Alex Austin: Feb. '10s featured real-life underappreciated author
Join LibraryThing to post.
This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.
Alex has generously made available his book, The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed both through pdf format right here, or, if you prefer a hard copy, Alex will send you one first class mail for $12.00. The book is also available at the usual online sources, but it's more expensive. I've read the book and briefly raved about it right here, post 8.
If you do get the book through avenues other than Alex, be sure to get the "Remixed" version, and not the original release, titled, The Red Album of Asbury Park.
Alex, I'm quickly accumulating my arsenal of questions, and look forward to bombarding you with them very soon.
I'd like to add that if you enjoyed our discussion with December's featured writer, Peter Weissman, I think you're going to enjoy this one with Alex a lot too. While both Alex's and Peter's books have lots of coming-of-age topical similarities born out of the late 60s and early 70s, Alex's Red Album veers more in an aspiring musician-suspense-literary mystery direction. I think you'll like it.
There's a famous photo of the young Frank Sinatra, before he's anybody, standing alongside the Hudson in Hoboken, N.J., staring fixedly toward New York City's skyscraper skyline. New Jersey, in its relative destitution and overshadowedness, finds itself on the wrong side of the tracks; on the wrong side of the river. And yet Sinatra originated there. Springsteen. And in your book, Sam, the hopeful lead guitarist of Pan.
Did you choose Asbury, New Jersey, as your novel's setting, in order to enhance that spirit of under-doggedness and beating-the-odds determination so prevalent in Sam, your persevering protagonist, or do you also maybe have some personal connections to the area? I guess I'm asking, roundabout: Did you have to research Asbury, New Jersey, much, or did you perhaps grow up yourself on the wrong side of the tracks; on the "wrong side" of the river?
The Red Album is the sequel to The Perfume Factory, in which Sam obtains his first guitar from the local garbage dump. While at the dump, he stands on a trash heap and stares fixedly across the bay to the home of the middle-class girl he’s in love with. That scene is analogous with the Sinatra photo. Not much happened with the guitar in the first novel, but I put it there to offer hope of escape from Sam’s grim existence in a dead-end town. Asbury was more complicated.
I grew up in Union Beach, New Jersey, a small bay town 25 miles north of Asbury Park, so I knew Asbury from holidays and the like. In the late 60s, my family moved to Asbury (my father had been hired as the custodian of a synagogue, with free rent on an adjacent house tossed in) and remained there for almost 20 years. I lived in Asbury for two years before heading out to California. So there is a strong personal connection.
Even back then, Asbury was fading as a top resort. The summer crowds were thinning, its retail center was losing business to the malls and there was a lot of racial tension. I was aware of all that but not much concerned. Inspired by the Beatles and other bands, I had decided I was going to be a rock musician, and Asbury seemed like the right place to reach that goal. In the summer, the Jersey Shore had always been a great venue for bands from North Jersey and New York. But in the fall when the tourists left, the bands went north, and the clubs pulled in their free peanuts and turned on their TVs.
In the late 60s that started changing. It seemed as if every other teen from the area had musical ambitions. Everyone was getting in a band and there were plenty of venues. So the Asbury scene was ideal for someone who wanted to be a rock musician—if that person had talent. Unfortunately, I had no talent. I was a mediocre guitarist and had little range as a vocalist. I could sing Taxman and Light My Fire fairly well, and that was about it.
But I gave it my best shot anyway, formed a band, played a couple of dives and struck a few poses. If I had not gone to California, I probably would have continued doing that for several years, and eventually given up. But the impression Asbury had on me was indelible, and it was not that of a city in ruin, but a city giving birth to a new generation of music.
For many years I wanted to write a novel set in Asbury, but I couldn’t get a handle on how to approach it. In the meantime, Springsteen had come on the national scene, which put Asbury on the map, but also paralleled the city’s downward spiral. I had gone back many times in the 70s and each time the city seemed to shrink and darken. I went back in the winter of 1986, when my mother was living on the eighth floor of a rent-controlled high-rise in Asbury. Her living room window offered a panoramic view of the beachfront, which I hadn’t seen for several years. When I casually looked out the window, my initial thought was “This had to be a bomb.” Almost the entire beachfront had been flattened, and what still stood was charred and mangled. It was heartbreaking, and that view stuck with me.
As I wrote The Red Album, I projected a certain amount of Asbury's future onto the past. Sam’s personal struggle—poverty, drugs, crime, racial tensions—is also Asbury’s struggle. All this does, of course, highlight Sam’s determination to set things right with his music.
I think that's excellent advice Peter. These dialogue/interviews, I can see could be unnerving at times for anyone, in that the interview/discussion is being observed while it's taking place - only it's in slow motion seems like. Thankfully, as you mention and found out in Dec., there are indeed lurkers and Alex's thread has entered, I just noticed, the Hot 200 on Hot Topics, kind of like an album or a single used to do back in the days when Casey Kasem kept us apprised of the Billboard Charts.
Why the remix of the Red Album?
Is there a remix of Perfume Factory? How much do the events in PF figure into RA?
There are some events in PF that play out in RA, mostly having to do with Julie and Sam.
I had been trying to write novels, especially an Asbury novel, since the 70s and none of them worked (bad Vonnegut and Burgess). At one point, I got maybe 150 pages of an Asbury novel done and asked friends (writers among them) for feedback. They didn’t have much to say, which is always a bad sign. So I put the manuscript away, worked on other things, and went back to it a year later. Ah! Now I see. This is what I should do. Only it wasn’t. So it went over the years. Rewrite, reread, recognize it wasn’t getting closer to a real novel, let it gather dust, start again.
In the meantime, I’d gotten some short stories published, and, living in LA, got sucked into the screenplay vortex. It took awhile, but I eventually mastered the craft of the screenplay (or so I was told), got an agent and thought I was on my way. So, there was some evidence of writing talent, but not novel-writing talent.
My failure to write a coherent novel troubled me. I wanted to be a novelist. If I couldn’t be a novelist, why I’d, I’d fade away. In the meantime, I had branched out into the theater, writing a couple of plays and getting them produced (a real Renaissance man, in other words, a fool). I’d also read novels that I should have read long ago, the 19th Century stuff. Chekov’s short stories.
Sometime in the 90s it hit me: I hadn’t written my first novel, that is a novel that draws from what the writer knows best, his own life and his hometown, more often than not a coming-of-age novel. It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered a novel like that, but it had always struck me as capitulation. The novel that anyone can write (someone said that every person has at least one novel in them). I didn’t even like to read novels like that, which usually struck me as mawkish and self-congratulatory. And it would be like returning to go. But it hadn’t worked any other way, so.... I started writing The Perfume Factory. The idea, the spine, was straight forward: a young man wants to escape his father and his town, but things get in his way. It would be a realistic novel, which was not much in fashion, but I knew if I strayed, I was dead.
The main character would be something like me, but worse and better. The other characters would be whatever worked: people I had known, distortions of people I had know, composites and totally made-up characters. As I started writing, I discovered one thing quickly, I knew that Jersey setting in my bones. I hadn’t written much descriptively before, but what I was getting down about the bay, the marshland, the beachfronts sure felt right to me. I didn’t write in a vacuum.
