Tag Archives: Summer of Love

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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