Commentary 15: Prophet 15

The “Local Boy” sections seem to really resonate with readers. It also has been called out by two different reviewers as something that they wish I had explored more, specifically the repercussions of “stealing” music from the future. In hindsight I see their point, though at the same time I actually thought I had acknowledged it to a certain degree with the Billy Joel and Harry Chapin codas that come later on.

What’s funny is that this section almost wasn’t in the book at all. One of the original ideas I tossed around after deciding to write a novel was the story of an ambitious musician in present day seeking fame and fortune but never quite getting there. He’d then find himself sent back in time and would achieve superstardom by covering songs he “stole” from the future.

Although I thought the idea was interesting, I didn’t think I could write an entire novel about it. It felt more like a short film, or maybe an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The movie in my head starred Jeff Tweedy from Wilco as the musician with the sticky fingers. No offense to Mr. Tweedy (who I’m a huge fan of), but something about his personality and style seems to fit the bill for that type of character.

Anyway, I scrapped the concept of the time traveling troubadour and had no intention of resurrecting it for this story. Then the narrator’s father started to be able to see him, which also wasn’t part of the plan. So I decided to add a section where father and son team up to prevent the conception of Nelson. I needed the young father to have something interesting going on in his past. I remembered that he played the guitar (originally a throwaway excuse for him to play “Sunshine” and not intentional foreshadowing), and it hit me in the face that this “short story” suddenly had a home. And once I had this realization, that’s when I went full steam ahead and skipped over the Hearts tournament to write about the rise and fall of Local Boy.

Since this criticism has come up, I have racked my brain for how I might have been able to do it differently to further explore the effects of borrowing songs. The conclusion I keep reaching is that I really couldn’t do that much more with it under the structure and point of view of the book as it stands. However, I have a very good idea of how it can be addressed if/when I decide to do a sequel. If that sequel comes to pass, I promise that this theme will be revisited as a part of it.

Other tidbits:

  • The field behind Dad’s house was originally a baseball field, but with the October timing and the removal of most of the baseball references it made more sense to switch to football.
  • The “You play the guitar!” revelation as written was as much a reflection of my own realization while writing the story as it is the narrator’s while traveling in time.
  • Dad’s initial set of actual “covers” went through several iterations. Originally it was all Beatles, then a mix of Beatles and Johnny Cash. Later it was just a bunch of hits from the few months preceding October of 1969. In the end I went with all covers by members of the dead rockstar club (still alive at the time), hinting at a possible dark future for Local Boy.
  • “Won One” is a real song by my sophomore year roommate Chris Evjy. The origin story is more or less accurate. I did come up with the title, though the thumbs up/thumbs down sessions were not all that regular of an occurrence in real life. And I do really think that “Won One” is among the greatest songs ever written, and Chris really does disagree 🙂
  • The chapter title could refer to the possibility that the fictional Chris Evjy was some sort of prophet.
  • Both stolen song setlists also went through a number of changes. At first it was primarily an in-joke about the characters not having names, with songs like “Unsingable Name,” “Horse With No Name,” “I’m In Love With Whats-Her-Name” making the cut. Later it evolved to be songs that were famously covered in the future (like the Travis’ version of “Baby One More Time” they did for MTV Unplugged). Eventually it turned into a bunch of disparate songs that I could hear incredible stripped down versions in my head whether or not they had actually been covered in the real world or not.
  • An easter egg is hidden in one of the setlists. Personally I think it’s really obvious, but as far as I know nobody has figured it out yet. If you’ve ever read “The Coma” by Alex Garland it may give you a hint as to what to look for.
  • I’m still way too amused over the “Superstition” exchange, when the narrator’s lyrical quoting almost serves to inspire the creation of the song he’s quoting from.
  • There are 54 musical references in this chapter, including all of the actual song titles.

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