Being a fanatic about classic rock, I am always fascinated by recollections told from a perspective of someone who lived in the generation of the most provocative and evolutionary period of music. I can listen to my dad stories about the Blues legends who graced his high school stages for hours at a time. When I came across Anne-Marie Klein’s collection of novels, “Behind Blue Eyes” I was intrigued and excited at the possibility to hear another layer to the story of the 1970’s music scene. Anne-Marie graciously took time between writing her next novel to answer some questions for Orange Country Reverb!
OCR: “Behind Blue Eyes” is a series of novels inspired by the classic song written by Pete Townshend. What elements of the song inspired this series? After this series meets its completion, will there possibly be another series based on a different musical inspiration or perhaps another musical decade?
AMK: Pete Townshend is a great storyteller, and when I heard Behind Blue Eyes for the first time in 1977, there was something in the lyrics that stayed with me visually. I could see a blue-eyed sad man, and little by little, I started to develop him as a character and then formed a story around him. Specific lines in the original song guided me—his sadness, his need to lie, his habit of sticking evil things down his throat, and his loving vengeance are all drawn directly from Pete Townshend’s own words, but I eventually made my character and his tale a local one, largely because it was what I knew best.
I’m focused right now on the completion of the series, although the possibility of exploring the stories of secondary characters has crossed my mind. The third and fourth book in the series will cross into the mid-80s and move to the early 90s, but I had not considered using a different song as a springboard for another series. The idea is intriguing and tempting, I have to admit.
OCR: If I were to take a guess I would say that “Who’s Next” is your favourite album by The Who. Is this a correct assumption? What other bands were on high rotation during your childhood?
AMK: My favourite Who album is actually “Quadrophenia,” which I discovered in 1979 when the movie came out, although I do consider “Who’s Next” a very close second. “Quadrophenia” is a classic coming of age tale, and I remember identifying with its themes of rebellion and trying to fit into a larger group quite strongly as a 16 year-old. The other bands that were on high rotation on my turntable in high school were the Beatles, ELO, Genesis, Supertramp, and finally Queen, who were the ultimate group for me in terms of live shows and great records. Queen was my first large concert, and no one ever held a candle to Freddie Mercury in terms of captivating a stadium audience.
OCR: When creating the character of Ian, did you draw from your own personal experiences?
AMK: Ian’s character and story were created when I was relatively young. At the time, they were wholly fictional and free of deeply personal touches. When I picked up my originals drafts many years later, I added the necessary nuances that can only come from life experience and observation. Some of Ian’s behaviour is based on real people I have met since “inventing” him, and this is true of other characters as well.
OCR: Some throwback novels with nostalgic themes can sometimes come off a little cheesy. This retrospective has a high sense of realism. How do you bridge the gap been fiction and realism? What kind of feedback do you get from Torontonians who grew up in the 70’s?
AMK: The plot for the first two books were begun in the late 70s, which might explain why I have avoided the “cheese trap.” The story was quite contemporary when I first wrote it, and later additions and changes went through a thorough editing process to keep things real and authentic. The late 70s saw many changes that affected Toronto— the drinking age in Ontario was raised to 19, the country adopted the metric system, and seat belt laws were put in place, to name a few. These were all details I had to deal with, not to mention getting the weather right in many scenes, because as my husband rightfully pointed out during my final edits, people have long memories and know when you get something wrong. The feedback from Toronto readers has been quite positive— most of my age peers have mentioned specific iconic landmarks that they used to frequent, and how vividly the sounds, smells, and locations in the books have brought them back to a time and place they remember with fondness.
OCR: What do you think about mainstream music right now? As a kid, I remember going to Sam the Record Man with my dad and finding musical gems that were on no other music store’s shelves. It was like finding gold. Do you feel that after such an iconic store like Sam the Record Man closed that we are forced to settle with the Top 40 billboards or does it challenge us to actively look harder for worthwhile tunes?
AMK: I think there is a lot of concern about the current state of music from my generation, and that some of the criticism is merited while some is alarmist. There are a lot of great young bands out there, many of them doing interesting things on their own terms as indies or label acts and worth supporting. The difference now is that we need to often make a more active effort to find them instead of letting radio stations and record labels dictate to us what our tastes should be.
The only real lament I have is that the nature of the mp3s and digital downloads have returned us to single tracks and that we may have lost the magic of full albums in the process. I miss going into record stores like Sam’s and admiring the great cover art of the past, and think it’s a shame that brilliant concept albums like “Quadrophenia” and “The Wall” represent the past rather than the present and possibly the future. That is the biggest loss in all the technological changes, and I hope there are young musicians out there who are going to prove me wrong about that.
OCR: Do you have a collection of vinyl? If so, what are some of the treasures you have? Would you argue that the CD is overrated and that vinyl is the way to go?
AMK: I have kept all of my vinyl, about 200 LPs in all, and about three dozen 45s, all stored in a large steamship trunk in our living room near the turntable. I have some of those coloured pressings that were a big fad in the late 70s, mainly a yellow copy of Styx’s “Equinox” and a red issue of “Who Are You.” I also remember all the sticker freebies you used to get inside LPs like “Dark Side of the Moon” and the poster of the naked fat-bottomed girls on their bicycles from Queen’s “Jazz.” The bulk of my collection is from the 70s, mostly a mix of what we would now call classic rock, but I do have some great albums from the Clash, TRB, and the Police from the early 80s as well.
My most treasured item is the “Benny Goodman’s Greatest Hits” record given to me and signed by Mr. Legrady, my high school band teacher, because he was a part of my musical world as much as Queen and The Who were. He not only taught me the clarinet, but took a group of misfits across the province on school exchanges so we could play for the people. He was a wonderful musician and composer, a larger-than-life character, and a great role model for me in terms of my own teaching career.
OCR: Can you give us a mini teaser from the final book in the series?
AMK: All I am going to tell you about the final book in the series is that it takes place in 1993 and 1994 and that my tentative title for it is “Empty Glass”. Ian is still a musician once again facing major personal challenges, and leave it at that. Book three is called “Let My Love Open the Door”, and is being edited right now for a scheduled October or November release.
OCR: What’s next for Anne-Marie Klein?
AMK: What’s immediately next for me is a return to the classroom in September after a year off from teaching to finish writing, editing, and finally publishing the first two books in the series. My intention is to release book three in the late fall, and then finish writing the last book with the hopes of getting it out to the public by next July. I’ll let you know how that works out. I’m also looking forward to seeing The Who perform “Quadrophenia” live in November in Toronto, and dreaming of delivering “Let My Love Open the Door” to Pete Townshend in person at that time.
Thank you so much for providing me with such great questions. I hope my answers convey my love for music, my hometown, and for that wonderful moment in time that was the late 70s in Toronto.
Check out Anne-Marie’s shout out to Orange Country Reverb and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter (@BadManSadMan) and www.behindblueeyes.ca. If you are interested in purchasing Anne-Marie’s novels you can get digital copies or go to www.lulu.com for hard copies!