Today I am so pleased to welcome Ingela Bohm to Joyfully Jay. Ingela has come to talk to us about her latest release, Cutting Edge (Pax Cymrica: The True History, #4). She has also brought along a copy of the book to give away. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
If you don’t like it, don’t watch it
Confession: I don’t like American Idol (or simply Idol, as it’s called in my country). I don’t like any of those vote-people-out type programs, but I really, really don’t like Idol.
Well, my husband teaches music, and spends his day building up children’s confidence instead of tearing it down. His work is regulated by countless rules that make sure he doesn’t hurt or harass his students. Not that he ever would, but there are also laws in place to make sure it doesn’t happen.
But when you come home and switch the TV on, what do you see? Three adults, sitting behind a desk, dealing out harsh judgments about young people’s singing voices, body shapes and ways of communicating with the audience. Sixteen-year-olds are told that they’re too fat, too squeaky, or too boring – that they have nothing to give. That they’re idiots for even trying.
And all over the country, people laugh at them. Grown-up people, laughing at children because they think they can sing when obviously, they can’t. No one cares that nervousness can ruin a voice. Perhaps in the safety of their bedrooms, the contestants can sing really well. But when they’re suddenly standing in front of a row of smug assholes, their throats go dry, which makes it really difficult to sing in tune.
Or perhaps they actually don’t have a good singing voice, but have been told so by friends and family. And because of that, they deserve to be shot down? “If they can’t stand the heat, they shouldn’t play with fire” seems to be the consensus. Well, if this is the worldview we promote, we shouldn’t be surprised if that attitude spreads to our children. They copy us, and if we laugh at weakness and incompetence, so will they. If being second best is grounds for being voted off a TV program, why shouldn’t it be in the playground?
But when I get riled up about this type of program, people tend to say “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.” As if it’s just a matter of taste. It’s not! It’s a matter of societal values. It’s the equivalent of saying “If you don’t like war, don’t watch the news.” It doesn’t go away just because I ignore it. I believe that culture influences individual people’s actions, and Idol is part of that culture. Idol influences how we act towards one another.
This conundrum is at the heart of Cutting Edge (Pax Cymrica: The True History, #4). In it, I explore the boundaries of artistic freedom and responsibility. Set in the eighties, at the height of the moral panic surrounding video violence and heavy metal, it pits two opposing views against each other: 1) culture should be nice and spread good values, and 2) culture should reflect the world as it is, warts and all.
I was first inspired to write it last spring, when I read a blog post that basically defended a horrible scene in a book with, “It’s just fiction.” Because it’s never “just fiction,” and never “just a song.” We are what we eat, and if a book celebrates or glosses over domestic violence or rape, that contributes to the official conversation about these issues.
On the other hand, I don’t support censorship. For some people, things like horror movies are deeply cathartic, and reading about terrible events can help with digesting your own traumas. Others are simply entertained. As a child, I read a really exciting book about a witch, but when a teacher found out that the witch owned a horse that was called Satan, I was forbidden to read it. I thought she was being ridiculous, but the teacher was deeply religious and probably thought I’d be scarred for life.
Well, maybe I am. Maybe I wouldn’t be wearing spikes at forty if not for that book.
But equine evil aside, freedom of expression is a thorny issue, and we should continue talking about it. For me, it resulted in a whole book where different characters represent different views on the matter. Even as lovers Jamie and Michael come to different conclusions, they are forced to defend their band in a court case about their music – something that actually happened during this time to other bands, notably Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
By the way, if you read the book and find the lawsuit ludicrous and unrealistic, I really recommend the two documentaries Dream Deceivers and Ozzy Osbourne: Don’t Blame Me. They prove that nothing is stranger than reality.
Jamie donned the plastic gloves and started applying the foul-smelling concoction in Michael’s hair. “If this makes you bald, I’m suing them.”
Michael chuckled. “Everyone uses home colouring kits nowadays. It’s perfectly safe.”
Jamie kissed his shoulder and gave it a stroke with his nose. “Still.”
“You worry too much.” Michael closed his eyes and let himself disappear into Jamie’s soothing touch, his fingers kneading the colour into every strand as Michael’s thoughts wandered back to yesterday’s drama. Their years on the road had hardened them, but gun-toting maniacs at a meet and greet was a first.
He didn’t get it. Pax was a band. Musicians. What was the big deal? If people didn’t like what they heard, why didn’t they just change the channel? Or better: why didn’t they stay away from their fucking concerts?
Jamie’s thoughts seemed to wander the same paths, because he said, “That woman at the meet and greet… she was so strange. Almost possessed, you know?”
Michael looked at himself in the mirror, at the black goo dripping from his hair. “Like in The Exorcist?”
Jamie chuckled. “Without the swivelling head, but yeah. Sort of. She looked so… I don’t know. Unyielding. Convinced.”
Michael yawned. “Lenny said they had handwritten signs and stuff outside.”
“How many were they?”
“Not many. Seven?” Michael grinned suddenly. “Maybe they were just disappointed that we’re taking a break.”
Jamie didn’t award the joke a smile. “I think she actually meant it,” he said. “That we’re evil, that we’re going to hell. That we’re corrupting England’s youth.”
Michael couldn’t stop a laugh. “She must get up very early in the morning if she spends her time protesting against corrupting influences. I mean, if we’re included in that group, her threshold must be pretty low.”
But the feeling wouldn’t go away. It was Michael they were after. The others could be forgiven for whatever flaw would send them straight to hell, but not Michael. He was the one who wrote the lyrics, after all.
