Water sprays across the stage and Jerry takes off his Strat and hurls it at the nearest security guard. The instrument hits the unsuspecting staff across his back and he falls forward. The staff member picks up the guitar and feeds it to the front row.
“He’s done that before,” I yell at Jerry, who is already leaving. I follow him. I’m not stupid; I can see when someone’s doing a runner. Harlan and Marty quickly follow, leaving Keith to play on his own for a full minute before he realizes that no one is playing along. As we run past Geno we either curse him or punch him and run by the dressing room to get our stuff.
“Jesus Christ!” shouts Harlan, “What the fuck is wrong with this place?”
“This is usual,” says Keith, bringing up the rear.
Despumation: Your piece is an excerpt from your collaborative novel, The Light from Dead Stars. Can you tell us briefly how this project came about?
Stephen Jansen: I had finished university and started doing freelance work. After a few jobs I started to look around for a ghost-writing job for someone who had a bit of a name that might attract attention. My third year lecturer at Uni told me that her son was in a band and he knew Harvey Bainbridge. I had seen Hawkwind many years before when Harvey was singing and playing bass. I got his number and called him. He wasn’t interested in a biography, which was my original idea, but I had a plan B, which was to write a novel about all the things he saw, the journeys, the people, the craziness of life on the road. This took several weeks of visits and chats with Harvey until eventually I had enough material to turn it into a chase novel. The situations and the people were changed, exaggerated, other rock anecdotes added and twisted to make the book less of a touring spoof like Spinal Tap, and more of a journey to some kind of goal. The more I tried to make it serious, the funnier it got. Tragically so in some places, but very surreal. The drug intake of some people in those days was scary. Health and safety laws in the UK would never allow those gigs to go ahead. Money appeared and disappeared into pockets and on shows that could never make a profit, but it all rolled on somehow.
Desp: You said, “The more I tried to make it serious, the funnier it got. Tragically so in some places…” Did you have to finagle that at all as you wrote? At what point did you realize that this was just going to be a funny novel?
SJ: Harvey told me that it wasn’t much of a story, as band life is just going around in circles and it all blurs after a while. He was right. The early versions of the book kept stalling at chapter four. The story had no engine until he mentioned the chicken story that became the drive of the book and the funny side of things.
The tragedy side came from the fact that there were so many casualties around him, mostly financially, as a result of being in the music business. I wanted to emphasise that, but the way the money was lost, spent on ridiculous amounts of drugs, wasted on big shows that lost money, or simply stolen, was so ludicrously funny that I thought it would better told as a humorous story.
That’s the point it changed. There’s something in British comedy that always laughs at the low points of life. Harvey kind of shrugs and says, “ah well. It could have worked.”
Desp: Do you and Harvey keep in touch? How did he like the results?
SJ: Harvey lives about an hour’s drive from me so I visit when he is not on tour or recording. I see a bit more of him these days as I’m working on the next ‘main’ book in the series, and he’s telling me more about the band. He seems amused that people are interested after all these years.
Desp: You have a spin-off novel out—can you tell us a little about it and how it’s related to TLFDS?
SJ: At the end of The Light From Dead Stars (no spoilers!) an event takes place that causes everyone to scatter in different directions. I started to think about smaller novellas that told the stories of what became of the characters. I intend to write a few of these, to cover the characters lives before they reunite in the second ‘main’ novel (underway at the moment). Road Dirt is what happens to Steppenwolf, the band’s drug dealer. He becomes embroiled with a religious cult member who is on his way to Mexico to meet the mothership and leave the earth (or is it just the LSD?). A musician friend (Steve Dracup) read an earlier version of this (when it was a screenplay) and took it upon himself to write music for it. This is available as a download. The book is both available as both a hard copy and Kindle.
Desp: What was it about the Steppenwolf character that made him the first one you’d explore as a spin-offs?
SJ: Steppenwolf came from the band (“Born To Be Wild”), not the famous novel by Herman Hesse. The song, “The Pusher,” is where he came from, and the song “I’m Waiting for My Man” by the Velvet Underground. I found the idea of this character compelling because I can’t understand people like him. Where and how do you get into a job like that? He’s the instrument of chaos. I always watch people like that, (from a distance) and they always pop up when you think everything is going to be okay.
When I was younger, if you went to a party, the ‘Steppenwolf’ would always show up about 3am, just before the cops where called by the neighbours for the music too loud or dope heads crashed on their lawns.
I like Steppenwolf. He is a necessary weapon against the ordinary. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Desp: Give us your favorite metal band, and your favorite writer.
SJ: Difficult. Metal song is hard to say because I don’t really categorize that much. If it’s powerful I like it. But I always come back to Black Sabbath when I want some real weight. Writer, among many others, would be Brett Easton Ellis. And not just the obvious American Psycho. Less Than Zero is still mildly disturbing to me.
Desp: Name a metal song you’d like to see covered by a writer for Despumation.
SJ: “The Wretched by” Nine Inch Nails.
Desp: Nine Inch Nails is so not metal, but I’m going to let that pass, Jansen. What are you working on now? Books/stories coming out? Other projects?
SJ: I am working on the second TLFDS novel, which is called The Rust From Dead Cars. Then there is the next spinoff novel, dealing with Max, the crazed tour bus driver. I am also part way through the 4th novel in a series of ten, called the Chronophobia saga*. These are thrillers with a mix of hi-tech. A sort of psychic James Bond. I am also freelancing, but not as much as I used to. I had a play (translated) performed in Germany in May, and another opening in Australia in October. For all the stuff, best to visit my blog.