by August Wainwright on May 25, 2013
A young boy with an awful bowl-shaped haircut is hanging out with his older brother – or maybe it’s his delinquent cousin or the cool uncle that is always saying, “Just don’t tell your mom I let you do that…” – it doesn’t matter, any one of them will do for this story.
He’s with one of the seedier characters in his juvenile life when they put on a record. And the boy hears something he’s never heard before, a sound that leaps into his ears and destroys everything he knows. It could be Jimi Hendrix, or a young Eric Clapton during the Cream years, or Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jimmy Paige on Zeppelin IV; once he hears it, though, a whole new world is set before him, one that he’ll never come back from.
The boy starts saving his paltry allowance every week, and gets a job as a paperboy; he later adds mowing yards and washing cars to his busy schedule. Weeks go by, but, eventually, he reaches his goal.
Early one morning, he rolls out of bed on one of those humid summer days where you walk outside at seven in the morning and you’re already sweating and your shirt sticks to your skin. He pulls his five-speed from out of the garage and pedals the fifteen minutes down to the music shop.
The boy walks into the store, the little bell above the door jingling when he enters, and sets down the $80 he’s saved for the used Gibson guitar hanging behind the counter. He throws the six-string over his shoulder and turns toward home, a sixty-watt smile on his face the entire way.
Over the next few years, the boy goes from a fumbling beginner, to a still fumbling “amateur”. He practices everyday after school and eventually becomes a full-fledged amateur guitar player (dropping the fumbling part). His hair gets longer and he meets a kid who swears he’s the next Neil Peart.
And then a magical thing happens: the two boys form a band. At first it’s just the two of them, but they’ll later recruit a few other deviants to join them. They play in “Neil’s” garage three times a week (to the horror of the Watson’s and Garrison’s, the neighbors on either side). They experiment and try new things – most don’t work, and the others are even worse. The lineup changes; they lose members to college and girls and drugs and other, more important, hobbies. But our guitar player keeps at it – he refuses to give up.
He grows up and his “Jimmy Paige – Neal Peart” garage band evolves into a full on cover band. They call themselves “Led Rush” and they make the rounds at all the local bars and pubs and clubs – anywhere that will let them play to a crowd.
Years go by like this, our guitar aficionado is now married and has a young daughter. But, still, he never gives up. Every time doubt slips into his mind, he reminds himself that even the Rolling Stones were a cover band (that’s actually a true fact; they put out three albums of covers before releasing any original material). He never stops adding new tricks and skills to his toolbox.
Then, one day, something clicks. He’s sitting in front of the fire while his wife reads a book next to him. He sips on a cold beer after a long day at work and a drop of wet condensation drips down onto his pants. He relaxes and lets his mind shut down and, suddenly, he hears himself playing. It’s not him playing Jimi or Jimmy; it’s him playing his own music.
After a long journey of learning a craft, our young guitar player has finally found his voice. He writes his own music – the stuff he wants to hear that no one else has ever done.
Only time will tell if he’ll be a star or one of the thousands of players who never “make it”. But he doesn’t think about that; he works hard, and then he works harder, knowing the entire time, after all these years he’s finally found what he’s been looking for.
This is the story of a guitar player.
It’s also my story. Because I’m a cover band author.
Right now, I’m focused on my Remy Moreau series, in which all of the books are re-imaginings of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories from Arthur Conan Doyle. Much in the same way that Ray Bradbury has said many times that his mechanical hound in Fahrenheit 451 is based upon Doyle’s hound of the Baskervilles, I take cues from those Doyle mystery tales.
And just like so many other writers, I’m searching for my voice. Yea, I know I’m probably looking in the wrong spot. I know I probably shouldn’t be “looking” at all, that I’d be much better served to sit at home in front of a fire and let the metaphorical condensation drip down on me. But being stagnant sucks, so I search.
In my search, I lean on those I admire, those I think sound “right” in my head. I borrow from their worlds because they are the worlds I dream of; I steal some of their innermost thoughts because they are my thoughts too.
Style and dialogue and themes and symbols and characters and choice of words – I try on what works for others and see how it fits on me. Some of it sticks; most doesn’t. So I keep trying.
I look at those authors who start in the fan-fic arena, those who write in worlds and with characters that are well-established, and I don’t see thieves – I see writers working on their skill-sets. A perfect example is someone like Jason Gurley who’s Greatfall series of successful books occupy the world of Hugh Howey’s WOOL. The stories are great by themselves, but they also draw attention to Gurley’s original works. I have no doubt that Gurley is a better writer after having completed his “cover” series.
But, still, people will say you’re imitating because you aren’t good enough to be original; they’ll call you a hack, a pirate, or even worse, the dreaded and horrific copycat. *that hurts down deep*
But the “copying” is what gets you to the point where you know the difference between good and bad; between good and great. It’s where you learn what absolutely works and what absolutely doesn’t. It’s the foundation of everything to come. Without it, how would you ever know the rules.
It’s the job of the cover band to learn the rules, and the job of the artist to learn when to break them.
This is what is missed by so many critics. There’s a huge difference from honing your craft and attempting to be the second-best version of someone else.
In the search for your own true voice as a writer, you will weave in the voices of other authors; it is inevitable. I believe the quickest way to learn the craft of being a good writer is to consume and emulate the writing of others. Learn what makes a good story first, then go try to find the thing that makes your voice yours, what makes it unique, your own personal fingerprint on the literary world.
And just like the cover band who will have to deal with the revolt that will surely come when they begin to play original material, so too will the writer who steps out with his own voice for the first time.
But you’ll also find that you have true fans, people who value you as the artist, not just the product you put out.
The search for your true voice is something every writer, every artist for that matter, MUST go through. I could attempt to describe why, but I would ultimately fall short of the words of Chuck Wendig:
Every author decides to go on a grand adventure one day, and that grand adventure is to find her voice. She leaves the comfort of her own wordsmithy and she traipses through many fictional worlds written by many writers and along the way she pokes through their writings to see if her voice is in there somewhere. She takes what she reads and she mimics their voices, taking little pieces of other authors with her in her mind and on the page.
Is her voice cynical? Optimistic? Short and curt, or long and breezy? She doesn’t know and so she reads and she writes and she lives life in an effort to find out.
This adventure takes as long as it takes, but one day the author tires of it and she comes home, empty-handed, still uncertain what her voice looks like or sounds like.
And there, at home, she discovers her voice is waiting. In fact, it’s been there all along.
Your voice is how you write when you’re not trying to find your voice. Your voice is the way you write, the way you talk. Your voice is who you are, what you believe, what themes you knowingly and unknowingly embrace. Your voice is you. Search for it and you won’t find it. Stop looking and it’ll find you.
Well said, sir.
So what do you think about cover band authors? Are you one yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so drop a comment below.