Best of 2014

I'm sure I'm missing some things that I just plain forgot about, but here are ten records that I liked an awful lot in 2014.

1. Vaniish - Memory Work: A simply astounding debut by this San Francisco band. Echoes of so many cool postpunk bands from the '80s (Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division etc.) with their own unique twist. Essential.

2. Singapore Sling - The Tower of Foronicity: Singapore Sling is more or less the brainchild of Henrik Bjornsson and the Icelandic genius shows no signs of let down on his seventh album, an intoxicating mix of JAMC fuzz and assorted '60s garage and surf influences. 

3. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: Revelation lives up to its name, my favorite BJM record since Bravery Repetition and Noise, encompassing everything from impeccable '60s-inspired songwriting to postpunk, shoegaze, and other experimental sounds.

4. The Raveonettes -Pe'ahi:  Along with Singapore Sling, Denmark's Raveonettes are my favorite band of the 21st century, always finding new ways to make the most out of their unique sound.

5. Ceremony: Distance. Like some of the other artists on this list, Ceremony is more or less a solo deal for John Fedowitz (ex-Skywave). Fans of his former group, JAMC, and assorted '80s noise pop will dig this record immensely.

6. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery: Ex-Adorable vocalist Pete Fij and House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers collaborate on this achingly beautiful concept album that documents the breakdown of a relationship. The duo incorporate everything from country pop to John Barry-esque arrangements on this dynamite recording.

7. Comet Gain: Paperback Ghosts. Criminally ignored in the Britpop era, London's Comet Gain are still relevant two decades later appealing to all us lost souls who love punk, soul, and damaged rock 'n' roll.

8. Interpol - El Pintor. NYC's Interpol are back in form with their best album since the first two. Easily the comeback of the year.

9. Ringo Deathstarr - God's Dream. As you can tell from this list, I prefer bands on the noisier side of the pop spectrum. Austin's Ringo Deathstarr fall into that category for sure. While not as immediate as their first two long players, God's Dream is pretty killer just the same.

10. David Long - Water Has Memory. While this came out in Ireland only in 2013, I did not learn about this record until earlier this year. Long fronted Into Paradise, one of the best Irish bands ever in the late '80s - early '90s. This is his first new music in close to two decades and has a similar punch to his finest work.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records.


Q&A about my next novel Heartworm

My second novel Heartworm will be published next year (right now the target date is August/September). It's a sequel to Wivenhoe Park, set mainly in mid-'90s Dublin and Boston. The real life Irish band Whipping Boy plays a major role in the book. Charlie Burke, an intern for my publisher, Cooperative Trade, conducted this short interview with me.

What inspired you to write Heartworm?
Heartworm was originally inspired by the Bloomsbury Academic series, 33 1/3, where you write about classic albums either in a rock criticism format or some people have done it as fiction. I was trying to write a sequel to Wivenhoe Park and was struggling with some stuff, but then the idea of writing about the album Heartworm and writing about a period in mid-90’s Ireland and Boston – where I both lived – just kind of brought it back. That album was a really important part of my life then and now and the book came together fast. The application for Bloomsbury was pretty thorough. I was forced to write an outline very fast and get a first chapter done very fast, so that kind of kick started it. Although I didn't make the short list – I'm not getting published by Bloomsbury – I was able to expand on the ideas I had for that and turn it into a second of hopefully three books about Drew. So Heartworm – that's sort of where it came from.

Why fiction writing?
I think it's just another outlet. I've written about music for so long, and I think I just wanted to create. I tried to play guitar but I never really learned to do it very well. So I think it's just wanting to be on the creative side after putting out records for other people - having been on the management/PR side for so long РI don't know, I guess as clich̩ as it sounds, it felt like a calling, it felt like I just kind of needed to do that.

What sorts of novels do you like to read? Did any inspire Heartworm?
I don't know if any inspired Heartworm. I do like a combination of noir fiction, classic crime fiction, and music-inspired fiction. You know, like Nick Hornby I like a lot, and Kevin Sampson, Cathi Unsworth – they're contemporary writers I really like. Style-wise, I love Arthur Conan Doyle, all those Sherlock Holmes Classics, and I like a lot of the – I'm not really sure if we'd call it pulp fiction, but like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. I like their economy. You know, they're getting it down without a lot of fluff. Most of the music I like is like that too. Saying as much as needs to be said. I don't like albums that just have a lot of unnecessary tracks, so I try to approach the writing the same way. Minimalist prose, if you will.

What originally got you into music?
I'd say I've always liked music, like going back to junior high and high school, and I think that's where a lot of the events from Wivenhoe Park are pretty true. You know, I ran a while for a college team, and when I realized I wasn't going to be good as I thought I was, I think I got really depressed for a while, and then I turned more to music. I started buying more records, and hanging out with people that were more creative. I kind of got of the – not that running cross-country is really a “jock mentality” because it's not really a jock sport, but I expanded my horizons, made new friends, just kind of fell into music.

What’s an album that's been particularly inspirational to you and why?
I’d say two – I'd say Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain was a huge inspiration, and that album came out right when I arrived in England for my junior year abroad in college, so in the same way the album Heartworm is a soundtrack to the novel Heartworm, Psychocandy was definitely the soundtrack to Wivenhoe Park. I'd say Heartworm for the '90s was as important for me as Psychocandy was for the '80s.

What inspired you to start your own record label?
That started just because I’d been working for my friend Lee in California with his label, and it was such a rush watching – you know, just working for a small label where you learn about everything from working with the artists, the bands, doing the grunt work – the rush of wanting to put out records, the rush of wanting to share what you think is important art with people.

Is there anything Lee taught you that influenced the way you've run your label?
Elephant Stone doesn't really exist anymore other than I might do some really small print reissues. The music industry has really changed. I learned from Lee watching him go through the ups and downs. There were some months where the money was tight… I think you just have to be fearless running your own business. I think Lee taught me to be brave. I’d sometimes wonder, "Oh god, he owes this printer so much money," but then something would come through, and he just kind of kept it calm by believing in what he was doing.

What inspired you to start your own music magazine?
I've done that in waves. I did various smaller zines before I did Vendetta in the '90s and early 2000s, and that happened right after I came back from England. In the novel, the Drew character is already writing for the college paper and stuff. I started writing a little after that – so that's a little – you know, it's not totally autobiographical. But when I came back, I came across this whole zine culture where people were putting out cut-and-paste Xerox things themselves, you know, passing them around or just advertising and selling them in other music magazines like that. So I did a couple of kind of things like that before I feel like I got it much better with Vendetta. So again, it’s like the thing with the label: just wanting to promote bands that you think deserved to get promoted more that maybe weren't getting attention in the mainstream press. It's just championing people you believe in.

