Six Of The Best: Guy Mankowski | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Dead Rockstars is the first novel in five years for exciting writing talent, Guy Mankowski and is influenced by novels like Helen Cross’ My Summer Of Love,  Emma Forrest’s Namedropper and the sensibility of nineties music weeklies such as Melody Maker. It’s a book that fondly reflects on the nineties as a period rich in counter culture, naivety and various other qualities that seem much more tangible and substantial than when compared with today.

To find out more about what influences his work we asked Guy to give us his Six Of The Best…

The question of ‘influences’ isn’t an easy one when you know your novel has come from a combination of personal experiences as well as various artistic ones. In the past I’d have said ‘this band’ or ‘this author’ influenced me but with “Dead Rock Stars” there was something a little more mysterious going on. Without wanting to end up in Pseud’s Corner the mentality- even consciousness- of certain artists really influenced the novel.

The novel is about the wild teenage summer of a young boy (Jeff) whose sister (Emma) was on the cusp of fame with her band Cherub in the nineties. When Emma tragically dies Jeff is parked by his parents in the lavish but lonely home of childhood friends on the Isle of Wight- where he was brought up- and he spends a summer of beach parties and first love affairs coming to terms with the loss of his sister through gradually reading her diary. Emma’s diary makes up much of the novel. 

The Kinderwhore Scene 
This being the nineties Cherub were very influenced by Hole, Babes In Toyland, and the aesthetic that was described as Kinderwhore. Where women combined the Hollywood glamour of tiaras and satin dresses, and the Beauty Pageant look (think the model with running mascara on the front of Hole’s ‘Live Through This’) with a twisted, girlish sensibility- baby doll dresses, Mary Jane shoes etc. I was influenced by the urge that such artists had to use their body to offer a message, with them making the very most of the textual space that comes with being in a band (lyrics, song titles, outfits, merchandise).

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain is probably the biggest influence, because to me he took that sensibility as far as it could go. I really think he raised the consciousness of the world and still is. He promoted a message of feminism through his interviews and lyrics, with songs like ‘Polly’, and he used his body and clothing to scream the messages that he wanted Nirvana to get across. At various points in the novel musicians play Nirvana songs. I was very much reminded of when I first learnt to play guitar that (like a lot of people) it was Nirvana’s songs I learnt first. It was so exciting to me that such catchy, emotional, raw songs could be picked up so easily and become a mouthpiece for your own emotions. It also became, in a punk way, possibly to express yourself knowing it required so few chords. The Isle of Wight music scene at the time was full of Nirvana copyists (I remember one, rather derivatively called Kurd. A lemony Nirvana tribute, no doubt). My band, Miriad, used to play at a pub known for being pretty wild (called The Squadron) often to full houses of young people really open to what you bands were doing. It’s easy to be rose tinted about the past but it was a time when, as a singer in a band, wearing a dress on stage or crafting certain ideas in lyrics knowing people would seriously mull them over came with a huge sense of excitement. 

In the novel Jeff (who, I unsurprisingly relate to) has that wide open mentality that I remember having as an adolescent. When a song can seriously blow your mind and rearrange you as a person in three minutes. Jeff can be so moved by a song he has to spend a few hours on a beach by himself trying to come to terms with it. To be honest, I was like that! To me Kurt Cobain was the gatekeeper of that whole mentality. His consciousness, I think, still looms very large today- and not only in his merchandise that you see everywhere (it’s weird seeing babies clad in Nirvana t-shirts!) but also in the way he made the most of every form of output at his disposal. I despise those artists who shrug through interviews and have nothing to say. To me Kurt is the antithesis of that. We need more of them today. 

River Phoenix
River Phoenix was a huge influence on “Dead Rock Stars” but it is hard to see easily explain why. People might know him best as the young Indiana Jones- with the floppy fringe- from ‘The Last Crusade’ and he was also very moving as a young troubled teen in the hit film ‘Stand By Me’. He had a very bohemian band (his real love) whose songs were a unique rock / folk hybrid with very earnest lyrics about love and climate change, called ‘Aleka’s Attic’. I don’t just have a particularly wild character named after him in the novel, but Jeff’s band is also called ‘Aleka’. (In River’s mythology Aleka was a philosopher who from his attic treehouse drew in a following by debating spiritual ideas). When River tragically died Michael Stipe of REM bought the back catalogue of Aleka’s Attic and Rain River, his sister, is slowly releasing it. The idea of an artist having a great lost record which is only just coming to light was a huge influence behind the character Emma and the scattered recordings she leaves behind, which in their own little way change the world too. I really enjoyed writing Emma’s angsty lyrics for her songs like ‘Ruined Beauty Pageant’.

It isn’t just River Phoenix’s nineties Bratpack look which influenced the novel, although my characters are very much drawn from that early Winona Ryder / Dawson’s Creek nineties aesthetic, when art was more analogue and music came with rich sleeve art and posters. It was an era in which an artist’s ideas could be explored much more luxuriously than in the few limited digital formats that they get to work today. More to the point, River’s acting and his band came with a manifesto. In all his artistic output, and his interviews, he promoted a message of compassion, kindness to animals and warmth. If his life hadn’t been cut short he would have pushed that message even more. 

Kristen Pfaff
Pfaff was the beautiful, highly talented activist and musician who was a driving force behind Hole’s album ‘Live Through This’ before she tragically died at 27. She massively influenced Emma. My next book is about her life, which I’m working on with my writing partner, Sara Hawys Roberts. 

Emma Forrest’s ‘Namedropper’
I teach Creative Writing at Lincoln University and one book I always get the students to read is ‘Namedropper’. In many ways it is deeply problematic- a young teenage girl falling in love with self-absorbed male rock stars, many of them narcissistic. Forrests’s protagonist, Viva, is in thrall to Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor, films like ‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ whilst also having such possibility about her with her wittiness and sharpness. The voice of the protagonist in ‘Namedropper’ and the bitchy, witty asides she offers about the world around her hugely influenced Emma- who has a cutting opinion on everyone!

‘My Summer Of Love’ (the book and the film)
Helen Cross’ My Summer Of Love is an atmospheric film about a (kind of) love affair between two young women, both exploding with unused potential. It takes place over the course of a summer, like my novel. An overlit, overheated summer seems to me a wonderfully bounded setting for a story. The two main characters in ‘My Summer Of Love’, Mona and Tamsin, remind me of the name of Hole’s B-side collection, ‘My Body The Hand Grenade.’ Helen Cross filters through Mona such sharp, incisive, polemical descriptions through Mona that it again strains that whole ‘use every form at your disposal to push your message’ idea. In “Dead Rock Stars” youth is the most powerful form of revolt. 

“Dead Rock Stars” is published internationally by Darkstroke and is out now. It is available for purchase here.

Its nineties inspired playlist is available here.

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