Greg Kihn (Solo & Lecture)
Things just seem to happen to me. I can't explain it. It's made for a damned interesting life, though. I've been a rock star, a father, a house painter, a folk singer, a songwriter, a late night disk jockey, a successful morning show host, a wash-out, a comeback, and a lot of other oddball things. But you know what I was the whole time? A writer. I've always been hooked on the creative process.
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Now, on the publication of my third novel Big Rock Beat, and the paperback release of my first two novels Horror Show and Shade of Pale I'm compelled to say something about that pesky creative process thing and how a rock and roll musician became a novelist.
It would be misleading to say that a novel is like a song, and that the best songs write themselves, ergo the best novels write themselves. A novel is a tall drink of water, and takes hundreds of hours of work. But in a sense, the kernel of the story, the heart of the thing, does flow out the same way a song does. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then a little something extra, a bit of the old magic. That's what we musicians spend the better part of our lives chasing: the magic. We're storytellers.
Writing novels is the culmination of everything I've experienced up to and including this point. One creates people, the worlds they live in, their situations. It's the last stop on the creative gravy train. And it's the most fun there is.
I grew up in Baltimore, reading Edgar Allan Poe and watching the Colts and the Orioles. My family lived in the shadow of Memorial Stadium. On summer nights with the windows open, you could hear the crack of the bat in the humid, unmoving Baltimore air. I was a "Creature Features" fan, and never missed a sci-fi or horror flick at the local theater. I had a great childhood; wrote goofy stories and poems, read a lot of comic books, and listened to rock and roll. My parents still have the same phone number they had when I was in elementary school. I don't know why, but that blows my mind.
When I was thirteen I bugged my mom into buying me a used Harmony Guitar and promptly learned the first three chords of life. I got into folk music and played all the Sunday night hootenannies, writing songs and cultivating my teenage angst. I found I could make a few bucks on weekends singing "Blowin' in the Wind" in the coffee houses. I slipped my original songs in between the genre standards and tried not to smile too much.
Unknown to me, my mother entered a tape in a talent contest on WCAO, the big local top 40 radio station. I was barely sixteen, I think. I won three things that changed my life: a stack of albums, an electric guitar, and ironically, a typewriter.
I went to California in 1971 to seek my fortune and wound up in Berkeley, playing for spare change on Telegraph Avenue. I started a band with my life-long musical partner Steve Wright. We joined up with the legendary Beserkley Records and started cranking out albums.
We must have played thousands of gigs before The Breakup Song hit the top ten. That was from our seventh album ROCKIHNROLL. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, all the album titles in those days were terrible puns on my name. I swear it wasn't my idea. Of course, once a thing like that gets started it becomes a monster. One glance at my discography and you can see the extent of the damage.
Jeopardy happened a few years later, about the same time MTV was getting off the ground. The video for Jeopardy was a mini-horror movie directed by Joe Dea. Up until then, most videos were faked "live" performances featuring big-haired women in lingerie running up and down alleys. Jeopardy was a concept video, and it offered programmers an interesting alternative. As a result it got tons of airplay. The song became an international hit and I toured the world.
I lived the life of the rock star to the hilt. Nobody was gonna cheat me out of a good time. I figured it was my god given right to party all night and show up late for rehearsal. But that was OK because we never really rehearsed anyway.
Later, when the hits stopped coming, I tried my best not to notice. Instead of opening for The Rolling Stones and appearing on Saturday Night Live, I was playing Thursday night in Chico. It dawned on me that there might be more to life than sex, drugs and rock and roll.
By this time I'd gone through two divorces, made and lost two fortunes, and fallen prey to every ridiculous occupational hazard a touring musician can encounter (and there are some beauties). The string of hits played out, and I had reached the dreaded point of diminishing returns.
So I reigned in my licentious deportment, cleaned myself up, and decided to get a life.
I'd been writing continuously through all of this, pounding out a steady stream of words. I'd been mentally gearing up to write novels for years and suddenly the time was right. I gravitated to the genre I loved most: horror.
I was staring into the unshaven face of a major career change, when several key people stepped into the picture.
Joel Turtle was an old friend who had been one of the original partners in Beserkley Records. He took over managing a music career that was going nowhere at the speed of sound. With Joel's help, the light at the end of the tunnel became visible and I began to crawl toward it.
