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Three Re-emerged Rock Gods, One Adventurous Author: The Making of Mr. Mojo Risin

At one point or another, rock music fans have asked themselves, “What if Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Elvis Presley had lived? Where would they have taken their vast musical talent? What would they have done with their lives? What would they be like today?”

Southern California author and musician Scott Tatum tackles those questions head-on in Mr. Mojo Risin, a satirical and oft-hilarious romp that pulls the equally mysterious worlds of the CIA, FBI, Mafia and Yakuza together — along with the White House, Pentagon, Las Vegas police, and a traveling club of retirees. Amidst these elements, set in the late 1990s, he drops in Jim, Jimi and Elvis by bringing them back to life in a conceivingly plausible way: by ghosting them in a secretive CIA program. This ends abruptly when an invisible Jimi walks away… only to soon find himself with Jim and Elvis on a cross-country trip.

From there, all hell breaks loose — often — as we follow the three resurrected legends, now somewhat ordinary people that the author masterfully presents in their most day-to-day human selves (besides Jimi, who remains invisible). He deftly overrides the images of the tortured rock gods whose songs we’ll forever listen to. The relationship between Morrison and Sparkle (Think The Doors’ classic song “Love Street” manifesting in the flesh), Elvis’ indifference to his own look-alike contests, and the various adventures feed an ever-building plot that culminates in the group’s attempt, along with the elite SEAL Team 13, to prevent a U.S. takeover of Jamaica.

Like all good novels with satirical streaks, Mr. Mojo Risin’ offers a quite serious undercurrent to this book: the government, run by a President well over his head, surrounded by corruption and self-serving politicians and military leaders.

Mr. Mojo Risin’ is a true send-up, the kind of sweeping novel into which we all love to escape. It is also the first of four planned novels by Tatum, who also is a songwriter, musical and short story author. As he sat down with us, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he broke down one of the more original novels to cross our desk in years. You can find more on the book, including entertaining back stories on characters — and a few select song lists — by going to http://www.mrmojorisinbook.com.

WORD JOURNEYS: Mr. Mojo Risin has more twists and turns than a Grand Prix course in a hall of mirrors — and each is equally farcical, hilarious, informative, and cautionary in its own way. Can you briefly take us through the story?

SCOTT TATUM: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories. In Mr. Mojo Risin, Morrison and company have many worthy adversaries: a bumbling President, his vainly incompetent Chief of Staff, a ruthlessly ambitious four-star General, a sleazy Mafia hitman and a seductive Yakuza assassin — and that’s before tossing the CIA, the FBI, homicide detectives, and a Navy SEAL team into the mix.

WJ: Jim, Jimi and Elvis are together again – in a way no one will expect. What gave you the idea to come up with a novel about the three as members of a ghost CIA program? 

ST: When I settled on Morrison, Elvis and Hendrix as my protagonists, I had to come up with a shared experience to account for their deaths. The CIA ruse worked because it gave an almost plausible way to account for their public disappearances and subsequent resurrections.

WJ: How did this story come together? What prompted you to write this book, and the eventual series? 

ST: Like all stories, this started with a couple questions. The first: If Jim Morrison (and eventually Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix) didn’t die, what really happened and what would they be up to now?

The second question reared its ugly head during a TV piece about the legalization of marijuana. Watching a demagogue wax poetically about the dangers of pot as a gateway drug, I wondered, ‘What if marijuana provided a strategically important advantage to the military?’

WJ: What were character aspects you embraced as you imagined Morrison, Hendrix and Presley still kicking around some 25-30 years after their demises? 

ST: In Mr. Mojo Risin, Elvis references his earlier “resurrection” (starting with his 1968 TV special) as a cautionary tale, warning Morrison that if he’d hung on any longer, he’d have wound up fat, fringed and strung out in Vegas doing two shows a night. Morrison, who makes several references to his extended adolescence, understands that being away from his old life as a rock god gave him the space to grow up. Morrison, Elvis and Jimi are painfully aware of where they came from and hopeful of where they’re headed.

WJ: The story is a real send-up, and in many ways, parallel to some of the dysfunction we see in the White House today. Yet, you draw out something quite serious: what happens to a country when someone takes charge who is way over his head. Can you talk about that sub-theme? 

ST: Sadly, those lessons are either self-evident or they’re not. Most people understand there’s an astounding level of dysfunction in Washington in general and in the White House in particular. The rest appear pathologically incapable of figuring it out.

The Trump presidency has dramatically raised the bar on what’s out-of-bounds politically. In the book, the Hartley-Thibodeaux campaign platform had to be re-written because what I wrote in the original draft, though it seemed outrageous at the time, has become the new normal.

