The Creationists

Creating Marc Bolan Killed In Crash with Ira Robbins (Part Two)

February 10, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 25
The Creationists
Creating Marc Bolan Killed In Crash with Ira Robbins (Part Two)
Show Notes Transcript

In part two of my interview with Ira Robbins, we talk about the creation of his latest book, Marc Bolan Killed In Crash.

Good fiction is like an abstract painting. The story is born out of the imagination of the writer, and I'm always curious about the inspiration behind that story. Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is the coming of age story of teenager Laila Russell, and her discovery of rock and roll, as well as your introduction into London's glam rock scene. So to satisfy my curiosity about the story's origin. I asked Ira about the book's inspiration.

Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is available now and can be ordered through Amazon. It's been called a shrewd and witty novel about the business of pop and lauded for period perfect jargon and keen details about the way the music business manipulates fantasy and reality. Whether you're a fan of glam rock or not, you'll find this book endlessly entertaining.

Read full interview transcript at imstevewaxman.com

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In part two of my interview with Ira Robbins, we talk about the creation of his latest book, Marc Bolan Killed In Crash.

Good fiction is like an abstract painting. The story is born out of the imagination of the writer, and I'm always curious about the inspiration behind that story. Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is the coming of age story of teenager Laila Russell, and her discovery of rock and roll, as well as your introduction into London's glam rock scene. So to satisfy my curiosity about the story's origin. I asked Ira about the book's inspiration.

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Ira Robbins:  The book started with a feeling that I've had for a long time that the glam rock era has not been properly documented and largely forgotten. You know, thought of by few people in a very insignificant way. It was always a very big fun time for me. I really liked that era, and I like the bands. I like the music and I also think that it's a very odd time, because essentially, it was like a grown up bubblegum music. I mean like we had all lived through bubble in late 60s and, well, some of us had, and looked down on this music for 12 year olds and yet glam rock came along, and it seemed like Alice Cooper weren't singing for a little kids, There certainly wasn't a broad generational appeal to the music but it felt adult to me and kind of sleazy. I mean Slade, Gary Glitter, it wasn't about little kids, it was kind of vulgar in its principles. I had written a novel about 10 years ago about sixties radicalism just out of curiosity to see if I could do it. And then I thought I would do another one. And so I kind of fixated on the idea of moving ahead a decade and dealing with glam rock and my very literal concept was to put myself in a place that I would have liked to have been and live in a fictional sense. It was literally creating a world that I wanted to think about, that I wasn't really there for. I was in England a couple of times around that time, but I certainly wasn't an English kid going to concert after concert and growing up in football mania. And so the goal was to kind of have that environment, the time, the place, the music, kind of rolled around into a story. And, after that, I had this kind of poke at a bunch of ideas that I kind of had that had to do with that. And so, eventually, I came on the idea of having a young girl who becomes involved in glam rock. And I didn't have any more of an idea than that. I just started writing.

Steve Waxman:  Just straight up? Did you do any kind of storyboard or were you writing background on the characters? 

Ira Robbins:  No. 

Steve Waxman:  You just wrote the first word "The" and went on from there?

Ira Robbins:  Pretty much. I mean, I had some notes, most of which I didn't use. I just got to scribble down ideas. For a while it was going to be called Front Row. It was gonna be about sort of a superfan. That was kind of like my thought. I honestly don't recall the genesis and I could probably go back and find it. I've kept the early drafts, but I don't have any clear sense of how I evolved, what it evolved into at some point. I had a teenage girl who becomes kind of sucked into this world. My fiction writing, against every possible element of logic or reason, is pretty much track writing. I drive the train, get out, put down another piece of track, drive the train, get out, lay down another piece of the track. That's how I find out where I'm going, simply by going forward. You know, I've never had a plan. I've never written an outline. At some point I could kind of see problems that were cropping up that needed to be fixed, and one point I was really stumped about halfway through and I just really didn't know where the story was going. And then I had this great idea one day and I kind of took it from there. So, yeah, no I just made it up as I went along

Steve Waxman:  So it just unfolded as you were writing?