I’d bring chapters and scenes to writers’ groups and read them aloud. Most of the time I would get the reaction I was looking for. The story, the writing, held their attention—25 pages in, 50 pages in, 100 pages in. That’s when I started thinking maybe I’ve got something here. Maybe I can write a novel. But I still couldn’t, or at least hadn’t. I finished a first draft (we’re talking years and many revisions along the way), and the fucking thing as a whole still didn’t work. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” This time, at least, I had failed better. Four years later I had a novel (or at least people told me it was).
If anyone would like to read/browse the book online as a PDF (or download) the URL is http://www.willcall.org/web/redalbum.pdf
And in case people don't go back and look at your edit in post 14, here again is the address for the PDF (or download) of The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed : http://www.willcall.org/web/redalbum.pdf
I heartily recommend reading this book.
2. Is the fragrant factory the perfume factory of the first book or is that just a coincidence or what?
I consider my writing in The Perfume Factory and The Red Album as dirty realism, but there’s not a particular writer in that school that I feel close to. Shaw had a terrific quote about when you have something to say, you’ll find the style to write it in, and if you have nothing to say, you’ll never find your style.
There’s probably a hell of a lot that’s gotten in there that I haven’t consciously drawn from, Chandler, Twain, Bukowski, Fante, Steinbeck, B. Traven, Drieser, Zola, and maybe even some Murakami. Some writers that I feverishly admire who are not noted above are Gaddis, Camus, Henry Roth, George Eliot, Dickens, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dick, Chekov, Balzac, Waugh, Coetzee, Dos Passos, West, Flan O’Brien, Russell Hoban, Wharton, the Brontes.
I’m currently reading some of Rilke’s work, trying to make some progress with Infinite Jest, read The Recognitions for the second time, stalled on A Long Way Down because I wanted to see if The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was that good. I’m not completely sold. Other recent reads: Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Disgrace, Blood Meridian. My favorite writer is Zola, brutally honest, passionate, indelible descriptions of the lower and upper classes.
Not only is it free, but if you had waited another 48 hours, I'd probably be paying you to download it.
That fragrant factory is The Perfume Factory of the first novel.
20> Alex, there is so much to comment on here. Your post is really a list and I love (and we love, lists. Anyone game for starting an Alex Austin hit-list?
May I add how much I enjoyed An American Tragedy too. Clyde Griffiths, man oh man. Speaks deep indeed to the American psyche.
The Recognitions will undoubtedly be a future "tome read" here in the salon someday. And as you may know we'll be reading Infinite Jest next month. I've just recently "discovered", as I know you know, Zola, and look forward to future discussion with you on that.
14> Alex, if getting your plays produced is your idea of being a fool, then I say, "more power to fools!"
Though, yeah, I think I hear your frustration with yourself at that time: You wanted to be writing novels and, well, writing plays and being successful at writing plays, having them produced, while a pretty significant accomplishment, I'd say, wasn't exactly your dream come true, sounds like. Fair assessment?
Did you enjoy the collaboration of working with a director and actors and stage hands? Since the Superbowl is tomorrow and I'm in a betting mood, I'd bet that you actually prefer working solo on a novel, where (at least before the publisher and those pesky copy-editors get their paws on your manuscript) you can make your own cuts rather than dealing with the compromises you've got to negotiate so regularly with so many people in the theater who want to screw with your dialogue and stage directions, yes?
And I'm quite curious to know the titles of your plays and where they were staged and who you worked with in that industry. Are the short stories you've had published available online or anthologized somewhere for us to access?
Of course, if I had followed the advice, I wouldn’t have written plays and seen them produced, which is about the coolest thing in the world. The first play I wrote was based on a screenplay that several producers tried to get made but couldn’t (it was also a semifinalist in The Austin Film Festival, which is not my festival, by the way). There was a lot of dialogue in the screenplay and I just couldn’t bring myself to give up on the story. So I rewrote it as a play. After many rewrites, I sent it to a local producer and he liked it enough to arrange a staged reading. I had never been involved in the process before, and I found it exhilarating and mesmerizing. As the writer sitting there in a theater watching all these terrific actors read your words, each one approaching it in a slightly different way. And then an actor steps up that is the embodiment of the character you wrote. Wow.
Rehearsals are even better. The simplest play is extraordinarily complicated, and you can’t appreciate what it takes to get to that opening performance unless you’ve experienced the rehearsal process. Stage actors and directors are smart dedicated people who work their asses off to get it right. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to watch the process numerous times.
Now what you mention about fighting with director and actors to keep your lines or stage directions is of course true, and I have plenty of anecdotes. But I’m pushing at the limits of this response. Some info: My play Mimosa was produced at Los Angeles Theater Center, March 2002. Mimosa was the featured play in Wordsmiths Playwrights Festival, presented by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. Mimosa is published by Playscripts Inc. The Amazing Brenda Strider, produced at Glaxa Theatre, Los Angeles, March-April 2000. Brenda was a Backstage West Critic’s Pick and won that year’s Maddy Award for Playwriting. It was Produced at CoHo Theatre, Portland, October-November 2002. My newest play, Dupe, has had several productions. One was starring Ray Wise (currently the Devil in television series The Reaper. Ray was Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks and played CBS news anchor Don Hollenbeck in the 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck) and directed by Kyle Rankin. Dupe had a workshop production at the Second Stage Theatre as part of the Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series and in July 2007 was featured in Ten Grand Production’s Cold Cuts Series in New York City. It has also made the first cut in this year’s Playfest at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Florida. Fingers crossed. My short stories were published in Beyond Baroque, Bachy, Caffiene, Black Clock, and UCLA's Westwinds. Good luck finding them and good night.
There's lots to follow up on in 25, but I was rereading the thread and that Beckett quote - "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better" - really jumped out at me. I think it's a profound mantra for anyone aspiring to be a writer (or aspiring to be anything really).
What drove you, Alex; what was motivating you; pushing you, during those lean years, to not give up that dream of having your novel. You held onto the dream for what sounds like an on-again-off-again duration lasting over - twenty years? - was it? You're about as persistent with your dream of achieving that finished first novel as your protagonist, Sam, is with his dream of getting a record contract. I would imagine those same stick-to-itive traits of yours filtered somewhat into Sam's? Into Sam's seemingly stubborn determination to make the music he wanted to make on his own terms despite so many setbacks; so many tragic experiences in his life; and in an era when the country was in so much chaos. Sam's no angel by a long shot, but he's an inspiring character nonetheless. Where'd he come from?
And I need to know, does Sam make it big in the music world, or are we going to have to wait for the next novel (assuming you've got more to say about Sam)? Will there be, say, An Asbury Trilogy.
companions for a while, probably because no one
else would have much to do with them. A brawl at
Maloney’s tavern over the Pope’s infallibility—or maybe
relativity theory—had ended their relationship. It was
shortly before that incident my mother said, that Larry
had sold my father the gun.
Great first para. Nice rythmn and it suggests so much about the narrator, his father and Larry. Other highlights: "the bay spread toward the Amboys, gray and wind-blown like wrinkled aluminum foil" & the narrator sniffing that Jersey air to confirm his homecoming.
"the engine revved, nearly every cylinder firing" Ha!
his throat bulged like a tuber
I flicked my hair. "I'm in a band."
She laughed, showing
me the shiny red hollow of her mouth, where her tongue
floated weightlessly, the way it would to let in another
If you aren't taking Alex up on his generous offer you are missing out.
