Thursday, June 16, 2005

Prelude to a Soundtrack

During my 29th year, as I prepared for marriage, I wrote a short novel about a failed Christian rock musician. The central character was an Angelino by birth, whose youth consists of moodily keeping track of Nixon's fall, and smoking pot whenever he gets the chance. This unremarkable tedium is dramatically altered when he attends a youth rally, and answers the altar call.

Now that he's "born again", things get seriously weird. In a pinball explosion of Charismatic encounters, our hero gets annointed to head up a Christian punk band, christened to save souls from the satanic mosh pit. He and some recent acquaintances assemble their band, pull together a few chops, scrawl lyrics on sheets of foolscap, practice jumping around while playing, then set out to claim the country's youth for Christ. Coffee-houses are booked, and the misadventures begin.

The environment is all wrong for a Christian punk band. Coffee-houses book the band, expecting the sort of Kumbaya fare that's become the staple of "Contemporary Christian Music". Meanwhile Christian kids don't know what to make of punk music, nevermind their parents. Christian record companies won't touch them, and their mission/career looks seriously compromised.

Rather than pack it in, our hero follows the Spirit's leading and introduces the band to the bar circuit. Now their notoriety starts to grow by leaps and bounds, thanks to the free publicity of zealous televangelists publicly campaigning against the growing scourge of Christian Rock. Just as the group gains a following, our hero starts writing lyrics with depth and critical bite, frequently targeting televangelists, and the religious music industry that rejected him.

Now he and his group are hedged in by moneyed enemies at all sides. Thanks to this pressure, and a particularly ill-advised misadventure, his fate is sealed. Before his 35th birthday, his marriage is in ruins, his bandmates are fed up, and he is driven from the Promised Land of the California coast to the barren wilderness of Michigan. When we catch up to him in his late 40s, he has remarried, and is making a modest living producing musical tracks for video games.

For the last 11 years, this story has sat in a drawer with two other novels and the usual collection of short stories. I dusted it off the other day, and gave it a quick look. It's not bad, if I don't say so myself. Were I to shop it around, I'd probably ramp up the laugh factor a bit, but other than that, it holds together, and I'm happy with it.

An easy story with obvious parallels (more than one, actually, as I loosely based it on the perilous career of a living Christian rocker). I hadn't thought of it in years, but with my 40th birthday upon me, it was the only project I was drawn back to. This entry was meant to be yet another list, this time the soundtrack to my 30s. I may get back to that, but as I was compiling it and mulling over the obvious embarrassments - so many profoundly guilty pleasures, from AC/DC to POD - I realized that music, rock music particularly, constitutes such an intimate pleasure that I struggle to share it with the public at large.

This isn't self-gratification I'm talking about, either - at least, not entirely. When I was in my teens, I had my passion for rock (even the wholly toothless Christian rock) set straight by an earnest counselor at a Bible camp. It was a base music, unbecoming of the Creator or His children, and I was well advised to leave it alone. Instead, I went home and did my research. Gradually, circuitously, I got to dispensing with the whole notion of a sacred/secular delineation, and for the most part got on with enjoying what I enjoy. This experience is the chief reason why I'm unlikely to ever bend my knee to a proposed "Christian aesthetic."

Ah, but the echoes reverberate! I wonder if there isn't a pivotal adolescent encounter drilled through the inner identity of every adult? For my atheist friends, it's their first emotionally honest conversation about theodicy. Another popular bone of contention in church youth groups is "Following The Will of God" – that's sure to generate discussion among a bunch of hormone-ridden teens! Then there's sexuality: it's a rare person whose initiation into sexual experience isn't clumsy and messy, and not a little confusing, even if they wait for the honeymoon (Oscar Wilde on Niagara Falls: "It's the young bride's second disappointment!"). If sex is indeed a sacrament, it's the most primal of the bunch.

