Dana Spiotta is the author of three books: Lightning Field (2001), Eat the Document (2006), and Stone Arabia (2011).
Spiotta’s first rock and roll novel, Eat the Document - which takes its name from D.A. Pennebaker’s unreleased documentary of Bob Dylan’s controversial 1966 UK tour with The Band – features a Beach Boys’ fanatic, excellent writing on Arthur Lee’s Love, and a radical 1970s political activist and fugitive.
Eat the Document was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award and received the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. Stone Arabia was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. Spiotta teaches at Syracuse University.
RCM: What do you love about rock and roll?
Dana Spiotta: There was a time in my life when I was living in suburban California and really felt alienated and lonely. It was 8th and 9th grade. Rock and roll – punk rock in particular – saved my life. Just like in that Velvet Underground song, Rock & Roll. It helped me know that there were other people out there, other people who didn’t fit in.
RCM: What are the first rock songs and/or albums that changed your life and got you hooked on music?
DS: My first album purchase was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. I was obsessed with the Beatles for most of my childhood. Really obsessed. In high school it was Iggy, Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy -but this is in the ’80s. And British punk and NY punk.
RCM: What’s your own favorite rock and roll novel?
DS: I don’t know what exactly makes a book a rock and roll novel. Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude has a great music sensibility. I’m more interested in the listener’s experience rather than the famous rock guy’s experience. So I like that Dylan (the main character in Fortress) is a listener. A Visit From the Goon Squad [Jennifer Egan] is great because the focus is really on the aftermath. It has the people at the fringes, the failures and missed opportunities. But of course both those books are not only about music, which is part of why they are great.
RCM: For you – what goes into the writing of a great rock and roll novel?
DS: I think the music has to be an organic part of the landscape. I think it has to be a novel that has a musician in it rather than a “rock and roll” novel. Ideally a number of things are in play.
RCM: What inspired you to write about rock and roll?
DS: I wanted to write about a private artist – he could have been a painter or a writer or a filmmaker. But I know so many garage musicians, and I became very interested in the specifics of that world. I also enjoy trying to write about the experience of hearing music. It is challenging and exciting to me. I’m interested in the way music uses repetition and how that creates anticipation and joy.
RCM: Stone Arabia features a musician – Nik Kranis, aka “Nik Worth” – whose career spans the years 1973-2004. Nik fronts two bands – the Demonics and the Fakes – and works as a solo artist. But he never becomes a rock star, except in his own head. Why did you cover such a large span of time in creating Nik and not associate him with a specific scene or genre of rock and roll?
DS: I was interested in a life over time. Not just the young hot moment but the 30 years that followed. My question was along the lines of, what’s all that youthful idealism and want and desire feel like when you have done it for decades?
RCM: What bands and/or artists inspired the creation of Nik?
DS: My stepfather was the main inspiration. He had an LA band called Village, and he also kept a chronicle of his life as a fake rock star. There is this artist called Mingering Mike. He made dozens of fake records. He hand draws them, makes labels, 45s, price tags, everything. I also thought about eccentric cult musicians like Jandek, R. Stevie Moore, Ariel Pink. People who make hand-made records and just keep going out of love or need or stubbornness. There is a purity in it that I admire.
RCM: Stone Arabia is about the importance of documentation in our experience of rock and roll just as much as it is about rock and roll itself. To what extent were you thinking about documentation when you wrote Stone Arabia?
DS: I was interested in memory, and I think the urge to document has to do with trying to make memory tangible. The past is fluid – it is what you and I agree on unless someone produces evidence. We revise our memories all the time, although it doesn’t feel that way. So writing it down is a way to fight against the failures of memory. Of course Nik fictionalizes his life, he overwrites his own memory. But maybe he would argue it is a version of the truth. Only a novelist would feel that way, maybe.
RCM: Why do you think that rock writing – and, more specifically, the rock novel – has traditionally been the domain of male writers?
DS: I don’t know.
RCM: Do you feel like you, Eleanor Henderson, and Jennifer Egan have broken new ground as women authors writing about rock and roll?
DS: I think Egan and Henderson have broken new ground for the novel in general.
Dana Spiotta’s novel Stone Arabia, is available from Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble. For more information visit Dana Spiotta’s website HERE.
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