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Brian C. Lockey DRAINING THE SWAMPS OF BABYLON Upmarket Fiction Comparables: The Odyssey meets ’70’s counterculture and Southern Rock in my 97,000-word upmarket novel, reminiscent of Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), Dana Spiotta (Stone Arabia), and Nick Hornby (High Fidelity; Juliet, Naked). Hook Line: A former Rock ’n’ Roll singer makes an improbable journey home to help his aging father and reconnect with the love of his life—but before he can resurrect his music career, he must revisit the Devil’s crossroads that beset his youth. Pitch: Having grown up amid the chaotic 1970’s Florida music scene, Whitman Whitaker was once a Rock ’n’ Roll singer, whose band Whitman’s Lilacs rivalled Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Now, more than twenty years later, he finds himself a jaded college professor living anonymously in Northern California— divorced and alone, drifting on an ocean of malaise. From out of the blue, the love of his youth, Ticiana “Tish” Tecedeira, convinces him to return to his hometown Gainesville Florida, eventually persuading him to sing a few of his old hits at the music club her family owns. Against all odds, he becomes a YouTube sensation. But in the wake of his sudden internet popularity, rumors of fraternal conflict and secret seduction re-emerge from a past Whitman thought long buried. The mystery of what destroyed the life of Whitman’s best friend and musical partner, the tortured Stephen Crane, still haunts him. Was it Stephen’s morbid obsession with the premature death of his childhood hero Duane Allman? Or the escalating feud between the two frontmen? Or was it all caused by the jealous rage of Whitman himself? In the midst of the chaos and violence that follow, Tish may prove to be Whitman’s only hope of finding redemption. With her help, perhaps Whitman can somehow avert the “crossroads” fate that awaits him. Prose sample: Suited up in his waders and fishing vest, Whitman Whitaker was resting along the southern bank of the Lower Yuba River. His hat was turned down over his face, and the fly rod he had borrowed stood beside him, propped up against a California buckeye. He held the oblong medallion suspended above his face, his fingers wrapped in the chain to which it was attached. When the sunlight struck its surface, it shimmered around the edges like those metallic wind chimes he remembered from the Florida of his youth. From below, he watched the miniature relief of Saint Christopher on its surface swinging back and forth, spinning and dancing in the rays of the sunlight. He closed his eyes, trying to remember the day that he had given it to her. Whitman had no idea where his friend Terrence had puttered off to, and then he heard him stumbling and splashing in the water a few yards downstream. Earlier that morning, the two of them had driven up to a place Terrence knew east of Yuba City, where they had rented a small motor skiff. They had steered up the river, and then they fished the shallows, and now Terrence had sidled over to the riverbend, casting into a deep pool of water on the other side of the river. Whitman was conscious now that Terrence was watching him. “You finished for the day?” Terrence called out to him. “Yeah, I guess I’m finished.” “You lazy bastard, Whitman. It ain’t even noon, and them trout, baby! Them trout is still a-bitin’!” Terrence was ribbing Whitman in typical cartoonish fashion, rendering the Southern drawl he sometimes detected in the cadences of Whitman’s speech. Two days earlier, Terrence had arrived back from a conference at the University of Florida, where he confessed he heard only faint traces of that accent. While he was there, he apparently went poking around the town of Gainesville to see if he could find it. Eventually he made his way to the Swimming Pool, the club where Whitman’s Lilacs had gotten their first big break. That was how he found out that Whitman’s old flame, Tish, was still the manager there. “You think she wore it all that time, huh?” Whitman asked him. “She said it gave her luck. And that she treasured it once. She wanted me to give it back to you. Told me she thought you might be needing it.” Terrence was explaining it all a second time now. And since surveying the sensitive terrain of Whitman’s past engrossed him to no end, he was happy to do so! “She thought it meant we were engaged, I guess,” said Whitman, still holding the medallion suspended before his eyes. “And I guess that’s what I meant when I gave it to her.” “I really think she might be waiting there for you, Whitman,” laughed Terrence. “’Course, given what I know about your past, she might not be the only one.” “She isn’t waiting for me anymore, if she ever was,” said Whitman irritably. “She’s just superstitious. She was