Without giving too much away, there's some cult activity in the book. How much is that based on your own experience?
It's loosely based on… my ex-wife got involved in some – nothing that extreme like the cult in Heartworm – but a lot of this new age kind of philosophy, like this meditation, healing crystals. And there was this center in Ireland that she became friends with some people there that they were kind of all into that. There was this one guy in particular – and my wife didn't leave me for a healer, like in Heartworm – but there was this one guy in particular that kind of was a bit of a ladies man, but he was all about the, you know, healing powers of crystals and things like that. So it was kind of based on that experience, watching people getting sucked into this kind of stuff.

In the book, Drew interviews a band about a lyric that has become controversial because it was misinterpreted. Do you worry people will similarly misinterpret the book?
I don't really worry about it. I just wrote what was in my head at the time; I guess you don't really think about that. Paul Page, the guitarist for Whipping Boy, is a friend in real life, so when I told him I was trying to write this thing for 33 1/3, he's been really supportive. He's helped me with some of the scenes. He's read it and said it was kind of uncanny how I just kind of got the dynamic of his band down. I'd say the most stressful part of the book for me was wanting – since it was fiction about a real life band – I wanted him to like it. I wanted him to think it was authentic. I was really pleased when he said he does actually really like the book, so that was really good.

Anything else?
I don't think so, other than, I think Heartworm is definitely darker than the first book. To me, really it's about turning 30, losing some of your idealism from youth, but trying to find a way to forge forward. It's dark, but if there's a theme, it's that music is really important. When I sign books, I always inscribe, "Rock and Roll saves lives." I think that sums it up.

Ben Vendetta is the author of Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Anti-Crowdfunding Arts Support

I don't share too much about my personal life on social media, but lately a lot of people have asked me if there's anything they can do to help with my wife Arabella Proffer's medical expenses, like if there's a crowdfunding website or something. For those who don't know, Arabella was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2010. Forty bouts of radiation later she underwent a successful surgery that removed the tumor and a chunk of her thigh. She needs a cane to get around most of the time. The downside is that the radiation weakened her femur so much that her leg was on the verge of snapping in half. A few weeks ago, she had another surgery where a metal rod was inserted in her leg for reinforcement. Earlier this year she had another surgery that didn't go so well.

The last four years have been pretty rough on the wallet to say the least. Some people have suggested that we set up a crowdfunding type website, but neither of us are comfortable with handouts, so this is just a reminder that we do creative things that you might like. Arabella is an artist and I'm a writer, so we'd much rather have you buy a work of art than just give money for nothing in return.

So here's a list of websites you can check out with items ranging from $2.99 to much more:

Arabella's website shop

Artwork for iPads, iPhone, Prints and more

Original paintings from $275 - $575

Portrait commissions (starting at $350)

If you'd like a copy of my novel, Wivenhoe Park or a CD from Elephant Stone Records

Finally, for $2.99, Wivenhoe Park for Kindle



Last month I ran my first race in 13 months and gutted out a 19:23 (6:14 pace). On Sunday I toed the line again and managed to get back under my goal of 19:00 with an 18:57 (6:06 pace). I can feel the fitness start to come back ever so slowly. It's going to be awhile before I get back to where I was the last few years (mid-17's) but I'm trying to take it one week at a time. As I get older, I find that certain workouts give me a lot of bang for the buck, others not so much. For example, two weeks ago, when my wife was in the hospital I had an interval workout that went south and I stopped it short. I didn't run for 2 or 3 days after, but when I did I went out for a long slow run, not really planning the distance. I ended up running 11 miles (longest I've done in over a year) and felt great. I few days later I nailed a tempo workout and a few days after that I ran a perfect negative split race, going 6:15, 6:05, 6:00, :37. So I think the moral of this ramble is that on the busy schedule that I have (work, writing, music stuff), I need to focus on hitting certain key workouts each week, the long run being mandatory. I also find that when I run intervals hitting them at 8K/10K pace with brief recoveries makes me stronger than the faster stuff. I'm setting up another block to race again on December 7 (fast, competitive 5K race) and may jump into another race before that. I'd like to end the year getting under 18:30 if possible. Wish me luck!


Wivenhoe Park: A Baker's Dozen

It's been nearly a year since my novel Wivenhoe Park was published. As a way to celebrate, I thought a feature on some of the albums that inspired the book would be fun. I borrowed the idea from the excellent music site The Quietus who ran a feature on Cathi Unsworth's new novel Weirdo, the best book I've read in ages.

Wivenhoe Park is set in the years 1984-1986, mainly at the University of Esssex in Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, England, where the protagonist Drew, an American student from Michigan spends his junior year abroad. Like the real me, Drew is obsessed with rock 'n' roll. Here are some of the records that play a major role in the book and spent a lot of time on my turntable and CD player (love those deluxe Psych Furs and Bunnymen reissues) while writing it. Note: these aren't ranked in any kind of order other than Psychocandy!

1) The Jesus and Mary Chain "Psychocandy"

The Jesus and Mary Chain's debut album came out in November 1985, about a month after I arrived at Essex. Like Drew, I bought the NME and Melody Maker at the campus store the day it came out (both featured the JAMC on the front cover) and skipped class to take a bus ride into Colchester city center where I procured a cassette copy of Psychocandy at Andy's Records. Like most of the students in my flat at Eddington Tower (there were sixteen of us on our floor, each in tiny single rooms) I had a cassette player that I bought upon arrival. A few of the guys in the flat had turntables, but most of us rocked boom boxes. Anyway, I had heard some of the JAMC singles before hand but hearing all fourteen songs at once was an indescribable rush. This was immediately the best thing I had ever heard. It had the energy of punk rock, but it wasn't punk. There was so much distortion and feedback, yet the songs were so damn catchy. Every time I popped in the cassette I heard something new. For the song sample I chose "Just Like Honey." I know it's an obvious choice, but the track really resonated with me then and now. I still have memories hanging out in Rome with my best friend Marc (the real life Johnny), drinking tea and coffee and watching an Italian version of MTV with some beautiful Italian girls when this video popped on. One of those fantastic moments when everything felt perfect and I wanted time to stop.

