Nobody ever said rock stars were good influences on the youth of the world. In fact, if they were good influences, they wouldn’t be rock stars. Their instability and volatility and id-driven everything are the draw. Who wants to see rock stars with stable marriages or coflict-free interactions with others or the ability to censor themselves when speaking on camera? I know I don’t. I expect them to be a little corrupt, slightly morally bankrupt and more than a bit filterless when expressing themselves.
I like my rock stars to hide their heartbreak beneath a healthy slathering of false bravado and artificial swagger.
That way, their breakthroughs of genuine emotion and true humanity within are sweetly unexpected — winning surprises all the way through.
And if, while all of it happens, they choose to dress like inebriated circus performers who managed to find life beyond Thunderdome, so much the better.
Meet Trevor Graves, retired and dropped-out folk-rock star and the unwittingly corruptive influence in Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing. Trevor had a successful run through the mid-eighties, but renounced the hedonistic ways of rock and roll in the pursuit of a higher spiritual existence. And when that fell through, he reinvented himself yet again.
Every great rock star eventually does.
Here’s a scene where Tyler Mills meets the man himself. Things are pretty tense from the get-go.
“You really write for a website?” he calls out. I think twice about doing it, but I turn around and find him slowly making his way down the street toward me. “I don’t believe it for a second, but I’ve been wrong about shit like that before.”
I feel like I have power in this situation, power I don’t want to give up just yet. So I just stand where I am, letting him come to me instead of meeting him halfway. I’ve already come far enough to meet the man. I don’t really think I need to go any further. “Nope,” I confess. Then I lie again. “School paper.”
“Now that, I believe.” He’s face to face with me again, and I see him in the sunlight. He’s worn, for sure, but instead of seeming like something has been removed from him it looks more like there’s something extra there. Like there’s another layer on top of everything else, like he’s been added onto by life or time or whatever it is that does something like that. Then he smiles, and I see what my mother painted, surfacing there in his eyes. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see.
I think I’m okay with that for the moment.
He looks past me, like he’s thinking about what his next move should be. “Why do you give a shit about my story?”
He has a good point. His songs don’t play on the radio; he doesn’t have a huge underground following hanging on his next unspoken word. I can only speak for myself. “I just do.”
“I’ve turned down real journalists at real papers…I have no reason to give away anything to a kid who just busts in on my afternoon like you’ve done here.”
I shrug. “So don’t, then.” I’m not giving him anything more. I’m not going to beg him to talk to me, even though I haven’t told him the truth yet about what I’m here to talk about. I don’t feel like I owe him that.
If anything, I feel like the people who created this situation owe me something instead.
He just stands there looking thoughtful for a few more seconds. I can’t imagine anything I’ve said has persuaded him. I haven’t said all that much, anyway. Maybe he just sees an opportunity to walk down memory lane with someone who’s sober for once, instead of the barflies he seems to be used to these days. Maybe he thinks I’m harmless enough to chat with for a while. “If I talk to you, it stays in your school paper, right?”
I nod. “If that’s what you want, sure.”
“And you don’t mention location? You tell no one where I am? The last thing I need is to have that whole bloody circus start up all over again.”
I nod again. “I can do that.”
“And I get publishing approval when you’re finished with your piece? I get to read it and cut out anything I don’t like?”
He hasn’t made a record in almost thirty years, but he talks like he’s got one sitting in the top ten. “Dude, it’s not Rolling Stone. You can read it beforehand, but I run it the way I want it.” This lying thing is getting easier and easier for me.
He thinks a little more. “This is the last fucking thing I should be doing at this point in my life.” Then he smiles again. Smirks, actually. “We can talk.”
I don’t smile back.
Yeah…Ty gives as good as he gets. The boy has the makings of a true rock star, from the swagger to the heartache and everything in between.
Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing will be released on Tuesday, September 3. It’s up and running at Goodreads already, if you’d like add it to your “to read” shelf and give it a little review once the big day hits.