always that way.” Bio: Professor of Renaissance Literature at St. John’s University in New York City and the author of Law and Empire in English Renaissance Literature (Cambridge UP 2006) and Early Modern Catholics, Royalists, and Cosmopolitans (Ashgate 2015). His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Renaissance Quarterly, Journal of the History of Ideas, and English Literary Renaissance, and he has been awarded fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Newberry Library, and the University of Notre Dame. He is currently serving as judge of the Bainton Literature Prize, awarded to the best monograph on Renaissance literary history by the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. Half of this book is set in central Florida, where he grew up listening to the Allman Brothers Band, Tom Petty, and the Outlaws, while the other half is set in Northern California, where he worked for four years.
The opening chapter, which shows the malaise of the protagonist and his recurring dreams and which introduces his first and only true love, who unfortunately lives on the other side of the continent: The Heart Also Whispers A Rock ’n’ Roll Odyssey Brian C. Lockey Part One: California Chapter 1 It seemed an azure Mediterranean Xanadu, in which he found himself. Above him stretched a rib vaulted ceiling. Around him the windows and walls were decorated with ancient furnishings and azulejos, these latter depicting an infinite and interlocking series of mad cupids and blooming hearts. Through an open window, the ruins of a medieval castle were visible, teetering on a coastal promontory, kissed now and again by the surrounding spray of surf and slow breakers. Once she had brought him to such a place after the band had performed a series of live shows in the U.K. and France. Yes, he was certain now that it was some palace he had once visited near Lisbon Portugal. It was the dream again, for the dreams that Whitman Whitaker could remember well were almost always the same. Or at least the essence of the dream was often the same. This time, he was to conduct the interview at the head of a long ornate table. To his right sat Bob Dylan and to his left was Jose Afonso, who was known in Portugal as the Portuguese Bob Dylan. The interview had not yet begun, and Whitman found himself trying to explain to Dylan that there had existed other Bob Dylans out in the world—poet songwriters, that had exceeded the real Bob Dylan but had had the misfortune of coming of age at the wrong time or in the wrong place. This particular Bob Dylan had had the misfortune of doing so in a tiny insignificant country on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula! “If you knew Portuguese, or if you knew someone who could explain his lyrics and his music to you,” he heard himself saying to Dylan, “you would admit the truth of what I am telling you.” Dylan was smoking a cigarette, which in turn was filling the room with billows of foul-smelling smoke. Holding court in that palace, he seemed more amused than offended by Whitman’s comment. Whitman looked over at Jose Afonso, the diminutive and bespectacled folk singer whose lyrical songs had inspired the Carnation Revolution against the Estado Novo. She had once told him how the Estado Novo was what the Portuguese called the government founded by Antonio de Salazar, the dictator of Portugal who had died in 1968 but whose autocratic regime had lumbered on until 1974. Interesting, his dream-self thought. Salazar had been a lesser known but more effective dictator than Francisco Franco in Spain. Just as Jose Afonso was a better Bob Dylan than the real Bob Dylan, so Salazar had been a better Franco than the real Franco. Which in the dream that he was having was something of a revelation! Suddenly, everything in his dream world had a certain logic to it. For his part, Jose Afonso was also smoking a cigarette but somehow his lungs were generating considerably less exhaust than Dylan’s lungs were emitting. “Does he speak English?” he heard Dylan say from beneath the drifting penumbra of smoke. “He speaks only Portuguese,” Whitman said. “Can you translate something to him?” “I can try.” “Tell him that I’ve been a secret admirer of his music since before I could remember,” Dylan was saying. “Tell him that I think the world of him. Tell him that the meek shall inherit the earth. And that I’m okay with that.” Beyond the wafting billows, Dylan nodded serenely as if the world suddenly made sense. “It’s more complicated to say something like this in Portuguese,” Whitman heard himself say. “But I’ll try.” But when he did try, all he heard was a low gurgling emitting from his throat. He awoke to find the sound to be that of his own snoring registering deep within the recesses of his mind. He had been enduring various incarnations of