2) The Sisters of Mercy "First and Last and Always"

Though black was and still is my favorite color, I was never a full-on goth. I love the Sisters of Mercy though and was fascinated with the scene. I especially loved goth girls! Drew's ex-girlfriend Christine, who works at a cool record store, is a goth who looks a little like Siouxsie Sioux. Like most of the characters in the book she's a composite of different people I knew at the time. She introduces Drew to bands like the Sisters of Mercy and the Cult (early on in the book, Drew buys the 12" of "Spiritwalker" to impress her. The Sisters of Mercy make a cameo in the novel when Drew and his best friend in Michigan, PJ, see the band at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit in 1984, the year before Drew moves to England. PJ lies to the Sisters' tour manager and tells him that Drew writes for Spin. He wings an interview with Andrew Eldritch and it ends up getting published in the Univ. of Michigan student paper. There's some semblance of truth to this story but with a different band. Unlike Drew, I didn't start writing about music until I returned from England. My first interview was with That Petrol Emotion at St. Andrew's in Detroit, where a friend who partly inspired the PJ character lied our way back stage,saying I wrote for Spin! I guess Spin had a lot of clout back then. Back to the Sisters. First and Last and Always was the stunning 1985 debut album, released just before the band broke up. Eldrich would return a few years later with a much different band, while Wayne Hussey went on to form the Mission. I loved all the early singles like "Alice" and "Temple of Love" -- staples at student discos -- but there's something equally magical about the newer songs on First and Last and Always. The material is dark, yet you can tell that the band has a sense of humor (evidenced by the number of odd songs they would cover live). a trait that was missing from most of the goth scene.

3) The Psychedelic Furs "The Psychedelic Furs"

Along with the Clash, Sex Pistols, U2, and Echo and the Bunnymen, the Psych Furs were what I like to call an MTV gateway drug to the alternative music scene. It's hard for younger people to understand how difficult it was to hear good music back in the day, even in the relatively hip college town where I grew up, less than an hour away from Detroit. MTV used to be about music, not teen pregnancy, and when my parents got cable in 1981 when I was sixteen, I discovered a whole new world -- they were calling it new wave back then -- that would influence the rest of my life. One of the bands I really dug was the Psych Furs. Their first three albums from 1980-1982 are stone classics before they went all mainstream on Mirror Moves, and, especially, Midnight to Midnight. They did come back with a few solid albums, but haven't released anything new since World Outside (1991) and are sadly part of the camp, cabaret circuit now. Shame because the first three albums are legendary. In the first chapter of Wivenhoe Park, Drew is wearing a T-shirt featuring the black and pink artwork of the self-titled debut album so I chose "We Love You" from that record. Here's a live on American TV rendition from 1980. To this day I play the early albums a lot. Richard Butler snarls like Johnny Rotten but like the JAMC, this isn't punk rock. The raw energy is there, but one can also hear elements of seventies legends like Velvet Underground and Roxy Music.

4) Echo and The Bunnymen "Ocean Rain"

During the first half of the eighties, no one was cooler than Echo and the Bunnymen. The songwriting dynamic of vocalist Ian McCulloch (vocals) and Will Sergeant (guitar) was phenomenal. Live they were out of this world. Ian with his dangling cigarettes and dances that had the girls screaming, Will stoically employing his sonic pyrotechnics. In retrospect, 1985 was like a changing of the guard. The Bunnymen released their last great single "Bring on the Dancing Horses" the same month as the Jesus and Mary Chain put out Psychocandy. While the Bunnymen would 'break' America in 1987 with their self-titled fifth album, they were never the same. Live, the Bunnymen still have it. I saw them in 2002 and was blown away, but I haven't loved any of their albums since 1984's Ocean Rain. My favorite albums by the group are the first two, but Ocean Rain was a special record for me (and Drew) when we were at Essex, especially the song "The Killing Moon." This is another Rome memory that is forever imprinted. The girls that Marc (Johnny) and I hung out with that week had a car and they drove us all around the city playing a mix tape that featured this song as well as Simple Minds' "Up on the Catwalk." I can't play either record without thinking of Rome 1986, especially "The Killing Moon". Lyrically, it's a masterpiece, that line about fate, up against your will almost makes me cry every time I hear it.

5) New Order "Low-Life" 

Low-Life is my favorite New Order album. I love Movement and, especially, Power, Corruption & Lies, but I feel like Low-Life is the one where the group came into their own and shed the ghost of their old Joy Division bandmate Ian Curtis. The album is a perfect hybrid of rock 'n' roll and club culture. It's night time music, perfect for a moonlight drive. In the Manchester chapter of Wivenhoe Park, Drew, Dave, and Brendan are listening to "5 8 6" from Power, Corruption & Lies on their way to the Hacienda. In retrospect maybe I should have had them listen to Low-Life, but I wanted to incorporate the "I see danger, danger..." line into the novel for obvious reasons to those who have read it. Peter Hook remains my favorite bass player to this day, visually and sonically, for his work in Joy Division and on cuts such as the bitchin' live version of "Sunrise" below. I got to interview him once and it remains one of my more cherished rock 'n' roll memories.

6) Lloyd Cole and the Commotions "Rattlesnakes" 

I love Lloyd Cole a lot more now than I did in the eighties. The Commotions' second album Easy Pieces was out when I was at Essex and I heard songs like "Lost Weekend" and "Brand New Friend" all the time at parties and on the radio. I liked it but at the time I thought it was too slick, too mature. As I got older I revisited their work and realized what a lyrical genius Cole is. The debut Rattlesnakes gets mentioned in Wivenhoe Park and was on constant repeat while I was knocking out the book. The older me gets what the younger me didn't quite grasp at the time. For this entry I chose "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" This is from a 1985 gig in Germany.

7) The Smiths "The Smiths"

I'm not a card-holding member of the cult of Morrissey (I lost interest in his solo work rather quickly), but I love the Smiths. Like McCulloch and Sergeant, Morrissey and Marr were genius composers. The group's third album The Queen is Dead came out in June 1986, about a month before I moved back to America, and I vividly remember watching a television performance of the band performing "Big Mouth Strikes Again" with Marc and some of my friends in Eddington 5. It was breathtaking, and if push comes to shove, The Queen is Dead is my favorite Smiths album, but the one that resonated with me most at Essex was the self-titled debut. "What Difference Does It Make?" remains my favorite single by the band, but the song I was obsessed with for a long time was "Pretty Girls Make Graves," the title culled from a Kerouac quote. To me it perfectly captures romantic loss and memories of a twenty-year boy thinking his world is crashing. Who needs girls anyway? Oh the drama!

