Just about every musician who has ever had anything remotely resembling a hit eventually becomes an "author." Most confine themselves to autobiography, and most are bad. On the other hand, some musicians' autobiographies read like novels. Dr. John's Under a Hoodoo Moon comes to mind, as does the Neville Brothers' The Brothers. Maybe those two can be explained by the fact that their subjects are all from New Orleans, a city in which many a weekend can seem like a novel, often one by Charles Bukowski or maybe a lesser work by Faulkner or Tennessee Williams.
Others go beyond writing about themselves. An incomplete list of musicians who have done so is small but significant. Jimmy Buffett, Jim Carroll and Kinky Friedman have done quite well at the fiction game. Nick Cave and Henry Rollins could quite likely have had a career, if such it could be termed, as minor poets. Jim Morrison and Jewel are also published as poets, but one wonders if literary merit has as much to do with their seeing print as do good looks and fame. Closer to home, former Houstonian Steve Earle, another published poet, last year released Doghouse Roses, a collection of short stories, to mixed reviews.
A still smaller rock lit subgenre is that of works by regionally famous or nonfamous authors. These are the books by the grunts in the field, the diaries of foot soldiers under bombardment in the front-line trenches rather than the memoirs of the five-star general in the rear. Locally, the angst-wracked Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October is working on such a book, has been for five years in fact. He recently told Racket that his work-in-progress is "about how [drug] therapy can get you signed, can get you dropped, can get you misunderstood, and all the stories along the way, you know, road stories. Getting in fights, drummers breaking their wrists protecting the violinist in Arkansas, and keeping your team so tight that no one can touch you whatsoever even if they offer you so much money, you can turn around and spit in their face."
But Furstenfeld says he's too busy to complete the book anytime soon. On the other hand, Graham Guest, lead singer and vocalist in Moses Guest, has just completed his entry in this small pool. His Love Letters from Waterville is a novella based on his life in Moses Guest as well as his frustrating, you could even say tragic, quest for identity.
Some, not including Guest himself, would call him a renaissance man. Not only is he the leader of the rock band voted the best in town in last year's Houston Press Music Awards, but he is also a member of the Texas Bar. He also has a master's degree in philosophy from Boston College.
Then there's the matter of his adoption. Guest was adopted privately and has not a clue about his biological parents.
Love Letters revolves around the lives of best friends Sam West and Dave, and their girlfriends, Jacqueline and Lettie. Both of these couples are Guest's alter egos; Sam and Jacqueline represent Guest's rock and roll side, while Dave and Lettie are on the scholarly path.
"One of them is the guy who didn't follow the music path, and the other one is the guy who did, and one of 'em dies," says Guest. (It's Guest the philosopher who finds a watery grave.)
Killing yourself off must be weird, even in a book. Guest laughs. "Yeah, but it was a sad time," he says of the enforced dormancy of his philosophical side. Guest was four months into Tulane's doctorate of philosophy program when he walked away to follow his rock dreams. "I liked studies and school and stuff, and if you're going to also do music, you've gotta cut one of 'em down I'd really like to return to that someday, but as it is now, the man is dead."
Sam West's musical misadventures are based on an actual Moses Guest tour. At the time, keyboardist Rick Thompson was on hiatus with the band and performing with Mary Cutrufello. According to Guest, Thompson is "de-boop" in the "boop-de-boop" equation that drives the band's sound, and touring without him was lonesome indeed. "The chemistry was a pile of shit and it caused much pain," Guest says. "But it is an actual trip, and there's lots of things that actually happened to us, these Cheese Chronicles descriptions. I realized reading that there's this set of things that happen to bands that just happen to every one of them."
The Cheese Chronicles is a neglected classic of the road horror story genre by Tommy Womack, formerly of the Nashville-based almost famous rock group Government Cheese. And Guest is right about the universal experiences of life in a band. He saw Moses Guest in Government Cheese, and Furstenfeld's allusion to the broken wrist in Arkansas was strikingly similar to a story in Womack's book wherein a band member's jaw is shattered by a West Virginia coal miner on a spree.