WJ: We’ve got corrupt politicians, resurrected rock legends, old girlfriends, renegade warriors, Mafia and Yakuza interests … How did these character choices factor into the way you wrote the book?

ST: Michelangelo said every block of stone had a statue inside, and the task of a sculptor was to uncover it. I try to create intense, wacky characters then get out of their way and let them tell their story. It probably contributes to the wild ride that I tend not to write linearly.

WJ: As you wrote the story, what surprised you most about how Jimi, Jim and/or Elvis changed?

ST: Actually, what surprised me most what was not how they changed but why. The book wrote itself. The story took some unexpected twists and turns that forced the characters to react and adapt.

WJ: You have a real talent for spotting the farcical in people, their lives and their situations. In what ways did that help you with the hilarious scenes and conversations that pepper this book? 

ST: I think that springs from a mix of my personal experiences and how I look at the world. When people asked, I used to answer, “I was a righter”. Along the way, part of my process was learning I can’t fix the world. We live in nonsensical times. All I’m doing is going with the flow and creating a read from my perspective.

WJ: Since Jim Morrison is one of the characters, you do something to show the heartful side of him – putting him with Sparkle. He was like this before, too, at times. Tell us about your love of The Doors, and why you chose to bring out the soft side of Morrison in the book. 

ST: Like I said, hopefully, eventually we all grow up. When I first met my wife, I realized she was too smart for me to fool very long. I had to become the person I pretended to be. For a guy set in his ways, that’s hard. Like Morrison when he meets Sparkle, I was so in love with her, I was willing to go through the process. I think it’s something most men can relate to. If you’re a man and can’t, either God bless you ‘cause you got it right the first time, or you’ve got a lot of work to do.

WJ: Another highlight is the fast-paced, tough-talking, colorful dialogue between the characters. That must’ve been a blast to hear all these colorful, crazy characters talking through your head while writing.

ST: One of the experiences I share with Jim Morrison, is as the son of acareer military officer, I moved around a lot as a kid. In the second grade, I went to four different schools. I was in the eighth grade before I went to the same school two years in a row. Learning how to fit in became an emotional survival skill. One of the chameleon-like abilities I unconsciously acquired was mimicking speech. Take the Mafia hitman in Mr. Mojo Risin, Many of the details of his life – Saint Rose’s of Lima in Flatbush, Newkirk Ave, the Cadillac dealership on Long Island – are familiar to me. His voice in my head rings distinctively Brooklyn. I hope it reads that way as well.

I always work dialogue out loud and standing up. I act out each scene as I edit. Several characters have catch phrases that help identify and define them, like Gladys Little’s “landsakes” or her husband Elmo’s “we better skidaddle before the blubbering starts.”

One quirk I didn’t catch until later, is that Morrison, Sparkle and Moby always say “going to” while the rest of the characters say “gonna”. Morrison and Sparkle were both English majors. Moby, as we find out in Agnew on Mt Rushmore, has his Ph.D. from Cambridge. I did that without realizing it just by keeping everyone in character.

When I first met my wife, I warned her anything she says or does is fair game for a book and she strongly influenced Sparkle. I frequently take notes whenever I hear or say something I think I can use. Sometimes I try out dialogue on her to see how she reacts. Little tricks like that keep each character’s speech authentic.

WJ: Tell us about the mother-daughter dynamic of Sparkle and Honey, and how that plays into both Morrison’s opening and the story itself. 

ST: As a man, writing from a woman’s perspective is hard. I didn’t grow up with a sister. My grandfather was one of thirteen children and had two sons of his own. His only sister died before he was born. When my parents got married, he presented them a bottle of Napoleon brandy to toast the first female addition to the family line in over half a century. But my mom and dad had sons. My brother has two sons. Another half a century later, after I had three sons, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with a little girl.

Not surprisingly, I relied heavily on the relationship between my wife and our now teenage daughter in crafting Sparkle and Honey’s characters. Because Sparkle was a teenage mom herself, they grew up almost like sisters. It’s hard, particularly with a mother and daughter so close in age, to be friends and still set boundaries. That dynamic is a telling part of their story.

WJ: Mr. Mojo Risin’ is the first book in a series you are planning. Tell us briefly about the stories to follow.

ST: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories.

In the second book, Agnew on Mt. Rushmore, Morrison and company confront a thermonuclear weapons designer who rolls into Vegas with a trunk full of suitcase nukes and a plan to extort billions from Uncle Sam. Along with his co-conspirators, a deranged U.S. Senator from Mississippi and the Prince of Darkness (Satan’s spent the last two decades moonlighting as a Vegas lounge singer), he’s threatening to turn southern Nevada, including some very expensive casino real estate, into ground zero.

