Charm City Rocks

A Love Story



Audiobook Download

June 6, 2023 | ISBN 9780593743126

Apple BooksGoogle Play StoreKobo

About the Book

When a single dad meets the former rock-star crush of his youth, everything they thought they knew about happiness and love is thrown into chaos in this hopeful, heartwarming romantic comedy.

“Bound to charm readers from page one . . . You’ll root for everyone in this sweet love story.”—Elissa Sussman, bestselling author of Funny You Should Ask

Billy Perkins is happy. And why wouldn’t he be? He loves his job as an independent music teacher and his apartment in Baltimore above a record shop called Charm City Rocks. Most of all, he loves his brainy teenage son, Caleb.

Margot Hammer, on the other hand, is far from happy. The former drummer of the once-famous band Burnt Flowers, she’s now a rock-and-roll recluse living alone in New York City. When a new music documentary puts Margot back in the spotlight, she realizes how much she misses her old band and the music that gave her life meaning.  

Billy has always had a crush on Margot. But she’s a legitimate rock star—or, at least, she was—so he never thought he’d meet her. Until Caleb, worried that his easygoing dad might actually be lonely, cooks up a scheme to get Margot to perform at Charm City Rocks.

It’s the longest of long shots, but Margot’s label has made it clear that any publicity is an opportunity she can’t afford to miss. When their paths collide, Billy realizes that he maybe wasn’t as happy as he thought—and Margot learns that sometimes the sweetest music is a duet.
Read more

Praise for Charm City Rocks

“Bursting with heart and chock-full of pitch-perfect dialogue and disarmingly wonderful characters, Charm City Rocks absolutely sings. I loved everything about it.”—Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The Rewind

“If Daisy Jones and Emily Henry had a baby, it would be this hilarious and delightful rock-and-roll rom-com.”—Colleen Oakley, USA Today bestselling author of The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise

“Endearing, smart, romantic, delightful! . . . Matthew Norman has a particular talent for writing characters we can root for like dear old friends. And our pals in this book are exceptionally charming!”—Allison Larkin, bestselling author of The People We Keep

Charm is the operative word here and this book is chock-full of it. It is the perfect balance of a story that feels like a fairy tale grounded by utterly believable, loveable, everyman characters. The best love stories are the ones that sneak up on you, that end up being about love in all its forms. Charm City Rocks earns its place in that pantheon.”—Julia Whelan, author of Thank You for Listening

Charm City Rocks is Matthew Norman’s most charming and engaging novel yet. It is impossible not to fall in love with everyone here: the happy music teacher, his teenage son, his ex-wife and her husband, and the rock star he’s loved from afar and near. This book is an absolute joy—the pinnacle of a long line of fabulous and funny Matthew Norman novels.”—Jessica Anya Blau, author of Mary Jane

“The story follows the characters as they navigate the messy emotions of growing up, growing closer, and growing apart. Full of tongue-in-cheek adoration for the city of Baltimore, from its beers to its obsession with crabs, the story is also packed with witticisms and nostalgic rock references that will be best appreciated by Gen Xers. With clever dialogue, unpredictable twists, laugh-out-loud moments, and heartwarming joy, this is really a book about nice guys. . . . Pure fun.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this gentle romance, Norman takes a thoughtful look at finding love in one’s 40s and how it balances against family, career, and other obligations. . . . Both protagonists come with plenty of baggage, whether it’s Billy’s attachment to the status quo, or Margot’s checkered rock star past, and the way their chemistry pushes them both out of their comfort zones seals the deal on this romance. This is a joy.”Publishers Weekly
Read more

Charm City Rocks

Chapter 1

Here’s an interesting fact about Billy Perkins: he’s happy. No, for real, legitimately. It’s kind of his thing, actually. If a person can have a thesis statement, that’s Billy’s: I’m happy. And, well, why wouldn’t he be?

For starters, he has the most fantastic apartment. It’s the perfect size—just big enough—and it’s directly above a record shop called Charm City Rocks, so the place vibrates gently with music, as if the walls are living things that hum along. He loves his neighborhood, Fells Point in Baltimore, with its cobblestone streets and loud bars and the gourmet pretzel stand that makes his block smell like baking bread. He even loves Baltimore, because there’s something thrilling about living in a city that the rest of the country assumes is on the verge of collapse. There’s a bumper sticker he sees around town, Baltimore: Actually, I Like It, and Billy couldn’t agree more.

He’s an independent music teacher—the founder of Beats by Billy LLC—and he loves that, too, as far as jobs go, because he gets to set his own hours and spend his days teaching people the sheer joy of rocking out, and he can wear whatever he wants. He goes with jeans and sneakers, mostly, along with an array of band T-shirts that his students have given him over the years. He’s been really into cardigans lately, too, because cardigans are the perfect garment, like, the convertible of sweaters.

He teaches kids and teenagers mostly, which is rewarding work, because he gets to shape young minds and pass on an appreciation for the arts. But there are some adults mixed in there, too, which is also gratifying, because it’s never too late to learn something new, right? His oldest student is a seventy-year-old widow named Alice who always wanted to play the guitar. She meets with Billy twice a week instead of the standard once because she’s determined to play a rock-and-roll medley at her daughter’s wedding reception this summer. Plus, as she told Billy during their first lesson, “Once you hit seventy, it’s best to get on with things.”

