Tag Archives: rock fiction

Rocking and rollerskating: Books and Authors Event at Leon & Lulu

27 Oct

Cross that item off my bucket list: I have now sold my book to complete strangers!

My first-ever book signingLeon & Lulu - 102614 was a total delight at Leon & Lulu. The store, which offers an eclectic mix of gifts, clothing and furniture, is in a former roller rink in Clawson, Michigan. Clerks often zip around the store on skates; signs outlining proper skater etiquette decorate the bathrooms. It’s one of those stores where you go to get presents for people you don’t know how to buy for; it’s a lot of fun.

Leon & Lulu hosts an annual Books & Authors event featuring local writers, many of whom like me are self-published (or “independent,” as one author was quick to point out), with a percentage of proceeds going to a local literacy charity. The 30+ of us were stationed at furniture displays around the floor. As you can see from the photo, I scored a sectional with side chair which, after sitting on them for six hours, I highly recommend for comfy-ness. (Store management also trusted me to be tidy to an amazing degree: I used the sectional’s $3400 price tag as my coaster so I wouldn’t have to take repairs out of my limited royalties.)

Three things I loved about this event:

  1. Mary Liz Curtin, who co-owns Leon & Lulu with her husband, Stephen Scannell, championed us from the start, swooping through the store on crutches (due to a recent tumble) and rearranging store displays to reflect the authors’ works. Also, the staff was utterly terrific, bringing us drinks and food and acting as our cheerleaders throughout the day.
  2. The other authors, who were nothing but friendly and kind. Some of us were hawking our first book; others had series that are nationally known. They were eager to share their tips on writers’ conferences, printers and other sales opportunities, and their lack of ego proves that art is never a zero-sum game: instead, when one wins we all do.
  3. My friends and family who turned out, picked up first copies for themselves or second copies of my book as presents for others, and walked through the store with my book prominently displayed.

I sold well, particularly for my first such experience. Perhaps no sale meant more to me than one late in the afternoon to a woman I’d never met before. She confessed in hushed tones – as a lot of us do – that she was an aspiring writer who had a book she’d love to publish some day. I told her what I’d been told all day: “Congratulations and keep going because, hey, here I am as proof it can be done.”

See you on the flip side …

P.S. If you weren’t able to make it to Clawson or you prefer an electronic version of Love and Other B-Sides, you can pick it up on Amazon 24/7!

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Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena

20 Sep

Black Keys screen - Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

Black Keys screen - Carney

Patrick Carney

Concertpalooza came to a close on September 12 in a familiar place: the Joe Louis Arena, experiencing the Black Keys with my loved ones as concert buddies (this time, my partner along with our younger daughter). It was the perfect show to cap off an exhilarating summer of live music!

Props to the headliner for choosing stellar talent as opening acts. In 2011 they had the Arctic Monkeys on board. Our leg of the tour this time featured Cage the Elephant while other lucky people get to see Jake Bugg or St. Vincent; any of those bands could hold their own topping the bill. Cage the Elephant’s music is bouncy and fun, personified by their inexhaustible lead singer Matt Shultz. You may know their single from 2009, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Check them out!

“Fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Black Keys, though. Their music is fuzzed out, feedback-fueled blues rock … and their personal lives are even more distorted. Most of what I’ve read about them – the horrifying account of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce; the 5000-word piece in Salon that drummer Patrick Carney’s wife wrote about their divorce; the Twitterstorm Carney kicked up over Justin Bieber; and the TMZ-fed feud Jack White forced onto Auerbach when he questioned Dan’s worthiness as a blues musician (sample hissy fit: Jack told his ex-wife to pull their kids out of the Nashville elementary school where Dan’s daughter attends) – tells me these guys are drama magnets. Lighthearted they ain’t.

Therefore, it was surprising and gratifying that they seemed to have a great time performing at the Joe. Auerbach did a lot of smiling between numbers, thanking the audience and raving about Detroit fans. (Who knows what Carney was feeling since he rarely smiles and doesn’t talk during concerts; he’s Teller to Auerbach’s Penn.) Auerbach’s bottom-heavy guitar style, snaky licks and atmospheric songwriting keep the songs tight and catchy; plus, the guy’s got a strong, distinctive voice. Carney is the first to agree with my partner that he “sucks at drums,” and he swerved off tempo more than once during the evening. When he was on, though, he brought the heavy ammunition.