In the third book, The Boys From Pahrump, lingering questions surrounding JFK’s death are answered when our heroes match wits with the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Adolf Hitler. Neither the Cubans, Kremlin, Mafia nor CIA were involved in the assassination. There was no sinister conspiracy. In my story, JFK got caught up in a good, old-fashioned love triangle, cuckolding a sociopath with a silly moustache.  Meanwhile, Adolf and Marilyn’s son is poised to fulfill his father’s dream of world domination. He’s smuggled thousands of vials of frozen Fuhrer sperm from a super-secret CIA vault, the first step in his master plan to breed an army of baby Hitlers and create the Fourth Reich.

I’m thinking about writing the fourth book (working title Erebus ex Machina) from Gladys Little’s point-of-view. That way I can shamelessly steal Vonnegut’s opening line from Cat’s Cradle (that he shamelessly stole from Moby Dick):

Call me Mother. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me Gladys.

I’m only a hundred pages in, and the story’s still writing itself, but I will tell you it ends with a burning Viking ship sendoff in the Bellagio Fountains.

I hope readers enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

 

 

 

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LA’s Epic Rock & Roll, Fashion & Art Party: Interview with Author Nora Novak

VIEW THE LOS FELIZ CONFIDENTIAL BOOK TRAILER

Whenever she’s asked why so many Millennials and Generation Z men, women and teens continue flocking to the music and style of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Feliz Confidential author Nora Novak has a ready answer: “I think Millennials are recognizing a sense of excitement and freewheeling attitude of that era by listening to classic rock, and streaming movies and documentaries that portray the ‘good times’ they find appealing in a way not found in today’s device-dependent, stressful and more violent world,” she says. “I think the boomers, the internet and the media have had a hand in this, unlike previous generations.”

Nora, who grew up in and currently lives in Newport Beach, is the author of one of the finest scenester memoirs in years, and winner of a 2017 Southern California Book Festival Award. Los Feliz Confidential takes us right inside the classic home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz where Nora and her boyfriend hosted some of LA’s wildest parties of the 1970s and early 1980s. But their wildness was classed up by the fetching, willowy blonde hostess, whose elegance, glamour, style and love of music turned these parties into something extravagant. With her visual descriptions and deeply honest portrayal of her own feelings, goals and hopes, Nora lures us into a narrative so rhythmic and rich that you can practically hear the songs of the period spinning on her turntable — and the lyrics weaving in and out of the narrator’s heart. If you can’t remember the titles of these memory markers, no worries: she lists them in a back, a clever piece of “soundtracking” the book.

But Los Feliz Confidential is much more than a musical all-nighter put to words. Nora takes us through her rich, complex world that she creates on the fly, as a trendsetting scenester and traveler completely in touch with her native Flemish roots. The fact she was born in Belgium, grew up in the U.S. with her Old World parents but never lost her connection to Flemish culture (but rather dove into and celebrated it), adds to both the perspective and depth of the book. She takes us around the world on her fascinating (and sometimes wild) adventures, one of which she shares in the interview. She also takes us into the crazy all-hours fun of 1970s Los Angeles, and into the glam rock, punk rock, hard rock and early New Wave worlds that she made part of her own. We meet her friends, and again throw ourselves on Sunset Boulevard and into the clubs and scenes that many look back on with deep reverence, while younger generations seek to know more about this time period where freedom, platform shoes, liberation, shoulder pads, creativity, long hair, imagination, art, style, and great music prevailed.

Los Feliz Confidential and Art Damaged Author Nora Novak.

Turning all these experiences and elements into a treasure trove of a memoir was no easy task, but Novak has the chops to pull it off. She’s a fine artist, designer of her fashion line (Noraluxe Loungewear), art gallerist, actress, model, and also the author of the novel Art Damaged. She comes from a very talented family as well. Her mother, Emma Albertina Bogaerts, a lifelong storyteller, is the 105-year-old (not kidding!) newly published author of Emmy: Memoir of a Flemish Immigrant, now available in English and being shopped to publishers in Europe. Nora’s brother, Mark Leysen, is an award-winning art director and fine artist, as well as the author of Klown, his third novel (Traveling Shoes Press) about a late-night talk show host who runs for President. It definitely echoes the present state of the world.

We caught up with Nora recently. To get your Black Friday book shopping chops going, here is what she says about life, L.A., making scenes, and Los Feliz Confidential.

