Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Book Review of Uncle John’s Band by Deborah Grabien

Finally, I was able to get my hands on Deborah Grabien’s latest installment of the JP Kinkaid Chronicles. In Book 6, Uncle John’s Band, guitarist JP Kinkaid, his wife Bree, and his bandmates stay close to his San Francisco home. I couldn’t wait to enter JP’s world again, the real world of rock/blues musicians told from and by the perspective of an insider.

After British rock band Blacklight’s phenomenal “Book of Days” tour and JP’s successful surgery and recovery after a heart attack, the guitarist finds himself ready to play live again. His local group, the Fog City Geezers, plays the 707 Club in San Rafael. By the end of the show, new faces have made appearances backstage. Promoter Norfolk Lind, his business partner Star Woodley, and Lind’s son Curtis, the new boyfriend of Solange, daughter of Blacklight’s other guitarist Luke Headley, meet JP and Bree. But the meeting isn’t a first for all of them, as Bree and Star share a secret past.

After the show, Bree tells JP about their past connection, which involves him and his first encounter with a seventeen-year-old Bree. But in spite of that decades-old history, Bree agrees to host a meeting at their home for the new owners of the 707 Club, which include Norfolk Lind and Star Woodley. Days after an altercation between Bree and Star during the meeting, Star is the sole casualty in a fire that destroys the 707 Club during a private performance of the Fog City Geezers, who are joined by several members of Blacklight. The fire is determined to be arson and Bree is advised to get a lawyer. JP and Bree hire investigator Patrick Ormand to find out who and what was the real cause of the fire. The mysterious and volatile Norfolk Lind seems to have a lot of enemies, including his own son, but would he have killed his business partner?

But of course, things aren’t always what they seem. As everyone waits for the formal fire investigation to be completed, life goes on. JP works on a new song with singer/guitarist Curtis Lind, Solange gets acclimated to her new San Francisco home and career, and Bree gains and loses an attorney. When Ormond discovers new information about the minority shareholders of the Club, JP visits an old acquaintance that he didn’t expect to see again for a long time.

As she has done in the previous books, Grabien details what life is like for a musician with multiple sclerosis. Now JP’s implantable cardioverter defibrillator and Bree’s diabetes are added to the mix. But life hasn’t slowed down for the couple, nor have their limitations diminished their affection for each other. There are a few well-placed comments about the state of health care in America that resonated, especially in this election year. The resolution of the mystery is satisfying and logical, but a few twists along the way keep it from being obvious.

In spite of the title, there are fewer musical performances in this book when compared with some of the other books in the series.  But with the Fog City Geezers getting a recording contract, the 707 Club being rebuilt, and three more books left in the series, I’m sure that JP will be bringing out Little Queenie and Big Mama Pearl for some more rock and roll blues.

Uncle John’s Band is a great story, with characters and situations that keep readers interested until the last page. Even though there are references to the previous books in the series, this story can be enjoyed on its own merit. I’m looking forward to Book 7 and the next adventure in this rocker’s life.

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C.R.E.A.M.

          About twelve years ago, one of my favorite television shows was Dark Angel. The adventures of biogenetically engineered Max and her friends had me tuning in every week, as I sat in my cozy two-bedroom condo. One episode was called “C.R.E.A.M.” In the episode, getting fast money was the goal of most of the main characters. At the end, Original Cindy summed up the situation with the title abbreviation. Spelled out, it meant, “Cash rules everything around me.” When I became homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, I discovered that Original Cindy was speaking the truth.

C.            Even though I had worked in a homeless shelter for women and children in Sacramento, I had not been privy to the lifestyle.  But once I ran out of money and could no longer afford to stay at a Santa Monica hostel, I was introduced to another world. To the other homeless men and women I encountered, I was a source of potential revenue. Commerce – that was the prime directive on the street.

R.            I quickly learned that everyone and everything had a price. I was a commodity. Men and women sized me up in minutes, more thorough than the most sensitive airport scanner. And there was nothing I could do about it. That was the reality of my new world.

E.            “The Store is open!” At the emergency shelter, I watched as one guy went from cot to cot with his stash of loot. The selling went on until it was time to turn out the lights. What was his story? He possessed entrepreneurial skills that could rival a Ferengi.

 

A.             The observations never stopped. Mr. Entrepreneur offered to buy my old Walkman. One night, a man roamed through the women’s section, purposely bumping into the sides of cots and disturbing sleeping women. Even though men weren’t allowed in that section, no one on night duty paid any attention to him. And anything could happen when the bus returned us to a pre-dawn Venice Beach each morning at 5:30 AM. I reduced my daily load to a small cotton tote just large enough for a change of underwear and some toiletries. I learned to stay alert and keep aware of those around me.

M.            After several weeks on the street, I started to change. On the streets, I wore the same jacket, hat and shoes all of the time. Underneath, I wore whichever jeans and shirt were the cleanest, but always tried to wear clean socks and underwear. But the clothes that were appropriate for the shelter were the opposite of what was appropriate for the rest of the world. I was ignored in stores, except for the security guards that followed me around. Who was I? I wasn’t myself anymore.