8) The Stooges "The Stooges"

I'd say virtually all of my favorite bands owe something to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop. The three albums by the Stooges (1969-1973) are as good as rock 'n' roll gets. As far as I'm concerned they invented punk rock -- yeah I get it that some of the sixties garage rockers were pretty tough, but did they cut themselves on stage like Iggy did? Nothing sounds more dangerous and sexier than a Stooges album blasting at full volume. And Iggy Pop is what a rock star should be: the anti-Bono. He still looks great shirtless and in black leather, and he might be the reason I still have long hair. I want to look like a crazy old man when I'm pushing 70, just like Iggy. Iggy grew up in my hometown of Michigan. Drew learns about him in high school when an older musician friend introduces him to classic Detroit rock bands like the Stooges, MC5, and the early Bob Seger. I could have easily chosen any one of the Stooges albums but I'll go with something from the debut, a song called "1969" that the Sisters of Mercy covered as a B-side. Andrew Eldritch once said that the only groups better than his were the Stooges, Motorhead, and the Birthday Party!

9) Student Discos!

Not an album, but a category. The Entertainment Society at Essex was first-rate. They put on so many fun events. I saw countless touring bands at the University's basement club venue and seemingly every week there was at least one student disco, if not more. Much of the music veered toward the catchier side of goth and postpunk, including the likes of the Cult "Spiritwalker" or "She Sells Sanctuary," Sisters of Mercy "Alice" or "Temple of Love," Killing Joke "Love Like Blood" and New Model Army "Vengeance." I remember that groups of guys would shove each other, whilst holding overpriced cans of lager or cider, in ritualistic dances to these songs, much to the annoyance of the girls. There are several club scenes in Wivenhoe Park, including one that takes place in Florence, Italy. Here's a sample of English goth/postpunk nightlife c. '85-'86

10) Protest Music

People forget how dark the eighties were. You had Reagan in America and his partner-in-crime Thatcher in England selling us false visions of hope, while their policies crippled the lives of the working (and middle classes). The rich get richer... Bands weren't afraid to speak their minds then. You had Billy Bragg, of course, but there was also a new brigade of young pretenders, including the likes of the Redskins and Easterhouse, whose viewpoints were further left than the likes of Bragg and Paul Weller, who supported the Labour Party. The music was as great as the message, especially Easterhouse whose 1986 album Contenders still gets heavy play from me.

11) The Cure "The Head on the Door"

The  Cure haven't aged as well for me as the likes of the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Psych Furs. The only albums I play these days are the first two or the Staring at the Sea singles compilation, but this was a huge favorite of mine back in the day. "Close to Me" and "In-between" days were popular staples at campus discos and on the bar jukeboxes. Robert Smith has become a cartoon character now, but he was an inspiration back then, if nothing else for what he could do with hair spray! See also, Ian Mac and the Reid brothers!

12) C86

C86 was the name of a cassette tape that the NME put out near the end of my stay at Essex to document a bunch of bands that they thought might make it. Marc (Johnny) and I saw some of these groups, talked about most of them. We were avid readers of the music weeklies along with Record Mirror and Smash Hits. Bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops, Shop Assistants, Wedding Present, We've Got a Fuzzbox..., and the Dentists. The godfather of this scene was Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream, who wanted nothing to do with awkward indie kids, but were associated with the C86 tag. There's a club scene early on where Drew sees Meat Whiplash and Primal Scream and meets Bobby Gillespie and Creation Records boss Alan McGee. The Primal Scream song "Velocity Girl" pretty much invents what would later become the Manchester scene. The early Stone Roses idolized Primal Scream -- listen to "Made of Stone" and "Velocity Girl" back to back. Here are two favorites from that era, that scene.

13) Spacemen 3 "Sound of Confusion" 

This last entry is a case of what if I were one year younger. I'm guessing that if I went to Essex in '86-'87 instead of the year before, I might have had a similar reaction to Spacemen 3 as I did to the Jesus and Mary Chain and Psychocandy. Spacemen 3 became one of my all-time favorite bands but I didn't get into them until I came back from England when their first album was released later in '86. I stumbled upon this record after reading a  review by esteemed American critic Fred Mills, who mentioned the Stooges cover and something about a vibe similar to the Who c. "I Can See For Miles." I was sold. In Wivenhoe Park, Nick comes across a Spacemen 3 demo through his journalist friend Nick Danger and there's even mention of Drew hanging out with Sonic Boom on another coast much later. Foreshadowing to the third and final novel of the Drew trilogy.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Minimalist Runner

No, this has nothing to do with barefoot running or trying to navigate your way on a trail in those goofy Vibram shoes. Like my post the other day, this entry is about getting rid of clutter. It's easy to accumulate junk as a runner. When I was younger, race T-shirts were often optional (you had to pay a larger entry fee to get one) and finisher's medals were virtually nonexistent. I get it that some people -- I'm guessing those who grew up in the 1990s (the everyone's a winner generation) -- expect freebies, but all I want from a race is an accurate course and an accurate time.

Here's how I keep my running clutter down:

1) I donate virtually all of my race T-shirts to Goodwill. I mean how many do we really need? And most of them are pretty ugly with all of the corporate logos.

2) Awards: Trophies make great wine stoppers. I've given a bunch to friends.

Medals are fun cat toys but in all seriousness I give those away to friends with kids. Kids love medals. Honestly, I don't think age group awards should even exist for people over the age of 18, unless it's a bottle of wine or a cool gift certificate!

So here's what my gear is reduced to. Maybe 10 T-shirts, a half-dozen long sleeves, five pairs of shorts, track suit bottoms, a windbreaker, hat and gloves, plus two pairs of shoes. One for racing, one for training. It still feels like a lot to me, but like I said in the other post, the weather in Ohio ranges from 0 to 100 and there's only so many times I want to do laundry.

Last up, here's a tip to reduce clutter: arm warmers. In place of a long sleeve T-shirt, I like to wear these under a normal T-shirt. They're easy to wash in the sink with Woolite and you're ready to go the next day.

Next up, I'll write about how to be a minimalist collector. We're all obsessed with something -- in my case, it's records and CDs -- but I have some ideas to keep it all under control.