Word Journeys: Los Feliz Confidential is an epic scenester read – the incredible LA music-fashion-art scene and how you and others showcased and helped define it in your travels and daily lives. Could you talk about the amazing chemistry that exists between music, fashion and art, and why it was so definitive of a generation? And still is?

NN: Because that generation (talkin about my ge- generation) experienced an explosive time of cultural change, social mores, pop art and particularly British rock that spawned new looks in fashion as a lifestyle. There was an innovative and artistic energy that changed the way people dressed. The 70’s rock-infused fashion had an element of sensuality and glamour with an edge that I certainly favored and is still being recycled today. Innovative new artists, designers, bands and clubs emerged in L.A. and provided a more artistic expression in fashion. It all played out with the music creating a dazzling decade that many look back on for inspiration today.

A good example is Stephen Spouse collaborating with Debbie Harry in the 80’s and Jeff Koons collaborating with the new Louis Vuitton line today. Music blasts at every fashion collection. I think music, fashion and art have always had an evolving synergy.

WJ: Take us through your writing process for Los Feliz. How did you pare down your countless experiences into a tightly written 200-page book? What themes and points did you emphasize? And tell us about your decision to basically “soundtrack” the book, with songs listed for each chapter.

NN: First of all, I wrote what I could remember! I could have added many more stories, but I chose to keep it moving like the fast pace I was living at the time. I wanted to emphasize the difference of how immigrating here made me feel and my fearless sense of adventure. I tried to be give my stories a visual sense of the fashion and look of things, the easiness of life at that time. Everything I wrote about had music running through my mind, reflecting the time, so I naturally made many musical references. When I finished I was compelled to write a Playlist for each chapter, which I really enjoyed doing.

WJ: What are three of your favorite tales that you share in the book? And the funniest?

NN: Well (spoiler alert!), I do share an interesting story about my relationship with a Jordanian arms dealer and his Ambassador brother. There’s a tale about my first skiing experience – which also proved to be my last – and a humorous girl/girl story. I think the story about an ENT treatment given by my boyfriend’s surgeon dad is hilarious but for me it all seems humorous now. I’m still laughing!

Nora Novak’s fine collage work includes “The Girl from Antwerp”

Cinema Verite at Cannes? It’s red carpet time.

WJ: You are the daughter of a very take-charge, dominant father and a warm, artistic mother. How did that parent combination shape you as both a person and an artist?

NN: My father, although a stern and unpleasant man, instilled a strong sense of discipline and a somewhat sardonic outlook. However, he was responsible for my love of art and photography, for which I am grateful. My mother, on the other hand, emanated femininity, graciousness, a pleasant demeanor and sense of humor. The combination definitely shaped me as an individual and shows up in my work as an artist, as I generally incorporate female photographic images in my glossy mixed-media collages.

WJ: What struck me about your journey is how you took part in the lifestyle and excesses of the day, yet you always seemed to have a sense of who you were and what you wanted. How did you maintain that compass, if you will, of how to go forward?

NN: I readily enjoyed the excess and decadence of the times; it was a Bacchanalian era for rock ’n’ roll. Everything seemed so glamorous and indulgent, and was completely accepted in the L.A. that I knew. I did have goals though, like a working schedule and a sense of enough discipline that probably prevented me from becoming another Hollywood fatality. Many didn’t make it.

WJ: You write of your affinity for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. What was it about his voice, music, lyrics, and presence that captivated you? What do you feel musicians today can learn from their predecessors in terms of delivering from heart and soul vs. making a hit?

NN: Bryan Ferry evoked a sultry, seductive kind of singing unique from other rock stars. Not to mention his suave, good looks, elegant style, sophistication and harmonica playing that simply resonated in a big way for me. I thought his music and lyrics quite beautiful and loved his sexy album covers. It seems like everyone can sing today with a huge range and big powerhouse voices, but at the end of the day, it’s generally the more unique voice with soul and a great tune that becomes the hit. The late Amy Winehouse comes to mind.

WJ: You’ve also been creating works of art. Tell us about those.

Nora Novak’s “Nico”, honoring the late New York scenester and Velvet Underground singer. Part of her Femme Fatale collection.

NN: I started a new series, my “Femme Fatale” collection. I just finished three mixed-media collages, that can be seen on my website noranovak.com and will be exhibited soon. I’m thinking about starting another book next year, possibly a sequel to Los Feliz Confidential, picking up where it left off moving into the crazy 80’s.

WJ: Lightning Round: Who are your five favorite authors? Musicians or bands? Artists? Fashion designers?