Here's Alex's link again to The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed:
Oh, and slick and I are not being paid for these endorsements.
You mention involvement in writers' groups, which, if you're anything like me, spurred you to produce; your involvement with another novelist; and, in context, that you've done a lot of rewriting (which is editing, Enrique). How about your nitty gritty process: sitting down and writing--for how long, and how often; rewriting and/or revisiting what you've written--the next day, a week later, months later; and what about dreams?
I was once told, or read somewhere, that if you focus on what you intend to work on the next day--not details, but just putting the subject or place or character of whatever in your head--when you wake up and sit down to write, stuff comes up that apparently was hatched while you slept. I found that in fact there's something to this. Do you work in your sleep too?
Over the weekend, Enrique asked me if I had read the Dennis Lehane quote in the LA Times (Feb. 7). Lehane, the author of Shutter Island, said that the entire book had come to him in a dream and all he had to do was write it down. Nabokov said the same thing about his last unfinished novel, Original of Laura, the notes for which were recently published as a book. Ah, were it so.
In the same edition there was a terrific article by writer Dani Shapiro on enduring as a writer. In the article Shapiro quotes Ted Solotaroff, founder of New American Review. Solotaroff was wondering what had happened to all the talented young writers he had published ten years before, most of whom had just given up. “It doesn’t seem to be a matter of talent itself. Some of the most natural writers...are among the disappeared. As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is endurability: that is the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection and disappointed, from within as well as from without.”
Dani goes on to say, “... Every single piece of writing I have ever completed—whether a novel, a short story or a review, has begun as a wrestling match between hopelessness and something else, some other quality that all writers if they are going to keep going must possess.” Later in the piece she notes that what she sees in the faces of the 5,000 or so students graduating each year from writing programs is “The almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score.”
I'm sure that if I hadn't given up on the “Instant score” I wouldn't have written either of my novels. I simply had to complete what I could complete.
Sam’s struggle is my struggle, or the struggle of the writer in general. The Red Album is just as much about creating fiction (or any other art form) as music. The struggle to keep writing in the face of rejection and the demands of family and society, along with the nagging fear that though you think you have something to say, you may not, or you may not have the means to say it.
There will be a third book, but I won’t start it until I finish my current project. Will Sam make it? To be continued...
I used to write in the early morning, but since I started teaching school that's rarely possible. I'm pretty beat by the time 3 pm comes around, so I'll work out at the gym for a couple of hours, which gives me back a little energy and then I'll find a Starbucks and write for two hours. I try to find time on the weekends and, of course summer, which is when I have enough time to do extensive revising. I think there's something in what you say about sleep or dreaming. Solutions do sometimes appear without conscious effort.
Oh, and way to use a cliffhanger on us Alex! "Will Sam make it? To be continued..." That's just great! He better make it. I'll be very upset with you if he doesn't. ;-)
I still need to read your PDF. I downloaded it last week. I am so behind in my reading!
I'm enjoying immensely (ask slickdpdx) hearing of your working relationship with Steve Erickson, a writer I just "discovered" last year, whom based on reading just one book of his, The Sea Came in at Midnight, I think very highly of. And do forgive me, Alex, if I sound overly-awed (but I am!) that you've worked with such a revered, though relatively "real-life, underappreciated writer" himself, too.
If you're a "dirty realist," I'd say Erickson is a "dirty surrealist". Describe your working relationship, the two of you, if you would, writing music reviews in collaboration back in the day before either of you had published novels to your names. What style of music did you two feature in your reviews?
And lastly (for now), here's an older blurb for Dupe I found rummaging around. Fingers crossed for you too with this play, and even when this month is over, hope you'll get us apprised of its progress.
"under storm-cloud afros" That blew me away.
I was hoping that some Jersey Shore people would find the discussion. The more perspectives the better, and I was hoping that the struggle resonates with other writers.
(36) Snappy Tom is the mix for making Bloody Marys and a universal solvent for hangovers. Sold at fine package good stores everywhere. Thanks again for noting the writing. I mentioned dirty realism and part of that for me that means finding effective but unbeautiful metaphors.
"The snow fell for two days, piling up against the porches, rising like icing on the rooftops and turning the cars into white, puffy cartoons. A solitary snowplow worked through the night to clear the Grove's streets, chugging and churning against the silently falling snow like a ship on the open sea, pushing through endless waves.
"...Sometimes we'd walk the streets, stomping through the drifts, throwing snowballs at each other or at the seagulls gliding aimlessly over the boardwalk, but never hitting any. My brother had grown, but he hadn't changed, I thought; and even down the road when things came to light, I would maintain that opinion.
"...I read the books I had brought home: Vonnegut, Kerouac, Miller, Burroughs, Hesse, Tolkien, Huxley, Lao Tzu and Buddha. Books recommended to me by a thin, shy college girl that I met at a Greyhound terminal in Maryland. I played my guitar for her under the lost-and-found counter while a blizzard buried the interstate."
Wish I'd remembered the books-Sam-read list before I asked you, Alex, about your influences. Looks like you had many of them listed right there before our very eyes!
I had just gotten out of a graduate program and was trying to get a job in teaching, but all I really wanted to do was write—anything. I responded to an ad for a staff writer for this magazine, which I knew nothing about. I sent in a resume with a couple of writing samples (satirical pieces on the military-industrial complex, politicians, big business, the usual suspects). I was surprised when a woman who identified herself as the editor called me.
When I got her phone call, I was taking a shower, and during out conversation I mentioned that I was fully lathered, which struck her as funny, and I think got me the interview. We met at the magazine’s downtown LA offices.
The editor was a petite, smartly-dressed, middle-aged woman with an infectious laugh—and she found a lot of things funny, including me. At the time, I had had a Prince Valiant haircut, wire rim glasses, , French boots, and, to complete the outfit, a skin-tight short-sleeve cat shirt.
We were in a cubicle with six-foot walls and as the interview proceeded a man’s face kept popping up along the wall, his Habsburg chin resting for a moment, then sliding counter-clockwise before the face disappeared, only to reappear a moment later. The editor clearly saw, but paid no attention to the odd behavior, and so I thought better not to mention it.
After the interview, she asked me if I had time for lunch (I think this is the way it happened).” She gave me directions to the San Antonio Winery on Santa Fe and said we’d meet in an hour. Now, even though it was called a winery, I expected San Antonio to be a posh restaurant where my social skills would be tested. To my surprise, it was in fact a huge old winery where you ate submarine sandwiches at picnic tables in the shadow of wine barrels.
Instead of just the editor showing up she brought most of the magazine’s staff, among which was the face atop the wall, who turned out to be the assistant art director. Six-foot-six in his bare feet, Charles wore stacked heels, which pushed his height up to about six-foot-ten, and he was also the height of fashion. Elegant silk shirt, cravat, beautifully tailored cashmere trousers, hand tooled stacked boots.
Lunch was ordered and the beer and wine flowed. By the time the lunch was over, I was sloshed but I had learned several important things. For one, the assistant art director had the editor’s ear. His disapproval of a candidate would be fatal. During lunch, he let known his dismay with my cat shirt, but admitted that I certainly had a taste of my own, a certain “je ne sais quoi.”
I also learned that the editor, Frances Ring, had been F. Scott Fitzgerald’s personal and last secretary while he was in Hollywood. She had been his confidant, advised him, edited his work and after his death had driven across the country with the manuscript of The Last Tycoon to deliver it to his publisher. Frances was in fact a remarkable woman beyond that.
