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Win a signed copy of the Bowie inspired Etc etc Amen by Howard Male

March 14th, 2014 | by admin
Win a signed copy of the Bowie inspired Etc etc Amen by Howard Male
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Author Howard Male reminisces about the impact David Bowie has had on his life and on his debut novel ‘Etc Etc Amen’

When Tony Visconti read from my debut novel ‘Etc Etc Amen’ last month on Janice Long’s Radio 2 show, it felt like the completion of some kind of circle. I first saw Mr Visconti’s handsome visage in a small photograph on the cover of the T.Rex’s LP ‘Tanx’ in 1973. Those were the days when the sleeves of long playing records were studied as if they were ancient manuscripts. You would play the record while scrutinising those 12-inch by 12-inch squares of cardboard, certain that you’d uncover something that would reveal more about the music’s mysterious essence.

Not long after ‘Tanx’ I noticed  Visconti’s name again on the cover of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ the man who sold the world(not the dress version, the version where Bowie appears to have just kicked the ball into the back of the net, until you spot the guitar machine head and realise Ziggy was only playing guitar). At the time it seemed wholly appropriate to me that someone with an exotic name like Visconti should be the producer for both of the god-like human beings who were making my teenage years tolerable. With persistent bullying to contend with at school, the idea that Bowie or Bolan might be on that Thursday night’s ‘Top of the Pops’ got me through each week. I was a compulsive sketcher too: Bolan’s curly hair could engage my pencil through double physics, and getting the right amount of definition to the edge of the ghostly silver disc on Bowie’s forehead was a technical challenge that meant I didn’t hear a single word my Geography teacher said.

But the most significant moments of those years had a David Bowie soundtrack too. I placed a tentative hand on the breast of my first girlfriend (or rather, on the navy-blue jumper that covered the bra that covered her breast) to the sleepy strains of ‘Letter to Hermione.’  And I can’t listen to ‘Can You Hear Me’ or ‘Win’ without thinking of how I felt when that same girl dumped me. The Berlin trilogy along with ‘Scary Monsters’ – Bowie’s most self-consciously arty albums – were, appropriately enough, there for me when I went off to art school (coincidently, I would later discover, the same art school Brian Eno attended). And so on.

When I began to write ‘Etc Etc Amen’ some eight years ago, one of my aims was to try to capture the very essence of what Bowie and Bolan had meant to me during those years. Music journalists and novelists often try to retrospectively add weight to their 1970s reminiscences by juxtaposing the political unrest of the period (strikes, power cuts, the three day week) with the flowering of glam rock; as if rubbish on the streets and disgruntled miners invariable give rise to platform boots and space-age rock music. But I was hardly aware of all that shouting and greyness at the time. If anything, power cuts were exciting; candles under-lighting our faces, turning us Hammer-horror glamorous. 

But it would have been too self indulgent to put any of this into the novel.  Bowie and Bolan couldn’t go in either (at least not in any real sense) because then ‘Etc Etc Amen’ would have been labelled ‘faction’ (an ugly new word and an irritating new genre where fact and fiction meet and become inseparably entangled). So I invented Zachary Bekele, a fictional contemporary of Bowie’s who is also a handsome androgynous fellow with a knack for writing otherworldly pop tunes.  In an attempt to avoid the Curse of Spinal Tap (that no piece of rock fiction can be taken seriously in that film’s wake) , I tell Zachary’s story from the perspective of the wide-eyed fan rather than the dead-eyed rock star (dead-eyed literally, in this instance – the reader is immediately informed that poor Zachary meets a grisly end). 

However, ‘Etc Etc Amen’ is more than just a glam-noir murder mystery.  Since reading Bertrand Russell in my early twenties I’ve had a deep distrust of organised religion and even the very idea of belief and faith. Why can’t people just entertain the possibility that there’s a higher intelligence out there? What’s with this need to give it a name, define it, and – worst of all – live by the set of restrictive, often highly irrational anachronistic rules supposedly dished out by these manmade gods? So I had my Zachary come up with an alternative approach to the God question.  The first two non-commandments he scribbles down in his notebook are, ‘You can doubt’ and ‘You can laugh’ – two notions conspicuously absent from other religions.