After six weeks on the streets, I got my hands on some cash. I blew it. I paid for a place to stay for a month, but the rest of the money I received, I wasted. I went into stores and shopped, just so I could exist for a while. With money in my hands, I was visible again. With new clothes and a small purse instead of a tote bag, no one could tell I was homeless. After a while, people that I used to sleep next to at the shelter didn’t recognize me when I passed them on the street. But the money didn’t last long and I faded like Cinderella’s pumpkin after the ball. And the emergency shelter had closed for the season.

It took me several weeks to realize that I was no different from the hustlers on the street and at the shelter. I realized, reluctantly, that from the minute I had asked a friend to loan me money that I had no way of ever paying back, I became a beggar. Instead of standing on the sidewalk, I used the telephone and e-mail to get funds from now former friends.

Early one March morning, as I stood on Ocean Avenue watching the waves break below me, I remembered the words of Original Cindy. “Cash rules everything around me.” Without realizing it, C.R.E.A.M. had become my motto. Not only did cash rule —I had become its loyal subject. Even though I was several feet away from the shore, I was lost at sea.

Finding Mik

He had gotten a faraway sad look in his eyes until the waitress brought his coffee. Then he turned on his rock star charm and smiled broadly, displaying perfect teeth. Lucy shook her head and watched the performance.

A woman with salt and pepper hair had timidly approached the table. “Mr. DeSalle, may I have your autograph?” She handed him a pen and a page from her pocket calendar. Lucy noticed that the date was August 3, Mik’s birthday.

Mik’s smile had broadened and he absentmindedly tossed his hair. The woman told him about the first time that she saw Sheffield Steel in person. When the woman looked over at Lucy, Mik had said proudly, “This is my daughter, Lucy.”

 

I can’t remember when I met fictional singer/guitarist Mik DeSalle. When I decided I wanted to write a novel about a rock star, I got a certain image in my mind. It was an image of the classic rock star of the seventies – bare chest, long blond hair, tight pants, open shirt – the look of musicians like Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, and Peter Frampton, among others. I remembered staying up late as a teenager to watch Midnight Special and Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert, having rock star images invade my television screen and dreams. Those golden gods were larger than life and light years away from my reality. But I never forgot them or the music they created.

Since my novel, Three Chords One Song, starts with Mik’s untimely demise, he is not a physical character in the book. He only appears as a flashback and a disembodied recorded voice. But his influence on the women he leaves behind is one of the main themes. Even though I have never experienced a rock star lifestyle, I can imagine the toll that it must take on those left behind. But the same can be said for the loved ones of  anyone compelled to follow a dream that involves years of sacrifice and dedication.

I created a data sheet for my main characters, but I don’t remember if I ever did one for Mik – probably not, since he was dead. But I knew his backstory intimately – I think that it mirrored my own. Mik was born a few years before me and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. I was raised about twenty miles southwest of Pittsburgh. His dad was a steelworker – so were the fathers of some of my friends and relatives. Music was always a means of escape for me. If I could have been a musician instead of just a music fan, I’m sure it would have made a profound difference in my life. Mik decided to leave Pittsburgh to become a famous musician. I left western Pennsylvania to become a rock journalist – which never happened, except for a few pieces here and there over the years.

An editor told me that she couldn’t understand why all of these women loved Mik. I could tell that she didn’t grow up listening to Led Zeppelin or the Who. She didn’t have posters of Zeppelin and Frampton on her wall. She had never sat in a club or bar and felt the energy change when a rock star entered the room, all eyes turn like flowers towards the sun. I couldn’t really put into words what his attraction was, just like I couldn’t tell you why I fell in love with heavy metal and hard rock while my peers did not. I knew that Mik had to be born in August – a month that is filled with rock star birthdays, including Jerry Garcia, Joe Elliott, David Crosby, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Rob Halford, Keith Moon, Gene Simmons, and Robert Plant. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, Mik shares his birthday with James Hetfield of Metallica.

But it wasn’t until I was doing the last edit that I discovered Mik’s main flaw. He never grew up. I spent the better part of a decade writing the novel, but it wasn’t until I realized some personal truths that I was mature enough to recognize this fact. He never grew up to be a responsible husband and father, a man accountable for his actions. Even when the fame was gone, he still expected the perks, especially unconditional love no matter what he did, or didn’t do. He got the love, but could never return it. And that is why he left three daughters confused by and deprived of love. Maybe there is a statement in the story about my own confusion about love.

So Happy Birthday, Mik – man who never was but will always be a part of me. We shared some good times and bad times over the years. I hope the world will love you as much as I do. But even if they don’t, I’ll always be here for you. Thank you for being a part of my personal story.

 

Three Chords One Song is available as an eBook from Genesis Press (www.genesis-press.com).

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