I also learned that one of the staff writers had taken a leave of absence to go to Paris. The writer’s name was Steve Erickson, and, Charles whispered, I would have to meet him. (To be continued.)
Thanks Mr. Freeque for hosting the thread, and for prodding the discussion along.
I downloaded the pdf version just a minute ago and read the opening paragraph, which is an attention grabber. I am usually reluctant to read on a computer, but I may give this one a try.
Great list of authors who've inspired you. A writer once told me that if you want to be a writer, read more. Looks like you follow that advice. But, with such great inspiration can also come discouragement. As you are reading those authors, do you ever feel the comparison doubt began to creep in? Sometimes, reading a novel, it's great to sit back and say, "I can do that." But the greats sometimes discouage me when I began to compare their writing to mine. What do you think, Alex?
Things do come to me when I've not pushing to get them. I also think that willful distortion is helpful. See or hear a word the wrong way.
Oh that's just great! Right when you were getting to the Steve Erickson part! You really know how to end posts, Alex...and chapters, and Acts (I'm betting) leaving your audience wanting more.
I've been reading Westways since I was a kid. Lifelong AAA member. They've towed me out of some serious jams more than once.
Keep writing. Writers are an exceptionally encouraging bunch to their fellow aspiring writers aren't they? Never fails. I'm going to send you a pm in a bit, Alex, asking you to expound on that idea: writers encouraging other writers.
In the meantime, while we anxiously await the rest of Alex Austin's Steve Erickson story, here's another killer paragraph from The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed, illustrating, I believe, Alex's style of "dirty realism," which he defined in an earlier post as, "finding effective but unbeautiful metaphors":
"In 1928, New Jersey's Pretzel Amusement Ride Company invented the dark ride. Holding one or two, the cars took their passengers through artificial night, interrupted by ghoulish scenes of hangings, murders, mutilations (chain saws ripping through bosomy chicks). Abrupt turns and double doors opened on pouncing creeps, freaks and geeks, their mayhem illuminated by black light, their murderous cries merging with the screams of the cars' occupants. The dark rides provided unyielding surprise and shock, but the cars ran on tracks, chain-driven, their routes as fixed as fate." (Emphasis mine).
Westways had been around since the turn of the century, and had published a lot of good stuff, but in the 70s Frances was aiming at a California version of the New Yorker. She cultivated many terrific writers and artists, and faught to pay them what they were worth. That attitude has been lost in publishing. Eventually she got the axe for publishing a positive story on inner city schools that was illustrated with samples of students' work. Some of the samples contained raw language and images, which was the last straw for the Auto Club, a fairly conservative organization that had long resented her left leanings.
Regarding Steve Erickson, I'm going to keep you in suspense for a little longer, but let me say that shortly after that memorable afternoon at the San Antonio Winery, I did get the job. So there I sat in the magazine's offices at Olympic and Figueroa, hearing more and more about Steve's brilliance from the assistant art director, and writing furiously in an effort to prove my worth in the face of his imminent arrival.
Alex, I would so love to see those reviews! I imagine they're long gone by now. But I have to ask anyway - do you still have access to them and would you be interested at all in posting them in Le Salon? That's music history of a revolutionary era in the L.A. rock (and national) music scene. My God I'd love to read those reviews. And I know of at least four others here who would too. That would make a great book, Alex, your and Steve's collection of concert and lp reviews...a book I'd buy (no lie) in a heartbeat.
And I think it's appropriate, this being Valentine's Day, to begin by focusing on one, The Vibrators, and their minor hit Feel Alright.
Here's to you, Alex (and to the salonistas) feeling alright this Valentine's.
We Vibrate is a pretty catchy tune too!
As a result of this thread, I was contacted by John Domini, a novelist and critic who asked me to take a look at his article Against the “Impossible to Explain”: The Postmodern Novel and Society. A large part of this terrific essay is a discussion of Erickson's latest novel Zeroville. John does what no other reviewer of Erickson's work has done; he explicates the novel. I highly recommend this essay.
I used to be over in goodreads, Alex, and actually corresponded very briefly with John Domini. He'd written a review of JR, professional-style, of course, like that wonderful article you linked, and I'd just posted my amateur take on JR, and he was kind enough to post his appreciation of mine, while directing me also to his.
Jason Pettus wrote his own professional review of John Domini's most recent novel A Tomb on the Periphery that's well worth a look.
What great stuff! And some really cool small-world connections!
The imagery and pacing and dialogue you employ in your work looks and sounds cinematic much of the time. Is that by design?
I don’t intentionally use cinematic strategies in the novels, but I’m sure that some of my techniques have been influenced by the conventions of film and screenplays. I use a fair amount of dialogue but the dialogue is usually spare. A character says a phrase or a sentence and then it’s the next character’s turn. The first screenplays that readers toss out are those with big blocks of dialogue—they don’t even read the script. The graphics give it away. However, I write spare dialogue that because I think that’s how most people converse, and as I’ve mentioned, my goal is realism (dirty). I hope that there are or were people that can come up with the brilliant extended dialogue of Jane Austen’s characters. I just haven’t met many.
I think the settings of both novels "are" cinematic. I don’t mean my writing so much as the settings in and of themselves. The Casino, the Diving Horse, the Swan Boat, Tillie, the Palace Ferris Wheel, Madam Marie’s, Ocean Grove, the Wonder Bar—these should be on the screen. If the imagery works, it’s because I’ve got a lot to work with.
By the way, Enrique, have you ever tried your hand at producing?
Is there a Director or Producer in the House who'd like to purchase the film rights to The Red Album? ;-)
Can't say that I've ever produced much of anything, Alex, except lots of creative chaos and some terrific kids. Though being a producer would be a dream job come true! I'd do anything to get me close to those craft service spreads...anything.
Thanks for noticing the dream. Hey, you're successfully producing these threads. Nothing more required than several million $$$$.
Now suppose (speaking of dreams) I did have those $$$$, who would I get to play Sam and Julie?
Hope you and the kids are feeling better.
I second Alex, slick, and the more sordid and outrageous your stories, the better for our mutual edification. This is the place and now is the time to hear about Bay Head and Tillie (whoever she is).
Alex, going back aways to your interaction with blackdogbooks (up in the low-40 posts thereabouts), what jumped out at me was your encouraging an aspiring writer: "Keep writing," you said. You didn't have to say that, but you did, and it's something I see all the time among writers. More established writers encouraging the up-and-comers. Why is that?
Stephen King's well known for selling his movie-rights to first time screenwriters for a buck. Writer's colony's are set up and run by writers. Publishing houses like Fiction Collective and FC2 get established and financially supported by like-minded writers committed to one another who'd otherwise, probably not see their books in print. You don't see this as consistently, I think, across the board among other artist types. Writers seem more grounded to me, than actors, say, and far more giving and generous with their time and input into one another's work and lives as well. Has that been your experience, having worked closely with professionals of other artistic disciplines? Or not?
Regardless, why are writers generally, whether they're unpublished, or self-published, or have got a sweet contract from Putnam or Harper Perennial, say, so giving of themselves to writer's who haven't advanced in the profession as far as they have? Is their some secret Cult of Writers that the reading public at large isn't privy to?