this particular dream for months. In the dream world, he could sense her presence. He was there in Portugal because she was there. Portugal was her country, not his. Two hours later, Whitman was half-awake and still mulling over all of this, when as if the unconscious could extend itself into the conscious world, he was suddenly hearing her voice on the other end of the telephone. On November 1, 2005, at precisely 9:30 AM Pacific time, Marie Ticiana Tecedeira called him on his home phone. “Happy Birthday!” she said. It was his day off from teaching so he was still in bed. He sat up against the headboard. He could not remember the last time he had heard her voice. Ten years ago, perhaps. The same voice, but a different place along the river. “Do you remember what you always said about turning fifty?” he heard her saying. “I remember.” “About how you weren’t faking it? About how you were one of those who really didn’t want to live to grow old!” Amid the distraction of that familiar song from the ‘60s reverberating discordantly in the background, he nevertheless perceived the apprehension in her voice. Now she was laughing in that overwrought way that was once so familiar. “Do you remember what I asked you?” “I remember,” he said. “You asked me, ‘how old is old?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe fifty, maybe sixty…’” “No, you said fifty!” she laughed. “You said fifty! There were no ‘maybes’ in what you said. And here you are! I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, and here you are!” “It’s not pretty,” he said. “Wait till you get there. Wait till you get here.” “But according to you, I’m not old yet,” she said. “I still have six years, Whitman. Six years to die. Six years to grow old.” Later she was telling him about her life since the last time they had spoken. “I’m still working for the Bastard, managing the Swimming Pool,” she said. When he had heard her call her father “the Bastard” the first few times, he had assumed that she hated him, but later he realized that it was only that her father probably really was what they had once called “natural born.” He had visited her grandmother’s house in a small town in central Portugal, where any mention of grandfathers elicited uncomfortable silences among those that understood English. “The Pool’s the Pool,” she added. “It’s hardly ever full now, but we’re still here! Still going strong!” The Swimming Pool was the live music club her father had established in Gainesville Florida in the early 70’s. Her father had called it the Swimming Pool for a number of reasons, not all of which Whitman could remember. “The kids still love the tribute bands. We had the Whitman’s Lilacs tribute band play last week. Can’t remember their name. Whitman’s Leaves or Whitman’s Dreams or something? Anyway, we had a good crowd. You would have liked them. The lead singer is your spitting image.” “My spitting image,” he said, trying to imagine the scene there at the Pool, where it had all begun. “Your spitting image,” she laughed. “If you had shoved him off the stage, and started singing in his place, no-one would have noticed. That’s how much he looks like you.” “I can no longer pretend that I’m a twenty-something. I’m fifty. And soon I’ll be a fifty-something, Tess,” Whitman explained, using the old nickname he had once invented for her. Everyone else seemed inclined to call her Ana. Eventually, Ticiana asked about his wife and their daughter. He told her about the divorce. “She went back to Los Angeles,” he said. “Elissa went with her. It’s not complicated.” “I’m sorry to hear that, Whitman.” “Are you with someone now?” “Off and on,” she said, suddenly sounding tired. “The truth is, between the club and looking after the Bastard, I don’t have a lot of free time these days. But someday I’ll send you a book on dating after forty. It’s the story of my life.” “But I just turned fifty,” he said, trying, without success, to engage her flagging attention. “I need a book on dating after fifty!” “You never knew what you needed, Whitman. That was always your problem. You just never knew.” There was a long pause, before she said finally, “I have to go. I have to get ready for this weekend. We’ve got DJ’s and bands coming in on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I have a bunch of calls to make.” He could sense now that she was still on the phone, silent, waiting for him to say goodbye. He thought he heard her sigh and then whisper something under her breath. Either that, or what she said had been muffled by the ambient music or by whatever way she had positioned the phone at the other end of the connection. Whatever it was, he could not make it out. Perhaps she had said nothing at all. With the vivid effects of the dream still washing over him, in all likelihood Marie Ticiana had said nothing at all.