Ira Robbins:  I ended up taking notes on the characters so that I can use that. I have a little file box of characters with all the salient details that I came up with, just so I wouldn't screw it up later and have somebody who was left handed suddenly be right handed. And I got really hung up on the chronology. That was the biggest problem. For reasons that I'm not sure I can even explain I've always had a fixation on the Russian's space dog Laika. For those who don't know, maybe '59 or '57 I think it's '57, the Russians launched the first animal into space, a dog named Laika. Laika, it turns out to be Russian slang for mutt. And it was just a stray dog that they had decided to send into space. And they never admitted that the dog died in the rocket ship, which it did, but it was still a very big deal. I was kind of a Soviet file when I was a kid. And so that was a big deal kind of "yeah, we did it" sort of thing. Although I was really little at the time so I was all post belated. But I've always had to think about Laika. So I got this idea that I wanted my character to be named after Laika, so she's named Laila after Laika but that made a very complicated chronology because she had to be a kid in 1972.The first couple of drafts I had it all cocked up. It was like she would have been 30, or like she would have been like six. It was all wrong and so I had to go back and fix all the details. Her parents' backstory had to be adjusted so that they were actually married, having a child at the time they had to pick this name.

Steve Waxman:  The first 30, 40, 50 pages were difficult for me as much as you're using English slang throughout. And for those of us that don't know what it is. It's sometimes really really challenging to get through. I happen to be fortunate enough to be married to a woman from Birmingham and so I could turn to her and say “What does this mean? What does this mean?” Obviously you chose that because this all takes place in England but I mean you went deep. You went deep with the slang.

Ira Robbins:  I can tell you why I did it. I can tell you the reason why I did it. I did it for two reasons. One, a lifetime obsession with slang. I mean, I just love slang. I mean, I sponge up slang whenever I can. I'm always fascinated by it and I try to learn it. You know, I don't go around talking like that. I mean I can assure you that it's not an affectation of mine. Although, I will say, in the old Trouser Press office days, we would use a lot of the slang that we learned from the British weeklies, and I actually said it to somebody not long ago, because some of this stuff is just become part of my vocabulary, I said something about "Oh yeah, we took that lig  to London'' meaning you know a free trip on some record companies dime and they went "Oh, look at you, ligging, oh, oh." It wasn't like I was saying like "oh fab gear" you know.  I mean, to me, there's no equivalent American word. I mean junket just sounds awful. I just prefer lig. So, I kind of came at this with a lifetime's enthusiasm for that. And I also came at this with a shelf full of British slang dictionaries which I've collected over the years and I thought that it would be fun for me to see if I could write like that. I knew it would be a problem for some people, and it probably is a bit off putting but I I couldn't see writing it and had people speak in American. It didn't seem right to me. Until I got to the Scottish character, I didn't really go full on phonetic, but there's no other way to do it with that measure of Scottish dialect without going phonetic because it doesn't make any sense otherwise. But a lot of those words are words that I know that we learn from reading British writers and it was a fun project for me to do that and, I will confess, I went to a certain amount of effort to include that stuff. I mean, I didn't go through and look for synonyms like paczki in there but I did kind of keep it in my head, and I watch a lot of British television also and I just happened to like the British crime shows and the police shows and things like that. And so, I'd be watching a show and go, "Oh, I never heard that one before," and I stuck some of that stuff in just because it was so cool. Like, I had never heard anybody refer to, like, like sort of being beaten by somebody who's being twatted. You know, I found a use for that somewhere in the book.