Re: Tillie/The Devil: Did you ever see that movie The Freshman? It was like that except worse in a few ways and not so bad in others. It can be all too easy to cross paths with a wise guy in that area!
(59) Let me be frank, I like writers, who are all ultimately children playing in a sandbox, scooping up their material, extracting the occasional dog turd, and shaping their oeuvre. They are all territorial and paranoid, many self-delusional, and not a few outright crazy. But we're all working with the same stuff, sand or words, and there's plenty enough to go around. I want words to work for myself and for others. I'm not diminished when I read a scene in Peter's work and think, Jesus, that's perfect. On the other hand, I can and have been brutal when reading work that is misguided, work that is riddled with clichés and pitiful ideas, but wants praise. I teach a 7th grade creative writing class and the first story the students work on is supposed to be realistic. I hammer on the definition of realistic and we brainstorm events in their lives that might serve as the basis for stories. No matter, half the class writes about zombies and the other half about military special opps missions. But occasionally, occasionally, I'll get a story about a kid in a Mexican village wanting to get to America.
I've been an editor at several magazines, and I liked the slush pile, going though those neatly bound manuscripts. Who can be so sure that the next one won't be a gem?
I've seen lots of other artists offer help. Stage actors can be remarkably giving. Once you get to the big money, however, all bets are off.
Please forgive me if someone's already asked this and I overlooked it when reviewing the messages. I've only become a published author less than 60 days ago and my second book is already set to relase 03/02/10. The first two were Christian non-fiction personal reflections, but I am now writing a Christian fiction novel.
My question is this: When you write a novel, do you write it chronologically from start to finish or do some scenes form in different orders and then you put them altogether at the end?
To me working musical form into writing means what Anthony Burgess did with his novel The Napoleon Symphony, which let the structure of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony underpin the text, so that the pace of the writing in a scene, for example, would reflect the pace of the corresponding movement. Murakami is thought to base the rhythm of his sentences on jazz. While writing The Red Album, I considered having each chapter reflect a song on an album, either an imaginary album or a real one, like the Beatles’ White Album. The chapter’s pace and mood would mirror that of the song. It would have been an interesting experiment, but it only would have been an experiment. I didn’t see how it would contribute to what I was trying to say with the story. Now unconsciously I’ll take credit for anything I can get away with. I do try for a certain rhythm in my sentences, and that rhythm may very well be influenced by the songs that I love. The words of certain songs may be the ones I most naturally go to when I choose words. I doubt though that any passages mirroring the 12-bar blues will be found. Speaking of bars, I was pleased to learn that Murakami owned a bar (jazz bar) back in the 1970s. I, too, owned a bar (beer) in the 1970s in partnership with a Czechoslovakian named Stanley and a Dane named Ernst. It was called Sherlock’s Suitcase (I was a fan of Holmes) on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles. I was hoping to create a mini-Troubadour, and we did have some interesting music, including our frequent headliner the Oily Scarf Wino Band. We violated numerous laws and quickly went broke.
(66) H'mm. This is tempting, Lori, but I'll just say chronologically.
Intriguing concept. I hope some of our classical music experts and aficionados in the audience will comment on that.
And what are some of those songs and lyrics that may have unconsciously influenced your writing, Alex?
Amazing, Enrique! There were some pretty good musicians with that group, but I didn't know they'd recorded anything. I became friends with the trombone player--I think his name was Mark Wollen?--who left the band to tour with Jesus Christ Superstar. Lost track of him over the years.
So ---- I don't know Mother's Beach, but I do know Fingal's Cave - or at least Mendelssohn's version of it.
You mentioned experimental writing. How do you decide what's worth trying and what is merely interesting? I see your criterion - what will help you tell your story - but do you ever give something experimental a shot when you're between books or stuck? (I hope you don't get stuck.)
I do think there are many parallels between music and fiction, including as you point out the recurrence and reworking of thematic material. In some ways, composers and writers may be working the same vein. Let me venture out of my depth here (not too difficult to do) and mention Schopenhauer, the so-called gloomy philosopher. I’m a fan of this guy and I’m intrigued if not convinced by much of what he said. Schopenhauer (expanding on Kant), called the world that we experience the phenomenon. This is the world of our senses and is all that we can experience, primarily because the brain constructs it. The other world, the “real” world that we can’t experience, he called the noumenon. We have no access to the noumenon. It’s simply not available to us—except that we are noumenon, and so something just might, just might, seep through. Schopenhauer ventured that art or the impulse to create art, with music atop the heap, comes to us from the noumenon. I like this idea. Fiction and music may be “willed” into employing the same strategies.
You’re right, Mendelssohn composed Fingal’s Cave, which was inspired by his visit to Fingal’s Cave, a sea cave in Scotland. Mother’s Beach (I want to put the apostrophe after the s, but I guess I’m not going to get away with it) is a small beach in Marina del Rey in Los Angeles. It is so named because the water is shallow and without waves or currents. Most of the beachgoers are mothers with small children. It is also known unkindly as Stretchmark Beach. There’s a lot of water in the novel I’m working on.
For me, every sentence is an experiment, if not every word. But I think we’re talking about experiment as in experimental writing. For me that means big formal strategies: automatic writing, cut-up writing, abandoning chronology, refusing to use the verb to be (there is a school of thought that says most of humanity’s problems are caused by the use of the verb to be. It certainly was Hamlet’s.), randomly changing voice. I get stuck plenty, but I’ve never gone to the above, all of which might be very interesting, and perhaps illuminating. But a lot of writing is solving problems, and the problems I’ve encountered didn’t call for experimental solutions.
The new novel may be different. I’m already employing a technique that I call automatic eavesdropping.
What inspired you to write The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed?
I lived in Asbury during the years that Springsteen was getting started. The first time I saw him play, I came away convinced that this guy was going to make it. But at that time, there were many highly talented musicians and bands in the area. For several reasons, Asbury was losing its drawing power as a resort and maybe all these venues (bars, clubs, hotels, etc.) needed something new to attract crowds, but the town seemed to be just bursting with rock and roll. I left for California when all this was really starting to build, but I took with me this certainty that something special was going on in that town. When I got to Los Angeles, I went to plenty of clubs and heard hundreds of bands, but I thought to myself, man, there’s nothing here that matches Asbury (admittedly, New Jersey transplants say pretty much the same thing about pizza and subs). I also read every issue of Rolling Stone expecting to see that Bruce had been signed and his first album released, but this would not happen for so long that I half lost faith. When Springsteen eventually did break out, with his songs so attached to the area (that surprised me), it reinforced my belief that something special had been going on in Asbury, and I wanted to capture that in a story. So an Asbury novel had been on my mind and in the planning for a long time. The mystery/noir aspect came in because I wanted to foreshadow Asbury’s bleak future. The timeline of the story precluded going into that future.
How to handle Springsteen was a problem for me. He was the elephant in the room. How could I ignore him? But if I brought him (by name) into the story to any degree, he might upset the tone and balance of the novel—and it probably would seem gimmicky. If the novel were set any later in time, say the mid- or late-seventies, I couldn't have ignored him. An unnamed Springsteen actually has a couple of fleeting appearances, but he is merely another rival musician. In a very early version of the novel I did have a scene in which Springsteen was named and spoke to Sam. I based it on coversations I'd had with Bruce in the years in which the novel is set. I could not make the scene work, and it clued me in as to how dangerous it would be to work him into the text.