Many of Billy’s students came to him after flaming out with more traditional music teachers. Consequently, they often arrive to their first lesson shy and sullen, convinced that learning to play an instrument is lame or boring or just too much work. Billy always manages to break through, though. He’s not sure why; he’s just got a knack for it, he supposes. Or maybe it’s the cardigans. Along with being the perfect garment, cardigans are very disarming. We can probably thank Mister Rogers for that.

Back to Billy’s apartment, though.

The place is neat and clean and full of books and music and local art, and there’s a wildly complicated espresso machine that Billy inherited from his grandma that looks like something built by NASA in the sixties. As great as all those things are, the true star of the place is Billy’s Steinway & Sons grand piano. It’s the most expensive thing Billy owns, and it’s a straight-up showstopper. Even if you know nothing about pianos, and most people don’t, you know that the Steinway is something special. Plumbers or electricians will be over to fix something, and they’ll stop and say, “Jeez, look at that thing.”

Most mornings, particularly when it’s sunny, Billy opens his windows wide and loudly plays the most epic piano parts of classic rock songs, like “November Rain” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and people wave up at him while they walk their dogs or shuffle off to work. The beer delivery guys are some of Billy’s biggest fans. They sometimes shout requests, and he obliges as best he can, because playing music is such an easy way to make people happy. For example, just try listening to the intro to “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey without feeling at least a small rush of joy.

The thing Billy loves most, though—more than his apartment or his confusing espresso machine or even the Steinway—is his son, Caleb.

Caleb is goofy and sweet, and he pokes fun at the things his dad likes, but never unkindly. And on this particular Saturday night in early spring, Caleb is stretched out on Billy’s couch like a young giraffe in repose. Billy is sitting across from him in his rocking chair, which Billy refers to as “The Rocker,” and they’re watching a documentary series on Netflix called The Definitive History of Rock and Roll.

At this exact moment, 9:25 p.m. eastern standard time, there’s nowhere Billy would rather be, and there’s no one he’d rather be with. Billy hasn’t always been this blatantly sentimental, but Caleb is a senior in high school, so lately Billy has been thinking about the finite nature of . . . well, everything. But especially childhood.

If it were possible, Billy would go ahead and pause time right here. His apartment would hum on, the streetlights outside would hit the Steinway through the window just right, and his son would be here every other week forever, stretched out and lanky, being young and silly.

But that’s not how life works, is it?

“Did you get enough to eat?” Billy asks.

Caleb makes a noise—like a grunt of general affirmation.

“Come on,” Billy says. “Use your words.”

Caleb laughs, one of those fed-up teenager laughs. “Dad, stop it. I told you, I’m fine.”

“I bet Gustavo still has some pretzels left.” Billy goes to the window and opens it. Street sounds, like a ragtag orchestra, flood the apartment. “Hey, Gustavo!” he shouts. “You still have some warm ones?”

Down at Hot Twist, which is a pretzel stand along the brick sidewalk across the street, Billy’s friend Gustavo reaches below the counter like he’s checking, but when he pulls his hand back up, he gives Billy the finger. This has been Gustavo’s favorite running joke for more than a month now.

“That’s really funny!” Billy calls. “You should be proud!”

“Yeah, man, I have warm pretzels!” Gustavo shouts. “Having warm pretzels is literally my job! You guys should come down. We can eat, and you can watch soccer with me.”

From the window, he can see the TV mounted on the back wall over Gustavo’s shoulder. Elite athletes on a vast green field run and run. Billy gives his friend a thumbs-up and returns to The Rocker.

“He flipped you off again, didn’t he?” asks Caleb.

“He did.”

Caleb laughs. “Classic Gustavo.”

“Anyway,” says Billy, “if you want a pretzel, I’m buying.”

“Nah,” says Caleb. “I crushed three quarters of that pizza. I could probably barf.”

Billy looks at the picked-over remains of the Johnny Rad’s pizza on the coffee table. “You did, didn’t you? Where do you put it all, anyway?”

Caleb shrugs. “Maybe I’m still growing.”

What a thought that is. Caleb doesn’t do anything useful with his six-foot-six-inch body, like fight crime or play in the NBA. Still, his height is a source of constant pride for Billy, just another weird thing he loves about the kid.

Billy was barely in his twenties when Caleb was born. Being that young and a single dad had its challenges—like something in a think piece about woefully unprepared fathers. The upside, though, is that they’ve essentially grown up together, and now their relationship is like a parent-friend hybrid.

The documentary, which moves along chronologically, is currently analyzing the nineties, so Eddie Vedder is on the TV in a giant flannel mumble-yelling the song “Jeremy.”

“I don’t get the whole grunge thing,” says Caleb. “Was it, like, in the bylaws that clothes had to be way too big? And what’s he saying? You can’t understand him.”

Caleb has had a lot of opinions about the documentary series. His most unforgivable comment a couple of episodes ago was that maybe David Bowie should’ve just picked one look and gone with it.

After Pearl Jam, U2’s mid-career evolution comes up. Bono is dressed like a fly in a leather suit and wraparound sunglasses. “And what even is that?” asks Caleb. “Was he trying to be an asshole?”

“He was being ironic,” says Billy. “And don’t swear.”

This is something they’re working on: Caleb’s swearing. Billy is all for the subtle use of profanity, but too much just seems excessive, like saxophone solos in rock songs.

About the Author

Matthew Norman
Matthew Norman lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife and two children and holds an MFA from George Mason University. His previous novels include All Together NowLast Couple StandingWe're All Damaged, and Domestic Violets. More by Matthew Norman
Decorative Carat