Top 5 Musician Novelists
Steve Earle: What's up, Doc?
Ted Barron/New West Records
Despite what our paychecks and sometimes even our diplomas say, the perception persists that music journalists are not "real" journalists. Similarly, no matter how literate their lyrics, some folks think musicians could not possibly put pen to paper and compose prize-worthy fiction.
Happily, things might be changing on both counts. When Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad took the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in April, the L.A. Times' Ann Powers remarked on NPR.com how much of Egan's writing came straight from good old rock criticism. And when Rocks Off went searching for musicians who have also published novels - because one of them, Steve Earle, plays House of Blues this evening - we didn't have to look very far. Three of them have published or will publish this year, and the other two have been doing it for years.
Obviously, as much as we'd like to, we can't count musicians who have written stranger-than-fiction memoirs, whether stream-of consciousness Beatnik prose (Bob Dylan's Chronicles Volume 1) or shower-after-reading pulp (Motley Crue's The Dirt). Neither does Stephen King, although the megaselling sometime member of the Rock Bottom Remainders and the biggest fan AC/DC and the Ramones ever had does make a cameo somewhere below.
How's that for suspense?
Day Job(s): Guitarist, metal bands Broken Hope and Lupara; short-story author
Novel: The Armageddon Chord (2011; scheduled for publication by kRP Publishing next month)
Synopsis: After the discover of an ancient Egyptian chord that will reportedly bring about Armageddon if ever sounded, a guitarist named after Steve Vai and Metallica's Kirk Hammett sets about making sure that never happens.
Excerpt: "Kirk saw himself naked and nailed to the body of the guitar. Spikes were driven through his wrists, forearms, ankles and calves. He wore a crown of instrument cables, which were woven in and out of his cranium. Kirk tried to scream, but his mouth was wired and sewn shut with heavy-gauge guitar strings."
Accolades: "A quick, enjoyable read full of action, violence, hell-spawned (and human) monsters" - Decibel magazine
Would Rocks Off Read This? Hells yeah! We've already started on the advance copy we got in the mail Tuesday. It's the story of our lives, after all.
Day Job(s): Idaho-born singer-songwriter who, for one reason or another, Rocks Off has never gotten into but our friend and photographer Jason swears by (as do many others); most recent album is last year's So Runs the World Away
Novel: Bright's Passage (2011)
Synopsis: West Virginia farmboy fights WWI in France, where he begins hearing a voice that may or may not be an angel. When he returns, this "angel" recommends he marry his first cousin. Complications ensue.
Excerpt (as read by Ritter on PBS' The Newshour): "Rachel doted on that mangy old horse. She searched out tart wild apples, brought it thistles and fistfuls of stinging nettles and mint from downstream where the ground turned marshy. As September oranged into October and such treats became harder to find, she would harry Bright for bags of sweet dried corn when he went to town, so that she might hold handfuls of it lovingly under the horse's snout."
Accolades: "This is the work of a gifted novelist, but the size of that gift has yet to be determined," Stephen King wrote in The New York Times Book Review this past Sunday.
Would Rocks Off Read This? Maybe. It wouldn't jump to the top of our must-read list, but we'd probably pick up a copy if we ever saw it at Half Price Books.
Day Job(s): Singer-songwriter; proud ex-Houstonian; satellite-radio host; general rabble-rouser
Novel: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (2011)
Synopsis: Ten years later, the doctor reportedly responsible for Hank Williams Sr.'s fatal morphine dose lives on the lam in South San Antonio. Then Williams' ghost shows up, and boy is he pissed.
Excerpt: "Doc stood up, and the boy suddenly shrank beside him as Doc threw a surprisingly strong arm around him and escorted him toward the door: 'Tell you what, slick. First things first. If you cross the street out here you'll be standin' in front of a liquor store. Walk around to the parking lot in back, where you will immediately be set upon by jackals - son, I'm talking dope fiends of the lowest order - who will insist on trying to sell you inferior narcotics at exorbitant prices.'"
Accolades: "Colorful, cool and downright gripping" - Robert Earl Keen
Would Rocks Off Read This? Bet your ass we would. If someone would ever send it to us.
Day Job(s): Novelist, actually; has released several albums as Billy Bragg-like singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding through 2009's Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
Novel: Several, most recently Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer (2010)
Synopsis (of Jessold): Music critic recounts gifted composer's Jazz Age-era murder of his wife and her lover and subsequent suicide, events eerily mirrored in his final opera.
Excerpt (from Jessold): "Sandy slipped off his signet ring, tinkling the side of his champagne flute. Glasses of Oeil de Perdrix were raised toward him in toast. 'Hatton welcomes you. I welcome you. Tomorrow we work; tonight we play. But first, I know Jessold, now of this parish, has been diverting some of you. We'll let the boy take a breather... but I'd like to make him sing once more for his supper. Freddie, to the piano.'"
Accolades: "A baroque intellectual thriller, wittily erudite and psychologically astute" -- Alex Ross, The New Yorker classical-music critic and author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening To the Twentieth Century
Would Rocks Off Read This? Probably. We have been known to enjoy a good upper-crust Edwardian potboiler from time to time.
Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin (left) and Kinky Friedman at the Mucky Duck premiere of Becoming Kinky, March 2011
Day Job(s): Curmudgeonly professional Texan; erstwhile political candidate; animal-rescue activist; cigar enthusiast; dramatic muse; author of subversive-country standards "Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns In the Bed" and "Asshole From El Paso"
Novel: A solid dozen or so murder mysteries (Elvis, Jesus & Coca-Cola, God Bless John Wayne), but also nonfiction including Kinky Friedman's Guide to Texas Etiquette: Or How to Get to Heaven or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth and 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out: Reflections on Country Singers, Presidents and Other Troublemakers.
Synopsis (of Roadkill, 1998): Someone has placed an Indian curse on Willie Nelson, and it's up to the Kinkster to find out who as he and Willie, quoth Booklist, "down a lot of Jameson and smoke a lot of cigars (and reefer) as well as engage in many pointless conversations with Kinky's inscrutable cat."
Excerpt (from Roadkill): "To be completely fair, it must be noted that incessant cigar smoking can occasionally lend a subtle, yellow-brownish, stained-glass-like appearance to the inside of windows. Whether this phenomenon manifests itself as Flemish or merely phlegmish is arguable. Beauty, as they say, is strictly in the eye of the beer holder."
Accolades: "He makes Bill Clinton laugh" - Library Journal
Would Rocks Off Read This? We have, actually. Slowly working our way through the rest of the Kinkster's canon.
Jesse Sublett, bassist for Austin punk heroes The Skunks, cancer survivor and author of harrowing memoir Never the Same Again: A Rock N' Roll Gothic and a handful of mystery novels including 1989's The Rock Critic Murders. Eek.
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