Minimalist Mod

I've always hated clutter. I feel like I'm going to suffocate when I'm surrounded by too many things. Television shows like Hoarders scare the hell out of me. Hell, some of my friends' houses do. For all of my adult life I've lived in smallish apartments in urban settings. This has kept me from accumulating too much, but it's not hard to let stuff pile up if you're not thinking about it. I've decided to make it my mission to strip down my possessions as much as I can: wardrobe, record collection, books, you name it.

I decided to tackle my clothes first. It was easier than I though. I went through my closet and dresser and put everything I haven't worn in a year or more into garbage bags and donated everything to Goodwill. No thinking about it, no eBaying anything, no hanging on to anything just in case. Here are the results.

Here's my closet and the breakdown. 1) Trousers: black 511s, dark blue 511s, brown cord 511s, black dress pants. 2) shirts: one black John Varvatos, one white John Varvatos, four Ben Shermans, three paisley/psychedelic shirts; two old school Lacostes (one black, one gray); one black/white striped long sleeve.

Shoes: black Chelsea boots, black loafers, brown Clarke's boots, Puma trainers

T-shirts and sweaters. Not too bad, eh?

Outerwear. Maybe more than I need but it is Cleveland after all and the weather ranges from sub-zero to 100F! Black leather jacket, parka, black Ted Baker overcoat, black velvet jacket, a jean jacket, and three suits!

Not taking photos of socks and underwear but I have about a dozen pairs of each. And two belts. That's it for accessories. 

Next up, I'm going to talk about being a minimalist runner. Not an endorsement of barefoot running but rather, how to avoid clutter from a sport where you constantly get free swag at races. It's a never ending battle getting rid of race t-shirts,finishers medals, age group awards etc. 


Something about running

It's been awhile since I've done a running post, but it's also been awhile since I've raced. 13 months to be exact. I have been training, but when you're not training for anything in particular it's easy to lose focus here and there. Saturday was a gut check. I decided it was time to sign up for a race and actually compete. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way things went. I ran 19:23 for 5K (6:14 per mile pace) and my splits were super even. I was 12:28 at the 2 mile mark and held the same pace tot he finish. This means that while  much slower than I have been in awhile, I at least still have a solid sense of pacing and race rhythm. I ended up 4th overall. The first 3 guys were all under 18 minutes and the guy behind me was about twenty seconds back. I passed him with about a mile to go. It was fun getting in there and mixing it up again. Next up is another 5K on the same course in Lakewood Park on October 25. Hopefully I can make a significant improvement to my time. I've already penciled in a good 5-week training block to get ready.


Pete Fij and Terry Bickers: Broken Heart Surgery

(Some of this will appear in the next issue of The Big Takeover).

Coventry, England's Adorable were one of the best bands of the early nineties, releasing two stellar albums on Creation Records: Against Perfection (1993) and Fake (1994). Unfairly lumped in with the so-called shoegazer scene, Adorable were anything but timid lads staring down on the floor, especially live. Their brand of noisy guitar pop band brought to mind legends like Echo and the Bunnymen and the Jesus and Mary Chain; crushing songs with exceptional songwriting. Frontman Piotr Fijalkowski's (AKA Pete Fij) lyrics read like excerpts from noir films or novels. Just take one listen to "Road Movie" and you'll see what I mean. Adorable broke up in 1995 and Pete went on to form a new group Polak with his brother Kris (ex-Bardots) and would go on to release several great albums, the last one being Rubbernecking in 2002.

Some twelve years in the making, Broken Heart Surgery is Pete's long-awaited collaboration with guitarist Terry Bickers (House of Love). The duo impresses on this raw, stripped down album, which documents the breakdown of a relationship in a brutally honest and, at times, humorous fashion. One can’t help but chuckle on "Out of Time" when Pete laments, "You send me emails and send me texts, you know I can’t connect – I’m not a techno-lover." Other highlights include "Betty Ford" with its clever word play comparing love to drug addiction ("And Hope, it's more addictive than coke"), the poignant single "Downsizing," and the gorgeous "Parallel Girl," where Pete pines for the one who got away backed by an orchestrated arrangement worthy of John Barry. 

More info can be found at: 

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


New sounds from an old favorite: the story of Into Paradise and Dave Long

Dublin's Into Paradise remain one of my favorite groups of all time. They released four incredible albums and a number of killer EPs from 1989-1994 -- mainly on Keith Cullen's famed London imprint Setanta -- before calling it quits. The band had a postpunk vibe that brought to mind legends such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, and the Sound. The late Adrian Borland, who fronted the latter, even produced some of Into Paradise's records. I discovered the group in 1989 when I bought their Blue Light EP and debut full-length Under The Water on a visit to England. I'm not sure where I read about them, but obviously something in the description lead me to buy the records without hearing a note. I'm certainly glad I did! I was immediately transfixed by the epic, moody sounds, and the singer Dave Long's breathtaking vocals. A favorite song from this early period is the stunning ballad "I Want You."

Soon after these records came out, Setanta was able to get a licencing deal with Chrysalis and a bastardized version of the debut album, simply called Into Paradise, which combined songs from Under The Water and another EP Change was released in America. Below is a fanzine review I wrote about Under The Water.

Next up was the major label effort, which should have been huge. It was a harder and heavier record with postpunk killers like the intense Magazine-like "Burns My Skin." At this time I struck up a correspondence with Keith Cullen and he even sent me the 12" of "Burns My Skin" which featured a cover of "Shot By Both Sides" as a B-side as well as the debut EP by another Dublin group I came to love, Power of Dreams. Into Paradise did not become the next U2 and their last two albums, Down All The Days (1992) and For No One (1993) were released on Setanta to critical acclaim in Ireland, but without the commercial success that was so richly deserved.

Into Paradise even make a cameo in my forthcoming Whipping Boy-inspired novel, when the protagonist sees what turns out to be one of their last gigs at the Rock Garden. The scene was inspired by this recording of their last ever gig, recently posted on the excellent Fanning Sessions blog.

Some twenty years later and Dave Long is back with a tremendous self-released solo album called Water Has Memory. The man hasn't lost a beat. Songs like the windswept ballads "London is Fog" and  "Music Goes" and the edgy "Saturday Night" bring it all back home again. I hope to visit Dublin next year and would love to buy him a pint or two -- that's the least I can do to thank him for all the wonderful music.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Vintage House of Love, Stone Roses and Ride fanzine reviews

A few days ago I posted the first interview I ever did. Here are some reviews I wrote of now-legendary debut albums back in the day by the Stone Roses, House of Love, and Ride. I loved them then and love them now!

