One thing that spurs my writing these days, perhaps more effectively than anything else, is a form of music known as “classic rock.” Luckily for us boomers, there are plenty of online radio stations that provide us with these blasts from our past. They make us feel nostalgic for the old days of antiwar protests, civil rights marches, mini-skirts, bell-bottoms … and maybe even “bummers.” I wasn’t brave or stupid enough back then to embrace the drug culture, apart from a few tokes now and then on a peace pipe or a bong. I was a rather sheltered child, to tell the truth. Still, the era of rock and roll dating roughly from the late 1960s to the early 1980s was my particular magic time.
While often raucous, classic rock, at least to my ear, made greater use of melody and harmony than many of the forms of music that gradually overtook it, such as garage and grunge rock, hip hop, and punk. The “British invasion” bands that reached U.S. shores during the early 1960s, led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, are often credited with having launched the movement simply by growing more sophisticated as they aged. They provided the basics, but I was equally dazzled in my youth by figures such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Doors’ Jim Morrison. Hendrix and Joplin died suddenly in rapid succession soon after I started college in 1970, and Morrison followed less than a year later. Although others rose up to replace them, there’s nothing like sudden death to romanticize a rocker’s life.
YouTube makes it particularly easy to get quick jolts of the old music when I need them. These, for better or worse, provide more effective inspiration than my current slide into old age. Many of the old records have been re-mastered, which has made them sound better than new. That’s a great thing, although I sometimes miss the imperfections of my old vinyl records. Complete with scratches and skips, they were truly the soundtrack of my youth.
My first novel, Secretarial Wars (2003) was inspired by the partying and clubbing I did in my twenties, while holding down a fairly boring day job. The contrast between day and night life was a theme of the story. Nowadays I live such a prim and proper life, rarely deviating from my strict schedule unless traveling, that it’s hard to believe I was ever that wild. But I must have been, because the song that brings that era back to me in an instant is Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which celebrates the shameless joy of a casual hookup.
After Secretarial Wars, I wrote a campus-based novel, The Rock Star’s Homecoming (2007). As a freshman at my small-town college, I felt homesick and friendless at first. The taped music that played in the dining hall often matched my mood, especially the haunting Bee Gees tune, “Lonely Days,” with its strings and minor key. My outlook improved when I met my husband-to-be, and our soundtracks became the bands we saw together, including Elton John (pre-fame), Stephen Stills, Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton (twice in one year), the post-Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison, and many less well-known acts. Now, although we’re divorced and living on opposite sides of the country, my partner in music and I still reminisce and text each other tips for good YouTube listening. I can pretty much relive the ups and downs of our relationship by firing up the British group Blind Faith: “Sea of Joy” for the happy times, “Can’t Find My Way Back Home” for the confusion and sadness that overtook us.
Handmaidens of Rock (2014), my second music-centered novel, was inspired by the Beatles’ story. That is the band whose entire oeuvre reflects my life back to me. It’s a tapestry that took them, and me, from puppy love (P.S. I Love You, Happy Just to Dance with You) to cynicism about love (I’m Looking Through You, No Reply), to peace-and-love idealism (All You Need Is Love, The Word), and toward some kind of hard-fought wisdom about the music business (You Never Give Me Your Money, Carry That Weight). And I musn’t overlook their psychedelic period (Within You Without You, Tomorrow Never Knows), although I mainly experienced that vicariously.
The rock band in my novel forms in high school during the late 1960s, kicks out its original drummer (as the Beatles did to that poor schmuck Pete Best), and then takes off on wild adventures around the world, including time in a Scottish religious commune (replicating the Beatles” sojourn with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India). Then my band heads to California, where the big music festivals are, and embroils itself in the antiwar movement. This somewhat reflects the temporary radicalism of John Lennon, who moved to New York with his second wife, Yoko Ono, after the Beatles broke up. That pair put out an album full of political screeds, “Some Time In New York City,” which only tended to prove that heavy doses of politics don’t do anything for music. Only the closing number of that misbegotten album, an exuberant embrace of Lennon’s new home entitled “New York City,” is still worth a listen.
Handmaidens of Rock, being chicklit of a sort, focuses on the three women (actually girls at the start) who latch onto the band. Candy, Hope, and Theda disdain the groupie label, being ambitious in their own right. My musicians, much like the Beatles, discard their first loves, the ones who met them as kids and nurtured their pre-fame ambitions. Sad to say, that is typical behavior for rock stars once they hit the big time. There must be hundreds of books about the Beatles, and I’ve read quite a few of them, but none moved me as much as the autobiographies of Cynthia Lennon and Pattie Boyd, the first wives of John and George, respectively. Although they got left behind, they found the strength to tell their stories. My “handmaidens,” too, I’m glad to say, landed on their feet.