There's also a villain in Waterville. "Cowboy Man," says Guest. "He's a cowboy hat-wearing tie-dye guy I kinda want to deconstruct all the myths of this hippie crap" -- here he laughs -- "at the risk of turning off a lot of people that like our music, 'cause I guess we're kind of jam, Southern rock, but I just never could quite handle the facade that is hung so desperately and intensely by the hippies, especially now that it's gotten so far from its true time. So I mixed in this Cowboy Man guy. He's in a band, but he's like a rapist, an evil person. A What Lies Beneath kinda thing."
Cowboy Man is not based on anyone, Guest says after a pregnant pause. Then he says, "It could even be this alternate and unattained -- as of yet and never to come, I'm sure -- evil side of me."
With so many of the characters alter egos of Guest, it's easy to discern that his unknown parentage lies at the heart of virtually all that he does. He says that the themes stem "100 percent" from his adoption. "Even in the philosophy study, that was the whole point of what I was trying to do, was study identity and creativity," he says. "I think those two go hand-in-hand; you've got to at least create an identity if you're gonna be proactive about yourself."
For some, even a few who are adopted, finding oneself is as easy and natural as breathing. Not for Guest. "The fact that I was cut off -- it was a private adoption, and I don't think they're even allowed anymore -- but I see other people who are adopted figuring out what they are doing, but there's just no door open for me. It's incredibly frustrating, so I'm constantly workin' on that."
Not that such a handicap doesn't have fringe benefits for those in the arts. "It's a good thing on the back end because you end up being a pretty intensively creative person," Guest says. You "want to dig around in whatever medium you can, or at least build your own damn world if nobody else is gonna give you one from which to build."
Guest has been using the Internet to try to track down his biological parents (his adoptive parents are as in the dark as he is). He's posted his info on bulletin boards. He's enlisted search engines to dredge the Net's bottomless sea time and time again. All to no avail. And now he's starting to feel a little "silly" about it. "You have to be looked for, too It's a pretty big sense of rejection to fish and get nothing. It's like, 'Why'd you even bother having me in the first place?' I wish somehow I could have been born a little bit later so I could have more access, but as it is I've got my projects, I've got a great wife, and my adoptive parents are good folks, so I'm not freaking out too bad.
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"It's just hard not knowing the faces and getting that genetic biological bond. At least to know something, but to have it be a complete abyss is pretty difficult."
Love Letters from Waterville will be released with Moses Guest's upcoming double CD in mid-April. The book will be available for downloading (for a price), and Guest is planning to bind and sell a few copies in the traditional manner as well. A free excerpt will soon be available online at www.mosesgoods.com.
Tim Murrah's underground Britpop nightspot Metropol closed late last month. Contrary to rumors, Murrah did not have a contract out on his life, nor did his staff walk out on him en masse. It was a simple matter of a dispute with his landlords, whom he termed "overbearing." Murrah has all but settled on a new location for an as-yet-unnamed boîte de nuit in the southeast quadrant of downtown near the Four Seasons hotel Local hip-hop rockers Faceplant recently inked a publishing deal with EMI. The band is also now sponsored by Jägermeister, and the spring will see them tour with Drowning Pool and Ill Niño. They are said to be fielding offers from several major labels after their recent New York showcase. The six-piece will perform a homecoming gig at Fitz's on February 23 Garage popsters Dune*TX are gearing up for an album release in mid-April Racket must report that cancer has claimed the lives of two of Houston's greatest music supporters. Ann Parsons, the wife of Joe Parsons, a.k.a. "The River Oaks Redneck," succumbed on February 3. Dale Soffar, the onetime owner of the Old Quarter nightclub (see "Racket," January 3), passed away on February 6.