If you want to bone up on less gossipy, more nuts-and-bolts trivia about the band, watch this:

Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone,

When we were in ninth grade, we were well aware that if we wanted to go to a good school, it wasn’t a possibility – that we didn’t have the money. So it’s like, what do you have from there? You have rock & roll!

Detroit needs rock and roll. The city is fighting for an identity we can be proud of, something beyond blight and bankruptcy. Bands that shout “Detroit Rock City!” earn a roar of appreciation. Auerbach and Carney went a step further, honoring a local hero by playing for their first time ever a cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not for the first time that evening, half the audience (the male half anyway) broke out their air guitars, danced without rhythm and high fived each other, proud of themselves and damned glad to be there no matter what the troubles were outside the arena.

The Black Keys understand how a guitar and a drum kit can blast away your problems, and for that we’re all grateful.

See you on the flipside … and mark your calendars: I’ll be one of the featured local writers at the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 26, promoting Love and Other B-Sides to my closest friends and perfect strangers from 11 AM – 5 PM. Come see!

A Challenge to the Whole Human Race: Queen + Adam Lambert at the Palace of Auburn Hills

14 Jul

Without any scientific proof to back me up, I will state that Queen’s music is the most famous in the world. I’ll wager you could go up to people in any country, stomp your feet twice and clap, do it again, and they’d respond by singing in perfect English, “We will, we will ROCK YOU!”

photo by James Kurepa

photo by my son and concert buddy James Kurepa

It was no surprise, then, that their Palace gig was sold out on July 12. There hasn’t been a Queen tour of this magnitude in years, and the casting of Adam Lambert as the featured vocalist – who had the chutzpah to audition for American Idol with “Bohemian Rhapsody” – was inspired and inevitable: who else in the world has the chops and the fearless feyness to be as outrageous as their catalog demands? (I still can’t fathom how Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers was their singer in concerts past; nothing about his style says “Queen” in the least.)

I was thrilled for the chance to hear Brian May. Listening to News of the World over and over again on my month-long bus trip around the country as a twelve-year-old Girl Scout, May became my first guitar hero. That album taught me that each great guitarist has his own musical signature. No one else plays like he does; for May, lack of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because no one can match him.

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

Adam Lambert at the top of the show in the first of at least five costumes

This was the first time my son and I have gone to a concert together in more than ten years. It’s taken us this long to find an act we could both enjoy. He likes pop metal; I like the songs of my youth; we both like a well-done massive spectacle. And we were not disappointed, what with lasers, smoke machines, flamboyant costumes, a “guitar cam,” a disco ball and more – all framed by an enormous Q that spilled out onto the stage as a walkway into the audience.

Lambert is a trained pop vocalist who doesn’t have the growl and grit of a rocker, but Lordy, the man can sing – even when supine on a couch:

Still, the specter of Freddie Mercury was everywhere. May sang a duet with film clips of Mercury, and drummer Roger Taylor sang “These Are the Days of our Lives” with footage of the band in their prime thirty or more years ago. Lambert gave Mercury a shout out early on and alternated verses with him on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was as if they all had to ask permission from Mercury’s ghost to perform in his stead. Some critics have groused that this demonstrates that the band’s best, most innovative days are behind them. Perhaps that’s true.

But let’s face it: you can’t hear a Queen song without thinking of Freddie Mercury: who he was and why he died.

There’s an insightful Rolling Stone piece this month, “Queen’s Tragic Rhapsody” by Mikal Gilmore, that portrays Mercury “perceived homosexuality” as the reason for – and the near undoing of – the group’s success. In this age of Modern Family and out-and-proud pro ball players (and Adam Lambert, for goodness sake) the article is required reading. We should never forget how truly remarkable it is that a hard rock band fronted by a bisexual singer/songwriter became a staple of nearly everyone’s musical DNA … and how Mercury’s death from AIDS was a watershed moment in rock music coming to terms with both the disease and homophobia.