You may be right about Schopenhauer's influence on Jung. The collective unconsciousness does sound similar to aspects of the noumenon. Something that we can't know directly but that we can draw from. It's been awhile since I read Hegel, but I know that his key ideas have been absorbed and sometimes reshaped by many other thinkers. However, I don't think Schopenhauer would have admitted getting much from Hegel. He was certainly aware of him, but didn't respect his ideas. Hegel's "zeitgeist" seems to be more about this world than Schopenhauer's unknowable world. But as I mentioned above, I'm getting out of my depth. What I find interesting about S is that he didn't have much patience with religions, but he had an affinity with Buddhism and Hinduism and thought his concept of the noumenon had parallels in Buddhist thought.
The novel is set in the late 60s and early 70s, but songs and lyrics that had nothing to do with that era may have seeped into the text. But first let me say that consciously I wove in the music that to me was the most vital of those times, the Beatles, Dylan, Doors, Creedence, Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, Cream. These were the groups that Sam would have been listening to and which he was trying to go beyond. I don’t know that there was ever a time before or since that music was so culturally dominant. Nothing—film, books, television, theatre, sports—came close. Whether or not Sam was a musician, those songs would have been part of him and shaping him. The music is always there, affecting Sam's thoughts and actions, and even transforming events. That Sam is a musician also required that the reverse be true. Like any artist, Sam needs his raw materials. He needs content (and form, or course) for his songs, and that comes from his experience in Asbury, out of the story’s events and characters. I wanted moments when events are the precursors to songs, where the art to come shows itself. The challenge is to do that without doing it, which is the paradox of any fiction about a fictional artist. As I’ve mentioned previously, I tried my hand at being a musician, and among the things I quickly recognized was that I couldn’t write a decent song. I knew that any attempt to realize a song in the novel would fall flat, and only reluctantly (and in the book’s second printing) did I include some lyrics, lyrics which will not stand up to scrutiny, but that I thought readers would give a pass on.
To be continued.
Alex, is the novel you're working on now a continuation of Sam's story? And how far along are you in it and when can we read it? No pressure to hurry up and finish it of course.
All the bands that I noted in 83, consciously inserted into the text, could be there unconsiously. Now add Bach, Springsteen, Talking Heads, Television, The Jam, Devo, U2, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Mendelsshon, the Ramones, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, the Pretenders, the New York Dolls, Wheezer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, Green Day, X, Elvis Costello, Blondie and Arcade Fire.
Slow dancing in the dark on the beach at Stockton's Wing
Where desperate lovers park we sat with the last of the Duke Street Kings Better run run, run I remember how the darkness doubled are we not men? I am an anti-christ here we are now entertain us if you want to destroy my sweater my aim is true, no woman, no cry with a name like Dani California she was an American girl how long must we sing this song...
And underneath it all may be Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” as covered by Vanilla Fudge, and once a mainstay of Springsteen's early career.
You may be right about that unknown actor, Enrique.
Also, basically every band mentioned in this thread is key, and that is a good sign. I've been reading so much trash lately; this looks like a big step up.
Yes, the bands and the songs are key. There's another song that appears in the text that reflects Sam's doubt.
“At Long Last Love,” composed by Cole Porter and sung by Sinatra. Here are the first two stanzas.
“Is it an earthquake or simply a shock?
Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?
Is it a cocktail, this feeling of joy?
Or is what I feel the real McCoy?
Is it for all time or simply a lark?
Is it Granada I see or only Asbury Park?
Is it a fancy not worth thinking of?
Or is it at long last love?”
The song was composed in Asbury’s heyday, but Porter pares it with mock turtle soup, booze and a bit of fun. Fake, illusory, cheap. In the story, Sam is always coming up against this possibility. Is his ambition just a joke, no more substantial than boardwalk facades?
When Sam and Jillian are walking down Kingsley Avenue in summer, watching the circuit of cars, I wanted trivia playing on the car radios. I had to look up the Billboard top 100 songs from that summer, muttering the lyrics and melodies of songs that I had pretty much forgotten until I found my dismal candidates (Neil Diamond fans, forgive me).
(And I already love your using the Cole Porter song.)
I imagine, though, with The Perfume Factory, just as a band recording its first album has had years to work on the songs and so the songs in the recording studio fly out of them, so maybe similarly, you with your characters, they just flew out of you, and so the novel was just there so to speak, having been fermenting in your imagination for awhile? Or maybe the analogy doesn't hold?
and the redhead for Julie or Jillian! Of course, you'd then need a tall leading man and those are rare.
Sam - Sam Rockwell. Too old? I really think he is good.
James Lorinz for Botta.
Tilley or Cassidy - Philip Seymour Hoffman - Would be maybe a little different from how you originally imagined these guys but I can see it really working.
With the exception of Sam's family, most of the other characters in the first novel didn’t make the cut. I had to be careful to draw the new characters in light of the two established characters. Julie and Jillian are both Jersey girls, but I didn't want Jillian to share much if any of Julie's traits.
As I mentioned way back, once I started writing The Perfume Factory, there were many things I found easy to draw upon, especially the setting and also local attitudes. (I haven’t seen the reality series Jersey Shore yet, but just from reviews, I know those guys). That said, neither The Perfume Factory nor The Red Album were just there waiting to break out. I do think that’s possible. I think there are novelists that can build and hold the entire story in their head, and just let it all pour out with little revision. It ain’t me, babe. However, with The Perfume Factory, I drew almost entirely from memory to construct the town of Port Beach (the fictional counterpart of Union Beach). Asbury, which I had only lived in for a couple of years, was much more difficult. A much bigger and more complex town, also one with a history, including Bruce.
I think Sam Rockwell's got the right rebel-edgy look, but yeah, he's 41, that might be pushing the age-envelope. We need somebody, for Sam, in the 21-27 age range, I think. Could Justin Timberlake pull off a real rock'n roller? He sleazed his squeaky-clean image up pretty nicely in Alpha Dog. Though, sheesh, he's already pushin' 30!
Where are the early-to-mid twenty edgy-rebel male leads in Hollywood today, who would like to play the role of Sam in The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed?
105> And yes yes yes to Philip Seymour Hoffmann. Though I see Brian Dennihy playing one of the bad guys too.
Now I'm wondering about Sam's biological father: the big time philandering attorney; who plays him?
107: I need to buy an issue of Seventeen or Teen People or something. I'll tell my wife its research for a production gig I'm collaborating on. Maybe I can write it off too!
110: So flattered you see Hoffman too! Easy to suggest in the Tillie artwork too without making it too obvious.
111: Michael Madsen!
What about Shia LeBeouf as Sam? Right age; maybe not the right look exactly, but I definitely think the right attitude. Okay, I think I'm done conceptualizing characters...for now.
Frank was abusive, a real monster, but he lightened up a little at the end of PF. He died between novels. I wonder if there's a term for that, along the lines of intestate....
PF is pure first novel.
Jillian reminds me a lot of a girl I go to school with, but Mila Kunis is an excellent fallback.
I could've sworn I remember you saying something about the novel you're working on now has musical-structure underpinnings (was it in the post you edited? - I can't seem to find it.)
If so, I wanted to ask you how the writing process differs writing straight (non-music-structurally, if you will) as opposed to consciously incorporating a musically infused framework to guide you. Or am I imagining things and you said nothing to that effect?
