In the latest instalment of an occasional series, Kurt Reichenbaugh talks you through some of the tracks that influenced his book, Sirens (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013).
When I wrote Sirens, I wanted to write my own version of a coming of age story, set in my Florida hometown during the ‘70s, and stock it full of songs from the soundtrack of my youth. The result was something quite a bit different than what I had intended. Instead of a coming of age story, it became more of a corruption of youth tale, complete with zombies, conspiracies, psychotic wrestlers, UFO folklore and deadly strippers. But the soundtrack remained. In the end, it’s something of a scruffy, undisciplined, novel with its share of sloppy notes, like a bootleg Jimmy Page solo. But its heart is pure.
One of the oldest songs that inspired Sirens was ‘Venus’ from Frankie Avalon. Not exactly a hardcore rocker. Instead, what appealed to me in this song is the idea behind it. My lead protagonist, Kevin, dreams of finding a girl to love, a girl that doesn’t exist. Early in the novel he’s riding with his father in the family car and ‘Venus’ comes on the oldies station. To Kevin, ‘Venus’ represents the kind of girl he could wish for, yet never have. It’s a romantic ideal that is like that blue light across the bay from Jay Gatsby’s house. The lead siren and femme fatale, Suzie, sees the romantic ideals that Kevin has and uses that to toy with him throughout the story.
BIP BOP BOOM
‘Bip Bop Boom’ by Mickey Hawk and the Night Raiders is pure rockabilly rave-up. Our group of friends in the novel: Kevin, Brad, Nick and Otto are represented by this song in the spirit of youth and cars and rock n roll and abandon. Not a whole lot had changed for teenagers in the ‘70s from the ‘50s. Yet, the Vietnam War and Watergate separated the two generations, and ‘70s kids probably had even less of a reason to believe in authority than any generation before them. They came of age in a decade of rampant domestic terrorism. They knew they were being sold a lie, and from their cynicism Punk Rock was born.
In Sirens, Kevin does not find the girl of his dreams. ‘Cherry Bomb’ by the Runaways is the flipside to ‘Venus’. It’s the ultimate dirty girl song in a way. Instead of debutants with silver gowns and white gloves, Kevin and Brad get strippers and prostitutes. ‘Cherry Bomb’ is playing in the strip club they go to when looking for Suzie, the queen Siren of the novel. I used my own youthful experience for this part of the book. I’d managed to sneak into a few strip clubs in my teens, thanks to a “doctored” driver’s license, and had my own encounters with hard strippers and aggressive bouncers. There is nothing quite like the lure of a bad girl to get a (sometimes not-so) nice guy in trouble.
THE REVENGE OF VERA GEMINI
The sirens represent a variety of dreams and nightmares for our heroes. They’re either good or evil, and various shades of gray between. ‘The Revenge of Vera Gemini’, written by Patti Smith and Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult, inspired the mood of the book. Blue Oyster Cult was one of my favorite bands when I was a teen, in addition to the Rolling Stones, Santana and so many others. I don’t pretend to know what the lyrics of ‘Vera Gemini’ mean, but the mood and the spirit of the song is one of many that I attempted to feed into my writing of the book.
THE SIX TEENS
Lastly, I include ‘The Six Teens’ by Sweet. Adolescence ain’t easy for anyone; forget about zombies and murderous sirens from other worlds. In the opening paragraphs, our protagonists are in Nick’s bedroom and Desolation Boulevard is playing on the stereo. There is even a “Suzie” in the song. Its lyrics describe teenagers from 1968, nearly 10 years prior to the setting of Sirens. But adolescence is timeless. Life goes on and we’re all part of the sixteens, as the lyrics say. Not all of my characters make it to the end. No one gets through life unscathed, but we try to do our best along the way.
Kurt Reichenbaugh is the author of the novels SIRENS and LAST DANCE IN PHOENIX. His short stories have appeared in PHOENIX NOIR, Southwest Noir, HUNGUR and Out of the Gutter Online. His day job as a financial analyst interferes with his hobbies and his real life.
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