Book 'Em

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.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax