselves that they start talking about playing shows and what would the networks say and what should they really call their band?
Strangely enough it is the American Idol charity show that presents them with their chance. Rachel is the only one who isn't sweating bullets, but assures all of them that she has the shots lined up for the post-performance melt-down. Craig is making jokes about rehab. Anderson keeps asking Ryan Seacrest whether this is a good idea. And Wolf is pretty sure Stephen just got into character.
"Now, some of you know them from their respective shows. So, what do you get when you cross a late night comedian, an anchor from MSNBC, two anchors from CNN, and the best fake newsman the other side of 11:30?" is the introduction Seacrest gives them and then there are polite screams and applause as they are pushed out on stage.
They have to look stupid, Wolf thinks. They're not in suits, which would probably look very ridiculous, but casual clothes on people rarely seen in them? The only person who looks remote normal is Rachel. He's jealous of her shoes.
They take their places and wait for Anderson to start playing. But he hasn't. Wolf sneaks a look and feels his own nervousness ratchet up when he catches sight of Anderson's face. He wouldn't look out of place on a dark highway with antlers stuck in his head.
Rachel aims a well placed kick to his behind and suddenly he's playing, too fast at first, but slowing down for Stephen to come in. Wolf has a while to listen and he notices, with something like amazement that they sound good. Their first song, their first live show, and it's not The Monkeys. It's not even The Yardbirds or The Rolling Stones. It's something different. He doesn't know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Wolf got his band.
Then the tempo changes, Anderson is starting to strum a little louder, a little harder and Wolf gets ready. He's buzzing with anticipation and he fears starting early.
But then, Craig bangs away and Wolf starts plucking like his fingers. And it's coming together. It's music. It's goddamn amazing.
In 1965, he began his rebellion. Today, instead of a respected journalist, often derided for being boring, he is a real musician.
Suck it, Peter, Paul and Mary.