OK! So obviously my dramatic declarations about research painted me into a corner when I decided to write the “rock star story” that’s now morphed into a novel. Then the question became, so, how much research do I need to do, how do you start, where do you go, whom do you need to know.
I’m not a musician. I failed repeatedly to learn to play the guitar, for various reasons. So I don’t even have the basics of a musical education. But I do know that I can’t, and don’t want to, totally bullshit my way through that, like I did in “The Worst Best Luck” when it came to auto mechanics, about which I know even less :). I at least wanted to have some fundamentals about the process. But at the same time I didn’t want to be all Tom Clancy and get so into whacking off describing every detail of weaponry that I forget about the plot.
And I thought, well, what are some great novels about music and musicians? Why not go back and see what the gold standard is for that? I immediately thought of two books – “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, and “Ten Thousand Saints” by Eleanor Henderson. I mean, those are fucking brilliant novels. And if I have as much technical detail as they do, I’m good.
Well. I just reread “Goon Squad,” and it’s hardly about “music” at all. It’s about a group of young punks who have a band, the ancillary characters in their lives, but said band quickly falls apart and they go their separate ways. There’s almost NO technical detail about musicianship or performance or production. So why was my mental image so strong that it was “about music”?
I remembered the old quote, that may or may not (even the Internet isn’t sure) be from Elvis Costello, that “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” So I learned from “Goon Squad” that vast sheaves of technical detail aren’t necessary to make it “feel real.”
But, Jennifer Egan did credit one book as a research guide: “So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star,” which I immediately bought. Which led me to “Get In The Van” by Henry Rollins, for atmosphere – I saw him in Carson City during his “Capitalism” tour and vividly remember his stories of being a young punk fresh on the music scene. And while I checked out “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” by an entertainment lawyer, this looked a little dry and was also very pricey. So I got “Six Figure Musician,” for the business angle, because it had good reviews and yeah, because it was five bucks and not almost twenty like the other one.
So yeah, I’ll read 10K Saints again, it’s been a couple years so I’ve forgotten enough details that it’ll feel fresh :). And I’ll do my homework. Again, *taking my time* on this book, which I can already see will be a good one, if I don’t rush.
And if there’s anything I know even less about, it’s the country music business! So, yeah, I’ll have to start at zero with that.