Those generally aren't the echoes that plague me, however. Mine reverberate to three chords on a Gibson - an embarrassing obsession I briefly gave voice to, once upon a time. An assumed persona, foolishly bent on doing the right thing, and expressing every earnest and naïve hope I'd never admit to. Unless, of course, I was under the influence - surely the most appropriate conditions for proper rock & roll.


DarkoV said...

So, a drawer with this story and "two other novels and the usual collection of short stories". Will they stay tucked in there, fighting for space with the un-matched socks? Or will they don sunglasses and come into the light of a reader's glare soon?
As regards the Christian music scene, I'm stretching the music fabric taut here in saying that attending Catholic services ruined a lot of folk music for me. I couldn't take it seriously after hearing some ill-fingered acoustic guitar renditions of any folk song. Not that I was a fan of Paul Simon or Peter, Paul, & Mary (was that the most Biblical sounding folk group ever?), but any Simon folk melody now turns me into a spinning Tasmanian devil. I think Mr. Simon's impetus in going to South Africa and creating that fabulous album "Graceland" was hearing what the Church had done to his songs. So, maybe I should be thankful that there were folk masses?

But I stray.
The novels and the stories. Any publication thoughts, or, perhaps posting to a seperate site. It's good to share, you know.

Phil said...

Publish the book. I'm sure Steve Taylor (or is it Terry Taylor?) won't be too pissed that you've stolen his life story, especially not if you do so with your customary wit and verbal elegance.

Hell, I'd pay to read it.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Folk mass"? Oooh, don't get me started on "worship trends"! Don't. Get. Me. Started.

One calming sip of coffee later ... yes, the time to share draweth nigh (arg - now I've slipped into King James vernacular!). I've sat on this material chiefly for two reasons: 1) before the girls came along, I immersed myself in the whole "writers submit" business, and got a couple of the short stories published in obscure magazines. I did the hard work, and didn't complain when the money I collected hashed out as less than what I spent in the effort. But by the time my second daughter was born, I could no longer justify devoting all that time and energy and emotion in such a low-yield (on all fronts) pursuit as publication. Now, however, both girls are old enough to allow me a little more leaway on this matter. And 2) to quote George Lucas prior to releasing Ep1: "The technology (of sharing) has finally advanced to the level I needed it to." An injudicious choice of quote, perhaps, given how lousy his films have become. On the other hand, if you expect a stinker, and get something that's so-so, you hail it as exceeding your expectations!

I digress. I'm in several conversations re: which outlet works best for everyone, and if you have any recommendations, don't hesitate - share, share, share!

Whisky Prajer said...

Phil - oh, you're good. You're very good!

F.C. Bearded said...

Without any hint of sycophancy, this does indeed sound like the type of novel I'd buy were I to read its backspiece.

As for revisiting one's earlier Musical Repertoire, well.. "The Shirt Remains The Same" in my case: a son infatuated with the same bands, the same T-shirts, the same bass guitar, even, of my own youth. There is no room left for embarassment with such daily reminders.

That Wilde quote you pulled, incidentally, is a corker.

Scott said...

I've never listened to Christian rock -- too much time spent listening to the Pet Shop Boys who neatly explained:

"Someone states the obvious
Someone sneers at all you love
Someone preaches ugly manners
Excluding some, including me
This is how I learned to hate rock 'n' roll"

So, yeah, I'm hardly the target market :) but, that said, I'd love to read a novel that might
a) savagely make fun of a genre I'm suspicious of, and
b) quite possibly show me how wrong I am!

And you, Mr. Reimer, are just the man to do it!

Whisky Prajer said...

FCB: "The Shirt Remains The Same" - I rather like that. Saves on the laundry, doesn't it? (Then again, these are shirts we don't subject to the rigours of machine and detergent...)

Scott: that Pet Shop Boys quote goes quite some distance in explaining a devoted fanbase that spans decades.

And thanks for the encouragement, one and all (stay tuned).