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


That Petrol Emotion: The story behind my first interview ever

Before running Vendetta magazine from 1994-2002, I edited a shortly lived zine called New Direction from 1987-1991. While cleaning out my closet, I came across a box of old issues, so I decided that I'd start scanning some articles over the coming weeks, including reviews of then 'new' albums by the likes of the Stone Roses, House of Love, Ride, and the Cure's Disintegration. But first, I wanted to share the first in-person interview I ever conducted with the now legendary Northern Irish outfit That Petrol Emotion.

The group became an immediate favorite of mine when their debut Manic Pop Thrill was released in 1986 while I was studying abroad in England. I remember reading rave reviews in the British press and running out to buy it with my best friend Marc. That Petrol Emotion even make a cameo in my novel Wivenhoe Park when the protagonist Drew and his buddy Johnny see the band in London and talk to Steve Mack afterwards. When I came back to America, I discovered The Big Takeover magazine and was immediately inspired to start my own fanzine. For the first few years I just published record and live reviews, until a friend of mine, Jon, kicked my ass into gear. We went to Detroit to see That Petrol Emotion at St. Andrew's Hall. At the gig Jon went to the side of the stage and started chatting to a dude who turned out to be the group's tour manager. When the concert ended, Jon said to me, come on we're going backstage. I told their manager that you write for Spin and that you just interviewed Billy Bragg! We went backstage -- I'm sure my hands were visibly shaking -- and got to meet everyone in the band, before I conducted a brief interview with bass player John Marchini. As I didn't have a recorder, I jotted down notes on the back of a concert flyer and blended them into the short article below.

I would end up interviewing a hundreds of bands in the coming decade, including Ride, Catherine Wheel, Suede, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Brian Jonestown Massacre, but this little chat with That Petrol Emotion will always remain one of my favorite writing memories.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Two greats from '88: House of Love and Ultra Vivid Scene

1988 was a great but somewhat overlooked year in rock 'n' roll. The English music scene that captivated me so much when I first fell in love with alternative sounds at the beginning of the decade was going through growing pains. My beloved Echo and the Bunnymen, who could do no wrong, released their tepid fifth self-titled album in 1987;  one that would break them in America, but at a price. They were never the same again. The original Sisters of Mercy lineup disintegrated, the Psychedelic Furs lost their edge, and most depressing of all, the Smiths broke up. My favorite band, the Jesus and Mary Chain released a much different follow up to Psychocandy, which while great, left me jonesing for noise.

Noise would make a return. Groups like Spacemen 3, Loop, and My Bloody Valentine had already been revisiting the spirit of Psychocandy, with unique twists of their own, while American acts like Dinosaur, Jr. and the Pixies were making a similar splash, especially in England. All of these groups would end up becoming huge influences on what would later be termed shoegaze. Against this backdrop, the House of Love and Ultra Vivid Scene released their seminal debuts in 1988 on Creation and 4AD, respectively.

The House of Love were the perfect marriage of sixties rock 'n' roll classicism and contemporary noise pop. Think Mary Chain meets the Smiths. The combination of Guy Chadwick on vocals and Terry Bickers on guitar was as mesmerizing as Morrissey and Marr. Their self-titled album was a breezy affair, clocking in at barely thirty minutes without a wasted word or note. I remember buying a vinyl copy of this for $5 at a used record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Wazoo and playing it five times in a row that Saturday afternoon. Later, I would pick up a German compilation of the singles that did not appear on the record, including "Destroy The Heart" and "Shine On."

Ultra Vivid Scene was an American act fronted by Kurt Ralske, who brought to mind the Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, and Spacemen 3. At this time, I was writing a crap fanzine that shall go nameless (a predecessor to my much better '90s zine Vendetta) and was able to score an Ultra Vivid Scene promo cassette. I wore it out so much in my car that I ended up having to re-buy it on vinyl! To this day, that record and the group's follow up Joy 1967-1990 are in heavy rotation.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Wivenhoe Park press clips

My novel Wivenhoe Park has been out for about eight months now. Here's a selection of press clips thus far. Articles first, followed by reviews: feature
QRD magazine interview
PopJunkie review

Cool Cleveland spotlight

The real protagonist of Wivenhoe Park, in fact, is the music, and the book celebrates the scene from the chapter headings right down to its soul. It’s an addictive read, an affirmative and faithful story of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Where an equivalent novel such as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity becomes evermore unrealistic to get to its happy ending,Wivenhoe Park retains a believable optimism through sheer faith in rock & roll.

– Paul Rayson, Muso’s Guide

“I enjoyed Wivenhoe Park thoroughly. Ben Vendetta captures the youth feel and mood of those times quite vividly. His description of an embryonic Primal Scream gig is bang on; people always skip over that period of the band when  they were most interesting and unpredictable. Cool that Meat Whiplash get a mention also, a defining Creation moment for sure.”

– Sam Knee, author of A Scene In Between

“This is classic coming of age stuff. Drew makes friends, hangs out with bands, dates inappropriate girls, takes drugs and whole lot more. But what makes Wivenhoe Park such a joy is that Ben writes in a very engaging way … If you ever enjoyed High Fidelity, went to a British University in the mid 80s or are counting the days until Cherry Red reissues the legendary C86 compilation (as a two disc set!) you’ll love this.”


What a fun novel with sneaky depth. BT’s own Vendetta brings back an ’80s era when a stunning, now-legendary post-punk/indie rock scene was blazing in Britain, yet this time, unlike with punk rock, a smaller slice of Americans followed its brilliance. He slyly evokes this in a coming-of-college-age story of throwing off the influence (and snares) of normal Middle American life by instead immersing himself into the thick of the NME/Melody Maker/Sounds-fed maelstrom in England itself (while seeing a bit of the continent). The scenes of hot concerts, encountering the new albums, and meeting key players such as Creation Records impresario Alan McGee are as vivid as the romantic angst of an early 20-something negotiating the love/sex conundrum and the constant worrying about identity and career—it’s all as funny as thoughtful. And I didn’t see the ending coming, either.