NN: My favorite authors? When I was young, I would say John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. I that progressed to Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and more recently Irvine Welsh and Edward St. Aubyn. Musicians: It’s still Bryan Ferry, Iggy and the Stones and Amy Winehouse, miss her. Artists: Jan Van Eyck, Kees Van Dongen, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel to name a few. As for designers, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, love the vintage Halston — and my own Noraluxe Loungewear line, of course!

WJ: Final question: If a musician came up to you and said, “Hey girl, I want to play you one song that speaks to who you are,” what would that song be? And who would be playing it?

NN: Well, I would love it if that musician was Bryan Ferry. I’d request his cover version of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, but wait; can I get one with Iggy on vocals, Mick on harmonica and Keith on guitar, and they can play whatever they want?

WJ: Let us cue it up! Thanks so much, Nora, for a fun and enlightening look into an era so wonderfully captured in Los Feliz Confidential.

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The Making of This Summer’s Rock & Roll Novel

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 2001 Haight Street Fair poster — they’ve been colorful for all 40 years of this fair. Created by KA Hempel.

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.”

Marty Balin performs the Jefferson Airplane classic “She Has Funny Cars” at the 2001 Haight Street Fair. (Photo: Robert Yehling)

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.

Some of the 50,000 people that packed Haight Street in 2001 — and will once again pack it on June 11, for the 40th annual fair. (Photo: Robert Yehling)

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.

The way it was during The Summer of Love … the origin point for “Voices”

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.

Marty Balin, firing away on his masterful ballad “Comin’ Back To Me,” 2001 (Photo: Robert Yehling

 

 

 

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.

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50 Yrs Ago Today: When Paul Visited Haight-Ashbury to Preview Sgt. Pepper’s

Hard to believe that it’s been 50 years to the day since The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Today’s debut of The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM radio is part of a summer long salute to the band — and album.

One of two albums that defined the “Summer of Love” over all others: Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”. Marty Balin is back row right.

Besides its revolutionary use of the studio and the musical virtuosity of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the album symbolized a time of freedom, expression, consciousness, music, and the hopes of a new generation like no other. It, along with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, also served as the musical symbols of the #SummerofLove in San Francisco.

Interestingly, it was a visit Paul McCartney made to San Francisco in April, 1967, and the story Jefferson Airplane vocalist-songwriter-mastermind and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin told me about the visit, that sparked the beginnings of my new novel, Voices. 

Debuting 50 years ago today, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Published by Open Books Press, Voices is a father-daughter-lost daughter story that celebrates the Summer of Love as the launching point for both story and main character, rock legend Tom Timoreaux. It’s also the music novel I’ve wanted to write after covering bands, albums, concerts and events the past 40 years, currently as editor of the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards publications and co-author of Stevie Salas’ memoir, When We Were The Boys.

Voices traces the beginnings of Tom and his band, The Fever, in 1967 San Francisco, with the Summer of Love and its enormous impact on music, culture and lives fully recounted through the characters. With festivities cranking up now in San Francisco, it’s a fun time to have a book that roots itself in that amazing short-lived scene.

Back to Paul’s visit, as recounted by Marty from his Haight Ashbury home when I was working with him for his memoir, Full Flight, back in 2001. Bear in mind: When Paul visited, Jefferson Airplane was the psychedelic rock band, thanks to Surrealistic Pillow, which was bulleting to the top of the charts. The Beatles were coming off Rubber Soul and Revolver, with no one yet knowing of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Marty Balin, now and then

“We were rehearsing in The Fillmore on an early April day. We were sitting below the stage, in this big room, playing by ourselves,” Marty said. “Suddenly, a big guy comes in wearing a suit and tie – it was Beatles road manager Mal Evans. He booms out in his thick British accent, ‘Master Paul McCartney’d like to visit.’

“What? ‘Well, then send him in,’ I said.

“In comes Paul. Man, we freaked out. I mean, any commercial success we were enjoying was due to The Beatles coming to America in the first place. So we sat around and talked about The Beatles, about the Airplane, about music in general.

“We broke up our rehearsal and went back to the apartment Jack and I shared, in this old Victorian off Haight and Fell. Jack and Paul got into a discussion about bass playing; the British musicians were learning what we already knew, that Jack was brilliant. Jorma and Jack kept trying to get Paul to jam with them; they were noodling all the time on their guitars. Jack took Paul back to his hotel room that night, so I’m sure they talked a lot more about music. There’s a story that Paul tried to play, but couldn’t, because he’s left-handed and Jack had a right-handed bass. I don’t know.