Thanks for an enjoyable read, Alex. It's given me a couple of things to chew on re "my" sixties, the ones I carry around in my particular head, versus the way they get represented in, like, "the culture", versus the way they get represented here. I think of the hippie thing and the greaser thing as so inimical, yet here we see e.g. Sam flowing smoothly from one into the other over time. Is it all just counterculture, one as good as the next for people (many of them the hurt and sad, I suppose) who need to be part of that kind of thing? I'm very comfortable thinking of my own youth--say the seventeen years since I started high school in 1993--in those terms--you'd have seen me in combat boots and flannel then, skinny jeans and bright shirts now--but I want the sixties to be more essentialist somehow. Does that make any sense?
I'm going to try to parallel that in the text.
iolaspens with then v
As to the structure of the novel-in-progress, I will be excited to read it with the key in mind.
And ---- does everybody but me understand "iolaspens with then v"?
"iolaspens with then v" is Le Salon's equivalent to "over and out, but not quite."
iolaspens with then v
Let me contrast Sam for a moment with Lucien from Balzac’s Lost Illusions. Lucien has arrived in Paris from the country and for the first time walks in the Tuileries. “He saw ravishing studs on sparkling white shirts, his was rust colored! All those elegant gentlemen wore marvelous gloves, and his were the gloves of a policeman….Another pulled from the pocket of his waistcoat a watch thin as a coin, and looked at it with the air of a man who has arrived too early, or too late, for a rendezvous. Looking at all these pretty bagatelles that Lucien hadn’t even suspected of existing, the world of necessary superfluities became apparent, and he shivered at the thought of the enormous capital necessary to exercise the profession of smart young fellow!”
Sam is too bound to his world to have any such revelation. The result is that Julie though at first taken with Sam, eventually realizes that he’s beneath her, that he’s exactly as her family painted him. She recognizes him.
There’s something else that figures in Julie’s rejection, and it’s fairly ironic. It’s never stated in the story, but The Perfume Factory is set in late 1963, and a rough (le) beast is slouching toward Bethlehem. As the story unfolds, there are signs, a conversation about a record, an odd haircut, some inexplicable conversations. The Beatles are about to arrive, and with their arrival, Sam and greasers become irrelevant. They occupy antiquity. They are a joke (see Sha Na Na).
The Beatles will become Sam’s walk in the Tuileries, but it doesn’t happen in The Perfume Factory, which ends with Sam in pretty much the same position as when the story began, as an unemployed greaser … with a draft card. Oh yes, and a guitar, salvaged from a local trash dump.
The distinct class lines in The Perfume Factory made telling Sam’s story fairly straightforward. In The Red Album, class has lost its clarity. Young people are establishing identity along different lines. But this identify may be no more substantial than that of the dandies in the Tuileries. Part of Sam’s struggle in The Red Album is figuring out where he fits in, if anywhere.
To be continued.
And here's to the eventual Jersey Trilogy doing for Asbury (and Alex Austin) what The Albany Trilogy did for William J. Kennedy.
And I can't believe Feb. is almost over! No, I'm not hint-hinting that after tomorrow you and your audience will need to stop posting here - puhleeze (sacrilege!)
You are forever welcome to use your thread because, in effect, you have now joined Peter as being (I hope) permanent Authors in Residence here in Le Salon.
With your blessing, I'd like to link your author page to the title page of our group (yes and yours too, Peter!) under the heading: Authors in Residence. It's the least I can do for all the time and meticulous detail in crafting your responses - just the sheer energy and creativity - you've devoted to us this month.
The Beatles were working class and certainly seen as working class. They were also witty, iconoclastic, intelligent and charming (The times may have been a changin' before the Beatles arrived, but few were taking notice. Their low-key, rebellious attitude made challenging authority cool.) and their music, even the early stuff was brilliant and innovative. They very quickly won over artists and intellectuals. They also made it very difficult to sustain class distinctions, most certainly in matters of the heart.
But Sam, like numerous other young working-class men, spends the mid-sixties in the military, not quite getting all the advantages of a class-free and tumultuous society, but informed of all that change, and preparing for it. The Beatles have won him over. They have provided him with the external signs to forge a new identify. The Red Album picks up with Sam, guitar (primary sign) in hand, hauling ass out of the military. The Beatles have done him numerous services, including demolishing those class barriers that sealed him off from Julie. He now has a map for navigating his way through society (he will quickly find that he needs a lot more than a map). At this point Sam is no longer a greaser, but he's also no mod or hippie.(I’m not sure that mod meant much in America.) or even activist. In fact, he doesn't much care one way or the other about the war, racial divisions, etc. He's not about peace and love. Sam doesn't see himself as part of a generation and has no need of it. At his core, he’s still trying to escape from his father and the dead-end life (Part of Sam's arc is buying a little into the antiestablishment values, accepting that there's something real there.) His knowledge of the countercultures does allow him to move easily among them, but he’s not part of them (although to an external observer he would certainly appear a hippie). His loyalty is to his music, his art.
Had he not gone into the military it might have been much different, but whether he would have found his identity as a thug or war protestor, I’m not sure.
This still hasn’t answered your question, Booksfallapart, about the 60s being essentially different from other youth movements. Is one as good as the next? Are combat boots and flannel much different from burning draft cards and joining communes? Are they all taken up to satisfy something thing that that has nothing to do with stopping wars or transforming society? I think that for many people the 60s felt like the real deal, felt unlike fashion. Hope was present. But I still think about the remark Zero Mostel told the judge after he was arrested for marching in a communist rally that had gotten out of control. “I was just following a woman with a wide ass.”
Which was put slightly different by John Lennon. “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."
The music was great.
But the band had to play July 4th, the following night, and I would never miss an engagement again. Around midnight, with fireworks still blasting on the beachfront, some fans came in talking about black kids going crazy on the west side. I didn’t give it much thought. At night’s end, we headed over to the Upstage. We ignored the folk act on the first floor and climbed upstairs to the second, where the house band played to a crowd that flowed into itself, like the sea coming up against jetties, forming currents that rushed to escape only to be thrown back by the next wave. Bare-shouldered young women in thin tank tops or naked in sheer blouses, young men in jeans and worn T-shirts, running under the pulse of a black light and the rock star photographs projected on the windowless walls, barely acknowledging the house band and the older woman in the Sergeant Pepper’s jacket hammering out Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Susie Q.” Not much later, I was on stage, jamming with maybe eight musicians, mostly guys in their twenties, but a few younger. The song was “Summertime Blues,” and it probably went on for a half-hour. The audience pushed closer to the stage. I was keeping a low profile, mostly playing rhythm, maybe throwing in a riff now and then. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, just having fun, and it felt like part of something, a generation maybe. All these guys knowing the same songs, the same spirit. Everybody going down the river in the same boat. I hardly noticed when my hand slipped from the guitar like an old man slipping down the stairs or the weightless fall of a pedal when a bicycle chain breaks. Shouldn’t there have been a pop? A pellet striking a paper cowboy. The neat crack of spoiled bone. The splish splash of liquefied Roy. Under the electric guitars no sound. Tom dead. Tom dead. I could have cried, but the kid beside me bumped my shoulder and whispered the song. When I merely stared, he took my hand and placed it back on the neck. “Your turn, man. I ain’t gonna play it for you.” I took the lead on “White Room,” in the middle of which Tom, the club’s owner, stepped up to the microphone and announced that the club was closing early on advice from the Asbury Police Department. There was trouble down the street.