I grew up with Jack Heyrman in Baltimore. Jack suggested I come back home and record the album I'd always wanted in his new, state-of-the-art, digital recording studio. The result was the critically acclaimed Mutiny CD, which Jack released on his own Clean Cuts label. It was different kind of album for me-- a return to my folky Baltimore roots. I wasn't trying to write any hits. I wasn't worried about airplay. I wasn't worried about anything, really. With the pressure off, the music flowed. The follow-up CD Horror Show (coinciding with the release of my first novel of the same name) also did well, making several critics "Best of the Year" awards. Thank God I had the opportunity. Not bad for a guy who only knows three chords, eh?
Lori Perkins became my literary agent in 1992. Lori put me on the right course to becoming a serious novelist. She went out into the world and procured my first contract: a two book hardcover deal with TOR/FORGE Books (a division of St. Martin's Press). The first of those two books was Horror Show, a very strange story about a guy who makes low budget horror movies in the 50's... using real corpses. Horror Show was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and got rave reviews. Daily Variety called it a "Wild and wacky romp" and Kirkus said it was "Not to be missed!"
Working with editor Natalia Aponte at TOR/FORGE Books has been a rewarding and educational experience. Learning the craft of writing fiction on a professional level has been a true pleasure. Not bad for a guy who still types with two fingers, eh?
Between the years 1990-1997, I basically had to re-invent myself. I got into broadcasting and wrangled my own radio show on KFOX (98.5 FM), the classic rock station in San Jose. After a year doing the night shift, they offered me the morning job, replacing Don Imus, and I took it. Now I get up at 3:30, about the time I used to go to bed. So far, the show's a hit, with great ratings. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Nobody's noticed the fact that I don't know what I'm doing... yet. And now we're negotiating national syndication. Yikes.
Radio's the perfect gig for me. I don't have to tour all the time, and I have my afternoons and evenings free to write. I now write between three to six hours every day, six days a week. Not exactly a Dean Koontzian pace, but I'm getting things done.
The children from my first marriage are now grown up. My son, Ry Kihn, recently graduated a jazz guitar major from California Institute of the Arts. I started him with Joe Satriani when he was just a shaver. Now he's got his own rock band, called Urth. I've also drafted Ry to play lead guitar in The Greg Kihn Band. It's not as if he doesn't know the songs-- he grew up backstage. I predict that Ry will fare even better than his old man in the music biz. I've successfully passed the baton to my son, which I consider a major life accomplishment.
My daughter, Alexis Kihn goes to The University of California where she is involved in a plethora of activities. She's going to save the world. Trust me. Ry and Lexi are the real next of Kihn. And I'm proud as hell.
So life is good all over again, only this time I'm older and hopefully, wiser. I'm actually starting to like my 40's.
I just finished the sequel to Horror Show, a twisted little tale called Big Rock Beat. It will be published by TOR/FORGE in October of 1998.
In addition to the novels, two short stories entitled The Great White Light and Olivia In The Graveyard With Pablo will be published in the Hot Blood series, an erotic horror anthology edited by Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett for POCKET BOOKS.
The Greg Kihn Band (with Ry Kihn on lead guitar) continues to perform around the country when they feel like it. We like to play outdoors in the summer, so most of our gigs these days are at festivals and State Fairs. I've got my life-long musical partner Steve Wright on bass (from the original GKB and co-writer of all the hits), Tim Gorman on Keyboards (Tim played and toured with The Rolling Stones and The Who) and ex-Eddie Money monster drummer Dave Danza. The band rocks hard. It's great to not have to tour constantly to maintain a cash flow. The pressure's off, and gigs are special again.
We recorded Thunder Road for the upcoming Capital/EMI Bruce Springsteen Tribute CD One Step Up, Two Steps Back. Featured are Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford and Rolling Stones/Who sideman Tim Gorman. The track was recorded at historic Coast Recorders in San Francisco with Joe Satriani producer John Cunaberti at the knobs.
One last thing: just before I sent the original manuscript of Horror Show to Tor Books, I placed it on Edgar Allan Poe's grave for about 30 minutes... to vibe it up. I don't know if it had any effect, but the damn thing got published. That's rock and roll.
I just sold my fourth novel MOJO HAND to TOR/FORGE for a fall 1999 release. BIG ROCK BEAT will be published in paperback at the same time. I'm moving away from the horror genre and my next novel ONE ARM TAN will be a main-stream rock and roll murder mystery. Several major publishing houses have already expressed interest.
I'm currently working on a movie script for HORROR SHOW in the hopes of making an independent film sometime in the year 2000.
So there you have it. The next time somebody asks you "What the hell ever happened to Greg Kihn?" you can answer them. The truth is invariably stranger than fiction. Thanks for the read.
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