A typical day during the Summer of Love — music, hanging out, self-discovery

“I do know Paul just wanted to relax. He was mainly interested in shooting home movies of the Haight-Ashbury scene. I told Paul about some of the things happening in the Haight, and gave him some places to shoot. Ever since the early days of The Beatles, he’d taken the little home movie camera around and filmed the places and excitement surrounding them. He liked to film the scenes, gallery openings, people in their element; he wasn’t reclusive like John. Paul was always going out, socializing, meeting people.

“Later, I went into my room to get away from the crowd that was in the main part of the house. Paul came in, and we talked a little more about music. ‘What’s new with The Beatles?’ I asked. ‘What’s next?’

Paul smiled. “Oh, I happen to have a little tape here.”

He pulled a tape out and we put it on. It was the song “A Day In The Life.” (“I read the news today, oh boy…”) I just about lost it; I could not believe what I was hearing. Up until then, The Beatles had been like Gods to us. Anything they did was amazing, and in 1964 and 1965, it seemed that every two weeks, they had a new single. They were fantastic, and an inspiration to just about everybody in the rock music world.

“So he played this song. I just did not have the words to describe it. ‘Man, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,’ I said.

This is one of many classic rock & roll experiences that weaves its way through Voices, which I will be sharing throughout the summer as the book makes its way into bookstores and online booksellers — and my signing appearances. I share it first because Marty Balin inspired me to write the book, with stories like this, and with his cool, quiet, understated way of using his magical tenor chops to become “The Voice” — literally, that was his nickname among his peers and early fans, and hence, inspiration for the book title. He and I also brainstormed  off my original story line while walking a very crowded Haight Street prior to the 2001 Haight Street Festival (as reimagined in Chapter 18 of Voices). That basic story line is very close to the final version.

Many more stories behind the writing of Voices are coming. Most of all, on this 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s my salute to what rock, pop, folk and blues music have meant, how they’ve informed my generation, and it also shows the beauty of music to bring us together in a spirit of joy and companionship, no matter our beliefs or world views.

Voices is now available through bookstores nationwide, on all online booksellers, and of course, on Amazon.com. Hope you enjoy it, and please post a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads — 50 words will do (and a few stars!).

 

 

 

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Sweet, Sweet Loving Music: This Writer’s Dream

As some of you know, I’ve been quite busy writing about music. There is a certain depth and lushness to words that describe great pieces of music, and the singers, songwriters and musicians who bring them to our ears.

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My music writing days go back to the beginning, when I was the second teenaged journalist allowed backstage at San Diego Sports Arena (or whatever it’s called now) to interview bands. Cameron Crowe was the first, two years before me. Cameron had had a nice career arc, writing for Rolling Stone at 14, then writing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jerry Maguire, and one of my favorites Almost Famous. If anything put a lump in my throat, it was Almost Famous — especially the scene of the young writer William Miller trying to get backstage in San Diego. That same backstage door has opened for me… and it has closed, too.

salas cover low resThe music writing has really picked up. Two years ago, my old North San Diego County friend, Stevie Salas, contacted me to help him with a memoir about his year touring with Rod Stewart. When We Were The Boys became a fine, fun, edgy memoir, a real add to music literature. It was also my most intense collaborative memoir — we wrote it in seven weeks. It’s done well since its release in September 2014… and is a great choice as you rev up for summer festival season. BTW, Stevie is playing Lollapalooza in Chicago at the end of July…

More recently,  I finished my novel, Voices, a father-daughter-daughter story set against a reunion tour by a legendary rock band. This took seemingly forever to write, mainly because I loved soaking into the musical atmosphere so much, and tinkering with the 50 songs I wrote in the personae of my protagonists (Tom and Christine Timoreaux). I couldn’t let it go — something I do not advise my clients to do. When you hold onto it too long, what looked good turns into an automatic rewrite. We’ve grown as people and authors, and we see things a bit differently — no matter how long the manuscript has been in the drawer.

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Marty Balin (left) playing in April 2015 with Jefferson Airplane bandmates Jack Casady (center) and Jorma Kaukonen. Jefferson Airplane’s first concert was August 13, 1965.

To give you an idea, I first came up with this idea in 2001, when Jefferson Airplane founder and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin and I were walking down Haight Street in San Francisco, talking about his memoir. I told him I wanted to write a novel called “The Voice” — his nickname when psychedelic rock launched in San Francisco 50 years ago. He gave me some great ideas, not to mention stories to repurpose. Fourteen years later, it’s going to see the light of day. Look for it soon.