With a sigh, Jamie piled Michael’s hair on top of his head and peeled off the gloves. “There. Absolutely lovely, if I do say so myself.”
Michael gave him a look. “It’ll be fine once it’s done.”
“Fuck knows.” Jamie looked around. “Now, where’s that tape? We could listen to it while we wait.”
“Since we’re already on the topic of corrupting influences?”
Jamie shrugged. “That guy you talked to had upside-down crosses and pentagrams on his jacket. If that doesn’t qualify, I don’t know what does.”
Michael sat on the floor with his back to the bathtub. “Annabelle says pentagrams aren’t actually devil signs. That they’re–”
“I don’t think those people care about what some tarot reader has to say about pentagrams, do you?”
Michael spread his hands. “Guess not. It’s in my jacket.”
Jamie placed a cassette player in the hallway outside, and then sat in front of Michael, cross-legged on the bathroom mat. A male voice said, “Hi there, this is Anders. I’m a member of Snöblod, and this is our music. Enjoy.”
There was a pause, filled with the sighing of the water pipes. Then the music began – or at least something began. At first Michael wasn’t sure it was really a song. It sounded more like a guitarist testing different kinds of distortion, or maybe like someone dragging equipment across a stage. But then he caught the rhythm, and the sounds settled in a pattern he recognized as harmonies, even though they were the most discordant harmonies he’d ever heard. Still, there was logic in there, even if it sounded chaotic. Fast logic. Raw logic. Hard and heavy abattoir logic, beating out a primal pulse from the abyss.
He glanced at Jamie. He looked stunned, and his eyes were glassy. Michael could see why. Jamie was a sucker for melodies, and for intricate, beautiful solos. What was streaming out of those speakers right now probably didn’t even qualify as music for him.
As it shouldn’t for Michael. But something about it made all the little hairs on his body stand up. It was exhilarating. It was forbidden. It was something completely unknown.
And then a human chainsaw cut through the hyper drums, throwing up lyrics like globs of gall. Michael held his breath, lost in the paradoxical beauty of it. It wasn’t even a voice: it was a guttural cry from the deep. A ventriloquist’s throat infection. The toneless melodies of a cancer patient.
He felt rather than saw Jamie turn to look at him. He even felt the scandalized expression on his face. “Can I stop this racket?”
Michael smiled. “What did you say you wanted for your thirtieth birthday? False teeth?”
“You don’t have to be old to have taste,” Jamie sputtered, gesturing at the cassette player. “He’s just screaming.”
Michael resisted an urge to ruffle Jamie’s hair. He could be touchy about affection when he was indignant. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s kind of… cool. New.”
“It’s new, alright,” Jamie grumbled. “And soon to be forgotten, along with neon pink belts and other atrocities.”
Michael cocked his head. “But listen to the energy in it. It’s like… I don’t even know.”
“I don’t think so,” Michael said, getting annoyed. “Can I please listen to my fucking tape without you having a bloody fit?”
Pouting, Jamie got to his feet. “I’m going to go have another look at the video camera.”
“Good riddance,” Michael called after him, and Jamie gave him the fingers. Adjusting the towel on his shoulders, Michael sank back against the bathtub again with a sigh: a long, slow out-breath that whistled through the noise like a breeze. The music seemed to tighten his sinews, to strengthen his bones. The rhythm was the thump-thump-thump of a fleeing rabbit. The guitars rose from a gaping chasm, dripping blood. The raucous voice was battling them, clawing at the air, climbing higher and higher, spiralling towards screeching oblivion. And beneath it all, the bass, like a world serpent, coiling in its own filth, reigning them all in. Stewing in the putrid memories of happier days.
It was beautiful.
After ten years of hard work, rock band Pax are enjoying a stable career, but not everyone rejoices in their success. Just weeks into their first holiday in years, a family files a complaint against them for causing their son’s death. Their lawyer assures them the lawsuit will go away quietly – after all, a rock band can’t be blamed for some poor kid’s fate on the streets.
Or can they? This is the eighties, at the height of the moral panic surrounding heavy metal, and no accusation is too ridiculous. When Jamie takes on a guitar pupil who pushes the boundaries of artistic freedom, he starts to question his own responsibility for what he puts out. At the same time, Michael meets a former bully who insinuates that Michael wasn’t as innocent a victim as he thinks.
While Michael fights his personal battle against demons from his past, he also prepares to give evidence on the part of the band in a court of law. The question isn’t just whether Pax will survive this latest blow – it’s whether Michael will.
Ingela Bohm lives in an old cinema, tucked away in a northern Swedish forest where she can wander around all day long and dictate her books. She used to dream of being an actor until an actual actor asked, “Do you really need to do it?” That’s when she realized that the only thing she really needed to do was to write. She has since pretended to be a dietician, a teacher, a receptionist and a cook, but only to conceal her real identity.
Her first imaginary friend was called Grabolina and lived in her closet. Nowadays she has too many imaginary friends to count, but at least some of them are out of the closet. Her men may not be conventionally handsome, but they can charm your pants off, and that’s all that matters.
Ingela’s more useless talents include reading tarot cards, killing pot plants and drawing scandalous pictures that no one gets to see. She can’t walk in heels and she’s stopped trying, but she has cycled 12 000 miles in the UK and knows which campsites to avoid if you don’t like spiders. If you see her on the train you will wonder what age she is.
Ingela has brought a copy of Cutting Edge to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Sunday, March 27th at 11:59 pm EST.
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