Saturday, November 14, 2020

Behind Dweller On The Boundary: Notes On The Scales Of My Memory

George Michael, Careless Whisper.

 Many of the memories of my childhood are attached to music. I associate going to kindergarten with I Love The Nightlife and We're All Alone. I can remember going to the zoo in Atlanta's Grant Park for the first time and hearing What A Fool Believes. Most of the real persons behind the characters in Dweller On The Boundary have music associated with them from the period.

Growing up in a house where the stereo was on more than the television, meant that I was surrounded by music from the 1970s, through the 1980s and it never left me. I heard disco, yacht rock, middle of the road rock, soft rock, R&B and the more pop leaning music that I preferred as a child. My brother, that is different from me by every measure, was into the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister and AC/DC. My father liked Kool & The Gang, The Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire and Steely Dan. My mother was into Elvis, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and John Cougar Mellencamp

The first records I ever had were Shaun Cassidy records because of my crush on him and the first record I ever bought with my own allowance was Bill Squire's The Stroke. I must have been talked into buying that record by my brother, I hope so. The second record I purchased with my own money was Paul McCartney's Take It Away. The first concert I went to was Duran Duran's Big Thing tour at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in 1989. By the time the 1990s rolled around, my tastes dramatically shifted and I was heavily into grunge. There was no bigger Nirvana fan than me. You could not get me to listen to any sort of pop music then without my sneering like it was beneath me. I had pierced my ear, dyed my hair and wrapped myself in flannel. Few people from the past knew me then and I was finding my way.

Country music was scant in my childhood house and you might think growing up in a rural area that would have been different. I suspect the reason was that we received Atlanta radio and television stations and one of those television stations was a local video music channel, WVEU Channel 69. We had MTV in my house very early on, but TV 69 was way cooler and had all of the big names drop by their studios. 

The only country music I remember in my house was the 45 record of Hank William's A Country Boy Can Survive, the 45 of Johnny Lee's Lookin' For Love and an eight track of Alabama's Mountain Music album. Alabama was the only country band that I liked in the early 1980s. Robin's favorite band was The Police, but he also liked Alabama and listened to them regularly. He knew every word to Take Me Down and liked to sing that to me. If you listen to the lyrics of that song, you will understand why. My favorite Alabama song was Dixieland Delight, watching the video of that song is like opening a time capsule with the clothes and scenery from Fort Payne, Alabama which resembles the Paulding County, Georgia that I grew up in. You can go to Paulding County today and it looks like any other suburban county in the United States with four-lane highways, shopping centers and subdivisions, but it was nothing like that when I was a kid – it was country with Confederate flags, hot rods and beat up trucks. I loved growing up in a rural area, but culturally I was a misfit. 

In the constant haze of music in my childhood, I wrapped my memories of events and people around it. Whenever I need to think about the past I can either read my journals dating back to 1985 or I listen to music from that period. Below is a list of the main characters from Dweller On The Boundary and the music I associate with the persons behind them.


My father - I associate Take The Long Way Home by Supertramp with him. The reason is a story that is not in the book and I still am not ready to share. This song was on the radio that night as we came down Old Cartersville Road in New Hope. It was so dark outside and inside the car. I saw something I was not supposed to see or remember.

My mother - I spent more time with my mother than anyone else in my childhood and there was always music. In the 1970s we listened to Elvis most every day and when he died our house went into mourning. My mother had a substantial collection of Elvis records and we listened to them daily in the late seventies. We listened to Separate Ways often and I have to wonder what she was thinking when she played it. My parents liked to send messages to each other through music. My father came home one day with a record and tossed it on the coffee table and told my mother to listen to it, it was Him by Rupert Holmes. As my father began going out alone, my mother would put 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon on the stereo as he was getting dressed. I suppose my parents thought I was too young to understand or they did not care. Despite the musical weapons, I most associate the Born In The U.S.A. album by Bruce Springsteen with my mother and John Cougar Mellencamp's Uh-huh. She had those albums on cassette and they were the soundtrack to the loneliest times of the 1980s. Born To Run, is her song.