Steve Waxman:  It's funny that you bring up Stephen who's the Scottish character in this and once you introduce him, and we start struggling through trying to understand him, the rest of it actually became really easy. (laughing)

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, but the thought I always had was that people watch Upstairs, Downstairs and they watch Downton Abbey and stuff and, you know, clearly there's a lot of British slang in the culture that Americans absorb and consume. And so, I didn't feel like I was asking people to understand Urdu or anything like that. And Anthony Burgess wrote Clockwork Orange with entirely made up language as did JR Tolkien and so I felt like there's some precedent to challenging people a little bit with words that they may not know.  And this gets back to sort of an ethos that we had in Trouser Press which was we were never afraid to use words or references or comparisons that might not be popularly known because we felt that part of the reason you read a magazine was to like be stimulated to look things up and to be curious about stuff and to learn things. I mean, my reading as a kid ,you know, as a young adult was always "what the hell does this mean I better get a dictionary."  I never wanted to be talked down to like our president does. I want to learn things and so, I thought in a way that this was kind of okay to make people maybe stop and look up a word here and there. And a lot of it was probably in context and was going to be pretty well understandable.

Steve Waxman:  Are there any scenes that take place, any incidents in this book that come from things that you experienced or stories that you had been told by artists that you've spoken to over the years?

Ira Robbins:  I once got abandoned on a subway platform, train platform by mistake but that's a paragraph in the book, and completely incidental. Not really, no. I mean I'm very adverse to poorly disguised autobiography and memoir, unless it's being called a memoir and this is not a memoir. So, no. I mean, some of my research really did happen. Roxy Music did play the Marquee with UFO as I cited. And, you know, some of the bands for sure. You know the places are real. I twice went to the tree where Marc Bolan died to kind of get a feel for it, walked around the neighborhood and stood in front of Wormwood Scrubs to describe that properly but no no that the incidents in the book of fiction.

Steve Waxman:  Okay, you brought up the Roxy Music gig and I want to say, that was the moment where the book clicked in for me, 100%, that was my buy in moment in the book because the way you wrote that, whether intentional or not, made me feel like that's what it would have been like, if I was there, discovering Roxy Music for the first time. If I was discovering glam for the first time.

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, that was certainly my goal. I'm glad to hear that. I mean, Laila is kind of a blank slate who hasn't experienced very much so that's something that I took the opportunity of her never having really been to a rock concert and seeing something with no context and no background and no reason to understand any of it just, like "Holy fuck, what is this?" I used that and I did the same thing with her discovering sex. I kind of wrote her discovery of sex and "Oh my god, what is happening to me?" Not from the point of view of a knowledgeable experienced adult who's lived things before. Everything to her is pretty new and a lot of what happens to her in the book is unfair and unfortunate and she kind of has to rise to the occasion and it's only very late in the story that she becomes more confident. There's a cynical character, who you know, who's not at all intimidated by the things that go on around her because she's been through it all.

Steve Waxman:  And even the way you describe her experiences of being turned on to the music that Brian's turning around to. 

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, one of the things I had my hands in my head about when I was writing this was, you know, there is a line at the end of "All The Dudes" where Hunter says "I want you right down, upfront" or something like that. It's at the end as the song is fading out, and then he says "I want to do this for years," and that image, in my head, of kids reaching up from an audience towards a band and sort of what that means, sort of, emotionally, what that gesture signifies. It's religious. It's like I want to be with you. I want to be connected to you. I want what you are. I want you to know me. And those are really profound thoughts that I've experienced as a concert goer and they're not very well understood. I tried for a long time to write a book about fandom. I never did. But, I wanted her experience with that particular Mott The Hoople single to be kind of in the same vein and kind of feeling the tug of a piece of music that really matters to you all of a sudden, the same way that it does in a concert. And, of course, for me, it's cheating right. I mean, I'm a rock reviewer, rock journalist and so, writing a fictional review of a concert I wasn't at or a review of the record that I've known for 40 years, you know, that's what I do. It's easy for me to do that. I can conjure that stuff up because I've experienced them all.

