Looking for Lady Dee Q & A
with Johnny Angel Wendell
Miss Lyn had a little email chat with Johnny Angel about his new book......
BGN - What made you decide to take on the project of writing a book?
Johnny - It's been suggested many times to me and I had no idea what I would write a book about. I'm a good story teller (which is why I've been on the radio) and the war stories from rock and roll fascinate people. Not me--I think everyone's are the same no matter if you're a Beatle or a bar band, it's how to frame them that would be interesting. One morning I was walking through the house and it hit me, why not combine the parallel stories of becoming a musician (as Thrills was my first genuine band)and the search for Dee (who exists) and have the arc between the two be the raison d'etre for the book. Once I had that, I was good to go.
BGN- You say Dee exists? Is she actually alive then?
Johnny - She is a real person. Bur her current status can be determined by reading the book.
BGN - Why do it now?
Johnny - When was I supposed to do it? Why have kids late in life, right? When it's time for something, it's time (breaks into "Turn Turn Turn").
BGN- But had you been mulling it over for a long time or did it just come to you recently?
Johnny - I'd been thinking of how one would write memoirs that weren't boring, rote or predictable, because most of them are. Either you know most of a famous person's story or you know nothing of a non famous person's story, either way, the story isn't all that compelling unless it's told in a certain light. Besides the wise-cracking tone of most of LFLD, it does have a parallel plot to the tale of how Johnny's first band went up and down like the Hindenburg! But it came to me while walking through the house--Thrills' story and that of my unrequited love in the same tale.
Once I had that, I had to stay interested enough past the first burst of inspiration. I made myself write a certain amount per day, that helped.
The biggest decision was to self publish or shop the thing around. I opted for the latter on the advice of every writer I knew, especially Henry Rollins, who doesn't even sell his stuff on Amazon anymore. He told me that if I shopped it, it would be at least a year before it saw the light of day and just to do it. It's the punk ethos. Do it yourself. Let the world know and don't wait for anyone to champion you, you gotta be your own megaphone.
BGN - How long did it take you to write it?
Johnny - About three weeks, first draft. Hubert Selby used to say "puke out everything in the first draft and then hone", so, three or four more weeks rewriting everything. Seven weeks total.
BGN - How come I'm not in the book Johnny?
Johnny - If I'd written about every woman I slept with between 1977 and 1983, the thing would be longer than War and Peace. Which sets some people off, they think there's some sort of sexual hubris afoot here. But there isn't, all of us were indulging in that kind of free-form boinking, most of us, anyway. That era was the end of the sexual revolution, it began with oral contraception in the 60's and ended with HIV. We were at the tail end, no pun intended. And because there really was less sexism in the punk scene than there had been with the hippies, it was healthier, too.
BGN - Yes, it was a fun time, no question. You call the book is a "mystery" about finding someone from your past. But in truth its not so much about finding Dee as it is YOUR history and the history of Thrills. Was this the originally intended story line or did it end up that way?
Johnny - It wasn't even a mystery at all until I was halfway through it! Then I realized the sex/drugs/rock and roll thing was tedious, it should have a plot line and it needed tension--and a villain. For most of it, I was the bad guy, a callow little puerile shit--which, coincidentally, I was in those years as you well know. One does have to write about what one knows and the punk era and my first band, those things I know.
BGN - Ha! A callow little puerile shit, yeah I've had to defend you many times you know, tell people you aren't really all that bad. Now, you mention Richard Hell as one of your influences in writing LFLD. I was reminded of his book often when I read your book. Why do guys always seem to exhibit that odd and yes sometimes endearing mix of self-deprecation and immense ego? Is it a tool used to get chicks or is it just true about guys??
BGN - Are all the characters based on real people or are any completely fictional?
Johnny - All real except Nick Rowland, who is an amalgam of about 6 people, male and female, Boston and New York. I realized that I had to hit the touchy subject of sexual predators somewhere, there was so much of it in that time. And he made a convenient bad guy. Plus, as I said in the book, no sooner was I out of sight and mind in Boston than I started getting these confessionals from friends about their youth, terrible, brutal, inhumane abuse from trusted figures in authority. But Dee is real, she is a woman that David and I both dated, Viv is a real person, we speak all the time. Dee's brother is an invention. But the rest are real.
BGN - Are the stories within the whole book also all based on fact or are some of those fictional? So I guess that murder scene was more what you fantasized than actually did.
Johnny - Two of the people Rowland is based on are dead. The scene existed to set up the plot twist. I haven't fantasized about killing anyone in eons. The joys of maturity!
BGN - And about the stories within the book being real or fictional- what did your wife think of the graveyard sex scene? Did you have to talk her in to letting you publish that?
Johnny - That scene came out of a conversation with Jerry Stahl--I figured if I could shock him, I've hit the mother lode. So, I told him that I was gonna fuck a woman in the book on the tomb of my dead lover and he replied with "shit, I wish I'd thrown that in to one of mine", so in it went. My wife knows how her husband thinks. We've been together nearly 25 years. Talkin' and thinkin' ain't doin', you know?
BGN - I wrote recently about the book that it's "not just sex, drugs, rock'n'roll but also about confusing complexities of human emotion and relationships and youth." I really think you were very successful at writing about that. Some of the scenes are pretty shocking - of course the Barb fight scene comes to mind. You also admit you were very wrong in hitting and kicking her. Why did you decide to include that scene?
Johnny - You get drunk, you're in an S/M based relationship with another woman (which is detailed in the book), your closest friend pushes your buttons--shit happens. We made our peace with it before Barb died, we resolved all of our issues. I included it because it happened and because people in bands know how deep feelings can go. I think Barb would have loved Looking For Lady Dee, according to the woman that is "Viv" in the book, "Dee" would have as well!
BGN - I'm not alone in thinking your book is a "I can't put it down" read!! You really bring that time and that life back to a living reality. Have you taken any courses or gotten coaching on writing?
Johnny - The day I got my first paycheck for writing anything (in 1988, from the Boston Phoenix), I decided this was a pretty good job, as jobs go. Words aren't a problem with me, nor are making the drab day to day of playing in a band more colorful than they really were. I write exactly the same way as I speak--if you've ever heard me talk, you can hear me reciting passages in "Lady". It's my style, it's what I know.
BGN - Then there are a few people who are really shocked by the book. Do you think it's shocking? Did you mean it to be so?
BGN - Did you have to talk to people about including them in the book? Some of them have names that are pretty thinly veiled like Pinky Leather and then you name Richie Parsons....tell us how you got them to OK the mention of them. I notice you never actually called David (Minehan) by his last name and gee, I'm not sure you ever used the word Neighborhoods either. So tell us about that.
Johnny - Linda was aware I was writing it as was Richie and I never got hold of David before it was done, so I masked him a little. They were good with it and I didn't know how he felt, so, I shielded him a little. Besides, it is a mystery, there has to BE some mystery in it, right?
BGN - People might be wondering who did the editing for you.
Johnny - Me. Until I was overwhelmed and then Janiss Garza cleaned it up as best she could. It's messy and chaotic and has no page numbers. Well, it's a punk rock book, what do you expect....ANARCHY!To purchase Looking for Lady Dee go here for the Kindle Version and go here for the hard copy version.