–Jack Rabid, The Big Takeover

If you were a post-punk kid growing up in the suburban Midwest in the ‘80s, London was your Mecca. Not all of us made the trip that decade, but now we can, thanks to Vendetta’s vivid portrayal of a young Anglophile abroad, drowning out the ache of first heartbreak in a mad dash through the British music scene. If John Hughes were still alive… well… he’d never touch this story. It’s too full of the sort of gritty realism that never made it into his well-scrubbed coming-of-age stories.

– Robert Cherry (former Editor-in-Chief, Alternative Press)

I was jazzed when I heard music writer Ben Vendetta was writing a book. I always enjoyed reading his zine, VENDETTA and his contributions to Jack Rabid’s BIG TAKEOVER zine and our music tastes are pretty similar. Regarding his book…is it autobiographical? Well, not really (hmm…) but it follows the life of Drew, a Michigan university student who decides to travel abroad and study in a small British town (near London). Along the way he lives, he loves (love stinks), learns and, oh yeah, he sees lots and lots of bands, listens to a ton of records and generally talks about bands like Primal Scream , The Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen to anyone who’ll listen (and he has the t-shirts to prove it) . He nearly reaches his goal of becoming a famous music writer for one of the British weeklies but finds out back stabbers aren’t only in America, but who cares, he got to meet Bobby Gillespie!. For those of us who came of age in the 80’s and didn’t give a hoot about bands like Foreigner or Poison but instead wanted REAL music then WIVENHOE PARK will be a real page turner that’s hard to put down. It certainly was for me.

– Tim Hinely, Dagger

Wivenhoe Park wrenched me back to a mid-80s Britain where punk was dead and alternative/goth ruled. If birds, booze and Bunnymen are your thing, as they are mine, then dust off your Sisters of Mercy LPs, squeeze into your Meat Is Murder t-shirt and enjoy the ride.

– Dave Hawes (Catherine Wheel)

With Wivenhoe Park, writer Ben Vendetta takes you back to a simpler time when culture and relationships were complicated but fun, and when music really mattered to your life. This dive into historical fiction is like a post-punk version of High Fidelity, with a bit more grit, sass, and reality. It’s a great read.

– Tony Schinella (Award-winning journalist, broadcaster; musician)

Wivenhoe Park blew me away. The writing is so good and so descriptive that I really felt like I was reliving my 20s when I read it. It’s very evocative. Wivenhoe Park brings you back to that rollercoaster ride of your early 20s. Every great new discovery — music, friends, food, drinking, the opposite sex — is like a match to dynamite. Every disappointment is the end of the world. With each experience, Drew grows just a little bit. In the end, he’s figured out who he is, what he can give to the world, and what it takes to be a great partner and friend.

– Michelle Briand, WXRV (The River)

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


MTV and other early '80s gateway drugs

When I was in high school in the early eighties it took effort to discover music by less than mainstream bands. MTV was a godsend, my first gateway drug to alternative sounds. My parents got cable in 1981 and I was immediately thrilled by all the music that was suddenly being thrown in my face on MTV. All music, all the time was the catch phrase as DJ's (MTV called them veejays) would introduce, play, and comment on promotional music videos in rapid fire fashion. Some of the 'new' bands I got exposed to included Echo and the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, the Clash, and U2; legends to this day. I still remember the first time I saw the "Gloria" video and thinking U2 was a great band, but why did they have to make a video of them posing in the docks? Other bands I thought were silly -- I never did dig Flock of Seagulls -- but at least I got exposed to them and was able to make up my own mind. As I got a little older, college radio became a trusted friend, as did word of mouth from kids that seemed far cooler than me, and friends' older siblings. I remember being horrified and fascinated at the same time when a high school buddy's older brother played us Never Mind The Bollocks. Journalists had much more sway back then too. When I started reading the British magazines like Melody Maker and NME, I quickly learned whose tastes were compatible with mine and I would often buy something just because someone else said it was good. When I came back from my junior year abroad in England in '86, I discovered The Big Takeover, a magazine I still write for to this day!

As as a tribute to the early MTV and all my early gateway drugs, here's the official video of the Clash's epic "London Calling" -- rock 'n' roll doesn't get any cooler and more bad ass than this.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records


Psychocandy and Me

It's 2014 and the Jesus and Mary Chain are all the rage again, playing reunion shows some twenty-nine years after the release of their seminal debut album Psychocandy. Next year promises much more of the same when the thirtieth anniversary kicks in. While this makes me feel old, it also makes me feel happy. More than any other band, the Jesus and Mary Chain changed my life for the better. I sign copies of my novel with the inscription 'rock'n' roll saves lives' because they saved my mine. The Jesus and Mary Chain were part of several life changing detours that I took in 1985 when, on a whim, I decided to move to England and study at the University of Essex. My novel, Wivenhoe Park, is a semi-autobiographical account of what went down.

I was incredibly lost my first two years of college. The biggest goal I had when I started school at the University of Michigan was to make the varsity cross country team, but those plans capsized within months as I tried, without success, to balance out running, keeping up with my classes, and partying like a rock star. In high school I would drink occasionally on the weekends, but without parental supervision, things quickly got out of control. I ended up quitting the team, later even getting hospitalized for a week with pancreatitis. I had become so depressed that I ended up seeing a shrink and got prescribed Valium. I certainly didn't mind that part! My sophomore year was a blur -- it probably sounds cliched but I felt like I didn't belong and was looking for an exit strategy. Just a few weeks before study abroad application deadlines were due, I decided to apply for two programs in England: University of Essex and York University. To this day, I'm eternally grateful that my parents let me do this.

I ended up getting accepted at both schools, choosing Essex because of its closer proximity to London. Essex was a completely different world to Michigan. The students were much more politically active and I felt like I didn't have to search so hard to find kindred spirits. For the first time in a long time, I felt at home. In perfect synchronicity, Psychocandy came a few weeks after I arrived and quickly became the soundtrack to my year.  I bought every magazine I could that had articles about the group, even cutting and styling my hair into a spiky mess as a homage to Jim and William Reid. My best friend was another like-minded American named Marc (Johnny in the novel). He arrived on campus in January and we met at a campus disco a few days after he landed in London; the two American dudes with pierced ears. I told him about Psychocandy, which hadn't come out in America yet, and he was desperate to hear it. We ended up going back to my room and playing my cassette and drinking whiskey out of a bottle that I had on my shelf and became friends for life. Marc got me into a lot of great music -- he had a tape of some previously unreleased Velvet Underground tunes -- and we saw countless shows together, even traveling in France and Italy. 