Speaking of Marty, I’m preparing to reconfigure and expand his memoir we wrote in 2002 into a full-fledged biography. When you peel away the claims of people who say they launched psychedelic rock, one name stands above all: Marty (also, a nod to the band The Charlatans). He was the catalyst for psychedelic rock and the Summer of Love. He was the first to use the term “psychedelic rock” publicly. His band, Jefferson Airplane, was the flagship group of 1965-67, #2 among all rock bands in album sales, topped only by The Beatles. The Airplane was the first San Francisco psychedelic band to get a major album deal. In fact, they were the official headliners at Woodstock! Marty also owned The Matrix, which in 1965 was one of few places to allow electric instruments. It also was the first SF stop for many bands, including The Doors, Steve Miller, Love, and many more. Behind it all was this quiet man with a high tenor voice implanted by the angels. His ballads, particularly “Coming Back to Me”, “Count on Me” and “Miracles”, are on more than 50 film soundtracks. Now, Marty is going to finally get the credit he’s deserved for 50 years, though he’s far too humble to claim it himself.matrix-jademuse

Then there’s a real labor of love, helping my longtime friend Robert Munger on his music-oriented screenplay. Can’t go into detail right now, but we’re wrapping the first draft of the script, and then polishing it.

Finally, my new client Lory Jones presented me with an awesome novel to edit, and I mean awesome. It’s centered on a famous 18th-19th century composer, but you’ll have to guess which of the Big Five since I’m not at liberty to discuss. I love classical music almost as much as rock, especially the way it takes us on journeys one minute, and into full appreciation of the grandiosity of the musicianship the next. The Big Five were the rock stars of their era — Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn (or Liszt, Vivaldi, or Handel; take your choice).

Why do I love music writing so much? For starters, music is my hobby, poetry is my passion, and music ties them together. I love all parts of it —composition, instrumentation, delivery, shaping of performances, emotion it engenders, and of course, the lyrics. Whenever I write about music, I’m mindful of the dual origin of lyric and music in the west, through the magical pen of Sappho, the 7th Century BCE Greek genius. She wrote in lyrics, poems and short prose, and her successors took her example into both writing and music.

Most of all, I love the personalities and stories behind songs and bands, and we all know that great stories make great reading. Music, like surfing, baseball and art, cranks out endless great stories. When you put these together, the story can resonate with millions — because we all like music. It is the world’s most universal language, and I like using my writing to prompt that deeper, unspoken form of communication we all instinctively and intuitively understand.

 

As you start figuring out your summer reading choices, I invite you to pick up When We Were The Boys this year, and look for chapter excerpts from Voices and the Marty Balin biography on wordjourneys.com and Scribd.com as we close in on publishing dates that are ideal for any music book — tied to the Golden Anniversary of psychedelic rock and, in 2017, the Summer of Love.

 

 

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Two Crazy Weeks of Publishing Bliss

It’s been quite a two-week period on the writing front, and just goes to show what happens sometimes when you throw enough seeds in the garden. So, this blog is going to feel like a combination of a newsletter and announcements.

PrintLast week, two books came out on Amazon.com with which I was involved: The Hummingbird Review Spring 2013 “Hollywood & Literature” edition, which I edited and also contributed a couple of pieces; and Brian Wilkes’ book Stroking the Media, for which I contributed a chapter on the four essentials of generating good publicity – Timing, Opportunity, Newsworthiness and Perception. Will get into these in a future blog. Never had two Amazon listings in the same week, but there they are! Please order a copy – and one for a friend!

This week kept up the pace. I wrapped proposals for two people I have admired for many years: former Surfer Magazine publisher-editor Jim Kempton, who is now shopping his fantastic book of exotic recipes coupled with great surf travel and cultural stories, The Surfing Chef; and Stevie Salas, the Contemporary Music Advisor to the Smithsonian Institution (and great guitarist from Carlsbad), with whom I’m working on his memoir (more details forthcoming). Add to that the chapters I’ve either cranked out or edited for a number of other clients, and it’s been productive.

That’s not all: On Tuesday, Houghton Mifflin announced the acquisition and forthcoming publication of Just Add Water, my biography of surfing great Clay Marzo, who does it all with Asperger Syndrome. For this book, which is truly a joy to write (as those familiar with my long background as former promoter of the ASP World Tour and writing for the surf mags know), I owe a special shout-out to my longtime friend Mitch Varnes, who is Clay’s manager and who suggested I take a shot at writing this book when we had dinner a few months ago.