Robin - As an adult, my feelings about the person behind Robin are mixed and achingly complex, but in the context of the book he was the best part of my childhood next to my mother. I loved him and would never wish him any harm. I associate every song by The Police with him, especially Wrapped Around Your Finger and King Of Pain. Of course, I associate Culture Club with him. There is the Alabama song Take Me Down that I mentioned above too, I do not enjoy hearing that song now. 1983, at least the first half, was the best part of my childhood. Irene Cara's What A Feeling came out that spring and it was my favorite song. I would run around with that song in my ten year old head. I was so excited about that song and I wanted Robin to love it too. He hated it. He was changing that year in ways I did not like, but I still loved him. That song was the first thing I liked that he did not and I never could shake that feeling from that day.

Noah - My brother and I were so very different and remain that way today. The song I associate with him is a song he would probably not like. On one of our family trips down to Florida I heard Sailing by Christopher Cross. We left in the early morning hours well before sunrise and I woke up in the back of the Cadillac. The car was dark, the leather seats were cold and my father was driving by the glow of the dashboard lights. My mother was in front of me asleep, I always sat behind my mother and never behind my father. My brother is next to me, slumped over and sleeping. He was a heavy sleeper that could sleep anywhere under any circumstance. My family, at that moment, was the most peaceful it ever was or would be as Sailing played at a low volume on the speakers behind my head. It felt like a dream, but it was not.

Oliver - Oliver and I watched MTV together, but most of the time we were outside playing. Music was not a part of our relationship. It was not until after he was gone, that following summer that I came to associate Smalltown Boy by the Bronski Beat with him. When I heard that song, I knew it was us and I was to never forget.

Peter - The first time I went to his house and my mother was driving me over, we listened to 96 Rock in her truck. As we neared his house, Foreigner's I Want To Know What Love Is came on the radio. I was so nervous and hopeful that day. I also associate Prince's Purple Rain album with him. I received the album for Christmas that year and we both liked it and talked about it often.

David The Bishop - I was a Bryan Adams fan and even though we never much discussed music I associated his music with this person. The real person behind this character resembled Bryan Adams, but with better skin. I was listening to Bryan Adams often in junior high and Run To You reminds me of this character.

Rowe - Being hunted like a deer and having worse done to you is not something you forget. Welcome To The Jungle is Rowe.

BethI Don't Have The Heart by James Ingram. I had this album on cassette and listened to this song on repeat in my bedroom as I decided what I wanted to do about our relationship. It was more difficult to break up with her than I portray in the book.

Asta - Waiting For A Star To Fall by Boy Meets Girl. I was in love with this song the year that the secret of Asta was revealed. I kept waiting for that secret to drop.

Tavin - He was a strong influence in my life when music was so important to me and he exposed me to music that I never would have considered before. We listened to a lot of INXS, Love & Rockets, Peter Murphy, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode and The Psychedelic Furs. The song I most associate with him is Human by The Human League.

Elliot -This character is based on two people, that I thought were my best friends. My relationships with them were much more complicated and painful than what I shared in Dweller On The Boundary. For the sake of storytelling and brevity I could not explore those two relationships as I would have liked. WHAM's Careless Whisper was a song that I often listened with one of them. As cheesy as it might seem with that saxophone intro, we were both huge George Michael fans. The other person behind Elliot I associate with the Johnny Hates Jazz song Shattered Dreams.

Chris Rhodes (me) - It was a challenge to think of myself as the inspiration for a character in a novel. I had to ask how much I wanted to share, how honest I wanted to be and worry what people might think of me after they read it. I also had to ask myself if I wanted to relive all that pain and I cried a lot. If I think of the boy that I was growing up and separate the adult version of myself from him, I think that If I Can Dream by Elvis is that character. That boy dreamed beyond the suffering and flew away. I play that song loud for him and remember that I did not share it all.