Many have asked how my new novel, Voices came to be, and why it flashes back to the #SummerOfLove (which is celebrating 50 years with events nationwide this summer and fall). I’d love to tell you I wrote it quickly, fueled by my lifelong love of rock, folk and blues music, particularly classic rock. Truth is, because of that lifelong love, and the ever-changing face of the music world, Voices went through several phases, a dozen rewrites, and painstaking edits in the 15 years it took off-and-on to bring the idea into finished book form.
The book’s genesis is a walk that Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin and I took down Haight Street in June, 2001. As we walked toward the converted flatbed truck stage where Marty and his Jefferson Starship bandmates were about to headline the Haight Street Fair, Marty alternately greeted fans and talked with me about his memoir, Full Flight, on which we were working.
As we continued walking, I decided to spring an idea on him: “What do you think about a novel involving a rock legend, his daughters and a reunion tour?”
“Sounds good… what’s the deal with the musician and his daughters?” Marty asked.
“Well, he’s tight with one and not so much with the other… creates the emotional tension,” I said.
“You know, some musicians lost contact with their children when they were young, you know, touring, breakups, that sort of thing.”
Interesting. Talk about emotional tension. How about gut-wrenching? “How did that impact their music?” I asked.
“The ones who cared about their kids and were able to carry on? A lot. It made their music sadder, deeper, bluesy. More touching. More real. Great lyrics, too.”
I’d never thought of it that way.
We walked by several Haight Street novelty and head shops, three of which had something familiar in the window — my fairly recent cover story on Marty for a prominent magazine. As one who missed the age curve on the Summer of Love, the epochal period from 1965 through 1967 in which psychedelic rock, free love, expanded consciousness, yoga, political activism and creative expression resonated from San Francisco like a shock wave, I was blown away. I was walking down Haight Street with the man who coined “psychedelic rock” in a 1965 interview with a Dallas newspaper; whose nightclub, The Matrix, was the first in San Francisco to openly welcome electric instruments; whose band, Jefferson Airplane, launched both the San Francisco scene and psychedelic rock nationally; and whose vocal prowess as a high tenor and lyrical powers as a balladeer knew few peers. It felt surreal. Don’t wake me up when this dream is over.
I thought more about Marty’s comments. “Well, I’ve been wanting to write a rock-and-roll novel,” I said. “I’ve seen so many things in music, been part of so many things. What do you think?”
“I think if you do something with the ‘lost daughter’ thing, and put your musicians on a major tour, you’ve got a book.”
With that, I went to work, but not before promising Marty one thing: Our walk would be memorialized in the novel (a fictional version is the lead chapter of Part 2). So is something he did in concert that afternoon, the nicest thing I’ve seen a rock musician do live: Grab a roadie’s cell phone, and personally serenade the roadie’s wife with Marty’s mega-hit “Miracles” while also singing to 50,000 screaming fans on the street.
Our walk became the launching pad for Voices. While the story has taken several twists and turns since, the essential storyline is much as we left it that day: A father-daughter-lost daughter relationship story set against a summer reunion tour by a legendary band, recalling 50 years of American pop, blues, folk and rock music along the way. It’s out for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love —where the protagonist, Tom Timoreaux, and his bandmates first gathered.
Voices is seeded with more than 70 accounts of actual musical events and moments — though I’ve taken care to fictionalize and wrap them around the characters. Marty’s cell phone serenade is one, the walk down Haight Street another. The reason? Rock and roll is full of countless moments that you just can’t make up… and we all love a good rock and roll story.
Hope you enjoy Voices, and post a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads if you have the chance. It’s available at all online booksellers in print and e-book form, and through bookstores nationwide. An audiobook is in the works, to be released later in 2017 or early 2018.
NEXT IN THE WORD JOURNEYS BLOG: The Word Journeys Beach Read Showcase, a three-blog review of books well worth taking to the beach, including a word from their authors.