Another week, another episode of Hugs and Kisses from Mr. Everett True, whose Wikipedia entry says it all, so we’ll stop now. Other old acquaintances who’ve written books can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week: Laurie Lindeen
A few months back now—halfway through my sojourn at Village Voice—I was pleased to be able to bring to your attention Petal Pusher, a fine book detailing the reality of being in a struggling touring indie band, as written by former Zu-Zu Petals singer Laurie Lindeen. (Actually, although that is what the book is ostensibly about, it concerns itself far more with the author’s relationship with her dad, and her coming to terms with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.) Among some unusually flowery adjectives, I indicated that I thought Petal Pusher to be a “terrific piece of writing” (while also admitting that I rarely read rock tomes, far preferring the works of Jean Rhys or Richard Brautigan). Whatever.
When Laurie’s PR contacted me recently and asked whether I would like to conduct a phone interview for this blog—to help publicize a forthcoming New York event/book reading/cabaret night next Monday, September 29 at the Cutting Room—I jumped at the chance to momentarily renew an old acquaintance.
What inspired you to start writing Petal Pusher?
I tried to write a novel first, but whenever I sat down to write, I was compelled to figure out what had happened to me in those years in the band—they passed by at such a fast speed. I went from being in this very loud place to this very quiet place. I was inspired to get it down after sitting down with other mothers. They talked about how they were lawyers, food scientists, drug company reps, publicists…and I’d say with a shrug that I was in a rock band, a little worried that they might judge me—and they’d all say, ‘Oh, I wish I had been.’ It never occurred to me that I’d done anything out of the ordinary. That’s how it all got started.
How long did it take?
Five years. I was writing in snatches, whenever I could. When I went to grad school, I was doing that and teaching and being a full-time mom, everything was on the fly. But I felt that some of the scenes wouldn’t have been developed if I hadn’t taken that long. To me, it’s a book about my relationship with my father and how I chose as my first profession the one special thing—music—that we had together at a time in my life when I didn’t like him very much. Other people think it’s about something altogether different, which is interesting. I had a lot of it written down because I used to write in notebooks while we were on the road, and [future husband] Paul saved a lot of the letters I wrote to him—so a lot of it was sitting here, as a puzzle on my lap.
You artfully weave a lot of scenes in and around one another—how did that come about?
It was a lot like a quilt or a jigsaw puzzle, and after amassing a couple of hundred pages, I could see where things from my past explained the situation I found myself in while in the band. Men, as you may know, are very compartmentalized, sort of like, ‘This part of my life has nothing to do with my life at home,’ etc. I was curious to explore where there were connections between my childhood and my blind drive toward stardom. I could never jam on the guitar, but found it a lot more natural to riff and noodle with words. There were, of course, a lot of holes, or things I don’t remember. We were fond of the drink, so I needed to fill them with subplots, childhood recollection and digressions.
What did you learn from writing the book?
I don’t know if I learned anything. I learned how to construct a manuscript, a big body of work—I learned I was really writing about my family, more than I ever thought I’d be. And I got to fall in love with Zu-Zu’s Petals again which was really a sweet thing for me.
When Rhino Handmade compiled a Zu-Zu’s Petals retrospective to provide a soundtrack for the book, I realized that we were a lot better than I ever thought we were. Lack of confidence can really suck up all of the air in the room and waste a lot of time. We broke up unhappily—I was a wreck—and there was a lot of animosity between us immediately after. Revisiting so many of those moments in the van, in truck stops, in hell holes, in some guy’s doily-filled apartment…those were just normal relatable moments. Mix that with a group of strong personalities in cramped quarters, and you get stories. In writing Petal Pusher, I got to remember how much fun we had. The moments of ecstasy and hilarity make every unpleasant moment worthwhile, almost…
Please can you describe what Zu-Zu’s Petals were (to you).
I was never looking back at that time longingly or blissfully, but just laying it out. I could only take responsibility for my own crap. I didn’t have any axes to grind, I don’t see us as victims; it’s just the landscape in which we came of age—we were never rock stars for oh so many reasons; but we witnessed a lot of significant cultural moments and shifts and we went for it with reckless abandon. Any creative process or purging is therapeutic. Once it’s out, it’s clinical, just something to be fiddled with. I don’t own it anymore.
Was there anything you included that upon reflection you’d have preferred to leave out?
When I got the final edits, I got a long letter from my editor saying something like either you develop the characters of your father and Paul or leave them out—of course, those are my two most complex, confusing relationships. I’m so naïve sometimes…some people focused on the 10 out of 321 pages Paul appears and decided the book was about bagging a rock god. I thought I left plenty of red flags in there? I do regret the things that my very private mom found difficult to see in print, but I’d still leave them in.
What’s been the most surprising reaction?
I’ve been going to so many women’s books clubs—something I never envisaged would be the outcome of this. I love it when women in their sixties say ‘This is great’ because I respect the experiences they’ve had before any of us ever came to be. Everybody has different interpretations, which is really fun. One woman said, ‘This isn’t about your rock band, this is about women learning how to deal with their bodies’ or ‘This is about American longing and wanderlust,’ or ‘I thought it was about those moments in early adulthood where you think anything’s possible.’ The older gals love the Carly Simon/hitchhiking story, and the younger gals comment on our fine fashion sense and about how fierce and fearless we acted while scared shitless.
Do you recognize yourself as the character within the book?
Absolutely. I really tried to write from that head. I can recall how I thought back then. I was super naïve and trusting and driven while trying to hide a disease. I consciously chose to write it in the present tense so as not to judge the material or muck it up with my 20/20 hindsight…You can’t spell everything out for the reader, they’ve got to figure some stuff out themselves.
Has the book served as a catalyst since publication?
I’m writing a novel now about a woman who leaves a traveling rock band and finds herself alone in suburbia while her rock star husband is on tour and how it’s like landing on another planet. I know, not much of a stretch, but I get to make up stuff and take wild imaginative leaps away from the actual events. It’s really freeing after being so careful in the memoir. There have been a lot of people getting in touch. Especially when I did a small book tour—the woman in the book known as ‘Phil’ got back in touch, and I’ve seen a lot of the many roommates, old friends, or just acquaintances I was particularly fond of. When I read in Madison, my hometown, I looked out at a sea of faces that covered every phase of my life from early childhood neighbors to State Street punk rockers—it was so cool.
What’s your favorite part of the book?
The one I like to read the most is our first trip to England—it was one of the genuinely new and foreign experiences that were beyond imagination to me at that time. To be hiding in a room above a pub illegally because we had no money or accommodation once we arrived yet having Single of the Week in Melody Maker—I couldn’t believe that those two things could occur simultaneously. I was probably overly cute in hearkening Dickens throughout writing about the trip, but it sort of fit the situation. We were taken for a wild ride by a shady promoter in a foreign country which somehow made it seem more dramatic.
Laurie Lindeen will be reading excerpts from Petal Pusher on Monday 9/29 at The Cutting Room, 19 W 24th St, with guests Lizz Winstead, Dan Zanes, Jen Trynin and more.