It was fall of 1963 I believe, several of my friends and myself were out cruising, going to Mamie's juke joint for beer. This was in eastern North Carolina, Pamlico County. Mamie was an elderly black woman who ran a dive. She was good for selling beer to the underaged, although I was of age at the time. I heard my first real soul band at Mamie's and she had several blues and r&b regulars who stopped by from time to time. Of course this was terra incognita to all the white folks. It was straight out of Animal House.
Anyway, we were out cruising, listening to the rock & roll on the radio, it might have been the clear channel station out of Buffalo, NY. KB radio, the Tommie Shannon show. WKBW, I believe. The DJ announced a new song from a new band from England, and we all, himself included, were going to hear the song for the first time. About half-way through we pulled over, stunned, astonished, amazed. There are not words in the English language to describe the fabulousness of that moment. Fuck You, Bobby Vinton! Roses aren't red, they're fuckin' dead! Hail, Hail Rock and Roll. Deliver me from the days of old. When the song ended, you could hear the needle beating against the end of the record for, oh, must have been ten seconds, nothing but thump-thump-thump at 45 rpm. Finally, the DJ came back on and with shock and awe and a quiver of pleasure in his voice informed us all out in radioland that one good turn deserves another and played it again.
If you weren't there, there is no way just the mere fact of the Beatles can be conveyed. It was a sublime experience, near completely ineffable. That is the seminal moment of the sixties. Yeah, Dylan was moving in that direction, the Beach Boys were resuscitating Chuck Berry, Jan and Dean had a beat, but rock and roll, to put the lie to Chuck Willis, was fading away.
I guess we all have our own stories from our own generation of music that draw on similar moments, but I doubt I could phrase it as well as that.
When people bought the 45 and turned it over, it was all over but the shouting. One of the greatest a/b 45's ever. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" b/w "I Saw Her Standing There".
It's so hard to get into that headspace for me. The first time I remember hearing the Beatles was on the way to the lake when I was four and my parents were singing along to "Strawberry Fields Forever" on the way to the lake. they were like raffi, except I kept them around when I grew up. God, it's like that old Marc Bolan group, John's Children. STILL. Wellmaybe not still, but still in 1984. Great story!
Stunning Balzac quote (plus ce change, plus ce meme chose), and I get where you're coming from, I think. In some ways things are more straightforward now, with the almost total separation of consumable pop culture and morals/politics. In other ways, I think we've lost something. but maybe it's something that'll make it easier for us to put ouselves in context, embrace the role of civilization in decline.
But then there's still class. Not even on people's radars now. (Or at least, I don't want to speak for people everywhere, but seems rare here in BC that anyone speaks of themselves in class terms outside a lit seminar).
I'm sorry if this sounds like inside baseball for old-timers and probably just another boomer narcissistically drooling over the wonderful accomplishments of their generation, but the world changed in a way it has not been moved, musically and culturally since the invention of Jazz. I know this sounds over the top, but it's true.
His books are The Perfume Factory and The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed, the latter of which (in case you're late to this thread) has been made generously available here as a pdf:
The Red Album rocks! If 'Frique says so, it must be true.
Alex has also authored numerous plays, including Dupe, scripts, short stories, and way back when, when he was just starting out (I'm crossing my fingers he's been able to locate them) album and concert reviews of "punk" and "post-punk" bands in Westways magazine.
Alex, it's been beyond a pleasure getting to know you and your work. I hope you'll continue to hang around the salon and keep us updated on your novel in progress, using this thread anyway you (and your audience) sees fit.
Geneg, you're right about the impact of the Beatles. I had cut some of the following paragraph because I thought it was reaching, but you've raised the bar--
There are numerous Beatles songs that are hard-wired into my brain, starting with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which was more revolutionary than Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which only caused a riot in a concert hall. Was it possible that simply touching another’s hand was enough? That song allowed Western youth to jettison the baggage of the cold war, the striving after the American Dream, and the unchallenged acceptance of authority ... and to replace them with ... love. Okay, there was no revolution and soon it would be all undone, but for awhile.... But there’s something else about that song. The lyrics say, “I can’t hide. I can’t hide. I can’t hide,” but I will bet that you, me and everyone else heard “I get high. I get high. I get high.”
Sam struggles to get beyond the Beatles, and out of his struggle, he finds his music, but it will not be beyond them. Punk was one attempt at a solution, like Beckett's minimalism in the face of Joyce. Springsteen's way was to go back before the Beatles, which I think has become clear as his music has evolved. I love much of the music that came after the Beatles, but I can't imagine hearing another song that will make me think the world is about to change. I hope it happens.
Thanks, Enrique, and all others that dropped by.
See you down the road. The radio will still be blasting.
Personally, I would like to see you running a music thread. You seem to have a lot of interesting experiences to draw on, both for the old timers (hi gene & Porius) who remember the 60s and for us relative youngsters who grew up in the late 70s.
Thanks for the ride, Alex. See you at the old-timers game, after a few more of us are put out to pasture and EF finds a court.
Thank you both for a good time!
I think zeno's idea is great, Alex, if it floats your boat, having a music thread related both to The Red Album and to the punk/"New Wave" scene you wrote about with Steve Erickson.
On a tangent, I've been considering launching a thrash metal thread: METAL ONLY, with RSHabroptilus. Dunno if anybody else would be interested, though. I might launch it anyway. I miss the Thrash and even Hair Metal days of the 80s...and I'm not ashamed!
"Yesterday I got a breathless call from Virtual Bookworm, my publisher. They'd been contacted by a production company wanting to know if the movie rights to The Red Album were available and if VP would give them my contact information. Did I mind? Uh, no. So an hour later I got an e-mail from Blue Star Entertainment saying they were interested in the book and wanting to know if the movie rights were still available. Blue Star is a mid-range production company. They did Bangkok Dangerous, Messengers 2:The Scarecrow, etc. and have about a dozen films in development. I was low-key in my response, but of course I said yes. Now I'm regretting not sending out copies to every production company in town. Of course, nothing may come of it, but our instincts were right."
posted by AlexAustin at 11:49 am (EST) on Mar 27, 2010 | reply | archive | delete
I'm very happy for him. I've yet read it, but I know I don't need to before pimping it. He informs me too that he's got a podcast out of The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed at his website: www.alexaustinnovels.com. I'm sure that's worth a look to.
I really shouldn't be here, since I've made, as many of you know, a Declaration of Independence from le Salon and am presently embarked upon a Sacred Vow of Silence from hereabouts, but how the heck could I not drop in with this great stuff and great news from Alex?
Just like in Red Album, Alex sets up the kind of situation that just pulls you right in. Try to stop reading becomes the problem...
My hope is that someday, people will just assume you took your LT handle from the wildly successful novel and that when you say you are an "Austin/en fan" people will say "Which one, Jane or Alex?"
Did you have a chance to check out the local NJ music on Alex's podcast? I just did and enjoyed it immensely. Definitely worth a look.
Here's a direct link: http://www.podiobooks.com/title/the-red-album-of-asbury-park-remixed.
How did you get involved w/the podcasts?
And don't be a stranger!