I tried to recapture that reckless rush of youth I experienced in England when I wrote Wivenhoe Park, playing the Mary Chain on repeat as I banged out the early drafts. The album is still my best music friend and because of it I feel like I was brave enough to forge out a path that lead me to becoming a music writer, who even got to meet most of his heroes, including Creation Records founders Alan McGee and Joe Foster, the men who brought the Jesus and Mary Chain to the world. Creation was my inspiration when I had my own label Elephant Stone -- most of the records I put out owed at least something to the spirit of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Happy 30th Jesus and Mary Chain -- hope to catch up with you again sometime soon.

Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be ordered directly from me via Elephant Stone Records


Cool Hand Luke Haines

I'm on a mission to write something for this blog at least once a week, so here's an entry on one of my absolute favorite bands of all-time, the Auteurs. Fronted by Luke Haines, formerly of C86 pretenders the Servants, the Auteurs released four wonderful albums between 1993 and 1999. In addition, Luke also put out a more experimental album by his side project called Baader Meinhof, which also comes highly recommended. I can remember where I was when I first heard the Auteurs. I was living in Dublin -- this would have been late '92 -- when I tuned into the Dave Fanning Show one evening. Dave was the indie of DJ of note in Ireland, their John Peel if you will. That evening he played the Auteurs debut single "Showgirl," a fascinating gem with lyrics that seemed culled straight from a James Cain novel. The record floored me and I bought the debut album New Wave the day it was released. During this time the Auteurs were being lumped into a scene with groups such as Suede, Elastica, and Blur c. Modern Life is Rubbish; what would eventually become Britpop. Time has been kinder to the Auteurs than any of the other groups from that era, that scene. Most groups from that era made one ood album and flamed out. The Auteurs put out four stone classics.

The Auteurs also play a minor role in my new novel Heartworm, which mainly takes place in 1996. There's a short chapter called "Cool Hand Luke Haines" where the protagonist (a music journalist) has an encounter with Luke while taking a stroll through Camden. The conversation they have is based in part on a real interview I conducted with Haines for my old fanzine Vendetta, as well as Luke's tremendous memoir of the Britpop era Bad Vibes.

There's a documentary about Haines that I'm desperate to see called Art Will Save The World, which hasn't made it's way to Netflix yet. Everyone I know in England and Ireland who has seen it, loves it. I'll leave you with something from their 1996 album After Murder Park.



I finished the first draft of my second novel Heartworm two weeks ago. Why the name Heartworm? Here's the lowdown. I had been working on a sequel to Wivenhoe Park this spring with the working title of Portholes For Bono, which is a lyric from the 1995 Whipping Boy album Heartworm. The novel is set in '95-'96 so it seemed natural to listen to music from that era, especially since Heartworm is one of my top ten favorite albums of all-time. There's also an Irish angle to the story, based on two years I spent living in Dublin, making Whipping Boy a natural soundtrack to my creativity. Bono even makes a cameo!

That said, I felt like there was something missing from that earlier version of novel #2. At this time, Bloomsbury Academic announced a call for entries for their music book series 33 1/3. Most of the books in that series are standard rock criticism, but several, such as Joe Pernice's Meat is Murder and John Niven's Music From Big Pink were written as novels. I came up with an angle on how to incorporate Whipping Boy into a fictional narrative and make it a sequel to Wivenhoe Park. Not so far fetched when you think of it. The protagonist of Heartworm is a rock critic and I interviewed Whipping Boy for my old magazine Vendetta so I already had plenty of source material in the archives.

To cut to the chase, Heartworm didn't make the final cut for 33 1/3, but the book will come out and I'm already looking forward to promoting it -- I'd love to do a reading in Dublin next year on the 20th anniversary of Heartworm the album.

If you've never heard Whipping Boy, below are two of their best known anthems performed live on the Jools Holland show:


Wivenhoe Park Soundtrack

Music plays an instrumental role in my novel Wivenhoe Park. Paul Rayson of Muso's Guide writes, "It's a celebration of Psychocandy and all else great about the scene, with details from Sister Ray Records to Spacemen 3. It has style notes that reveal the time and the people, from the cheesy GQ fashions of 1980s mainstream Italians to the tired spiky-haired punk costumes of a disenfranchised English subculture. Wivenhoe Park is the most loving kind of novel about growing up, and in the best setting: a revolution of musical experimentation against 1980s drabness."

This revolution against '80s drabness -- Michael Jackson, Miami Vice, Live Aid etc. -- is perfectly captured in my wife Arabella's book trailer:

The Jesus and Mary Chain are our protagonist Drew's favorite band. They are mentioned throughout the novel, including a discussion with some new wave kids from Iowa at the airport on his way to England; a JAMC concert scene at Norwich University where he bonds with a girl; watching the "Just Like Honey" video on television with some Italian friends while on holiday in Rome.

Another band that plays a key role in Wivenhoe Park is the young Primal Scream. The singer Bobby Gillespie is someone that Drew looks up to as the epitome of cool when he first encounters the group in a London club and hears a new song called "Velocity Girl." He later hears the song again in a girl's room when she plays him the now legendary C86 cassette.

Older music is also essential to Wivenhoe Park. In the first chapter, which takes place the year before the other events, Drew is at a party sporting a Psychedelic Furs T-shirt. His favorite bands at this point in his life are the aforementioned, along with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Sisters of Mercy,and the Cure. The dark and moody stuff. Later in the book, Drew and his best friend Johnny hear a DJ play "The Killing Moon" at goth club in Florence, Italy. Here's a cool live version!

Another old song that soothes Drew's soul is "We Could Send Letters" by Aztec Camera. The song is about a long distance relationship on the fritz and one that Drew thinks about a lot when he is reminded of his first love Christine, who is back home in Michigan.

At one point we learn that the gateway to Drew's love of 'alternative' music stems from an older friend, Richie, who was once a semi-famous rock star in the seventies and is now a neighbor of his parents in suburban Michigan. Richie introduces Drew to all the cool Detroit legends like the Stooges and MC5. If you read the novel, you should be able to figure out who the real life Richie is. One of his songs ended up getting covered by Motley Crue in the late '80s!

This is just a small sampling of the music mentioned in Wivenhoe Park. I have added over three hours worth of music mentioned in the novel in a newly-created Spotify playlist. Note: there a few bands mentioned in the novel such as Meat Whiplash and Aztec Camera who are not on Spotify but this playlist is pretty complete and mostly in the order that the songs are mentioned in the book.


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