But I am piling digression upon digression here, so I’ll cut to the chase. Thanks to the burgeoning internet and Zachary’s inevitable expanding posthumous fame, his casually conceived non-religion grows into a viable global challenge to Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  But you’re telling us the whole plot, I hear you cry.  Not at all. This is just the set up (as someone pitching a movie might put it).

Tony-Visconti-QA-It was an early draft of this novel that I gave to Tony Visconti at a gig just over four years ago. Rather than ask after David’s health (a concern of every Bowie fan back then) or what Marc was really like, I opted for the less predictable question, “Do you read fiction?” His answer would dictate whether I offered him the book or not (those early copies cost me nearly £10 each to have printed!) Fortunately he said that he did read fiction, and then mentioned that Chuck Palahniuk (the author of ‘Fight Club’) was a current favourite. Well, Chuck Palahniuk – and Tony himself for that matter – both get mentioned in ‘Etc Etc Amen,’ so it was beginning to feel like fate that he should have a copy.

But it turned out to be fate that needed some serious coaxing. For the next three years, once every six months or so, I would send the great man a good humoured reminder about the book via Facebook. ‘I have four books in a queue,’ was his first response, giving me a glimmer of hope. ‘I’ve put it next to my bed,’ was his next response. But after another two year had elapsed and it had been moved to his bookshelf (not a good sign, I thought) I was beginning to give up hope.  During all this, Tony exhibited extraordinary patience with me. But on New Years Day, 2013 I got word that he’d started it and was enjoying it. Then on January 7th came his final verdict. He had loved it and wanted to read the new, just-published version to see how much I’d changed it. Yes, unbelievably, Tony Visconti had become MY fan!

Now, if you’ve been paying full attention, you might have figured out that the next day, news of ‘The Next Day’ was broken with the unheralded appearance of the melancholy ‘Where Are We Now’ video on the internet. I was moved to tears. This was simultaneously the most understated and most dazzling comeback in the history of popular music. Those 24 hours that encompassed the news that Visconti had loved my book followed by the news of the return of the thin white recluse, made me feel like I was in some kind of wonderful waking dream.  A month later I had the privilege of meeting Mr Visconti – at his request no less. He initially proposed “a cuppa” (I love it when Americans slip into Brit vernacular) but in the end I got to spend a whole evening in his charming company. I squeezed in a few questions about my heroes, but much of the conversation was about ‘Etc Etc Amen’ and related matters. We got through three litre bottles of sparkling water.

As I write this, I’m again studying the cover of ‘Tanx’ (sadly the miniaturised CD version) remembering how much the two Bs (and the producer who helped refine and channel their very different talents) meant to me and continue to mean to me.  I can’t imagine how much time I spent looking at all those album covers while ‘All the Madmen,’ ‘Sweet Thing’ or ‘Telegram Sam’ issued from my father’s coffin-sized stereogram (which I was only allowed access to for an hour or two a day).  

If anything conveys the culture shock of my discovery of Bowie and Bolan in the early 1970s it’s this.  Before those two London boys strolled and strutted into my life, I was doing sketches on the covers of my school books of wholly masculine clean-cut fictional characters such as Simon Templar in ‘The Saint’ and   Number 6 in ‘The Prisoner.’  “I am not a number, I am a free man!”  Number 6 shouted before slamming his fist down on his boss’s desk. The lesson that Bowie implicitly taught me is not dissimilar.

Question

To win a signed copy of Howard Male’s novel ‘Etc Etc Amen’ answer the following question.

By coincidence, ‘Etc Etc Amen’ begins with a quote from a 20th century novelist that Bowie namechecks in a song on ‘The Next Day’. Who is that writer?

Please send your answer by email to [email protected]

The competition closes Saturday 29th March at 10pm (UK time) and is open worldwide.

Good Luck!

In the meantime you can purchase signed and dedicated copies from the book’s website here:
http://etcetcamen.com/

 

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