Join crime writer and musician Dave Warner for a tour of the Summer of songs that inspired his new novel
In Summer Of Blood, I tried to make each chapter heading a classic 1967 song that might be reflective of what was happening in the text. This wasn’t always possible, but some tracks dovetailed neatly.
The opening chapter ‘Tales Of Brave Ulysses (Cream)’ with lyrics by famous Australian artist Martin Sharp suited me perfectly to set up the character and story arc of Sydney homicide cop John Gordon. Gordon and his partner Ray Shearer were first introduced in my earlier novel Big Bad Blood (Random House). Gordon and his girlfriend had been abducted by a psychotic killer, and now in 1967, even though he escaped physically, the mental scars are deep. He needs to reawaken from the PTSD cave into which he has retreated. `You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever …’ are the opening lines of the song, accompanied by a brooding sea of music, and they set up Gordon’s journey in Summer of Blood. The tone of impending menace is perfect for what awaits.
In contrast, Arthur Lee Love’s classic `Andmoreagain’ is a beautiful song, redolent with yearning and mystery. Gordon and Shearer have been tasked to find a missing Australian man who has become an acid casualty and gone in search of his missing hippy girlfriend, Spring. Most of the book Gordon and Shearer are trying to find her, unsure if she is dead or alive, but at one point, they think they see her at Bido Lito’s. `And if you see Andmoreagain, then you will know Andmoreagain …’ goes the lyric on drifting chords. Again, the mood of the song captures the mystery I was trying to create, and echoes questions both my characters have about the nature of love and relationships. To me the song has always suggested that the point of love is the quest, and it felt perfect. ‘The singer was right, you could give love all you had, and despite that things still turn out bad. Love and desire guaranteed no road to happiness. You could empty yourself but bring nothing but your own annihilation.’
Frustrated by his inability to crack the case, John Gordon goes on a bender of a night dropping acid in the Haight-Ashbury. The next day he tries to pick up the pieces from his fragmented memory. The Electric Prunes classic `I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)’ was perfect to set the tone. `John’s head had been put in a cement mixer and reattached. Last night was there, yet not. He remembered his body being in geographical spaces: the beaded curtain, half-naked women writhing to music in some basement party.’
One of the great joys of writing this book was allowing the complex Ray Shearer the chance to have a fling with Janis Joplin. The psychologically damaged Shearer is a formerly corrupt cop, and when he deems necessary, an executioner of those who have crossed his moral boundaries. He’s also an Aussie rocker, a Teddy Boy who loves Elvis not Hendrix. But his endearing quality is that he will defend the weak and lost at the risk of his own welfare, and when he stands up for Janis early on – thinking she’s a hooker – a bond is formed. Though he knows the relationship can go nowhere, when he’s back in Australia and he hears Janis belting out `Piece of My Heart’, he wonders and hopes whether some part of it might have been directed at him. The song works equally well from his point of view – that he has lost pieces of his heart to Janis. This maintains his complexity and he remains a favourite character of mine.
Oh, and I’ve also recorded my own song `Summer Of Blood’ to fit with the whole tone of the book. Check it out here.