Dylan, Hendrix, Lennon: The True Believers Soundtrack
Thursday, July 05, 2012 - 03:33 PM
I have a new novel coming out next week, True Believers, that isn't easy to pigeonhole. So I'll defer to the novelist Scott Turow, who describes it as "one part bildungsroman, one part political thriller and one part contemplation on age." The part that's a bildungsroman is the story of my heroine's tween and teenaged years from 1959 to 1969, growing up in a Chicago suburb.
My main character, Karen Hollander, is five years older than I am — that is, exactly the right age to experience with maximum intensity the 1960s as they turned into The Sixties. As 64-year-old Karen tells her teenaged granddaughter in 2013, it seemed "as if the whole country—the whole world, everything—slipped into a wormhole and shot out the other end in some alien sector of the space-time continuum.” That sea-change was political, of course, but also and probably more importantly cultural. And as I was researching and writing the novel I immersed myself in the records and books and movies and TV shows that transfixed American kids in the 60s — or at least my fictional kid — as they transformed America and the world.
In the early 60s, as Karen is just entering adolescence, she is smitten with Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" — but she and her two best friends also discover and fall head over heels for Ian Fleming's dark, sexy, glamorous James Bond novels. That collective infatuation powerfully shapes their lives. In 1963, when the first Bond movie, Dr. No, comes out in America, it both validates their precocious Bond-mania and deflates it — the now-everybody-knows about it problem that all cultish cultural early-adopters know well. (My own first experience with the syndrome concerned the Grateful Dead, whom I discovered at age 12, in 1967.)
A lot of iconic 60s songs figure importantly in the novel: The Beatles' "She Loves You," Dylan's "Only A Pawn in Their Game," The Troggs' "Wild Thing," "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" by Country Joe and the Fish, and Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," because Karen and her boyfriend attend a remarkable New York concert in the summer of 1967 at which the little-known Hendrix was the opening act for The Monkees. And because the boyfriend is also a jazz and blues fan, Cannonball Adderly and Muddy Waters make appearances as well.
Karen also becomes a Kurt Vonnegut fan, reading and re-reading Cat’s Cradle when she's a teenager — and then years later, as a 62-year-old giving a commencement speech, quoting a line from Mother Night that could've served as an epigraph for my novel: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”