Mercury didn’t know he was going to be diagnosed as HIV-positive not long after he performed this version of “Who Wants to Live Forever?” in 1986 so the song is eerily prescient in retrospect:

No wonder that when they closed the show with “We Are the Champions,” I was crying. That song, which has been co-opted for every possible commercial purpose, represents something very specific to me about gay pride in the face of ignorance, prejudice and death. Gilmore acknowledges this, saying, “Some listeners have also heard ‘Champions’ as Mercury’s sly, subversive avowal of gay forbearance,” although he believes that’s no longer true since it’s become “the universal bully chants of victors at sporting events.”

But therein lies Freddie Mercury’s victory. He proved “an old queen” could be the biggest badass in the masculine world of rock and roll. The openly gay man who sings his songs more than twenty years after he died knows he owes him a great debt.

So do we all.

See you on the flip side, when Concertpalooza moves on to Meadow Brook Music Festival for Panic! At The Disco on July 27!

P.S. Love and Other B-Sides is now in paperback! If you’re old school about your reading material, now you can hold an actual copy of my first novel in your hands … or a virtual one on a Kindle, Nook, iPad or smart phone.

The Rock and Roll Bookshelf has a new author: me!

12 Dec

Love and Other B-Sides - ebook cover

Love surprises an aging rock star when he meets his newest fan in his old home town.

I’ve got the world’s best reason for not posting for the last several weeks: I was busy publishing my first novel.  I am now officially an authoress!

Surprise, surprise: it’s a rock-and-roll novel. Who’da thunk?

Love and Other B-Sides began five years ago when I started getting into rock-and-roll in a big way. I began to wonder what daily life was like for a name-brand rock musician: like, does Bruce Springsteen pump his own gas? And, if you are at the level of a Bruce Springsteen, what do you aspire to when people will pay you millions to play the hits from thirty years ago? Plus, what happens when a musician falls in love with a civilian girl? Could she possibly keep her day job?

This fueled my story about Stee Walsh, my fictional “seventh most successful American rock musician still performing today.” I had a first draft well underway and was feeling really good about my unique take on a fairly unexplored topic  …

Juliet, Naked cover

After getting out of a long-term relationship with a man obsessed with a reclusive singer, a woman begins a flirtatious email correspondence with that singer.

and then Nick Hornby published Juliet, Naked in 2009, two days before my birthday, no less. My heart nearly broke.

Nick Hornby is one of my favorite storytellers – no surprise there. He is able to put words to the pleasures and pitfalls of being righteously self-absorbed and the desperate need for music like no other. Here’s an example from About a Boy:

But later that night, when [Will] was home on his own and listening to the sort of music he needed to listen to when he felt like this, music that seemed to find the sore spot in him and press hard up against it, he remember the deal Marcus was prepared to strike.

That his books were also the basis of three of my favorite movies – High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch – just adds to my awe.

Here I was with a manuscript barely begun and an idol of mine goes and publishes a novel (with a relentlessly cool book cover) that riffs on my premise. And the deluge of rock novels had only just begun. The next year Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer for the Möbius strip of a story rooted in the San Francisco punk scene, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Jonathan Franzen – who in my opinion spills way too much ink creating characters he despises – had a minor character find some musical success in Freedom. There was Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia which made several top 10 lists that year, about a brilliant recluse of a rocker whose only audience is his sister. Then Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go and Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (not about rock and roll, but close enough) came out in time to be on my Christmas list in 2012.

Clearly I was not the only writer swept up in the rock-and-roll zeitgeist. I was in good company … good, famous, already published company. Crap.

Then it occurred to me: so what? There is room on the virtual bookshelf for everyone. Hey, a lot of great songs use the exact same chord progressions and we love them in their own ways. (Listen to this mashup of “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Brain Stew” by Green Day to hear what I mean.)

So I am proud of my book and I sincerely hope you’ll buy it,  enjoy it, write a review and recommend it to your friends … all the while listening to the music you love most.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Even though Love and Other B-Sides is only available through Amazon, you can download it using the Kindle App onto your Nook, iPad, smart phones (if you like tiny, tiny screens) and even desktops. Hard covers may be available in the near future depending on demand. So, demand already!

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