I’m inspired by unique locations, enough so that I like to build my Rolly Waters mystery novels around them. Border Field Blues started with a visit to Border Field State Park, the most southwestern corner of San Diego County.
I decided to build my third Rolly Waters novel around a place known as Slab City. It’s located in the heart of the Mojave desert, a hundred and forty miles east of San Diego. It’s a fascinating location because people live there without owning the land or paying rent. Anyone can stake out a spot and call it their own. There’s no power grid. There’s no running water. The temperature gets as high as 120 degrees in the summer. Still, a hearty band of off-the-grid adventurers have made this their year-round home.
Since my detective protagonist, Rolly Waters, is also a guitar player, one of the things that grabbed me while taking a look around the Slabs was the outdoor stage known as The Range. Once I heard about the concerts held here by local residents, I knew I had to get Rolly out there for some jam sessions during his next adventure.
You’ll have to wait until the book is published (September 2015 in the UK, January 2016 USA) to see how see how Rolly gets involved with the Slab City Rockers, but I’m pretty happy with how I worked Slab City, The Range, Salvation Mountain and East Jesus into the story.
Change may be afoot in the Slabs, though. Dissension is in the air. The State of California owns the land, so it could be sold to private interests. Some members of the community are trying to pre-empt any takeover by collecting money to purchase East Jesus for the arts collective. Some aren’t so happy about the idea and think there are ulterior motives involved. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
East Jesus is a remarkable collection of inspired folk art, built from “the discarded afterbirth of the Industrial Age”, repurposed for aesthetic enhancement.” On its own, it’s well worth a visit to the Slabs.
KPBS recently ran a couple of news stories on Slab City and East Jesus, which are embedded below.
Update:The graphic below is accurate and true, and still fun to look through. The error I spotted has been corrected. For the record, the original graphic listed the clavinet as being played on Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues. It now has Superstition by Stevie Wonder listed. Yes, indeed. That’s some funky clavinet.
So, Contest over. Cancelled. No one else caught it before it was corrected.
I’m such a music geek.
Berklee Online analyzed Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 songs of all time and identified all the instruments used on those recordings. They came up with fifty-eight, although they admit a few may have been missed. It makes for an interesting infographic, included below. Swarmandal anyone? (used by The Beatles, of course).
There’s a couple of oddities in the list. Why list the bass drum on Norwegian Wood separately from the bass drums in the drum kits that are used on 94 of the recordings? Maybe it was a really big bass drum. And it’s the only drum on the song, of course.
I did find one real error, though. But instead of telling you what it is, I’ll let you find it for yourself. A signed copy of my first two novels and a Best of Bad Dog CD to the first person who comments below or emails me with the correct answer. Hint: This instrument wasn’t available when the song it’s listed on was recorded.
I like to tell people that the Rolly Waters mystery novels are my revenge on guitar players, but some of of my favorite people are guitar players. No, really. I’ve known a lot of guitar players, and some of them are pretty decent human beings.
So when I add a bit of guitar-related detail to one of my books, I usually base it on information I’ve gleaned over the years from my guitar-playing cohorts. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll contact one or two of them and get their take on what I’ve written. Or I just play dumb and ask them some questions. It’s good for their egos.
I didn’t consult any of my guitar friends when I wrote this description of Norwood’s Mostly, the used guitar shop featured in Border Field Blues:
“The shop was more a hobby than a business for Norwood, a place he could hang out with musical friends, reminisce on the past, discuss the relative merits of Kings – B.B., Albert and Freddy.”
So I was gratified to see that each of the Kings I listed nailed a spot in Guitar Player’s recent The 40 Most Important Guitar Solos in Rock. Their respectively important solos can be heard below (in chronological order).
Freddie King – Hideaway (1960)
Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign (1967)
B.B. King – The Thrill is Gone (1969)
I’d say that’s some pretty fine guitar playing, all around, wouldn’t you?
If you’ve read Border Field Blues, you’ll no doubt remember that Rolly’s case starts when his friend Max Gemeinhardt, an avid bird-watcher, calls Rolly down to Border Field Park to investigate the damage some cretin has done to the Least Tern Preserve. There really is a bird preserve at Border Field Park and there really is a bird named the Least Tern. It looks like this:
As Max informs Rolly, the Least Terns lay their eggs in the sand, as you’ll see below.
As you’ll note from the photo, the spotted coloring of the eggs blends in well with the sand. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but that sure looks like protective adaptation to me. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an evolutionary advantage once civilization invades and people start tromping through those nesting grounds on their way to the beach. The park keepers had to put up signs and fences to keep us away.
Anyway, when I started writing Border Field Blues, I knew I wanted to make the Least Terns part of the story. The precarious nature of their nesting seemed important. I worked through several drafts before I saw the connection. Many of the characters in my book suffer from hazardous parenting, the fragility of their childhood, abandonment issues of one sort or another. As children, there were in constant danger, just like the Terns egss. I don’t really go looking for themes or metaphors when I start writing. Sometimes it just happens.
Here’s the real question. Was I drawn to the Least Tern nests because of some subconscious idea for my story, or did my interest in the Least Terns lead me to conceive of the characters in the story?
There’s one other question, of course. Do Greatest Terns (if there are any) lay their eggs this way?
I write mystery novels that feature a private investigator named Rolly Waters. He’s also a guitar player – a very good guitar player, but not a particularly successful one. That’s why he has a day job as a detective. Here’s 10 ways working guitar players are a lot like your classic fictional detective.
- They have easy access to alcohol
- They have easy access to women who drink too much alcohol
- They enter buildings through the back entrance
- They employ a protective layer of cynicism
- They see bad behavior at both ends of the socio-economic scale
- They’re used to sketchy lighting (or moody lighting, depending on your take)
- They know how to talk their way out of a fight
- They feel nervous around cops, and vice versa
- They have a business partner who’s been mugged
- They put in more hours than they’ll ever get paid for
What do you think? Are there any other traits guitar players and private detectives have in common?