Under the Influence

New York - Times Square - July 1977

Inspired by, or, more precisely, a very loose adaptation. An outline borrowed.

I make up the rules (rules? guidelines!) as I go along.
• I read one chapter at the time.
• I do my adaptation before reading the next chapter.
• The adaptation will mirror the structure and length of the original.
• The adaptation is not a rewrite of the original.
• The original is only alluded to occasionally.
• I don’t say what I’m up to.

There are enough rules to keep me writing. The reading one chapter at the time makes it an adventure. The mirroring is a challenge. I am extending plot lines after revealing the epiphany, after channeling the character to the point of discomfort, after I have caricatured myself to the limits of the believable.

Unbelievable? It is believable. Too close for comfort. Close enough that it could become true. I’m worried that I’ll end up like the method actor that struggles to step out of a role.

Why am I borrowing an excuse I see as an exaggeration used for absolution? It’s a juvenile excuse for a an effort that resembles an essay, written for a high school English class, about having nothing to write about.

This is where I was going to apologize for a cheap trick and say I am allowed one exception to the no saying what I’m up to rule. I thought I knew the answers to my own questions.

The contrarian shows up. “Garage rock?”

I straighten up (an expert has to be serious) and, imitating a documentary voice-over, I get factual. “Rockabilly. 1958 from Texas. Ronnie Dee. A Jack Rhodes song. First recorded by Johnny Dollar but never released.” I relax. “But you’re right. I like it because it is proto-garage.”


“Proto-garage. A classification I invented to make fun of the proto-punk label given to garage. Garage before garage existed as a style.”

“A DIY sound, like it was recorded in a garage?” I like it when he is in learning mode. Much more agreeable than the rebellious student image he likes to affect.

“That is the sound they were going for. Though a lot of it was professionally produced.” I get formal again. “Jack Rhodes, who wrote the song we were listening to before, is in two music hall of fames. The Velvet Underground had Andy Warhol and Tom Wilson as their producer, The Sex Pistols had Malcolm McLaren. A lot of fans romanticise it all. There was some DIY but that isn’t the whole picture.”

Look who’s being the contrarian now.

Even when the story is that there is no story, that is the story, a mystery even. Good old human nature. Everything needs an explanation. And nothing grabs our attention like a hero’s journey. A good narrative. And just like when the contrarian tells me about the time he …, I know the story has been adjusted for the telling.

It starts with a song. One that jumps out from the background. And it has to survive the second listen. The listen where I check that it is more than a sexy bass line.

Next comes the research. There is no shortage of rabbit holes each with its own soundscape. For newer acts it can be a famous member, an influence cited, a rival band, or …. The story about The Dandy Warhol‘s relationship to the Brian Jonestown Massacre entertained me for most of a Sunday.

I build a sequential timeline. Rockabilly to Garage to Punk to Grunge. What’s next? According to this we are overdue for new style. Maybe it will come out of the Lo-Fi movement.

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