Mitch and I have history in turning ideas into great books; 20 years ago, Mitch helped me button down my concept and connect me with astronauts and NASA officials for one of the greatest projects of my career, One Giant Leap for Mankind. It was the 25th anniversary publication for the Apollo 11 moon mission, one edition of which NASA later picked up.

Oh yes, one more bit of news: on Thursday, the popular online magazine Indie Writer Net picked up the first of my two blogs on last weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (the second blog will be right here on Saturday).

So, to cap it all off, I’m headed up to Orange County later this morning to appear as the guest on the Write NOW! TV show, with hosts Judy Saxon and Charles Redner. We’ll be talking about, well, writing, but also the benefits of writing about something different every day, and reading on a wide variety of subjects with the curiosity and precociousness of a child.

A quick advisory note on that, to take into the weekend: When you spread out your writing subjects – and forms of writing, from letters to journals to essays and short fiction, and everything in between – you develop the diversity to tackle anything and everything. When you read widely, your brain comes along for the ride and makes connections and observations you never thought you had.

Enjoy your writing and reading this weekend!

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Previewing a Book for National Poetry Month … and A Book for Life

Closing out a month that I will forever remember as the Month of Voluminous Editing. Never have I worked on so many great books simultaneously – novels, memoirs, travel narratives, my own projects. It just goes to show that, in this age where traditional publishing, self-publishing and e-publishing all offer viable paths of publishing success, good writing will rule out in the end. There will never be any shortage of well-written, well-conceived books. In fact, from where I sit, it seems that we’re back on an upward curve when it comes to overall quality of writing. Let’s keep it up.

Now we come to April: . I want to profile a couple of books that are on their way to bookstores and online Print

The first is The Hummingbird Review, the literary journal for which I’ve been editor for three years (except for the Spring 2012 issue, when I was teaching at Ananda College). Publisher, poet and author Charles Redner, who always keeps part of his heart attached to his dramatic arts past, decided to paint a Hollywood theme this time – combining movies and literature. For his part, Charlie wrote a short piece on those dramatic arts days … and a fine actor who emerged from his class. (I’m not telling you: you’ll have to read The Hummingbird Review).

The result is the Spring 2013 issue, our annual National Poetry Month issue, which features Hollywood-themed poetry and essays by our esteemed cast of new and established authors, including Dances With Wolves author Michael Blake, extraordinary poet Martin Espada, screenwriters Adam Rodman and David Milton, and a special lyrics package from my friend and client Stevie Salas, who scored Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventurein the late 1980s as his musical career was beginning to take off. Now Stevie is producing a documentary film on Native Americans in rock and pop music. We also have stirring lyrics from the solo work of legendary X frontman, lyricist and poet John Doe, who has appeared in more than 30 films and TV shows and series. (We did ask John to furnish the lyrics to one of X’s greatest songs, “The Haves and Have Nots”, which also appears).

We also pay tribute to an old friend of mine, the late Idaho Poet Laureate Emeritus Bill Studebaker, a man whose outrageous humor and sense of adventurism (especially white water kayaking) was matched by two things: his love of family, and his poetry writing. He was a fantastic poet whose works will live on for a long, long time. We present a half-dozen of his poems in a special tribute. Bill died in 2008 in a kayaking accident.

In addition, the spring issue features three dozen fine poems from new and regular contributors from throughout the country. It opens with one of the more memorable conversation-interviews I’ve conducted, with former Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins. The interview features plenty of Billy’s trademark humor, while also touching on subjects near and dear to his heart – such as bringing contemporary poetry into the schools through his Poetry 180 project.

The Hummingbird Review will be available through bookstores, on Amazon.com and on the website at www.thehummingbirdreview.com in mid-April, which is National Poetry Month.

• • •

51wvY-lQbaLAbout 18 months ago, the person who would later become my literary agent, Dana Newman, asked if I would be interested in editing a very special memoir that she was representing. I took a look at the manuscript, and knew it was a book I would never forget.

Now, here it comes. Cracked … Not Broken is the story of Kevin Hines, a young man from San Francisco, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, who attempted to end his life at age 19 by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived. Halfway through his plunge, he realized he wanted to live, and by the grace of God, his body turned in such a way that he survived impact.

From there, Kevin started embracing life. It was tough, and painful, but now, he is a dynamic, nationally recognized speaker and advocate for suicide prevention, a man whose story has inspired countless thousands. Maybe millions. This memoir is a testament to the will to live, and to learning to fall in love with life – after nearly ending it. There’s no sugar coating in this book: it is tough, gritty, emotionally raw, and leaves nothing to chance or speculation. Which makes it a great book.

Cracked … Not Broken is available on pre-order from Amazon.com.

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