Steve Waxman:  You know, the note that I sent to you last week, while we were scheduling this, it's so true about how, at least how I imagine it, I've had conversations with artists, they know, what it looks like when you pull back the drapes on the wizard and I imagine you've had similar conversations with some of your friends and bands over the years, because that's certainly what was communicated towards the end of the book from her point of view. It's like, it's not all that you think it is.

Ira Robbins:  Well, from Chaz's point of view also. I mean, Chaz's kind of second life is sort of dismal in its own way as well. I'm kind of a cynical person and I wanted to write, and I can't write a book with a happy ending. I mean this book is pleasant enough and it doesn't doesn't end on a down note, I mean, my first book ended on a much, much worse note. But I can't make a happy face here and say that anybody that's been in a band for all these years is going to come out of it alive and it's going to be a great experience and it's all going to be groovy and wonderful and they'll be happy. And so, I kind of knew that I was going to, kind of, pull the rug out from under everybody at one point or another. But, I guess, I wanted Laila to experience the heights as well as the, you know, she started with nothing so she had to go up before she could come down. I don't want to give too much away but, obviously she becomes more involved in the glam rock world than just a fan going to a one concert that she almost gets killed at. But I'm not sure how much I really know about what bands go through. I know people go through, and we've all been in their lives.  I'm not sure I know how to answer that, really, because I feel like I was just sort of expressing the ways in which people's lives disappoint them. I needed something to happen to Laila that was really traumatic in order to move the story along and made it a family matter as well as something else entirely. I just sort of wanted her to kind of go through the ups and downs of it, you know, and that's kind of why I picked the title.  have that poster hanging in my house and I wanted to use it as a title. I certainly didn't have it when I started but I liked the idea that Bolan's death in 1977 kind of signifies the end of it all and that it wasn't all just fun and games. I suppose I could have had Gary Glitter going to prison for being a pedophile but that did not really suited my purposes. But I've had people complain that I'm exploiting Bolan's death and I'm doing no such thing because it's not about Bolan nor is it about his death. It's about the era, and how he kind of was unbelievably colorful and glamorous and fun and upbeat and hysterically keen for everything and then it, you know, kind of, died out, and then Bolan died, and so,  that to me is sort of the the dramatic arc that I wanted to tell, and I did.

Steve Waxman:  Well, look, I don't want to give away too much because I want people to read this book because it is a blast to read and I know that a lot of people that listen to my podcasts are people that I've worked with over the years in the music industry and I think that all of them will enjoy reading this book and I want to congratulate you because it is really fantastic. I mean, God willing, you can find someone that will buy the movie rights to this thing or, or the Netflix rights to it because I think it would really visually be awesome.

Ira Robbins:  Yeah, I think so. I mean, I was pretty disappointed by Velvet Goldmine because I thought that it was made kind of to parody the scene rather than to celebrate it, but it left out a lot. It left out what was great about glam rock you know and making a sort of Iggy-like character sort of the central figure in there, I thought really did the whole thing a disservice because he would have existed regardless of whether it was glam rock or not. I think the story is much more interesting when you get down to like Roxy Music and Slade and Chicory Tip and Mud and Suzi Quatro and Sweet, you know, and they all have problems. I mean, the Sweet went on Top of the Pops with one of them wearing full Nazi regalia. That's not funny and it's kind of ghastly but at the same time, it was just part of the goof, right? And in the same way that punk rock, the Sex Pistols wore swastikas you know. It was just goofy, because they didn't know what it was. They didn't care. They weren't making a statement of any sort, they were just trying to outrage people, and so I think you're right, I think there is a great movie to be made about glam but it would probably end up focusing on a Bowie-Bolian rivalry or something like that. I don't know.

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Marc Bolan Killed In Crash is available now and can be ordered through Amazon. It's been called a shrewd and witty novel about the business of pop and lauded for period perfect jargon and keen details about the way the music business manipulates fantasy and reality. Whether you're a fan of glam rock or not, you'll find this book endlessly entertaining.