Words are flowing out like endless rain inside a paper cup

Image by Natania Barron. Ben Folds Five – Live in Cary. CC BY SA 2.0

Fall is here. This makes me happy giddy in a thousand ways since it’s my favorite time of year, and here in the South we’re getting a final respite from a very humid summer. “They” (as my mom says) are calling for a cold winter. And by cold winter, that probably means it’ll snow once. Or maybe twice. And we will dub it the Frostocalypse.

But I have been doing lots of fall stuff, including harvesting persimmons from two trees on our property (and amusing my son by climbing a ladder) and making exactly one jar of persimmon jam.

Exactly one jar.

I have been meaning to work on The Wind Through the Wheat, but my brain and the characters in Rock Revival are telling me otherwise. While I initially had plans to finish this at the end of August, it now seems highly probable that it will be finished at the end of September. It’s been so long since a book took hold of me that I figure I need to pay attention. It’s never happened with non speculative fiction, and as a result every time I get in the car and listen to music I’m getting new ideas about the next scene and strings of dialogue just start running through my brain. I fall asleep thinking of hot lights and chord changes. It’s pretty amazing and wonderful.

At the moment we’re in the lull before the end. The band has just played their first live gig in more than a year, and Kate is still trying to figure herself out and how to live without drinking everything away. I started this book thinking about religion and rock, but it’s become a lot more about addiction and rock. It’s more a “revival” in that, well, Kate nearly dies. The band nearly dies. Two of the principle characters are raging addicts, and that really puts a whole different spin on the central themes of the book.

The live show is a disaster, from Kate’s eyes anyway. She has no musical chemistry with their temporary bass player, and she’s got zero confidence (and really, very little of an idea as to how to perform while totally sober). This rough bit is sort of at the heart of what Kate’s journey is about. Finding herself, expressing herself, like a normal person, instead of running away:

For years I thought I’d only cried when I was angry. But then I realized that, when I was drinking, I basically boozed it up instead of let myself feel sad. Or boozed up while feeling sad. See: nearly dying a few months back.

And you know what? It felt strangely cathartic when I was done crying. The night had not gone well. We were off to an inauspicious start. But we’d failed, and I’d felt it. I hadn’t numbed it away, I’d let it just happen. No one came to rescue me, but the cold drizzle did enough to wake me up and remind me that I’m not the only one in the band with problems, nor the only one who screwed up the chords and forgot to sing.

Now, personally, I’m not an alcoholic. And really, it’s only by virtue of missing out on genetic Russian roulette, because both sides of my family have their share of them. My  mother’s brother even took his life after struggling for decades. I’m acquainted with the power it has over people, how it can utterly change them. And this book–since it’s told in Kate’s voice–has a lot to do with her exploration of the world outside of her own addiction, trying to find out exactly who she is now that alcohol isn’t always in the mix.

As a writer, writing a first-person, I’ve done a lot of thinking. Musicians do write their memoirs. But this isn’t a memoir. It’s not about setting the record (pun intended) straight. For Kate, it’s the act of telling her story that’s important. It’s putting  it down in something more lyrics, to piece it together. She’s a writer, too, but she’s different than I am. I’m obsessed with the role of women in rock and roll and she doesn’t care. I’m generally a warm, inviting, friendly person; she’s extremely guarded and hesitant. She’s not a very reliable narrator sometimes because, even though this is written after the fact, she’s struggling to make a story out of her life. And I think that’s one of the challenges I’m  having as a writer. Sure, it’s a contrived plot. But writing this as something written by a “real” person, I don’t want to force plot points into submission. I just want to tell her story. Which, by extension, keeps going well after the book is over. But I also realize that as the storyteller I need to maintain certain narrative expectations.

Anyway! If you’re curious, I’ve been building the playlist for the book, and I’m up to over 450 songs. If you’re at all intrigued as to what’s been playing a lot around here lately, take a listen. I swear, the book’s written between the notes.

I’m working on another post about bassists brought on by watching Ben Folds Five last weekend in Cary (see the photo at the top) and remembering (and hearing) just how amazing Robert Sledge is. Bassists are a big theme in this book, and I think it’s probably the most overlooked instrument in any given rock band. But it can really make or break the success of a group, and really can define (like in Ben Folds Five) a certain sound that can’t be replicated (like on Ben’s solo stuff).

“You and your bass players,” James said as we left the practice space the studio provided the night before the Roundhouse show.

We were walking the rainy winter streets, and in spite of the copious holiday decorations draped over every possible surface, it still felt cold and lonely out there. Especially leaving the warm comfort of a well-rehearsed set.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

James laughed into his scarf, elbowing me. “You think you’re a gentle instructor, but really you’re a pop music dictator.”

“Am not.”

“Did you see Azir’s face? Love, you treat him like he’s six.”

“He was being sloppy.”

I had to defend myself, but I knew James was right. The problem with Azir was that he wasn’t Sara and he wasn’t Kurt, and as much as I hated to admit it, I missed both of them tremendously. Neither of them required much in the way of schooling when it came to getting the music right. As it was, constantly hearing the wrong notes from the current bassist made focusing on my own playing really difficult. I had sort of snapped at one point and told him I’d just sample the right bassline and play it on the synthesizer if he couldn’t get himself together.

I may have been a little bit of an asshole.

Rock Revival: