On The Road With Marcia Meara

Hey, Readers. I’m on the road again today. (Shades of Willie Nelson, anyone?) Seriously, I’m visiting with a dear friend who is well-known in the blogging community, Marcia Meara.

Marcia is the author of several books including the Riverbend and Wake-Robin Ridge series. You can check out all her books by clicking here.

Today I’m talking about music and the songs that inspired some of my books and short stories. I’ve closed comments here, but I hope to see you at Marcia’s place.

Songbird

In 1976, my brother lived in San Antonio, about a five-hour drive from here. He taught school, and when winter break arrived, he called me on a Sunday afternoon to ask if I would pick him up at Dallas Love Field Airport.

Since his plane was about to leave San Antonio, he arrived in Dallas before I did. When I picked him up, he stowed his things (including my Christmas gift) in the trunk of my car.

As we often did, we hit the mall the next day to visit the bookstore and record shop. After all, if you have books and music, what else do you need? Every time I selected an album, he offered a reason for me not to buy it.

George Harrison’s Greatest Hits? “You already have most of the songs on the album already.” Electric Light Orchestra’s A New World Record. “There’s really only one good song.” After several selections, I think I finally settled on an album by Heart.

Christmas arrived a few days later. It wasn’t hard to guess he’d given me albums (oh, the days of vinyl), but which ones? Yep, Geroge Harrison’s Greatest Hits, A New World Record, and Fleetwood Mac (their 1975 album).

I already had the single of “Rhiannon” but listening to that album made me a lifelong fan. With songs like “Say You Love Me,” “Monday Morning,” and my personal favorite, “Over My Head,” how could I not be?

While much of the world idolized Stevie Nicks, especially with the 1977 release of Rumours, and the single, “Dreams,” my favorite was Christine McVie. I once desired to be a rock star and Christine epitomized everything I wanted. She could sing, write music, and play the keyboards. (I took piano lessons but can’t carry a tune. Not even in a bucket.)

I dressed a lot like Christine. Not so much because I idolized her, but because it was the fashion in the late ’70s. Once my brother said, “You look like someone in Fleetwood Mac.” I considered that a compliment.

Fleetwood Mac in 1977. Left to right, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham. (Public Domain.)

Christine McVie passed away last week at the age of 79 after a short illness. We’re losing a lot of the “good ones” from those days. I admit to tearing up when I heard the news.

The world will miss you, Christine McVie. Rest in peace, Songbird.

The 27 Club

February 3, 1959, is what many refer to as, “The day the music died.” It was on that day a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa claimed the lives of three popular Rock and Roll Stars. Buddy Holly, age 22, Ritchie Valens, age 17, and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper), age 28.

(Bit of trivia. Did you know Country Music legend Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper?)

Their deaths are a few of the many music stars who have died young—many as the result of plane crashes. Others include Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Ronnie Van Zant, Rick Nelson, and John Denver. One might conclude it’s not safe for singers to travel by air.

But there is another group of singers who have died young. Some of the more well-known are:

  • Blues singer Robert Johnson—1938 (For a fascinating story about Johnson, check out Mae Clair’s January 11 post.)
  • Founding member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones–1969
  • Alan Wilson of Canned Heat—1970
  • Jimi Hendrix—1970
  • Janis Joplin—1970
  • Jim Morrison—1971
  • Ron McKernan of the Grateful Dead—1973
  • Badfinger’s Pete Ham—1975
  • Kurt Cobain—1994
  • Amy Winehouse—2011

None of these singers died in plane crashes and the cause of the death varies, including drug overdoses, suicide, and alcohol poisoning. But there is one common factor. All of them died at the age of twenty-seven.

Coincidence?

Promotional photo of The Doors with Morrison in front. Attribution: Elektra Records-Joel Brodsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison within a few short months caused some talk and speculation. However, it wasn’t until Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide years later that the term “27 Club” came about. Some have even referred to it as “The Curse of Twenty-Seven.”

A statement from Cobain’s mother, Wendy Cobain O’Connor, appeared in the Aberdeen Washington newspaper Daily World. “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club.” According to Cobain’s biographer, Charles R. Cross, she was referring to the deaths of Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison.

Eric Segalstad, author of The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock and Roll disagrees. He believes Cobain’s mother referred to the deaths of his two uncles and a great-uncle who all died as the result of suicide.

Curse or coincidence there is an extraordinary number of singers who died at the age of twenty-seven. Some singers never reached that age including Valens, Holly, and Otis Redding. Living to the age of twenty-eight and beyond is no guarantee of survival. With the exception of Redding who was twenty-six at the time of his death, the ages of other singers I mentioned who died in plane crashes ranged from twenty-eight to fifty-three.

But still, there are probably several singers who breathe sighs of relief on their twenty-eighth birthday.

Movies, Music, and Writing

It’s no secret that my all-time favorite movie is Casablanca. What’s not to love about this classic with a cast including Bogart, Bergman, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains? It also contains some fantastic quotes.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Play it, Sam.” This is often misquoted as “Play it again, Sam.” (Bogart never said that.)

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

From a writer’s standpoint, the character arc of Rick Blaine (Bogart) is undoubtedly one of the best. He went from saying, “I stick my neck out for nobody,” to giving up the woman he loved for the greater good.

But long before I first saw the film, a song was written with an opening line that mentioned a Bogart movie. I knew the artist had to be talking about Casablanca. Al Stewart’s “Year of The Cat” and the album by the same title is also a favorite. (On a side note, between my brother and myself, we’ve owned that album in just about every form—vinyl, eight-track, cassette, and CD. I now listen to it via Spotify.)

It wasn’t until years later that I learned Stewart was in fact speaking about Casablanca. Chinese astrology doesn’t have a “year of the cat,” but Vietnamese astrology does. Stewart set two lovers in Morocco in the mid-seventies and had them have a love affair much like Bogart and Bergman in the 1940s.

As many of you know, music often inspires my writing. I recently wrote a short story titled Summerwood. The male lead, Dylan, is a popular music star who returns to his hometown in search of peace and quiet. He also wants to find and make amends with his former girlfriend, Lydia. Here’s an unedited scene:

The crowd started to grow as more merchants arrived to set up their stands. Dylan recognized a few of them like Harley Campbell and George Weaver. No one seemed to notice him.

It wasn’t long before the door to the cafe opened, and Lydia walked out. Seeing her was like taking a breath of fresh air. A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

She wore a sleeveless floral-print dress and white sandals. Her blonde hair hung loosely around her shoulders, and she carried a wallet-sized purse. Simple and uncomplicated, much like the lifestyle Lydia had chosen.

Dylan inhaled deeply. He could almost smell Lydia’s signature scent—an exotic blend of patchouli and sandalwood. Never overpowering. Always subtle. And so enticing.

He remained beside the tree as Lydia strolled through the various stalls of the market.

If you’re familiar with the song, “Year of The Cat,” you might recognize a couple of things.

Summerwood is one of thirteen short stories that I plan to publish this year. And if you’re in the mood for a little music, here’s Al Stewart telling the story and singing his megahit, “Year of The Cat.

Thank You, John Denver

Inspiration for my stories comes from many different places. Sometimes it’s an observation made in a crowded restaurant. It may be from a photo prompt or from a family story. Other times, ideas just pop in my head. But often, it’s songs from favorite groups or singers.

John Denver’s music inspired some of my early works. Years ago, I used to write a First Friday Fiction post, and the idea for one of those stories came from the words of “Rocky Mountain High.”

For the anthology, Bright Lights and Candle Glow, I wrote a story titled Montana Christmas. Once again, a John Denver song, “Christmas For Cowboys” inspired me.

I recently completed the first draft of a short story titled Summerwood. The title came from the name of a housing addition I pass each day while driving to work. The original story was a flash fiction piece featuring a road-weary rock star. I published the story in 2020 with the intention of expanding it.

Here’s an unedited excerpt:

You can do this. One more night. You’re almost there. You can do this.

That had been Dylan’s mantra for the last month. The grueling schedule of forty-two appearances in a sixty-day period was taking its toll. Two more weeks and the tour was done. If he could only hold out until Memorial Day.

At thirty-two years old, he was still young, but he felt more like sixty-two. Was it any wonder many singers turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with life on the road?

He swore long ago that would never be him. He’d quit the business before he allowed it to happen.


I wrote a few scenes, but something seemed amiss, so I put the story aside. I picked it up again a few weeks later, determined to finish by the end of November. But even as I wrote the final two scenes, I still sensed something wasn’t right. Even with all that work, I was ready to shelve the project indefinitely.

As I sat at my computer, I looked out my window to the woods surrounding our house. The fall colors had faded and most of the trees were bare. But as I sat there, I thought of how much I love the outdoors, the changing seasons, nature, and wildlife.

A view of the woods near our house. I took this photo a few weeks ago.

And the words of a John Denver song came to mind. It’s not one of his big hits but comes from the Rocky Mountain High album. “Summer” talks about his love of life—the life within him and the life around him.

And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t need my main character to be a rock star. A country rock or folk singer fits the story much better. I finished that draft with a renewed purpose.

Summerwood is one of the stories I plan to include in a collection of shorts to be published sometime next year.

Here’s a video of John singing a song that I first heard on his 1975 television special, A Rocky Mountain Christmas.

Thank you, John Denver.